Monday, July 20, 2009

Notes from the Culture Wars -1

This series is just a collection of interesting observations that I want to make on issues of ethics and culture.

In the whole Michael Jackson hooplah, I ran across this observation by Andrew Sullivan:

There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

What struck me as odd was the perception of Michael Jackson. It struck me as odd that someone who is openly homosexual would speak sadly and regretfully of a 'tortured soul' Michael Jackson as he "change[d] his race, his age, and almost his gender." I left myself asking: on what basis do we consider this the mark of a tortured soul? I think it is obvious even the casual observer that Michael Jackson had issues.

As a Christian, we should be quick to point out that he was no worse than the rest of us. We all pursue glories and treasures worshiping the created things rather than the Creator. Obviously this was something Michael Jackson succumbed too--it was idolatry at the core--but no better or worse than my idolatry.

But why should Sullivan lament this? Was not Micheal Jackson's action just the product of a society that embraces "lifestyles"? A culture where choice is sovereignty has no grounds for considering one set of choices a more tortured than the rest. In our day, we define ourselves by choices--as if to cease to choose is to cease to be human. We speak of actualizing ourselves and living in the moment--which undoubtedly means a flurry of endless activity and endless activity equates to endless choices. We fear that if we stop we will cease to be human. Thus we are ever running but rarely progressing. Why should anyone find Michael Jackson's activity of choosing endless to find or invent himself as troubling? Jackson might be a worse-case-scenario of sorts but he bares the symptoms of a disease that is rather pervasive in contemporary culture.

I find the remarks perceptive as they strike home at the reality of the situation. It is like an "Emperor Has No Clothes" moment--but I find the clearly subjective remark as having little basis in the average set of shared cultural values of the day. In short: why should we find Michael Jackson's action as the mark of a 'tortured soul'? Doesn't the fact the most people do find this as the mark of a' tortured soul' indicate to us there is something out there beyond mere values and choices of expression?

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