Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lessons Learned?

The recent deaths of Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop," and Steve "Air" McNair, former professional football player highlight the bankruptcy of American culture. Death has a way of bringing out the worst in us, not that many of us need any help in revealing our dark side. While in graduate school I worked for three years in a funeral home and saw first hand the effect that death has on every strata of our culture. Sadly, the deaths of the rich and famous are more often than not opportunity for spectacle and aggrandizement than serious introspection.

The Michael Jackson memorial service is a prime example of spectacle and aggrandizement. From parading elephants to parading people in various degrees of costume, Jackson's service had it all. There were widespread reports of ticket scalping. The speakers all praised Jackson, speaking in glowing terms. The crowds outside were filled with people who spoke of Jackson's effect on their life. My question throughout all this praise: What did Michael Jackson do to merit such effusive praise?

I mean no disrespect, but Michael Jackson made no great discoveries, found no cure for any diseases, did not pour out his life helping others. Michael Jackson's greatest contribution to the human race was his album "Thriller."Michael Jackson spent his life in a constant state of turmoil, as evidenced by his bizarre behavior and choices. Jackson himself once bemoaned the fact that he did not have a normal childhood, a regret that seemed to exercise immense control over the rest of his life. I do not deny his talent, but I wonder if that talent improved our world or the plight of anyone in it. All Jackson's millions and all his fame will have no lasting impact on the world.

Steve McNair was a great football player, and by all accounts a good man. He rose above his own difficult circumstances to make something of himself. Yet when the cheering stopped McNair seemed to have trouble adjusting to the mundane life that the rest of us live. McNair, the married father of four sons, had a very troubling relationship with a young woman almost half his age. It seems that this relationship cost McNair his life. I wonder why McNair could not honor his vows to his wife or his responsibility to his sons. McNair lost his life...his family lost far more.

I realize that my opinion concerning McNair is not popular, not that I care about being popular, but I refuse to excuse his choices simply because he was a great football player. I also refuse to rationalize his failures because he was a man or, as one columnist has said, a black man. Manhood, fatherhood, the commitment to your wife are all more important than the need to feel valued or manly. Mr. McNair, at least for me, forever tarnished his legacy and reputation. One man's need to relive the glory days has left four boys without a father.

Michael Jackson's fame and fortune. Steve McNair's fame and physical ability. Neither man found the answers that he sought. They both died tragically, but perhaps more tragically is that fact that they are not alone. So many of us hope to find the answers to our longings in fame, fortune or physical conquest. But there is no hope to be found in any of those things. They are all fleeting. At best fame and fortune are illusions, diverting us from the real answers for an all too brief time and leaving a greater longing than existed before.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. McNair have already learned the truth...Will we learn the truth before it's too late?

1 comment:

  1. I found it interesting that, while the news media has been nothing but glowing of Michael Jackson, there has been little hesitance to broadcast McNair's faults.

    Meanwhile, I've seen and heard from people like Jeff Fisher an acknowledgment that McNair had troubles, but that there was also good worth remembering, while any mention of Michael Jackson's issues has been slammed on as being cold and insensitive.

    Just an interesting contrast--I guess if you were a musician, you become perfect at death, but football players don't?

    Or maybe a better reflection on the people doing the talking, that some of them realize there's more to life than fame?