Over the last couple days I’ve heard my fair share of “Michael Jackson was the Shakespeare of our generation” comparisons on Twitter, trust me. But I found this article particularly moronic in its adulation.
I hate the opening premise – that while Dickens and Mozart and others may have been stars in their time, it wasn’t until modern technology arrived that we could have had the “superstar” like we know it today. That’s the “what if” game and all its variants –what if Shakespeare had access to the net, what if Shakespeare had to deal with today’s copyright law, etc etc etc. It is an unfair and pointless comparison. Imagine you have two paintings, A and B. You show A to 10 people, and they all like it. Now, show B to 100 people, and they all like it. Obviously, B is 10x better than A, right? More people liked it.
But it is the closing bit of the article that puts me over the edge:
Sure, you may love Shakespeare or Hemingway, and you may appreciate your elected officials. But it is highly unlikely that your favorite author or elected official will occupy the same space in your sentimental bank of memories as the folks who provided the score for those special times in your childhood, adolescence, youth, etc. Naturally, love is a sentimental affair.
Do you really want to go here?
Don’t get me wrong, I can tell you vivid memories about being a teenager when the Thriller video came out, how it was a special event when MTV would play the full length version and we’d all schedule the time to sit in front of the tv. The stories we told about the girl in the video, whose name I never forgot – Ola Ray.
And, and, and….well, and nothing. That’s about it. I remember the moonwalk and the up on the toes thing, and I’m sure at one point or another we all tried to do it. But honestly I think that breakdancing and “parachute pants” were more of an influence on my particular corner of the world than Mr. Jackson and his one sequined glove.
You want to compare that to Shakespeare? Really? You want to talk about 9th grade English class where we read Julius Caesar at the same time as we were studying Ancient Rome in social studies, and I once put “Ab Urbe Condite” into an English paper because I thought it was cool? Nobody knew what it meant. Or how the teacher handed our papers back once and told Matt White, the cool preppie kid, that his paper was excellent…only to then tell me that mine was outstanding? (That did NOT make me friends with the cool preppie kids.) How about when there were only 8 of us in class, 4 boys and 4 girls, the year we had to memorize and recite the balcony scene from R&J? And how Leah Dinapoli and I were the only ones to actually memorize the thing properly, and she even said to me “You and I should have done it together”? Mrs. McCormick’s 10th grade class with Macbeth, or Mr. Corey’s 12grade showing of Olivier’s Hamlet, and how he dashed to hit Pause on the VCR when it came time to explain to us what “Oedipus Complex” meant? (Let’s not forget back in Ms. Cunningham’s Romeo and Juliet class where she showed the Zeffirelli, topless scene and all. Exciting times for a 15yr old Shakespeare geek, let me tell you).
Or should we go on to college, where I got a job working on a Shakespeare video game and read every play multiple times, developing a database of 1000 questions about the works? My humanities minor on the role of insanity as a defense mechanism in the tragic hero, comparing Hamlet, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Death of a Salesman? How about going on a date to see Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, 9:55 show on a Sunday night and being the only ones there? Having the manager tell us that they wouldn’t run the movie without at least 6 couples, and then hanging out in front of the theatre hoping that five others would show up? (They did!)
How about when our college theatre group did a 3 day performance of The Tempest, and my girlfriend at the time played one of the fairies? I sat enraptured in as close to the front row as I could, for every performance, watching the magic (and never forgetting it). I even remember the pose she struck over the sleeping king, growling at Sebastian and Antonio during that big scene. And we partied with the cast later, and helped strike the set when they were done. Jeff Waldin played Prospero.
Should I go on? Because I can.
Let’s be real. Michael Jackson was a fine entertainer. Made lots of music, broke new ground in many ways. But when you start making comparisons like these, putting him up against somebody that’s already stood the test of 400 years, and then having the gall to say things like “never been anyone like him…and probably never will” then you’re just asking for an argument. I’ve listened to Michael Jackson music. But I’ve sat in the grass of Boston Common and watched them build the stage for a Shakespeare play, and the very sound of the tools they used would give me goosebumps in anticipation of what was to come. Who knows, maybe some folks can say the same about a Michael Jackson concert.
Let’s talk about it again in 400 years. I’ll bring my guy, and you see if you can still find anybody performing yours.