Friday, June 26, 2009

Thoughts on the Life and Death of Celebrities

The news event of the week will undoubtedly be the untimely death of Michael Jackson. I never listened to his music (other than in the movie Free Willy), never practiced his famous dance steps, and never took a picture of his wax likeness at Madame Tussaude's in New York City last year. But he was a child of my generation and his influence in popular music and culture cannot be denied.

I lived a life free of radio and television as a child in South Africa. Television was not introduced in that country until 1971 (ref) and I never even heard of it until I came to Canada. We left Durban, rounded the tip of Africa and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a four week journey on a Norwegian freighter. We were entering the St. Lawrence River getting ready to arrive at our destination of Montreal when the captain reported the death of Marilyn Monroe to the passengers. I didn't have a clue who she was, but still remember the reaction on the ship to the shocking news.

That was my introduction to the power of the media.

Not long after that, I was badly frightened by the events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination which was likely the first major event to be followed minute by minute on network television. I watched the funeral on my grandmother's TV and had nightmares for months about Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.

I remember the other assassinations of the 1960's and the huge public responses to the untimely deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Princess Diana. Many other celebrities have died tragically in my lifetime, but these three affected the world the most in my opinion. Michael Jackson's death is likely the first where breaking news, misinformation and comments were seen first on the internet and then Facebooked and Twittered endlessly.

The media has the power to create and destroy larger than life personalities. But each "celebrity" is someone's child, brother, sister, parent, or friend, just like everyone else. I see the face of death often and each visit is tragic in an individual way. Life is precious and each moment a gift to be celebrated, loved, shared and lived to the fullest.

Who's loving you, really loving you??

13 comments:

  1. His life was so very tragic in so many ways. Not that he didn't enjoy entertaining, but it, and the bubble it trapped him in, consumed him in very unhealthy ways. My prayers go out to his family and friends.

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  2. I've been a Michael Jackson fan ever since the Jackson 5 first appeared. Michael was certainly an interesting person and will be missed.

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  3. Ruth, thanks for this post. I, too, was frightened by the assassination of JFK and still feel haunted whenever I see films of Oswald... The press makes an impact at times like this.

    I feel like I grew up with Michael Jackson and his family... I was a fan and still enjoy his music. He was getting ready for a comeback when he died but he was so disturbed...

    Mary

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  4. I believe it is right and proper for the media to mark the passing of celebrities. However, all the networks have "canned obits" for all celebrities and feel the need to run their pieces ad nauseum. The coverage of Michael Jackson's death is dominating all the "news." There is only so much to say about his passing and once that is said, it's time to move on to the real news of the world.

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  5. I think of Michael Jackson and I can't think of a sadder story. I hope his children will grow up and be whole.

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  6. I was in Paris when Lady Diana died and I think that the reporting on her boggled me just as much then as it does now. (Not that I hold Diana and Michael on the same level, Diana did good for the world.)

    I do feel sorry for his family, it is not easy to lose someone you love no matter how disturbed they are. On some level I understand the media's obsession with the life and death of celebrities, but I really am so disconnected from that particular aspect of the world that "fan hysteria" just seems silly to me. I feel that if it wasn't for Michael Jackson's fame, he would be seen as a child molester.

    I don't mind recognition of icons passing but the loop coverage on all the tv channels is nauseating after awhile. I think there are way more important stories, and definitely way more important "breaking news" then a celebrity dieing. I guess Iran is just boring now...

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  7. This is a really wonderful personal perspective on so many aspects of pop culture and an entire generation (which is also my generation).

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  8. Michael Jackson's death--or rather the coverage of it--shows how celebrity obsessed we are as a society. We meaning the U.S., but likely also other parts of the world.
    I have trouble putting entertainers on the same level as political figures when it comes to the significance of their deaths. True--Michael's death was untimely. But, I suspect, he contributed to it by a problematic lifestyle (much as Elvis contributed to his).
    So, for me the real question is--how much should we mourn?

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  9. It's too bad that more people appreciate his music and talent more now after he died than they did before.

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  10. Thanks for the comments. I agree his life was sad and that the media has exploited his life and death. I doubt he ever experienced "normality". He should be mourned the way any other person is mourned when they die, as a human being, not an "icon".

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  11. Another great post, Ruth. You write in a non-pretentious way but show great perspicacity.

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  12. Thanks John for your comment and for adding a new word to my vocabulary :-)

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  13. I think that for a lot of people when a celebrity dies it can be like a part of our memory dying with it. You look back and remember where you were in your life when someone like michael Jackson was at their prime and feel some sorrow with the reminder that those times are gone.-He was a great talent before his reputation was soiled.

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