We Are All Michael Jackson?


Whoa Nelly!

Bob Herbert just wrote quite a stretch of an op-ed during the course of which he connects enough dots to make the point that we as a nation are essentially the irresponsible, immature Michael Jackson writ large.

This one’s a massive stretch and, as it appears in the New York Times, unsurprisingly uses the Reagan administration as the cradle of our current economic crisis.

The pretzel logic used in the piece centers around Herbert’s mid-80’s encounter with MJ and his then pal Webster, and then wends it’s way toward a more traditional anti-deregulation diatribe.

Here’s how the master rolls out his dough, nice and thin:

Emmanuel Lewis, the child star of the hit TV series “Webster,” was with Jackson that evening…Jackson made faces at the tiny boy and giggled as Lewis hopped around and climbed over furniture, much to Jackson’s delight. I remember thinking that Jackson had treated Lewis almost as a pet…But what I wish I had thought more about in those long-ago days of Michael-mania was the era of extreme immaturity and grotesque irresponsibility that was already well under way in America. The craziness played out on a shockingly broad front and Jackson’s life, among many others, would prove to be a shining and ultimately tragic example.

OK, so Jackson was a bit off in the mid-80’s, check…here’s the punchline:

Ronald Reagan was president, making promises he couldn’t keep about taxes and deficits and allowing the readings of a West Coast astrologer to shape his public schedule. The movie “Wall Street” would soon appear, accurately reflecting the nation’s wholesale acceptance of unrestrained greed and other excesses of the rich and powerful.  All kinds of restraints were coming off…In many ways we descended as a society into a fantasyland, trying to leave the limits and consequences and obligations of the real world behind. Politicians stopped talking about the poor. We built up staggering amounts of debt and called it an economic boom. We shipped jobs overseas by the millions without ever thinking seriously about how to replace them.

Wow.  As good a bit of stretched and twisted rhetoric as I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll take the other side of this speciousness…

For 20 some-odd years, for about the span that Herbert discusses (1985 until last week), Jackson gradually became more and more of a laughingstock and object of ridicule day by day.  From the oxygen sarcophagus to the llamas-as-house-pets to the bizarre marriages to the infinite plastic surgeries, we as a society took each of Jackson’s idiosyncrasies and added them to our subconscious tally of our MJ is a Nutcase count.  Newspapers called him Wacko Jacko almost more often than they referred to him by his actual name and no one took any of his music seriously after the Dangerous album (1991).

After that, he couldn’t buy a hit song or get any kind of positive publicity no matter what he did, charitable works or otherwise.  Even his mid-90’s greatest hits disc, HIStory, was a flop, despite being loaded to the gills with more top ten hits than almost any other artist’s Best Of would be.

For Herbert to make the case that Jackson was the personification of our own irresponsibility and recklessness is disingenuous to say the least, as he knows damn well that Jackson was kept a public figure purely for the purpose of mockery and ostracism for at least the last 15 years.  For Herbert’s Jackson as “Immature Messiah” thesis to work, we’d have to buy in to the notion that he was some kind of paragon or example for the American people, when clearly, he was the very opposite…a cautionary tale of childhood fame, screwed-up finances and destruction of talent.

I simply do not understand how one could draw the parallel between Jackson’s personal foibles and those of the investor/ homeowner class in this country.  His oddness was not celebrated by our culture, it was derided, and during the span of his career when he fought off sexual abuse allegations, he couldn’t find a friend anywhere; he practically relocated to the Middle East to escape us.

Oh, and as to Herbert’s thesis that from the mid-80’s on, everything went downhill and led to our current crisis…let’s keep in mind the following: 

First, on the road to our new state of affairs, enormous amounts of wealth were created, along with whole new industries and jobs.  This in addition to the fact that by the end of the 90’s, our deficit had become a surplus.  We could also throw in the fact that despite the crash of both housing and stocks, both remain substantially above the levels of that time during which Herbert believes the seeds of our doom were planted, even when adjusted for inflation.

Sorry, Bob.  Jackson is Jackson and our fascination with/revulsion to him in no way represents the success or failure of Reagan’s pro-growth policies or their consequences.


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