Pressed by his father into a musical performing career at age 5, Michael Jackson lived in a bizarre, artificial world from childhood onward. He died Thursday, apparently of cardiac arrest, at age 50.
An incredibly talented musician, dancer and performer, Jackson was emblematic of the perils of a postmodern era of fluid identities. He strove mightily to transcend racial, gender and age boundaries – transforming his face and reinventing his personality. In retrospect, much of that can be seen as a struggle to find the childhood he never had.
In one song, he condemns child stardom (an ode to Elizabeth Taylor), "Grace with beauty, charm and talent/You would do what you were told/But they robbed you of childhood/Took your youth and sold it for gold." In another, he laments his own lost youth: "Have you seen my childhood?/I'm searching for the world that I come from/'Cause I've been looking around/In the lost and found of my heart."
With money from hundreds of millions of records and the isolation of a career with millions of adoring fans and few friends, Jackson created a fantasy childhood. The "Leave Me Alone" music video (1987) takes a revealing trip through this self-referential world. Like another recluse, Howard Hughes, Jackson as aviator leads viewers through Neverland, dancing with the deformed Elephant Man and tabloid headlines.
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