Wednesday, July 1, 2009

(No.36) Michael Jackson & the media circus

The death of pop performer Michael Jackson was greeted by the media with such an outpouring of syrupy attention that I was moved to write a letter to the editor of Canada's self-styled national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, which itself had provided examples of celebrity journalism. 

My letter to the editor appeared in the Globe on June 29. I have reproduced the letter below with the few significant bits removed by the Globe prior to its publication indicated in italics.

Dear Sir:

The death of Michael Jackson has occasioned a deluge of so-called news coverage involving this has-been performer. One expects this sort of thing in the tabloids while still hoping for some sense of proportion in mainstream media. Sadly the hallmark of the coverage since Jackson's death lies in the absence of perspective, in the demonstration of how far celebrity 'journalism' has replaced quality news reporting.

I am disappointed but not surprised that Canada's national newspaper has succumbed to the temptation to elevate the unimportant to prominence: q.v., from June 27 the gag-inducing front page story "A tortured star's last days" and (later on) "Heal the world: A planet in mourning".

However this can be said in the Globe's favour: unlike the risible and repetitive cable television coverage of the trivial on CNN and CBC Newsworld (e.g., endless helicopter shots of the LA hospital to which Jackson's body was taken) the paper redeems itself in the same Saturday issue. It offsets the puerility of Jackson stories with the refreshing and welcome perspective about him and the post-Princess Diana response to his death in the columns of Christie Blatchford and Rex Murphy.


Alastair Rickard


For reasons of permitted letter length I did not include in my letter to the editor examples of what I had cited favourably from the columns of Blatchford and Murphy but I do so below from the June 27 Globe and Mail:

Christie Blatchford -- 

"Ever since [the death of Princess Diana] every quasi-famous person to die -- including those who achieved fame only in death, such as random victims of gunplay -- have been sent on their way with a ghastly array of stuffed animals, handmade drawings and the tears of strangers. Only the size of the memorial changes and there is nothing makeshift about any of it.

" The public mourning [for Jackson] promises to be protracted and ridiculous, with people who had never met him or even seen him in concert all but bursting into flames with grief. Oddly, for a change the usual grotesque circus will actually suit the deceased. ... The man was a train wreck."

Rex Murphy --

"The American media went the full Niagara with the news of Michael Jackson's passing. ... There is something Pavlovian about the modern mass media when they deal with any of the various extreme moments of a hyper-celebrity's life. The bell rings and report - at length - they must. The great and mixed technology of modern communications goes into full gear feeding continuously on the barest fact. The news or entertainment shows haven't anything new to offer on the instant.

"Obviously, in most cases, they simply cannot. Often only one 'fact' is all that is known.  ... the video must run, the inane chatter of the anchors must fill the empty air with more empty air.

"The reportage, so called, is simply an immense static flowing out of the celebrity event. Its purpose is not to supply information but to indicate, by its sheer volume and continuousness, the rank of the celebrity concerned."


Alastair Rickard