Friday, June 26, 2009

Finding Neverland

I stepped out of my room this morning to find my Dad watching a policeman on TV saying that Michael Jackson was dead. It caused a surprising rush of emotion. It’s been years since I put any of his CDs into my player, I don’t have MJ on my iPod, but his is the defining sound of a whole generation of music. My generation.

Suddenly his songs are on the radio and they are the beat of young feet attempting impossible dances powered only by glasses of juice, teenagers in oversized jackets with padded shoulders messing with make-up and love. Dangerous. Old times, utterly forgotten until now, old friends, some of whom I have totally lost touch with, Facebook notwithstanding. But the moon is full and here come their ghosts again – Liberian Girl. Beat it. Billie Jean. We Are The World. Bad.

The opening strains of The Girl is Mine on the car stereo actually brought a lump to my throat. I felt weird about that until I reached the office and realized I wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard confessions all day of learning breakdancing, owning Thriller boots and sporting scary MJ haircuts, of upturned collars and braided coats. Two minutes ago, I finally managed to get on Facebook briefly and so many status updates echo my own.

He was bigger than himself, a project rather than a person, an anthem more than a song. Everything he did was uniquely his own, whether you liked it or not, which is why he spawned lookalikes and movealikes from the stages of Vegas to the back streets of Bhatinda. In the dime stores and bus-stations, people are probably talking of him. One entire part of the Tamil film industry must be in black mourning today.

As with all those in the bright lights – I would guess moonlight rather than sun, as far as MJ was concerned – we saw good side, bad side and terrible side. Those are hard to tell apart when your only source is the media. The words “icon”, “legend”, “end of an era” will rattle around the news and radio stations of the world for a week or so, or until the funeral, whichever comes first. The anti-newsers will write editorials saying “oh what a circus”. Someone will write a Shine On Crazy Diamond for him. Other celebrities will call him a “gifted artist”, some may go as far as “wonderful human being”. The crowds who gathered to spew hate during his courtroom appearances may well be the same ones carrying the tearful “Heal the world” banners.

The only thing we know for sure, firsthand is his music, and I hope we’ve heard too much of that to argue or to judge. He was Michael Jackson, indisputably. But what did he see when he looked at the man in the mirror? He went through so many transformations, what did he want to see? Did he see it last night?

As a friend said on Facebook “Wherever he is, I hope he finally got the nose he wanted”. Perhaps he’s turned back into that kid with the afro from The Jackson 5, and it really doesn’t matter to him now if he’s black or white.

Many songs by other people have got mixed up in this little tribute. That’s just emotional turbulence tossing up things that are not tied down or stowed away in the overhead locker. It’s hard to express the way it makes me feel, the depth of it. This is the first really big musical end, the Elvis moment, of my time.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The princess rants, continued

I’ve been having a running argument with a friend on Facebook, all because of this one article that she posted. She liked it, I didn’t. She has good points but I hold stubbornly to mine that constantly being on the defensive implies guilt and uncertainty, both uncalled for.

The author’s stand seems to me to be highly coloured by certain (probably involuntary) fascist aspects of the “women’s movement”, for want of a better phrase:
1. Women worthy of respect have to conform to specific non-“girly” rules, which is as appearance-obsessed as the point of view it affects to despise.
2. The professions most worth aspiring to are those that were historically male bastions: lawyer, doctor, entrepreneur
3. Women have to try harder just because they are women just to impress other women
4. Everything, but everything is judged in comparison, not as it is.

It's a tyranny of discrimination nearly as bad as the other one. I agree there was a time when it was necessary to go too far, but the pendulum wasn’t quite allowed to continue swinging until it found equilibrium. I have three nieces below the age of six and I resent much of the article on their behalf and for their sakes.

If anything, girls should be taught that being female is merely a fact of birth, like your family or the colour of your eyes. It's not your only identity. Your achievements shouldn’t be judged by it ("woman president", "woman CEO"), nor should you be strung up for having failed the “sisterhood” if you're an underachiever. You can be girly or feminine or boyish or butch, or whatever the current media label, or none of them. What type of woman you are doesn’t matter, what counts is what kind of person you are.

I hope my nieces will know that they are free to respond to the world as people. To ignore the media, both for and against, and think for themselves. To not argue with fools who start stupid discussions that begin with "all women" or "all men". To laugh at a sexist joke if they find it funny without it in any way affecting their power of perception. I hope they understand that the world will chatter incessantly but they are free to let go of all expectations but their own. To be women or ladies or girls without feeling a driving need for aggression or apology.

Only one important thing is wrong with the pink princess franchise – her inherent helplessness. The princess does not do for herself. Fate, fairy godmother, prince or a singing teapot always has to intervene for her. The other things – obsession with beauty, for example – are only secondary to this very dangerous message. For the rest of it, they’re just fantasies, no more cause for socio-cultural angst than Superman or Tarzan.

Then there’s this genius who wrote 1000 plus words in the New York Times, no less, about women bullying women in the workplace. Apparently the gentler sex is usually the kind, caring custodian of the careers of all other women in the world, so any deviation from this is an aberration worth reporting. What is this - a Bene Gesserit breeding program?

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