Michael Jackson and the strange isolation

Michael Jackson jokes flooded through the internet, and office gossip, with all the sharp wit and bad taste expected. Masturbation, Madeleine McCann, and monkeys all mixed with the still very recent (and very much real life) death of a superstar. Reality is in some form of suspension, a matter of strange isolation, in this age where death is greeted with Facebook groups and spam-email. I was invited to join a group called, “Joining the group will bring Maddy back” within days of the young girl’s disappearance, as though the act of signing up was as effective – if not more so – than going out assisting with the search. Similarly with voting too, with more anti-BNP group members than voters…

The death of Elvis or John Lennon was not greeted in ways too far removed from the massed groups seen outside the hospital yesterday. These days we have grown numb and isolated from the realities of death and injury, the main ingredients of television news, from Baghdad to the disused railway lines of a nameless town. In Derbyshire, onlookers cheered on a suicidal young person before uploading the jump on YouTube – such is the numb, almost ignorant reaction and relationship to death beyond the flickering screen.

Cracking jokes about Michael Jackson’s death before the official announcement was announced is certainly in bad taste, but gallows humour and cynical attitudes to celebrity have always existed. The celebs of today, as here-today, gone-tomorrow as they may be, are possibly disposable enough to avoid the onslaught. Of course it’s not clever or big, but a well-phrased, properly told joke has the effect of causing laughter, whether or not it’s a weak play-on-words or twisted take on current affairs. Humans don’t like knowing their celebrity icons are weak or able to die or suffer bankruptcy: jokes are the reaction, the building of a wall from reality. I cannot lie – some made me guffaw, but I would not be human if I did not have a sense of humour. Only then would I be truly isolated…

Question Time – news doesn’t stop…

During a highly charged debate on BBC Question Time about the proposed ban on the burqa in France, news started to filter through Twitter and blogs about Michael Jackson. Some newspapers – okay, the New York Times and gossip blogs – declared he was dead long before the mainstream media. In a peculiar way, the argument on Question Time occurring while such headlines were breaking in real time made the whole situation all the more bizarre and unreal. The “prince of pop”, such a troubled and complex man, such an enigmatic talent, taking the headlines and news-time over the discussion and debate to be had today, tomorrow, and in every pub across the land.

Gossip spreads faster on-line, and in this modern age it seems a well worded Facebook status and spam email can heal some kind of mental wound. Bad-taste jokes spread like mould – some phrased well enough to raise a smile regardless of taste.

Celebrity has a certain wealth, a heavy pressure, wiping from the screens death in Iran, alleged fraud in Parliament…The strength of the famous stars, so shocking when they are shown to be as fragile humans as the fans who pay their wages.

And the burqa? Onwards with the debate on freedom of speech and expression. For the time being the headlines sidestep any forensic debate while they focus on Michael Jackson…