The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Category: celebrity (page 1 of 5)

Monkey Business: Roddy McDowall & Me

Mark Simpson recalls meeting Cornelius and his ‘hungry eyes’

Grief these days seems to come easier when attached to the death of celebrities. Especially when seen as the end of not just a media relationship but an age of innocence. For some it was the death of Diana, Kennedy, Lennon or Martin Luther King. For me it was the death last year of that international icon, superstar and chimpanzee Roddy McDowall. 

What TV giveth, TV taketh away. BBC1 Sunday lunchtime news, to be exact: ‘Roddy McDowall, the British-born actor best known for his role in Planet of the Apes (1968), has died of cancer at his L.A. home aged 76. He never married.’ 

I was eating some toast and Marmite at the time and began to choke.

It is not entirely true to say that he never married. After all Roddy’s first big screen appearance was in Lassie Come Home (1943), aged 15, playing a schoolboy devoted to a very human bitch.

But it was not until Roddy was all grown up and cast as a very human animal himself, that he really impacted my young consciousness – in the dystopian Sci-Fi film and TV series Planet of the Apes. Watching them on TV in the 1970s I promptly became as fond of him as he had been of Lassie.

Man has destroyed himself in some apocalypse and buried the Statue of Liberty up to its elbow. The apes have taken over and enslaved their former masters the humans. Roddy plays Cornelius, a more articulate, Simian Lassie, befriending and helping the last humans, led by a creaking Charlton Heston in his ‘mature period’. I particularly remember the odd way Roddy has of cocking his head to one side while looking up at Moses with his big brown eyes begging for a petting that never came. At least not before I had to go to bed.

Years later, when I was grown up too, or as grown up as I’ll ever be, I had the pleasure of looking into those big brown eyes myself when I was interviewing the Hollywood actress Nancy Allen (who memorably played the bitch Chris Hargensen in Carrie) for a glossy American magazine. You can imagine my excitement.

I was sitting down with Ms Allen at Orso’s, a swanky Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills, when suddenly she gasped, “Oh! There’s Roddy!’=” and waved at a table close to ours where a skinny elderly man was sitting with another, slightly less elderly and much fatter man and lots of papers. 

It wasn’t until he came over to our table to introduce himself and I could see those monkey-yet-strangely-human eyes that I realised it was Cornelius. He shook my hand a little too firmly and a little too long and gave me a brazen once-over with those glittering round eyes that had once reflected the miniaturised and slightly humiliated image of Charlton.

“What a surprise to see you here!’ Roddy trilled to my companion in that charmingly sing-song syrupy voice of his, ‘I’m just lunching with my agent.” Ms Allen introduced me as ‘a journalist from Glossy American Magazine. He’s interviewing me!’ she said, a bit too surprised at the idea herself.

“A journalist, eh?” Said Roddy, looking me up and down again. “That’s a good one! I’ve never seen shoulders like that on a journalist before!” He leaned towards me holding a liver-spotted hand to the side of his face and hissed in a stage whisper: “Watch her now, Mark! She’s wicked!” And with a lascivious wink and a leathery grin he sauntered back to his table. My audience with Cornelius was over.

Meeting a legend like this was shocking enough. But I was even more shocked by the way he was quite obviously and openly fag. Call me naïve, but I never thought of Cornelius as having any kind of sex at all.

Looking back and re-writing history as we do, I can now see that of course that Roddy’s entire Hollywood career was queer as a coot (a creature which I think actually makes an appearance in one of the Lassie films, and ends up swapping Judy Garland stories with Roddy). The boy who developed over-intense relationships with animals, and who grew up to be an ape with twinkly eyes identifying with humans stranded in a world where they were now the oppressed minority.

Then there is the 1967 film It! (1967), aka Curse of the Golem, a reworking of the Frankenstein story that is quite possibly the queerest movie ever made. Roddy plays a meek assistant museum curator in London living with his domineering mum who finds his boss’s death lands him the job of running the museum and ownership of a two thousand year old statue which comes to life to do his bidding – a Golem. 

Naturally, it all goes to poor Roddy’s head (he can’t negotiate that pesky Oedipus Complex), and he destroys half of London trying to impress an uninterested woman who knows a Lassie when she sees one. Roddy is finally locked up – but breaks out after he hears his mother has died. An hysterical Roddy hijacks a hearse, kidnaps the girl, and heads off with her and the Golem to the cemetery where his mother is buried.

And I think most of us, one way or another, have been there.

