by Jaime O'Neill
On June 25th, Michael Jackson was one of an estimated 154,400 people who died, from Los Angeles to Lahore, from Buenos Aires to Bhutan, from Tokyo to Timbuktoo. According to the World Health Organization, some 56 million people die each year, at the current global average. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, all lost in death's daily holocaust. It took the determined efforts of the Nazis to kill six million over a six year period, but plain old death kills nearly ten times that many in a single year as a matter of course. Many are carried off by time, but many more are claimed by accident, misadventure, war, disease, or hunger, life's implacable mortal enemies.
In the hour of Michael Jackson's death, some 6,000 of his fellow mortals also breathed their last. All of them had names, most of them were mourned as the most significant loss their loved ones would ever know. Many of them had endured desperate deprivation, had struggled for their daily necessities, had lived lives blighted by cruel and indifferent squalor . Whatever their circumstances--from high to low--their individual stories will never be known to any beyond their small circles of friends or acquaintances, nor will the forces that shaped their experience on this planet ever attract the media attention given to the death of Michael Jackson. No remotely equivalent media resources or energies will be directed to ferreting out the corruption, the special interests, and the goliath of international power-brokering that weighs so heavily on the billions who live in the ghettos, the slums, the barrios and favelas of this world. The fourth estate has been transformed into a sideshow, an entertainment medium, yet another method of distracting attention away from any or every thing that an informed electorate might be able to do something about. News programs aren't called "shows" without reason.
In the days following June 25th, it would have been possible to believe that all human endeavor had been suspended--that no laws were being passed, no crimes were committed, nothing of importance transpired. None of the machinations the news media is charged with noting were being noted. In effect, so far as the electronic news media were concerned, the world stopped to let Michael Jackson off.
We are trivialized by such media coverage, infantilized and made stupid while being kept ignorant of things that matter. Keith Olberman nattered on for over an hour on the subject of Michael Jackson, Wolf Blitzer was heard to say "we all grew up on his music," forgetting even his own age and personal history in the hysteria, and while health care reforms got whittled away by a corrupted congress, George Will and George Stephanopoulis spent ten minutes on a Sunday morning public events show discussing whether or not the Michael Jackson coverage has been excessive.
The coverage was not excessive; it was insane. When our grandchildren come to face the scourges that are building for their futures--overpopulation, pollution, global warming, dying oceans--they will look back at us and wonder who left the inmates in charge of the asylum. They will wonder at our sense of priority and importance, and they will find a symbol for all that ailed us in "the King of Pop," a cartoonish figure with a white glove, whitened skin and a very dark side who we deemed to be more important than the host of problems from which we sought the most mindless diversion.
Today, more than 150,000 of our fellow human beings will slip on over to the other side, their passing unheralded and unregarded by all but a few. Those who don't die will consult the news to see if anyone who truly mattered found themselves among the dead.