A bunch of other Americans were pretty dismayed, too. Then, I clearly remember the Editor in Chief of my local newspaper (himself an immigrant from Hungary) offering wise perspective on our celebrity culture in a piece called "Let's Be More Blase about Nadia". The problem with us Americans is that we worship media-generated images (and I say this as someone who has lived abroad and can attest that other cultures do not, by and large, ascribe the same demi-god-like status to their celebrities as we Yanks do). Then, we have the nerve to be disappointed when those celebrities do not turn out to be as perfect as we believe, but turn into flawed adults with clay feet just like everyone else.
Fast-forward a couple of years. I greatly admired (then) Christian singer Amy Grant, and bought all her albums. When she had the affair with Vince Gil and lambasted her (Christian) fanbase for having the AUDACITY to note that both adultery and divorce are....um,...morally wrong, I was disappointed. Not devastated, mind you; but disappointed. I'd expected more from a woman who'd made a career out of being a Christian. While I'd never truly "idolized" Amy Grant, I genuinely believed she was far more spiritual than I. Then I read some of the interviews, in which she revealed herself to be an immature woman with no moral compass.
Lately, this Michael Jackson media circus has brought to mind the absurdity and very real spiritual danger of idolizing celebrities. Leaving aside the fact everyone seems ready to canonize a man who denied the very deity of Christ, who wasted his life and sought only earthly glory; whose narcissism stretched the bounds of credulity and whose greed left him $400 million in debt; masses of people are weeping for the image of a man they never knew. As Fred Sanders wrote last week in "Why I Don't Pray for Celebrities",
"Celebrities are such odd phenomena. They are these personas that are presented to us, carefully packaged by a publicity team and then transmitted through a vast system for the dissemination of their images. We know nothing about celebrities except what they want us to know. They and their handlers project a public image by sending a set of coordinated signals: posed and retouched photos, bits of biographical information, sound bites, reports of how they feel, and of course their own artistic productions or performances....People have been weeping, hysterically and publicly, professing undying love for a man they never knew. That, dear readers, is idolatry; not compassion. Do these folks weep so profusely for the 24,000 souls who starve to death in Africa each day? The one person every eleven seconds (a conservative estimate, by the way) who dies apart from Christ? Perhaps some of them do. If so, good for them. But the endless fascination with Michael Jackson, coupled with a desperate attempt to construct him into something he was not is morbidity at it's worst.
I also don’t pray for fictional characters. I don’t ask God to send rescuers to Robinson Crusoe, or to get Gilligan and his friends off that crazy island, or to make things work out right for the people on Lost. Those are not real people or real islands.I know that somewhere behind the persona of any celebrity, there must be a real person. Tom Hanks lives somewhere, has a mom and a dad and loved ones. Jennifer Aniston might have pets, and they probably love her. Even Jack Black must be an actual human. If I actually knew any of those people personally, I would pray for them. But I would not pray for a life-sized cardboard cut-out of them, and what I have available to me in their celebrity personas is essentially an elaborate cut-out."
As has been pointed out elsewhere in the blogosphere, Jackson was by all accounts a deeply disturbed individual who wore his brokenness on his sleeve. He desperately needed Christ, but instead chose to deny Him (first in the cult of Jehovah Witness; much later as a self-professed Muslim). As his fame grew, his bizarre behavior seemed to increase. Public fascination turned fickle - he was the scapegoat everyone loved to hate. Except those who were obsessed with him, and believed they loved him. Ironically, the family that for most of his adult life distanced themself from him now somehow can't seem to say enough good about him.
Michael Jackson was certainly deserving of pity, (and is even more so now), but the Bible is clear that we reap what we sow. A life lived in utter carnality without regard for God's moral order (or basic common sense) will ultimately come to ruin. See Proverbs 11:18; 22:8, Psalm 36: 2 and Romans chapter 1, for starters. I am not singling out Jackson as I see this principle at work every day in the courtroom, but his behavior was lived out very much in the public eye. And now, of course, many would like to re-write his story. With all due respect, God gives everyone enough revelation to turn to Him. A literate, American celebrity, familiar with the Bible, the claims of Christ and the commands of God, has literally no excuse.
If this post sounds a bit more cynical than usual, forgive me. It's not that I'm oblivious to the fact Jackson was a tormented soul. However, much of it was (whether the ever-fickle media now wants to admit it or not) of his own making. I have seen enough real tragedy between the courtroom and the hospitals where I interpret not to have a lot of misplaced sympathy left over for the rich, pampered and idolized. Idolatry is still wrong, no matter who the star is.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God". - Hebrews 12:2