There may be other things happening in the world, but right now the blogosphere is busy processing the death of a well known entertainer.
The tribute sites that have sprung up everywhere are getting swamped with comments. One of the largest, Facebook group Rest In Peace Michael Jackson, has over 40,000 fans, even though it appears to be a thinly veiled front for giant music seller Amazon. The latest Facebook "present" friends can send each other is a King of Pop silver glove.
Distraught Jackson fans are reaching for their metaphor guns and shooting themselves in the keyboard. As "RJ" of Michael Jackson Beat says, Jackson was "A man-child who once filled the streets with wannabes on every corner". Sweden’s Blog of Ronnestam says, "Michael was the king of my generation just like Elvis Presley was the king of his. Rest in peace my one and only superstar!"
While all his fans are mourning, some have found Jackson’s death so disturbing that they have placed calls to suicide prevention hotlines. As they deal with their grief, bloggers everywhere are noting unconfirmed (and perhaps unconfirmable) reports that Jackson’s death has apparently played some part in the suicides of at least 12 people worldwide. A friend of Jackson’s family, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, can be found on YouTube urging fans not to "self-destruct".
But perhaps the most predictable online responses to a situation like this are the conspiracy theories. TheRavingLoon at SevenMinutesToMidnight isn’t waiting for them to emerge, instead guessing at the forms they will take, which boil down to: he’s not dead, the government did it, or it was the Muslims. Then there are those pointing the finger at that old culprit — numerology. On a blog called Michael Jackson Memorials, "fan" writes:
"Michael Jackson is dead. What’s curious is when MJ died … June 25. Aaliyah died August 25th. Static Major died February 25th. Left Eye — April 25th. James Brown — December 25th. What’s going on here? Why are all these black entertainers dying on the 25th? We must demand some answers."
Admittedly not everyone is saddened at his passing, but many who hated or ignored him can’t seem to avoid blogging about him at the moment too. Here’s a contribution from a "former federal agent" named Chuck Hustmyre on his blog The Jagged Edge:
"We have soldiers dying for this country every day and barely anyone gives them a second thought. Yet we are going to experience an orgasm of grief for this dead pervert. Something is seriously wrong with a society that grieves more for dead child molesters than it does its fallen heroes."
He then goes on to re-publish a long string of jokes he’s pulled from another site, mostly about Jackson in the company of children, or the amount of plastic in his corpse. "I think they give us some perspective on who this clown was," he writes "because although these are only jokes, like all good jokes, they are rooted in truth." Hustmyre somehow resists the temptation to reminisce about how he felt when he first heard Billie Jean. Maybe he’s just not that kind of guy.
But there are plenty who are. According to Ethan Zuckerman, at one point 15 per cent of all posts on Twitter mentioned Michael Jackson. Zuckerman’s search script never saw Iran or swine flu get over 5 per cent. In death, as in life, the singer is making and breaking records.
Yodel Anecdotal records that:
"The passing of the King of Pop set multiple records across Yahoo! On our front page, the story ‘Michael Jackson rushed to hospital’ was the highest clicking story in our history. It generated a whopping 800,000 clicks within 10 minutes and news of his death saw 560,000 clicks in 10 minutes. Also, the news area on our front page experienced five times the amount of traffic it normally receives."
On Yahoo!Music, over 21,500 comments were posted on a blog tribute to Jackson by Billy Johnson, Jr.
"People often underestimate the power of music, and the effect that it has on us. We sometimes forget how a great song with a feel-good message lifts us up, and makes us smile and remember the place we had the most fun dancing to it and with whom," says Johnson Jr.
There has been a general outpouring of grief from fans around the world, some of whom are famous themselves. Ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley has posted a heart-felt blog post on her MySpace page. She writes that Jackson had told her years ago that he feared he would die in a way similar to Presley’s well known father:
"I desperately hope that he can be relieved from his pain, pressure and turmoil now. He deserves to be free from all of that and I hope he is in a better place or will be. I also hope that anyone else who feels they have failed to help him can be set free because he hopefully finally is. The World is in shock but somehow he knew exactly how his fate would be played out some day — more than anyone else knew — and he was right."
The singer’s death has also had repercussions for the world’s latest superstar fashionista, Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen), says Risky Biz Blog, among others. Universal Pictures had to cut a Jackson-related sketch from "Bruno" only hours before its Los Angeles premiere.
But the overwhelming majority of the bloggers we’ve read have been saddened by his death — Conor Levis is representative:
"Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t deny Michael Jackson as an artist. What happened to him later in his life was sad in so many ways. He became one of the most compelling public figures we’ve ever had … but not for good reasons. His bizarre antics and constant legal trouble tarnished what had always been a great reputation. Jackson really was a child trapped inside an adult’s body but it seemed like no one could help him."
And we’d like to leave it there, except we can’t — quite. Because the quintessential online tribute is not what internet users say, but rather what they do — including what they can be fooled into clicking on. According to online security blogger Dancho Danchev, Jackson’s death is being used as the bait in a whole new series of phishing and other fake email scams, capitalising on the public’s fascination with him.
In a life full of paradoxes, perhaps the greatest of them is that for Michael Jackson, the ultimate indicator of his importance to us was being placed on the spammers’ Top Ten, next to such tawdry rubbish as the amazing Acai weight-loss berry, penis enlargement technology and cheap Viagra.
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