Roddy’s greatest asset was also his greatest give-away—his eyes. In person they were the gayest eyes I’ve ever seen: that bright, alert, hungry quality, mostly found in children and small animals, but which in adult men is the nearest thing to a reliable indicator of inversion.

On TV in the 1970s they just looked very friendly.

(Attitude, Feb 1999)

Quentin Crisp & Hurtian Crisp

The Naked Civil Servant is the best and funniest TV drama ever made. And I’m sorry, but it’s a scientific fact.

And like its subject it could only have been made in England.  Even if Crisp said he hated England – and he did, over and over again.

So many lines in Philip Mackie’s superb screenplay for the Thames TV adaptation glitter like, well, the icy aphorisms that Crisp filled his 1968 eponymous autobiography with. But it was Hurt’s breakthrough performance as Crisp which is most historic: rendering Crisp, as Quentin himself acknowledged – and welcomed – something of an understudy to Hurt’s Crisp for the rest of his life.

The actual, quasi-existing Crisp, born Denis Charles Pratt in Sutton, Surrey in 1908, sometimes sounded by this stage (he was nearly 70 when the drama aired) like a vintage car tyre losing air ve-ry slow-ly. And was almost as immobile. Hetero dandy Hurt injected a kind of rakishness – a hint of phallicism, even – to Crisp’s defiantly passsssive persssssona that came across rather more invigorating and sexy than he actually was. Hurt rendered Crisp rock ‘n’ roll when he probably wasn’t even up for a waltz. When Hurt repeatedly intoned Crisp’s Zen-like answer to the world and Other People and Desire in general – ‘If you like’ – it sounded slightly more aggressive than passive.

(And for me, Hurtian Crisp was further improved and made edgier by what I shall call Hoyleian-Hurtian Crisp: I met the performance artist David Hoyle in the early 80s when we were both teenage runaways to London’s bedsit-land. He would perform key moments from TNCS mid conversation about the weather or who was on Top of the Pops last night, adding a dash of David Bowie and Bette Davis to the mix. David always succeeded in making these impromptu excerpts sound as if they were flashbacks to his earlier life. Which, since he grew up a sensitive boy in working class Blackpool in the 1970s watching a lot of telly, they were.)

TNCS, both the book and the dramatisation, is criminally funny precisely because so much of what Hurt/Crisp says/declaims is so shockingly true.

The line whispered delicately in the ear of the leader of a 1930s queer bashing gang is now almost a cliche, but still has hilarious force: ‘“If I were you I’d bugger off back to Hoxton before they work out you’re queer.” 

Some roughs are really queer, and some queers are really rough.

Crisp’s truths, particularly about human relationships, are the truths told by someone who has nothing to lose – largely because they’ve already lost everything to the bailiffs of despair. This is the ‘nakedness’ of the Civil Servant.

Because it was one of the first TV dramas to depict a self-confessed and unapologetic – flaunting, even – homosexual TNCS has been frequently misrepresented as a ‘gay drama’. But Crisp’s sexuality is not really what TNCS is about – or in fact what Crisp was about.

To a degree it is about being ‘out and proud’, or at least determined to inflict oneself on the world, but not so much as a homosexual, and certainly not as ‘a gay’, in the modern, respectable, American sense of the word. It’s not even, thankfully, a plea for tolerance. Rather it’s a portrayal of the heroic self-sufficiency of someone who decided to stand apart from society and its values, henna their hair and work as a male street prostitute – and then, lying bruised in the gutter, turn a haughty, unsentimental but piercingly funny eye back on a world which regards him as the lowest form of life. It’s the blackest and cheekiest kind of comedy – which is to say: the only kind.

‘I am an effeminate homo-sex-u-alll’, declared Crisp to the Universe. Over and over again. And the Universe had no choice but to agree. By being utterly abject Crisp forced the Universe to do precisely as he instructed. A blueprint for celebrity that was to be repeated many, many times by others before his death in 1999 and even more times after – though usually rather less wittily and with less jaunty headgear.

Crisp added that, as an effeminate homosexual, he was imprisoned inside an exquisite paradox, like some kind of ancient insect trapped in amber: attracted to masculine males – the famous Great Dark Man – he cannot himself be attracted to a man who finds him, another male, attractive because then they cannot be The Great Dark Man any more. Hence the famous, Death-of-God declaration in TNCS, after many, many mishaps and misrecognitions: ’

There. Is. No. Great. Dark. Man!

