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Never Never Land to the end: The Jackson funeral

      
Todd Van Beck's picture
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Mr. Jackson's funeral is over, or is it?  I knew when I was told of his death at such a terribly young age that the combination of his celebrity status, his more than eccentric life style, and his untimely death would definitely create quite a stir. Quite a stir is a ridiculous understatement. Add to this the fact that everything happened in Los Angeles, and the sky was the limit as to what would and what did happen.

It is difficult to appraise the Jackson funeral activities at such a time when the news media is still devoted hours upon hours to the death, funeral and now aftermath. However, there are some preliminary observations that can be made concerning a psychological appraisal of his death and the subsequent activities. Some of these observations are encouraging, and not surprisingly some of them, I believe, are signals which need careful monitoring and exploration.
 
First of all, Michael Jackson's life problems--and it appears that he was having many problems--are over. No more media frenzy at his every move, no more Internal Revenue Service breathing down his neck, no more return tours, no more astronomical debt, no more medicine, no more problems. For Michael Jackson, all is at peace and the turmoil and struggle to explain himself, to make some sense of his wacky behaviors, to make his mark, to entertain us, is all over.  And even though I was not a fan, I must say, as a human being, that he died way too young and it is a terrible burden and responsibility for parents to have to bury one of their children, no matter how rich and famous they are.
 
The news of Mr. Jackson's death stunned the world, and in turn the world quickly relied on the only coping mechanism people have when words will not do the job, and that is ritual and ceremony. Within minutes, ad hoc memorials were springing up across the globe. These memorials were not made by master stonecrafters using the finest granite and marble, but instead were made by the plain and simple folk who basically account for most of the world's populations. I was in England at the time, and throughout Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Westminster hundreds and thousands of small memorials made of construction paper, crayon, tape, ribbon, etc. graced most every street corner. I believe I witnessed true grief and sadness by the common ordinary Londoner much like I saw when the Princess of Wales died in 1997.
 
Even in light of some mighty serious lifestyle challenges and odd and different behavior that Mr. Jackson exhibited throughout most of his adult life, there was and is a definite connection between him and hundred's of thousands of the citizens of the world.  It seems quite evident that if people give the instinct to memorialize their dead a chance to express itself, good things happen to help us assimilate this larger-than-life experience of death. No matter what, no matter how much money, no matter being a celebrity or not, not matter what lifestyle, in the end the democracy of death wins out. Death is the equal opportunity employer and no one, not even Michael Jackson, can escape it.
 
I suspect that the mourning period for Mr. Jackson will really never end, just like it has never really ended for Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or for the multitude of personages who touched our lives and continue to even years after their deaths. Michael Jackson's final resting place will no doubt become a shrine where hundreds of thousands of devoted fans will make a pilgrimage to pay homage to his influence and his effect on life. This seems to me a good thing.
 
Some further observations. I found it terribly ironic that the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus was at the Staples Center and was forced to move out to accommodate the Jackson funeral service activities. There seemed an odd connection between a circus, a real live circus, being replaced with a real live type of funeral circus. Celebrities came out of the woodwork, the media devoted hours upon hours to the coverage, in fact in Britain, the BBC came under sharp criticism by the British public because of the ad nausuem coverage which took up more air time than when Princess Diana was killed.
 
When I learned about the "raffle" for funeral tickets, I just sat back in my chair and shook my head in disbelief, for a while anyway, but then I came to realize that this funeral was in actuality a funeral rock/pop concert, and you usually have to have a ticket to get into a concert. As I watched the day's activities unfold, the constant tension and speculation about Mr. Jackson's body--where was it, when will it arrive, where will it be buried or entombed--I saw thousands of people caught up entirely in the psychodrama which rivaled any of Mr. Jackson's stage performances. As I watched the people on the streets of Los Angeles, I could see a combination of sincerity and phoniness which actually is present at every funeral I have ever been involved with, no matter who the dead person was.
 
I was once again bored to tears by the constant commentary from the same old "leaders" who have something to say about anything that happens.  Their message is always the same old platitudes and pale adulation--just as long as THEY are in front of the camera. I thought the music was OK, but one of the singers missed a couple of notes, which was later ascribed to "profound grief," which it probably was, but who knows for sure? Remember, actors and singers memorize lines and cover their faces with makeup, so is it real or not?
 
The preaching was what could safely be expected, proclaiming time and again that Michael Jackson was a saint--which he certainly was not--but at a funeral, just for the sake of politeness, it is not the place to air dirty laundry. However, when one of the speakers tried connecting President Obama's success to Mr. Jackson, all I could remember was Mr. Jackson dangling the small infant out over a balcony several stories up in the air with nothing but concrete pavement to absorb the baby's potential fall. When I saw him dangle that helpless infant in midair, I thought Mr. Jackson was nuts. But at the funeral, many, many more did not seems to be bothered by the infant incident and shook their heads in agreement with the preachers that Mr. Jackson was a saint.  So be it.
 
Now the funeral is over, and the elephants and clowns have returned once again to the Staples Center to resume the circus act. I believe that in the end, the Jackson funeral was precisely the type of sendoff abundantly appropriate for a person with Michael Jackon's unqiue talents and psychology.  The funeral, which was put together amazingly well in a short time, was resplendant with glitter, stars, fanfare, bright lights, shiny cars, beautiful people, tinsel- basically Never Never Land for a dead man.
 
One thing I believe is that, as sure as Mr. Jackson was so drawn to Peter Pan and Never Never Land, we will never never ever see another funeral such as this one. The ritual reflected Mr. Jackson's eccentric temperament perfectly, and is that not the main goal we strive for in every funeral, to be a reflection of the life lived? Anyway, this is one old undertaker's opinion.  TVB