The Tale of Two Deaths

Twin obituaries to a generation’s face, and its voice — by someone who doesn’t belong to that generation.

Yesterday, I started to write this obituary of Farrah Fawcett. For an actress who made her name during one season of a popular TV show, Farrah’s shadow was long and her stride bold. I didn’t have that iconic poster of hers, but her face itself was iconic–it was the imprimatur of a changing generation, the symbol of a shifting trend and perhaps the face of the 70s, 80s and even 90s.

Indeed, hers was the first face of an actress I remembered from my childhood, which is surprising because I grew up in the 90s. Maybe I saw her in reruns of Charlie’s Angels–I don’t remember–but both my parents were already remembering her with nostalgia and esteem by the 90s.

Public memory was more divided on another celebrity whose death delayed this obituary. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, who died yesterday at the age of 50, was also a larger-than-life figure. To some, he was an unparalleled genius but to people in my immediate vicinity, it was a matter of secondary importance.

This summer, I am living and mentoring a dorm of highschool sophomores and juniors, who broke the news of MJ’s death to me. It was one of those “you know where you were when…” occasions. I checked online but no major network (CNN, BBC, NYT) has called it yet. Several gossip sites were already proclaiming his death, but it wasn’t on wikipedia yet. That didn’t prevent the highschoolers from ‘celebrating’ his death with his songs. Gathering from their words, Michael Jackson with his almost extraterrestrial transformation, his fantasy Neverland ranch, his molestation charges, his eccentricities was merely a caricature, a bete noir we all love to hate.

Then, there is the older generation. I am not talking about those born in 70s and 80s, to whom Jackson was the voice of the generation as much as Farrah Fawcett was its face. I am talking about even older generation–that of our parents, to whom Michael Jackson was an usurper–the usurper of that ‘rightful’ iconicity occupied by Sinatra, Elvis, and the Beatles. Sandwiched between these two generations, I personally showed very little liking for Michael Jackson’s music; when I reached the music-listening stage, his once unique cords and choreographies were already trite.

Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asks ten questions complied by the French philosopher Berhnard Pivot to every guest. The last question is, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?” Neither Farrah or Jackson appeared on the show, but both would be glad to hear ‘You did make a difference’ from the lips of the Almighty. That is what a lot of people were saying this morning, and afterall, Vox Populi, Vox Dei.


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