Michael Jackson & Proper Emotions

I was recently asked how Michael Jackson’s death affected me. I had to be honest and report that it really had not impacted my life. I did feel a degree of pity. But, I would feel the same upon learning about the death of anyone who did not deserve to die.

In contrast to my rather limited response, some fans have shown incredible pain at his loss. From their responses, one would think that they had lost a parent, husband or dear friend.  My initial view was that they were overreacting and that their emotional response was simply not warranted or proper. This, naturally enough, started me thinking about whether my view had any actual merit or if I was simply engaged in biased thinking. In order to help settle this, I started by by considering the basis of my own rather limited feelings about his death and why I took his fans to be having improper emotions. In addition to dealing specifically with the matter at hand, this discussion also deals with the broader topic of proper emotions (or emotional responses, if you prefer).

In my own case, I like some of his music and I thought Thriller had a rather kick ass video (especially since it had Vincent Price).  However, I am not related to him I never met him in person, and never even exchanged emails with him. As such, I have no meaningful connection to him that would warrant a powerful emotional response to his untimely death. For me to react in a powerful way to his death would thus be improper, in that my response would far outweigh what I should be feeling. It would, to use an analogy, be like howling in pain because I merely pricked my finger. That sort of overreaction is not, as Aristotle might say, the right degree of emotion to feel for that situation.  This is not to say that his death was on par with the pricking of a finger, just that his role in my life was extremely limited (seeing a few videos and hearing some songs).

From my perspective, the fans who are emotionally devastated by his death are overreacting. After all, most of them had most likely not even met him in person. At most, they might have seen him on stage during a live show.  That hardly constitutes a meaningful connection between two people that would warrant such an extreme response. In my own case, I only form strong attachments to people I actually know and expect the attachment to be reciprocated.  Otherwise, the relationship would seem to be something of an illusion and a fantasy. But, perhaps that is a harsh thing to say.  So, what I feel upon the death of another person depends on the relationship we had. If there was no meaningful relationship, then it would not be  a proper reaction to feel terrible grief upon that person’s death. I should, of course, feel for other people-but my response should be a proper response, a fitting measure of grief for what has been lost to me.

One response to my view that his fans attached great importance to him and he was somehow very significant in their lives. Some people can form such one way emotional bonds to someone who would not know them from Adam or Eve. As such, his loss would hurt them deeply and thus it could be argued that their reactions are quite justified and proper. After all, people do get emotionally attached even to objects (such as cars or jewelry) and the loss of such items greatly upset them. Obviously, the objects cannot love people back. Likewise, one might argue, a person could be quite emotionally attached to the image or idea of a celebrity and thus feel a terrible loss when that person dies.

In reply, it seems unreasonable to get so emotionally attached to objects. They are, after all, objects. Likewise, for a fan to get emotionally attached to a celebrity seems to be unreasonable. It is not that the celebrity is not a person, but that the typical fan is not interacting with the person. Rather, they are merely experiencing the celebrity’s public presentation. In the case of Jackson, his fans saw his videos, listened to his music, watched the TV coverage of his life, and perhaps saw him in stage or caught a glimpse of him in public. What they became attached to was not the person-for they knew not the person. Rather, they became attached to that public presentation. As such, when he died they did not lose him-they never had him. What they lost, to be rather rough about it, is the chance to hear new songs, see new videos, and see live shows. They can still experience almost all that they experienced of him by watching the videos or playing his music.  As such, even though he is dead, their relationship can continue almost unchanged. As such, extreme grief hardly seems warranted.

Of course, an even easier response to my view is to just say that people feel what they do and there is no right or wrong when it comes to emotions. That does have a certain appeal, but is easily countered. For example, if a child is killed in car wreck and an onlooker started laughing about it and making jokes, we would certainly say that it was not right for him to feel that way about the death of a child.

It might be claimed that I am a cold person who is unable to appreciate the loss experienced by Jackson’s devoted fans. Who am I, one might say, to judge their grief and tears as proper or improper? An excellent question, to which I give an obvious reply: if I am not to judge them, then I am not to be judged for judging them.

