Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson and 1st Lieutenant Brian N. Bradshaw: One's News, the Other's Not

American news hasn't been all-Michael-Jackson-all-the-time since The Gloved One's death on June 25. On the other hand, America's news media hasn't exactly ignored the passing of the Jackson Five's most famous member. We've seen:
  • Coverage of Michael Jackson's death
  • Articles on the investigation of Michael Jackson's death
  • Reviews of Michael Jackson's illustrious and bumpy career
  • Photos of Michael Jackson
  • Obituaries about Michael Jackson
  • Op-ed pieces about Michael Jackson
  • Coverage of funeral preparations for Michael Jackson
  • And now coverage of the hours leading up to a memorial service for Michael Jackson at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles
That's natural enough: Michael Jackson, under what passed for normal circumstances in his life, was news. In death, he's even bigger news: because of the place he occupied in the lives of his fans.

Make no mistake: Michael Jackson had, and has, fans. Lots of them.

Michael Jackson, Mourned by Millions

"...I don't know whether Michael Jackson will be most remembered for his music and dancing, or as a celebrity whose eccentricities were remarkable even by American entertainment industry standards.

"A lifestyle that included demonstrating his ability to hold an infant over a balcony railing and befriending Bubbles earned Mr. Jackson the nickname 'Wacko Jacko.'

"Celebrities having friends called Bubbles isn't all that odd. But Bubbles was a chimpanzee...." (Apathetic Lemming of the North)

Don't get me wrong: I think that Michael Jackson was an accomplished singer and dancer, and to that extent enriched America's and the world's cultures. I also think that what he chose to do with his considerable talents, and with his own life, shows less than optimal wisdom.

Why So Much News About Michael Jackson?

As for all the attention Michael Jackson's getting, I see that as a combination of human nature, a quirk in contemporary culture, and the nature of America's news media.
Human Nature: We Care About What We're Familiar With
There are enough videos and sound recordings of Michael Jackson's work to fill the day of a die-hard fan with his music. His music has been popular enough, for long enough, for people to be familiar with the sound of his voice and his appearance - make that appearances, he's had plastic surgery - even if they're not dedicated fans.

I think it's fair to say that most people will tend to care about someone who they have seen and heard - and feel they know something about. There will most likely be more of an emotional attachment to this known person, than to someone who is quite unfamiliar.
A Quirk of Contemporary Culture
Contemporary culture, at least in America, tends to focus on a relatively small number of unusual personalities: think Paris Hilton, Eddie Murphy, Jodie Foster and Johnny Depp.

People like this have - or project - colorful personalities, occasionally offbeat lifestyles, and are often in the entertainment business. Their professional activity and/or personal lives are likely to attract attention.

It's the way things are. People who stand out in some way, well: stand out.
America's Newspapers Exist to Sell America's Newspapers
Some countries have government-run news services, where the the primary function of newspapers, television and radio news is to inform citizens of what they're supposed to know, what they're supposed to think about it, and how they're supposed to feel about their leaders. I'm profoundly glad that I don't live in that sort of a system.

The primary function of America's newspapers is to sell newspapers. I don't have a problem with that. Somebody's got to pay for the ink and paper, and provide a living for the people who run the paper. Collecting the money by selling copies of the paper and selling advertising space is a practical way of supporting the activity.

It's not a perfect system, but it works.

When someone like Michael Jackson dies, the essentially commercial nature of America's news media affects - I think - editorial policy.

Fans buy stuff with their idol's name and/or picture on it: T-shirts, record albums, coffee mugs; and newspapers. And, they'll watch programming that mentions the object of their affection.

Since editors, quite sensibly, want their services to be profitable: they'll print and broadcast news about a megastar like Michael Jackson, because fans will buy the papers and watch the programming.

Some Dead Guy

Very few people outside his immediate family would know about 1st Lieutenant Brian N. Bradshaw, if his Aunt, Martha Gillis, hadn't written to a newspaper. Lieutenant Bradshaw was one of 13 American soldiers who died since Michael Jackson's death on June 25.

The Washington Post apparently published the letter, and a cable news service posted an article on the situation today.
"...'Mr. Jackson received days of wall-to-wall coverage in the media,' Martha Gillis wrote to the Washington Post. 'Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week?'..."

"...Gillis, of Springfield, Va., could not be reached for comment. In her letter to the Washington Post, she described Bradshaw as a 'thoroughly decent person with a wry sense of humor' who loved history, particularly the Civil War.

" 'He had old-fashioned values and believed that military service was patriotic and that actions counted more than talk,' Gillis wrote. "He wasn't much for talking, although he could communicate volumes with a raised eyebrow."..." (FOXNews)
I think that 1st Lieutenant Bradshaw's aunt answered her own question, in her letter.

He was a " 'thoroughly decent person' " and " 'had old-fashioned values' " - traits which simply do not result in celebrity status these days. Worse, from the point of view which many news services seem to have, he was an American soldier. And not one of those interesting ones who took naughty photos at Abu Ghraib.

Brian N. Bradshaw was one of those people who are willing to lay down their lives to maintain America's freedoms. Thanks to 1st Lieutenant Bradshaw and many others like him, editors can discuss the perceived depravities of America's military and demonstrators can protest against what they feel are the imperialistic actions of the military-industrial complex.

That's the way it is.

I like to think that there will be a time when more Americans are willing and able to see value in traits like duty, dedication and service: and at least consider the possibility that the people who defend our freedoms are neither hapless dupes of imperialistic warmongers or potential terrorists.

Meanwhile, for what it's worth: a word of thanks to all the men and women who serve, and have served, in the American armed forces.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.