Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson and Other Sacrifices to the Cult of Celebrity

I'm not going to sit here and claim to be a fan of Michael Jackson, unlike so many other people who have come out of the wookwork since yesterday to express their grief. I'll be honest with myself, and with you. I didn't like him. I admit that I liked Thriller when I was in Middle School, before I started to cultivate a more mature taste in music, but at some point I came to the realization that pop music was a lot like eating empty colories: pleasant for a short time, but ultimately not good for me. But I'm not interested in talking about my dislike for the man's music. Instead, I want to talk about my dislike for the American cult of celebrity.

If you were to talk to these people who are now flooding the stores to buy up all of Jackson's music, or sitting around on sidewalks in small groups singing 'Billie Jean,' how many of these people would have actually been excited about the man if you had talked to them a week ago? Over the last ten years or so, I've heard a lot more people use the terms 'has-been', 'pedophile', or 'wacko-Jacko' to describe him. In fact, what was the last single he released? I certainly don't know because I can only barely remember the last time I heard about him when the media wasn't busy ripping him to shreds.

Not that he didn't bring some of it upon himself. I honestly don't know if he was actually a pedophile or just a strange man who was using children to capture his own lost youth, but just about anyone will agree that inviting young boys to come sleep in your bed isn't a wise thing for an adult to do. Then there's the fact that he kept a zoo at his house, slept in a glass cage, chose odd names for his kids, and hid them behind veils. To say he was eccentric would be an understatement.

Regardless of his weirdness, who are all these people mourning him right now? Why didn't we ever hear people defending him or expressing appreciation during the last fifteen years of his life? And why are all of these television personalities exulting his greatness when a few days ago they were looking for any dirt they could find on him so that they could take it to the public? I'm not going to say that he'd still be alive if the media had just left him alone, but I will say that he had to have felt like he was under a lot of pressure and under appreciated towards the end. Another question - if all these people who are rushing out now to buy his back catalog had done so earlier, would he have been buried in debt?

The truth of the matter is that a good, happy, well adjusted celebrity is boring to the public, and the media leeches don't have a story unless they can tear someone down. So that's what they do. They tear people down, hold them up for public ridicule, harass them as they get out of cars and walk down the streets, and otherwise make it seem as though they're living in a fishbowl. I don't know about the rest of you, but I wouldn't want people following me around and catching every moment I spend away from my house on video to be played back for a bunch of celebrity obsessed morons.

And that brings me to the real culprit. Shows like TMZ wouldn't operate in such an exploitative manner if there wasn't a large audience for such things. People are obsessed with the lives of famous people for some reason. If the people weren't buying, the tabloids wouldn't be selling. Maybe without the constant media pressure there would be fewer celebrities doing themselves in with prescription pain killers. Or maybe some people are just naturally self destructive and they still would. The bottom line though, is that these are human beings, just like the rest of us. They act, or they sing, or they dance, or they just have all the money in the world. That's it. They're also prone to the same vices, weaknesses, and bad behavior as the rest of us. Is it fair to put someone on a pedestal and then intentionally knock it out from under them for all the world to watch?

Like I said, I'm not a fan of Michael Jackson. I didn't buy his records, I avoided watching coverage of him on TV, and I tried to keep my mind occupied with things that actually matter, like the war in Iraq or the unethical corporate decisions that led to the economic meltdown. Nevertheless, even I, someone who actively avoided Michale Jackson, couldn't escape knowledge about him because coverage of him was so utterly pervasive. I couldn't help but absorb everything about him every time I went to the grocery store or turned on the news.

The cult of celebrity allows us to make gods out of men by promoting them to the status of "cultural icon'. We hold them to impossible standards, and then we have to make a big deal out of it when they prove unable to hold with those standards. Once we've finished sacrificing their virtue, honor, and goodness in the eyes of the public, they themselves all too often offer themselves up as bloody sacrifices for the public, which then celebrates them as martyrs. One of the sad truths of our culture is that we rarely allow ourselves to truly appreciate any artist until they're dead.

We're are a society of mean spirited salacious idol worshiping hypocrites. The pressure that we exert continually drives our best and brightest to their early graves. Why do we bother crying over the deaths of people like Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, and so many others when it was our prying interest in their personal lives that compounded their existing problems? Shouldn't we be happy that they finally reached the final conclusion that we steered them towards? Hey America, don't you think that maybe it's time to turn off the TV and stop buying those rags by the checkout counter? Aren't we supposed to be the country that sets the ethical standards for the rest of the world?

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