Keeping Jacko in Perspective

Yes, Jacko had undeniable talent. And, yes, Thriller drove more sales than any other album ever. But, Jacko released Thriller back in 1982 -- roughly 27 years ago. And, what has he accomplished since? Creatively very little, and the personal story is very mixed. Despite that, his death is the big news story everywhere, both in America and abroad. The King of Pop is Dead. For the major media outlets, this is a much bigger story than what's happening in Iran. Yesterday's pop star is getting far more ink than the potential liberalization of the Middle East. That's sad in concept, but even more so in practice. The success of Iran's protest movement depends on keeping the world's attention. Hence, the signs written in English. Today, that attention is somewhere else. We're already saying, Neda who? Stick a fork in this protest movement. It's feeling done. Sad how the trivial can change history.

PS A reader sent along an article that talks about the risk of the MJ story derailing the important media coverage of the Iran protests. It's something, the article notes, that policy experts are apparently concerned about. Worth a read.

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  • yo momma says:

    When farrah fawcett got to the pearly gates, they asked her what her final wish would be. She said she’d be at peace if she knew the children of the world were safe. So god killed michael jackson.

  • a.j.g.wolf says:

    Spot on, Dan.

  • Coffee says:

    This is just one of several blogs I’ve seen today that essentially seem to be saying, “If you’re more concerned about Michael Jackson than the Iran situation, then there’s something wrong with your priorities”.

    Quite frankly – and I think I’m not alone here – I honestly don’t really care much about Iran, and I resent any intellectual bullies who insist that I’m supposed to. It’s a superstitious and dangerous place on the other side of the planet, and therefore it means very little to me. Michael Jackson, on the other hand, was a major cultural force in my day to day life since childhood.

    I have no ill will to the people of Iran, of course. I certainly hope they cast off their dictators and learn to prosper democratically. But aside from that general vague well-wishing, I don’t feel obligated to deeply care about what goes on over there, and I especially will not be guilt-tripped about grieving for Michael Jackson.

    (I also don’t particularly care about, say, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, Monaco, Argentina, Greenland, Belgium, France, or any of the former Soviet republics. That doesn’t mean I am not educated about what goes on in these places – I am – it just means I don’t put their concerns before my own.)

  • Adin says:

    Our culture has an age-old dictum about not speaking ill of this dead.

    Violating that dictum and similar cultural norms is one of the reasons that sadly so many threw themselves into conservative Republican camp for so many years.

    As Mr. Welch said to Joe McCarthy: “Have you left no sense of decency?”

    To which I will add, have you so sense of shame? The man is dead. Have some respect for the dead. Why be so callous?

  • Dan Colman says:


    I can’t change your thinking here. But I would say that what happens in Iran should be a personal concern for anyone living in the West. If Iran were to liberalize, many thorny problems in the Middle East could go away. We might have one less nuclear issue to worry about. We might have fewer soldiers getting killed in Iraq. We might have an easier path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which itself provokes a lot of other problems. The list goes on. Surely this is all a bit more important than a pop figure of 30 years ago, no?


  • Stephanie says:

    hmmm…and in 27 years no one could beat this..and that means nothing to you. ignorance is bliss, isn’t it. I’m disgusted by your disdain to a great american artist who has inspired many of the artists we listen to now, and a dance legend, who no one could ever replicate, and a wonderful humanitarian who has given millions of dollars to better this fucked up world. yeah…nothing good.

  • Coffee says:

    Dan, I don’t need you to explain to me why it’s so important that Iran go democratic. Anyone who wants to know that know it already. That’s not the point.

    The point is that you felt it important to not-to-subtly chastise people for caring more immediately and more viscerally about Michael Jackson’s death.

    At any given time in history, there’s always some dangerous faraway place that supposedly needs our urgent attention, and there’s always some pop culture icon that gets more press. That’s just the way of things.

    And there will, of course, always be some condescending person there to sneer that the attention of the masses is focused on the wrong thing. This, too, is sadly the way of things, I suppose.

  • WillKane says:

    Well said Coffee. Dan, get off your high horse — you are really stretching on this one. I for one haven’t forgotten the Iranians. They have my prayers, but unfortunately, without the means (true political power and/or weapons) the protesters will follow the same path as those in Tienanmen square. I support them even if I know them to be doomed.

