Friday, June 26

See, This Is Why We Can't Have Anything Nice. Because You Won't Stop Humping Its Leg.

Ted Anthony, AP: "For Generation X, a really bad day". June 26
The man-child named Michael Jackson and the luminous girl known as Farrah Fawcett-Majors jumped into our consciousness at a plastic moment in American culture -- a time when the celebrity juggernaut we know today was still in diapers. When they departed Thursday, just a few hours and a few miles apart, they left an entire generation -- a very strange generation indeed -- without two of its defining figures.

"These people were on our lunchboxes," said Gary Giovannetti, 38, a manager at HBO who grew up on Long Island awash in Farrah and MJ iconography. "This," he said, "is the moment when Generation X realizes they're grown up."

It was a long time coming. Cynical, disaffected, rife with ADD, lost between Boomers and millennials and sandwiched between Vietnam and the war on terror, Gen X has always been an oddity. It was the product of a transitional age when we were still putting people on celebrity pedestals but only starting to make an industry out of dragging them down.

Its memorable moments were diffuse and confusing -- the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt, the dawn of AIDS, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It had no protest movement, no opponent to unite it, none of the things that typically shape the ill-defined beast we call an American generation.

These were the people who sent to the top of the charts a song called "We Don't Need Another Hero," then figured out how to churn them out wholesale, launching the celebrity obsession that is now an accepted part of American cultural fabric.

Meaning they were also, presumably, the same people who sent "Holding Out for a Hero" to the exact same chart position a scant twelve months earlier. Could you just stop it? Please?
And that was personified nowhere better than in the two people who died Thursday.

Okay, one, I don't know the graphic representation for the sound you make when you stick out your lower lip and fan it rapidly with your index finger while going "bluh bluh bluh", but kindly insert that here. Two, that's it? Nowhere better than Her Generation's (not yours) Answer to Betty Grable, and The Craziest Celebrity of All Time by a Factor of Six? (And crazy sad, not crazy inventive, at that. Incidentally, since we're in for a dime already, the Bathing Beauty dates to Mack Sennett's stable of adolescents, and the Blonde bombshell to Jean Harlow. Grable was a zero, then a wartime pinup, then a zero again. She was not the genesis of anything but Betty Grable jokes.) If I'd have known this was coming I'd have urged Kurt Colbain and David Foster Wallace to try dying on the same day, just so we could have had a better class of celebrity to endure the incontinent faux-adoration of.

In keeping with our unplanned theme of the week, You write about junk culture for a living! If you'd like to ponder its Deeper Meaning you're welcome to, though personally we'd prefer you didn't. But ponder it, or don't. Pondering yourself pondering it is not the same thing. In fact it is the opposite thing.

The modern Mindless Cult of Celebrity is at least as old as Valentino, and the organized caterwauling at early death is at least as old as, well, Valentino. It may come as a shock to someone who believes the world changed, forever, when he dirtied his first diaper, but there were people even then--innocent of teevees and Twitterings, if you can imagine it--who found this sort of thing grotesque, troubling, alarming, disgusting, laughable, anything but "a shared experience you either loved or hated, but took part in". Day of the Locust? Sunset Boulevard? The Last Tycoon, The Great Man, La Dolce Vita? The Sweet Smell of Success, which points us to the power wielded by celebrity-dragger Walter Winchell, practically unimaginable in today's terms. Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, GraphiC, Confidential all made a living at "dragging down" celebs. It generally stopped at the exact point where studio hush money began, but you might want to brush up on the bios of Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. Isn't a passing familiarity with this stuff some sort of minimum requirement at the AP, or is it enough to remember who or what was on your school lunch box? And how, exactly, is it that the high-viscosity sludge that passes for conventional wisdom manages to posit both the Angry, Discordant, Hippie-and-LSD-laced Sixties and a happier, simpler, eight years later when everyone gathered around the idiot box to love or hate Farrah Fawcett-Major's nip-nips? You think Aaron Spelling was something everyone took part in? Or disco? For that matter I distinctly remember my parents being somewhat less than enthusiastic Motown groove-thing shakers.

