Saturday, November 28, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Posthumous Religion

"Apophenia" is the word used to describe the human tendency to find patterns where none exist. It's like when you buy a certain brand of car, you suddenly find that the streets are filled with that very model of car.

The article I saw last week about an English couple who discovered the face of Michael Jackson on their baby's ultrasound is nothing more than a particularly comical example of that phenomenon. I include the photo, from North News and Pictures and taken by me from the website of the Telegraph, to illustrate the idea. Sure, I can see a face. It can, with a good amount of imagination, be said to resemble Michael Jackson's (especially the nose, say the cruel among us).

But it is certainly no more than a silly, meaningless fluke. Not even a 'coincidence' (as there are not two things coinciding here). Just a random meaningless thing. It is, however, significant to the extent that it reminds me of Jesus on toasted bread or the Virgin Mary on a mouldy wall. "My foetus is the reincarnation of Michael Jackson" is perhaps the first sign I have of a religious element that I'm sure will surround Michael Jackson's death. Images of faithful fans flocking to the courtrooms a few years ago where Jackson was standing trial might suggest that the phenomenon was already happening during his life, and the extraordinary reverence accorded him since his passing might also be further proof. But I think we might find a quasi-religious movement even greater than the one that surrounded Elvis Presley.

There is increasingly a need to create 'conspiracy theories' when faced with tragedy. I think that the so-called 'immortality' (as in timeless fame) that we attach to celebrities transmutes itself to a belief in genuine immortality for certain famous people. When Michael Jackson died, I think on some basic level many people felt shock not so much that the had died but that he could die - that he could succumb to the ravages of the flesh like any mortal. I don't think many people would admit to such a delusional thought, but I'm sure many of us experienced it, even on a subconscious level.

So I'm sure rumours that Michael Jackson faked his death will continue for years, and presumably people will 'discover' him undercover in the most ludicrous of places (the extent to which he went to hide himself from the public eye during his life will certainly establish a precedent for the more elaborate of these). As with 2Pac, people will scour songs, lyrics, public pronouncements and videos and find them filled with cryptic references to his faked death and rebirth. Dates will be discovered when Michael Jackson will publically reappear.

It's sad, really. I think it says a lot about a human need for religious-style belief, and how in the absence of traditional religions that need can be fulfilled in all manner of strange ways. I do think it's inevitable though. Michael Jackson's soft-focus positivitiy and humanity will form a basis for this new-religion, and people will, with teary eyes, declaim how Michael Jackson has 'saved' them and how their belief in him keeps them whole.

Just wait. Faces in ultrasounds are nothing yet.

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