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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Too Much Michael Jackson?
Well, The News Is Not The News.

L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten asks, "Too Much Michael Jackson?"

    ...on cable TV and on newspaper websites, it was all Michael, all the time. So, how did a pop singer heavily in debt and desperately hoping for a comeback, one who hadn't really sold any music for years, one who was best known for his bizarre life, obsession with cosmetic surgery and for the allegations of pedophilia against him, become in death the most beloved media figure since JFK?

    To understand, you need to go back to that all-conquering popular culture -- and its indispensable adjunct, the cult of celebrity -- and consider the de facto Faustian bargain into which the American news media is sliding.


    Whatever they say, many newspaper editors and TV news producers have begun to allow website hits and social media volume to function as a kind of sub rosa ratings system whose numbers dictate coverage and the play of news stories. What's wrong with that? For one thing, it leads to the sort of irrational excess we've all been through since Thursday. No reasonable editor or producer should ignore the kind of public interest we're seeing. But surrendering utterly to it ultimately undercuts what's genuinely valuable about serious news media.

Rutten is right, you know, in many ways. But The News is no longer The News. It hasn't been The News for a long, long, long time. The News was probably The News during and after World War II and the same for the Korean War. It was probably The News when JFK was assassinated, I don't know, that was before my time. I am a student of media, I studied it, I have a degree in it. My generation is the "television" generation.

The explosion of cable and satellite channels changed The News from being The News. News melded with entertainment, the two - for better or worse (probably worse) - have been and are now inseparable.

The same applies to the Cult of Personality. We saw the Cult of Personality infect The News with Bill Clinton's candidacy and presidential terms. His saxophone-playing appearance on the old Arsenio Hall talk show might have been the genesis of when The News stopped being The News. Now, The News continues its Cult of Personality with Barack Hussein Obama, Junior. He is the Celebrity President, the Definitive Celebrity President.

I don't know, or agree - or disagree, for that matter - that the media is "surrendering itself" to the coverage of Michael Jackson. His life and death is newsworthy. I wrote yesterday of how it is no different from the deaths of Elvis or John Lennon. Jackson's appeal was global. His fan base numbers in the millions, maybe more.

The News is a business, just like any other business. And just like any other business, it should - ideally - be one of profit, not loss. If The News finds coverage of Michael Jackson profitable, they will continue reporting on it until the ratings decline. Or until some other cataclysmic event occurs where the focus is shifted away from the death of Michael Jackson.

I want to mention one other thing that has nothing to do with Rutten's column, but does have to do with the death of Michael Jackson. It is the subject of name-calling...calling him a "druggy" or "pill-popper."

Among his many other talents, he was a dancer. I defy anyone out there to spend upwards of thirty years of their life professionally dancing and not have it affect them in way that is physically detrimental. For every hour on stage that he danced, countless hours were spent rehearsing. Do you think that's hard on one's feet, knees, legs, back, hips, arms, joints?

Ask a retired professional athlete, whose career-span if they're lucky, is ten...maybe fifteen years...if they suffer from day-to-day pain. Ask them if their knees ache, if their back hurts, if their joints pop and crackle and are sore on a 24/7 basis.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Jackson, or any other hardworking entertainer whose routine depends on physical exertion, needed pain medication. Did he become addicted to his pain meds? Did he develop a liking for narcotic prescription drugs? I can't make that call, I have no idea the degree of physical pain he may have had. And it's really an unfair judgment for anyone to call him names when they don't have a clue as to how much physical pain he may have been in after thirty-some years of being a performer.

The question really is how could anyone who had the physical demands as a performer that Jackson had not wanted or sought relief from pain medication.


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