More has been written and said about the life and death of Michael Jackson in the past two weeks than about the passing of any famous person in the past 25 years, including Princess Diana and President Ronald Reagan. And those two names represented the ultimate level of fame and power.
We have seen tributes to Michael Jackson from the people of countries all over the world in a manner that even heads of State don't receive. And earlier this week, Robert McNamara died, and his death received a few obligatory notices and a commentary or two -- and then "back to coverage of Michael Jackson." Of course, one problem for Robert McNamara was that he lived so long that he was almost two generations removed from the time when he was arguably the most important man in the world. Certainly, any man who was Secretary of Defense during the most controversial war in American history (Iraq's place is not yet set) and then goes on to become President of the World Bank surely would have received far more coverage if his death was closer in time to the generation of his peers -- and if there was no Michael Jackson death to cover at the same time.
And while many have criticized the extensive coverage of Michael Jackson, and I didn't watch very much of it except for the memorial service on Tuesday, I do understand the coverage because the interest and extent of the worldwide tributes paid to him justifiably drove the coverage. If an Anna Nicole Smith can receive the level of coverage her death received when most people really didn't even know who she was, and with virtually no interest in her at all outside of the US, then certainly the coverage of someone who is being labeled without much argument as the "greatest entertainer to ever live worldwide" is not only understandable but in fact probably necessary.
But since the coverage has been so extensive, and since virtually everyone and anyone who can claim to be either a "Jackson family advisor" or a Michael Jackson hater was given plenty of air time to express their opinions, there is no need for me to weigh in on all of the issues that found their way into the daily discourse on the life and times of Michael Jackson. However, I will take one liberty to use this opportunity to share that my favorite Jackson recording ever is one that has not been mentioned once in all of the coverage -- "That's What You Get for Being Polite," from the Destiny Album.
But as I tried to tie in all of the various perspectives of what has been said and written about Jackson during these past two weeks, I was struck by four observations from watching Tuesday's memorial service which I will share with you just as thoughts for your measured reflection and hopefully calm deliberation.
1. At one point in the memorial service, NBC showed a montage of various sites around the world where people from London to Spain to China to South Africa to Times Square to the Phillipines to Germany and Russia were all standing and crying and dancing and paying tribute to Michael Jackson. The thought occurred to me that no one can get that kind of tribute paid to them all over the world and be as bad a person as Congressman Peter King of New York, Sean Hannity, Marc Levin, and Rush Limbaugh say he is. A really bad person just couldn't dupe the entire world so completely simply because they had talent. You could look into the eyes of the mourners worldwide -- and I would ask Michael's harshest critics to ponder who among them and us will leave this world affecting so many lives and making so many people remember fondly that we were here.
2. The line spoken by Al Sharpton actually went so far beyond the audience assembled at the service and touched a cord I have been stressing for some time -- that America still has not had the conversation on "Race" that it needs, and that statement is true today regardless of who is in the White House. Sharpton said directly to Jackson's children that "Your Daddy wasn't strange -- what was strange was what he had to deal with around him." And that statement brought the house down and the people up almost as a defiant gesture of angry response to all the Michael critics I named above and to members of the general mainstream society that many African-Americans felt just don't understand.
And later that day, CNN's contributor Jeffrey Toobin replied to Sharpton's statement by saying, "Give me a break." And it struck me that the Sharpton statement with the audience response (the most boisterous and prolonged of any response at the service), juxtaposed with the Toobin response serving almost as a "reach out" to mainstream White America to let them know that someone was prepared to go after this saintly image of Michael Jackson being constructed, clearly demonstrated the racial divide that still exists in this country and that President Obama had better find some time to try to address while he still has such high personal approval ratings and political capital in the bank, or we are all in for some big political and social shocks next time around.
3. Another personal observation I made was that in watching the three Jackson kids throughout the ceremony and of course at the end with the emotion of daughter Paris's comments and the interaction they had with each other and with the other Jackson family members, I am quite certain that whatever environment got them to this point is the environment they need to remain in -- together. And to me, that's Katherine Jackson and Grace, the nanny, and Michael deserves credit for nurturing that.
4. Watching the genuine comments from Brooke Shields and listening to Jermaine Jackson sing Charlie Chapman's "Smile," I couldn't help but ponder what the worldwide celebration of Michael Jackson's life would have been like had he not had the controversy in his personal life that has been so widely documented. Without that controversy, the celebration of his passing would have likely been a national holiday, and instead of a letter being read from the President, the President would have been there personally to express the sadness of the nation -- and again, regardless of who was in the White House. And instead of being the "King of Pop," he would have been simply "The King."
One thought stands out most impressively. Universally, there was praise for the tone of the service, the planning of the service, the content of the service, and the overall presentation of the memorial service. And all of this was accomplished with virtually no time to plan or rehearse and with a cloud of sadness covering everyone's mood. Yet, it was as impressive and as moving as one could possibly imagine. If the same people involved with planning and staging the memorial service for Michael Jackson were also involved with planning the now canceled upcoming "This is It" concert tour that would have commenced next month, then clearly, Michael Jackson was back. And now, for many for the good, and for some for the bad, he's never leaving again.
Carl Jeffers is a Log Angeles- and Seattle-based columnist, TV political analyst, radio talk show host and commentator, and a national lecturer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.