Toxic Media

One of my very first posts on this young blog had to do with the death of Michael Jackson. In the days since, the sad end to the King of Pop’s life has been reported again and again and again and again and again. (The links are just there so that I have some textual support for my statement. You will gain nothing from reading these articles).

My intention was certainly not to participate in the surreal, exploitative spectacle that this event has become (that last article uses the unintentionally apt phrase “death probe” to describe the proceedings), but simply to share some thoughts. And now, having watched not only pop culture bottom-feeders but also supposedly reputable news outlets devote huge amounts of time to morbid sensationalism, I would like to share just one more thought:

For all of this endless talk about Michael Jackson, we’re hearing very little about the exploitative non-news cycle that was, at least in part, responsible for the man’s decades-long hermitage. We’re hearing very little about the misinformation and perversions of justice that inevitably result when an accused criminal is tried in the media rather than the courts. We’re hearing very little about the bleak futures that await most child stars, or the toxicity of the Cult of Celebrity, or anything else worth hearing about.

As early as 1987, our bleak fascination with Michael Jackson’s personal life had already become an overblown spectacle. Even then, this stuff had been going on for much too long.

And as I recall, there were one or two other events worth discussing last week. But those stories didn’t get nearly as much play, because they were not likely to scare us (like this recent Swine Flu nonsense) or to make us feel morally superior to persons wealthier than ourselves (like virtually all reporting on the personal lives of celebrities). This systemic dismissal of anything that does not either frighten or titillate is common not only to what we generally call the “tabloid media” (TMZ and the National Enquirer and the like) but also to all 24-hour news networks.

It’s just that it’s irresponsible to talk about anything so much while thinking about it so little. There are all sorts of important issues implicit in the life and death of Michael Jackson, but I have not seen a single one of them getting any serious attention in the mainstream media. All that we’ve gotten is a reprise of the same crass oversimplifications we’ve been seeing for years and years: “He’s an unassailable genius!” or “He’s a despicable criminal!” or “He’s an unrelatable weirdo!”

What exactly does that kind of thinking–or that method of refusing to think–accomplish, aside from selling advertising space for unethical media entities? Nothing, that’s what. There is nothing wrong with talking about Michael Jackson, but there is a fairly serious problem with talking about anything when one has nothing useful to say.

2 comments

  1. And I love how there isn’t a thoughtful discussion in regards to psychological childhood/adulthood trauma, fame in the larger context and its damage to democratic practices, MJ being the symbolic representation in relation to issues of race and psychology, and many more. I didn’t really want to leave a comment about anything involving MJ, but enjoyed how someone else analyzed and thought about the whole situation outside mainstream paradigms.

  2. Maybe the mainstream media are avoiding that more important, more interesting story because they know that they are complicit in some of its more violent chapters. Or maybe they’re just uncritically carrying on with the same old vicious, meaningless chatter that they’ve peddled for decades, with no regard for its repercussions.

    Most likely, it’s a little of both.

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