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The Day When Two Famous White Women Died

 michael jackson

Clearly I used that post title for shock value.

I’m actually writing this on the day of the death of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, but I refuse to post as soon as I’m done with this simply because I think there are more pressing issues to deal with in life.

I received a text message from a good friend that read “Welp, we lost two white women today Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson done slipped on into glory”  and I couldn’t help but laugh.  I literally hooted and hollered for a couple of seconds.  Call me calloused or what not, but when I seriously say that my life has not and will not be affected by the death of Michael Jackson and most certainly not Farrah Fawcett now that both of them have died.

I’ve always wondered why do we as a country have all of this effuse outpouring of emotion when the death of a celebrity occurs.  I remember that some of my friends scolded me last fall when Jennifer Hudson had to deal with the public murders of her close family members and I wrote a scathing post about how is it that churches across the country and most certainly back in my hometown were putting up signs about how the Hudson family was in their prayers all of a sudden.  I called the thought process into question because I was concerned about the nameless children from Chicago Public Schools who had been senselessly murdered, but there wasn’t even remotely the amount of outpouring of grief nor outpouring of rage in our communities.

I understand that the families of both of these celebrities have real feelings that are no more real or no more fake than any other families’ emotions and gut wrenching pain they experience when a death occurs.  I’m not at all saying that they shouldn’t be expressing emotions, I’m just left scratching my head as to why so many people who have no real human connection to Michael aside from a concert or two, and many of us just saw him on our TV screens, are experiencing and expressing such deep-seated emotions.

By all respects, Michael Jackson, and even Farrah Fawcett were icons for their generation.  And of course Michael Jackson was very much a part of of Americana.  Many adults in their 30s and 40s grew up with Michael Jackson as far as his music being a soundtrack to their lives, but still I question just how and why do we attach ourselves to celebrities to this level?  The reality is that the same people who have this outpouring of emotion toward a man they never met on Facebook and Twitter, are the same people who had nothing but mean things to say about fathers on this past Sunday for Father’s Day–what’s the disconnect?

I’m not at all asking us to diminish the fact that yet another human being has made a transition, or rather succumbed to the ultimate statistic that befalls 10 out of 10 people, but I do question to what point do we really draw the line.  I fully understand the death, and most certainly the murder of individuals such as a John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, a Medgar Evers or a Martin Luther King simply because a community and even a country’s collective hope had been placed (or maybe misplaced) in a human.  Aside from breaking the color barrier on MTV with “Thriller” I’m not sure that the quality of life of anyone black or white, young or old was substantially affected by Michael Jackson.

And I hold the same standard for any celebrity.  

Y’all know I love being the dissenting opinion, so would you have expected anything less from the Uppity Negro?  I think being the dissenting or opposing opinion (except maybe in the case of the chronically and critically confused Clarence Thomas) prevents groupthink, or the idea that because one or two begin to engage in one train of thought that a discussion should be had in order to get both sides of the opinion.  I’m sure many people will find this post, dare-say, irreverent, is that not appropriate for much of the life that Michael Jackson lead?  One fraught with this weird skin color change, the horrid effects of plastic surgery, someone who clearly “had a lot on his mind,” and we most certainly didn’t have any problems when Chris Rock included a Michael Jackson joke in his comedy of his movie “I Think I Love My Wife.”

And while I’m here at this point–every black person I knew would have laughed at some type of Michael Jackson joke.  In fact, I’ve heard him being referred to as a “white woman” long before today–so because something that really is a natural occurence of life has happened–death–all jokes are off?  

Gimme a break.

Let the jokes continue.  Why?  Because yesterday, two famous white women died.

It would be nice if I got a crapload of comments following this post.  I don’t mind the good, the bad, the ugly and even the downright nasty.  But I won’t tolerate the personal attacks from trolls, so lemme here it.  I would really, however, appreciate it if you would actually engage the ideas that I presented in this post rather than just sound off at me, but to each his own, I’d love to hear from you.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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22 thoughts on “The Day When Two Famous White Women Died

  1. Life has the possibility of being many things. It is my hope that when I die someone can say that I have impacted them in some way as to make them greater. I realize that many came before me that I will never meet that in some way have helped shaped me into who I am and who it is that I will be one day.
    And with that said I am positive that Michael Jackson was not one of those people. And while I am sympathetic towards his family, my life is still not altered by it all.

