And the debate is on: Michael Jackson, King of Pop? or Reluctant father of modern-day celebrity culture?

I must say I have been having a grand old time scouring the internet for articles on Michael Jackson, if only because since his death writers from People, MSNBC, CNN, Time to Newsweek to the Guardian to have been struggling to write articles that can encompass the high drama, the low comedy, the talent, the scandals that wracked a pop star whose career spanned almost 50 years – about the same age in which he died.

Already there is much debate about his talent (writers are in disagreement here although most of them believed his greatest creative period was the 80s), his albums (later albums lackluster, 80s albums the best), which is better, “Off the Wall” or “Thriller”, although most of them agree he was the biggest bestselling artist of all time, second only to Elvis Presley and the Beatles, but that he had been quickly dethroned (by whom is another debate: Newsweek believes it was Nirvana, in the early 90s, but Time believes it could have been earlier, when  Prince and Madonna came out with more pop-savvy albums). All agree though that he was a pop culture icon though and that his studded gloved hand, sequined military style jackets, aviator sunglasses, trademark moonwalk moves will go down in history as the images that defined much of the early 80s. His relevance to popular culture is being debated, although some agree that if it were not for him,  Beyonce, 50 Cent, Usher and countless African American artists would not be reaping the billion dollar benefits now. Sure, if he had not come along somebody else would have paved the way, but he did come along and he was the one who started it all. One thing that comes out though is his ability to stay in the limelight even though he has not come out with an album in over 10 years: wracked by scandals, lawsuits, bankruptcy, health problems and an ever changing face and pigmentation, he probably unwittingly (or not so unwittingly) spawned the modern day papparazi-infested celebrity culture that celebrates crass journalism that covers people who are simply famous for being famous.

The message boards are even more interesting: Michael Jackson fans debate these things as passionately as do anti-Michael Jackson critics.

Only time will tell whether Michael Jackson’s legacy (if there was any to begin with – if somewhat ambivalent articles lead us to believe) will endure or live on.

As I was pouring over the articles last night, I came across a speech by the late writer David Foster Wallace, who had committed suicide in September 2008. It was already 1 in the morning,but I read his rather lengthy commencement speech, because it was very moving, and I had not encountered such since I read Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech. In his speech, he effortlessly discusses the importance and practicality of liberal arts education as applied to grocery shopping and being stuck in traffic, what thinking really means and that one does not have to be stuck in misery all the time, one can choose to have a better life just by choosing to look at things in a better, more positive way, that education is about succeeding at being well-adjusted and ends with the warning that what we choose to worship will eventually eat us alive and finally, that, education is more about awareness, rather than knowledge (hmmm…I see a pattern here – I had just finished “Random Acts of Love”, which has the same message as well).

Excerpts I liked include:

“The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too…

I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”.

“If you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently…It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down…The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.”

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think.”

For the full speech, go to or click here.

Sad though that David Foster Wallace would not be as remembered as Michael Jackson. For this one speech seems to resonate with deeper truths than anything else. Then again, we find our truths in different ways – be it in an 80s pop album by a pop icon only a few hours dead, or a young writer whose one enduring legacy is a commencement speech delivered at a little-known college.

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