Thursday, 9 July 2009

Grief is the new black

After yesterday's epic send-off, rumoured to be viewed by over 31 million people in the US alone, and costing the city of Los Angeles $1.4 million, everyone is fixating on the nature of grief in today's celebrity-obsessed world.

Despite almost constant news coverage since his death, and a Lazarus-like resurrection in music charts around the world, the turnout for Jackson's memorial was somewhat underwhelming. The city of LA anticipated around 250,000 mourners would converge in the streets to pay their respects, but in fact only around 1,000 bothered to show. This meant that the 3,240 police officers deployed to steward the crowds outnumbered the mourners 3-to-1.

One case where the grief was perhaps underestimated, was little Paris Jackson, breaking down as she paid an emotional tribute to her father. Many children whose parents die young are denied the opportunity to even attend the funeral, and this is something that can stay with them for decades, having been denied the chance to say 'goodbye'. But Paris, finally free of her father's all-encompassing paranoia, was allowed to step forward and defend his reputation as the perfect dad. In doing so, she was able to answer his sneering critics and remind the world that, innuendos aside, he genuinely loved his children. But some critics are unhappy about this, speculating that Paris was exploited, seemingly cajoled into taking centre stage and casting off the weird veil we'd seen her in for every previous public appearance. I think everyone's just surprised that Michael Jackson managed to produce three apparently normal, well-adjusted children.

It wasn't just Michael's close family who came forward to share their memories of the begloved one. In the last week or so, anyone who ever met him, spoke to him or opened up their shop for him came forward with their own personal recollections of the man who was not Billie Jean's lover. Uri Geller, clearly mourning the last vestige of his media relevance, spoke at length (and frequently) about his friend, even speculating about what actually killed him. Liz Taylor began by issuing a statement to say that she was too upset to issue a statement, before then issuing a statement about her broken mind (as if we needed further proof). And Madonna managed to stop crying long enough to announce that she couldn't stop crying.

And then there's the memorial service itself. Aside from some wildly varying vocal tributes, and a selection of ill-advised hats modelled by the Jackson sisters, what really stood out were the appearances by people who never actually met Michael Jackson. Queen Latifah, John Mayer and Jennifer Hudson all paid impassioned tribute to the pop legend, despite never having encountered him face-to-used-to-be-a-face. Interestingly, the most talked about appearance of the entire show was a 12 year-old boy. Rather than accusations of impropriety, this pre-teen showed up to offer his interpretation of Michael's 'Who's Loving You'. Shaheen Jafargholi had originally shot to fame in the most recent series of Britain's Got Talent, and it was clear from the start that he was a big fan. In fact, he was due to duet with Jackson next week for the first of his shows at the O2. Instead, here he was rubbing shoulders with Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie, with his idol laying in a casket stage right.

The fact is, it doesn't really matter whether the people eulogising Michael Jackson actually met the man or not. The fact is, they knew him. They knew him the same way every one of his fans felt that they knew him. Because that's the nature of celebrity, of a life lived in the public eye. There's an emotional connection between performer and audience, and it doesn't matter whether that audience is made up of the great unwashed or the great and the good.

Now, can we finally change the subject?

1 comment:

  1. stop smacking on madonna!!! you were caught up in the hype for at least a few minutes. i, on the other hand, haven't been an mj fan since before bad. so my curiousity is for more prurient reasons. but i'm way over it.