A Hot Summer Night

It was the summer of 1984. Morning in America and all that. Driving across America in a convertible with no real agenda for once. Just a vacation. With me a now ultra famous ‘Republican pollster’ frequently discussed even in our modest comments section here.

We were somewhere near Iowa or perhaps Missouri. The stars were so bright we didn’t need headlights. Cool night time wind flowing and the radio blaring. And ‘Beat It’ and ‘Thriller’ were on heavy rotation. We were so happy that America could embrace Michael Jackson as simply an astounding superstar, transcending race. He was on another plane of superstardom uniting people. If you were around then, this was also the time the Right Wing Nuts thought ‘Born In The USA’ was effin’ A jingoism. But what mattered was white FM radio and MTV were finally playing (initially grudingly) a Black American genius.

King of the World at American Empire's End

That achievement alone would be a lifetime’s work. But then he and America in the late 1980s and 1990s made the journey together into the soup of disconnected memes and dada-ist commercialized narratives. Voyage to the Bottom of the Jello Bowl. Still, through all the ensuing hype and then 24 hour televised scandal, we always remembered that summer. When Michael Jackson showed that even in Reagan’s America, racial progress could be a reality.

Now we watch tonight and wonder how a rudderless society drunk on promiscuous meme generation and over consumption will deal with this ‘event’. In one sense, one could ask was he alive? Commoditized as a youngster ruthlessly, he lived his life as a brand, was manipulated by coporations as a brand, and pioneered a form of loneliness and emotional distortion just as he trail blazed his moon walk.

Tonight MSNBC has some vapid young woman on their payroll for her ‘entertainment expertise’ admonishing demos that the masses should never forget Michael Jackson’s contribution to ‘culture.’ If one could bottle the irony, it would fuel Jon Stewart’s writers’ room for a year. And if he was the first astronaut into the endless void of commercialized American meta-narratives, it’s also true then that he is not truly dead.


We are also saddened by the passing of Farah Fawcett. The Poster aside, Farah reminds us of the 1970s. True, there was Saigon, Nixon, the Khmer Rouge, the Peanut Farmer and Pet Rocks. But we prefer in many ways the values of the nation during that period aside from lack of racial justice. America had not yet begun its disintegration into mindless goo, consumers at the thrall of business models not even understood by their corporate progenitors.


  1. Comment says

    Randy S overplayed his hand – making money as a Georgia Gov proxy and writing McCain’s Georgia policy – Don’t these people understand that if you have so many conflicts of interest, it will cause probs? No – they were getting arrogant and ignored the many enemies gathering.
    Kristol is still suprisingly influential – after his big mistake writing a bad NYT op-ed that was snore-worth.
    IMO – Schmidt did a good job making a a rapidly aging erratic Senator who is unpopular with is colleagues almost defeat the charasmatic Obama – in the wake of GOP governing disaster.
    Right now – assuming the economy stablizes and upticks by next election, Obama will be unbeatable against the current GOP (assuming no scandals or terror attacks – though failure at anti-terrorism seemed to help Bush, oddly)..
    But Obama just keeps improving and growing in his role – He has become a commanding figure – so refreshing to listen to after Bush mumbles. People who could not see a black man as President, now can – (that’s about a few percentage extra votes). Michelle has become All-American and a solid example of old fashioned family values – updated for modern multi-cultural America.
    Jonah Goldberg used to fret that blacks were going burn the country down if Obama lost – now he should be more worried about the poor whites that will soon feel comfortable leaving the GOP that plays them for fools.

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    re Kristol/Palin/Vanity Fair

    Pretty funny to see Scheunemann and Kristol still rage at the violation of Scheunemann’s perceived ‘zone of privacy’ with an email search. People forget that Cheney and the Neocons covertly surveilled NSC emails on an ongoing basis to both enforce and scuttle. If McCain-Palin creates a memory that Neocons are unreliable staffers then they have all the more reason to shoot at Schmidt and hide in the crowd.

    The VF piece we thought was pretty weak for all the evident time and money spent on it. Trite gossip.

    The real problem for the Neocons is whom to latch on to for 2012. Palin’s ignorance was a rare opportunity. A Nationalist Renewal Wing Nut figure won’t tolerate their ‘cosmopolitanism’. That to us is not a small drama we perceive playing out amidst all the other Rightist confusion – between the Black shirts (America First) and those whose goal overtly or covertly is a little ‘Red’ internationalism/force projection.

