"The true gentleman is friendly, but not familiar." - CONFUCIUS

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iran Loves Michael Jackson

1987 WAS THE LAST TIME I WAS IN IRAN. It was a trip of many memories for an eight-year-old; the sight of the first pair of naked breasts that weren’t my mom’s (they were my cousin’s), a furious storm during which a thunderbolt took the roof off a building (which probably didn’t happen), sneaking a priceless Persian painting past rifle-wielding customs agents in Tehran airport on my mother’s orders.

The soundtrack to my Iran memories is equal parts classical Persian music and Western pop. George Michael's "Careless Whisper" will always remind me of rolling huge roundabouts in a rusting white Peugeot. The Bee Gees and Abba leak through my Tehran recollections, as if playing on a transistor radio turned low in the next room. Even in a religious state where Western music was hard to find, their music became part of the sound of Iran just as it did across the world, because it was melodic and inoffensive (not that most Iranians understood the words anyway). But they were just songs to most people. Few cared much about the people who made them. But not when it came to Mike.

Michael Jackson was America in penny loafers. Cool. Edgy. Rich. Michael was Coca-Cola and hamburgers. Michael was theme parks and smiling children. And all this as a black man in a white man's country. He was moonwalking, crotch-grabbing proof that the American Dream was real.

Not that we thought he was just anyone; far from it. Even now, there probably aren't enough black people in Iran to fill a record store - much as is the case in the southern, country end of England, which I returned to after my trip - so black people fascinated us. But Michael wasn't really black to us, or even white: he was Michael fucking Jackson. We loved him for the same reason everybody loved him: he was a real-life superhero. Loving him made us feel like a part of the world, which we were isolated from in so many ways. We now had something in common with American kids, and it rocked a curl and a glove on one hand.

If you think America is also slowly dying from debt and painkillers, then you might say Michael Jackson is America in death as well as life. It seems to be how a lot of our superheroes go. The American Dream becomes a Hollywood nightmare, and eventually, a VH1 special. Nobody wanted to see Michael go like this. He brought the world too much joy to leave it in such anguish. Michael Jackson paid the cost to be the boss. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the news of his death causes at least some pause in the people protesting against the government in Iran now. They're fighting for his American Dream - even if it isn't necessarily here anymore.