MICHAEL JACKSON
MICHAEL JACKSON

When I learned last night that Michael Jackson had died, I was at a fair – kiddie rides, foot-long hot dogs, funnel cakes – in a town in Bergen County. I drove about an hour and half to get there — not for the hot dogs, which were fine, but to listen to Noise from the Basement, a band in which my son plays keyboard. I would do it again.

When I got home and checked my blog here on wordpress, I saw that traffic on my journal had already soared beyond the normal number of daily visits – by a factor of eight. This was caused by the death of Farrah Fawcett. Her passing apparently sent many people scurrying to a search engine, and some of their searches tripped over two entries I have made in the past couple of months complaining about the way some of the media and some of the public were reacting to her illness.

It might be fortuitous for Farrah Fawcett’s memory that she and Michael Jackson died almost simultaneously. Because of the complicated life that Jackson led, there is likely to be an endless stream of speculation about the nature of his death, and even some serious commentary on the meaning of his life.

I have to say that Michael Jackson meant nothing to me, one way or the other. I didn’t pay close attention to the coverage of his life, but I did see and hear enough to know that the difference between fact and fiction was difficult to discern. If the far more sedate lives of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Sir James Matthew Barrie are any example, some of the questions about Jackson’s behavior will never go away.

JOSEPH MERRICK
JOSEPH MERRICK

One small issue in Jackson’s life that did get my attention was the report in 1987 that he had offered to buy the remains of Joseph Carey Merrick, known in popular culture as “John” Merrick, the “elephant man,” a 19th century Englishman who was severely deformed by a disease that has not been conclusively identified. I have spent far more time learning about Merrick than I have ever devoted to Michael Jackson, because I have been interested in Merrick’s determination to achieve some sort of human dignity despite a condition that, through no fault of his own, made it impossible for him to live in society. In fact, he had to be protected from the public. It’s worth noting that Dr. Frederick Treves, who was principally responsible for providing Merrick with a home at London Hospital, had misgivings about his own role in making Merrick something of a darling of British society, including the royal family.

My initial reaction when I heard that Jackson had tried to buy Merrick’s remains was disgust. I couldn’t imagine any legitimate purpose to such a thing, and I felt strongly that Jackson would be violating Merrick’s memory by removing what remains of him from the hospital that gave him the only true sanctuary he ever knew. Although there have been many public reports that Jackson did, indeed, acquire Merrick’s “bones,” my reading indicates that it never happened. Some have claimed that Jackson himself deliberately spread that rumor after having viewed the remains in London, but I haven’t found any substantiation of that idea. The bizarre tones and the uncertainty of this bit of Jackson’s history or legend is a microcosm of the odd and often mysterious biography that will be written and re-written for years to come.

Peter Conrad wrote an interesting essay in The Guardian about Michael Jackson in anticipation of Jackson’s appearance in London next month. It’s at http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jun/14/michael-jackson

Tammy Paolino — the name is no coincidence — also wrote an insightful piece about the impact of Jackson’s death. It’s at http://blogs.courierpostonline.com/mamadrama/ in an entry dated June 26.

 
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Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett

 

People who devour the details of celebrities’ personal lives should read the interview with Farrah Fawcett published in the Los Angeles Times on Monday. The interview – the only one the actress has given in more than two years – was conducted in August and was published in advance of a television program regarding Fawcett’s struggle for privacy, to be broadcast this weekend.

Fawcett was able to prove that an employee of UCLA Medical Center had illegally gained access to Fawcett’s medical records and had sold the information to the National Enquirer. That employee eventually resigned and has since died of cancer – the same disease for which Fawcett was being treated at UCLA.

The reporting of Fawcett’s illness has been revolting – and not only in the Enquirer. I have complained before about the nearly gleeful manner in which some television news anchors spit out the “headlines” on the latest developments in the woman’s illness – which appears to be terminal. 

The L.A. Times story included an explanation from Brandy Navarre – identified as vice president of a “paparazzi agency” – for the compulsion to hound a woman who may be dying.

“Particularly when it’s something sexy or scandalous,” Navarre told the paper, “or on the negative side, something kind of tragic and sad, for whatever reason, the public is interested in those types of stories.”

The public is interested, see? And that’s what made it profitable for a hospital employee to commit a federal crime and for a so-called newspaper to induce her with cash to do what the editors clearly knew was a crime. Navarre attributed the interest in the case to “the public’s love of this woman.”

If the public loves this woman, why doesn’t the public – and the media that serve the public – respect the privacy they would expect for themselves under such circumstances and leave Farrah Fawcett alone.

 

HOPE DAVIS

HOPE DAVIS

I’m taking a break from the usual blogging today to put the WordPress system to the test. I have noticed what I think are odd results in the list of terms that readers ostensibly searched in order to reach my journal. By now I have dozens of entries in this blog, but the readers who come in through search terms seem to have an inordinate fixation with Hope Davis, Farrah Fawcett, and Andrew Johnson – the latter having been the 17th president of these United States.

Now, I think the world of Hope Davis as an actress, I sympathize with Farrah Fawcett for her health problems, and I have a perhaps inexplicable fascination with Andrew Johnson. However, I have referred to Hope Davis and Farrah Fawcett only once each in this journal, and I may have referred to Andrew Johnson twice or, at the most, three times. And yet those terms show up every day on the report, and the journal entry that mentioned Hope Davis – it consisted of my comments on one of her movies – has become my “all-time leader.”

So I have deliberately referred to all three of those personalities in this little rant to see if this entry, too, causes activity in the report on search terms.

More about this when the results are in.

 

FARRAH FAWCETT

FARRAH FAWCETT

I probably should know better, but I usually have Fox 5 News on while I’m waiting for the nightly “Seinfeld” rerun, and that’s often the source of agita. Last night, for instance, anchor Dari Alexander began a report on the recent illness of actress Farah Fawcett by saying that Fawcett’s friends “deny that she’s at death’s door.” Think about it. What is that – wishful thinking? The story, when Alexander got around to telling it, was that Fawcett’s doctor reported that the actress had been hospitalized because of a blood clot that was a side effect of recent cancer treatment. In fact, producer Craig Nevius did say yesterday that Fawcett was “not at death’s door,” but Nevius wasn’t quoted in the Fox report. (The Fox web site does have a full AP story – with a tasteful lead – on its web site.) Real journalists know the connotation of a word like “deny.” Fawcett isn’t accused of a crime; she’s sick. It might make her feel better if the turkey buzzards weren’t so gleeful about it.