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Michael Jackson recently passed away (most likely from issues related to the misuse of drugs) and the Unites States news media has responded to a national feeding frenzy of public concern and mourning. It is as if a person of great historical dimensions has left the nation alone and greatly diminished. While many have elevated him to a royal presence (he was the King of Pop after all), let’s look at the reality of what he did and how that balances with the cultures response.
Michael was truly a gifted entertainer and unique in many ways. He was musically amazing, artistically innovative, and one-of-a-kind as a dancer-choreographer. The whole world recognizes that. He also broke ground racially by crossing barriers within television and pop music, uniting listeners with his unique sound and style. However, he, like Elvis and countless other pop-icons, was a deeply troubled person who was ravaged by fame and consumed with self.
Even with his contributions to the arts – entertaining millions, amusing and diverting their attention from the realities of life – he left no real legacy that changed or elevated humanity. His moon-walking was amazing, but his earth-talking was bereft of unique human insight worthy of historical note. It is clear he was loved by his family (as tearfully expressed by his daughter at his memorial), and adored by many others. Great, but isn’t everybody loved by somebody?
What does Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammed say about Michael’s life? Did he alleviate poverty or, by some great sacrifice of self, time, or money, model for us how to deepen or better our lives? Hardly. Of course, neither did Elvis, James Brown, or… pick your own famous “star.” These artists were certainly not remembered for their charity work or altering of human behavior, but rather their entertainment value.
So what does Michael’s death tell us? It tells us that we are a society desperate for meaning and our cultural perspectives are bankrupt. Like ancient Rome, we’re a civilization in great decline. Sadly, we’d rather be entertained than challenged to change, “rocked” rather than redeemed, and aroused rather than re-directed; and that is ..…the bottom line.