Friday, June 26, 2009

what did we do?

you can very nearly hear the zing of opinions and comments ricocheting off of the walls of the physical and virtual world in the wake of the death of michael jackson. responses are as widely varied as the ages of the commentators.

i have to admit that initially i wanted to feel nothing. i wanted to make sure that I was not among the crowds of rubber-neckers gawking at the traffic accident on the side of the road hoping for a glimpse of a body splayed on the asphalt.  not that I would ever hope to be perceived as heartless but i'd rather that than be counted among the back-stabbers who fumble for kind words at funerals.

i'm so sick of the faux compassion of the media and the sensationalism that we propagate like rabid sheep. ankle deep in muck that smells of perfumed garbage, we vomit kind words of praise for our beloved "whacko jacko," claiming that he was just misunderstood by most people. "how horrible," we say, "that people accused him of those horrible things, do you remember?"  or we simply don't bring it up.

those of us who laughed at, were disturbed by, or were angry at michael jackson and his bizarre antics and not entirely harmless eccentricities have put on our best mourning faces. we are throwing words like "genius," "tragic," and "greatest-x-of-all-time" into the bog mixing in a few "tsk tsk"s and a "what a shame"s. we are tweeting our heart's pain at the loss of a childhood hero. we are clogging itunes with our attempts to assuage our grief with a fresh hit of "thriller" or "smooth criminal."

and we are writing scathing blog entries bemoaning the duplicity that lurks under the feigned mourning of "people today" (wondering why more people can not be as genuine as we are).

but I was among the crowds that gasped as blanket dangled over a balcony and sneered as we watched videos of the gavin arviso trial. i shuddered when he described, in that gentle adolescent voice that so often sent us into pop ecstasy, the time shared with his young friends as "sweet."  i gawked at his morphing face splashed on the cover of magazines, wondering why he was "pretending" to be white? and i am among the countless who are currently hiding or denying our shame over our heartless judgments and gossip-mongering.

to be honest, i'm not sure at this point which reaction is more disgusting, my hypocritical ten-minutes-too-late compassion for the much abused pop legend, those who those who openly continued gawking at the train-wreck of his life, or the heartless antipathy that says, "who cares? he was a freaky child molester," and flips through some more pictures of farrah fawcett. in either case, the sad truth is that none of us really saw michael jackson as a person. much less a compassionate, loving, abused, philanthropist (who holds the record for the most charities supported by one man).

i am surprised by the profound sadness that i feel. michael jackson's life very nearly brought out the full range of human capacity: excitement, obsession, adulation, hate, anger, disgust, surprise, wonder. but I wonder how many people loved him.

to us, michael jackson was a performing genius, utterly unique and revolutionary in style. he was an eccentric, possibly mentally disturbed social outcast; a headline. entertainment certainly, but not a person. in 2009 we absolutely would not allow a disfigured man to be put in a cage for the gaping pleasure of ticket-holders. It's much more convenient to read about him in the checkout line or watch him on tv in the comfort of our own living rooms. better that than actually take responsibility for the way we are treating a fellow human being.

maybe having a giggle at chris crocker's heart felt pleas on behalf of an exploited pop-princess will remind us why we do not have sympathy for celebrities. i'm under no illusions, no doubt, his heartache may be feigned for the camera, a stunt for attention. but say that is true, what then? ought not we leave britney alone?  is not true that she is frequently embarassed in tabloids, suffered a painful divorce, and is mocked by journalists and laymen alike? why is compassion a joke? do success, fame, or "weirdness" preclude that luxury?

let's say that michael's wounds were self inflicted, he was a victim of his own devices. maybe it is his own fault that rumors and accusations rotted his life like leprosy. It is not unlikely that the scandal and pain of the last 10+ years and event his death were the product of bad choices.  it does lead one to wonder why the bad decisions of one man were so highly newsworthy and further wonder how many of those bad decisions were caused by or in response to the media. the stress and pain caused by widespread mockery and slander certainly eroded at his mind and spirit as it would any other mind or spirit. who knows how many chemicals he relied on to take the edge off of his pain.

please do not misunderstand, the media, honest or dishonest, did not destroy michael jackson's life or him. he was free to make whatever decisions he liked, but assuming that we are somehow guiltless because we weren't forcing pills down his throat, prescribing them, or writing the stories that encouraged them is childish and irresponsible. in any case is it any less loathsome to enjoy watching someone fall from a rooftop than it is to push them?

the saddest truth of this situation is that he's not our first victim, nor our thousandth. humans are not changing, we still abuse and exploit one another.  perhaps we're not feeding christians to the lions or peering through the bars at siamese twins, or the bearded lady, but we're still being entertained by the pain and misfortune of one another.  we did it to monica lewinsky, tom cruise, kirstie alley, jon & kate gosselin, mel gibson, britney and lindsay.  we're still doing it. we have a sickness that compels us to feed on one another.  it's a cancer that cannot be extracted with surgery or killed with poison and it is killing us.  every time we laugh at the expense of another we kill humanity and compassion in our heart and the wound becomes calloused over until compassion is a joke.

so i am sad that michael jackson died so young for no reason and i'm sorry for what we're going to do to his children. i'm so sorry for every time i laughed at you and called you a freak.  i'm sorry for every second i spent reading lies about your life and shaking my head when i should have been praying for you.  i'm sorry that i never prayed for you, not once.  i'm so sorry for all the time i got pleasure from your talent and never cared about you.  i'm sorry that i'm going to do this again countless times to other celebrities.  i'm sorry to all of you for making your lives into the circuses that they are.  i'm sorry for every moment you feel alone, embarassed and hated, i'm sorry for every prescription you are on because of the stress caused by my heartlessness.  i'm sorry for the overdoses and the suicides that i have never taken responsibility for.  i'm sorry for your families. i'm sorry that you have never known the love of christ and no one has ever bothered to show it to you.  it's my fault and i'm just so sorry.

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