    The institutional change that needs to happen in Iran will take a very long long time or there will need to be a major disruptive event bigger than the protesters (or blogosphere) can mount.

    Michael Jackson brought great joy to millions including me, and you are being miserly with your assessment of his post Thriller work. While Thriller was certainly the pinnacle, Bad was pretty good and Dangerous had a few moments.

    Was he a terribly flawed individual yes. From his Peter Pan complex to his idiotic (and I hope not criminal) interactions with children, he made his fair share of huge mistakes.

    RIP Michael Jackson – may you find peace.

  • Varun says:

    Its like placing apples and oranges in a bull pen and asking them to fight. With regards to Iran, I was for a second swayed by the way you said “liberalization of the Middle East” – please, give me a break. I cringe on seeing American media’s selective criticism of Iran under the veil of the “holier than thou, defenders of Democracy”, Saudi Arabia which is a monarchy with no intent to democratize and an even worse women’s rights record gets obeisance from your highest authority. Iran is a very complex country with deep historical significance to the world – the suppression of their people’s free will is a loss to human culture. Oh and “Coffee”, Im not Iranian neither American – I am an Indian and when MJ came to India in 1992, 40,000 in attendance were just the COPS – I realized that this man represented America’s symbol of emancipation – literally speaking he was mankind’s greatest entertainer and putting it in that perspective, I think its actually apt that he turned out to be such a nuisance to himself. But saying that, I will also say that his work created a common ground for a sort of global, human expression. Yes as an American, you should definitely feel proud for cultivating him but by the same measure – please feel guilty for destroying him too. I think people judging the “trivial MJ” are the Paparazzi during Beethoven’s or Shakespeare’s time.

  • Dan Colman says:

    Sorry folks, I’m not dismissing MJ, or failing to recognize his talents. He was enormously talented. But this really isn’t about MJ. It’s more about the news cycle and lazy journalism. To me, Iran is a much more critical story, and I’m surprised that I would even need to argue that. Sorry if that seems elitist. But I’m simply applying the same standards that I normally apply to this blog. Wheat getting separated from the chaff. You might not like (or agree with) the standards today. But hopefully they’re a net plus for you over time. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I’m fine with that.


  • Varun says:

    Dan, I think this blog is awesome..but no I do not agree to disagree. Im disappointed that you assign value to the two stories. So much for Open Culture !

    /\ \/

  • Machine says:

    I am with you Dan.

  • Luke says:

    This seems a stretch. Who’s really saying “Neda who?” And what serious adult allows “major media outlets” to tell them what’s important, or is only able to hold a single important event in their head at a time?

  • Peter says:

    The key line from this post:

    “The success of Iran’s protest movement depends on keeping the world’s attention. Hence, the signs written in English.”

    I understand that MJ had an immense cultural impact, and I understand that the suddenness of the event draws a lot more people in. It is a lot more tangible than Iran, and can have a more direct impact on a lot of people. He will be missed.

    But one of the most notable aspects of what is happening in Iran is the grassroots self-reporting and use of social media to keep us all informed. If we stop listening, and turn our attention elsewhere, momentum in the protest movement in Iran slows. It is therefore not just another event halfway around the world, as Coffee would suggest, but rather a very intimate event that requires our continued attention. How else can we say that the world is watching?

    So thank you, Dan, not for valuing one culture over another or for illustrating your supposed inherent elitism — but for pointing out that we should accept at least some level of responsibility for the fact that Iran is being buried in the news cycle.

  • barefootwriter says:

    As someone who grew up in New Orleans, I was equally disappointed at the lack of ongoing coverage of events post-Katrina. As soon as some new shiny object appears, everyone’s off chasing it, and the next one, and the next one.

    If you don’t feel this way, maybe it’s because you’ve never experienced a major world event that impacts you personally. I’m sure there are many Iranian-Americans looking at the Michael Jackson headlines and saying “WTF?”

  • Wendy says:

    I think Coffee needs to go decaf.

    My beef with all the Jacko/wacko coverage, as Dan pointed out is that it follows in the same vein as the deaths of Elvis and Princess Diana and OJPalooza.

    Most every cable and broadcast news outlet dutifully carried Al Sharpton’s press conference in the wake of Jackson’s death. Why? What was the news value?

