It’s 3 p.m.! Let The A.V. Club briefly make use of the waning hours of your productivity with some pop culture ephemera pulled from the depths of YouTube.
Perhaps nobody embodies the disconnect between fame and reality like the late Michael Jackson. The erratic, childlike behavior he displayed in his latter years—as well as the multiple counts of child sexual abuse with which he was charged and acquitted—can’t be discussed without exploring his abusive childhood and the isolating nature of his overwhelming stardom. Jackson was so famous that he couldn’t venture into public without being literally swarmed, which inevitably led to him crawling deeper into his famous Neverland Ranch, where he dreamed of normalcy in the same way we do fame.
As such, he occasionally tried to replicate what he thought of as everyday human behavior, resulting in footage that he shared in the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies, which aired on Fox in 2003. There’s plenty of strange stuff in those movies—including a peek at the strange, controversial relationships he forged with young boys like child actor Macauley Culkin—but one of the weirdest found Jackson living his dream of going shopping in a grocery store.
“It’s my dream to go into a supermarket and just shop,” he says at the top of the above clip. “Just be like everybody else and put things in a basket. Because I can’t do it.”
To accommodate Jackson, a “good friend” closed down his store (Jackson calls it a “shopping mall,” but it looks like a normal grocery store) and recruited Jackson’s friends and family to pretend to be fellow shoppers and employees as Jackson himself wandered the aisles. That childlike air of his persona is on full display, with the 44-year old Jackson leaping on carts and tossing around tinfoil pot covers like frisbees. Later, he recognizes his “nanny,” who is, for some unexplained reason, wearing a blonde wig. Elsewhere, “shoppers” seem to struggle with whether or not they’re supposed to acknowledge Jackson, or to ignore him as an everyday shopper would.
“It gave me a chance to see, in my way, kind of what the real world is like,” he says in a voiceover. “Even though it wasn’t the real thing.”
It’s all uncanny enough to be darkly comic, but the above quote is what also makes the clip so crushingly sad. Here, Jackson goes to such great lengths to experience a version of normalcy, only to eventually realize that it was a flawed premise from the start. He didn’t live in the same universe as the rest of the planet, and, as such, he was an extraordinarily lonely person. All the Muzak renditions of his songs in the world couldn’t change that.