Wednesday, July 08, 2009

CNN and Michael Jackson’s Death: A Real Tragedy

The death of a 50 year old father is a tragedy, no matter where it occurs. And Michael Jackson’s death was tragic; his unfortunate overdose deprived three small children of a father, a family of a son and brother, and friends and fans of a superstar they loved. Of course, whenever a public figure passes away, many others will join in the sadness.

But the tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death is no excuse for the media coverage that ensued. Multiple media outlets examined in depth every element of the Jackson saga. The media provided careful analysis of Propofol use and trustees and wills, and made sure we could tour Michael’s ranch, and view footage of his last concert rehearsals. CNN adopted an “all Michael” format, following this story with a thoroughness that rivaled coverage of 9-11. CNN and her media colleagues inflated the death of one celebrity into a blockbuster news story.

And this is a tragedy as well: CNN et. al no longer cover the news. Instead of informing people about what is essential and significant, the news media is far more interested in “infotainment”. Stories about Uigher unrest, the Taliban conflict, the Sri Lankan reconstruction and the Iranian election are ignored in favor of yet another learned analysis on the life of a popular singer. In the last two weeks, we have seen the decline and fall of the news media.

News outlets like CNN are addicted to fluff stories. Since the rise of the celebrity media, beginning with the birth of People Magazine, the mainstream media has been integrating more and more celebrity news. Indeed, Larry King Live, CNN’s primetime interview show, is nearly indistinguishable from entertainment shows like Jay Leno and David Letterman. Sometimes, it seems that a comedy show like Jon Stewart’s is the only place you’ll get serious news coverage.

A lack of interest in hard news augurs poorly for the Western World. Ignorance is not a individual matter or a comic flaw; it has an enormous impact on personal growth. The Rabbis of the Mishna tell us that a boorish person cannot achieve piety. This lesson is a reminder that narrow horizons produce people who are spiritually stunted. Without a true thirst for knowledge, a society will become increasingly corrupt, entranced with cheap bread and charming circuses.

Even more troubling is our obsession with celebrity. There are loads of celebrities aside from Michael Jackson; there’s Brad and Angelina and Jennifer and even John and Kate. Celebrities are trendsetters. Young girls dress in the style of their favorite pop divas, while their parents dream of a flashy and fancy Hollywood lifestyle. For many, celebrities are role models.

Role models are important because they represent our highest aspirations. The Mishna tells us that everyone should have a teacher, a person they look up to as a role model of knowledge and character. You can tell a person’s character by who their heroes are.

Heroes aren’t what they used to be. Old fashioned heroes like the fireman, the soldier and the cop, people who risk their lives for the general good, now live anonymous and humble lives, forgotten by everyone else. Today’s hero wears sunglasses, drives a Ferrari, and is talking on a cellphone with his agent.

Celebrities, our new heroes, are poor role models. Many are often “in and out”; in and out of rehab, in and out of marriage, in and out of court. However, their sins are quickly dismissed by pliant doctors, judges, and therapists, all in time for them to return to their adoring fans. Honest redemption and sacrifice are for the movies; in real life, celebrity fame and fortune is all that matters.

A society follows its role models. If our heroes are shallow and superficial, then it won’t be long before the rest of are wearing designer shades, searching for a new car, a new look and a new spouse.

And that’s the real tragedy.


Unknown said...

Perhaps, celebrities will continue to be 'in and out' and be OUT of the hero fashion.

Anonymous said...

thanks justin

Rick Boretsky said...

It's no surprise that more and more turn to the internet/twitter where you can get the 'real' news you want posted by 'real' people, rather than relying on the spoon-fed media which has to have mass-appeal to survive.

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz said...

rick - absolutely!! and jon stwewart, who is too smart to swallow baloney.