where the writers are
Death Porn
bibliomaniac
Amazon.com Amazon.com
Powell's Books Powell's Books

In a 2008 issue called 'Gone Too Soon,' PEOPLE magazine's editor admitted that when Elvis died in 1977, PEOPLE, then a new magazine, feared that featuring the passing of the acknowledged scion of modern rock and roll would be "too morbid." In a magazinedevoted to "the headlong energy of celebrity and popular culture" readers, the editors feared, would recoil.

Instead, the magazine gave 171 words to Presley's death -- above an item about a new Dorothy Hamill ice-skating doll. The editors of the special issue on dead icons explained, in the introduction to the 'Gone Too Soon' collectors' issue that the choice was "stupendously wrong." "Readers made that clear in 1980" when a PEOPLE devoted to John Lennon's murder became the most popular issue ever. Since then, PEOPLE, along with everybody else, has made a point of covering the passing of famous people.

Death, and there is no solemn way to say this, sells. People, nay PEOPLE! Did a house have to fall on you? As Don Henley sang,"Get the widow on the set/Give us dirty laundry."

The recent endless, unrelieved unrelievedness of the press feast over Michael Jackson's bones proves this beyond the slightest doubt.  To his desk, Larry King invited everyone who'd ever met or even shaken hands with Michael Jackson, from his spiritual advisor to his trainer to his erstwhile bodyguard to Liza Minelli, who seemed not to know for sure if she were in town or not -- for night after night after night of repeated anecdote and speculation. As the King of CNN rightly predicted just hours after the singer's untimely death, and I paraphrase here, "If you think the uproar over AnnaMarie's death was something, you ain't seen nothing yet." King, who also repeatedly called Lou Ferrigno, Lou "Ferragamo," was referring to the death of Anna Nicole Smith -- an event for which he had also appointed himself the video cantor.

Long have I heard -- and often, often, often -- we in America, among our many other emotional failings, do not really "deal" with death. We prettify and ignore it. We avoid its significance. 

"Thee colonists,' wrote an anonymous scholar in 1680, "would soon bury the corpse than mourn."

Well, that might have been so before refrigeration. I don't know if Michael Jackson, now dead longer than the Latin language, is yet buried. 

We do not ignore death.

On the contrary. We lionize. We slurp it. We bathe in it. We revel in sorrow over the famous far more than we might over the demise of our own estranged sisters. In our mass character-analysis autopsies of the page and the air, we leave no headstone unturned. Websites are devoted to autopsy reports of the famed. Websites are devoted to photos of the victims of murderers.

Call us not avoiders. We sing songs that sweeten suicide. We do now, and always have, write ditties about murderers and preserve their crimes on film. I've been to two weddings at which the first dance was the theme from The Godfather. reverence the blighted rose.

In fact, as we may soon see with the oft-reviled Sen. Edward Kennedy, we actually prefer our prestigious posthumous.

The only good former child star is a late former child star, preferably by his or her own hand. 

Does that make you sick? Does the word "tribute" have an undertone of ka-ching? Whadya, cynical? Or have you been paying attention?

 

 

Comments
3 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

"Death be not proud."

"Death be not proud."

Comment Bubble Tip

Der Weg ist das Ziel

Perhaps we in the West are obsessed with 'endings' and not the journeys themselves, or at least more now than in times past. It seems so often that things are about how it will end up, or how quickly we can get there. Life is a journey, and as they say in German, 'the journey is the destination.'

I do wish you hadn't used the word 'porn' in your title there. I've seen it used in a similar way often lately, for example 'torture porn' to describe a recent vogue for movies featuring torture, such as 'Hostel', and 'grief porn', the describe media oversaturation whenever a natural disater occurs and a lot of people die. I think it's ugly and inappropriate. Leave the porn to the pornographers in their squalid little hovels, and use a better way to describe the media's infatuation with death.

Comment Bubble Tip

I agree

about the word "porn" but I cannot find a better way to describe the squalid obsession with that media infatuation. Actually, one of my sons suggested the word in connection with hurricanes and tornadoes, calling them "weather porn," the only time the meteorologists seemed truly excited. I agree it is an ugly word.