I found the attention given to Michael Jackson’s death disturbing, and I couldn’t quite articulate why at the time. Part of it, I thought, was that there were so many more important things that required media and citizen attention, and I saw people gushing over the “King of Pop.” There was more to my ill-defined uneasiness, and Mike Gerber explains it:
Michael Jackson Died for Our Sins
And it would be one thing if the enjoyment generated as a result of this pain was in any way instructive, constructive, or substantial. It wasn’t. It was just meanness. Occasionally Jackson deserved our scorn, but most of the time he didn’t, and it says a lot about the culture in which we live that Michael Jackson–a pop singer–was the target of so much vitriol. Anybody who runs for President, much less does what it takes to win, is just as weird as Michael Jackson was. They simply hide it better. Here was a guy so terrorized by his father that he’d vomit at the sight of him; a guy whose talent robbed him of his own childhood; a guy who spent the rest of his life mutilating himself and possibly mistreating others in an utterly doomed attempt to release from his pain. Apportion the blame however you like, but what the hell is funny about that?
Yes everybody knew about Michael Jackson, and his existence as shorthand predisposed him to be joked about; but every second of airtime that he was being ridiculed, other much more worthy targets were escaping without critique. It’s not a stretch to suggest that this, too, has created our troubled world.
In blasting away at Michael Jackson, American comedy did more than merely shoot a perfectly motionless fish in a tiny glass barrel; it ignored some authentic sea monsters cruising the coast. And for that, everybody in the satirical end of comedy needs to take a long, hard, look–not at the spectacle of Michael Jackson, but at ourselves.
Which was maybe why we were so content to look at him in the first place.
I suggest you read the entire essay, then give yourself this quiz: First, without looking it up, do you know the name of Michael Jackson’s ranch or the name of his late chimpanzee? Second, also without looking it up, do you know the designations of your county, state congressional and senate districts, and U.S. congressional district; and can you name the officeholders of all those districts, and your U.S. senators?
If you can successfully answer any of the first question and can’t answer all of the second question, then you should give yourself a timeout from any celebrations of this coming July 4th. Because obviously the freedom and independence you were intending to celebrate– the freedom and independence of democratic self-government– means less to you than the arcane details of the life of a preternaturally talented and deeply disturbed entertainer. You can laugh at the next Michael Jackson joke if you want, but he’s no longer around to be hurt by it. You, on the other hand, are stuck here, watching you and your children’s (and your grandchildren’s) hard-earned tax revenue being handed over to the same greedy, corrupt financial institutions that created our financial crisis, and you probably can’t even name the people from your own state who are doing the handing. So I’d say the biggest joke is on you.