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Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 12:31 am
Do I come to praise "the Last King of Pop", or to bury him?

It's the question our moonwalking grandchildren will ask us: where were you when you were asked by a major media outlet for your reaction to the death of Michael Jackson? And what did you say?



Jarvis Cocker ended what was apparently a lacklustre appearance on BBC TV's Question Time with an attempt at the question he'd obviously been invited there to answer: Had the media over-reacted to Jackson's death? Cocker, of course, had interrupted Jackson's Earth Song at the 1996 Brit Awards with a weird arse-flapping intervention -- rather feebly choreographed, it has to be said, in comparison with performance artist Michael Portnoy's spastic-electric Soy Bomb dance beside Bob Dylan at the 1998 Grammys:



Jarvis told the Question Time audience that Jackson hadn't made a great record in twenty years, was pretending to be Jesus, and had invented the moonwalk. Fact-checking suggests that tap-dancer Bill Bailey invented the moonwalk and that David Bowie was the first rock performer to use it onstage (Bowie also arguably did the Jesus thing first too, since Ziggy was "a leper messiah").

My own mainstream media reaction to Jackson's death -- you can be my grandchildren now, since I won't have any -- came in the form of an AFP wire article by Shaun Tandon, syndicated yesterday. After 'King of Pop', an Empty Throne wonders -- rather in the way people wondered when Peel died -- whether anyone will be able to fill the void Jackson left. I was probably asked because I'm known for saying, in a 1991 essay entited Pop Stars? Nein Danke!, that "in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen people". That essay ended: "The King is dead. Long live the peoples!"



The AFP article has me saying: "Michael Jackson is not just the King of Pop, but the Last King of Pop". The article continues: "Momus pointed to the rise of digital culture, which has fragmented music consumers into small, targeted audiences. "Then there's the question of the sheer rarity of Jackson's combination of talents, his neurotic work drive and his eccentricity. Lightning like that takes a long time to strike twice," Momus told AFP."

Actually, the original quote I supplied said rather more -- spot the bits AFP left out: "Michael Jackson is not just the King of Pop, but the Last King of Pop. Three major factors will prevent there ever being another one: digital culture and its fragmentation of the big "we are the world"-type audience into a million tiny, targeted audiences; the demographic decline of the "pigs in the pipe" (the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, who made pop music's four-decade-long pre-eminence possible); and the decline of the influence of the United States."

The AFP article ends with me in a head-to-head disagreement with Jerry Del Colliano, a professor of the music industry at the University of Southern California. Del Colliano thinks that stars will emerge from social networking software.

"Momus, however, believes that social networking may have the opposite effect. He said the world may be headed back to what celebrated sociologist Pierre Bourdieu found in 1960s France -- white-collar workers preferred high-brow classical music, while manual laborers listened to cheap pop. "A few decades later, postmodern consumer culture had leveled that, at least superficially: now, people with college degrees spoke about Michael Jackson 'intelligently,' people from lower class backgrounds spoke about him 'passionately.' But everybody spoke about him," Momus said. But social networking is now limiting interaction among groups with different tastes, Momus said. "I think we'll see different classes embracing different cultures again. Things will settle back into the kind of cultural landscape Bourdieu described," he said."



Since this is my blog, not a syndicated wire service, I'll run the original quote I gave AFP in full:

"I think we're seeing the re-appearance of class and caste. Michael Jackson's fame comes from a cultural period -- postmodern global consumerism -- when the distinction between high and low collapsed. When Pierre Bourdieu surveyed French cultural tastes in the 1960s, he found that blue collar and white collar workers had completely different cultures -- classical music for the brain workers, cheap pop for the hand workers. A few decades later, postmodern consumer culture had leveled that, at least superficially: now, people with college degrees spoke about Michael Jackson "intelligently", people from lower class backgrounds spoke about him "passionately". But everybody spoke about him. Now that postmodernism is coming to an end, and now that narrowcasting and social networking limit our encounters with "the class other", I think we'll see different classes embracing different cultures again. Things will settle back into the kind of cultural landscape Bourdieu described in "Distinction"."

The King of Pop is dead, long live pithy, battling Kings of Pop Sociology! For fifteen global media minutes, anyway.

62CommentReply

imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)

Woot, it's rather exciting watching global media outlets pick these syndicated stories up. This one was on AFP, Yahoo and Google, then turned up next in Malaysia!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 11:22 pm (UTC)

Here's Bowie moonwalking in February 1969 in his amusing short film The Mask:


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 5th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)

(Well, okay, almost moonwalking.)