    It’s no accident, as the Sovs used to say in Pravda, that the Neocons want Ahmadinejad so badly. Frankly, it’s a bit of a surprise the Pat hasn’t accused the Weekly Standard of shooting Neda. On that note we are also informed Amcon got a reprieve and will appear now as a monthly.

  3. Hunter says

    ‘We’ may no longer collectively be equipped, but even the French don’t really read all that cultural criticism. Here is an interesting exercise. Maybe we should apply it both more broadly and more contemporaneously? And isn’t that more or less what the denizens of this fine lair have been doing for quite some time now? Just a thought…

  4. says

    Most depressing of all is the hopelessness of the media reaction; desultory, exhausted, gaze averted, mumbling about the bizarre later incarnation, even as they speak of “transcendance” and “genius”, etc. This is nothing new to speak of here, but as a people we are no longer equipped for introspection. We’re not even capable of approximating meaning, or feigning understanding. Everyone searches only for the safe, not-too-earnest genuflection.

    I haven’t read anyone attempt an earnest understanding of what it means for a society to produce such as Jackson the tragic and desperate later figure, swathed in a collage of cultural signifiers he only dimly understood. Well, our gaze was averted early on. Sequined military uniforms? Say what you will about the French, but that alone would have produced (or perhaps did produce) reams of cultural observation. He was as callow a man as he was brilliant a performer–making him a marvelous, if distorted and narrow window into our collective sould. Yet, again, we are no longer thusly equipped.

  5. srv says

    “blah, blah… goo.”

    Obviously a child of the 70’s who thinks there was something there, then. Network aside. What Lonesome Rhodes said.

    If I had a choice between a culture of Disco or Rap again, I’d probably take the bullet.

  6. Comment says

    “In today’s Post there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr. Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name “Prince,” and is apparently planning a Washington concert. Will he receive a Presidential letter? How will we decide which performers do and which do not?”
    ~Chief Justice John Roberts
    WH counsel office 1984 memo

  7. Hunter says

    Is our society of goo the fount of our problems? Or the mess of our economic/political structure? Or is it a complex self-supporting structure of feedback loops among the components of all of the above? (Well, obviously…) And what is to be done? Depression.

  8. Comment says

    Doc – funny you should note that right wingers didn’t ‘get’ Born In The USA. This kind of cultural obtuseness is often funny – as Michael Douglas has noted about his Gekko vilian character being the odd hero of people going to Wall St.

    Shortly after 9-11 Bush had a country western singer at the WH performing and he sang a song blaming Saddam for bringing down the Twin Towers. Everyone cheered – including the decadent MSM reporters.

  9. Comment says

    We were saddened to hear about Farah passing – We recall the Poster fondly – and as we were huge fans of Six Million Dollar Man – we somehow associate her with that program and the era, along with Fantasy Island and Tatoo etc

  10. Desargues says

    But we prefer in many ways the values of the nation during that period aside from lack of racial justice. America had not yet begun its disintegration into mindless goo…

    I beg to offer a bit of qualification, Dr. Strauss. Cultural products like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View were made back then to express the thinking public’s horror at the way that state institutions, in collusion with the corporate progenitors you mention, were stealing the citizenry’s original possession over a government that was supposed to work for them, not to enslave them. The message of those two Seventies movies (they weren’t the only ones, it’s just that I don’t remember any other right now) resonates more actual than ever.

    The Age of Illusions Perdues had already started. Now we don’t even remember that we once had illusions.

  11. anxiousmodernman says

    An appropriate and moving tribute, Doc. I’m too young to remember MJ’s superstardom as a signal of racial progress, so the massive adoration and celebration was a puzzle to me. I always knew him as the tortured eccentric of the past 15 years. Love the tunes, though.

    I would be surprised if even John Stewart could crack too many jokes about the ironies here. The same meme-machine that gives us these universal signals/symbols of progress breaks them down and distorts them if it sells. Those who get caught up are definitely better classified as undead, as you say.

    Of course, with the democratization of access to the controls/inputs of the meme-machine, maybe that half-life is the fate of us all?

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