This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Neverland Best Left To Imagination

A week ago, I was sitting as I am today when the news broke that Michael Jackson had been rushed to UCLA Medical Center and then pronounced dead.

News spread like a California wildfire. In the next several hours, I heard dozens of helicopters overhead-- enough that I had to close my windows to block out the noise. Media outlets and fans from all over Los Angeles and the world descended on the scene. They came by land and by air and even by foot.

I remembered my 1984 Michael Jackson AM/FM radio-- still sitting on a shelf at my parents' house. With two AA batteries, it still catches some stations, but mostly it's static. And that's how things are right now: static-- as the Jackson family tries to figure out how to honorably and respectfully memorialize Michael. Michael's family and friends are mourning privately. Yet, fans have a connection to Michael and a collective need to express themselves and commemorate him in a public way. In that, lies the complication.

Two or three days ago, the plan had been to have a 30-car motorcade escort the body to Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County, CA for a public memorial this coming Friday.

"Authorities in Santa Barbara County had been preparing for tens of thousands of fans to descend on the 2,500-acre ranch after media reports that a public viewing would take place later this week." (AP)

Today those plans have been dismissed and I'm relieved-- totally and completely. Helicopters overhead is one thing, but a media circus following a motorcade to a sleepy little town called Los Olivos is quite another. The area is not prepared for a public event of this magnitude. And in a word, it would be hellish.

I spent some time living in the area not too far from Neverland Ranch. It was a world away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and that's what I appreciated most about it. Locals in Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and surrounding areas enjoy simplicity, rolling hills, vineyards, and the overall serenity they garner from the sun and the air and the beauty around them. I suspect that Michael relished many of the same things about the area.

As a private residence, Neverland Ranch is tucked away on a rather isolated country road. Of course, it has its mystique and sometimes people whisper about its existence. A few years back, a friend of mine was commissioned to do some mural artwork there. She never saw Michael yet she spoke of the experience of being there and the high level of security-- a necessity for an estate associated with someone like Michael Jackson.

I'd driven past the wrought-iron gates before. Along the road to Neverland, there are narrow, winding views of fields and pastures and an occasional horse or two. It's glowing and peaceful and private there. It's not for tourists or prepared for mass processions of people.

In 2005, when child molestation allegations rose once again, half a dozen satellite news vans and a mini-Michael Jackson circus of fans camped outside the gates. There they waited persistently for a news break or a Michael sighting. I don't have the patience for such things. And I found them annoying because I, too, was a local myself at that time. I just wanted the attention to pass so life could get back to normal.

I believe a place like Neverland should remain mystical. Michael wouldn't want Neverland to be stampeded by fans on the occasion of his death or thereafter if it were to become a museum like Graceland. To locals, a public memorial or worse, a Neverland Ranch Museum, would change their serene lifestyle and the landscape of the area dramatically. Cars would be piled up for miles along the little road... or lands of great beauty would be cleared for acres of parking and concrete. The area would become commercialized as Michael Jackson County and that's the least that would happen.

If Neverland is sold, so be it. When an era is over, we mourn and move on. We have our memories and our own ideas of what Neverland, Michael Jackson, and the Land of Oz means to us personally. We hold on to what we can and let go of the rest.

Thankfully, the Neverland memorial plans have been dropped. However, if a public memorial is still sought, and the idea has not been completely scrapped, plan it at a venue that can withstand such an event.

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle
Photo credits: susanneleasure/flickr and svanes/flickr

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