And so y'know what? If you've got to invent this Generation shit, then this one, like the previous one, has no fucking excuse for not knowing the difference. Just fucking take responsibility for this stuff, on your own. Quit trying to fob it off on your imaginary cohort, stop treating it as the inevitable result of those technological advancements that had the good taste, and good fortune, to occur while you were around to be aware of them. Crap culture has been with us at least since people left the farms, quit playing the piano in the parlor or the banjo on a stump, and started consuming ready-made pap. For just as long there have been people complaining it was all dreck. We know this because it must be. And we know you know it too, for the same reason. So, please, go have a private drink and toast the dear departed, or, more likely, toast yourself toasting them, and try being solemn about it for once.

Okay, just kiddin'. Really, though, could y'all try to bring this one in in less time than you spent on that People's Princess none of you knew a fucking thing about? Like the man said, it'd gratify some people, and astonish the rest.


heydave said...

No, sorry, but ponder it, or don't is not on the list of options that springs to my mind for these finger pointers of iconography.

STFU is all I come up with for them.

Anonymess said...

love you madly for this.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

Jackson was a child molesting freak and he is being normalized by an industry of freaks. Of the freaks by the freaks.

The man gave sideshow freaks a bad name.

There is a good piece about what a creepshow Jackson was over at Vanity Fair.

Why in the world are people who hardly knew him or did know him on television talking about him--so they can be on television. From Cher to Aaron Nevelle (sp) who literally said, no, never met the man, didn't work with him. But had to call in. Cher who said I can't imagine him hurting a child. Who can imagine someone hurting a child? She wasn't in court was she? She wouldn't have had to imagine anything. The boys told the tale and the moms told the amount they were paid not to call the police.

Liza said the crap would hit the fan when the coroner's report comes in. Now there is someone who knows freaks and prescription drug abuse.

Culture? He was talented, even Bob Fosse would say that back in the day, but Jesus Christ on a cupcake do we really have to say that talent trumps child molestation?

What if these Jackson fans put their energy into something that matters?

drip said...

Granfaloons, these generational groups are nothing but granfaloons. And I should know. My aunt married a Hoosier.

R. Porrofatto said...

Oh, thank you. Jackson was 50 fucking years old. Fans born in the early 60's would qualify for the idiotic Gen X label, but they would also be well into middle-age by now, with kids in college and grandchildren even. Yet This is the moment when Generation X realizes they're grown up??? Stupefying.

Right now the CNN chyron begs the question "What killed Michael Jackson?" I'm inclined to suggest that his heart stopped when he somehow managed to inhale his own nose but that would be cruel. I'm sure the question will change soon to "Who...?" Here's hoping your governor takes up shtupping a munchkin in Paraguay or something, we need some relief.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how old the Generation theme is. We can take it back to the 20s (1920s that is) at least, since the people who came of age after WWI were very conscious of not having been part of the cohort that fought in - and was depopulated by - the Great War.

And the artists etc. (that etc. no doubt including journalists and popular commentators in magazines and newspapers) who produced their work in that period were conscious of it too. "The Lost Generation", they were. Just as the people who were young adults in the 50s were "The Silent Generation".

But does it go back earlier, in a self-conscious way?

It's really ooold by now. I speak as a member of the Pepsi Generation.

Li'l Innocent

Brendan said...

Just in case anyone hasn't seen these two from TBogg: Jackson fans then and now.

Brendan said...

Oh, and PS: I share your sentiments regarding people who write about Generations. They should all be banned from eating anywhere except at The David Brooks Memorial Salad Bar at Applebee's until they figure it out.

StringonaStick said...

This Michael Jackson emo-fest has me even more likely to avoid TeeVee "news" than I was before, which says a lot actually. I honed this skill during the same events after St. Ronny took that first big step on becoming the dust he so richly deserved to be.

Doug said...

If we're going to get tagged with Farrah and Michael, GenX should at least get a little credit for building the Internet. For "Saved by the Bell," I apologize.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Li'l Innocent makes a good point. I doubt the men who came back from the Civil War thought of themselves (or were invited to think of themselves) as a special Generation. They were too busy wringing a living out of their farms and industrial jobs. I think this generational consciousness is a product of mass media, leisure time and disposable income, i.e., the educated and urbanized of the twentieth century. It's also a way for lazy journalists to characterize their parents' contemporaries without noting the political, economic and racial distinctions that separated them as surely as the Depression and WWII united them.

Keifus said...

I'm not much of a historian, but I think it took a scant decade after the Civil War before Americans all started congratulating themselves for their unique(ly guilded) point in cultural history, and, likewise, being mocked by their intellectual betters.

But then, I am pretty sure that Pericles' Athens sucked too, for that matter. Plague, unjustified war, and all that.