Am I the only one on the planet who wasn’t totally shocked and utterly devastated by the tragic death of pop star Michael Jackson? I mean no disrespect to the talented singer-dancer or to his countless fans, but he did, after all, lead a somewhat self-destructive lifestyle which apparently included an addiction to dangerous prescription pain-killers. And according to his ex-wife, Lisa Marie Presley, he feared dying prematurely under tragic circumstances like her father, Elvis.
Mr. Jackson’s health had deteriorated in recent years and he may have pushed his heart too far, according to persons close to the entertainer. Family friend and former attorney to Jackson, Brian Oxman, reportedly warned against the consequences of having prescription drugs at his disposal. “I warned everyone,” he was quoted as saying. “I feared this day and here we are.”
But even when death is anticipated or brought on by self-destructive behavior, its arrival is no less an occasion of grief for the survivors and it is normal to experience a profound sense of loss. However, some of the reaction seems a little over the top. “My heart and mind are broken,” sobbed Elizabeth Taylor. “I can’t imagine life without him.” That’s a truly sad reaction and one which lends credence to the theory that Hollywood actors are just wired differently than normal people.
I spoke with several of my adult friends and asked them if they were totally shocked and utterly devastated over the death of Mr. Jackson. None reported experiencing a life-altering reaction. None reported a broken heart or any mind impairment whatsoever and all felt rather strongly that life would go on as before, once the media got over its feeding frenzy and started reporting actual news again.
The San Diego Union-Tribune devoted most of a front page to the Jackson story, its headline proclaiming that the “World is mourning”, an overstatement of rather heroic proportions. Four of the newspaper’s sections contained extensive coverage of the event. Not since the Kennedy and King assassinations do I recall more extensive coverage of someone’s death. The mainstream TV channels devoted most of their evening news coverage to the story, endlessly repeated, and most had special broadcasts that evening in place of regularly scheduled programs. Am I missing something here?
The death of any person is, of course, lamentable. Survivors deserve sympathy and respect and we should speak kindly of the dead. But the media attention lavished on Mr. Jackson seems somewhat out of proportion. He was hardly a role model for the youth who worshipped him. Although he was acquitted of child molestation charges, his strange defense of his habit of sharing his bed and bedroom with children at his Neverland estate was repulsive to many. He was once photographed dangling his infant child off a balcony. He reportedly left debts estimated at upwards to half a billion dollars. His extravagant lifestyle demonstrated a lack of maturity or restraint. He seemed obsessed with his appearance, altering his once-attractive facial features until they assumed a weird sort of feminine look that evolved into something pale and ghoulish. There seemed little to admire in the man beyond his remarkable talent.
The media obsession is a sad commentary on our values. The coverage far surpassed that given to other musical immortals like, for example Louis Armstrong or Luciano Pavarotti, not to mention the great men of science who really did change our lives for the better. I love music and support the arts but I feel that this sort of celebrity worship is indicative of misplaced priorities. Rather than seeking real heroes and role models, we seem to seek out the bizarre. The stranger the behavior, the better we like it. We give them a pass on their behavior, so long as they can entertain us. That’s what’s really sad.
Michael Jackson’s adoring fans will probably not be content to let him rest in peace, so the media feeding frenzy undoubtedly will continue, growing increasingly repetitious, bizarre and, well, boring. Look for conspiracy theories, reports of a falsified death and the occasional Michael sighting. Move over, Elvis.
Copyright 2009 by J. F. Kelly, Jr.