Friday, 3 July 2009

Off-the-wall thriller was bound to be bad

ONE of the first questions I heard about Michael Jackson’s death (after the rather cruel “How could they tell?”) was: “So what? Why should his death matter more than those of the 40,000 or so people who died today of their poverty?”
And the answer, of course, is that it doesn’t matter any more than any single one of those other deaths.
The difference, though, is that most of us knew nothing about most of those other individuals – not even their names. Whereas we all knew something about Michael Jackson, or thought we did.
His life was never private, from an age when most kids are still in primary school. And that, far more than his death, is his real tragedy.
His music, though quite catchy at times, was never good enough or original enough to justify his extraordinary fame.
It was his personal life, his luridly unhinged response to extreme fame and fortune, that made him an extreme example of the rubber-necking principle.
If his life was squalid – and, by heck, it was – it was no more so than our fascination with him.
He was a living freakshow. Car-crash TV in slow motion.
And as such he was the perfect emblem for our voyeuristic times.
Within a few hours of his death he occupied the top 15 places on the chart of Amazon’s CD sales. Despite the fact that he only ever made six bona-fide solo albums – the best of them (Off The Wall) 30 years ago, the most successful (Thriller) three years later.
Fans were downloading tracks they already owned out of a sense, apparently, of “moral support”.
Support of whom, one wonders? It was a bit late for Michael. As if more sales were what he needed anyway.
I find this morbid rush to buy the works of the newly dead baffling and distasteful. Though of course it’s nothing new.
Otis Redding, Jim Reeves, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon are just the first to spring to mind who had possibly their biggest hits when newly posthumous.
I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me, if the same applied to Glenn Miller. Maybe Mozart.
If Diana, Princess of Wales had ever made a record it would have broken all others.
Of course I feel sorry for all those who die of poverty, illness or accident. But I feel it intellectually. I don’t have emotional room to grieve for so many.
I don’t really have room to grieve for Jackson either. In fact I felt a lot sorrier for him in his life than I do in his death.
Those I feel most for are his children, the weirdly named (and even more weirdly raised) Prince Michael (a.k.a. Prince), Prince Michael II (a.k.a. Blanket), and Paris.
If their dad was barmy because of his strange upbringing, what chance of sanity do they have?
Mind you, I also fear slightly for my own sanity in the wake of the deluge of Jackson music, Jackson videos, Jackson pictures and Jackson stories that his death was always bound to unleash.
I didn’t mean to add to the pile by writing a word about him myself. I truly didn’t.


AN IRANIAN woman is shot dead during pro-democracy protests in Tehran and in a very short time not only photos but video footage of her death is seen around the world.
Via privately-owned camera and the internet, the world’s media is rapidly onto a story the Iranian media might well never have run – or even known about.
Within less than 24 hours she has her own page on Wikipedia.
By such means the old idea of a news blackout has been rendered virtually obsolete.
It’s no doubt harder than it once was for public misdemeanours such as the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan to be hushed up.
But it’s a fast-moving world out there – and on your desktop too. And with so much information coming at us who can possibly keep on top of it all?
Take your eye off the news for a moment and you miss something.
But who is to police it all? Who is to determine the genuine from the fake, the trivial from the important, the merely entertaining from that which needs action? And what action are they to take?
These questions are interesting – but they are also a worry.
Meanwhile, here’s another little example I’ve just noticed of the all-enveloping way the web is wrapping itself around us.
I do a search for information about car roofboxes and the next, totally unrelated, site I visit is delivering me ads for roofboxes.
Then as I research this column by reading about Neda Agha-Soltan on a worthy American news site I find myself being offered “Iranian girls in UK for dating and marriage”.
I don’t know whether the ad-server thinks (so far as such automated systems can be said to “think”) that I’m Iranian.
Or whether the offer is similar to those rather grubby ads for “beautiful Russian wives” that periodically find their way into my inbox alongside those for (presumably fake) Rolex watches, body-part enlargements, Viagra and other “meds”.
Or exactly what either possibility says about the nature of the world we live in.

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