So Michael Jackson has died and that’s all very sad, of course, but now the circus has begun in earnest. The frenzy of mourning. The collective “falling over ourselves to get all of the misery right,” to quote “Evita.”
I mean, random people are now posting YouTube videos of themselves weeping over Jackson’s death while his music plays in the background, for God’s sake.
Honestly, I find it ridiculous, the narcissism there, the appropriation involved, strangers making Jackson’s death about them.
When it’s not. It’s just not.
I remember the day of my aunt and uncle’s memorial, a week after they were killed on Egypt Air 990 in 1999. Family and friends gathered at a nearby church — along with reporters and cameramen from every TV station in town, big, small, and medium. It was titillating, oh, yes, it was, this “local connection to the Egypt Air crash.” And it was total mayhem. A circus. My cousins were sobbing and frightened by the reporters. Cameras were set up across every inch of the back of that church. There was crazy jostling for position, for the best shot. MB, shooting footage for the family with his own professional video camera, was bombarded by media who thought he was “one of them.” Once they saw him talking to us, it began in earnest:
“Hey man, do you know the family?”
“Can you get me close to the family?”
“Can we talk to the family?”
Literally, there were more of them than there were of us. A mob of media. Just a tad menacing, you know? And God bless him, MB stood a stubborn sentinel for the rest of us, his shattered family. NO ONE got past that man. There we were, this broken little clan, huddled in a corner trying to keep our wits about us, trying not to be ripped apart, at the memorial service of our OWN family members. The media basically chased us into the shadows and forced us into hiding, before the service had even started. Our private grief was cheapened because the public insisted on sharing. It was total insanity and a violation of something sacred.
And, no, it wasn’t the same kind of situation that Jackson’s death is. It wasn’t the death of a worldwide icon — no, it was an unacknowledged terrorist action, you know, whatevs — but, still, some of it echoes with me right now, watching the current feeding frenzy.
Every story of public tragedy becomes an act of appropriation to some extent. People crave a piece of it, there must be “a local connection,” however flimsy, the insatiable beast of curiosity must be fed. And in the process, precious private things are wrangled away from their rightful owners and tossed to the crowd, who gobble them up unthinking.
People seem to forget a basic lesson from childhood:
There’s what belongs to you and what doesn’t.
For me, as a member of the general public, feeling sadness and shock over Jackson’s death is appropriate, I suppose. That level of reaction “belongs” to us, all strangers to Michael Jackson. (And, honestly, I’m more sad than shocked. I mean, did anyone envision that man living to a ripe old adulthood? Really?) So I’m “sad,” yes, but in an oblique, distant sense.
I didn’t know Michael Jackson.
These other public reactions I’m seeing, the weeping, the wailing, the sobbing — are, I’m sorry, inappropriate. Weeping and wailing belong to his family and friends. People who actually knew him. Because, let’s be honest, how much of Michael Jackson have any of us really lost? Nothing. I have no less Michael Jackson in my life than I had four days ago and neither does anyone else in the general public. We had his music when he was alive — I worked out to it, as a matter of fact, the day before he died — and we still have his music. We’ve lost nothing more of Michael Jackson than we ever had to begin with. Our personal lives are not affected by his loss. I’m not trying to be callous; I just wish the great sobbing masses could have a more measured response. (Which is a really stupid, Trace. I laugh at you.) What have you lost? What have you lost? The hope of meeting him someday? Not likely. The man was a recluse. A chance to see him in his final concert tour this summer? Well, I guess that’s a loss, but it’s not a weeping-and-wailing loss. Get your money back. Enough with the wailing. Please.
Don’t appropriate grief that doesn’t belong to you.
Again, there’s what belongs to you and what doesn’t and shrieking grief over Michael Jackson’s death does not belong to you.
I’d rather people be honest enough to name what the maudlin spectacle is really all about: Fear. Fear for yourself. If an untouchable icon — a megastar — can fall so suddenly, what does that mean for me, a mere earthbound mortal?
Honestly, I don’t think people are crying for Michael Jackson — at the core of this. No, at the core of this we all feel a little more vulnerable. When might our number be up? We freak out when our icons die because we feel small compared to them so why, we wonder, have we so far been spared?
Well, why, indeed? I’m pretty sure it’s not so you can sob into your hands on YouTube while “Man in the Mirror” plays in the background.
So stop it.
I know I sound irritated and I guess I am. It’s bringing back things I’d rather not think about right now.
Honestly, there’s what belongs to you and what doesn’t belong to you and, oh, how I wish more people understood the difference.
Genuine grief belongs to the people who have truly lost Michael Jackson, family, friends, whose personal lives will forever be altered.
Leave it to them.