MTV Honors MJ at the 2009 VMA

This year’s VMA show featured a tribute to Michael Jackson. Before I say anything, you should watch it below:

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The tribute MTV offered us seemed to impress the crowd, as I’m sure it did to people at home. The dancing was well-choreographed and they picked great songs to highlight. But, to be honest, I was kind of disappointed by the whole thing.

The entire thing worked off of the brilliance of Jackson’s career: his abilities to dance, to make memorable music, and to perform. The dancers–each arrayed in one of his iconic outfits–performed impeccably, living reminders (in their own anonymity) of the irreplacable talent of Jackson.

But Michael Jackson had a lot of sad in him, too, the most notable being the way he really never became a grown up and, instead, just an over-commodified vessel of a person. Oh yeah…that.

The “tribute” was really a reminder of the spectacle that Jackson created in his career. It was the spectacle that made us notice him, love him, and remember him. It was the spectacle that drew MTV to him, that helped create the medium of music videos, and that sold out concerts around the world. The spectacle was also with him for the last thirty years of his life. He couldn’t shake it; he probably didn’t want to. Spectacle followed him in death. It didn’t die with him; it literally followed him and kept doing what it did even after he died.

All MTV understands is spectacle. They can’t make sense of the place of this man and his music because they can’t think beyond it. They can’t think about music and culture because they are too entwined in pretending they are the stage where it plays out, instead of a narrow corporate entity that manufactures the news it pretends to be the exclusive source for.

For gooodness sakes! The whole damn VMA thing was a joke at first! They’re fake awards, made up by MTV and given out by MTV. There’s no third party here. No transparency. Early winners knew this and made light of the whole thing. Now they cry and thank god (or interrupt some teenager because they think it–any of it–matters).

MTV had been running promos for the tribute in the weeks leading up to the show. You can see the commercial here. It says a lot about how they operate, but also about how they create spectacle for their own purposes.

Look, I’m not trying to be profound here or anything. It’s just…couldn’t somebody have said something nice about the man? Would it have killed somebody at MTV to think about what he meant to them as a corporate entity?

Actually, it might have. But Madonna did okay.

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