Not speaking ill enough of the dead

As of August 24th, authorities have released the information that Michael Jackson's cause of death was an overdose of anesthesic Propofol. As Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray will likely face a very serious charge, despite his and his lawyer's best efforts to ""Beat It.""


It's awkward, to say the least, when you're accused of murdering someone through professional incompetence. Even more so when the person you're accused of murdering has been universally lauded as a loving father, generous philanthropist, hero and the most important icon to moonwalk onto the American pop culture scene. Hold on, that doesn't sound quite right.


That's probably because prior to his untimely death, the King of Pop  more closely resembled Skeletor, a cartoon zombie supervillain, than Mother Teresa. ""Thriller"" references aside, Jackson's positive image seems to have risen from the dead as a result of his shocking and sudden passing at the age of 50.


The situation begs us to consider to what extent we will let the deceased rest in peace. Will we mire the truth of our feelings toward that person, their actions and opinions?


Since his death, iTunes downloads and album sales have pushed Jackson's popularity to a whole new level. It is, therefore, no surprise that many are beginning to question whether Jackson is more popular dead than he was alive.


It's  a disturbing idea that finds its way to the tip of our culture's tongue each time a celebrity of a particular ratio of renown and pre-mortem irrelevancy passes away.


Furthermore, our culture's tendency to reinvent a celebrity's character and memory in such a shameless fashion has begun to evoke worry on the faces of those willing to read the over-hyped, super-glossed writing on the wall.


Like Jackson, ex-Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, known in life for her abilities to both wear little to no clothing and wed octogenarians, was remembered quite differently in death.


Her virtues as a generous, wonderful mother were praised in direct proportion to the number of times her Larry King interview was repeated during CNN's month-long coverage of her demise.


This is noted without any disrespect to Smith, whose status as both a mother and an American sex symbol must not necessarily be determined as mutually exclusive.


It is the bias in both Smith's and Michael Jackson's post-mortem depictions that draws a questioning eye, implying that the aspects and accomplishments of their lives didn't correlate with a certain set of socially acceptable standards.


Admittedly, this ""speak not ill of the dead"" mentality is a fairly standard cultural maxim. We speak well of the departed in hopes that when we die, the living will speak well of us. An article from Psychology Today even suggests that ""as people are predisposed to attribute agency to a supernatural being with omniscience … so do we attribute omniscience to departed mortals"".


Even if we aren't convinced that the ghosts of those we badmouthed will come back to haunt us, we're not about to take any chances.


Regardless of whether this mentality is philosophically noble or psychologically insecure, it is not one that we will do away with anytime soon. Besides, there's nothing wrong with remembering the positive aspects of a fellow human being. We should encourage and be encouraged to assert such an optimistic response to the harsh reality of death.


However, the mass media's evident castration of Jackson's troubled personal life from his new public image does not honor his memory. Instead, it repackages a hauntingly brilliant artist into a caricature of celebrity far more plastic than any surgery he ever allegedly underwent.


Enter Pete King, a congressman who has publicly denounced the excessive media coverage of the King of Pop's death as dishonorable and who accused him of being a pedophile. While his statements are most definitely in bad taste and (in accordance to Jackson's 2005 acquittals) slanderous, they are also refreshingly familiar, echoing the kinds of accounts of Jackson we might have heard the week before the pop star's death.


In our desire to fondly remember the dead, how far will we let ourselves go in reconstructing our memories and the facts we are allowed to openly address?


And at what point will we let ""Rest In Peace"" be replaced with ""Rest In A Fantasy, Where The Foibles and Shortcomings Of Your Life Are Eschewed In Light Of A Friendlier Image Of Saintly Dignity From Which We As Human Beings Can Learn Absolutely Nothing?""


There's a middle ground there, one in which we can honor the accomplishments of the dead while learning from their mistakes.


Hopefully, we find it fast.



— Remy Albillar a junior majoring in English. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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