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Jeff Simon: A media event for the ages
By Jeff Simon
News Columnist
Updated: July 10, 2009, 9:59 AM

What I learned from Tuesday’s Michael Jackson memorial service:

1. Leave it to a Musician —Here, just minutes after the broadcast ended Tuesday on just about every available channel, was the Facebook comment of Robby Takac, bassist and co-founder of the Buffalo-born Goo Goo Dolls: “Copyright 2009 AEG Live —LLC.”

That’s all he wrote. It was the last thing one saw on screen after the “service” was over. All his Facebook “friends” knew what he was saying. One of those answering him said she couldn’t wait for the DVD.

Nor is that at all far-fetched. That, of course, was the nature of the event. It wasn’t just public, it was a show—remarkably well orchestrated and directed for something thrown together on the fly and specked with marketable talent and commentary that all had its admonitory point to make about Jackson and the painful deconstruction of his fame in his native country.

2. Real Friends Stay Home—Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t there. Diana Ross and Quincy Jones weren’t either. Nor, somewhat incredibly, was Oprah Winfrey, which, of course, led TMZ’s Harvey Levin later in the week to wonder if something “big” wasn’t forthcoming from Winfrey about it.

You know, a “big” Oprah show, for broadcast at the proper time, full of big-time interview “gets.”

Then again, maybe she just declined to participate in a Jackson family production.

Otherwise, those friends who were there had more reasons to be seen than reasons to be home watching it. Neither Taylor nor Jones nor Ross, at their career stages, had any reason to be seen—or, for that matter, to support the Jackson family. They could all follow their instincts and stay as far away from a Jackson family production as possible.

My guess? Michael Jackson would have stayed home, as far away as it was possible. But then in a way, he did just that.

3. Barbara Walters Video Pirate—In other finger-wagging a couple of days later from TMZ(which the world of journalism had to admit scooped the world on the story), we later learned that Barbara Walters’ producer—sitting next to the grande dame herself a couple rows behind the family —videotaped Jackson’s kids to show us how one of them had long hair just like his father’s. Attendees were instructed not to do that, said Harvey. But Babs and producer broke the rules because everyone else did. The celebrity attendees understood the event in a way some civilian watchers probably didn’t.

4. Father, Father Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink—A workable rule of thumb in show business is that nothing touched by Joe Jackson, family paterfamilias, can ever be thought to be entirely free of sleaze. He wore a hat and shades and chewed gum. He couldn’t figure out how to plug his new record company, perhaps, but then how could he fail to be pleased that his other sons were getting greater—and more sympathetic—public exposure than they’ve had since Michael joined them on the 1984 Victory tour?

5. John Mayer, Paragon of Taste—No, his wasn’t the most moving performance of the day (let’s drop all cynicism and give that one to brother Jermaine’s version of “Smile”) but Mayer’s was, by far, the most tasteful, the only one that seemed to have a solid sense of the proprieties of a memorial and, moreover, to actually care. John Mayer played Jackson’s “Human Nature” on the guitar. He didn’t sing. A choir, rather incidentally and only at the very end, joined in for the song’s chorus, but Mayer just played it, without in any way offering his voice to the song. In a miniature way, it was like the symbolic riderless horse at JFK’s funeral: the moment when you’re supposed to be conscious of what’s not there.

Who’d have thought that the ultimate in artistic discretion at the event would come from the singer whom TMZ lionized for his playfulness with paparazzi, up to and including comic gas-passing?

6. Usher? Not So Much— Singing to a coffin is, as the showbiz folks might put it, an interesting “choice.” If a memorial service is supposed to remind us how the spirit of the deceased has slipped the surly bonds of earth, it’s not exactly “on message,” however melodramatic. But then the message of the event was histrionics— some of which were genuinely moving.

7. Brooke Shields Between a Rock and a Hard Place— The day’s toughest choice was that of Brooke Shields. Her tearful and moving presence had a point to make that needed to be made, however obvious: that their friendship—innocent, mischievous and giggly as she described it—was a tiny piece of a stolen childhood for two kids who never really had one.

A question I’ve always had: Isn’t there a sense in which all show business children are abused? I watched a movie once in which a preteen actress had to pretend to be sexually abused. In what sense is that completely different from the real thing? If you’re asking a child to understand that and then pretend to react, how are you not afflicting that child with knowledge that many of us would prefer she not have?

8. Privacy is Not the Jackson Way—Now, days after the event, we can all understand why crazy Michael always put veils over his kids’ faces. Childhood is a Jacksonian time to work, even if it means Paris, at the end of the event, utterly destroying whatever tearless composure might remain for everyone watching by saying how much she loved her father and then dissolving into the soul-wrenching sobs you’d expect from a little girl who just lost the only parent she’d ever known.

Can I imagine a little girl insisting on being heard at that moment? Of course. Who, among us, might not have tried to dissuade her and try to deal with her devastation in private? Who can doubt that her father would have wanted it that way?

But then, we’re not the rest of the Jackson family. Children in the Jackson family are supposed to be useful. What young Paris did before she buried her tear-soaked face in Aunt Janet’s shoulder, was affirm for all watchers that, yes, no matter what they might think about the rest of him, Michael Jackson was indeed a real and loving father.

9. Then Again, Maybe We Are All Jacksons—Journalism is one thing, we tell ourselves. And media are quite another. Not in this case, though. Michael Jackson’s death has— to put it with entirely necessary bluntness—been the biggest media bonanza you could find in an uncertain age. In a corporate Internet/cable TV era where no circulation jump or ratings point can ever be taken for granted, public fantasies about private lives are the very stuff of media triumph.

We need stories. We crave them in our species, the way we crave water and salt. The Jacksons always knew that. Stories —real stories—don’t “break” the way they do in journalism, they linger. And, of course, sell products.

But then we need truth too. We crave that just as much. The trick is to preserve that without letting hidebound orthodoxies get in the way.

The story and truth that linger are these: Michael Jackson did indeed make a comeback, just not quite in the way originally planned. In this case, though, so, as always, did his family in his wake. And some friends, too. Products are being moved, even as we speak. Public appearances will be made. Stardom will be recaptured.

10. To Repeat the Wisdom of Robby Takac, Rock Star: “Copyright 2009 AEG Live.”

jsimon@buffnews.com

Source: http://www.buffalonews.com/494/story/729349.html
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