As the dust settles after the frenzy that surrounded yet another celebrity melt down, it is interesting to reflect on the legacy Michael Jackson leaves behind. Those who worship at the alter of cultural icons rarely find an excess that can’t be reframed sympathetically, thus maintaining the almost divine aura of their hero.
Is there something in our cultural psyche that blinds us to the insanity of such obviously self-destructive behavior and hypnotically draws us to tears and mourning akin to that felt with the passing of a close friend or relative?
How do we remember Elvis Presley, now that 32 years have passed? It’s hard to differentiate between the musical legacy and the craziness of his last few years, which saw a relatively young man with more to live for than most of us could hope to aspire to in a thousand years. He had millions of adoring fans, was at the pinnacle of career success, with a family and royalty income that would keep an oil sheik happy for a lifetime.
How will Mike Tyson be remembered? Will he be remembered for his total and terrifying dominance as a heavyweight boxer or as a complete and total loser?
We create celebrity heroes to indulge our reminiscences. We love to look back and wax lyrical of our memories of Ali, Monroe, Gable, Jordon, Pele, Tyson, Elvis and Michael Jackson. Our Sporting, Big Screen and Musical idols provide grist to the wheel of our pub conversations.
Our collective appreciation for the sheer magic of excellence, albeit often fleeting, somehow bonds us as a society.
Legacy is by definition the imprint or lens by which we filter our memories of said legends. As role models however, it is curious that some of these idolized heroes of our generation, in the cold light of day represent a mother's worst fear for her children. What mother would trade the choice of 10 years fame and idolatry for the complete and utter car wreck in which many of these ‘heroes’ end their lives?
Like Elvis, it’s hard to separate the great memories with the knowledge of their extreme foibles. The epitome of dysfunction and excess pervades our memories and with the passing of time some of the gloss will wear off.
Some of the great inspirations of every generation are those that rise out of adversity and achieve greatness, the other journey from greatness to complete catastrophe is sobering and perhaps also inspiring, but for a different reason.
The lesson perhaps to be learned is that all success is contextual and that depending on the lens you use to examine a legacy ultimately determines whether the epitaph, is that of Legend or Loser. Judge for yourself!