Friday, June 26, 2009

When a Public Figure Dies

No one wants to speak ill of those who are deceased, yet I always find the same consistently bizarre development when someone in the public eye passes away. Bizarre to me, anyway.

Human beings immediately develop a sense of fond remembrance for people when they die. No one wants to remember negative aspects of someones life. It's one of the few endearing parts about human nature that never gets noticed.

This act is consistent with the immediate legacy of someone in the public eye. In the last few hours, this has been readily apparent to me with the death of Michael Jackson. Here is a man who's persona has literally been possessed by the public for in excess of 30 years. Everything he's done since adolescence has been analyzed by people. Shotty check-out line publications funded their entire payroll off hearsay regarding him.

For my entire time on Earth as a thinking, functioning person, Michael Jackson has been dubbed grade-A, bat shit insane by most people. I'm 24. I wasn't around for the peak of Thriller, or the Jackson 5. Obviously, I'm well aware of his musical catalog, but for my entire life, he's just been an aging entertainer tied up in legal battles regarding child molestation. THAT'S my overwhelming impression of him.

To hear people's reaction to this news, though, you would think he was a Verile, mid-twenties superstar, with his hand on the pulse of music. "Shock?" "Surreal?" Seriously, how is this a shock? The man has looked like a zombie for a decade. I feel for any loved ones when they lose someone who passes away, but how can the public express shock at this news?

My point is not to berate Michael Jackson. It's that I can't help but be fascinated every time a public figure passes away, people share this unified sense of humanity. This invariably leads to people narrowing their view of a person's life into a myopic, flowery image that best suits whatever glowing impression the deceased DID make on their lives.

When Tupac Shakur passed away I was 11, and he was my favorite musician. I of course paid no mind to his assault charges, nefarious actions, etc. I was 1) sad my favorite rapper was gone, and 2) invariably thought about my own death, which unfortunately I did way too much as a kid. I say this because he was probably the most personal example I can recall of a public figure dying that I was most saddened by.

People will wax poetic for several days and weeks about Michael Jackson. His musical legacy is obviously impossible to deny. But as is the case with everyone who dies, the public perspective on them glistens less as time goes on. The haze of human emotion that clouds their immediate legacy drifts away in time.

Just something I find interesting anytime the world loses a public figure.

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