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  1. Mike: Of course, we all die. My point about Socrates was not expressed clearly. A leader does not have the luxury of being virtuous in the normal sense of the word, because he or she, unlike Socrates, is responsible for the lives of many other people. Of course, Socrates too has been criticized for not considering his responsibility towards his family. In many circumstances, if a president is honest or just or follows the golden rule, others will take advantage of him or her, leading to the death or decrease in well-being of the people for whom he or she is responsible, those who elected him or her. In world politics, unfortunately, goodness is often perceived as weakness.

  2. sorry, posted in wrong blog.

  3. “It might be claimed that I am a cold person who is unable to appreciate the loss experienced by Jackson’s devoted fans. Who am I, one might say, to judge their grief and tears as proper or improper? An excellent question, to which I give an obvious reply: if I am not to judge them, then I am not to be judged for judging them.”

    But why can’t instances of judgment, where judgment is improper, be judged improper?

  4. The death of Michael Jackson moved me not, but the death of writers who have influenced me, with whose texts I have dialogued, has affected me, although not to the extent that some Michael Jackson fans are affected. You are probably too young to have been affected by the assassination of John Kennedy, but didn’t the murder of Martin Luther King move you?

  5. Ralph Sabella

    You sometimes come off seeming terribly naive to me; this is one such time. Music more than any other art, in my opinion, engenders pretty heavy emotions in a lot of people, so much so that “idols” are made of those special performers of it. Rock and roll and its offshoots, partly because of their rebellious nature, keep binding together not only the youth but a lot of other people who listen to it. It and its performers give more meaning to their fans’ lives than almost anything else.
    Although I can’t see myself affected as those who are for the loss of MJ I understand and appreciate how they can feel the way they do.
    Also, I like your last thought:
    “if I am not to judge them, then I am not to be judged for judging them.” I want to argue the point but maybe later.

  6. We’re all public presentations of our selves. One could argue whether there is in fact an unadulterated quintessential self known only to our private self. I think we manufacture and reformulate self-perception in response to external feedback so that we can only figure in the drama of our existence as a mangled pastiche of what we think we are, what others think we are, what others think we think we are, ad infinitum. We are in essence a contaminated mess.

    So, if by definition humans are ontologically impure, then it follows that you can never become attached to an authentic individual in his/her purest sense – only to a dynamic interpretation of his/her self. Thus, extreme emotional attachment to a ‘public presentation’ of an individual – and consequent intense grief in response to the attachment’s dissolution – is as legitimate as one occurring in a more private sphere.

    Shadows, reflections, refractions and illusions form the distortions of all our social bonding.

    It is possible to elicit authentic responses to the fabrications of life. A phobic response is physiologically and psychologically real, even though the threat may not be.

  7. I’d object to the idea that people mourning over Michael Jackson should be classified as improper.

    While Mike is right to point out that we do make judgements over the appropriateness of the expression of emotion (giving the example of laughter at the death of the child) we also generally tolerate a wide range of emotional responses to events, without referring to them as improper. I believe the response to Jackson’s death falls well within this range of acceptable responses.

    Mike’s example of laughing at the death of a child is outside the range – we would find it distasteful and unacceptable. One reason we would find it distasteful is because an expression of emotion is a form of communication about a person’s values, desires and needs. Laughing at the death of a child tells us that she or he does not share our values, desires and needs. If this was truly the case then we would feel alienated from the person. However if the person did share our values but by laughing failed to communicate them in the generally accepted way, then we might advise them their form of expression was improper.

    However a deep emotional reaction to Jackson’s death does not really communicate a set of values, desires and needs which are at great odds with the values, desires and needs of human beings generally. It’s certainly not unacceptable and I’m not sure it’s useful to make judgements about appropriateness unless a person requests feedback because they feel misunderstood.

    Justified or not, it is clear that people always have and always will form attachments to public figures. The propensity to do so has probably contributed to our survival as a species. It’s certainly not odd or unusual behaviour.

  8. Now Mike. A few days ago I checked in at your blog to see what you were up to, and this is what I read:

    “Michael Jackson: Cool music, creepy fellow…too bad he’s dead.”

    Now I ask you: is that fitting,or just a hair too dismissive?

    I will say this in favor of a bigger response. If you respond a lot, then you get to be part of a collective experience, which in itself is gratifying. See: Jonathan Haidt on the elevation people get out of being part of a hive, congregation, marching band…or society of people all focused on the same thing.