Strictly 19th century sexologically speaking, Mr Crisp was probably more of a male invert than a homosexual and often said that he thought that he should have been a woman, and even wondered whether he was born intersexed (this despite famously dismissing women as ‘speaking a language I do not understand’ – perhaps because he didn’t like too much competition in the speaking stakes). Either way, he doesn’t appear to have been terribly happy with his penis or even its existence – something homosexual males, like heterosexual ones, are usually delirious about. But then again, perhaps rather than expressing some kind of  proto-transsexuality Quentin’s Great Dark Man complex was merely setting up a situation in which he could remain ever faithful to his one true love. Himself.

In Thames TV’s TNCS, which begins (at Crisp’s request) with a pretty, pre-pubescent boy as Quentin/Dennis dancing in a dress in front of a full-length mirror, Hurtian Crisp is an out-and-proud narcissist, who simply refuses to take on board the shame that such an outrageous perversion should entail. When he attempts to join the Army at the start of the war he causes apoplexy in the recruiters for being completely honest about his reasons for doing so: he doesn’t mouth platitudes about ‘doing his duty’, ‘his bit’ or ‘fighting Nazis’. He just wants to eat properly and the squaddies he knows seem to have quite a nice time of it, loading and unloading petrol cans in Basingstoke. His openness about his homosexuality is palpably less shocking to the Army officials than his honesty about his self-interestedness. About his interest in himself.

Or as Hurt/Crisp replies as a preening adolescent youth when asked by his exasperated, buttoned-up Edwardian petite-bourgeois father:

“Do you intend to admire yourself in the mirror forever??”

“If I possibly can.”

And boy, did he. TNCS, which aired slap in the middle of the 70s, was probably more of an inspiration to the glam, punk, new-wave and new romantic generation than to gays in general. Hurtian Crisp and his hennaed hair and make-up sashaying the streets of 1930s London symbolised in the 1970s the idea of an aestheticized revolt against Victorian ideas of proper deportment and dullness that had dominated Britain for much of the Twentieth Century. The best British pop music had always been a form of aesthetic revolt, and Crisp seemed very much his own special creation, which is what so many teens now aspired to be. Crisp was taken for a real original and individual in an age when everyone wanted to be original and individual. Or as Crisp put it himself later:

‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time. They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.’

TNCS changed Crisp’s life and made him very famous indeed. A reality TV winner before such a thing existed, his prize was the chance to move to America. Since he had loved Hollywood movies from childhood and was later treated like a Hollywood starlet (albeit in air raid shelters) by American GI’s in London during the Second World War, no wonder he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

But if there’s anything to be learned from An Englishman in New York, the sequel to TNCS broadcast on ITV recently, it’s that it may all have been a terrible mistake. Even if Mr Crisp never thought so. Although Hurt turns in a technically fine performance, he seems to have become more Crispian and less Hurtian. Perhaps that’s inevitable with the passage of time (Hurt is nearly 70, the age Crisp was when he first played him). Or perhaps it’s simply that his acting skills have increased. Whatever the reason, it’s not a welcome development here. And I’m sure Crisp would have agreed.

But much, much worse is the redemptive reek of this sequel. Everything is made to turn on Crisp’s ‘AIDS {upper case back then, remember} is a fad’ quip made in the early 80s and the trouble this got him into in the US – and why he was a good sort, really. Despite the things he actually said. So we see him adopt a gay artist dying of the ‘fad’, fussing over him and arranging for his art to be exhibited. We discover him sending secret cheques to Liz Taylor’s Aids foundation. We even hear him explain what he meant by ‘fad’ (supposedly it was a political tactic: minimize the gay plague to avoid a hetero backlash).

Now, this obsession with redemption may be very American and has of course, like many American obsessions, become more of an English one of late – especially when trying to sell something to the Yanks, as I’m sure the producers of this sequel are hoping to do. But if there was any point to Crisp at all it was that he was utterly unsentimental – except where royalty were concerned – and relatively free of the hypocrisies of everyday life.  This sequel supposedly about him is full of them. So forgive me if I’m unconvinced.

Crisp was invincible in his determination to regard the US as the dreamland of the movies of his youth made real: America was as he put it ‘Heaven’ where England was ‘Hell’. And why not? If you’ve spent most of your best years deprived of almost every single illusion that comforts most other people, why shouldn’t you have one big one in your retirement?

