As someone only a few months younger than Michael Jackson, I can't entirely ignore the frenzy surrounding his untimely death, much though I'd like to put the entire subject out of mind. I managed to avoid watching any of the coverage of the memorial service and even managed to avoid reading much about it, until one odd item caught my eye — the extensive media coverage of his casket.
Coverage of his kids and his family and his friends and his career I can understand — though Al Sharpton's conspiracy theories and the declarations that Jackson was the greatest American of the 20th century seemed beyond the bounds of reason. But his casket? What's newsworthy about a box that goes in the ground and isn't seen again (hopefully) until the trump of doom? And why on earth was "jackson casket" ranked in the top 10 google search phrases for two days?
Well, obviously it's one hell of a casket. Jackson will be enjoying his eternal slumber in the velvet-lined luxury of the Promethean from the Batesville Casket Company. It's solid bronze, plated in 14 carat gold and lined in fine blue velvet. It retails for $25,000 and has been the choice of other celebrities who wanted to go to the pearly gates in style, like Bob Hope and Jackson's idol James Brown.
My interest in industrial design inspired me to find out more about this Cadillac Brougham of caskets. It turns out that the gold-plated bronze model is not a normal mass-production item, but a custom modification of their standard cast-bronze casket, made by special request. Aside from the gold plating, it is the same as their top-of-the-line bronze casket, and features an air-tight seal with a rubber gasket to make sure nothing gets out of or into the casket, plus a MemorySafe® drawer used to display "cherished keepsakes" — in this case a sequined glove.
The caskets are also available in larger sizes, in the Dimension series, to provide "a more comfortable fit for your loved one" — although this is clearly not needed for Jackson. I can't imagine how much a bronze oversized casket would weigh, but the regular-sized model housing Jackson's remains requires extra pallbearers and a special heavy-duty crane for interment.
I'm sure Jackson looked his best in a casket as solid and substantial as he was fragile and evanescent. After a life of excess it seems petty to criticize him for this final luxury, and to be fair I was actually surprised that the casket only cost $25,000 given the materials, quality of manufacture, and general inflation of costs in the funeral products market.
It did make me reconsider my own burial plans. I may put on hold my scheme to be buried in a hermetically sealed pyramid with a live webcam so people can view my deteriorating body from a monitor on the outside of the tomb. After seeing how the King of Pop went out, I'm thinking I might try something more humble.
Heaven or hell, nirvana or oblivion, there's no question that Jackson is going there in style in this Cadillac Brougham of caskets. But on reflection I think I'll stick with a rough pine box. It may be a buckboard wagon, but at least I'll be driving it myself.