Sunday night, I was watching TV at my mom’s house when she came in, demanding that I change the channel.
“Turn it to the Billboard Music Awards! I want to see Michael Jackson’s performance.”
I paused. Michael Jackson died in 2009. I heard that there would be a Michael Jackson tribute, but I assumed that it would be done by other artists. I soon realized that even the King of Pop was not excluded from the Tupac at Coachella/Jem and the Holograms treatment.
We sat there, speechless, as an image of something resembling Michael Jackson bounced across the stage like a Windows screensaver.
The performance ended, the cameras panned to non-celebrity members of the audience (The celebs were hopefully as horrified as any other person watching at home), and my mom, the same woman who has every Michael Jackson performance recorded on VHS, got up and said, “You can change it now.”
I imagine that the performance will be one of those things we never speak of again, much like when I took her to see Wolf of Wall Street on Christmas Day.
The performance reminded me of why I balk at the idea of expecting accountability from corporations for making ethical decisions when it comes to almost anything, especially art and media. A corporation is a person whose only legal obligation is to be profitable. These are the same corporations that are trying, and succeeding, at creating a premium-based system for the internet, privileging content providers with big money over the everyday internet celebrity, or even sporadic bloggers such as myself. Record labels who sign young rap artists that brag about adding to the ever-increasing number of gun-related death in Chicago, giving them bonuses, moving them out of their neighborhoods, and blasting their death wishes on the radio and YouTube. We won’t even get into media representations of the marginalized. Every show starring a black woman, a transwoman or a person with a disability begs not only attention and praise, but the question: Why is this still an issue?
Any time you wonder why your favorite show doesn’t have people of color in its cast, or why you have to pay extra on your internet bill to get access to Youtube, or why your favorite rapper never gets radio play, just think of screensaver Michael Jackson, and remember: Money talks and thinkpieces walk. If it doesn’t make money, corporations won’t do it.