And to be fair, much of what he had to say about the friendliness and flattering, encouraging, open-hearted nature of Americans compared to the mean-minded, resentful, vindictive English is quite true, even today. But Crisp’s whole approach to life was even more at odds with American culture, even in its atypical NYC form, with its emphasis on self-improvement, aspiration, uplift and success. ‘If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style,’ said Crisp, who regarded himself as a total failure. Could there be a more un-American worldview? Apart that is from, ‘Don’t try to keep up with the Jones.  Try to drag them down to your level.  It’s cheaper.’

In an early documentary from 1970 Crisp, sitting in his London bed-sitting room sipping an unappetizing powdered drink he takes instead of preparing food, which he can’t be bothered with, that ‘has all the vitamins and protein I need but tastes awful’ he describes himself as a Puritan.  Actually, Crisp was a Puritan with an added frosting of asceticism. Crisp was deeply suspicious of all pleasure (save the pleasure of being listened to and looked at) and most especially of sex, which he described as ‘the last refuge of the miserable’. And four years of house dust is a very good way of showing how above the material world you are.

It’s a very middle class, middle England, middle century Puritanism – just like Crisp’s background. But Crisp was also his own kind of revenge on himself, or on the world that had made him – of which he was a living parody. Ultimately, none of us are really our own special creations. The most we can hope for is a special edition.

Crisp’s Puritanism was part of the reason why he could never embrace Gay Lib (‘what do you want to be liberated from?’). He was recently subjected to a stern posthumous ticking off by Peter Tatchell, an original Gay Libber, in the Independent newspaper prompted by what he sees as the ‘sanitising of Crisp’s ignorant pompous homophobia’ in An Englishman in New York. Post-60s Crisp was apparently jealous of a new generation of out queers who were stealing his limelite: he wasn’t the only homo in town any more.

This broadside was a tad harsh, and Tatchell sometimes sounds as if he’s on the Army board that rejected Crisp (while accusing him of ‘homophobia’ threatens to make an absurdity of the word). But I agree that the sequel does ‘sanitise’ Crisp, though I think this a bad thing for different reasons to Mr Tatchell. I also suspect there’s some truth to the accusation of ‘jealousy’, but I’d be inclined to put them in another form. Maybe Crisp didn’t want homosexuality to be normalised because if it were it would undo his life’s work. Likewise, I think Crisp would have loathed metrosexuality.

And as the sequel suggests, in one of its few insightful moments, one reason for Crisp’s failure to answer the gay clarion call was simply that he didn’t believe in causes, or the subjugation of truth and dress-sense to expediency that inevitably goes with causes. Unless that cause is yourself.

Besides, like many ‘inverts’, Crisp was a great and romantic believer in Heterosexuality – the ideal kind, of course, rather than the kind that heterosexuals actually have to live, and which they execute very, very badly.  He used to call heterosexuals ‘real people’ (as opposed to ‘unreal’ homosexuals), but I suspect he thought he was the only real heterosexual in town.

And, in a sense, he was.

‘If they’ve lost their nerve wear beards.’

***

I can’t leave you without pointing out that while Quentin Crisp may have dismissed Aids as a ‘fad’, Hurtian Crisp became more associated with ‘the gay plague’ than almost anyone save Rock Hudson: literally becoming the sound of the seriousness of the subject. In 1975 hetero Hurt plays the most famous stately homo in England. The success of this gets him to Hollywood, where four years later in 1979 he is cast in an even more globally famous role – as ‘Patient Zero’ in Ridley Scott’s Alien: the first host for the terrifying unknown organism that enters his body by face-raping him and which proceeds to kill-off in horrifying, phallic-jackhammer fashion, his shipmates. Two years before the first identified Aids cases in NY.

Eight years later, Hurt was the unforgettable fey-gravelly voice for those terrifying tombstone ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ ads (complete with jackhammers) that ran in heavy rotation on UK TV, urging people to read the Government leaflet pushed through their letterbox and practise safe sex.

In other words, The Naked Civil Servant had become a rubber-sheathed civil servant.

Old Spice: interview Crisp gave Andrew Barrow of the Independent a year before his death.

Crispisms

In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast. Those who once inhabited the suburbs of human contempt find that without changing their address they eventually live in the metropolis.

It is not the simple statement of facts that ushers in freedom; it is the constant repetition of them that has this liberating effect. Tolerance is the result not of enlightenment, but of boredom.

To know all is not to forgive all. It is to despise everybody.

