Beat it...off the front page
I tried to watch the news a little bit this weekend, but it was challenging to find any real news. Though cities in Iraq are seeing upticks in violence, and North Korea is making rumblings about the launching test rockets in the direction of Hawaii, all I could find on the airwaves were speculations about Michael Jackson's death, and intrigue over the notion that a plain spoken governor from South Caroline could score with an Argentinian lover. It's as if, starving for vegetables and protein, we're offered nothing but the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy.
This is the diet, of course, because the reality is that most people want cotton candy for supper, and that's the real problem. That we idolize sports stars is bad enough, though they at least have their very own stations and commentators obsessing over their drug charges, affairs, contract disputes, whinings, and even occasionally, their on field performance. But musicians and movie stars, especially those few whose talents or quirks put them in the rarified stratosphere of global fame, these few become the centerpiece of our national attention whenever their life takes a turn or comes to a close.
That we are so intrigued with the lives of high profile people says something about our culture; I'm just not sure what it is. Why might we know more about the drugs in MJ's body than the implications of a potentially seismic shift in how health care is run in our country? Why is hard for high school seniors from either coast to find Chicago on a map, yet easy to name all the Jonas brothers and what they like to eat for breakfast?
I have a few theories about the trivialization of culture:
1. Our lives are too boring, and thus we're drawn to excitment beyond ourselves. The industrial age has created hoards of people who hate their jobs. To the extent that my own life lacks thrill, perhaps the extraordinary lives of others become a form a sustenance. Michael Jackson was certainly "extra-ordinary" in the truest sense of the word.
2. Vicarious living is easier.
3. Voyeurism is fun.
4. Entertainment figures provide comfortable diversion from challenging realities, and since comfort is more pleasant than challenge, the news of entertainers is preferrable to the news of economic and political challenges.
5. Being culturally literate is important.
These elements, in combination, seem to be the soil in which is fascinations and obsessions with pop icons grows, even as our engagement with more important matters diminishes. What needs to happen to shift the paradigm? Can it be shifted? Should it?
Please don't misread me. Michael Jackson, like Mozart, was a brilliant, creative, tortured artist, who shifted the culture of his day dramatically. The world should mourn his loss. But to elevate his death, and obsession with the details of his death to the level of front page and first story for days on end seems, in a world where 30 thousand children die each day of treatable diseases, misguided.