Saturday, July 4, 2009

Michael Jackson

I am not sure whether to be appalled or amazed at the hoopla surrounding the death of Michael Jackson. The morbid fascination with a singer - albeit a very famous one - is simply stupefying to me. I have read some of the obituaries written about him and it is clear that he was, among all other things, human and fallible. He had his incredible musical gifts and his personal foibles that made him into the media target that he had become in the last half of his life. Prior to his death, it seemed that as many people admired and loved him for his music and talent as despised and hated him for his personal failings. Yet, in the aftermath of his sudden (we could say premature, but that would suppose a level of knowledge that he should have died at some later point in time that is impossible to prove) death, he has returned to his status as a musical giant whose legacy outshines all else in his life. He is being worshiped and remembered as he was at the height of his fame and not as he was in his later years.

This is not to say that we should speak ill of the dead, but the level of celebrity worship is worrying at best, dangerous at worst. Celebrity status is highly sought after with the (mistaken) belief that its very attainment is a justification of sorts for the methods employed to gain it. Additionally, it almost seems as celebrity status confers a knowledge of almost any subject and the ability to speak to said subjects with an authority normally reserved for those with years of study and education. It is a sad state of affairs when well-known actors or actresses are asked to serve as "ambassadors" for UN agencies in order to generate attention for the cause du jour instead of allowing people whose livelihoods are helping others serve in similar capacities. After all, who wants to hire John or Jane Smith to serve as an "ambassador" for [insert generic] relief agency when they can hire Johnny or Jenny Millionaire actor?

This does not mean that celebrities are not allowed an opinion or to help on causes that are important to them but that celebrity status should not make them more important than others. Nor should celebrity (and its attendant - and sometimes unwanted - attention) detract from other more important (another subjective term, to be sure) issues. The protests and crackdown in Iran, which was a major event in the world news, was quickly replaced by Michael Jackson's death. Subsequent events in Iran have been relegated to "below the fold", under the continuing mass coverage of Jackson's death and any related issues. And that is just one issue. The US economy and its continued free fall, a major military offensive by US troops in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi cities have all been relegated to the back pages to satiate the public's thirst for knowledge of everything related to Michael Jackson.

But he is one man. Certainly a man who had a great impact on the world through his music (I remember where I was when his "Thriller" video was first released), but one man nonetheless. Yet the public is more concerned over the minutiae of his death than with events throughout the world that hold more sway over their daily lives. The devoted attention of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people at the expense of many other issues could be written off as curiosity run amok, a one-time event. Yet recent history and its fascination with all celebrities would indicate that this is a trend that continues to roll on - very possibly to the peril of all and not just to the obsessed fans.

I wonder if the thousands arrested and likely being persecuted in Iran feel as concerned about the death of Michael Jackson as those who have followed his death for the last week or so. Somehow, I doubt it...

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