LONDON, ONTARIO – Saturday night was the seventh evening in the last ten days when our household’s quality of life was seriously impinged by seven-hour blasts of blaring tedium emanating from Harris Park which is situated a mere four doors and one river to our east. The closing night of Park Jam was the loudest of them all and as it was futile to push against the aural onslaught with in-house programming of any subtlety or nuance, we fought back in a culturally masochistic way by electing to watch – and cranking – a 2001 concert film on YouTube, entitled Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration.
‘Thirtieth anniversary of what?’ I wondered. Jackson himself was 43 in 2001 and his performing and recording career with the Jackson Five started well before 1971. And he certainly wasn’t saluting either of his unconvincing, two-year marriages to poor old Lisa Marie Presley and then the even sadder Debbie Rowe, his dermatologist’s assistant, who incubated two of his three babies. (The identity of baby number three’s rent-a-womb has never been revealed.) No, this concert was supposedly commemorating the 30th anniversary of the launching of Jackson’s solo career and so – evincing the sort of rigorous logical coherence that would always be a Jackson hallmark – the first third of the telecast was devoted to a set of oldies which he performed with his estranged brothers who looked like members, not just of a different family and race, but of a different species altogether.
Filmed at Madison Square Garden over two nights and concluding about ten hours before the first hijacked airliner would plough its way into the World Trade Center three miles away, the music may have been put across with a crisply inhuman efficiency but the creepy slow-motion horror show of Michael Jackson’s self-destruction was already on full display here . . . the bleached skin and the disappearing nose . . . the fawning celebrity fag-hag pals like Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor in conspicuous attendance . . . his once-brilliant dance moves now repeatedly marred by the compulsive grabbing of his own crotch . . . and the unseemly white-suited messianic complex which he started to play up around the same time that persistent (and, alas, all-too-true) reports started circulating regarding his pedophilic tendencies.
My wife packed it in after the set with his siblings. I hung in until the bitter end, engrossed by this obnoxious and chilling display of squandered talent, deliberately erased identity and the shameless projection of self-flattering lies. Though this isolated and deluded resident of Neverland may have had eight more years to go until he breathed his last – and could still cram major concert venues with undiscerning fans when he wasn’t too strung out on pharmaceuticals to perform – as a musician of any significance or even a functioning human being, Michael Jackson was already finished.
One is reminded of his late and similarly short-lived father-in-law who exited this mortal coil long before Lisa Marie and Jackson plighted their hopeless troth. Elvis too, by the end, had sullied and betrayed his once considerable gifts and was so luxuriously removed from reality that he no longer had to grant access to anyone who wasn’t on his payroll. There was no one left in his life who knew the first things about him; who held sufficiently primary standing that they could tap him on the shoulder and say, “You’re out of control,” “You’ve lost the plot,” or “Who do you think you are? Elvis Presley or something?”
It used to be just celebrities of one kind and another – and the filthy rich – who could so insulate themselves from natural exigencies that they ran the risk of destroying themselves in this way. But nowadays we have all kinds of powerful institutions – including governments, academia, the news media and the entertainment industry – who are willing to capitulate to the harmful conceits and delusions of just about anybody so long as it expands their profits and their influence. In her new book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, the always interesting Mary Eberstadt describes how this same sort of disaffiliation from one’s origins and kin spreads misery in ever-widening circles.
“The signature political movement of our time – identity politics – is rooted in the post-revolutionary erasure of self, brought on by the shrinkage and implosion of the family,” Eberstadt writes. “Pace conservatives who dismiss such politics as mere theater, I argue that the anguish behind identity politics is real. But its foundation does not lie in abstractions like ‘whiteness’ or ‘patriarchy’ or the ‘binary’. What the timeline and other evidence shows instead is that identity politics cannot be understood apart from the familial dislocations and fractures endured by generations of homo sapiens since the 1960s.
“Divorce, cohabitation, fatherlessness, abortion, reduced family size: all of these phenomena have left post-revolutionary souls with fewer people to call our own – fewer people who can be trusted to do what families are supposed to do: have our backs, teach us, and love us no matter what. And with that radical diminution of the family and its protections has come an unexpected consequence: humanity is ever more unsteady, and ever less able to answer the question “Who am I?” as it always used to be answered before – relationally, with reference to one’s place in the natural social order. Deprived of this elemental way of constructing identity, many people now flee, ever more frantically, to collective “identities” that are inferior simulacra for the real thing.”
The surest way I know of to avoid the gross and unjust simplifications of identity politics is to regard life and the world and one’s place in it in a spirit of patience and wonder and – if possible – gratitude. Shun impulsive decisions that will wreak hard-to-retract changes to your person like tattoos and nose-jobs. Your sex wasn’t ‘assigned’ at birth; it was manifested. Even if you’re not comfortable with it right now, think long and hard before trading in your perfectly functioning genitals for a crude and jerry-rigged approximation of the other team’s model. Who knows? A slight change in perspective or an introduction to just the right sort of person, and your current kit might grow on you.
Of course you resent being slotted into some limited understanding of yourself and your purpose that doesn’t jibe with your sense of the truth, and rightly reject any attempt to pigeonhole you in this way. So how be you extend that same courtesy when regarding the people all around you as well and strive to see them as individuals instead of representatives of some group – whether that group be currently favoured or abhorred?
If one construes life as a gift, then an understanding automatically follows that our identity is not something we can determine and construct at will so much as it is incrementally developed over time. Each person starts out as a mystery whose purpose is only gradually revealed. Such an understanding lies at the heart of Christian belief and it so happens that Bishop Robert Barron effectively makes this very case in the Gospel reflection he sent out to his subscribers this morning:
“One of the most fundamental statements of faith is this: your life is not about you. You’re not in control. This is not your project. Rather, you are part of God’s great design. To believe this in your bones and act accordingly is to have faith. When we operate out of this transformed vision, amazing things can happen, for we have surrendered to a power already at work in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Even a tiny bit of faith makes an extraordinary difference.”
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
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