For MIT students, we’re most often having fun when we’re way too busy. Don’t ask me why; I don’t like being busy, but here I am enjoying myself AND being busy at the same time. I resent it. Regardless, it’s that business which brings you this entry a few days late. Now, here is a blog post, in the voice of last Friday.
Where were you a year ago today? Ed.: that is, a year before June 25, 2010…
It’s perhaps shocking and quite revealing about our culture that these events stand out in tandem to me, but there are two days in my life that felt quite similar: September 11th, 2001, and June 25th, 2009 — the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the day of Michael Jackson’s death. For both of those days, I remember exactly where I was and how I reacted.
I don’t mean to compare relative impacts and significances for those days by mentioning them together; consider though that for the first, I was only in elementary school, and for the second, I was newly done with high school, and better able to perceive my surroundings and their significance.
A year ago today, I felt a new kind of shock. I spent my morning and afternoon in lab at MIT, working on an application that eventually quadrupled the sampling rate for the sensor we were using. I left after dinner, walking towards central square with only a few hours of daylight left which I hoped not to spend in traffic. I was headed to alewife, where I would fetch my car for the uncomfortable daily fee of seven dollars and sit in awful traffic until I could take the highway back to my (then) home. Coincidentally, one day short of a year afterward, I became no longer able to call that place home, but that’s a different topic (and one of the less fun reasons I’ve been so busy, recently).
I was walking through central square when I felt the first ripples. Outside of the McDonald’s on Massachusetts Avenue stood three punks (I use the term punks because the image you should have in your head is that of punks standing on a street corner in a bad 80s teen comedy, smoking and wearing unusual amounts of leather. Replace the leather pants with skinny jeans and any odd jackets with awkwardly plaid shirts, change the category to hipsters, but keep the stigma of ‘punk’ and you’ll imagine what I encountered). Some of these punks called out to me:
“Hey, Michael Jackson’s dead!”
I thought they were joking, and didn’t acknowledge them, eager to make it home.
To a fellow punk: “Doesn’t even look at us. Nobody cares.” [laughter]
As I walked, I thought of what an odd thing to say that was; although attempted provocation of passers-by isn’t all that uncommon, why would they bring up Michael Jackson, who (I thought, at least) had been out of the spotlight for a few years? Was it possible they weren’t joking? On the T, I started to hear more of the story.
As people got on at harvard, porter, davis, I heard more: “Did you hear about MJ? Is it true?”. “What happened to Michael Jackson?”
The spread of news was amazing; I’m sure a similar spread occurred in 2001, although I was too young to observe it. The ripples turned into waves, and when I got into the car the tsunami hit: there was no music.
No music, only talk radio. All of the stations were talking and confirming what I’d slowly began to fear (and why I feared it, I didn’t know) — Michael Jackson had died. The King of Pop was gone.
For the past few years, Michael had been an easy target. The color of his skin, the child abuse scandal — the internet ate him up. One of the Scary Movies featured a nasty MJ jab, I remembered. There was the photoshopped movie poster for Home Alone with MJ’s face in the window, spread endlessly over the internet. The jokes went on; the King of Pop was being treated as a jester. I think that much of my generation focused on Michael in that light; we grew up on the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears (umm… no comment). And, in the uncomfortable middle school years, who of my age — trying desperately to be funnier than their friends — didn’t crack at least one joke about Michael Jackson and child abuse, or his amazing color-changing abilities? Regrettably, I almost certainly did; fortunately, I don’t remember them. However, it seemed to me that Michael had been dragged down from his throne as the King of Pop.
As I caught the news over the radio stations, the Michael Jackson of my middle school years was what I expected to hear remembered.
Instead of condemnations and stories of scandal, I heard praise.
I heard the world come together — not just through broadcast media, but through conversations in the student center and on the T in the week to follow — after a man’s death, and I heard them praise him for his accomplishments rather than make a mockery of his failures as had been the norm of recent years. I heard us recognize the man’s talents and his weaknesses, and I was amazed. I didn’t expect the world to be able to love a man who’d committed such atrocities, but I was shocked and amazed that we were able to. I don’t in any way condone child molestation, and I know the world doesn’t either; that’s what made it remarkable to me. I guess I just didn’t think the world would be able to separate sin from a sinner. I didn’t think that we, as a people, were that nice. I was very refreshingly shown just how wrong I was. As I listened to “Billie Jean” and drove down route 2 west, I was shell shocked, and I drove slowly in contemplation; sad that we’d lost such a talented man, but happy to see us accepting him as we seemingly hadn’t near the end of his life.
I remember wishing I had some venue through which to offer my respect for the man’s accomplishments, and to share what I’ve shared here. A year and a blog later, here is to Michael Jackson.
For the last week, I’ve listened to Oldies 103.3 FM at work; every day, they made mention of their Michael Jackson tribute scheduled for Friday. Today, spending a few hours in the car, I enjoyed remembrance of the emotions I’d felt driving one year ago, and I listened to some good music.
Where were you, the day Michael Jackson died?