“Are you going to watch the Michael Jackson special tonight?” was what came through the telephone receiver, hitting my right ear’s tympanum with a humorous whack.
“You can’t be serious asking me that!” I replied. Sheesh! Just when you think you know someone. More and more these days, I’m repulsed by both the entertainment world and the incessant promotion in the guise of “entertainment news.” My views and opinions on such matters are no mystery to friends, hence the question posed in that telephone conversation falling into the bin marked “ABSURD.” Of all the television programming there is these days, I’d sooner be watching an endless tape loop of the weather forecast on the nightly news than that!
Fate courts in perplexing ways, and the Michael Jackson special was the very program that ended up illuminating our living room that night. Let me explain why.
First, it wasn’t to be taken on a guided and tightly edited tour of Michael Jackson’s life, I assure you. My interest was to see for myself what all the hub-bub was all about; not so much to watch the program as it was to contemplate the audience.
There’s a perverse curiosity the public has when it comes to Michael Jackson. The attractions are many: career longevity; stratospheric wealth; mutation and transformation of appearance; and lavish, outlandish, mysterious lifestyle. And one must not forget the dirt. Ah, the Almighty Dirt: things that used to be whispered about. The things that now comprise front page news and above the fold - framed, lit by spotlight and broadcast on radio, television and the Internet. Nothing is sacred or private these days. Show it all, tell it all. Decency and privacy be damned.
That’s the mentality in 2003. The masses want detailed video of the entire prostate surgery procedure recently performed of UCONN basketball coach Jim Calhoun. The masses crave all the dirt and minutia.
This ravenous appetite the pedestrian public has for the inside skinny, the nitty gritty, the down and dirty on celebrities, as well as infinite reverence for all things Hollywood has always intrigued me. But now it disgusts me.
on with the show
According to the television section of our local newspaper, ABC was scheduled to air “NTSB: The Crash of Flight 323.” It’s unclear as to why they didn’t stick to the schedule. Perhaps it was a matter of timing, with memories of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster still fresh in minds of American viewers. Or perhaps it was ratings and market share that ABC was more concerned with. Afterall, CBS was airing the finale to Star Search; NBC their popular Thursday night string of ½-hour shitcom, uh…sitcom fare; and Fox with their Joe Millionaire stupidity. Or maybe it was a combination of timing and market share, as this Jackson special had just been aired for the first time on British television the preceding Monday. Comedy doesn’t have a monopoly on the old adage that “timing is everything,” and television network programming isn’t immune to greed-based opportunism. Greed-based opportunism is the American Way.
The actual show was, uh, a show. Some low rent goofball British video journalist followed Michael Jackson around and asked him a lot of questions that the public supposedly wanted to know the answers to. You know: his money, children, visitors, plastic surgery, childhood tales, relations and relationships. That was about it.
The show was pieced together with typical ticklers, teasers and hooks with strategic and expected placement around program breaks for commercials. And it was done all so seriously, like this was some incredibly monumental event, like this was hard news, like this actually matters in the grand scheme of things.
It was as if all the ‘secrets’ about Michael Jackson, otherwise known as ‘his private life’ play some important role in these days of 2003. I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if it had been announced at the end of the program that Jackson’s medical files related to his plastic surgery procedures were going to get stored away on the same shelf and right next to the secret assassination files of President Kennedy in that deep, dark underground vault, maintained by the Department of State, protected by U.S. Marine Green Berets, and to be opened only 50-years after his death.
You know what? I personally couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether Jackson owns 3, 30, 300 or 3,000 acres of land. “He owns a lot of property up in the hills” works for me just fine, thank you. The label “multi-millionaire” works too, as I don’t need to know how many millions. And I don’t need to know how many times he went under the knife.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the world of Michael Jackson isn’t without certain oddities, both material and behavioral. However, in his mind, that world is perfectly fine and is what he prefers to surround himself with and live in. As long as he isn’t breaking any laws, who are we to criticize?
can I get an 'amen' on that?
I’ll be the one of the last people on the face of planet Earth to quote the Bible; just ask anyone who knows me. But right now I just can’t resist. The temptation is just too great, and being a mere mortal, I’m falling prey to this temptation. Here’s my once-a-year quoting from scripture:
Idol. Idolize. Adore. Adoration. Obsess. Obsession. Fans. Fanatics.
Jackson’s fans were as curious, if not more so, than he himself. They flock around him like lambs before Christ. They scream. They cry. They shutter. They shake. An odd idol for certain, but odder worshipers. There they were, frenzied teens and worse: frenzied 20, 30 and 40-something fans, chasing a limo or stretching a police security line for a fleeting glimpse of the celebrity. But is it that glimpse - that image to burn into their memories that is what they are after? The answer is an absolute “no.”
We’ve seen it all before with Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Pope, for goodness sake. Weepy eyed faithful fans screaming in a such a frenzied state as to make one worry if there is going to be a paranormal incident of mass spontaneous combustion. Candles in the wind, indeed.
And at concerts, guitar picks, broken strings and drum sticks are thrown from the stage as if these things are actually worth something, as if they’re magical in some way and hold some mystical power or aid in the memory of the performance. Hogwash! Trinkets for the savages. Coins for the serfs. If a cast away piece of what is otherwise considered trash is needed to help remind one of a particular performance, then it couldn’t have been much of a show to begin with.
It’s sad, this state of the human condition - such ridiculous reverence for the famous.
With personal lives so devoid of any glamour, these fans feel magnetically drawn to anything that takes them close to “greatness,” whatever the hell that is. It’s as if brushing elbows with a ”star” will actually do anything to improve their mundane existence on planet Earth. It’s pitiful this self-esteem bankruptcy.
birth, afterbirth and the question of sperm
The day after the broadcast I overheard one side of a telephone conversation between two people who had seen the show. “I don’t think it was his sperm, either” was the statement that forced my attention elsewhere, but not before commenting under my breath, “Uh huh. That’s interesting. And exactly what degree from what medical school do you attribute your knowledge on the subject to base your opinion on?”
And nearly a week after the broadcast, a family member asked if I was following the latest on Michael Jackson. Before I could even answer, I was informed that “all the dirt from that law suit ten-years ago is finally coming out in the open.” A quick diversionary tactic drew the discussion to another topic, thank goodness. Enough is quite enough!
in quest of 'the why'
What drives television networks to produce this video junk? It’s the public’s perverse curiosity and insatiable appetite for titillating bits of dirt. The people that thrive on television specials like this one are akin to the rabid voyeur peering into a bedroom window while furiously masturbating like a weasel on meth.
There’s a load of advertising dollars spent for slots during such TV specials, too, so money figures into all of this. Ratings and greed are both ingredients of the fuel that drive the networks, as if to say “to hell with programming in the public interest.” And forget about the FCC: they were bought out years ago.
However, to cut the networks some slack, it’s simply basic supply and demand. If the viewers weren’t the crowd they were, there would be much different programming to view on the tube. It’s a sick world, ladies and gentlemen, and we’re all a part of it.
turning things around
One of Michael Jackson’s heroes is P.T. Barnum. In perhaps a most fitting tribute to that particular hero, Jackson has collected and amassed his own side show of oddities and weirdness: his fans. You see, the real circus is Jackson’s audience.
And what a freak show it is.
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Text - Copyright © 2003 Jeff Bauer
Web Layout – Copyright © 2003, 2004 Off Frequency Productions
Revised - Thursday, September 8, 2005