    The day MJ died, I was in a grocery store and you could hear the news spreading from one person to another. Each person got pulled out of their private little world and into a shared experience. I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say That’s Cool.

  9. Mudlark, I am interested in your point that one can become thoroughly attatched to an appearance, where that appearance figures heavily in one’s self-perception. The role of others in our self-perception is easily ignored.

    I think the main article lacks a category of apropriate greif which just might be analogous to this case. I think it is appropriate to feel greif at the loss of an individual of great worth, for example a deeply moral person. I know very little of Michael Jackson’s actual life, but if we combine his artistic merit with the role he plays in the complex back-and-forth of self-creation/perception, I think it is appropriate to feel greif at least in similar situations.

  10. Certainly improper judgments can be called improper. But, my point was the silly one that if someone judges someone else by saying that people should not judge, then they are being inconsistent.

  11. Amos, I’m even younger than that. 🙂

    The unjust murder of people can move me, but that is because I am angered by murder and injustice. When a famous person dies who has done good, then I feel badly for the loss of a good person. However, this is more of a moral response than a purely emotional reaction. If I do not know that person, then I really cannot be said to have experience a personal loss. However, I can feel badly for the general loss to humanity.

  12. Ralph,

    I’m super naive, thanks to being bitten by a radioactive naive spider.

    I do agree that people feel powerful emotions from the works of artists. People get exceptionally emotionally attached to singers, actors, and such. In some cases, dangerously so. My point is not that people don’t do this. Rather, I was considering whether that is a proper sort of response. Put in one sentence, I suppose I am wondering whether people should be so emotionally invested in celebrities or not. My naive view is that such emotional investment is neither healthy nor wise.

  13. Mudlark,

    Interestingly enough, I wrote an article for TPM (“Who Do You Love”) similar to the point you have made. The gist was that we never actually know another person but rather have our own mental images that we take to be the person. It was latter reprinted in What Don’t You Know?.

    On that hypothesis, we’d never have a real connection to anyone. This would certainly have some interesting implications.

  14. Paul,

    Quite right-we generally accept that people have strong emotional attachments (one way, of course) to celebrities. While such behavior is not unusual, I find it disquieting to see it in some cases. Perhaps it is because I think that such devotion should be earned by real actions, rather than people being swayed by the celebrity status. Naturally, I have no problem with people being grateful towards public figures who have done well. Of course, this might just be a matter of psychology. In my case, I have never been a fan and perhaps have a bias against people who have the fan mentality.

    While the capacity to follow a celebrity (or leader) probably has some survival value, it is also extremely dangerous. People can be fanboys/girls of relative harmless figures like Jackson or Bono, but they can also be fanboys/girls of people like Kim Jong-il, Jim Jones, David Koresh, or (of course) Hitler. I suspect the emotional mechanism of being a fan and being a follower are very similar, if not identical.

  15. Jean,

    Fitting, I think. He was very talented, but he did really creep me out. Also, the charges that he molested children impacted my view of the man.

    I’m not a big fan of being part of a hive. My high school English teacher said it was because I was an arrogant horse’s ass. That seems fair and just.

    True-celebrity news can help weave a shared experience. Of course, it seems sort of an illusory experience. But maybe that is true off all experiences.

  16. Joseph,
    You raise an excellent point about appropriate grief. If the appropriateness is to be defined by the perceived importance of the person, then the fans who are reacting strongly would have proper grief, provided that he was that important to them. Overreacting would, on this sort of view, be a sort of insincere grief and hence not a proper emotional response.

    Of course, it does seem reasonable to say that people might overvalue a person relative to what importance that person should have in their lives. That, of course, raises another question: how much importance should we attach to people and on what basis?

  17. Ralph Sabella

    Thanks for taking that naive remark with such good grace.
    I have trouble with your saying
    “I am wondering whether people should be so emotionally invested in celebrities or not.”
    If someone favors a particular performer, say MJ, it sounds like you’re suggesting she limits herself to how deeply to feel his music, which I think you’ll agree doesn’t make too much sense, since the reason we involve ourselves with any art is, at least in part, to be moved by it. If a person is able to brake that involvement because of a fear of becoming too fond of the music and hence the performer, I’d say the person has little invested in the that artistic experience.

