You Know His Name. You Know His Music. But Please, For God’s Sake, Let Him Rest in Peace.

I refuse to mention his name. You know who he is. He passed away on Thursday, June 25, 2009 of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles. You’ve heard his music. You’ve seen his videos on MTV. You’re read all the gossip about him, talked about his bizarre behavior with your friends, laughed at all the jokes about him on late night television. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

But I still refuse to mention his name.

“The Man Who Shall Remain Nameless” was an undisputed giant in American pop culture. He was a gifted performer, peerless dancer, sensational singer, and an inspiration to musicians everywhere. His contributions to our collective popular culture cannot be underestimated. His records have sold more than 750 million copies worldwide. His fame as an entertainer has drawn comparisons to legendary icons such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley. That is quite an accomplishment for just one man.

That said, people (in the sense of both media creators and media consumers) need to stop dwelling on his death and let him rest in peace. For the sake of his family and close friends, all this media attention is doing nothing to help them cope with his sudden death. Sure, tributes by famous celebrities are nice, but enough is enough. Some people want to mourn a loved one’s death without paparazzi cameras flashing in their face 24/7. I know I would.

But none of his should be surprising. After all, he is a music icon loved by the world. In the 1980s, he was the face of the music scene. He electrified audience members all over the world with his dazzling concerts and indisputably catchy songs. He started as a child star, growing up in the national spotlight as the “front man” of a singing group comprised of his brothers, also gifted singers. He became famous before most of us start middle school.

As his musical fame waned, he started to act strangely in public and became involved in pedophilia allegations. His celebrity status became tainted with off-the-wall personal antics, odd physical deformities, and once again, charges of pedophilia. His death precluded a scheduled 50-performane “come back” concert series that was promised to bring him back to the national spotlight and international stardom. Instead, he died just like anyone else. Just like those courageous Iranian protestors. Just like our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just like people everywhere in every country in the world.

This is not to say that his death is insignificant. Every death of a human being is significant. His music did in fact impact people from all corners of the planet. But does his particular death deserve constant front page news coverage of every newspaper and news website? Definitely not. Should the public be informed of more important news issues like Iran, federal bailouts, tobacco regulation, gay rights, and state budget woes? Definitely yes.

“The Man Who Shall Remain Nameless” does deserve some recognition for being one of the first prominent African American media musical stars in mainstream society. He rose to fame by breaking out of the Motown establishment and into the homes of everyday white America. He did all this before hip hop became a mainstream genre of pop music. That deserves attention and remembrance. But please, don’t overdo it.

It would not benefit any of us to whine about the media and their celebrity-centered fetishistic reporting. We all know that entertainment news gets way too much press. We all know Americans need to know more about domestic and foreign affairs than what Us Weekly reports on a regular basis. We all know this. So there’s no point in arguing about that.

What does need discussion is who to blame for all this. Do we blame the media creators (also known as “gatekeepers”) for feeding us nothing but celebrity “journalism” or we the people for wanting more and more of it? I always believe that consumers play just as important of a role in these things than those who put it out. Should we blame Big Oil for creating a quasi-imperialistic presence in the Middle East or the everyday consumer who buys oil products on a daily basis? Do we blame tobacco companies for making carcinogenic “death sticks” (Star Wars fans should catch that reference) or smokers who foolishly light up and get hooked?

It is no fact that Big Media are losing money fast. Newspapers are closing everywhere around the country. Television news is depending more on screaming talking heads than civil discussion, all to keep ratings up. Talk radio is becoming more politically polarized everyday, just to pander to a particular demographic. News has become a free commodity because of the Internet. The list goes on.

There may be no clear answer for who is to blame for making the death of “The Man Who Shall Remain Nameless” more important news than a June 30th deadline for all U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities. In a war that is more than six years old, this is a major step toward scaling back the American presence in post-invasion Iraq. President Obama’s plan to end the war completely by 2011 depends on how well the Iraqi military handles its own security. If they seem independent enough and don’t need U.S. support to fight against the insurgency and al Qaeda, our men and women in uniform can begin to come home. So, this is really important news. But who’s reporting on this?

But, cynicism about the integrity of the mainstream media should not last forever. The popular press has been in worse positions. Think back to the era of “yellow journalism” in the late 19th century when media moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst employed a war over media sensationalism that almost destroyed the American newspaper (that might be an overstatement, but “yellow journalism” certainly did not help make the modern media business model a healthy one). Those days may not be completely over, but it could be worse. Today is not worse.

Young Iranians are hoping for “change” in that country. A change away from despotism. A change away from theocratic rule. A change toward a more free and open society. American whippersnappers claimed last year to hope for the same thing, but they seem complacent to actually bring that about. Paying more attention to celebrity deaths than meaningful political/national/world news is not a good way to change our world. But that is a whole other debate.

For now, briefly mourn the death of “The Man Who Shall Remain Nameless” and move on with your life. Feed your dog. Take your kids out to the beach. Go work out at the gym. Read a newspaper, for God’s sake. And not just the funnies (although, you can do that later). Make sure your life does not revolve around the death of another. Yes, he was famous, but he was only one man. Your life is much more important to you than his is.

But in the meantime, I still refuse to mention his name.

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One Comment on “You Know His Name. You Know His Music. But Please, For God’s Sake, Let Him Rest in Peace.”

  1. you'll never guess Says:

    Thank you. Just thank you.

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