But what of it? It depends on the effect of one's imagination. One example: This Saturday the inmates of the famed Cebu detention center in the Philippines will reprise their "Thriller" routine -- a YouTube smash hit when it debuted a couple of years back. Masterminded by Byron Garcia, the facility's security-consultant-slash-choreographer, the Cebu performances feature 1,400 inmates dancing in unison to big pop numbers such as "Thriller" or Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat." It is astounding to watch and weirdly inspirational. A related story tells the heartbreak of Crisanto Niere, the inmate who played the role of Michael in "Thriller." He looks nothing like Michael -- nothing. Yet a prison official says that he is heartbroken. "We forget our problems here [in jail] and with our families," Niere explained in 2007.
For some, Michael was splendor, pride, and questions of dignity; for Niere, maybe he was a moment of escape; and for Garcia, the nuttiest of wardens, Michael represented the possibility of mass, synchronized dancing in the name of spiritual rehabilitation. Which makes about as much sense as wearing a single glove. It's the same everywhere: simple melodies inspiring people to act a fool. As technology enhances our ability to be both always connected and always atomized, these moments of simultaneous pause or grief will only grow less frequent.
We are suspicious of global heroes or feats of ubiquity; we are more cynical about star worship and pop charisma. But for now, a moment of connection. Last night, impersonators massed in Mexico City. In London, plans for a mob moonwalk this evening. In my neighborhood in New York, Michael wafts out of every car, from every window. In Taiwan, an inordinate number of kids are named "Michael" or "Jackson." Packets of information, traveling the globe, all expressing the same grief.