Michael Jackson's circus of a memorial was heartbreaking. Not because Usher broke down while singing. Not for most of the reasons given by the overwrought international press corps. When a 12-year-old former contestant on "Britain's Got Talent" sang, (just a few years older than Jackson when he was first inducted into the media spotlight), it suggested that no one's learned anything.
In the wall-to-wall, breaking-news coverage of Jackson's death, there was much speculation about the pain in the singer's life that could have been responsible for his often bizarre behavior -- though many of the scandals and ugly rumors that the media had obsessed about in his latter years were put aside in favor of massive shared mourning. It was as if everyone who had ever listened to "Thriller" had suffered some traumatic loss akin to the death of a relative.
The Jackson furor took one family out of the news -- the family of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, which has suffered its own heartbreak and scandal, after Sanford admitted to having an extramarital affair. It took another Republican governor to break through the Jackson frenzy for one afternoon. When Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, set off some pre-Fourth of July surprise fireworks by announcing that she would not only not run for re-election but also resign from office, she gave the media their new story. And, televised again, was an indication that what happened to Jackson could happen again.
The media didn't destroy Michael Jackson. But there is something about public life that can crush souls, destroy families and drive people mad. Life in the spotlight means that an unwed teenager's predicament becomes fodder for national talking heads, as Palin's daughter did, shortly after her mother achieved immense fame as John McCain's vice-presidential candidate.
The decision to enter public life is made freely by someone, but in the case of a child the decision is not fully their own. Perhaps the parents are to blame for whatever comes of it. Perhaps in the case of a political family, the media needs to lay off completely when it comes to children. But it's hard to resist drama.
In drama, however, there is destruction.
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