He Was a Thriller

When my deputy editor read the headlines aloud, the ones reporting that Michael Jackson had been rushed to a hospital after a cardiac arrest, unconscious and not breathing, I earnestly hoped  that he would recover. But the next day, as we talked about his death, I tensed as the conversation unfolded. Who would be the first to call him a freak or a molester? Would people shrug of the news, indifferently calling it another tragic end to the life of a tormented artist, not wholly unexpected, but still sad? Of all the comments about his death that went around the office that day, this one upset me the most:

Paula: Well, I think his kids are better off without him.

I don’t know exactly what was wrong with Michael Jackson. But I do think it was too soon for him to die. For someone so obviously talented and accomplished, who was a creative inspiration to millions, whose life was and will always be a cultural reference point to leave unfinished business behind just seems plain wrong to me. I didn’t like the Michael Jackson whose life was tabloid fodder for decades. He needed to retire from the music business with dignity and to outlive the version of himself that had become a carnival exhibit. He needed to live, so that he would have a chance to be a better father to his children. But now, he leaves this world generating as much unflattering and mysterious press as he did when he lived. 

Following celebrity news closely has never been important to me. I just don’t like vicious gossip, and I find that all forms of reporting on famous entertainers and athletes inevitably take a nasty turn. Actors, musicians and ball players usually end up being put on display, their actions given the smoke-and-mirror treatment and teased like carnival animals, all so “Us Weekly” and “OK!” can rack up bigger circulation numbers and haul in more ad revenue. Professional journalists attempt to justify this deplorable behavior by saying that celebrities agree to be put on display in unflattering and sometimes depraved ways in exchange for the fame and fortune that comes with doing their jobs. No rational human beings strike such bargains. 

The general public is not entitled to full disclosure from anyone who has not been elected to public office and whose livelihoods are not supported by tax dollars. We all need to find better things to do with our time than to obsess about the private lives of celebrities. Constantly reading up on these people for no other reason than to gossip about it creates unhealthy habits, and we need to tone it down. 

Let me acknowledge that some serious allegations of molestation had been brought against this man repeatedly. Even I, as much as I loved to watch Michael dance and sing, would never put my adolescent son in the circumstances described in those cases. You could zig-zag an 18-wheeler on the margin of error present in those situations. When grown men behave in suspect ways toward children, then the public—especially this person’s near neighbors—must be given essential information so that they can protect their children. Parents whose children are likely to be in contact with that man have to be vigilant. Beyond that, we don’t need to know. 

The only thing I really wanted to know about Michael were the details of his creative process. That’s it. And just in case you’re wondering, “Thriller” is my all-time favorite Michael Jackson song, and all-time favorite music video.

The folks at YouTube disabled embedding of “Thriller” (and probably all of Michael Jackson’s videos) by request, but you can get it play if you double-click the video image. It will take you to the YouTube site, where it will run. If you want an even crisper looking version of the video, then go to Yahoo! Music. 

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