In 2003, when the second, high-profile child-molestation case against Michael Jackson exploded, it sparked a global, mass-media frenzy of speculation about the real-life behavior and identity of Michael Jackson. At the center of the vast array of questions about what he did or didn’t do was the question: what form does his sexuality take? Standing behind this question was a still deeper question: Who is this guy?
A common saying holds that the mind hates the vacuum created by unanswered, basic questions. This notion serves as an explanation for the frenzy of classification efforts directed at Jackson by a broad spectrum of specialists, experts and pundits for the past two decades.
Curiosity rebels against the spectacle of a fundamentally-unexplained human being. For this reason, gossip magazines, in both the printing and video varieties, saturate pop culture with promised insights into the private lives of celebrities. Thus far, Jackson is proving to be the greatest of all explanation-resistant recluses, outdoing even Greta Garbo and Howard Hughes.
One of the most powerful mechanisms by which individuals generate curiosity about the particulars of their identities, i.e. their classification, is via boundary crossings at the fundamental identity boundaries. There are four fundamental identity boundaries: sexual orientation; race, gender and age. Although the picture of Jackson’s identity varies profoundly in accordance with the source, he nonetheless arguably holds the Quadruple Crown for boundary crossings at all four of the fundamental identity boundaries. In the court of public opinion, of Jackson we ask such questions as: Was he asexual, homosexual, heterosexual or perverted? Was he a black boy who became a white man, or not? Was he a transsexual white woman trapped by conventional mores within a black man’s body, or not? Was he a Peter Pan obsessive who refused to fully commit to adulthood?
The phenomenon of Michael Jackson is a testament to the plasticity of the human identity. He both fascinates and appalls us with overlapping uncertainties of human possibilities. Over the past twenty years, as the spectacle of what he chose to show us onstage was revealed evermore as the mere tip of an iceberg of the freakish, the frenzy of Jackson-mania has continually grown. Perhaps now, in the wake of his death, the time has come to seek closure to his mystery of being by making a system-change in the question pertaining to it. Instead of asking: Who was he? We can ask: What was he?
The evidence is before us that Jackson, to an amazing degree, was the laboratory product of modern, medical science and technology. His skin, his face, his coloring and his hair were all products of human ingenuity and manufacturing. Additional details about his apparently heavy drug-dependence show us that the day-to-day operations of his brain, central nervous system and metabolism were also largely laboratory-directed. All of this points in the direction of the cybernetic organism, a living being re-engineered (and presumably enhanced) within the laboratory.
There can be no doubt that Jackson was point man for twenty-first century living. What happens to the human-identity-as-human-identity when it gets re-jiggered at all four of the fundamental identity boundaries? Is our perplexity about Jackson’s identity rooted in a startling fact, i.e. that he was to date our closest approach to an existing cyborg?
If there’s even a kernel of truth in this proposition, then we can marvel at the laboratory explorations of Michael Jackson. Who would’ve thought a poor black boy from Gary Indiana would become the world’s first cyborg? Conventional thinking would lead us to expect a white man from the neighborhoods of Long Island, New York or Beverly Hills, California in such a role. On second thought, however, when we look back at the global tragedy of African continental dispossession and enslavement, we see the best candidate for crossing over from all of the established human identity boundaries into a categorically new identity; he’s the one who, over the course of the last five centuries, has been stripped of everything.