Superstardom, for fans, is equally numbing.
In his blockbuster essay on mass culture, Dwight Macdonald, the leftist midcentury social critic, was right about one thing: Art that is produced without thought of personal connection is a ruthless insult to the consumer. “Mass culture is imposed from above,” he wrote. “It is fabricated by technicians hired by businessmen; its audience are passive consumers, their participation limited to buying and not buying.” What a difference an Internet makes.
The masscult business model that made Michael Jackson, superstar, possible is gone, of course, and in its place is an unstable constellation of fiercely partisan, often narcissistic subcultures (and sub-subcultures).
It is, however, anything but passive. It allows room for admiration, even veneration, of artists - but it does not require worship. Conveniently for fans, the option of not buying does not in any way preclude participation.
Toxicology aside, surely one of the aggravating factors of Mr. Jackson’s premature death was the self-imposed grind of trying to mount — in anachronistic superstar fashion — a triumphant return on the back of a 50-show residency at London’s O2 Arena.
Would he have suffered a heart attack had he begun a tentative, quiet comeback, playing small theaters and gradually working his way into arenas? We’ll never know, and anyway, such was not the man’s style.
Mr. Jackson lived by the sword of masscult and died by it, too.
I hope he’s resting in peace.
But I’m glad the cults of superstardom that he inspired will be buried along with him.