Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The 500-Channel Funeral Universe

Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson were all Motown stars, just like Michael Jackson. Ross had more hits, and Wonder and Robinson were infinitely better musicians due to their amazing songwriting abilities. Smokey even had a higher singing voice than Jackson. As popular musicians, these four are a peer group.

When Ross, Wonder, and Robinson die it'll be big news. I and millions of others will be very sad. They'll probably have lavish funeral services in the best/worst of LA celebrity taste. But I'll bet they won't be at the Staples Center, or broadcast live on 15-20 different cable channels. Nobody at TMZ will get a bonus for video of the open casket, should there be one.

Jackson's death is big news. I am enough of a tabloid child not to say we should think of more important things all the time. The Romans, after all, liked bread AND circuses. But why, exactly, is Jackson's passing such BIG news? Why is he more of a celebrity than his fellow Motowners? Why was poor Jeffrey Toobin sitting on the CNN set in a parking lot under the Southern California sun?

Let's be blunt. Michael Jackson was news because he was a freak. He was, at best, a seriously disturbed person, at worst, a seriously disturbed pedophile. The people who knew and liked him personally (and there were a lot of them), never described Jackson without one thinking "that poor bastard." The kindest emotion Jackson stirred was pity-pity very hard not to mix with contempt.

Americans like freaks. Bite the head of a chicken, you'll draw a crowd, a paying crowd at that. The American Studies major in me thinks this is part of our borderline hysteria as a society that stems from fear and sexual repression. Funny how many words in that sentence refer back to Jackson's personality, isn't it?

Michael Jackson shouldn't creep us out. Our relationship to him damn well should.


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