Sunday, August 30, 2009

Celebrity Death

There is an old maxim that one should never speak ill of the dead.

Recently, there have been a number of "celebrity" deaths. The most recent has been Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy, who was involved in Congressional politics for over 40 years, most of them as a senator.

I grew up in a Republican household. Actually, I'm going to amend that statement--I have a father who is a very vocal Republican. My mother is not a Republican, and the dinner-table arguing can get heated in that arena. Nonetheless, I grew up with the image of Ted Kennedy as a drunk, a murderer, and a womanizer. It wasn't until I was able to read history for myself that I realized that Kennedy did contribute quite a bit to this country. Certainly you can't beat his work ethic in the later years of his life--that man showed up for Congress, debated, and voted, regardless of how sick he was physically. Yet it's hard to shake the image of the "immune Kennedys"--not just the Chappaquiddick incident, but the William Kennedy Smith rape case in the 1980s (remember that)?

But the point here is not to speak ill of Kennedy. It is traditional, respectful, to talk about what one has accomplished in death, not their shortcomings. The only time someone really brings up one's shortcomings in death is when the person is a convicted serial killer or rapist. I'm going to be Captain Obvious here for a moment and note that the media likes to hype things. (You don't say???...) So, perhaps I shouldn't wonder at the fact that the majority of non-serial killer celebrities who die suddenly become saints in death. Doesn't matter what they've done--how many arrests they've had, how many crimes they've been suspected of committing, they are suddenly "Jesus" now that they are dead and aren't around to be picked apart anymore. I can't help but think of the ancient idea of sacrifice, particularly in the Aztec culture--you rip a person's living heart out, and venerate them in death like a deity. Is this the modern version of that sacrifice? Private lives are destroyed, scrutinized, torn to pieces--the difference seems to be that we don't really get anything out of their sacrifice. What deity gets appeased by all of this? The Media?

The recent death of Michael Jackson brought this home as well. I've avoided talking about Jackson's death, because I don't consider myself a fan, and Lord knows there are enough people to get into discussions about it without my contribution. I did like his music back in the late Seventies and early Eighties. I grew up seeing the Jackson Five on television, and remember "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" as being decent albums. But I found myself utterly repelled by Jackson and anything he did after that.

I have friends who argue with me that it was Jackson's life, we don't really know if he was happy or not, and if he wanted to do the things to himself that he did--well, that was his business. I agree with all of that. But what freaked me out about Jackson is that he was like watching a real-life horror movie. Ever see the movie Poltergeist? The scene where Martin Casella goes into the bathroom to wash his face, and then rips it off in great chunks? That's what watching Michael Jackson was like for me. Only this wasn't a horror movie, this was real life. If you add his perpetual "childlike" behavior (which may or may not have included molestation of children--officially it didn't)--I found I was watching something more disturbing than most horror story plots I'd read. For me, everything he did after Thriller was as much of a sham as his physical appearance. And I couldn't watch. I still can't look at pictures of Michael Jackson post-1985. It's like he was replaced by some horrible monster. People have gone over his psychology so many times, it's nauseating to repeat. No doubt his upbringing had something to do with behavior. That doesn't make it any easier to watch. I've always thought the "King of Pop" title was a sham after the early Eighties--he didn't dominate anything in terms of record sales after that (at least not until he died and became Saint Michael). But now that I think about the "sacrifice" of celebrities, it seems entirely appropriate. After all, it's the King who is cut down and sacrificed, traditionally. His mutation over the years almost becomes a metaphor for what the music business, and other big Hollywood-esque businesses, do to these people.

In any case, I did my best to avoid all of the hype surrounding his death--skipping over Facebook updates, setting up my mail to bypass the "news" section where his face was always plastered. However, courtesy of, there was one take that I couldn't resist watching--the old "Hitler's downfall" meme mashed up with the death of Michael Jackson. It is truly funny, and that is where I will leave you today, never to speak of this again:

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