Home > Music, TV > The public stages of grief (Ruminations on Jacko's death)

The public stages of grief (Ruminations on Jacko's death)

As someone who gets a kick watching the media overreact to, well, anything, the last few weeks have been treeeee-mendous.  I mean, the death of Michael Jackson was a tragedy to his friends and family.  It was a kick in the gut for his biggest fans.  For the other 95% of us, who were consuming all this coverage, what was our stake in the game?

It led me to believe that, just as their are “five stages of grief” (which I covered in a helpful article to Dook fans a few years back) there has to be different stages of grief for the general public.  Whereas grieving the loss of a family member or a friend can be an intensely private thing, the reverse is true when a celebrity dies.  It’s an intensely public display of (often manufactured) emotion. You flock to public places to be with others who are “grieving.”  You leave notes at homes and businesses affiliated with the departed. And, in the case of Michael Jackson, the entire country gets worked into such a froth… I mean, we were a casket-carrying riot away from an Ayatollah funeral.

The country can, it would seem, just go apeshit when celebrities pass away. But, why?   I figure there must be some public stages of grief that we collectively go through. And when I say “we,” I mean the collective American culture – citizens, the media, public leaders… everyone.

1)  Reaction – As in, “Dude, can you believe Michael Jackson died?”  This leads to the iconic “I remember where I was when I heard ____” moment.  Such as, I remember where I was when I heard that the Challenger exploded.  Mr. Morrisey’s 7th grade social studies class.  This is the most innocent and honest of all the stages. It’s not contrived or manufactured.

2) Overreaction – This could also be called the “snowball effect.”  You see one person reacting, and you feed off of that.  If you’re in an office environment, this can spread like wildfire.  At this point, you talk openly about how listening to the Thriller album was a seminal moment in your life.  Indeed, maybe it was a positive, fun memory.  But was it really that big of a deal?  More so than when you heard, say, 10 other albums in your life?  I mean, I distinctly remember hearing “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard for the first time.  Hence, my introduction to the Hysteria album, and by all means, it was a decent memory.  If Joe Elliott drops dead tomorrow (God forbid), I’d be tempted to overreact and make some grand statements about that moment. It really wasn’t a big deal, but it was my connection to that group.  See what I’m getting at?

3) Hyper-reaction – What happens when the above scenario hits the media?  When you have multiple 24-hour news channels, all searching for an angle? When you have interview after interview, each person trying to top the accolades set forth by the previous guy?  What does that lead to?  Multiple reporters standing outside of Forest Lawn Cemetery opining loudly (not to mention wrongly) about the whereabouts of Jacko’s body.  Just awful.

4) Amnesia – At some point within a day or two, we collectively reach a point where we stop looking at the deceased public figure objectively.  Anything negative that person ever did? Gone. Take Ronald Reagan, as an example.  While he was certainly one of the more highly-regarded presidents over the past few decades (and was it that hard after Nixon-Ford-Carter?), the coverage of his death lionized the man, almost as a deceased monarch.  The early 1980s unemployment, Iran-Contra, Bedtime for Bonzo – all forgotten.  Same with Jacko, although the omissions were even all the more glaring.  If you heard about the “alleged” pedophilia, it was always in the context of IF it damaged his stature.  In the preceding two decades, his bizarre, damn-near felonious episodes made him the fodder for jokes and snickers in all circles.  But all of that?  Forgotten upon death.

5) Wonderment – As in, where do we go from here?  Have you ever gorged on an entire meal of doughnuts and other junk food?  Sure, you feel sated for a bit, but the feeling doesn’t last.  You’re hollow and unfulfilled.  That’s what happens at the end of the cycle.  You’ve eulogized the public figure until he’s an unrecognized deity. And it feels weird after it’s over.  Because you know that someone else is going to kick it soon.  And the cycle may start again.

Too bad none of us went through this with Karl Malden or Billy Mays.  They deserved at least a little hysteria.  No, not the Def Leppard album.  The other kind.

Categories: Music, TV
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