    This is my profession, and I’m troubled that for most of my career it has thrown itself unrepentantly on the altar of pop culture.

    I really hoped we had gotten over this, but clearly I was wrong.

  • Luke says:

    If we stop listening, and turn our attention elsewhere, momentum in the protest movement in Iran slows.

    I’m not sure I agree with this… does it really matter that I follow tweets from #IranElection, or greened my avatar? I don’t think it has any bearing on the events on the ground, or that my reading everything I can on Iran matters at all. I deeply support the movement, and feel for those folks, but it would be the height of arrogance for me to think my consumption of information has any impact.

    Further, why would anyone think that the way the press operates or prioritizes the news in the States has changed?

  • Alistair Knock says:

    “It’s more about the news cycle and lazy journalism. To me, Iran is a much more critical story”

    It is to me too, which is why mainstream media does not serve me well (and as a result, why mainstream media does not try to serve me). I think it’s a weak argument to suggest that stories about celebrities are ‘getting in the way’ of real stories. When mainstream media carries real stories, the majority of the public turns the page. Like it not, your definition of news is about what you personally want to hear, not about what you should hear, and not what everyone else wants to hear.

    On a different note, the (broad) cultural impact of an individual’s contribution is sometimes hard to measure but I think unequivocal in terms of support here; there are some individuals in public life for whom I would be aghast if they did not receive an “extended public eulogy”, for want for a better description, but I am but a minority and have to live with that.

    That said, if the news cycle continues to dominate beyond day 1/2 without there being any new news, while other prescient events remain underreported, then you have justification for complaint.

  • since when does journalism and the news cycle have anything to do with what is “critical”? journalism, unless it is a non-profit venture, is *MORE* about SELLING COPY OR GETTING RATINGS. PERIOD. it’s always been that way. and this “mentality” is all important right now, seein’ as many outlets are about to go out of business. You’ve obviously never worked in the “biz”… otherwise ya wouldn’t be MISSING ALL THE CURRENTLY RELEVANT POINTS by such WIDE MARGINS…

  • Maluvia says:

    Dan, it is clear that your harsh words arise from bitterness that your current cause celebre has gotten – very temporarily – eclipsed.
    I find that both small-minded and short-sighted.
    As the turmoil in Iran continues, the non-stop coverage will doubtless resume, ad-infinitum, as it has done for quite a while now.
    If there is anything that is getting enormously undue coverage – it is, in fact the Iranian ‘election crisis’ and subsequent protest.
    This is being driven by an American Media which detests the results of that election, and hopes to overturn the results by the sheer weight of relentless coverage and and outrage.

    1. There have been many, many, many far more egregiously fraudulent national elections – that have received not an iota of notice from the American Media, and many, many incidents of dissidents and protesters being slaughtered by some brutal authoritarian regime – and no one batted an eye. No 24/7 coverage or Twittersteria.

    2. There was far more documented evidence of election fraud in the the US presidential elections of 2000, and 2004 – with absolutely devastating consequences to the entire world, as well as American society – than has been presented in the case of Iran. Where was the outrage then?

    3. There is an ongoing holocaust taking place each and every day in Palestine – crimes against humanity far worse than what is transpiring in the streets of Tehran – and it goes on, and on, and on every single day, while the world looks the other way.
    Where is the outrage? Where is the hysteria? Where is the wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage in the news, or the blogosphere or the Twitter Revolutionaries?

    4. Horrendous crimes against humanity are going on this very minute in Latin America, in Africa, in Myanmar, Kashmir and Sri Lanka – where genocide has taken place just in the past few weeks.
    Where is the hysteria, the outcry, the nonstop coverage about those countries and the oppression of those people?

    5. It is not our place to tell another country how to run its affairs, or to refuse to acknowledge the results of a democratic election because our government doesn’t like the results – which we have attempted to do time and time again, as in Palestine, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc.
    Nor is it appropriate for our government, with so much blood on its hands – a government which is actively, at this very moment engaging in torture, rendition, collective punishment, slaughtering of civilians, and the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus, and which is the only nation on earth to have actually used its nuclear arsenal – slaughtering millions of innocent people in a nation which had already surrendered – to lecture any other nation on human rights.

