Opinion: What Killed Michael Jackson? We Did

by reporter Brett Warner

As previously speculated, the planned Discovery Channel special Michael Jackson’s Autopsy: What Really Killed Michael Jackson has been “postponed indefinitely” following a barrage of intense complaints from fans and members of Jackson’s estate, as well as legal ramifications involving a court appearance by Jackson’s on hand doctor, Conrad Murray, later this week. The desperately perverse ratings trap— excuse me, “hour long special”-- was purported to include a graphic re-enactment of the King of Pop’s 2009 autopsy.

With the continuation of seemingly endless airtime devoted to the late entertainer—not to mention the Frankenstein’s monster cut & paste job calling itself Michael, in stores now--, many casual observers and even Jackson’s most dedicated fans seem to miss the tragic irony of what really lead to MJ’s death in the first place: the media. Yes, before all the veils and hats, before all the child molestation allegations and bizarre rumors, before the pressure-induced drug habits and before Conrad Murray, there was just Michael… and a couple billion of us, staring at him. The more we bought into Michael Jackson, the more private he became, secluding himself away from the constant attention and intense scrutiny that we love to douse over our celebrities. Like a lone waffle drowning in a plateful of syrup, Michael Jackson had too much on him, too often, and for too long. For all the media boo-hooing following his death, nobody seems to remember a significant portion of the music itself: “Scream”, “Leave Me Alone”, “Tabloid Junkie”, “Stranger In Moscow”, even the awkwardly produced “Breaking News” off the new CD— all blatant tales of prosecution, loneliness, and forced martyrdom written by a guy who paid dearly, mentally and physically, for our insatiable interest in him.

Did Michael Jackson deserve all the endless coverage? Probably. Was his untimely death a tragedy? Absolutely, of course. Yet any culture capable of addressing life and death in terms of profitability needs to take a giant Moonwalk step backwards and look at what it’s become. How sick are we that we’ve trained our television networks to literally cut up our icons for our mild, semi-curious amusement? What I find infinitely more offensive than the Discovery Channel’s pathetic attention-grabber is the fact that a year and a half after his demise, we’re still stabbing at Jackson’s corpse like a giant circle of Roman senators, each taking their turn at twisting the blade.

I’ll tell you what killed Michael Jackson: being Michael Jackson. Yes, living life as the King of Pop is fatal. Now we know. I’ve long contented myself to the fact that Jackson was an extremely talented singer, writer, performer, and all around interesting public figure who captured the world’s collective imagination--good and bad--for more than thirty years, and perhaps his eventual decline was inevitable. Although he famously once sang that “they don’t really care about us”, the truth is, we cared way too much. The best way to honor Michael Jackson’s memory, after all the harm we’ve already done, is to just simply let him be. It was all he ever really wanted in the first place.

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