Our Very Own Golden Calf
To say that the untimely death of Michael Jackson not quite two weeks ago has impacted the world is an understatement. As I write this, Mr. Jackson’s public funeral is being held in Los Angeles’ Staples Center. I just heard a clip of Stevie Wonder singing his tribute to the King of Pop. Another clip had a sample of the eulogy given by Reverend Al Sharpton. A quick glimpse of the news on the internet showed a headline of Michael Jackson’s tribute with a gospel choir opening the service.
Hundreds of pictures of the event have already been posted. Millions of people all over the world applied for tickets to the event even though there was scant chance that many would be able to attend even if they had won the lottery known as the Michael Jackson funeral. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people traveled to Los Angeles from around the world without a ticket to the memorial just for the privilege to be denied access to Staples Center. One woman interviewed on television said she spent three thousand dollars to buy a last minute ticket from the United Kingdom to pay her respects and to gain closure. So many people took the death of Michael Jackson to heart. This event is truly unprecedented.
This is my third Michael Jackson themed article since his demise. Unlike the vast majority of people who have written about Michael, my writings have not been all that kind. Most people who respond to my articles reprimand me for being so harsh with a man who appears to have done everything imaginable, and some things beyond most people’s imagination, to put his blackness behind him and become a bona fide member of the racially generic dominant community. I didn’t forget the bleaching of his blackness before he died and I’m not going to forget it just because he died. Mr. Jackson was a strange and complex figure and his death will not change that. At least it doesn’t change anything for me.
Mr. Jackson’s death has catapulted him into people’s hearts in a way and on a scale that is hard to imagine. No one will ever enjoy such love and such worship for a long, long time if ever. You can compare the impact of his death to the death of Elvis Presley or you can compare his death to the passing of Rudy Valentino or to the death of anyone else to determine who had the bigger impact to the people of his or her time. Who is bigger and who is greater is moot. It really is an argument of apples and oranges as to who is the greatest star. Today is the day that many of us want to celebrate this man’s life.
I was listening to National Public Radio and heard that Michael Jackson was being buried in a golden casket. The allusion was much too stark to simply let it go by without saying anything. I searched the internet for a picture of the casket and found it within seconds. I saw Michael Jackson’s golden casket and all I can think of was the golden calf from the book of Exodus.
According to the Old Testament, right after the greatest manifestations of the power of the Supreme Being, some of the people needed decided that what they needed was something shiny and expensive to hang their worship on. The people gave of their selves, gave up their gold, so they could help build the golden calf. And once they were done, the shiny golden calf sat on an altar for all the people to see and celebrate. I’m sure if you ask some of the people why they did it they could have said that they needed some kind of closure from the past as well.
When most of us learned that story back in Sunday school, we probably thought we’d never do anything remotely similar. We would never worship idols in such a way that we lose perspective of our sense of spirituality and our sense of community, our relationship with each other. However, if today’s events are any indication, many of us appear quite capable of repeating the story. Many of us appear happy to give of our wealth in an effort to help create the greatest spectacle of a tribute possible to give a man.
Once the memorial is done we will come one step closer to putting this unpleasant affair behind us. It might take a week, it might take a month, but eventually, Michael Jackson will fall back into the cobwebs of our conscious and the vast majority of us will go back to the lives we led before he died. It will take time but all of us will move on to find another idol to worship. We will always have this time to look back on and shake our heads in amazement at the fact that for a few days the global collective took a moment to worship Michael Jackson in unison.