Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sorry to hear that you're dead

You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful little people out there in the dark! ~ Washed-up silent star actress, Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in the film, Sunset Boulevard. 1950
I think the only thing that could top the overwhelming presence of Michael Jackson’s death in the news media would be confirmation of contact with aliens from another planet. Don’t get me wrong, it is sad that th
is man’s tortured life was cut so short. I think the poor guy never had a “normal” childhood – pushed into a show business career by aggressive parents. It’s no wonder the guy was somewhat eccentric, to say the least.

What bothers me most about the news coverage, particularly in the death of any celebrity, is their immediate exhalation to mythical proportions… something we as a society don’t often do when the person is still alive. Consider the following excerpts from the news:

Michael Jackson was probably the most famous person on the planet. He was possibly the most misunderstood. And he was, without question, one of the most gifted music artists of his generation, of all time.

NBC's "Today" show, where one moment Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira were describing how Jackson was the most compelling entertainer they had ever seen.

"Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama,
" said the Rev. Al Sharpton.

No matter what evidence is thrown up, it would not subtract from the mystery and incredible persona of Michael who was more than an idol. To millions across the world, he was a demi-god.
Demi-God? Made culture accept a person of color? Uh, didn’t he spend an inordinate amount of time trying to look more white than black? Were he still alive, would you allow your 8 y/o son to have a sleep-over at "Wonderland" estate? And on whose authority was Jackson anointed the "King of Pop"?

The underlying question is, why do we do this -- Why do we raise the death of a celebrity to become t
heir greatest lifetime triumph? The answer is two-fold: Guilt, and the desire to be connected to something bigger than ourselves.

One news article spoke of the cessation of Michael Jackson jokes following his death. That’s guilt. Celebrities are pretty fair game while they are alive. Jackson was the brunt of a lot of jokes, many of them fairly mean-spirited. We exalt him now because his death makes us feel guilty.

The second issue I find extremely puzzling. When Diana, Princess of Wales died, Buckingham palace was smothered in flowers from ordinary well wishers. Even in small local accidents, say where a child is killed in a traffic accident, people with no relationship to the deceased leave flowers, flags or teddy bears. I believe these people revel in experiencing grief because their own shallow existence is bereft of emotion, passion, love, attention and the like -- they clamor to grasp at any visceral feelings they can. Better if the person is a celebrity, which then somehow elevates their lonely anonymous status (in their mind) to that of the widely adored celebrity.

We love them, but the truth is, were we actually to get anywhere close to them, their bodyguards or security people would drop us to the ground like yesterdays laundry. In truth, celebrities have no intimate or emotional connection to us. -- They really couldn’t care less about us “wonderful little people out there in the dark”.


Anonymous said...

The flower sellers are doing business out of his death, least for a short time.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Ida: Indeed, someone always finds a way to profit from another's misfortune.

Mary Witzl said...

I've never understood this obsession to over-eulogize dead stars. After Princess Diana died, I was appalled at the mass hysteria, the sickening over-the-top public grief fest, Tony Blair's pompous delivery of her funeral speech. What in the world are people thinking of, getting so worked up over the death of a perfect stranger? Because no matter how well we think we know these people, they are in fact strangers. And yes, their bodyguards would beat the crap out of us if we got closer than a stone's throw.

I think it's partly the excitement of a shared experience -- the desire to be in on something that unites us all and makes us feel at one with one another, especially given how alienated we generally feel from those around us. Much sadder than a celebrity dying, really.

Robert the Skeptic said...

When daughter Amy taught English in a small town in southern Japan, everyone wanted to be her "friend"... It was a status symbol to be so. The fact that she is a complete blond made the status of association with her even more coveted. If she walked down the street, shopkeepers would open the store just for her. She was a celebrity in that tiny town... and lonely. There was nobody she could hang out with; to be herself with. She had all these friends and felt so isolated. I know you have likely had similar experiences.