The mania we have witnessed surrounding the tragic death if Michael Jackson is an example of our distorted sense of values. On balance, the life of this talented yet disturbed celebrity is deserving of sympathy rather than adulation.
His talent and fame contributed to a bizarre decline indicative of a serious mental illness. Overwhelmed by success, he sought relief in drugs and behavior that can only be described as weird.
Even more disturbing was the reaction of many of his fans and the news media. It was â€œwall-to-wallâ€ Michael for the week following his death. Otherwise responsible reporters treated his passing as that of great man â€“ a cultural icon.
Networks now compete with one another trying to identify the next American Idol who will then be thrown into the entertainment coliseum where they too will likely be consumed.
â€œIconâ€ is defined as an image, representation or enduring symbol, an object of great attention and devotion; an idol.
How we as a nation reacted to Michaelâ€™s death says more about us than it does about him. That he is viewed by many as an object of devotion or reverence is downright scary. Will he be an enduring American idol; a role model for future generations? We can only hope not.
One can speculate on the events in his life that produced the demons that haunted him. He remains an example of the damaging effects of unrestrained fame, money and power on a vulnerable soul. It destroyed him. He was more a victim than the tarnished hero many of his fans saw.
I am no great fan of his music. I probably was too old by the time he came on the scene. But, I am willing to defer to others who say he was a great musical talent. So were Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman but the country did not become hysterical when they died.
This mania seems to have started with the death of Elvis Presley who, like Michael, achieved great success; then declined into a bloated caricature of his former self until his untimely death from a drug overdose.
The appropriate lesson to be drawn from the lives and deaths of these two â€œiconsâ€ is that those things our culture values like fame, money, power and influence are destructive. They distort reality in ways that only the well grounded can recognize and avoid.
Perhaps through no fault of their own, Presley and Jackson lacked the inner resources necessary to withstand the assault on their psyches that comes with achieving it all. For them, the American dream turned into a nightmare.
Michaelâ€™s was more a life to mourn than to celebrate. His music should be a reminder of how success transformed and corrupted a talented, young performer. Unseen was the warning: â€œBeware the Beasts of this Jungle.â€
The painting is not the artist, the character is not the actor and the performance is not the entertainer. We can appreciate the work without necessarily admiring the worker. Many gifted people have not lived admirably. One can acknowledge Michaelâ€™s talent yet with compassion deplore some of the things he did.
The tragedy of Michael Jackson is mirrored in the images of those fanatical fans who want to elevate him to something other than what he was. They want to transform him again when one transformation was one too many. They made him an American idol and that is what eventually killed him.
Even now the vultures are circling to exploit the riches of his legacy.
Let him rest in peace.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.