Magazine article The New Yorker

Man in the Moon

Magazine article The New Yorker

Man in the Moon

Article excerpt

To TV viewers watching Michael Jackson's funeral last Tuesday and the movements leading up to it--like the early-morning motorcade taking Jackson's family to Forest Lawn cemetery and then to the Staples Center--the atmosphere seemed calm. There are five Forest Lawn cemeteries in the greater Los Angeles area, the viewing audience was helpfully informed by reporters and commentators on all the networks and cable channels; this one is in the Hollywood Hills, and is the resting place of Lucille Ball, Marvin Gaye, Bette Davis, and many other stars. The parade of passing never ends; a month ago, David Carradine was buried there. Los Angeles sprawled and lazed in the morning sun, and made it easy for those inside the cordon de celebrite that surrounded Forest Lawn and the Staples Center to get to where they needed to go. Outside that boundary, commuters had more than the usual tie-ups to complain about, but the inconvenience, and whatever horn-honking resulted from it, was blessedly underreported to the national viewing audience. The big local-impact story was about money: viewers had to endure frequent quotations of the deficits of both the State of California and Los Angeles, and a lot of ballpark-figuring about how much Jackson's memorial was going to cost the city and how much of that cost would be offset by revenue from visitors. (All the initial estimates were way off base. The city's extra efforts, the Los Angeles Times reported the next day, cost $1.4 million, not four million dollars, as had been feared, and the number of visitors to the city was nothing like the thundering herd of half a million that had been anticipated.)

Geraldo Rivera, on Fox News, talked about how disorderly the Jackson family's planning was, how they were making it up as they went along, but from a distance the proceedings looked sunny and festive. An air of pleasant expectation could be felt, as if you were watching happy crowds gather for a free summer concert. Of course, that was what was happening. It was going to be a "star-studded" event, reporters kept saying, and tickets were free, though there weren't enough to satisfy the demand. (In the grand tradition, scalpers stepped in to help the needy.) Even in death, Jackson played to a packed house.

Outside the Staples Center, big white boards with Jackson's photograph and "1958-2009" had been set up, some of them for fans to write on and some of them for photo ops, like the backdrops that corporate sponsors install at red-carpet and promotional events. Jesse Jackson and his family stopped to pose in front of one of the panels, blocking the picture of M.J. Jackson wasn't one of the speakers that day, but a couple of other men of the cloth did address the audience, one of them being Al Sharpton, who has not lost his competitive edge when it comes to arriving so quickly at any event combining newsworthiness, controversy, and national television that it sometimes seems as if he were there before the thing had happened. Sharpton moved people at the service; he said that Jackson had always "kept going, because he didn't accept limitations. . . . He put on one glove, pulled his pants up"--a reference to the tug that Jackson often made while performing, in order to show off his footwork, but perhaps not the most felicitous clause of the day--"and broke down the color curtain. …

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