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Dont blame it on the blankie

By Katy Barnett - posted Wednesday, 1 July 2009


When I was a little girl (say two or three-years-old), my Dad used to sing “Don’t blame it on the boogie” to me, but he refashioned it as “Don’t blame it on the blankie”. My security blanket had the very imaginative name of “blankie”. Apparently I would wail and say, “No-o-o-o-o-o! Don’t blame it on the blankie. Please don’t blame it on the blankie!”

So obviously, I’ve known of Michael Jackson for a long time. Yes, he was an incredible dancer and a talented musician. And yes, I feel sad and shocked that he died at only 50. But his death didn’t have the personal resonance for me which it seems to have had for many - the people pictured crying in the streets.

I’ve said before that I don’t really understand the public outpouring of grief for dead celebrities. Certainly, I had crushes on characters in books or movies (mentioned in detail, as I recall, in the speech at my 21st birthday, with the requisite blush-inducing effect). But I have never felt a personal connection with a celebrity. I suspect I’m unusual in this. I never even had posters of actors, bands or singers up in my room.

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There are two issues I want to explore in this post:

  1. the utter hypocrisy of the press with regard to celebrities; and
  2. the phenomenon of “conspicuous compassion”.

The hypocrisy of the press

Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. (Francois de La Rochefoucauld.)

First, I was horrified to read some of the schmaltz about Jackson in the press in the last few days. While the man was still breathing, they were happy to hound him and ridicule him. Now he’s dead, suddenly he’s a saint, and his absence will be a great gaping hole in our lives. The hypocrisy of it is breathtaking.

Just like Princess Di, Jackson himself was not entirely blameless, as he had originally propagated some of the rumours which surrounded him. And like Princess Di, I always saw Jackson as a flawed figure, to be pitied rather than admired. In interviews, he comes across as a lonely, damaged and utterly self-obsessed person. The poor man did not have a normal childhood or a chance to develop normal interactions with other people. He was a puer aeternus, desperately trying to recapture his lost boyhood, and more comfortable around children than adults. He even called his ranch “Neverland” in a nod to Peter Pan. And clearly, he loathed his own body and appearance. The problem was - the more he tried to “improve” his appearance, the worse he looked, in my opinion. The plastic surgeons who let him do that to his face were negligent.

But let’s not kid ourselves - the press loved those flaws, and wanted to prise open the cracks further. They slavered over stories of “Whacko Jacko’s” bizarre behaviour, and positively worked themselves into a frenzy when there were allegations that Jackson was a child molester. They loved the thought that Jackson’s nose might be about to collapse, or that he endangered his third child by dangling him over a balcony. The whackier his antics, the better.

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So to see the press crying crocodile tears over Jackson’s death is repellent. The cynic in me suspects that if there’s any genuine crying, it’s on account of the fact they won’t be able to run any more stories about Jacko’s antics.

Conspicuous compassion

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:5 - 6, KJV.)

The other thing which Jackson’s death has brought to the fore is the phenomenon which has been called “conspicuous compassion”. Patrick West wrote a book exploring this phenomenon in 2004, in which he argued:

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First published in Skeptic Lawyers blog on June 29, 2009.



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About the Author

Dr Katy Barnett is a lawyer, blogger and lecturer at the University of Melbourne. She lives in Melbourne, Australia and blogs at Skepticlawyer.

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