Death and scandal seem mass-produced. We are bombarded so relentlessly that the horrible becomes casual, even junky, disposable . . . Meanwhile we wait, bored and irritated, for the next big distraction.
Darren Haber (book review of Neal Gabler’s Life The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality)
Opposition protests are beginning to dwindle and fade in Iran. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate change bill on Friday. You might not know these things if you were looking for, say, the news on cable channels like CNN or MSNBC or even on the broadcast networks. Heck, you might not even know that 70’s icon Farrah Fawcett died on Thursday.
But you know that Michael Jackson is dead. You know a lot of things about Michael Jackson. You know the narrative arc of his life story. You know its tragic end.
But of course you don’t know–never did know–Michael Jackson. He lived in California. You don’t live in California. But because we all now live in what social critic Neal Gabler calls “Life the Movie,” where entertainment has conquered reality, where all of life is media-ized, we imagine that the death of the King of Pop is profoundly, singularly real to us.
It’s interesting to ponder the eccentricities of Michael Jackson. I am, by turns, cynical and sympathetic; repulsed and mesmerized. His bodily moves on the dance floor were astonishing to behold. But he also seemed to signify in his body the self-hatred that by now is cliche in the modern cult of the celebrity-hero (the grotesquely chiseled features, the undoing of his blackness). It’s been hard this week to look away.
And that’s the point. The media have trained us well: we will take in the relentless coverage, the stories and video images–even a picture of a (dead) Jackson in the ambulance, for God’s sake. The horrible has become casual.
Meanwhile we wait, bored and irritated, for the next big distraction.