Dick Gregory: Michael Jackson is a perfect reason as to the greatness of this country. Where else can a poor black boy from Gary, Indiana grow up to be a rich white man?
–Comedy Central Presents: The NY Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner (2001)
I really didn't want to do this topic, but what the hell.
Does anyone remember Chevy Chase doing the Weekend Updates in the first season or so of Saturday Night Live? For months there was a running gag centered around the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco: "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still valiantly holding on in his struggle to remain dead." The gag was a response to months of NBC News tossing in "Franco's death is imminent" references every time they had a slow news day.
This is what we're dealing with, with Michael Jackson all over again. But the difference is, it's not really Michael Jackson dominating the news that's getting to me. It's Michael Jackson overshadowing Farrah Fawcett.
Let us turn back the clock a little bit.
When Princess Diana was killed in the car crash, we went through the same kind of wall-to-wall coverage. Diana's death was sad and all; nobody likes to see someone die, especially before their time. But in the end, enough was enough. And about a week later, God gave the press a karmic wedgie and Mother Teresa died. And even though, in any given weekend, Mother Teresa did probably a metric shitload more for the poor and hungry than Diana did in her entire life, the Diana funeral coverage overshadowed the Mother Teresa coverage.
In fact, I have a memory of a conversation I had with someone during which I noted how sick I was of all the Diana coverage. I said something like, "Mother Teresa's death isn't going to get half the press that Diana's getting." She shot back, "Well, I guess we'll see when Mother Teresa dies." That's when I broke it to her that Teresa had died the previous day. End of conversation.
So anyway, this is what we're dealing with this time around: Farrah Fawcett died last Thursday morning. Absolutely every thing I've heard or seen in the press centers around what a wonderful person she was; how sweet she was and that she was a decent actress who tried to play against type; the relationship she had with Ryan O'Neal and so on how she'll be missed and all that. Everything–absolutely everything that I've seen–has been positive. Even the iconic poster (which, oddly, I didn't have on my wall) has a story behind it which describes how wonderful she was throughout the photo shoot. Apparently, the suit was one of the last things she was photographed in that day. A whole day of being photographed and she still managed to break out a smile as dazzling as that. Seriously, that's a professional at work.
Now, a brief look at Michael Jackson. A talented performer, to be sure, but also a very troubled person. And when you looked at the coverage, there was certainly a mixture of the good and the bad. The "Thriller" album, the plastic surgery. The Moonwalk, the allegations of molestation. Neverland being constructed, Neverland being thisclose to foreclosure. "Black and White" the song, Black and White the skin tone. And the comments from people on websites didn't run a gamut, it was more like polarization. Saint and sinner, good guy and bad guy. He'll be missed, he should burn in hell. And yet, this is the figure who gets the attention, the one who gets the coverage. He was nothing if not controversial, this much is universally accepted. But he–and his behavior, whether crazy or bad or whatever, is what gets noticed.
Nice guys finish last, even after they die.