  18. R. Kevin Hill

    I admit that I was unmoved by Michael Jackson’s death as well, but at the risk of unoriginally echoing some remarks above, it seems to me that the key to understanding this phenomenon is identification. First, there are celebrities who generate very strong identification, even if they haven’t done anything noteworthy. Princess Diana, perhaps because of notions rooted in childhood stories like Cinderella, became through her romantic difficulties a symbol of “NOT(happily-ever-after)” and her untimely death crystallized this symbol, perfected it. Vast numbers of people experienced her death as symbolizing the death of their own hope of happiness in love and partnership, apparently a common enough experience. Musical celebrities, however, as a commenter above observed, can reinforce this kind of identification by providing an expressive vehicle for the emotions of the hearer: to the extent that the hearer identifies their own powerful emotions with the music, they may be prone to identify the musician with themselves. In both instances, the outpouring of pseudogrief by masses of strangers is ultimately a kind of epidemic of self-pity that has found a displaced focus and a trigger. [I would insist on the phenomenological difference between genuine grief and self-pity here]. I don’t find this strange at all. What I find strange is why Michael Jackson in particular would be a suitable vehicle for this for anyone. There is a further question, of course, about the value of self-pity, but to ask the question is almost to answer it. If you find yourself thinking, upon learning of the death of a famous person “first they hound you and then they kill you” and a tear comes to your eye, you probably would have to be doing something seriously wrong in other areas of your life first…

  19. Ralph Sabella

    I think I’m going to disagree with your last sentence, but first I want to make sure I understand the “first they hound you and then they kill you” comment. Is that a way of referring to an “idol?”

  20. Mike: I’m not fan-club type person myself. I don’t like crowds nor do I follow fashions. I’m introverted and a loner. However, those are personality traits, neither good nor bad. You seem to see some of those traits as virtues. However, just as following the crowd without thought can lead one into
    shouting “Heil Hitler”, retreating into oneself can lead one into sociopathic isolation.
    I’m not saying that you personally are isolated, but that both following the crowd without thinking and avoiding crowd behavior and depending only upon one’s own thought (after all, our way of thinking is not pure reason, but the product of our very flawed education and upbringing, among other factors) can lead one astray.

  21. I’m somewhat surprised that the notion of pure and simple emotional investment hasn’t been explored more thoroughly. Somewhere along the line Michael Jackson “the object” appeared. Around the object formed a myth, the legend, eventually “The King of Pop.” Michael Jackson became an object of mass affection (He, in fact, is still in the process of becoming that object). Not everyone needed or needs to “jump on the bandwagon,” but many do. These folks form their own conceptions of the object and act accordingly as the object itself acts in various ways. It is easy to invest one’s emotions in a larger than life figure like Michael Jackson. His public persona may be seen as an attractive object, a repulsive object, or simply a neutral object depending on what level of emotional investment is put into Michael as an object of affection.

    Now Michael Jackson is dead. This is a cold hard fact that has been added to the storyline. How long has one been following the spectacle? How much blood, sweat, and tears have been shed in order to receive some sort of gratification from Michael the object? For some, it is easy to see that this moment is particularly disturbing (be it positive or negative) to their psyches. Emotions are immensely personal, though. Yes, someone “big” is now gone, but whether that loss causes not much feeling, rage, happiness, or deep sorrow, it is important, especially if one is an adult, to own one’s feelings and to not let them injure unjustly the life experience of another.

  22. The trajectory of life is studded with moments of emotional resonance that transform and redefine one’s sense of being. Music is often a part of the psychic scenery that accompanies such transfiguring events, and as such, will assume extra-ordinary significance due to this associative quality. If it so happens that one particular artist is responsible for most of the music that frames one’s catalytic moments, then you can understand how the music’s potency, (and by extension, the music maker’s significance) becomes inordinately amplified – effectively becoming an integral part of one’s emotional scars.

    Now imagine that Atlas of one’s personal emotional world suddenly dying…

    That is how people crumble with seemingly irrational grief.


    ‘we never actually know another person but rather have our own mental images that we take to be the person’

    Every sensory experience is mediated by the brain, and we’re at the mercy of it’s interpretative capacity. Nothing can be known directly, in-and-of-itself. So either everything is fake or everything is real.

  23. MUDLARK,

    Right on!

