I was watching this marathon on VH1 yesterday, Hits of the '80s or something like that, where they were counting-down the top 100 pop hits of the 1980s and, of course, Michael Jackson was all over the place. That Michael Jackson and his sequined glove are synonymous with 1980's music and pop-culture is undeniable; his multi-zippered leather jacket and the dance lessons he gave to gangmembers and zombies alike are a staple of the era, just as iconic as Madonna's writhing and BOY-TOY beltbuckle or hairband metal.
One of the commentators said, "No one knows what a 'superstar' is if you weren't alive then to see Michael Jackson at the height of his career." Then they cut to Deborah (Debbie) Gibson - who was a pop-culture phenomenon in her own right at the same time - who said, "I don't think that [superstardom/level of fame] even exists anymore." And that's when it really hit me: it doesn't. But Deborah's insight went even further, and she said, "Michael Jackson had It - he presented himself as a superstar, he dressed like a superstar, and he delivered."
I mean, it really hit me: there is no such thing as superstardom anymore; it's a dead art. I remember something Ice-T once said, discussing how the President of the United States had screwed with him over the release of the song, Copkiller, "You can't begin to comprehend what famous is until you think about the President of the United States - I mean, everybody in the world knows who he is. That's just a level of fame you can't begin to comprehend." But when you think of Michael Jackson in the 1980s, the President of the US is not only the best comparison, it's actually more appropriate to say that Michael Jackson was at least as famous as the President of the US!
When you compare the level of fame and the overall packaging of Michael Jackson's stardom in the 1980s to that of the modern-day pop-culture celebrities', it becomes obvious that such a thing simply no longer exists. The last celebrity I can think of that even came close was Sharon Stone in her early-90's heyday; after that, the entire notion of superstardom just disappeared. Even Britney Spears' apex (about a decade ago) didn't rival the level of fame that we're discussing here.
I got to thinking about why this is and where it's gone and I can't put my finger on any one thing. Of course, societies change and develop just as people do, and there were superstars prior to this era - Clara Bowe, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra - but there haven't been any since. I thought about OJ Simpson's "car-chase" and the proliferation of paparazzi and YouTube and so forth, and maybe all of these things are what killed "superstardom," but I also think there's something within our modern, American society that resents that level of fame and it comes from the whole "everybody's a winner" philosophy the Ultra-Liberals of the 1990s forwarded.
There is a certain amount of, not just jealousy but actual resentment, toward celebrities who rise to that level of fame and success; we can't wait to tear them down. People can no longer have careers where they just "fade-out" - they have to suffer that inevitable fall from grace and none seem to be able to escape that. If a celebrity isn't quite flawed enough to orchestrate his own demise, then we manufacture it; it has become an inescapable part of the whole process.
And I personally think the world is poorer for it. We don't have heroes anymore because we don't allow them; instead, we want to reinforce the notion that the only reason anyone is more successful or famous than we are is "luck of the draw" and if they refuse to accept that, we have some kind of duty to drag them down to "our level" and remind them of that. When we were kids, we didn't have this idea ingrained in us; we were content to be entertained by whatever Mike had done and accomplished - we didn't have to be reminded of how he "is no better/different" than us and how we could do and accomplish the same things he has.
Because that simply is not true and we knew it.
We knew that some kids were better at sports and others at Math; we knew that some kids were simply naturally gifted singers/musicians and others were just bad seeds. The ideology then was on focusing on yourself - maximizing your talents and abilities and being the best person you could be - instead of on everyone else. And while the 1980s became known, perhaps unfairly, as "the decade of greed" (again, because of Ultra-Liberals from the 1990s) and many people took that ideology too far to that extreme, I still believe the underlying sentiment is better than what we currently push on the youth of today.
Just because you honestly cannot achieve that level of fame, are never going to be a movie star, are never going to be a multi-platinum singer/songwriter - whatever - does not mean that you have a right to resent those who do achieve these things. It also doesn't mean that "they are no better than you" - they really are! - they are better than you at those things. Now that doesn't automatically make them better people or exempt them from having to follow the same laws as the rest of us, but it does deserve some respect!
How far are we getting by continuing to deride the concept of celebrity?
© C Harris Lynn, 2008