The death of a 50-year-old father is always a tragedy. 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 fans of a superstar they loved.
But the tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death was no excuse for the media coverage that ensued. CNN adopted an “all-Michael” format, following this story with a thoroughness that rivalled coverage of 9/11. CNN and its media colleagues inflated the death of one celebrity into a blockbuster news story.
This is a tragedy as well. Instead of informing people about what is essential and significant, the news media are far more interested in “infotainment.” Stories about Uyghur unrest and the Iranian election were ignored in favour of yet another learned analysis on the life of a popular singer.
A general lack of interest in hard news augurs poorly for contemporary society. Ignorance is not a comic flaw. It has an enormous impact on personal growth. The rabbis of the Mishnah tell us that a boorish person cannot achieve piety. Narrow horizons produce people who are spiritually stunted. Without a true thirst for knowledge, a society will deteriorate, entranced with cheap bread and charming circuses.
Even more troubling is an obsession with celebrity. Celebrities are trendsetters. Young girls dress in the style of their favourite pop divas, while their parents dream of a flashy Hollywood lifestyle. For many, celebrities are role models.
Who our role models are matters a great deal. Role models represent our highest aspirations. You can tell a person’s character by whom their heroes are.
Heroes aren’t what they used to be. The people who risk their lives for the general good – old-fashioned heroes such as firemen, soldiers and policemen, now live anonymous and humble lives. Today’s hero wears sunglasses, drives a Ferrari and talks by 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, it won’t be long before the rest of are wearing designer shades and searching for a new car, a new look and a new spouse.