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Nick Cohen
Friday 26th June 2009
Michael Jackson: Death and Overkill
On the Today programme this morning the death of Michael Jackson wasn’t merely a story but the story. Events in the rest of the world were dismissed to the “and in other news” category, and treated as distractions from the main and traumatic business of the day. The serious press was no different. The Times compared him to Elvis but then toned down its tribute and described him more ambiguously as “perhaps the most famous pop star of modern times”.

Quite. I hope I am not being curmudgeonly when I make the following points.

1. Sad though his death doubtless was to his friends and fans, there was not that much to say about him, as the desperate attempts of both newspapers and broadcasters to fill space proved. (The Today programme was reduced to interviewing the huckster and ethnic machine politician Al Sharpton, whom it cutely described as a “civil rights” leader).

2. The blanket coverage is a sign of how the new elite of populist media managers of the Greg Dyke generation is losing what little sense of proportion it had as it enters late middle age. The newspapers of 17 August 1977, had Elvis Presley’s death, on the front page – you can see the front page of the Times by putting in 17-8-1977 to its "one day at a time" search engine here – but it was one story among many, and not the lead item.

3. Jackson was never an important musician. Tamla Motown will be remembered for as long as people care about 20th century popular music. He was one of their better artists, that’s all. The change of wording in the Times’s splash today was telling. Jackson was not a second Presley, merely a “famous pop star”.

Drinksoaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War have more as does Oliver Kamm


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June 29th, 2009
11:06 AM
What astonished me on the evening following his death was the coverage on the France 2 television news (state-owned, serious, etc.). The entirety (yes, that's right, the ENTIRETY) of the main 20.00 bulletin was devoted to Michael Jackson. Not 22 minutes followed by a 5-minute roundup of everything else that had happened in the world. It was the only news, from start to finish. And what most annoyed me on the next evening was the live link-up to their main correspondent in the US, who reported on developments with an ironic, Look-At-These-Benighted-Americans-Getting-All-Worked-Up-Over-A-Dead-Pop-Star smile... Classic.

"Charlie's Good Tonight, Ain't He!"
June 29th, 2009
9:06 AM
All of the Queen's Press and All of the Queen's Men, couldn't put Michael Jackson back together again. All he did was take your bucks - It was an unalterable law - that "Bubblegum's Shallow" , and "Disco Sucks."

June 28th, 2009
4:06 AM
Someone wrote in response to yet another article concerning Michael Jackson: "How pathetic! Great musical talent? Sure, but a sorry individual. What about our citizen soldiers who lose their lives in struggles to preserve freedom? Where is all the outpouring of public grief when the child of your neighbor or your own child loses his or her life in service to their country? Where are all the national news stories that tell us about their tragically shortened lives? Were those lives any less important than some celebrity's? I'm not saying we shouldn't feel a sense of loss when celebrities pass away, but we do need to maintain some sort of perspective. This ongoing hoopla over Michael Jackson's death is nothing more than overkill." Amen, brother or sister.

June 27th, 2009
3:06 PM
Nick - you are aware that Michael Jackson never actually had a solo deal with Motown, aren't you? The idea that his popularity entirely stems from the first few Jackson 5 records is very odd indeed. Did you ignore just how popular he was in the 80s and early 90s?

Fabio P.Barbieri
June 27th, 2009
9:06 AM
Michael Jackson was a talented musician who gave a master class in how to destroy himself. He was also a weirdo and probably worse - why do so few people seem willing to use the p-word? What I found horrifying and significant was the way his planned comeback was accepted as obvious and natural by the media, as though well-motivated suspicions of paedophilia and a personal appearance that was an insult to his own race had somehow become normal. A man who had done what Jackson did before the end of his career of self-destruction, not so long ago, would not have been treated as a fit subject for discussion except in the crime pages. That is what I find rather scarily important in the news coverage.

June 27th, 2009
5:06 AM
I think it was 20 minutes on the Ten O'Clock last night and the whole of Newsnight. I wonder how much they'll feel they need to devote to Thatcher's death? It'll be an interesting insight into news priorities. My guess is they'll have to go down the 'specially extended' route. But the demand for MJ news appears to have been there. Large parts of the internet slowed down to the point of shutting down for a couple of hours yesterday morning. I can't remember that happening before for a news story. Perhaps 9/11 or the start of the Iraq War.?

Mark Porter
June 26th, 2009
9:06 PM
With all due respect, Nick, anyone who sells 750 million records deserves a decent slot on the summer news agenda. You are missing the point: we live in an age of mass hysteria. What does it matter that there is little, outside his work, to say? I don't find his music or videos remotely appealing but he does fulfill that most important definition of genius: one who has changed things. His videos - and his subtle ability to manipulate fairly mean material into global winners - puts his death up there with the fiddlers of Westminster, firmly on this summer's list of important stories. Perhaps you forget that the dumbing down of the media has gone hand in hand with the collapse of a sense of proportion.

Kev Ball
June 26th, 2009
6:06 PM
Not curmudgeonly at all - the BBC and the serious press have misjudged the significance of this (very sad, yes) death. The BBC website has the entire "world" mourning Jackson - a bit much, a lot of folks in places such as Iran have other matters pressing upon them.

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About Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of You Can't Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (Fourth Estate) and What's Left? How The Left Lost Its Way (Harper Perennial). Living With Lies, a collection of his writing for Standpoint, is available as an ebook. 

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