The death of a pop culture icon is always an event; and Michael Jackson’s fame equaled that of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. He was world-famous and beloved for most of his career.
And now, like them, he has left this earth prematurely. His death has given his name a new life; once again Michael Jackson is selling newspapers and record numbers of albums — and making TV history. CNN’s ratings shot up a whopping 973% on Thursday — MSNBC by 330% and Fox by 243%. Interest in his death brought the Internet to its knees. Crowds have gathered from London and Paris to Tokyo and Beijing, mourning his death and celebrating his music with singing and dancing.
Why? Why is a man with such a checkered past and bizarre personal life being mourned so intensely? It seems illogical for so many to care deeply about a dead singer.
But when an icon of our youth dies, it’s not just a person that is gone. It’s a passing of an era. It means our childhood is that much more out of reach and time is moving by us quickly. For us 40-something baby boomers — children of the ’70s and the ’80s — pop culture was inescapable. We loved our pop icons. We idolized them. We bought the lunchboxes and T-shirts and saw their movies and acted out scenes from TV shows. We joined their fan clubs and hung posters on our walls. So many of our personal memories have some sort of pop culture reference attached to them.
Michael Jackson is being fondly remembered because his music evokes a time in our life when he was part of it. When someone who represents the face — or more importantly, the soundtrack — of our youth dies, we mourn, even if that person is no longer the beloved celebrity of our past. We don’t mourn Michael Jackson so much as we mourn the days when we were entranced by his music and his persona.