Monday, June 29, 2009
CNN has a text option on their web site. I signed up. Breaking News will be delivered to your mobile device automatically, just in case you are disconnected from another news source. Since all of our news outlets relish the opportunity to relay BREAKING NEWS, I thought I might get a barrage of text messages. But surprisingly it only happens a couple of times during a normal week.
Generally a CNN Breaking News Text will announce a plane crash or a commuter train collision or a high profile Supreme Court decision or a shooting in the public square. The text will be the length of a headline, or a Twitter entry. And it gets the point across.
On Thursday afternoon, June 25, I got a series of four text messages from CNN. They are stored in the memory of my iPhone. “Pop singer Michael Jackson has suffered cardiac arrest, KTLA reports,” was the first. Then, an hour later, “Pop singer Michael Jackson in coma after cardiac arrest.” Another fifteen minutes later, “Michael Jackson has died according to multiple reports.” Then less than an hour after that, “Michael Jackson is dead.”
I don’t know who measures the magnitude of breaking news events on the world as we know it. Planet earth is wired to give us an instant reading on the Richter scale for seismic activity. (I read recently that Hawaii moves four inches closer to Japan every year.) Satellites track hurricanes and tornadoes. But who decides who will get precedence when Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon all expire within a few days?
Us preacher types are always on the lookout for living examples of biblical truth. Michael Jackson is a goldmine for those of us on the hunt for illustrations. His story has all the key elements: money, fame, power, self-image, sex, family dysfunction, parenting, legal entanglements, misadventures in marriage, addiction, eccentricity, narcissism, to name a few. We are repulsed and fascinated all at once. But in the early years, we were mainly dazzled.
We watched his image transition from cute to grotesque. We wonder what plastic surgeon could have taken his/her fee in good conscience, considering the results. We watch those retrospectives and we scratch our heads and say, “What a great face. Why mess with that?” We are left to contemplate what dark forces would prompt the obsession to blur identity from ebony to ivory, from male to female. One commentator, while discussing the indisputable genius of Michael Jackson, pointed out that Jackson’s transition of image mirrored his fan base. Music tastes often remain grouped by ethnicity or generation or gender. Jackson broke the barriers. A true crossover. Everyone, the world over, connected to his music, his moves. He was a genuine global phenom.
Our kids were young when Thriller was released. I still remember it was one of the few R&B albums in our collection. They loved those songs. And when I heard that his next collaboration with Quincy Jones would be called simply “Bad,” I feared it would influence our children negatively – but the tunes were so catchy, so compelling, that we got caught up in the dangerous notion that “Bad” was really synonymous with “good.” And then Disney created a 3-D attraction that made it all seem well, frighteningly wholesome.
So there is a Shakespearian quality to all this drama played out on this inescapable media blitz that will probably keep going for a while. (Jackson’s promoters have a lot of ground to recover – they are currently a half a billion out of pocket.) They say that the Elvis brand has been way more successful since he died; many predict the same for MJ. The irresistible interplay between comedy and tragedy will live with the legend and energize the curiosity and leave us wondering, what happened to that pure soul, that magical voice, those moves that from his childhood combined the grace of Fred Astaire and the energy of West Side Story and the charm of James Brown?
How did such an entertainment machine spin so desperately out of control?
David Edelstein, CBS’s movie critic, raised an interesting question on Sunday Morning. When Jackson sings “You Are Not Alone,” he is so convincing. So believable. Many fans, he suggests, hear Michael sing that song and for a few moments, at least, they are not alone. Michael is there.Another day has gone I’m still all alone How could this be You’re not here with me You never said goodbye Someone tell me why Did you have to go And leave my world so cold …. Something whispers in my ear and says That you are not alone For I am here with you Though you’re far away I am here to stay …. For you are not alone…
Edelstein wonders. Did Michael hear the words to his own song? Who was there to sing that song for him?
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2009