    It is truly unfortunate that a site nominally devoted to the concept of ‘Open Culture’ is choosing instead the track of polarization and divisiveness.
    It doesn’t sound very ‘Open’ anymore.
    Very disappointed.

  • Mark O'Neill says:

    “and which is the only nation on earth to have actually used its nuclear arsenal – slaughtering millions of innocent people in a nation which had already surrendered – to lecture any other nation on human rights.”

    I assume you are talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? If so, you are WRONG. Japan was REFUSING to surrender and the US was facing the prospect of horrendous US casualties if they invaded Japan (which was what they were looking at). Therefore Truman dropped the bomb on them to shock them into surrendering. And even when the first bomb had been dropped, Japan STILL refused to surrender. Which is why a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

    Dan, I agree with you. Although I was a big fan of Jackson’s music, I felt that the reporting of his death reached hysteria levels, as if the end of the world was coming because Jackson was no longer alive. I mourn his death and my sympathies go out to his family. But come on. Get a sense of perspective here – he was a singer, not a God. There ARE other issues in the world to be reported and the world will move on without Michael.

  • openwide says:

    Iran yesterday.
    Michael Jackson now.
    Iran tomorrow.

    Let Jackson fans have their day or weekend.
    It’ll pass.
    Anyway. Real music fans know that it was all about Quincy Jones. Without Jones, Jackson would have been nothing.

  • Rusty says:

    Lighten up Yo!
    Micheal Jackson was an amazing
    talent. You can be interested in both. I assure you the story in Iran will continue long after Jackson’s fans grieve.

  • Juliano says:

    This continues to be my favorite blog among the hundreds I subscribe to. The comments on this post confirm the diversity of the readership, and that’s what open culture is about, diversity. It is only natural that your mild annoyance with the newsmedia’s choices leave a few of your readers mildly annoyed with yours. I thought your summary was honest, democratic, and not without restraint. Please continue to voice your thoughts freely here, as for the most part, that is what we all subscribe for.

  • Rosario says:

    As if on cue, a quote from AP news:

    “But along with the diminished action on the streets in Iran, other stories have arisen to siphon away attention — especially the death of pop star Michael Jackson.

    Television coverage of Iran’s turmoil has fallen since Jackson’s death Thursday; on the Twitter micro-blogging site, Iran remained among the most discussed topics, but fell below Jackson and comments about the movie “Transformers 2.” “

  • Dan Colman says:

    Not to beat a dead horse, but ….

    A friend sent along an article today that talks about policy experts’ concerns that Jackson is distracting from what’s happening in Iran. It’s a view held by experts on the left and right. Here’s one quote:

    “I think we can agree that the Iranian regime benefits from the media rush to memorialize, explore, and reflect upon Michael Jackson and his legacy,” “[A]nything that takes Twitter bandwidth away from [the Iran election] is bad for the opposition, and anything that distracts the cable networks from showing images of the crackdown is similarly bad.” He added that the international media distractions could give the regime “more room to violently suppress its opposition during a critical phase.”

    Here’s the larger piece:

  • Maluvia says:

    I’m sorry Mark, but it is you who are wrong – along with most of the American public which has been grossly and deliberately misinformed as to the true facts surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    You can read more about the actual facts surrounding these events here: “The Hiroshima Myth” and here:
    Just two examples – there is plenty of freely accessible information along these lines all over the internet – for anyone who really wants to know the truth.
    People need to learn the truth surrounding this horrendous crime against humanity – perpetrated by the supposed leader of the free world.

  • Anders says:

    Your usual dunderhead out there is dependent on network news. A large portion of people in the U.S. only know what’s going on in the world by what big media is giving them.

    And right now its giving them Michael Jackson.

  • Nat says:

    Fuck you! I am deleting your blog from my favorite list.

  • Lila says:

    First of all, if you think this one event is going to bring liberty, freedom and democracy to Iran, then you have no knowledge of their history. Yes, what’s going on in Iran has importance, but why does it, or any other country’s current events, have to take precedence over the front page news every day of something that is so much about AMERICAN culture. And as for the protesters here in the U.S. that are complaining about their vote not getting counted. You want your vote counted? Go back to your country then and make a change to it, not sit over here and expect to live the “American Dream” but complain when you don’t have a say-so in the country you left.

