Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does Michael Jackson's Death Usurping Coverage Of Iranian Protests Show Our True Values?

Neal Jansons who according to his friendfeed profile is a Writer, Web Developer, Geek, New Media Consultant and blogs at asked this question on his friendfeed stream recently: While Iranians suffer systematic oppression, the internet becomes obsessed with the death of a pop icon. Talk about showing your true values.

Many people agreed with his assessment or were sympathetic.

For example one commenter wrote: The news cycle is totally idiotic. There's absolutely no sense of any journalistic prioritization.

I didn’t think that was true. I think there is a priority and it is right in line with what we as Americans would want to see and read about. My comment to Neal's post is below:

I'm sympathetic to your POV on this, Neal but I'd argue that Iran's systematic oppression is not news—it is, in fact, old news to say the state of Iran mistreats its citizens. The protests against the election are the news. Michael Jackson was not much in the news before he died (I didn't even know he was planning a major tour in a month!) but his death is very big news considering his past and the circumstances. These items have a life cycle in the mainstream media and on the minds of Americans (I'm going on the assumption that you are referring to US news not international). Michael Jackson was a uniquely American icon with a uniquely American story. He influenced popular culture in the US for decades.

His death, tragic, as it was, and his life, twisted, sad and unfortunate as it may have been, doesn't belie the point that he had a tremendous role in American life for millions and millions of people for a very, very long time. I'd argue (as other have) that Iran is getting a disportionate amount of media (and social media) attention while similar and even more tragic abuses are occurring all over the world at the same time. It is human nature and the nature of the news cycle that tragic events closer to home (no matter how unbalanced you may think they are) claim more attention to people than events halfway across the world. And as we all know very well, celebrity gossip and news is a huge distraction for us. The lives and deaths of people we see on television, on the big screen and hear on the radio are fascinating to most of the population because we either resent them and glory in their misfortunes or envy their fame and fortune and live vicariously through their every moment.

The actions of the people protesting in Iran are sympathetic, inspiring and important but they are not the cult of personality distraction that Americans (and probably not limited to us but the entire world) love to hear about. Michael Jackson was a true cult of personality (he appointed himself the “King of Pop”) and some of us of a certain generation grew up listening to his music and following the twists and turns his life took over the years. His death became more than the unfortunate end of one man, just as Neda came to symbolize the entire Iranian struggle and epitomize the tragedy of a young, liberalized populace as many others were also dying on the streets.

1 comment:

thePuck said...

Wow. I have to say that while I disagree, I feel flattered that you cared enough to respond on your blog.

Let me see if I can boil your argument down:

1. The priority of the media is to cater to what people want to see.
2. Humans like cults of personality more than they like paying attention to world atrocities.
3. In addition to this, Iran getting the attention it has gotten is in-proportionate compared to similar atrocities.
4. Therefore, my criticism as to the values of the media and people who treat life and death like pop fads (unless it's our lives...when anything happens to the US it's a "different world now") is incorrect.

I really don't understand your argument. Are you basically saying "People are generally shallow, so it's ok that they are shallow"? I just don't see how this follows. I grant you every premise...they are all true. And I still don't see how this rebuts my basic criticism, that it is a lapse of values and priorities to put a cult of personality ahead of human suffering and death.

That people are, in fact, shallow and fickle, is not a rebuttal for a criticism of that shallowness. That the media, in fact, considers its mandate not to be informing but profit-making, is not a rebuttal for a criticism that they have corrupted their mandate and earned their increasing obsolescence. And the fact that other bad things are getting ignored while this bad thing gets attention does nothing about the claim that this bad thing should get attention...if anything it merely adds to the criticism of the priorities and values of the American people and their media.

In short, I made an ethical criticism and your rebuttal seems to say, "Yeah, these people are being shallow and putting their entertainment before the lives and deaths of other humans, but you're an asshole for saying so".

And what is with all the appeals to emotion at the end? Why is it a rebuttal to the ethical criticism? Why does it matter that a "certain generation" feels strongly? How much blood is that "generation"'s nostalgia worth? Besides, I have read the posts and comments, too...almost everyone in this "certain generation" who mention it talk about their age, his age, the subject of age in general. That says to me this is less about him and more about this "certain generation" realizing that they are old.

And did you really just compare the death at 50 of Michael Jackson, a celebrity who lived a life of opulence, excess, and weirdness rivaled only by Nero himself, with the execution by an oppressive military of a defenseless young girl trying to protest for her political right to a fair vote? Seriously? I mean, really? You don't see what is wrong there? You don't think maybe the sense of importance and gravity in that comparison is a little warped? Doesn't that comparison, the very fact that you would consider it a valid analogy, sort of prove my point?