A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
The King of Pop is dead, and the engines of our hopelessly adrift mass media are pumping out tsunamis of emotion into our living rooms, automobiles, and hand-held devices. Make no mistake about it - emotion is King in America today. Jackson's passing is clearly a sad and unfortunate event, but the seismic emotional reactions to it are off the charts, akin almost to those triggered by the assassination of John Kennedy.
I submit that while such tsunamuis of "feeling" have many causes, the High Priestess of this movement is none other than Oprah the Great. She has ushered in the Era of Emotion, concocting a carcinogenic cocktail mixed of medicine, psychology, and new-age theology, which The Wall Street Journal years ago insightfully labeled therapeutic feelingness.
Oprah has taught us that nothing really matters now except how we feel. Forget about things like context, cause and effect, or centuries of moral and ethical framework - all that matters is how we FEEL. And so completely is this message now woven into our culture that we see the inevitable result: Tom Cruise jumping up and down on her couch, pumping his fists in the air and screaming, all presumably in the primal exultation of being, well - of being Tom Cruise.
I remember the old Phil Donahue show. It originated as a serious forum and venue for the discussion of meaningful topics. His guests once included prominent physicians who had discovered some important breakthrough, experts on family relationships, an author of a new and interesting book, etc. But it quickly degnerated into a peep-show of American celebrity, interested only in the outrageous and the generation of ratings. In the 1990's the great Phil Hartman's caricatures of Donahue on Saturday Night Live were the stuff of legend. They were so hilariously funny because they were so penetratingly true.
But Oprah has far surpassed anything that "the Phil" ever conceived, and while she may be better than a host of the hate-filled purveyors of American filth that now populate the afternoon screens (Springer, Maury, etc.), she has put an entire nation "on the couch" so to speak, and helped to convince it that nothing matters other than what we FEEL.
And so we see the death of Michael Jackson, instead of initiating any thoughtful dialog or analysis, instead serve as the cause of an out-pouring of unbridled feeling the likes of which were once reserved for the passing of Presidents or larger than life heroes. Jackson was a quintessential entertainer who captured lightning in a bottle with his talent and the emergence of technology. But sadly it became a life that was at the very best, shrouded in an utterly dark and alternative reality; a reality that leaves us groping for adjectives, with the descriptive "weird" being wholly inadequate. And at worst - well, we all know what it was at worst.
But today Oprah reigns as Queen of the land, and no one dares suggest that the King of Pop was anything other than a wonderful, misunderstood human being; a butterfy whose gossamer wings were hopelessly ensnared in the tangled web of society's ills. HE was the beautiful one - it was SOCIETY (us) that drove him into his life of reclusive darkness. Is there no one in the mass media with the courage to question this? Is there no one who, while acknowledging his legitimate celebrity and star power, will question what IMPACT or AFFECT his life had for the purposes of anything containing lasting meaning or value?
Such a person, were he or she to do so, would undoubtedly be summoned to Oprah's couch for some intensive counseling sessions. The recesses of their childhood would be plumbed to determine what had turned them into such a hate-filled person, and a quest would be launched to convert this person into an adherent of the religion of "therapeutic feelingness".
The King of Pop is Dead.
Long live the Queen.