Dateline: Twilight Zone, 21st Century America, September 4, 2009 â€“ If a 35+ year career in public relations/promotion and marketing has taught me anything, itâ€™s that timing really is everything, with context quick on its heels. Long ago, a New School Instructor in magazine writing provided me with the guideline Iâ€™ve worked by forever: Why is this story important, and why is it important now? She told us this was the question we should ask ourselves about our clients and their activities, because this was the question editors would ask us about our stories. But that was before sensationalist, tabloid news became Americaâ€™s journalism staple, especially on TV, and many editors no longer make decisions based on quality and pertinence.
As I write this at around 5:00 a.m. EDT, I can hear Anderson Cooper on CNN narrate coverage of Michael Jacksonâ€™s funeral recorded earlier this evening. From Jacksonâ€™s death on June 25th to his dramatic, stadium-sized, televised memorial service in LAâ€™s Staples Center on July 7th, I felt a renewed fondness for him, a genuine sadness about his premature death, and a new appreciation and respect for his innovative talent, sincere musical entreaties for global love and peace, and substantial, low-key philanthropy. The extensive news and events, broadcast at Princess Diana lengths, surely gave this special artist his public due and showed respect for the passionate esteem in which he is held by millions.
But tonight, a ghoulish 70 days after his death, the elaborate semi-private funeral and the fawning, detailed media coverage of it make me wince. Itâ€™s as dull as a re-run, phony as an Americaâ€™s Most Wanted crime recreation, and tasteless as a third-rate Elvis impersonator revue. More important, and unsettling: unlike the marathon coverage of the early days of Jacksonâ€™s death and the response to it, itâ€™s not news. This story is as stale as 70-day-old bread, and it is reinvigorating the peculiar image of Wacko Jacko that had been considerably laid to waste and rest a couple of months ago.
And, needless to say, itâ€™s happening in sharp contrast to the send-off for Ted Kennedy just last week, which was immediate, comparatively brief, simple, dignified, and filled with humor, wisdom and regard. Michael Jacksonâ€™s funeral now seems like a tribute to the banality of contemporary pop culture and the cheesiest kind of celebrity gore.
The King of Pop, whose funeral was only partly-legitimately delayed by an autopsy and assorted post-mortem testing, has spent quite a while literally chilling in Motown mogul Berry Gordyâ€™s own crypt (since Berry doesnâ€™t need it yet) in The Court of Remembrance at the famous Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood Hills, awaiting tonightâ€™s interment just down the road apiece. But first the family had to have an assortment of hissy-fits about where to put him, and that took a while.