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Icon status?

June 26, 2009

In the inevitable conversations about the death of Micheal Jackson, a friend of mine said ‘He was the last superstar, with proper fans and proper idol status’. While I am sure that this statement will be repeated ad infinitum in the media storm which will form our news for the next few days, I wonder whether this ‘icon’ status is something to be revered?

As far as I can see, elevating any single human being, to the point where they could amass a personal fortune equivalent to the gross national product of a small country, and where they have a perceived right, by virtue of their money and fame, to live in any way they choose, away from basic notions of  right and wrong and the rule of law, on the basis of a knack for entertaining, is a pretty dangerous thing to do.

Dont get me wrong, music and entertainment can be great things. I nearly missed my own wedding to go see the Chilli Peppers(whom I have since renamed the luke warm chilli peppers…).I would chop off my own arm to see The Stone Roses reform.

But when this iconic status allows people like Micheal Jackson, Madonna, Brangelina et al to bypass the rules which shape the rest of society, to harm themselves and others in the process- then surely the time has come to question how and why, we elevate people to the level of being untouchable?

I dont know whether Micheal Jackson was a paedophile- the scale of his celebrity meant that there was no way any court could ever try him fairly, and his sheer wealth and power ensured that hefty payments were made to more than one child, to prevent courts from attempting it. I know that even after having to pay off two children, and while awaiting trial for sexual molestation of a third, he was still saying openly that it was acceptable for him to sleep with other peoples children, in a locked room. There were still queues of families waiting to allow him access to their own children, and thousands of people arguing that his distorted upbringing in a media glare, meant that we should be understanding of this belief.

From a social work perspective, the idea that someone who had had several allegations of sexual abuse, should have no understanding of why this was unnacceptable, is incomprehensible.

What effect does living in a bubble filled with sychophants, and people interested in perpetuating this money making machine have on a human being? How do we hold someone who has existed exclusively outside society, accountable to societies rules?

When we talk about these icons- Britney, Madonna, Micheal Jackson- we seem to believe that pecadillos like the desire to sleep with children, the collection of babies from the developing world, public mental breakdowns- are merely eccentricities  stemming from their genius for entertainment.

We hold this idea of unimaginable wealth and fame, as something to aspire to- even though we are faced daily with the effect it has, on both the ‘icons’ themselves, and on the world around them.  We consistently ignore the question of why the ability to sing a song, perform in a movie, put on a show- should inevitably result in the complete removal of a person from the society in which they live.

We remove humanity from these people, we remove them from humanity. We give them a voice, reassure them that their voice surely has more value, than the voices of those who pay for their lives. They live simultaneously in fear of the adoration, that marketing of their talents has caused, and desperate for it, believing it to be real and justified.

It seems to me, that these things are not by-products of creative ability. THey are by-products of living a life almost exclusively removed from the society in which they live, in a fishbowl with that society eagerly handing over cash, to devour every detail of that distorted fantasy life as the entertainment du jour.

What it says about our society scares me. I wont be mourning Micheal Jackson. I didnt know him. I heard his records. But the phenomena of this ‘icon’ affects me. The fact that I live in a society, where a single human beingwith a talent for singing songs, is deified to the point where they are personally destroyed, and their human fallibity is overlooked, because of the ‘contribution’ they make to entertainment, scares me.

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