I was never a huge fan of Michael Jackson, but on the other hand it would be foolish of me to deny that he was a force of nature for much of my lifetime, defining musical pop culture in much the same way Elvis Presley did for my parents' generation.
What sums up Michael Jackson and his effect on the culture of the world is an indelible memory from the summer I spent in West Germany in 1989. Wanting to see a real German movie, not just something I'd already seen in the States that had been dubbed, I chose the hit comedy of the summer--a movie called Otto--Der Ausserfriesiche starring top German comedian (yes, there is such a thing), Otto Waalkes. I can best describe him as early Jim Carrey with a dash of Pee Wee Herman.
The movie itself is little more than a vehicle for a wicked skewering of pop culture, especially the American pop culture embraced by Germans in the late '80s: Miami Vice, Knight Rider, and...Michael Jackson. One of the funniest scenes in the movie features Otto in a seedy bar doing a dead-on parody of Jackson's video for "The Way You Make Me Feel," with Waalkes taking the Michael Jackson role and his backup dancers played by the ugliest sailors ever to step in front of a camera.
It's a reminder to me that at least some of the hype surrounding Jackson's death and his memorials are deserved. Michael Jackson, like him or not, had an appeal that was felt in the unlikeliest of places and made him as ripe for parody by a German comedian performing for Germans as he was for any American comedian.
Even now, over 20 years later, all aspects of that memory still make me smile.