    I must admit I was starting to feel bad because I thought I was the only one who wasn’t “in mourning”. But honestly it is hard for me to get worked up over someone I never met in life, and don’t get me wrong this feeling doesn’t just go for celebrity deaths, when my uncle who I had never met died I shed no tear as well.
    But now I am greatly disturbed by the whole thing. I saw via twitter that people are beginning to get tattooed with MJ’s birth and death dates. ARE YOU SERIOUS? No, better question: ARE YOU STUPID?
    And while it usually is my habit to read your blog and not comment, I’m not shy in saying you hit this one on the head. (despite what you think I’m not always against your posts) Keep writing.

  2. You are not old enough to remember the radical force Jackson was, and to be honest, I did not “get it” when John Lennon died (or–to be fair–when TuPac died).

    I just remind you that
    1) Jackson shattered the de facto segregation at a fledging network called MTV
    2) Jackson created a catalog of music unparalleled before or since in US popular music, one that will outlast him. I highly doubt that, 39 years after I start working, my work will be as influential in my field as his will continue to be in his own.
    3) Jackson was one of the first celebrities to break the AIDS taboo through his friendship with Ryan White, and did so publicly and intentionally.
    4) Jackson was one of the first celebrities to bring international attention to the Ethiopian famine through the We Are the World/Live AID effort, for which he composed the anthem
    5) Jackson did a host of philanthropic work, including his own Heal the World foundation.

    You are, frequently, dismissive of that which you do not understand. That is, unfortunately, the arrogance of youth.

    We all go through it.

    • @UppityProf

      As always, I try and approach a subject with the idea that there is still yet more information, and I feel that I’m, shall we say, Obama-isitic, in my approach: when other or new information reveals itself, I may or may not change my opinion. I am speaking from my location on this one, of course and really much of my analysis was pointed to the celebrity in general–Michael Jackson notwithstanding. I was, and still am, interested as to why the masses have these emotional connections with people who we only see on the television, or may hear only on the radio. We develop and associate personality opinions to them that may or may not be true.

      To take Chris Brown and Rihanna for instance, we associated personalities to them based only a few concerts and media appearances and tried to make sense of the domestic violence case–which may or may not be true. Michael Jackson on the other hand, from the mid-nineties and forward, gave the public much fodder for some absolute craziness juxtaposed to his childhood pre-Thriller shall we say. Most of the recent, and recent for a few years, Jackson wasn’t defined by his music, but rather by his “wacko Jacko” routine.

      For me, sadly, despite what he may have done, as you outlined, seemed to be heavily shadowed by his later years. Moreover, if people are willing to excuse in death him holding his baby over a hotel balcony, then why are we so slow to forgive our own family members who we see on a much more frequent basis and have real connections.

      Also, I’m a bit confused because you invoke TuPac and John Lennon and you say that you didn’t “get it” when they died, then why do I get the impression that it’s not okay for me to “get it” with Michael Jackson’s death?

      • I’m late to the party, and there are already plenty of answers to your question, but this:

        “To take Chris Brown and Rihanna for instance, we associated personalities to them based only a few concerts and media appearances and tried to make sense of the domestic violence case–which may or may not be true.”

        bugs me. Why? Because Chris Brown apologized after it happened. He then went on to plead guilty to the charges. Is it his celebrity that causes you to question the truth of these events, even after an apology, considerable evidence, a guilty plea, and subsequent conviction on felony charges?

      • @ i.l.l.

        Thanks for stopping by over here!

        I’m not a psychologist, I don’t think I’m well read enough on the topic that I’m trying to reach, so the best I can do is offer an opinion. That being said, I think we construct realities based on force-fed “facts” concerning celebrities. For me to personally question Chris Brown’s guilty-ness in the domestic case concerning Rihanna is based on his celebrity status just as much as someone else’s opinion concerning it.

        To my point, I just think it’s very interesting how we may sanitize a celebrity, such as Michael Jackson (and I’m sure a plethora of others) and be slow to talk about the many hang-ups that he had, versus quickly vilifying another such as Chris Brown.

  3. I do understand your meaning and your question, as to why people seem to have such a connection to a celebrity they never met.

    I think in this case, the professor is right. MJ’s influence was unparalleled in many areas. Also, MJ was frequently a target of the media because of his strange behavior and legal trouble. It seems everyone loves an underdog!

    But perhaps it’s also the music. Much of his music brings to mind a time, an era in some people’s lives. It affects them in such a way that they are passionate about it.

