25 June 2009

A Scandal and Two Tragedies

OK...Today we have two tragedies and one scandal to choose from. First, the scandal: Mark Sanford, the Governor of South Carolina, disappeared for a few days. Upon returning, he said he was hiking the Appalachain Trail; the truth is that he was in Argentina with his Buenos Aires bonita. And he apologized to his wife and the public.

Now to the tragedies...Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, of course. Everyone knew that Farrah wasn't long for this world; her cancer outgrew her outsized will to live. But no-one saw Michael's death coming.

Maybe it's because I'm getting on in years, or maybe it's because I'm blonde, but I don't recall any scandals surrounding Farrah. Now, I'm not saying that she lived the life of a Carmelite nun. But I don't think she did anything in her love life that one might expect of a very attractive woman of her age and time. And she was much more than very attractive: She was one of the most beautiful and, at one point, one of the most famous women in the world. Sure, she had a divorce. I think it was only one divorce, anyway. For someone on whom the limelight shone as glaringly as it did on her, that ain't bad.

Now, Michael Jackson never should have dangled that baby off a balcony. And he probably should've been more careful of whom he brought to his mansion. I mean, if you're a bachelor and your place is secluded, tongues will wag if you bring in 13-year-old boys. But I wonder whether he really did even half of the things he was rumored to have done.

As for Mark Sanford: Well, he makes Sarah Palin look good. But, although I'm not a Republican (I tried to be one; couldn't do it.), I don't think that his behavior is a reason to bash the party. Of course, we just had eight years of a Republican President who was easily the worst President of my lifetime, if not since Grant. But I think that lots of Democrats in Congress and elsewhere contributed to the mess we're in, by supporting the Iraqi and Afghanistani invasions and legislation that allowed CEOs to raze the pillars of the economy and take the marble home with them.

No, my beef with Sanford is that he disrespected a woman he promised to love. In other words, he committed exactly the same crime as Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat. Funny, how they were such moral crusaders--Sanford with the right-wing Evangelical Christian organizations in his state, and Spitzer during his days as New York State's Attorney General, when he cracked down on prostitution. I always used to think he wasn't so different from all those Immorial Minority types who tried to dictate other people's behavior.

Bill Clinton was no model of marital fidelity, either. But at least he didn't go around telling other people how they should and shouldn't conduct their lives. Still, I can respect him only a little more than Sanford or Spitzer.

They are hypocritical cads, pure and simple. They are in marked contrast to Ryan O'Neal. Over the years, I've mocked his over-the-top acting performances, especially the one in Love Story. But he stood by Farrah, marrying her during her last days. For that, he has my respect, even admiration. And, of course, so does Farrah, for how she fought her illness and made more people aware of its prevalence and effects.

Now to Michael Jackson. By the time he was in his early 30's, he did more powerful, creative and innovative music than most artists do in a lifetime. Thriller changed pop music not only because it's still the best-selling album of all time, but also because it made pop music more multi-dimensional: It made dance more integral to the experience of the music people were listening to, and its video made that medium not only legitimate, but also integral to the way people expereinced the music. And, of course, it put MTV on the map, in part by showing that the videos were not merely promotional materials for the music, as trailers are for movies; they were worth watching and listening to unto themselves. If people never came to see videos that way, MTV would have had no raison d'etre. But even if another artist had made a video that was a work of art unto itself, MTV might not have lasted more than a couple of years: One of the complaints about it (a legitimate one) was that Black and Hispanic artists weren't featured. And, let's face it: Where would music in this country be without African-Americans and Latinos? Even country music couldn't have happened without the blues. (In fact, whenever I hear Hank Williams or Patsy Cline, I think of their music as white people's blues.)

OK, so you aren't reading this blog for cultural criticism. I think a lot about Michael Jackson now because I've long thought quite a bit about him. Even though he hasn't done any relevant music in nearly two decades, he's still a cultural icon. Plus, I cannot help to think about him because of a comment someone made to me as I was preparing for my transition.

Someone I met at the LGBT Community Center just before I started my transition compared what I wanted to do to what Michael Jackson did to himself. In other words, this man--gay, by the way--likened my wish to start taking hormones and to have SRS to Michael Jackson's cosmetic surgeries and whatever else he was doing. This man said that Michael "mutilated" himself through "self-hatred." (And, this man pronounced, I was doing the same thing to myself.) What that man said about MJ may be true, though I suspect that the truth is much more detailed than that.

At that moment I resented, not only the last part of his statement, but his comparing me to Michael Jackson at all. By that time, Michael seemingly had become a grotesque parody of himself--or of something. I was astounded that anyone, especially that man, could liken what I wanted to do to "cosmetic" surgery. If anything, I was not trying to polish the outsides; I was trying to bring out who I really am.

Then again, for all I know, Michael was trying to do the same thing. Or, he may have simply wanted to preserve his youth, or at least the image of it. He certainly was a handsome boy back in his Jackson Five days, and was still not half-bad looking by the time he did "Thriller."

Now, I hope someone doesn't think I'm a racist for what I'm about to say. OK, here goes: According to the standards of beauty in much of Western Culture, it's easier to keep one's youthful--and therefore "beautiful'--appearance if one has fine facial bones and skin. It just happens that whites have finer facial bones than most other races have. Also, the standards of beauty are based on whiteness in just about every other way you can think of. In other words, by the standards to which much of the world has grown accustomed, youth=beauty and beauty=white. So one has to become whiter to be more youthful.

Now, I'm not saying that I subscribe to these standards. I think Halle Berry and Denzel Washington are two of the most physically beautiful people on the planet right now. And, if I'm not mistaken, both are in their 40's now. So it will be interesting to see how they look ten, twenty, or even forty years from now. Of course, being celebrities, they will probably have cosmetic surgeries. But whatever they do, I don't think they can look the same in twenty years as they do now. Who can?

I think that one of the problems is that blacks who are celebrities in mixed audiences is still a fairly new phenomenon. Of course, decades ago, entertainment, like so much else in life, was segregated de jure in much of this country. It's still segregated in other ways, but Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy are much better known among white audiences than Moms Mabley and Pigmeat Markham were.

This meant that prewar black celebrities like Mabley and Markham were judged by the standards of their audiences. So were black actors and dancers. So, if they aged as other blacks did, that was all right: That was what the people expected.

Once audiences integrated, the standards for black beauty, as well as so much else, changed. Black performers had to succeed in terms of white standards, and had to age by those standards as well. Lena Horne's ageless beauty is still celebrated past her 80th birthday. But, if you look at her, she has aged more like a white woman, mainly because she has a caucasoid facial stucture and other features.

And that, I think is what Michael wanted to do. That in no way compares with my reasons for transitioning.

So I'll let him rest in peace and be grateful for the great music he left us.

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