With Michael Jackson dead, we're at the end of an era. But even though we have to hustle into the future without him, nobody will ever forget Jackson's strangely brilliant contributions to science fiction and fantasy.
It's no secret that Jackson always loved fantasy, and he turned to one of the masters of scifi/horror, John Landis, to direct his music video masterpiece Thriller. When the video hit MTV in the mid 1980s, audiences were shocked by how far Jackson went in this horror-parody. The special effects were genuinely scary, and Jackson wasn't afraid to make himself look like a real monster. Though the zombie werewolf boogie seemed like a weird idea at the time, it has become a staple of pop culture and a perennial favorite with the YouTube flash mob generation. Here you can see one of the YouTube memes the song spawned - a group of prisoners reenacted the dance sequence and made internet history.
Later, Jackson made a science fiction movie called Captain EO which aired exclusively at Disneyland. This allowed him to bring together his obsession with Disney-related fantasies and outer space. In fact, it was a perfect match. Disneyland has always been about science fiction, which is why there is an entire area of the park called Tomorrowland filled with rockets and outer space themed roller coasters.
Among the many things about Jackson that caught the public's imagination in the 1990s was the way he turned his body into a kind of science fiction story. He became an enhanced human, using plastic surgery and pharmaceuticals to change his face and seemingly his race as well. He became whiter than most white people, and his pale bandaged skin became his trademark.
Jackson was a post-human celebrity, and nowhere was this more obvious than in his video "Black or White" (also directed by Landis). Once again, Jackson turned to one of the greatest minds in science fiction to help with the video. He used the morphing software used by James Cameron for The Abyss and Terminator 2 to create a memorable and oft-copied scene where dozens of people's faces morph into each other, streaming through different racial identities, ages, and genders with an uncanny ease.
In the years since that time, Jackson went from being a science fictional figure to a scandal-plagued mystery. It seemed that his body was still morphing, and every time he made a public appearance people tried to figure out what new enhancements he'd gotten. He made the scifi-themed video "Scream" with his sister Janet, filled with weird anime characters and hints that Janet was as alien as Michael was.
Recently, he immigrated to Dubai, possibly the most science fictional city in the world right now. There he was apparently helping to design a theme park, which seems fitting for someone whose identity has always been so closely linked with fantasy.
No matter what you think about Michael Jackson the man, Michael Jackson the legend has transformed the way we think about identity. He injected pop culture with the future, and showed us what happens (good and bad) when you have the means to make fantasies real.