Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why Jackson Counts As News

I want to say something about Michael Jackson today. Yes, the media made a circus out of his death as they did his life. No, that does not make his death and funeral somehow less newsworthy.

I have heard several people say that there was a bigger deal made out of Jackson's death than was ever made over Reagan's death. Maybe that was because Jackson moved more people than Reagan ever did. Reagan moved those of us in the United States and maybe a few other countries. Jackson reached in to every part of the world.

I have heard several people say that his actions in life made honoring him in death impossible. He has been called a freak, a weirdo and pervert. Maybe he was all of those things. He probably was all those things. He was also the first black male performer to hit the mainstream. He was the one of the first one to make it acceptable for a black male musician to be on prime time TV. He inspired following generations and showed them what could be accomplished. [Correction from the comment below: Jackson was among the pioneers to make it acceptable for a black male musician to be on prime time, but not the first. Nat King Cole had a primetime weekly show on NBC in 1957.]

Maybe he was every bad thing ever said about him, but he was also singularly talented, an innovator, a philanthropist and, regardless of his own struggles with the color of his skin, and integrated radiowith his music. Rarely had music from a black performer been heard on a white radio station before Michael Jackson. He didn't just have one hit that crossed over. He had dozens. His talent revolutionized rock, pop, dance, videos and performances.

Setting aside Jackson's contributions to society, look at how his music and his talent touched the world. His music moved millions, if not billions of people. 1 BILLION people were expected to watch his funeral. Think about that. 1 BILLION people, one-sixth of the population of the earth, the entirety of China stopped to day to mourn Michael Jackson. It wasn't because he was 'just' a singer. It wasn't because he was 'just' a pop icon. It wasn't 'just' because of his social and charitable contributions. It was all of it.

I heard too many people scorn the coverage of Jackson's death and too many people today spit vitrol over the coverage of his funeral. To those people, I say this:

Broadcast media turned this in to a circus. They speculated on wills, custody battles, money and the seedier aspects of Jackson's life. TMZ played 911 calls and video of Jackson's final moments. Jackson's death caused a feeding frenzy just like any other big piece of news likely to bring in ratings does. Every station is trying to get its share of the people and they went to ridiculous lengths to do it. None of those things were what made Jackson's death newsworthy. It was the people who knew him and who he affected in life that made Jackson's death newsworthy.

Maybe some people care about the seedier part of Jackson's death, but the people who spoke at the funeral today... They didn't talk about the spectacle of Jackson's life. They didn't make a spectacle of his death. They talked about how he contributed to this world, to their lives and to their family. A US Representative spoke on behalf of the House on the importance of Michael Jackson to the world. Martin Luther King, III and Bernice King spoke on the contributions Jackson's contributions, along with half a dozen other dignitaries and leaders of the African American community who spoke on the importance of Jackson to the African American community, to the nation and to the world and NOT just in the area of music. If that doesn't lend cachet to the newsworthiness of a person's life or to their death then I do not know what does.