Sunday, July 05, 2009


First thing I have to say: the death of Michael Jackson does merit some attention.

I was at Brewster’s, my favorite local coffee shop, trying to get some work done when Breaking News from CNN popped into my email inbox. That’s when I learned that Michael Jackson, at the young age of 50 (and since I’m 51, yes, 50 IS young) was being rushed to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest. Not long afterwards I found out he was dead.

Whether you liked him or not, Michael Jackson was a major force in modern music. If he isn’t the father of the music video, at the very least one of those who helped it become what it is today.

Long before his death, I already had the “Thriller” and “Beat It” music videos on my Ipod. This was the Michael Jackson I admired. The handsome young man who sang with power and moved with grace.

I don’t know what happened that made him change. I’m not sure anyone will ever know. But this isn’t the time nor the place to go over his latter years and what he may or may not have done. That is because while I am talking about Michael Jackson, that is not the true topic of this column.

Here is what I’m troubled by: while I agree that Michael Jackson’s death is news, I’m not convinced that it’s worth the AMOUNT of news devoted to it.

The day he died it was as if the news outlets forgot about anything else going on in the world. Farrah Fawcett, who’d died of cancer that morning, was pushed out of spotlight quickly. Iranians protesting the elections? What Iranians?

The day after his death I saw news trucks all parked in front of the LA coroner’s office waiting breathlessly for autopsy results. Both days Jackson was lionized with words, time and attention I haven’t heard for the death of a president.

One news story reported how what I believe was Gary, Indiana had named a street after the Jackson family. The admiration in the reporter’s words and tone might make you think the city had dome something important, such as opened a new library or free clinic or maybe lowered the crime rate. Nope – it had named a street after the Jackson family. That was considered a big deal.

And as we’ve seen in other deaths of famous people, there’s been enough questions raised to feed the 24 hour news cycle. Is there a will, isn’t there a will, what really killed the pop star, what about the kids?

Oh yeah, let’s not forget there are three kids who’ve just lost their dad. What must this news orgy look like to them? Hopefully, Jackson’s mother (who as I type this has custody of the children) has been able to keep them away from the worst of the reports. The news outlets certainly won’t care if the kids are exploited – after all, they’re news!

And do you want to know the worst thing about this? The news outlets aren’t spending all this time on the story just because they’re obsessed with celebrity (though some of them probably are). They are filling the airwaves with this story, pushing more important ones on the back burner if not ignoring them entirely, because they know that a lot more people will tune in to hear the latest about Michael Jackson and the aftermath of his death then they will to hear about Iranian protesters or bills before Congress that will impact our lives.

What does that say about us viewers?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid your last question says more about us viewers than we would care to admit.