The celebrity death industry

Faith & Inspiration

I have deliberately abstained from consuming Michael Jackson death coverage. That's what it's become now; even a disgusted abstainer like me can see that---a marketed delicacy. I don't even know what the "news" media (the very word evokes the image of glittering baubles served up not because they are healthful or helpful, but because they are novel) currently claim is the source of Jackson's early demise. Occasional glimpses of cable news banners and supermarket tabloid headlines indicate a predictable slate of conspiracy theories and blame assignment, which are good for the news business, insofar as they are continuously replaced with newer models.

I heard talk as well of a "tribute," which brought to mind the tacky, largely talent-free spectacle not long after James Brown wiggled out of his mortal coil. All manner of entertainers lined up to bask in the melodrama of Brown's death, pretending to honor him by dancing and singing and generally increasing their public profiles on the back of Brown's achievements. Having studiously avoided the Jackson coverage, I can only hope a similar pack of irreverent nonsense didn't occur. Given the incentives in play, however, this is likely a vain hope. There's just too much publicity potential here, as the affected gravity of seasoned huckster Al Sharpton, strolling from photo op to photo op, reminds us.

Perhaps I'm being overly critical. Wouldn't it suit people like Brown and Jackson---men who made a practice of selling themselves to a hungry public---to have a big party celebrating their lives? Most likely the answer is yes. Then it seems only fitting that their followers would celebrate accordingly.

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But I think there's something not right about it. No matter how irreverently---or irrelevantly, or infamously---someone lived his life, we ought to mourn his passing, for death is the destruction of a creature made in the image of God. All this business of treating the funeral as the celebration of a life that has passed---which has wormed its way into even conservative Christian circles---seems to neglect the reality that there is a time for weeping. Are we so frightened of dying and the judgment to come that we need to pretend that death is just a seamless transition to bliss, that nothing tragic has occurred when a human being breathes his last?

By all means, celebrate the life that has passed, if one can find anything worth celebrating in it. But let's not pretend that existence has ended, that the deceased has been frozen in time like a photograph, forever smiling, forever happy. There is eternity ahead for everyone, some blessed, some horrific. And tragically, because of the Fall, we all have to die to get there. When that happens, we ought at least to pause and consider what it means for life to exist at all, and for creatures formed by God to perish. I think if we do that, we'll find it hard---at least for a little while---to sing and dance. And contrary to popular opinion, I believe that's a good thing.


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