Cultural death in threes –

June 25, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More

I am experiencing a rather weird feeling – three cultural icons whose flames burned brightest during my own youth have all been extinguished in the same week. First Ed McMahon, who, for years has been but a caricature of himself, died, essentially of old age, at 86. Not a big surprise, except I wonder how someone who was so vibrant when I was a teen managed to get that old?! A friend pointed out that deaths like his make her feel old, and I get that. But so do the deaths of Farrah and Jacko today – at least for me. Because I can still remember believing that only old people lose contemporaries in any large number – and perhaps because we lost a mom at my oldest daughter’s school to ovarian cancer this month – I’m feeling a bit too close to death’s doorway.

I was never a big fan of Farrah, but I know several men who, as boys, would glaze over just staring at her poster on their bedroom walls. She and her fellow Angels were early purveyors of girl-power – except it was the toxic kind, a power that came primarily from great bodies, beautiful faces and big hair. Oh, and yeah, they could kick butt against the bad guys, of course. Theirs was a cultural impact similar to Barbie’s – a completely unrealistic picture of femininity to strive for, girls! But still, they were women in formerly man-held roles, and they were part of my girlhood, for better or worse. Farrah, of course, was always the top angel. Not a role model, although back then some tried to paint her as such; just an icon, replete with faults that became more apparent as she got older and the media more intrusive. Like her or not, I am saddened by the long suffering she had to endure up to her end.

As for Michael Jackson, I simply don’t know how to feel. Over the last several years, he’s become the poster boy for creepy – and the accusations of pedophilia only made his bizarre appearance and behavior that much more disconcerting. But there was a time when he was brilliant, giving us fantastic music and mesmerizing choreography. His changing face over the years, hacked away by plastic surgeons with more greed than good sense, seemed to characterize inner demons edging toward his surface, taking him over, replacing a genius with a disfigured freak. His talent usurped his childhood, and the residual dysfunction rose up and usurped the rest of his life.

Still, his “Off the Wall” album defined a 24-hour drive to Scottsdale, AZ, for a carload of sorority sisters during my junior year, and ‘ABC’ et al were some of the first “pop” songs I ever heard. I loved them. More recently, though, I haven’t been able to get past his bizarre parenting and the possibility that his fantasy Neverland-childhood life was a cover-up for the abuse of little boys. Sad that I’d feel that way, since he was cleared of those charges – but in my mind, the questions remain. And sad that for some of us, the oddity of his later life has, for years, overshadowed his arguable genius. Whether you liked his music or not, he had the potential, once, for greatness.

Perhaps now that he’s gone, his songs will once again define him. Now that we are no longer waiting for the next bizarr-o sighting of “The Gloved One,” we can let go of those images and remember him for his real legacy, his music. Unless, of course, you were one of the little boys.


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Category: American Culture, Entertainment, Health, Media, music

About the Author ()

I am a writer and communication professional in St. Louis, Missouri, a crafter of jewelry, a disorganized optimist and most importantly, the adoptive mom of two China-born daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Stacy Kennedy says:

    I liked Farrah Fawcett. She defied expectations and broke out of the sex-symbol niche with several fine performances. I'll always remember her in the movie version of Extremities and in the TV movie Small Sacrifices (especially Small Sacrifices: she was terrific as the utterly despicable Diane Downs.)

    Despite the Angels (hard to remember that she left that show after just one season,) despite typecasting, despite her rocky personal life, she sought and earned respect as an actress with more to offer than just a dazzling smile and That Hair.

  2. Mindy Carney says:

    You're right, Stacy. I wasn't really thinking of her work beyond my one teen years. But she did do some better acting down the road, true. I simply can't imagine the long, drawn-out cancer deaths that far too many suffer. I'm sure Patrick Swayze doesn't have long, and seeing the photos of them as they waste away is just heartbreaking.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Mindy: As you suggested, Michael Jackson's music is now freed up to define him now that he is dead. Or at least that is the way I (intensely) feel. I blasted Thriller and Beat It on the stereo for my daughters today and we listened to the MUSIC.

    Jackson was an incredible talent, something no one can deny. I remember seeing a 3-D singing/dance number he did in the mid-80's that was featured at Epcot in Florida. Simply mind-blowing talent. Maybe someone can now feel free to step forward to tell the world why he self-destructed.

    As far as Ed McMahon, I never really understood his celebrity. He so often seemed like a couch potato sitting right there on the set of the Tonight Show. Yes, he had a great voice for the opening announcements, but he seemed entirely normal–interchangeable–to me. Maybe that was his draw.

    I thought that Farrah was gorgeous, but my heart never belonged to her. Instead, I have had a many decades-long crush on Diana Rigg, who starred as Emma Peel on the somewhat older (mid-60's) TV series, The Avengers. Talk about being a role model for woman, Emma Peel was extremely smart, something she had over most of the Angels, most of the time (no offense to Kate Jackson). For those who are wondering who Emma Peel was, here's an image:

    Yes, I used to watch too much TV . . .

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    Speaking of Jackson's music, I've been wondering who will now own the Beatles' music?

  5. Mindy Carney says:

    NPR was just discussing that, Dan. Apparently MJ owned it jointly with Sony and a company called ATV. Most of the debt that he owes, which is being estimated somewhere between $3-4 million, is due to investments in him, based solely on the fact that he owned that catalogue. So now, it seems that it will be owned by Sony, ATV and a bunch of MJ's creditors. Not sure how that will all fall out . . .

    And Erich, my ex was also a HUGE Diana Rigg fan as a little boy. I could just never live up to her aura. 🙂

  6. Mindy Carney says:

    Here is a phenomenal article on the MJ tragedy. If all of her facts are correct (i.e. the suit over his pharmacy bills), this is definitely the best article I've read. The issue of his "made-to-order" children is a big one, and when you look at it from the perspective of his likely not being approved to adopt through "normal" channels, it does make you wonder when the laws will be appropriately updated. I also have to say that I was very put off by one of the comments to the article in which the poster says that the doctors should not be held accountable because they only gave him what he wanted . . . really?? Medical professionals should not be expected to be, say, professional??? A mindset I cannot quite wrap my brain around.

    Anyway – from AlterNet –

  7. Alison says:

    Unfortunately, Mindy, when there's money to be made, ethics often take a back seat. Jackson's plastic surgery is not the only example of a surgeon who just can't say "no" in the face of a high-paying customer. Jocelyn Wildenstein hasn't had a problem finding a doctor willing to take the cash and turn his patient into a monster. Nadya Suleman successfully persuaded a fertility clinic to implant 8 embryos in her womb despite her multiple contraindications as a model parent. (And, just like MJ, was OK with her "abusive" parents being directly involved in raising her children. Hmmm.)

    Discarding ethics in the face of serious financial gain isn't limited to politicians, corporate officers, or financial advisors – but when people in the medical profession do it, you can see pictures of it all over the internet, and there's no clever way to spin it.

  8. Mindy Carney says:

    So true, Alison. Having grown up in a medical household, the child of a physician and a nurse, I think I tend to forget that not everyone is in it to help people. Makes me sad, and at this age, you'd think I'd know better!

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