    Also it may be hard for people to understand that a person can be blessed and cursed at the same time. To see such talent and hard work by one person, and what they had to “trade” for it. It’s very compelling.

    • @caramella

      I’m not sure how to re-word the question.

      I’m just very interested as to how and why do individuals become emotionally attached to the point of mass hysteria when it comes to celebrities and their death.

      • I thought I did answer…those were 3 reasons. You asked that, but your question seemed to use MJ as a frame of reference. The reasons were his influence, his music, and the strange way in which he lived his life.

        I’d also say a 4th reason is the excessive media coverage on certain aspects of the death.

  4. I appreciate the diversity in thought process here….Uppity Negro I too for years have had the same question have yet to get an answer that makes understand this phenomenon.

  5. If, God forbid, Barack Obama were to die would you ask the same question? Or would you be grieving? And if you would be grieving, why?

    Michael Jackson was to popular music what Barack Obama was to politics.

    • @uppity prof

      Well, I probably wouldn’t ask the same question simply because there was a whole collective hope that was placed on Obama. To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have had the same thoughts concerning Michael Jackson had he befallen an early death 20 or 25 years ago during the 80s. I think the fact that much of the last 15 years Jackson was not defined by his musical talents provides the disconnect for me. And after talking to a few other people, I think that many are afraid to say that they “don’t get it” lest they be the dissenting opinion in a sea of those experiencing the death of Michael Jackson.

  6. That there continues to be an international collective hope based on Michael Jackson passed on to 2 or 3 generations even though he had not performed in 11 years is exactly the point.

    I’m at a conference with both a Brazilian and a Korean who talk about how his music changed their lives. Japan, South Africa, the entire European continent, much of Western Asia, many African countries, many South American countries…they are all in mourning.

    His international star never stopped shining–but a prophet is never understood in his own hometown.

  7. I think the death of the celebrity (whoever he or she is) as a person is not as big of a factor as the part of ourselves that the celebrity represents. It is a similar thing when, say, a beloved eating spot from one’s youth is bulldozed in the old neighborhood, or when an American company that has come for many to embody “American-ness” is threatened with bankruptcy.

    We feel as if a part of ourselves has died, or our childhood, or our national identity. Celebrities are successful in part because they are malleable as images and allow individual people/fans to attach different meanings to them and their work.

    The other factor, of course, is the lie that we convince ourselves that death may pass over us. But when even the richest and most famous and powerful die, we have to face our own mortality.

    The part that is generational is also key. If Aaliyah’s or Lisa Lopez’s or James Brown’s deaths did not impact me on such a deep level, it is because they were not of my generation. I can, as you say, still see their death as sad because they were humans who left behind human family and friends. (Or, in the case of Aaliyah and Left Eye, because of how young they were.) But it goes no further than that for me.

  8. I think it is a somber occasion but it shouldn’t be turned into a national week of mourning. I told me wife I didn’t want to see every single special on Michael Jackson. It’s just too much to take in.

  9. OT (a bit):

    Rev. Otis Moss III made a point at the 6 pm service to duly note the musical / cultural accomplishments of Michael Jackson as important historical markers.

    It was, IMO, appropriate and uppity.

  10. I had a lot to say until I read Uppity Prof’s comment, which really hit the nail on the head. The only thing I would add is that black folks cracking jokes on Michael Jackson is not mutually exclusive with the love and respect we have always had for him. This is how black folks are…there was very little, if any, actually vitriol ever aimed at MJ from our community, just well-deserved chiding and at its worst confusion.

    As to the general phenomenon of ‘celebrity,’ the question you’re asking basically answers itself and you’re generalizing a great deal. A celebrity by definition is someone well-recognized and to recognize them you have to see them, watch them, and learn them and their patterns of behavior. We enjoy them, but when they do wrong we stop and get angry. Its just like real people in our lives, just a sample-sized version without full information. It doesn’t take to feel personally connected enough to a celeb that you mourn their departure from this earth, and its a far cry from the mental illness of not seeing the line between someone you personally know and someone you don’t – thats a stalker.

