Michael Jackson’s Death: A Media-Driven National Disaster

The hysterical, unrelenting media coverage of Jackson crowded out almost all news reports of the Iranian massacres, of the terrible Congressional carbon-tax bill (which might not have passed the House or even been brought to a vote had it received more public attention), of North Korea and of who-knows-what other important issues at the end of the past week. Our corrupt, agenda-driven political leaders, not to mention this country’s enemies, are no doubt taking full advantage of the windfall.

The people who wallow in Jackson’s death are foolish and self-indulgent and lack grown-up perspective. Even worse are the mass-media who cater to the wallowers. Since most of the media are already covering Jackson one might think an enterprising network would see competitive advantage in covering, for at least part of the day, some of the important things that are going on in the world. But no, they are lemmings, and the result is 24/7 Jackson. (And here let me send a special fuck you to Fox News. The self-proclaimed antidote to biased big media confirms itself to be just another bunch of ratings whores whose supposed patriotism and interest in serious news vanish at the first notice of a missing white child or a celebrity scandal.)

Political bias is a big cause of the decline of the legacy media, but the inherent weaknesses of advertising-driven broadcasting shouldn’t be discounted. Broadcasters make money by generating traffic, which means they try to generate as much traffic as possible, typically by emphasizing the tawdry and the salacious and by ginning up controversy. On the Internet this is known as trolling and is derided. In the broadcast world this is known as the dominant business model. Our media status quo is better than having a government-controlled press (Fox is still superior to NPR), and the Internet now provides important alternative sources of information. Nevertheless, our broadcast media’s insane focus on Jackson’s death is an infuriating reminder of how much those media’s limitations may be costing us in the long run as a society.

15 thoughts on “Michael Jackson’s Death: A Media-Driven National Disaster”

  1. Well said Jonathan.

    I am very happy that I don’t watch too much TV besides sports things, the weather channel, and the occasional cooking show.

    Satellite radio (I have XM) has really helped me a lot getting news. I listen to a lot of Bloomberg radio and they for the most part pretty much ignored the Jackson death, other to say that he died $400M in the hole. The conversations there are intelligent and respectful.

    Other news stations on XM also kept reporting news, with a small mention of the Jackson death.

  2. Jonathan, it’s the first time I see you angry [justifiably, of course].
    How’s this to lighten the mood a bit:
    for all the craziness with Jackson death coverage and keeping mum about carbon tax bill …cui bono? They killed Kenny MJ! To confuse the House reps – that’s right; it’s so plain and transparent it just might be true!

    OK, seriously now – what really angers me is those 8 Repubs; if they voted “no” the bill wouldn’t have passed.

    Dan: tangentially OT (speaking of carbon and “green” credits)
    Have you heard of “commissioning” in HVAC&R? I’m reading LEED guide for commercial inteiors – and it sounds such a sham; insertion of a third intrusive party between designing engineer and a contractor to monitor both – not a cheap party, too, I’d guess. Nothing like this in all other consultants – not in electric, IT, plumbing, civil, etc. What’s up with that?

  3. Extreme irresponsibility on the part of the media, indeed. Some of this is probably due to the fact that many media people are themselves very trivial people, who are more comfortable talking about Michael Jackson than about something like energy policy.

    But the most important question is: why is their such a large audience for this kind of thing? Your post reminded me of something said by Sebastian Haffner in his book about growing up in Germany during WWI and beween the wars. He is talking here about a brief interval during the 1920s when the German political and economic situation had briefly stabilized:

    “A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.”

    Do we have a large number of people who have become accustomed to having their emotional lives delivered “gratis, by the public sphere?”

  4. There is a crying need for the automation of serious news delivery. If you build up business intelligence reports so that all voters can see how much a bill will cost the country and themselves personally and they get automatic reports either by amount trigger (I want to know about expensive bills) or periodically (give me a report every three days), it no longer matters that the talking heads are obsessing about the celebrity death of the day. The public is informed anyway and I suspect the public would become much more involved.

    This sort of news process would, I believe, end up being cheaper to run, provide better information, and be a sustainable business model going forward. Why nobody funds this is beyond me. I can’t be the only guy who’s spotted this.

  5. Nicely said Jonathan, but no less depressing. Meanwhile, in this bread & circus world, our legislators vote on a bill they admit they haven’t read – that, indeed, may not be real. How did we get here?

  6. As if to underscore your point, they already have an new dead “celebrity.” The current top story at both the CNN and FOX sites is “Billy Mays, OxiClean pitchman, found dead.”

  7. Goodness! Jonathan!

    *I cancelled my cable and have been basically reading the papers on line, NPR, blogs, so that this has all passed me by. I did notice two young boys, well young teens, blasting Michael Jackson outside of my library. They were sitting, in a kind of curious way, on a curb, and would look up from time to time to see if anyone was paying attention. They looked like they wanted attention.

    As I said at Althouse, this reminds me of Princess Diana (and, remember Mother Theresa died at the same time and the same conversations were had – the hysteria of the moment and the public. I think it relates to the fact that music, and some public figures, become entwined with our very own personal emotional lives. So, a Michael Jackson song isn’t just a MJ song, it’s the first time you learned to dance with a boy, or your first junior high dance, or something like that. I dunno. It’s a theory, anyway).

    Did Elvis get this kind of attention?

  8. Yes – when Elvis died it was a big deal. It was a less melodramatic but a big deal when Sinatra died. Of course, the mourners were different. But big chunks of time on television, radio, etc. went to salutes, old concerts, old friends’ commenting, etc.

    One of the more popular of my husband’s c&w songs (there’s nothing like songwriter’s night for diversity) is his plaintive request to know if Diana and Elvis are dating in heaven. But his cynicism aside, the whole Diana thing was similar & may demonstrate its universality – well, I hope it isn’t just English-speaking cultures that are so silly. We can contemplate Poe’s belief that nothing is more poignant than the death of a beautiful young woman – perhaps it is a sign of our times that the mourning is of a 50-year-old – what – bixsexual? Even the most favorable interpretations of him were that he was a boy at 50. And who will be sued seems the next topic. Welcome to the 21st century – in which we’ve retained all the disproportionality of the 20th.

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