Today would have been Michael Jackson's 51st birthday. For those who have doubts about whether this man's musical legacy will live on, I would like to tell a personal story.
One of my first cousins has three young children: a boy of six, a 2.5 year old girl, and a son who turns 5 tomorrow. Before June 25 of this year, they had never heard of Michael Jackson. Since the kids were visiting her, my aunt (their great-aunt) decided to show them the DVD of MJ's videos that was released a few years ago. My aunt told me,"If we watched that DVD once, we watched it twenty times. They are obsessed with Michael Jackson now." So much so that they shunned their usual viewing choices: Popeye, Spiderman, and Spongebob cartoons.
My aunt was apparently fascinated by their fascination and reported their reactions to me. They had a clear understanding of "Beat It." ("Those guys were gonna fight each other but then Michael Jackson came in and stopped 'em and now they're all friends!"). And "Earth Song" particularly touched a chord in these church-going kids. The video showed the suffering of humans and animals because of an ongoing lack of concern for the environment. When a dead elephant came back to life, the middle cousin jumped up, pointed at the TV screen, and shouted,"That's God! That's God right there! God made that elephant come back to life and God made Michael Jackson!" Later, the oldest proclaimed,"I'm gonna tell my mama to buy us that DVD for our house!"
I was at the cousins' house a month ago when my aunt brought the kids their own copy of the DVD to keep. They of course wanted to sit down and watch it right away. I watched them bop around to "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" and I noticed that they were studying the dance moves from "Thriller." I have to say, this made me smile; it reminded me that I was their ages when those three videos came out. I can clearly recall doing the moonwalk across a tiled kitchen floor with my friends when I was in first grade (those friends were chewed out by their mother for leaving scuff marks with their church dress shoes on that same kitchen floor).
Admittedly, the kids' new preoccupation with MJ is not without some hiccups. I was holding the youngest, the not-yet-three-year-old girl, in my arms as she watched Jackson perform at a concert in Eastern Europe in the late '80s. As she lay her head on my shoulder, she whimpered,"I'm scay-werd."
"What are you scared of?"
As my cousin E, the children's uncle, pointed out,"Those kids aren't dumb." Indeed, the rest of us in this world got, what, about thirty years to observe Michael Jackson's physical transformation while my three young relatives witnessed the same confounding phenonemon in the space of ninety minutes. They asked,"Is Michael Jackson a man or a woman? Is he black or white?"
"It doesn't really matter," was my aunt's somewhat facetious reply.
Luckily, this is proving to be true. At last report, the little one who was "scay-werd" of MJ just a month ago, now thinks that MJ is "cwute." (Her favorite MJ tune and video? "You Are Not Alone.") The cycle of life and discovery rolls on and Michael Jackson, just like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and other musicians whose talent and artistry attract new, young fans year after year, will live on. My little cousins are proof of that.