McMahon's celebrity largely rested on another's talent: the quick-witted quipster and twitchy talk-show host, Carson. He was the butt of Carson's affectionate jokes, and largely served to make Carson look good. (I once employed McMahon's role in a post about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.)
Farrah Fawcett grabbed the spotlight because of her great beauty, dazzling smile, a poster every teenaged boy (including me, as I recall) had on his wall, and some acting stints. Beyond the report that she was subjected to the (at-best) meaningless deathbed magic of Rome, I know nothing of her spiritual state.
Michael Jackson — well, what do you say? He definitely dwarfs the other two, in our culture, and for a strange amalgam of reasons.
He started out as a talented child in a talented family driven to success by a reportedly tyrannical father. He ended up as a bizarre, pitiable, enigmatic, repellent figure. Many question-marks will follow him to his grave.
Raised a Jehovah's Witness, Jackson appended a disclaimer to his history-making video for "Thriller" disavowing belief in the occult. In his later videos, Jackson went out of his way to distance himself from any notion of moral boundaries. They were a mixture of sweetness and creativity, and depravity. Catchy tunes and engaging inspiration were mixed with obscene or otherwise jarring imagery, in videos for such songs as "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Black or White" or "Bad." A Jackson video came to be like a dazzling table setting, spattered with dung.
I can't easily think of someone who less needed to degrade himself, who more eagerly seemed to invent ways to do so.
Nor can I easily think of a more talented figure who displayed his unhealed brokenness so openly and yet unwillingly at the same time.
All one need do is look at the succession of photos of Jackson as he aged (or see here) to observe the misery in which he clearly lived, and the self-despising and self-destructive steps he took in the misbegotten hopes of dealing with it. This was a man unable to find peace with himself or the world.
Jackson starts out as a handsome young black child; then a handsome young black man. Then both Jackson's face and his skin-tone, as well as his masculinity, morph and change, like some sad creature caught in a transporter accident on a Star Trek movie. But whatever harm Jackson endured at the hands of others, those changes were self-inflicted, experienced under his own hands, at his own command.
To rephrase my observation in the meta of Justin Taylor's sensitive note of Jackson's passing,
Jackson was an individual equally remarkable for his giftedness, and his brokenness. To see Jackson over the years is to see the chronicle of a man who did not take his pain and sin to the Cross, and instead of experiencing God's regenerating grace, attempted his own handmade makeover. It was sad, tragic, and painful to watch.
What Jackson did to himself is what we all do to ourselves outside of Christ. The difference is that Jackson's failed attempts were all worn obviously, in public view, on the changing tapestry of his face, while we may mask ours better.
As you shrink from the Frankenstein shock of Jackson's visage, reflect: mankind was created in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28), and still bears that image (Genesis 9:6). But in seeking to take God's place and make themselves gods (Genesis 3), our foreparents did to their whole beings what Michael Jackson did to his face: they horridly disfigured themselves and all of us, leaving a repulsive mockery of what we were meant to be.
The only solution for us is not a succession of endeavors to remake ourselves. Each attempt leaves a worse spectacle than the previous, and moves us further from what we truly need.
The only solution for us is the solution to which Michael Jackson never submitted himself, as far as is known: to be born anew, under the good hand of our Creator. We do not need new faces. We need new natures. We need the miracle of regeneration, not the tragedy of manmade makeovers.
And this can only come through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Anonymous people from at least six continents pass through these pages every day. My prayer for you, whoever you are, is that you will take your hurts and brokenness and crimes against God to the only place when you can find forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation: to the Lord Jesus Christ.
(This week's Hither and Thither should go up around noon, PST)