I simply haven’t the nerve to imagine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the planets revolving in their orbits and then suddenly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.

Even a monotonously undeviating path of self-examination does not necessarily lead to self-knowledge. I stumble towards my grave confused and hurt and hungry.

It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.

The consuming desire of most human beings is deliberately to place their entire life in the hands of some other person. For this purpose they frequently choose someone who doesn’t even want the beastly thing.

The simplest comment on my book came from my ballet teacher. She said, “I wish you hadn’t made every line funny. It’s so depressing.”

Someone asked me why I thought sex was a sin. I said, “She’s joking, isn’t she?” But they said, “No.” Doesn’t everyone know that sex is a sin? All pleasure is a sin.

You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave.

Transexy Alex Reid

Katie+and+Alex+in+Brighton

Yesterday’s Daily Star tells us, in a news item that seems to be full of invisible exclamation marks, that ‘The hunky cage-fighting lover of sexy Kate Price is a secret cross-dresser called Roxanne{!!!}.’

Muscleman Alex Reid, 34, has had the dual identity throughout his adult life.  As Roxanne he wears full make-up, women’s clothes, wigs and high heels and even alters his voice to make him sound like a woman{!!!}. He also snaps at anyone who calls him Alex while he is in his female character{!!!!!}.

Well, can you blame him?  If I went to all that trouble to model myself on a Sting single about a loose lady putting on the red light and people still called me boring old ‘Mark’, I’d be a bit sharp too.

His family are said to be relaxed about his double life and girlfriend Kate, alias Jordan, 31, is sticking by him. Yesterday she even admitted: “I find it really horny.”

Yes, it certainly has a sexy publicity angle to it….

She is so accepting of his Roxanne role that she bought him dozens of pairs of size 10 stilettos on a recent shopping trip{!!!}

Despite the relaxed attitudes of Price and family, there are quite a few dissappointed punters out there.  Many of them trannies.  It was Michelle, my male-to-female tranny friend and former male stripper called Stud-U-Like, forwarded me this story – in disgust.  Sometimes trannies have the greatest faith in masculinity, despite knowing its weaknesses very intimately.  But then, I suppose that’s what faith is.  And besides, it’s always a bitch when tranny-fuckers turn tranny.

I’m not much of a believer myself.  Not in these mediated, metrosexual days of male sluttery.  Besides, I don’t really mind strapping lads in basques who want to be high-heeled sluts.  I’m just not sure where I’m going to get the energy to deal with them all{!!!!}.

And regardless of whether or not ‘Roxanne’ really exists, for some time I’ve looked at those ubiquitous pictures of of Alex and Kate going shopping and thought: Your beefy new boyfriend is borrowing your bronzer and is even more aroused by large lenses than you.  In other words: it’s a perfect match.  For all that cage-fighting cabbage-eared muscleman shtick – which looked as hyper-real as Price’s boobs – he seemed even more like a MTM transexual than her previous partner Peter ‘Abs’ Andre (who of course is no longer a MTM, but a MTJW: male-to-jilted-wife).

Besides, it’s all so inevitable.  I wrote an essay for Out magazine last year, partly inspired by my friend Michelle’s transtastic journey from Stud-U-Like to Chick-U-Love, about how we’re all going transexy:

Looking around at our sexually transparent, stimulated-simulated, implanted-imploding, cam-fun-anyone? world, it’s difficult not to conclude that most of us are going tranny but without the, er, balls to actually change sex or even properly cross-dress. We’re all becoming male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals: transexy.

Nice to know that at least one transexy male celeb has the balls to properly cross dress.  But I guess if you’re a cage fighter then people are more likely to remember to call you ‘Roxanne’.  And not laugh.  At least, not in front of you.

Or else this might happen.

Tip: Michelle

The End of Michael Jacksonism

Michael_Jackson_sculpture

By Mark Simpson

(Edited from a feature that originally appeared the Independent on Sunday in July 1997, titled ‘Now the end is near’)

Only a Michael Jackson gig could begin with a ten-minute computer-generated sci-fi video which obviously cost more than most artists can muster for an album.

The film beamed on to the three giant screens at Wembley, the first leg on MJ’s current tour of Britain, show a golden android getting into a capsule and then riding a big-dipper track at high speed through pop culture, art and the last thirty years of history – the moon landings, little Michael performing ABC, Nixon, hunger and war in Africa, tall skinny Michael in ‘Wannna Be Startin’ Somethin’’, the Berlin Wall coming down, macho Michael in Bad. And then, on the vast stage with a large bang and a flash, out steps the android and takes off his mask. It’s the King of Pop!

