Michael Jackson: Is anybody really this popular?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Of course not. Michael Jackson’s remarkable talents and popularity as a pop star notwithstanding, his celebrity since his death, culminating with today’s memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, is all about the media – with the music industry deserving honorable mention for the huge profits which those who have a financial interest in the Jackson legacy stand to earn.

Make no mistake about it. A billion people world-wide did not call the television and other media and demand wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson since he died. Just the opposite.

People are watching TV all the time, myself included. It’s the Muzak, if you know what I’m talking about, the ambient sound of our times. Something interesting happens, and we perk up and pay attention. That whatever’s happening involves good music with which many of us can identify, not to mention a free concert, makes it all that more compelling. The more weird, sometimes, the better. (Are they really going to bring Michael Jackson’s coffin to the Staples Center?) But if we didn’t have a TV on in the background, if we had anything better to do or that required our undivided attention… Well, it’s only TV, and we can catch the highlights later on the news, and buy the CD if we’re really interested.

Just because some marketing company puts your face or product up on a really big sign at Times Square doesn’t mean that the thousands and thousands of people a day who walked or drove by came there to see it.

Yes, I find it annoying when otherwise world class interviewers like Matt Lauer and others talk about the Michael Jackson phenomenon as if it were real, as if it would exist independently of the extraordinary coverage the media is giving it. The media helped elect Barack Obama, and is certainly doing more than it should to create the Legend of Michael Jackson. I wonder who or what they have in store for us next?

In an industry where relatively few people are in charge of so much coverage, and in which even fewer set the pace for the others, is there reason to be concerned about our view of the events they broadcast, not to mention the ones they don’t?

It’s difficult, sometimes, to keep things in perspective – and next to impossible to know much about what the media isn’t covering, however important.


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One response to “Michael Jackson: Is anybody really this popular?

  1. Pingback: Where is Walter now that we need him? « WordFeeder

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