    However, I am more of the Hegelian persuation that initially, the subject and object are one, a long series of diremptions occur, we arrive at the idea of constructivism, and eventually have to accept the fact that what is progressively known about the object(s) is what is cognitively imposed upon it (this is not to say that there might not be forms of cognition other than a human’s. perhaps rocks, in some sense, know.). Forget the noumena. All that is available is experience (human or otherwise). So ultimately, epistemologically speaking, there is no in-and-of-itself remainder. My opinion is that from an objective perspective there is neither a fake or real Michael Jackson. Like everything else, he is part of the Alpha and Omega that is the becoming of experience.

  24. Evan,

    So we can extrapolate from your theory of reality by proposing that MJ’s nose was not in fact any faker than an unreconstructed counterpart – merely a sequence of events in the progressive experience we know as the beingness of MJ’s nose.

    I think object and subject are two vain mirrors staring into each other’s abysses, arguing the idea of something, but reflecting nothing which becomes something by virtue of its status as an issue of contention with regard to whether it actually IS a something. In other words, arguing that nothing is something recasts the former nothing as a palpable something.

  25. (1) MJ’s actual nose is not really the issue for me here, but I’ll try some sort of defense of my theory of reality since I desperately could use the practice. The beingness of his nose suggests that there is or was a Michael Jackson. This is not to say that MJ is or was real or fake. Perhaps, when it comes to his nose’s or an unreconstructed counterpart of its, ontological location, it and he rests in sort of an inbetween state (neiter real as outside of experience all together, nor fake since the nose and all the rest of it is a conceptual entity, and with an opennes to beingness of the becoming of experience there can be a plasticity of that entity within its larger conceptual framework.) I’m actually advocating a version of “veiled reality,” with the reality part being a projected construct behind the curtain which is put there by the cognitive subject.

    (2) I sense a critique of sophism occuring in the form of a reductio ad ad absurdum. I’d like to plead not guilty when it comes to defending my theory of reality with its dichotomy between subject and object. Here’s how I’ll try, hopefully with some coherence, countering that charge (if I’m not just imagining things and there is any, hehe. that is not to say that I don’t have an active imagination). Anywway. Subject and object are initially the same. Their actually being one and another is indistinguishable. Eventually experience occurs dues to a phenomenon of failed denotation. “This,” “Here,” “Now” (indexicals) introduce a mirroring illusion. Subject and object never separate , though. The illusion just produces a many of subject/object dualisms as opposed to the actual initial monism. Getting back together with the object again for an epistemological subject after the “split” is impossible, but an ideal exists. Kind of like the original loss of the object in psychoanalysis. It’s primarily a “retroactive thing,” a loss which tears us away from ourselves (like losing a limb or a lover). In MJ’s case many fans experience a diremption in their psyches. How much this hurts depends on the level of connection to Michael. Anyway again. To get back to the reductio critique of subject/object dualism.

    1. Something doesn’t exist.
    2. Anything which is an issue of contention exists.
    3. Something is an issue of contention.
    4. Therefore, something exists.

    Weird ain’t it. Though I really do think you have something when you say “arguing the IDEA of something…” Of course I play in the conceptual (idea laden) sandbox as an absolute idealist. I don’t think I suggested that Michael Jackson was not a palpable something. Of course he exists. He’s dead, but in some sense, he exists or at the very least existed. He was not nothing. Losing that human being severs many of the ties that bind. I’d say that the line between rational and irrational grief is a thin one. As a human being, I know I tend to get over things in fits and starts. Sometimes that initial fit can be a doozy.

    Please let me know if I am going wrong somewhere. I cannot be held responsible for anything I do before my morning hit of caff. 🙂

    P.S. I’m not really sure of where I came up with that Alpha and Omega bit. Strange when I look at at after a little rest.

  26. Conceptually speaking, a materially reconstructed nose is subject to the same plasticity of beingness as its unreconstructed counterpart, since they both adhere to the principle of existence as a dynamic process of perpetual becoming. Thus, the realism of the existent entity, ie the nose (either reconstructed or not), is not a function of its substance or location, but rather its movement through the space-time it is perceived within. It is the chameleonic quality in motion that defines it, not any given still-frame in the continuum of its existence.

    ‘The beingness of his nose suggests that there is or was a Michael Jackson.’

