I want to call your attention to a finely wrought piece my friend and mentor Father Terrance Klein, associate professor of theology at Fordham University. In his essay entitled "Neverland Awaits," Klein reflects on how the life of Michael Jackson may be interpreted as a parable, a story that exposes the tension between the way we do live our lives and the we we ought to do so. He concludes his reflection with the following paragraph:
Michael Jackson became a great star, but did he do that by being himself or by becoming what others decided he should be on the basis of commercial calculation? If Jackson is our future, if his career says something about our prospects, should we rejoice in a brave new world, where we use modern technologies to create ourselves, or fear for our souls, because they can be bought and sold for profit?Klein's piece and the question he raises at the end reminds me of a description I once read of the post-modern condition: that we live out our lives in a hall of mirrors. In the Fun House's hall of mirrors, we become bewitched by reflections of reflections, myriad distortions that make it hard to distinguish the person from the reflections. Indeed, is that not part of the fun of looking into the mirrors, that our reflection is distorted and then those distorted reflections are further bent and shaped by other mirrors? The result is a seemingly infinite number of reflections, each grounded in some reality, but distorted almost beyond recognition.
Was this not the fate of the King of Pop? In the sea of flash bulbs and tabloid covers, did the King of Pop become just a reflection on a reflection? Did we lose somewhere along the way the subject? Could it be that at some point the real Michael Jackson entered his hyperbaric chamber so many years ago and is now immortalized as a grotesque Sleeping Beauty?
Further still, do the paradoxes of Jackson's life and death portend our own futures? In an era of designer babies, cosmetic modifications, and Internet anonymity, are we not susceptible to the danger of becoming mere reflections of reflections? Should we not take care to preserve our subjectivity, lest it be effaced by Internet chat icons or Botox injections?
I commend Klein's piece to you for your consideration. I think it is a fascinating piece, one that deserves though and conversation. I can think of no better way that to begin my treatment of "Beauty and Philosophy" next week than with this article.