Michael Jackson and our Celebrity Culture

Michael Jackson and Our Celebrity Culture

So young and talented, but with no idea of what lay ahead for him.

He was raised right near Chicago in a city shrouded in gloom from industry pollution, poverty, and its very name–Gary, Indiana.  Popularized in a song from the MUSIC MAN, this place had that and little else going for it.    But Michael Jackson exploded out of Gary and made it to the shores of sunny California.  Now Michael has died at the age of fifty, possibly because he beat at his heart with pain-killing drugs that lower respiration and profoundly affect the cardio-vascular system.    You cannot have it both ways when it comes to life in the spotlight.  Talented, a dancing virtuoso, Michael found after a while that everyone wanted a piece of him, yet he didn’t really know exactly who he was.  Stardom didn’t afford him the time to grow normally and slowly into the spotlight.  His family was replaced by managers and people wanting to make money because of him.  And after a time, all he wanted to do was recede from that light and the accompanying voices that gave him pain and made him question who he was and why everyone didn’t just love him.  One of his physicians said in these last years he had trouble sleeping.  Drugs became a way to get that rest, to escape from the photos plastered on celebrity rags and the criticism that always accompanied the praise.   He couldn’t beat it, even though he tried.

Cal Thomas wrote of the vapid space so many Americans live in–clinging to celebrity figures as if they were members of family.  But they are not.  And  they don’t act like members of my family–that’s for sure.  Farrah Fawcett yelled at the newsmedia to stay away, yet as she was dying she filmed a trip to Europe for treatment.   Was she confused?  Who was she helping?  Certainly not herself and not us.  We know the ravages of cancer.  We don’t have to look at her to know they exist.

If only Michael could have given us his music and talent and Farrah her winning smile without their entering into some exotic place of rarified air where they suddenly are made to believe that they are better than we are.    I wouldn’t want to be Farrah who died without seeing her son who was in jail.  I wouldn’t want to be Michael, whose children will now be made to suffer through legal tangles until they discover who will raise them and help them adjust to life which has its unkind aspects no matter who you are.  Haven’t any of us learned that yet?   I don’t think we have, as a culture, because we still want to be them–Farrah and Michael.  But why?