Media, death, and the Jackson measuring rod

It’s been seven days since legendary pop star Prince passed away. During a week of high media coverage, a phenomenon has occurred that seems to become a media standard: comparing a celebrity death with Michael Jackson’s demise. Whether bigger, better or more bizarre, Jackson has become the measuring rod against which all other music legends are discussed and validated.

Prince and Michael Jackson
Prince (left) and Michael Jackson (right) – (photo: video stills)

In a strange way, it’s the ultimate compliment for the King of Pop. Whenever a music celebrity in the same league as Jackson dies, a comparison with Jackson’s life and death is made. The choice is simple. Either he was the goat, or he was the freak. Either he outshone the others, or he was the perverted loser who deserved what he got.

Whatever the conclusion, Jackson is on top of mind. It doesn’t matter who the ‘competing’ celebrity is. It could be Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Prince, or even the quality of pop culture in general. As long as Jackson is added to the equation, the story will sell. After all, with Jackson no longer here to speak for himself, his eternal silence may as well be put to good use.

It’s a media strategy that has slowly become a questionable standard. The most recent example is the death of Prince. After only a few days of having – rightfully – sung praises of Prince’s musical legacy, the media started digging for dirt. Did the Purple One die of drugs? Was he in debt? Is there a will? And, of course, didn’t he have a feud with… tadaaa… Michael Jackson?

As predictable as grass growing in May, there’s a snigger hiding in there. After all, when Jackson is brought into the story, we all know who’s going down. And while he’s down, we might as well mention his nose, his skin, his reclusiveness, the alleged child abuse – of which he was fully acquitted, but hey, who really believes that – his pet chimp Bubbles, and the overdose of Propofol that killed him.

Reverse media strategies pop up as well. When highlighting the achievements of deceased artists, Jackson – who beats most giants in the music industry even after death – is conveniently left out of the discussion. That’s perfectly fine, as he doesn’t need to be mentioned time and again, unless credits are due.

Whoever claims, for example, that artist X,Y or Z reigned supreme as an MTV icon, seems to ‘forget’ that Jackson not only paved the way for black artists on MTV, but also singlehandedly raised the bar for music videos, while dancing his glittery socks off and wearing a red leather jacket that is still a fashion statement today. Just sayin’.

Similarly, the media may call artist X, Y or Z a musical genius, who sold millions of albums and blessed the world as a humanitarian. Certainly, he or she may have been or done all of that. There’s a likely chance, however, that Jackson did the same, much earlier and with bigger success. Oh, and he’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for his unparalleled humanitarian efforts as well.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not about putting down any artist who has changed the music landscape in his or her own unique way. Nor is it about downplaying anyone’s successes or comparing who’s bigger or better. There is room for many legends to shine. But don’t be blindsided by media suggesting the opposite. Just be aware, like Jackson was.

“Mistruths are printed as fact, in some cases, and frequently only half of a story will be told. The part that doesn’t get printed is often the part that would make the printed part less sensational by shedding light on the facts.” Michael Jackson – Moonwalk (1988)

Jackson was no fool. Don’t be one either.

© Annemarie Latour


10 thoughts on “Media, death, and the Jackson measuring rod”

  1. Excellent article, thanks so much, Annemarie! Very much worth reading. Beware of what you buy off the newsstands, people! Media and tabloids have always been and always will be everlasting money and blood lusting monster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Irina! It’s always good to be aware of what is or isn’t told. There’s no such thing as objective writing, in my opinion. Choice of words, including or excluding facts (or fiction), etc. – these all matter.


  2. I would love to reblog this. Please take a look at my site and let me know if you will allow that. Thanks for the article, it echoes many of my thoughts on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I deeply enjoyed reading your thoughts here Annemarie. You get it so right. It is in fact, a testament to the loftiness of Michael’s achievements that he has effectively become the measuring stick by which other artists are judged. However, I find the real question to be why we desire to judge and compare artists in the first place. Each one is unique. So are all of us. Perhaps the true roots and causes of such comparisons lie in the ‘chart’ system where No.1s are effective ways of making everyone else second-best. Both Jackson and Prince where inherently unique and therefore entirely incomparable. You’re absolutely right.

    Eliza x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Eliza! You are right, the next question would be: why compare artists (or people in general) in the first place? There is a reason behind it, which is often obscured. The most beautiful thing is to be able to lift someone up without putting another person down.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There is often a deeper, hidden meaning behind these kinds of comparisons. A lot of it goes back to a culture of criticism and art criticism in general, where the critic’s job became to assess the value of the art, and thereby the artist. All of a critic’s biases and prejudices filter through then. 🙂 But like you said ‘we’re no fools’. I really believe people are getting better at distinguishing bias from truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, art criticism can be valid in many ways and is a discipline only few master without bias or prejudice. Objectivity, however, is an illusion, as we all have our preferences. In MJ’s case, there is also the added risk of media bullying. It can be hard to distinguish these two when reading an article. But patterns do emerge over time, and I believe it’s very important to be aware of these. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! x

    Liked by 1 person

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