Watching the recent presidential debates, where we the viewers are supposed to make our judgment based on the verbal performance of our presidential and vice presidential candidates, at the end of the day I think whom we’ll vote for will be determined more by how we feel about the candidates themselves and their impact to our lives.
Personally the sight of two ex-generals expounding their commitment to the country and the people, however lucidly and convincingly, have so far failed to impress me or erased the memory of what they once stood for and how their actions had impacted this country. Which was the violation of human rights.
But this article is not about my choice of the Indonesia’s presidential candidate. Rather, it is about how our memories play a great deal in determining how we view people that we consider to play a big role in our lives, even if we don’t know them personally.
In our world full of conflicts, strives and divisions such as ours, it is a rare thing for a person to excite and unite people on a global scale. The sudden death of Michael Jackson, King of Pop, last week, did just that: uniting the world in a global expression of shock, grief, disbelief and fascination. His death meant something to practically everybody, however small. Most people on this earth have a memory they could relate to the figure of Michael Jackson.
The outpouring of messages that clogged up the traffic on Facebook, Twitter and other online social networking sites in an unprecedented scale is testimony of how much one person could make an impact on the entire planet. Despite his eccentricities, strange lifestyle and odd behaviour, the world agrees on one thing: Michael Jackson was a huge and important influence on the one language that we all share and that touches us in the same way: the universal language of music and all its social and cultural implications.
Michael Jackson’s death was not only a matter of tragedy for his fans across the five continents. For many of us ordinary people, the talent and musical gifts of this larger than life icon, has been an accompanying background sound to our own personal histories and life stories.
We can chart the significant moments of our lives on which Michael Jackson’s songs were the hit at that time, what clothes he wore, what dance movements he performed, what his ever-changing face looked like. For a lot of people, Moonwalk had nothing to do with man’s first landing on the moon, but for Michael Jackson’s dance style that was emulated by young people across the globe.
Even when he ceased to perform, his public trials, bizarre lifestyle and weird antics continued to play in the backdrop of our daily lives like a permanent soundtrack or a wallpaper that we take for granted and would always be there.
Until of course, it was taken away. Then suddenly there was a void where that permanency had always been and people suddenly realised how much their lives had been formed around that backdrop. And it is only when that background dies do we realize that something within us too, dies with it – whether the death of an era, the death of our youth and the relegation of a living life into the hallows of memories and then, further still, into the pages of history.
So what is it that makes us moved by people or things that are seemingly utterly unconnected with our day-to-day lives? That makes us react to the death perhaps with even more grief and shock than we show to a near relative? Maybe it is because much of our memory, that very personal aspect of us and by which we measure our lives, are shaped precisely by events that impressed us most at the time – from the music that we listened to when we first fell in love, the hairstyle we sported at school, the type of clothes we wore at college and what we were doing when our idol died.
Personally, I remembered when Elvis Presley died. My sister cried. My mother couldn’t stop talking about him. I remembered feeling a little upset, but not as much as when John Lennon was shot. I was taking a school exam and I couldn’t concentrate. I felt an overwhelming and immense sadness as if somebody I knew well was taken away from me. I spent a great part of my day scrawling his name on a piece of paper. I’m sure many people of my generation too still remember what they were doing the day John Lennon died. Or when Princess Diana was killed in a car accident. To this day I still remembered where I was and what I was doing.
Farrah Fawcett’s recent death (although a little more expected, since she was battling cancer) also signified something, however insignificant, to a lot of people, especially those like me, who grew up in that era. Her golden mane singlehandedly influenced girl’s and women’s hairstyles from West to East in ways that no other fashion icon could; effortlessly, universally. While her big toothy smile, sexy body and tanned skin made her the object of fantasy of countless young men across the world that had a television set showing the series ‘Charlie’s Angels.’
Which makes me believe that the memory of a person and how the person made us feel at the time, will at the end of the day, determine how we truly feel about that person, who that person is and the effect the person has on our lives.
(Desi Anwar. First published in Tempo English)