The Canonization of Celebrity
With the deaths of a number of celebrities over the past couple of weeks -- most notably Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson -- there's been a media feeding frenzy that hasn't been seen since the untimely death of Princess Diana in 1997. Wes Pruden aptly calls it America's Princess Di moment.
Fawcett's death at the age of 60 was sad but expected, as she was fighting a particularly nasty form of cancer. Jackson's death at age 50 caught everyone by surprise because, despite his frail appearance over the past few years, he was gearing up for a new tour, set to kick off just a couple of weeks before his death, and there was no public knowledge of serious health issues.
But what's amazing is how the death of celebrities manages to push everything else off of the front page. The people of Iran, facing imprisonment, injury, and even death as they protest against a repressive regime for democracy and freedom, have been forgotten as we dash to see ghoulish last photos of Michael Jackson being rushed to the hospital, discover who will get custody of his children, and wonder how the estate will be divvied up. Click here to see a photo of the media circus camped out in front of Jackson's home, taken on June 29 by a friend of mine who lives in the area. One would think that perhaps a world leader had died, but no, just the self-proclaimed King of Pop had departed his throne forever. (Yes, he actually had a throne.)
Please don't get me wrong: I am sure that Jackson's family is grieving, as is natural and right, and it's expected that fans will feel the loss of a favorite entertainer. But Jackson's sudden death has seemed to erase all of the strange antics and downright weirdness he engaged in over the past 20 or so years, and his anti-Semitic tendencies have certainly been ignored in much of this rush to turn him into some kind of saint. I'm waiting for a petition to the pope on Jackson's behalf, even though he wasn't Catholic.
We also have the L.A. Times busy defending itself and other major media outlets for their being slow on the uptake on the Jackson situation, annoyed at being scooped by entertainment outlet TMZ. How about questioning the amount of media coverage -- 28 hours, or 93 percent of cable airtime the day of his death and the day immediately following -- instead of playing CYA?
And don't forget the moment of silence accorded Michael Jackson by the U.S. House of Representatives -- something not accorded to the U.S. soldier murdered on U.S. soil (allegedly) by a U.S. convert to Islam in what was arguably an act of jihad. Priorities ain't what they used to be.
In addition to the constant reporting on Jackson's death and its aftermath, nearly twice as many Americans tuned in to a special about Fawcett's cancer battle (broadcast about a month before her death) than tuned into the President Obama health care "infomercial" on ABC. I must admit that I was pleased to hear that so few Americans had decided to watch what amounted to a pronouncement from on high rather than the "healthy debate" Diane and Charlie had promised. However, that fewer people felt the health care debate was as important as an actress's battle with cancer is unfortunate, since cancer patients could well see a decline in their care under the national health care that's bound to eventually result from the "public option" Obama is pushing.
Americans are a funny lot. We take pride in our heritage of "no royalty" and proclaim that all men are created equal, yet we place dysfunctional entertainers high on pedestals -- which, of course, we tear down when the mood strikes.
Our obsession with celebrity is a sad commentary on society today. Are our own lives so dull that we must live vicariously through the likes of Lindsay and Britney? What's even more disturbing is that the American voter knows more about the trials of Jon and Kate Gosselin; Brad, Angelina, and Jen; and nasty celebrity chaser/blogger Perez Hilton getting clocked by the manager of the Black Eyed Peas than he does about the cap-and-trade debacle that recently passed in the House and is on its way to the Senate. Which, of course, probably doesn't bother our elected officials one bit. I'm sure they like the fact that so few of their constituents have any idea what they're up to on Capitol Hill.
There may be a bright side to our celeb fascination, however: perhaps more people will pay attention to the goings-on in the Senate, now that diaper-clad Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken was finally declared "the winnah" in Minnesota. I know I'm looking forward to the kind of classy debate for which Franken is noted.