  11. I think that the answer lies in what it meant to be a celebrity in MJ’s prime vs. what it means to be one now. These days, any one can be a celebrity (ie. Paris Hilton, um, Perez Hilton (!?)), and the connections just aren’t as meaningful for the younger generations. That is, now they are mostly based on shallow gossip and self-aggrandisement. It’s really just shameful. I was around 5 years old when MJ was at his peak, and although I was not aware of his celebrity then, I did feel it and understand it 10, 20 years later, even though I did not experience it first-hand. There was a time when Michael was as authentic as any one had a right to be, and he loved his fans; he lived for them! Where all of that went, and what happened to him is any ones guess. I do agree with you on the point that the mourning process here is a bit extreme. It could be simply fueled by the media. . . no one I know is all that broken up about it. And, to me, all the coverage surrounding his death is all just gossip fodder, designed to incite people to talk about how he supposedly died, and the implications of those suppositions, in an attempt to keep people tuned in not to the fact that he is dead, but rather to the possibility that there is a much greater drama here than there already is. (Meanwhile, his father is using his death as an occasion to sell records). But on the other hand, the MJ had sold over 750 million records. It might be a safe bet to say that most everyone on earth knows of him. In that case, maybe the out-pouring of grief isn’t so spectacular after all?

  12. I for one was one of those people who probably made fun of MJ, and believed that he molestered those kid’s (not denying his talent)…however after he died last week, I began to think maybe I could be wrong, about what I think he did – I don’t know, so how dare I make a judgement! I also started feeling a deep sadness, not only for the loss of an icon, but for a life lived in struggle and pain – a destructive, lonely, sad life. As I proved to myself, it’s easier to look at someone (a celebrity or not) who doesn’t seem fit in with the norm, and ridicule or laugh at them, than it is to look a little deeper and see a human being who is mentally, emotionally and physically suffering, and feel compassion for them – it also scares us, that we just maybe looking at a mirror of ourselves. I know saying this makes me a hypocrite – and it saddens me more to think that it takes the death of someone to make me see why judging something or someone when you cant see or know the truth, is wrong. I have however questioned whether or not my emotion’s are indeed genuine, because I not only never met MJ, but never really gave him much thought – but what does it really matter if you don’t know him personally, under it all we all are connected to each other. So I believe…or I hope my emotions are genuine, not just because MJ was a talented pop icon, but because he was a fellow human being, who was suffering, and like all of us, needed compassion, but didn’t seem to get much.

    Sorry Michael
    Be at Peace

  13. I think the question you ask is too general. People have individual relationships to ‘celebrities’ and what moves them in regards to their life and death are personal. The mass saddness over Michael’s death…it was just too quick and I believe that many did not know he was so ill and heartbroken.

    Michael Jackson was apart of my life for 43 years through his music. I have only been to one concert, but I watched the variety show and the cartoon show growing up. I bought the Jackson 5 records, watched Thriller on MTV, watched the Motown special…etc. I have followed him off an on for 43 years.

    I felt saddness when they picked on him over his oddness. I felt extreme saddness about his skin disorder and people accusing him of wanting to be white. Have you ever seen a black person with that disease. I had a girlfriend who had it and saw a man walking down the street where he was downright mottled. And to be a performer with it? I was just appalled how many black people took that thought of him wanting to be white and running with it and still flapping their mouths off about it.

    I felt sad for him for many years as well as proud of all the joy he gave people.

    I suffered over his molestation trails, never believing that he did it. I think his only crime was that he was just odd. In a bubble from the age of … 7. I though he should have retired when that song ‘Leave Me Alone’ came out. I thought Michael should have just disappeared and try to have a normal life.

    I was faithful to him. That may be an odd thing to say, but even with all the plastic surgeries, the oddness, I still loved him because I thought he just gave us so much of himself and he deserved to be as odd as he wanted to be. I just wished for him to be happy.

    So why I am deeply saddened by his death, more than say Farrah Fawecett’s death? I am sorry for her family, but I did not weep when she died. In fact I have never wept when an entertainer/artist died. But I wept for Michael and still tear up. Because I felt he gave so much to the world that I live in and it feels like a part of me is gone, never to be replaced.

    43 years is a long time…

  14. MJ didn’t break any racial barriers, produce any standards,had only one great album and isn’t even in the top 14 of most gold or platium selling albums.E is numero uno with over 90 which is twice as many as number two at less than 45. Yes, he is the King of Disco/Pop but sadly, also is the King of celebrity freaks. MJ ended up looking like Tiny Tim and his career ended 15 years ago.A hundred years ago, his body would have been paraded around the country by Barnum and Baily. Wait until all the books come out written by all his family members with dirt one can only imagine. His scum-bag father has probably finished half of his already. Close family my ass.

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