Michael Jackson, you see, is the present, the past and the future. He’s our connection with the looking glass world of media: he is the man in the mirror. His-story is our story. Michael Jackson is all human culture. Moondancing.

All the same, few things could be as uncool in Britain today as admitting you like Michael Jackson. You can wear slip-on shoes. You can watch A Question of Sport. You can even drink lager and black – but don’t ever, ever admit that you like Michael Jackson. American, inauthentic, corporate, sincere, tacky, irony-free and no sense of modesty whatsoever, MJ is the antithesis of Britpop – the great Satan to Britpop’s fundamentalism.

When uber-cool Jarvis Cocker made his now legendary stage invasion at last year’s Brit awards, interrupting the King of Pop’s ascension into heaven serenaded by a choir of angelic children during a vast performance of ‘Earth Song’, he was supported not so much by revulsion at the (dropped) child-abuse allegations but by a much stronger feeling: revulsion at an American taking themselves so seriously at the Brit Awards.

And yet, Jarvis’ mooning might possibly have been inspired by  jealousy. MJ’s performance of ‘Earth Song’ (containing probably the best and most bathetic pop lyric ever: ‘And what about the elephants?’) did steal the show and really was a religious experience. Yes, it was astonishingly arrogant, tasteless, blasphemous and doolally, but then the best pop always is.

Brit-pop – despite its much-heralded demise – still has a stranglehold on British pop music, and is a highly reactionary music form, harking back to the Sixties sound of all-white bands like the Beatles, but surgically removing any of the R&B sound that informed so much of the ‘Fab Four’s’ music. Oasis are not the Beatles again: they’re the Beatles minus Chuck Berry. And MJ, despite his kabuki-mime pallor, is very ‘black’ in the sense that most of his music is rhythmically orientated.

Though of course the basis of MJ’s brand that he mixes his American blackness with American whiteness until you can hardly distinguish the two: ‘Black or White’ is as much a question as a statement – like asking how you like your coffee. (Funnily enough, it was probably precisely because his skin-colour changed that many white British critics felt able to attack Jackson.)

So I’d love to report that the latest show is brilliant – but in fact it’s an epic, grinding disappointment. The intro video was by far the best part of it. Anti-climax is probably inevitable when you go to see the most famous man in the world. But there’s also a kind of pointlessness to it. MJ is so fantastically plastic, so extravagantly synthetic that there is nothing really added by going to see him ‘live’ and watching him on a giant video juke-box with thousands of others in a sports arena. In fact, something is taken away. MJ is a simulacrum, a copy for which no original exists. The image is the man, not the tiny imposter jigging around on stage between the video screens the size of football pitches – and beneath the towering Stalinist statue of himself.

It’s precisely because MJ is so phoney, so artificial, so mass-produced, processed and pre-digested that he has been so popular. MJ is the Big Mac of pop music – scorned by faddists and know-betters but very popular with people who want something fast, fun, and nutrition-free that gives them a buzz. Most people are uncool, thank god, and quite happy that way.

But for all his popularity with the masses, the MJ brand, like Big Macs, is clearly in decline. This tour has failed to sell out and there isn’t anything approaching the ‘Jacksonmania’ that has greeted previous ones. His last couple of albums have been less than impressive and the kiddie-fiddling charges can’t have helped. But perhaps the real problem for MJ Inc is beyond the MD’s control. The world’s love affair with Americana has peaked. When the Cold War ended and the Stalinist statues were pulled down and replaced with McDonald’s golden arches, people stopped dreaming the American dream. It had become an inescapable reality.

Michael Jackson, the greatest embodiment of that dream, the creature of consumerism, individualism and aspirationalism, the most famous man who never lived, is also a victim of his own success. Hence the hubristic use of that blockbuster intro video and Ceaucescu-esque statues on the cover of the History album and next to the stage on this tour is eerily apt. Those who try to embody history usually end up victims of it: toppling over beneath the weight of their own contradictions. And besides, Jacksonism isn’t much of a replacement for Jacksonmania.

Put another way, Michael’s audience has grown up while he, valiantly has not. At Wembley, while MJ cavorted with some female dancers on-stage, a fan behind me shouted out: ‘They’re a bit old for you, aren’t they Michael?’

You really know the world’s changed when MJ fans get cynical.

© Mark Simpson 2009