    Secondly, have respect to someone who not only influenced our musical culture, our dance culture and our video/film culture and put a stamp into American culture that many other countries have emanated and idolized. Have respect because he lived, he made a difference and he died. So what…it’s been 3 days since…why can’t he take precedent over another country’s ancient politics?

    Dan, what an ass you are, and maybe when you die, you’ll come to appreciate the dead.

  • Karen says:

    Mr. Colman, I agree with you. Iran’s concerns are much more important than the passing of an entertainer, no matter how influential in the world of pop culture. Iran’s many issues are of primary concern to the stability of a major part of our world and Michale Jackson, talented though he was, was also a pedophile and a monied recluse. To equate the two issues is specious. Thank you for writing so eloquently in your blog. I, for one, find it at times enjoyable and entertaining, as well as thought provoking. Keep up the good work!

  • Tom says:

    Karen: MJ WAS NOT a pedophile, you just eat up everything media feeds you. Your mind is as open as this “open culture” blog. Check the facts, do a little research, instead of just gobbling up whatever is on TV. You can start here: or here

  • Chrissy says:

    I agree, Dan. More or less. The problem is, you just can’t make people care about every
    problem in the world. I live in Trenton, NJ, and heartbreaking events happen here every day; if the murder of the 13 year-old girl Tamrah, earlier this month, got even a QUARTER of the media coverage that’s been going to Iran, maybe people here in the US, but outside the city, would be outraged enough to help change the dysfunctional politics here.

    But that probably won’t happen. Most people, unfortunately, can only care about tragedy “somewhere else” for so long, with or without the death of a celebrity (or FOUR!!) competing for airtime. I also think it’s possible for some people to grieve for said celebrity (-ies), and get back to paying attention to politics when the initial shock wears off. Sadly, there are way too many oppressive regimes in this world, many of them local governments right here in the States, and not enough people to care, for any duration.

    I am an optimist, so I hate saying something so bleak. I guess, the flip side of that, is that most people are good, anyway. Even the MJ fans who aren’t paying attention to Iran (or Trenton). They’re living their lives, trying to find happiness, and mowing their lawns, and playing video games, and are not keeping people down anywhere in the world.

    Would be nice if everyone cared for the cause, but it will never happen. Don’t let that stop you, though.

  • Hanoch says:


    You’ll be happy to know the US government (the one you say has “so much blood on its hands”) has absolutely no restrictions on emigration. Just a little food for thought.

  • Janice says:

    Michael Jackson was an American Icon who became a worldwide phenomenon. Yo Momma(God killed Michael Jackson??) and Wendy are callous and hateful.
    Quincy Jones collaborated with Michael Jackson to help him develop his ideas. He didn’t make MJ, Michael made himself with the backing of his record company that gave him total creative control. He was always a pioneer and an innovator in his field. He had many great albums beyond Thriller,too.
    Wendy’s reference to Michael Jackson as wacko/jacko shows her disdain for a man she clearly doesn’t understand. But great men are often misunderstood. Why spew venom at what you are so ignorant about. It’s obvious you never really studied this man.
    Michael Jackson’s interactions with children was innocent. It was flawed, corrupt minds that exploited his love for children by trying to extort money from him. He was an easy target.
    Michael Jackson was more than a ‘song and dance man’. He influenced even to this day music, videos, dance and dancers, rappers, songs and singers always expanding his ideas until his death. He was a humanitarian; a change agent for the world’s ills.
    Michael Jackson deserved high recognition and more.

  • acmaa says:

    I am not sure if Mr. Colman is still reading the comments about this post from 2009, but first of all I was shocked to see a title with ‘Jacko’ in Open Culture, from the begining it is so obvious the level of ignorance of the writer. US media’s acts are not MJ’s fault and it is also not MJ’s fault that Mr. Colman didnt follow him after Thriller, all he was trying to do inspire the people to save and change the world. I am from Turkey, another not very democratic middle east country, today’s date is 2014, Iran is the same, Turkey goes worse democraticaly and sorry but it is not the US media who will save us from our dictators, it is ourselfes, so I hope you would think twice before using bad mouth after an inspiring innocent person who is more than a pop icon to his fans even to the fans from middle east.

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