Upon hearing of Michael Jackson’s death, two pained sensations struck me:
The first was sadness over creative brilliance being snuffed. The second was the knowledge that our celebrity construction/deconstruction machine was about to perform up to its usual, um, standards.
And what a bravura performance it has been. I know this and I have abided by a vow not to watch cable news or morning news shows amid the sensation. But, really, simply turn on your TV and the ambience of overkill seeps through like dead rodent through a wall.
A few years ago I decided forever more to boycott the media phenomenon of the moment — the missing blonde coed, the celebrity trial, the ill-fated end for someone rich and famous.
How obscene the coverage has become.
It used to be that treatment of the sort we saw about Jackson was reserved for acts of war and deaths of presidents.
Meanwhile, networks that donned flag pins and went 24/7 drumming up war in Iraq barely have time to report the U.S. pull-out from Iraqi cities.
If connected to your world by coaxial cable, you might be hard-pressed to know that North Korea shot missiles into the Pacific soup, that the United States and Russia agreed to cut nuclear arsenals, or that the federal government dropped the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
You say the current frenzy is justified by the death of an unmatched entertainment icon. So, too, with the 2,200 journalists on hand for the verdict four years ago when Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges.
Would that 1/100th of the attention given to Jackson’s trial back then had gone to war aims and claims that drove this nation over a cliff.
One constant dimension of today’s “news” coverage is that so little of it is news. The ribbon below the talking head says “breaking story.” It’s none of the sort.
Most of what passes as “news” is speculation. And most of what fills the 24-hour cable void is speculation by paid experts who suit up to deliver educated guesses to the masses.
This trend gained traction back in the sensational case of murdered child beauty queen Jon Benet Ramsey. The “coverage” of her case lasted just about as long as has U.S. occupation of Iraq, with barely any more light shown on motives and perpetrators.
Most of the news coming out about poor Jon Benet’s death wasn’t news at all. It was speculation, a direct kin to expectoration. In most cases, it wasn’t even well-informed speculation, the little girl’s harried parents becoming the focus of a nation of voyeurs. News “consultants” became career rumor mongers relative to her fate. One little girl’s death, one industry of info clutter.
She’s still dead, by the way. Not a word greeting our waiting ears altered her fate or helped catch her killer, whoever that is.
Michael Jackson is dead. That is the “breaking story” even today. How did he die? I’ll be curious to know when evidence emerges. But I won’t sit spellbound as panels of experts theorize or create suspects out of thin air.
As for the non-stop tributes, that’s to be expected. The irony is, as with so many people who die famous, we already know about what they did to get that way. That’s why they’re celebrities.
Tell us something we don’t know. That would be news.
John Young’s column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.