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 05:59 am (UTC)

Maybe chatrooms are places where you encounter "the class other" (ie people from other classes), but social networking is really about filtering those people out. People use cultural tastes on these sites as filters to strip out anyone who doesn't fit their own class profile.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 01:18 am (UTC)
Mary

totally unrelated but have you seen this http://www.theuniformproject.com ?


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milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
Re: Mary

very cool. I think it is related to this subject. Jackson and Bowie continued reinventing of themselves. We will have to see how this dress project pans out, although the criteria is a bit different... it could still be mirroring the same principles. Both Jaskson and Bowie stole from others blatenly to "invent' their 'own' style. Both had a very intensly succesful early career followed by a couple of albums with dwindling success and creativily.
but in all seriousness....
momus, I do believe you are more or less correct in your theory. ... but boy thats quite the 'which came first? the chicken or the egg" kind of question... I keep on flip floppinng back and forth... perhaps there is a thrid answer that incorporated both possible outcome... thats always how things work out anyways...


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
postmodern consumer "Distinction"."

I don't know if the coke, beer, or champagne approach is appropriate for Jackson or Bowie. Power by means of the transmission of a dominant culture rings pretty true. Variety and difference is what I believe Michael was about, which is why every dominant culture got their freak on. David would never let that happen.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)

"Del Colliano thinks that stars will emerge from social networking software."

Michael Jackson's heir is Tay Zonday


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 07:08 am (UTC)

Bad pun alert: leaked autopsy reports suggest Jackson had no heir, just a light peach fuzz.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
Half-cocked

I wonder if there's a Cocker backlash in the wings. There's a generation who see him as a guy who crops up to comment on stuff although he (himself) hasn't had a hit for years, so he's a kind of half-cocked national treasure (when everyone seems to be a national treasure), possibly compounded with "death-by-Guardian" a ubiquitousness meaning that you tick all the boxes for production assistants and editors, out of proportion with any public fervour.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
Re: Half-cocked

Celebrity and backlash are absolutely inextricable, for the reasons we were discussing the other day: as soon as you make a clear unequivocal statement (and what is a celeb if not a "cultural statement"?) doubts rush in, and the opposite begins to seem appealing.

Slebs can only avoid this by becoming reclusive, ie silent as mimes. Like the Queen, or David Bowie. (Anyone know what he thought of the death of Michael, the Iraq war, the Obama victory? Of course not; he's a mime.)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 08:00 am (UTC)
Jarvis Cocker, a moralizing square?

Interesting (and ironic), Jarvis Cocker, an artist, essentially condones his censoring of another artist in this mealy-mouthed clip.

[About his disruption of Jackson's performance at the Brit Awards in 1996] "He was pretending to have the power of healing, and that's just not right..." "Not right" ??? He sounds like some pathetic right-wing conservative.

Even though Cocker said Jackson hadn't made anything good in 20 years, Jackson was obviously able to do something that deeply moved him though--albeit to lash out and try to disrupt his performance. Whether Cocker likes it or not, Michael Jackson's artistry hadn't failed, in that case.


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)
Re: Jarvis Cocker, a moralizing square?

Interesting (and ironic), Jarvis Cocker, an artist, essentially condones his censoring of another artist in this mealy-mouthed clip.

[About his disruption of Jackson's performance at the Brit Awards in 1996] "He was pretending to have the power of healing, and that's just not right..." "Not right" ??? He sounds like some pathetic right-wing conservative.


Yeah, because only right-wing conservatives react to overblown idiots who play Jesus.

Even though Cocker said Jackson hadn't made anything good in 20 years, Jackson was obviously able to do something that deeply moved him though--albeit to lash out and try to disrupt his performance. Whether Cocker likes it or not, Michael Jackson's artistry hadn't failed, in that case.

Really? And if MJ had started farting Cocker would have stormed the room for some fresh air. MJ artisty would not have failed in that case too.

Or, MAYBE, provoking a reaction is NOT what artisty is about. A slap on the head also provokes a reaction.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 08:25 am (UTC)
salsa moonwalk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77Qjh2MQf7Y

bowie moonwalking to salsa.
who would have known?
thanks for the finding.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)
Re: salsa moonwalk

Of course, I should have remembered! David Live, 1974!



This "I'm black, I'm white" stage of Bowie's career really seems to have influenced Jackson. When Michael emerged in 1984 with a new face, there was something suddenly much more Bowie-esque about his look.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 08:57 am (UTC)

I thought I was the only one using this "last king of pop" label, but I just saw this magazine cover on my way back from the bakery:


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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)

A tiny clarification - Gen X aren't strictly 'pigs in the pipe' in the way the Boomers and Gen Y are. Gen X is notable by its small size, the lower birth rate caused by, among other things: the introduction of the pill in the 60s, the recession of the early 70s, and the trend among the rapidly expanding middle class to have kids later. You could argue we had a disproportionate influence culturally, but it was short-lived.


