A sad, pathetic 50-year-old boy who never grew up died in Los Angeles Friday and the media covered it like the death of someone who really mattered.
The death of Michael Jackson, a talented entertainer who squandered his gift, will be the focus of too much media attention over the next few days, a sideshow to a performer whose life became a tabloid circus.
The grey lady of journalism, the mighty New York Times, devoted more than a quarter of Page One to the story. The Washington Post gave it major play and USA Today turned over all of Page One. Even The Huffington Post filled most of its home page today with story after ad naseum story about Jackson and extolled readers to visit its Michael Jackson big news page, saying "some news is so big it needs its own page."
Meanwhile, back in the real world, a car bomb killed 13 people in Iraq, swine flu infections reached 1 million cases in the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that strip-searching a 13-year-old girl violated her rights and actress Farah Fawcett died after a long battle of cancer that showed more style and grace than the self-proclaimed "king of pop" could ever muster.
An autopsy will try to determine what killed Michael Jackson but the body that arrived at the Los Angeles Medical Examiner’s office Thursday was, no doubt, a testament to excess: scarred by countless plastic surgery, lightened by multiple hormone injections and ravaged by drug abuse that family members say was part of Jackson’s bizarre lifestyle.
He called himself "the king of pop" and the media went along with the gag. He was born black but tried every medical procedure possible to become white. By his death, his skin looked like stretched parchment and his surgically-enhanced nose and other facial features looked like something out of a graphic novel or comic book.
The media called him "an icon," but he was an icon they created because glitz and glitter is more important than substance. With the media’s constant attention, Jackson became a best-selling sideshow attraction to a nation fascinated by the bizarre.
Now, in his death, the same media will continue the carnival of excess with network specials and coverage that gives him far more attention that he deserved because sideshows sell papers, drive up ratings and boost visits to web sites.
Michael Jackson is dead. Some day, with luck, the media culture that thrives on the bizarre will die too.
(Changed on June 27, 2009 to eliminate a word that became the singular focus of readers — so much so that the point of the article was lost in the debate.)