The ‘Thriller’ Dance is Not a Panacea

alex01thumbAs you may have noticed (but probably didn’t), I haven’t been around much lately. The reason for this was that I was out of the range of internet for most of the past week or so, due to being in airports, and also spending a lot of my time in Peru in forced exile from the internet, save for the occasional non-texted Twitter update and clearing my inbox.

While on internet holiday, I realized something: 24-hour broadcast news, when it is your only source of information, is about as reliable as a perforated brake line. I know that 24 hours is a long time, and I appreciate learning about the Nigerian film industry (the third most productive in the world, by the by), but when three hours (at least) of unbroken coverage is entirely devoted to reports that Michael Jackson is dead, speculation on Michael Jackson being dead, endless clips of Michael Jackson music videos in case he is dead and CNN doesn’t want to look like it dropped the ball, finding out that Michael Jackson was actually dead, interviewing tearful fans holding vigil outside his hospital, ignoring Farrah Fawcett being dead except for a twelve-second sequence that consists entirely of “Farrah Fawcett died of cancer today, she was 62, now back to Michael Jackson”, and preliminary speculations from a pathologist about why Michael Jackson died, it gets a little excessive. When Larry King Live was over and AC360 came on, I thought, “Oh, good, Andy C, you’re a solid reporter with a reputation for caring about the downtrodden and taken-advantage-of who are engaged in violent conflict, now tell me about Iran.” But no, the MJ coverage ran on and on and on until I had to check with the Patent Office to see if CNN hadn’t changed its name to “The Michael Jackson Channel; Incidentally, We Do News Too. But Only On Weekends At 3:47 In The Morning. In Tajikistan.”

Okay, no more run-on sentences. I’ll be good.

I turned on CNN the next day. More MJ. Still more MJ. More and more and more. Anyone would think that nothing else was happening in the world other than everyone setting aside their politics and their guns and their hatred and mourning the King of Pop as we would, I don’t know, the Pope. I only had a brief inkling of the coup in Honduras due to catching a glimpse of Spanish-language CNN in the Cusco airport on Sunday morning. That’s about it. I spent the rest of Sunday and about half of Monday in airports and on airplanes and with no other source of information than CNN International, which was eternally fixated on Michael Jackson. I got in to JFK at about eight in the morning, found my gate for the hop to DC, and what was on TV but CNN Headline News. Ah! Bernie Madoff! No, wait, more Michael Jackson.

Am I actually going crazy, or do we have nothing better to report on in this world? It’s like while in flight, I crossed over into an alternate dimension where Michael Jackson is suddenly more important than Iran. Iran has a nuclear program that could conceivably be used to create weapons; last time I checked, the Neverland Ranch did not. Although you never know, with MJ.

(Then again, I must remember that I live in a world where Twilight somehow has enormous popularity despite being less engaging than a gum wrapper and where Blade Runner was originally released in the US with a crap ending. Of course we want to hear about Michael Jackson. It’s not as intellectually stimulating and doesn’t raise any of the hard questions as does watching a revolution that we can’t get involved in, so let’s move on to lighter fare.)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel just a little patronized by all this, that I’m being given a pat on the head and told not to worry about scary old Iran anymore, here’s a moonwalk-flavored lollipop and a shiny object. I feel like Peter Finch in Network, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Yell it out your window. See if they’ll listen. I’ll wait.

Since we’re on the subject of Michael Jackson, the only tribute to the King of Pop I have to offer is this video, which I mostly really love because I can’t believe my school is really this awesome.

Abruptly switching tack to one of the stories that got somewhat shafted due to MJ’s demise, which would have likely been given more coverage since now everyone and their pet hamster is worried about their rail transit systems: The Metrorail Disaster. I love the DC Metro – it’s clean, it’s safe (barring incredibly rare tragic accidents like this) and it’s convenient as all get-out. (Just so you know how much I love the Metro, I really want the little squeezy foam Metro train, but I’m trying to accrue enough public-transportation-fangirl-nerdiness points in one go to actually buy it.) For those of you who, like me, also enjoy reading blow-by-blow accounts of disasters out of an obsessive need to know things and analyze the aftermath and how people deal with extreme stress, here’s this Washington Post article. Note for the weak of constitution: It is gut-wrenching and horrifying, but also weirdly fascinating.

In a 30-minute news broadcast, I understand the need to prioritize. Obviously, big events come first. But on a 24-hour news network, especially a highly respected one with several different channels attached to it, one would think that there would be more than enough airtime (CNN, HLN, and CNNi have 72 hours to fill per day) to talk about Iran, Honduras, Bernie Madoff, Governor Sanford, Farrah Fawcett, Patti Blagojevich, Darfur, Gaza, and a water-skiing squirrel without having to fall back on constant repetition of every banal factoid about Michael Jackson just to fill time. There’s other stuff to report on besides dead celebrities, guys. The loss of human life is a tragedy whether it’s one due to heart problems or nine in a tragic accident; but there seems to be prioritization based on how much they think the American people at large will care. The old journalistic maxim, “If it bleeds, it leads,” is gone, replaced with “If it’s about a celebrity or politician, cut everything else and devote a six-hour block to it.”

“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” Stalin had that right, if the modern media is anything to go by.



  1. did you notice that right after michael jackson died, US troops relinquished control of iraqi cities?

  2. Well, we’d lost the Moonwalk, I mean, come on. What power did we have over the Iraqis after that?

  3. Once again, Alex, excellent article! And so damn right on, too!

    I was told by a friend that they heard an individual say that it was like 9/11 all over again. Puleezeeee!! That was the most disgusting comparison I have ever heard.

    Oh and your school’s little ditty there–you know, white people can’t dance. LOL! Just kidding. But, I actually prefer this version of a group copying the whole Thriller dance–which starts at the 35 second mark:

  4. […] our world, i.e. shows like “Extra” or the TV channel “E!”.  Or how about CNN constantly covering the death of a legendary […]

  5. […] John Ziegler I know we’ve already had Michael Jackson stories from Christina and Alex, and my own modest effort, but as my able colleagues pointed out, this is the model of restraint […]

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