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bongo_kong
bongo_kong
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 09:02 am (UTC)

Don't forget Jeffrey Daniel from Shalamar doing a moonwalk on TOTP. Everybody was talking about that at school the next day.


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bongo_kong
bongo_kong
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)

BBC potted history of the moonwalk with Jeffrey Daniel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhORApox81M&feature=related


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 12:23 pm (UTC)
The Visual Poetry of Earth Song Performance

I think the Earth Song performance that Jarvis objected to is one of TLKOP's finest moments. The visual poetry of it completely bypassed most of the audience including Jarvis. The Earth Song is one of TLKOP's greatest songs to my ears, a lot of his 90's stuff is probably just as popular as his 80's output. So Jarvis was just flapping guff out his arse again as ever. Why should he stop now he's made a career out of it. By the way Momus in 15 minutes everyone will be famous, what are you wearing?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 12:34 pm (UTC)
Re: The Visual Poetry of Earth Song Performance

"What do you have in your stomach?" more like!


ReplyThread Parent
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
King for an eternal Day

Elvis had to answer to his anticipated epitaph "The King" with a Byzantine appearance.
MJ's management answered to "The King" with "The King of Pop."
Somehow MJ was stronger then this title. It linked him more to Pepsi then to his music.
But alas, the last king of pop, he is/was not.
The last king of pop got elected recently: he is also the president of the United States.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: King for an eternal Day

But can you whistle a single one of his hits?


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robincarmody
robincarmody
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)

Interesting point here. I'd tend to think it's not wholly accurate if applied to the UK (it may be more so elsewhere, in places where pop was never so total in its influence and never part of a "we may have lost our power, but we can still do *this*" lowered-horizons quasi-patriotism in the way it was here) and I'd get the impression you wouldn't be applying it to the UK particularly. Here, pop in all its forms has never been so total as it is now - no star is on Jackson's level of inaccessibility, but part of that distance was intensified by the pop-scepticism of the official culture industry (even as late on as his peak). You could confine your radio listening to Radios 3 & 4 and your TV viewing to certain fixed points on BBC2 and Channel 4 and not really be aware of him. Now, even these outposts are saturated with his legacy.

The British mass experience of Jackson sums up a self-crushing dynamic - he relied for his initial power on the romanticism of pop, but the two biggest factors killing that process were Jackson's rise and the crushing of "gentlemanly capitalism" by a new school of business which would jump on whichever trend would make it money - not coincidentally, concurrent processes. Just as Elvis Presley's emergence seemed to fit with the USA making it clear after Suez that Britain could not join up with France against it - the Pelvis subliminally crushed those immediate pre-Suez hopes of Anglo-French political union - so 'Thriller' danced on the grave of the concurrent hopes for Thatcher to be overthrown by a One Nation Tory (and thus more politically European-minded) coup and for British pop to take a serious turn to its nearest geographical neighbours and beyond (via the Associates, Visage, Japan, Kraftwerk getting to number one, even one-hit wonders like the Mobiles and groups as big as the Human League). In the US, 'Thriller' merely cleared MOR/country dreck out of the charts, but in Britain its impact was much less positive.

I agree entirely that people tend to stick with their own even on a medium where they can *theoretically* connect to everyone (and admittedly some do), but populism and deference to mass culture - look at how Glastonbury has become a home from home for those who once stuck to Glyndebourne - seems fairly endemic on all sides in UK 09. I find it hard to see any real reversal here of the trend where even the most educated fairly unironically join in with The X Factor, etc. (although such a turnaround may occur, to some extent, in Scotland if it acceeds from the Union).

But on the other hand we seem to have seen the creation of a new kind of pop, aimed specifically at a demographic that wouldn't historically have listened to pop at its brashest and most commercial, but wouldn't have been particularly highbrow either and certainly not in any way experimental. Pop for a petit bourgeoisie whose parents banned ITV but which nonetheless subscribes to Sky. The spectrum which runs from Coldplay to James Blunt. The social context which created this music may appear to be UK-specific - certainly the class hangups which affect a British response to it are - but its global appeal would suggest there are such people everywhere. I think many of those who might once have slummed it around Jackson have already gravitated to that kind of music, which I suppose is a kind of modern-day equivalent of "light classical", something that is safely immune from both the most blatant commercialism and the associations of High Art. Perhaps that's an example of what you're thinking about, but surely in no way a positive one.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)

Sorry this is such a generic answer, but I always enjoy your comments, Robin! Having nothing to add is not a reproach!


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