Celebrity Death and the News: How much is too much?
The above cartoon expresses more fully than I ever could how I, and I’m sure many members of the public, are starting to feel about the ad naseum coverage of the death of the “Prince of Pop” Michael Jackson.
In the past week, we have lost Ed MacMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and television spokesperson Billy Mays, but the hype surrounding Jackson’s unexpected death due to heart attack has surpassed them all. During his life, Jackson was often a prominent feature in the tabloids – which are not anywhere near a credible news source – with headlines screaming such rumors as “Michael Weds Alien” and “Michael and LaToya Same Person!” Though a lot of the news coverage focus from legitimate sources tends to be focused on his musical legacy, it is probably his bizarre antics and strange, tabloid fodder life that is what makes him such an interesting subject to cover for many of these sources. From being rushed to the hospital to every current rumor about his death and funeral, the news media is giving us a minute by minute.
It is interesting how the death of a pop star, especially one with such an international audience and personal legacy, can bump other stories from the headline news. The Iranian election who’s firestorms, violence, and imagery kept the West glued to its TV sets earlier this week seems to have fallen by the wayside on the 24-hour-news networks. In the time since Jackson died, the Honduran president has been kidnapped by his own military and flown to Costa Rica, several members of the British Embassy in Tehran were arrested due to the election protests, the South Carolina governor was caught with his pants down in Argentina, the Supreme Court decided it is illegal to strip search students to find drugs on their person and the Gay Rights debate continues countrywide. In other words, its safe to say that Jackson’s death being 23 hours of the 24 hour coverage isn’t due in part to a slow news day.
My question is what influences the news media to cover a celebrity death with such a frenzy, even though there are more legitimate and need-to-know stories out there? Is it because the viewers are so taken with the celebrity culture in this country that they want to know more? Or is it that people just don’t care about those more “hot button” stories. Maybe the media is just latching on to the whole tabloid aspect of Jackson’s death, milking a story that has it all: sex, music, drugs, bizarre behavior, fame, fortune, the cult of celebrity, and ends with a bang. Maybe I’m just missing out and the death of Michael Jackson is more newsworthy than Iranian protests or Supreme Court rulings or partisan politics run amuck.
Whatever the answer is, I hope they move on to the next media feeding frenzy soon. I really need to get “Billie Jean” out of my head.