Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Man in the Mirror

Michael Jackson was pronounced dead in a Los Angeles hospital at 2:26 on Friday morning, on Twitter the announcement came several hours earlier. First Jade Goody's antemortem memorial tribute in OK! magazine, now Jackson on TMZ and Twitter: people just aren't dying quick enough these days. The speed of communication has overtaken the speed of events. By the time the online newspapers were announcing the announcement of death, the tweeters on Twitter had already moved on - the death of this icon was already a little old hat, just another passing fad like a YouTube clip of a cat escaping from a cardboard box (as is the fate of practically anything ever mentioned on Twitter). At about half past three, however, both the 'trending topics' and 'search' functions on Twitter vanished simultaneously due to an excess of traffic. People had, for the most part, stopped posting anything but were searching en masse - not for news, which was all there to see on the news, but for rumour. What people wanted, more than anything, was for the event's immediate fictionalisation. Curiously, in the midst of a news report about Jackson's death, an Australian new channel was taken in by the spoof of another celebrity death and broke off coverage to report the apparent demise of the actor Jeff Goldblum. It is as though an event of such immense cultural significance required its fictional double in order to be integrated into the symbolic economy. 

Of course, for some years now Jackson had been making of himself his own double, his own man in the (cracked, distorted) mirror. Like Victor Frankenstein, Jackson sought to make of himself a modern Prometheus (the sheer fire in his voice and in his feet in the 70's and 80's can only have been stolen from the gods), and build a perfect human out of his own Oedipal fantasies (his growing resemblance to Diana Ross, his first mentor, the Good Mother gifted him by showbusiness that normal family life had denied him), replacing, like Robocop, those body parts he deemed deficient with new flesh, synthetic body armour against the bombardment of the press and the public (of whom Jackson was clearly very physically afraid). K-Punk is absolutely right to refer to Jackson's trademark vocalisations as partial objects, "inhuman asignifying hiccups and yelps, as if he is gasping for air, or learning to speak English again after some aphasic episode." (cf. Shelley's description of her monster's first 'inarticulate' noises). It is precisely these vocalisations that remained the locus of any jouissance in Jackson's music after Bad, practically the only thing still recognisably him (that, and the dance moves, of course, the importance of which is picked up both by Mark K-Punk and Germaine Greer - strange bedfellows if ever there were). They lacked the gruff force or animal sexuality of the grunts and groans of a James Brown or Edwin Starr, transgendered and deracinated long before his body was, a pure punctum, foreign to any studium or any possibility of decipherment, a little piece of the Real, bursting uncontrollably forth like the chest-bursting monster in Alien.  

After the collective mourning, a collective sense of guilt on the part of a public that had been increasingly disgusted by Michael Jackson's body (and all that it entailed) and demanded of him that he transcend it and become a pure phatic image. Now, as news reports spiral out to reveal the cost on Jackson's own body of this attempted transubstantiation - the drugs, the anorexia, the stomach pumps, the scars - it is with physical death that his body truly returns. Like in Jonathan Horowitz's work, The Body Song (1997), which plays the video to 'Earth Song' backwards, making of Jackson's scream a force of environmental destruction rather than spontaneous regeneration, "My reversal of his video returns the focus to its repressed content, which is Michael and his body."