Kai Chase, Michael Jackson’s chef, recently declared that her boss kept a strict healthy food diet. He used to have fruit juice and granola with almond milk for breakfast, spinach salad and chicken for lunch, and seared ahi tuna for dinner. After that, he would go to his bedroom and take enough Zanax pills to kill a mid-sized buffalo. When it came to food, MJ thought that ‘you are what you eat.’ Regarding Zanax, I guess, he was following another dictum of his generation: ‘If it feels good, do it.’ The end of the King of Rhinoplasty came to prove another 70’s saying: ‘Shit happens.’
His peculiar inconsistency reminds me of the Joker in Full Metal Jacket. When they ask him why he has written ‘Born to Kill’ in his helmet while wearing a Peace & Love button in his shirt, he answers, “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir.” People who grew up with MJ and the Joker believed that incongruence between beliefs and behavior was a byproduct of the repressive morals of a conservative society. The new generation was supposed to be different, less stuffy and hypocritical. They—we— were going to be free, liberated and happy. But shit indeed happens. We replaced old laws and commandments with new ones just to find ourselves as incapable of following the rules as ever.
In the new paradigm sins of the flesh were replaced with sins of the meat. Now it was OK to sleep with whomever we fancied. On the other hand, we were supposed to become vegetarians because all those flatulent cows were destroying the environment. It was also understood that ‘if it feels good, do it’ applied to drugs, but not to dispatching three Big Macs for lunch.
This new paradigm, of course, needed a revised eschatology too. Instead of the old rich tapestry of angels with trumpets preceding the Beast, from the 60’s to the 80’s, the end of the world had the shape of an atomic mushroom cloud. After communism died of cardiac arrest, environmental catastrophe became the metaphor for the Apocalypse. But for one reason or another, the end was near. How could anybody failed to notice they were talking like Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Of course, the believers of this religion—as usual— were united by a sense of moral superiority and the perceived mission of imposing their opinions on the rest of their fellow human beings. The new zealots looked down on those cheeseburger-eating, overweight philistines who populate the Midwest. And they would become indignant whenever they saw a Mother Earth-killing Hummer burning fossil fuels like there was no tomorrow.
It was not a question of right or wrong. The young apostles wanted many a good thing—maybe too many. They became victims of their own propaganda. ‘Be realistic, demand the impossible,’ is not, after all, a realistic proposition. They wanted to end hunger and eat organic food without realizing that you couldn’t feed six billion people by practicing some sort of medieval agriculture. They denounced the risks of using fossil fuels but didn’t want to hear about atomic energy.
Several years ago, in a long article about Leonardo DiCaprio for Time magazine, Joel Stein offered a rather amusing example of these contradictions. Mr. DiCaprio—facing the moral dilemma of ordering lunch—explained to him: “I shouldn’t be eating hamburgers, because the methane gas cows release is the No. 1 contributor to the destruction of the ozone layer; and the No. 1 reason they destroy the rain forest is to make grazing ground for cattle. So it’s very ironic that I eat beef, being the environmentalist that I am. But then again, if I ordered the tuna sandwich, I would be promoting the fact that they have large tuna nets that capture innocent little dolphins…” And Mr. Stein adds, “This goes on for quite some time.”
Like DiCaprio or the Joker, Michel Jackson was an image of our mutually excluding aspirations. He wanted to live forever and sleep through the night—which at the end became an insolvable contradiction. A freakishly talented man became a freak. He couldn’t see beyond the end of his nose, so he spent millions buying himself four or five noses without bothering to get a replacement heart—the only organ he needed in June 25. To quote another famous phrase from the 60’s, ‘[Wasn’t] he a bit like you and me?’