Ken Connor

Last week, in the midst of President Obama's efforts to push unprecedented expansions of federal regulatory authority through Congress, North Korea's bellicose threats of nuclear annihilation, and the Iranian regime's brutal campaign to suppress political dissent, the American public's attention was focused elsewhere.

On June 25th, 2009, the nation plunged into mourning upon learning of the tragic deaths of Michael Jackson—inimitable King of Pop—and Hollywood's original "angel" Farah Fawcett. In the time it took for a commercial break, the coverage of the Iranian protests, the debates about cap and trade and healthcare reform, and the diplomatic efforts to recover two American journalists being detained in a North Korean prison all but disappeared. It was eclipsed by footage of distraught fans, video montages, musical tributes, celebrity elegies, and speculation about how the Obama administration might respond.

This lopsided allocation of media attention and public focus is an ominous indicator of how shallow and superficial we've become as a nation, and calls into question whether a nation fixated on entertainment possesses the maturity, discipline, judgment, and civic virtue necessary to preserve freedom in an increasingly hostile world.

While the deaths of two pop-culture icons are certainly newsworthy, the amount of news coverage devoted to America's celebrity obsession is grossly out of proportion in light of the weighty issues confronting our country at this hour. Have we become so shallow, so superficial, SO celebrity-obsessed that Michael Jackson's death is more upsetting, more real to us, than images of democratic protesters bleeding in the streets—that participating in the shameful exploitation of Jon and Kate Gosselin's crumbling marriage on TLC is more important than watching congressional debates about the future of our health care system on C-SPAN?

In the introductory chapter of his book, The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk discusses the concept of order and how it relates to the success or failure of any society. According to Kirk, "[the civil social] order signifies the performance of certain duties and the enjoyment of certain rights in a community." He suggests that "a disordered existence is a confused and miserable existence. If a society falls into general disorder, many of its members will cease to exist at all. And if the members of a society are disordered in spirit, the outward order of the commonwealth cannot endure."

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.