    – Is it possible to conceive of the nose as an entity in its own right; or does this plane of perception necessarily entangle the idea of its part in a wholeness? If the two entities can indeed be separated through dualistic perception, then it is also possible to conceive of either one not existing as a palpable reality – a momentary dissociation on the continuum of existence causing death and life in a single blow of perception. Thus, we can justifiably question the ‘reality’ of MJ given the evidence of his nose. Every reality is a work in progress and becomes dislocated in all directions; a super-charged gaseous reality. Particles disowning each other and owning others in a flirtatious free-for-all.

    Enough of noses!

    Subject and object are like entangled quantum photons of opposite spin, doomed/blessed to eternal linkage; though the patency of the linkage shifts and mutates, intensifies and weakens. Grief is part of the shifting climate that defines the link. Those individuals not affected by MJ’s death are only silently grieving (for they too are forever linked), while those intensely impacted are grieving proportionately and openly. Neither are false or inappropriate.

    Actually, if your alpha and omega don’t imply a beginning and an end, but rather define points in a circularity of perpetual beginning and ending, then the idea of reality as an experience of perpetual becoming functions beautifully.

  27. Kate Petersen

    Michael was someone who dedicated his career, his energy, and who gave his life and childhood for other people. With the exception of a few songs that were just fun, like Thriller, almost every song had a message asking people to value one another and value children and the process of childhood. At his lifetime Grammy awards ceremony, he took the time to explain to people that in his world travels, he had come to believe that terrorism, war, human hatred, are propagated by people who had their childhoods taken from them.

    Most of his eccentricities had grounded reasoning behind them: example, covering his children with “odd” masks was a way to allow them a degree of normalciy — if they were masked when the were with him, then when with their nanny, they could walk into stores, down the street, to the movies and experience normal life.

    Even in the years when he chose not to engage with the press, he was active in charity work. Never in our lifetime has there been someone with such a consistent message and yet with too much attention to really get the message out. I hope people will revisit his lyrics — especially songs like man in the mirror (which has a very moving video — one that doesn’t include jackson even once but shows scenes of the world) and try to pay tribute to someone whose social impact should be so much greater than the press is allowing it to be. As countless interviews will show he had a modest greatness and tried with patient persistence to be both listened to and truly heard.

  28. Ralph,

    A certain degree of grace makes the web a more polite place. 🙂

    I don’t think I’m suggesting any limits as to how a person should feel about music. My main concern is with how emotionally invested people should be in regards to celebrities. Some of my friends and I were talking about this today in real life. The general consensus was that no matter how awesome an entertainer might be, s/he is still just an entertainer. This is not to say that the person’s real friends and family should not be heavily emotionally invested in the person but that other folks don’t have any real grounds for such devotion.

  29. Amos,

    I’m not a crowd follower, but I am not a loner or isolated. I like people, but don’t like crowds. Well, unless they are there for me, of course. 🙂

    You raise an excellent point that loners can be dangerous as well. Stealing the usual line from virtue theory, I think that the ideal is the middle ground: someone who is not isolated from the rest of humanity and feels a connection to others yet who also does not form attachments that go beyond their proper degree.

  30. Ralph Sabella

    You wrote:
    “I don’t think I’m suggesting any limits as to how a person should feel about music. My main concern is with how emotionally invested people should be in regards to celebrities.”
    My point is for some people, actually a lot of people, the latter is very much a part of the enjoyment of the former.
    Okay, another question. What’s wrong with fans being emotionally heavily invested in some arts idol? It’s been going on forever without any apparent detriment to anyone. Very occasionally some fan does something wacky, but when you consider the numbers involved it’s negligible. In the mean time it appears to make an awful lot of people happy in thinking themselves connected in the way they do to their idol.

  31. Ralph,

    Would it be fair to paraphrase your question as “what’s wrong with fans being heavily emotionally invested in a sports franchise?”

    Granted, I don’t know of any pop star idol hooligans, but an overinvestment in a group identity might create a potentially equally oversized enmity towards an out-group.

  32. Ralph Sabella

    Grendel’s Dad
    I’m sure there are loads of similarities between sports fans and music fans, but the paraphrase doesn’t quite work for me. In both cases you can find adherents of all types. My experience with the rock and roll music fans, I must say, has been entirely positive. That there is a potentiality for great danger doesn’t hold water with me. I haven’t seen it happen yet, and fanatic music fans have been around a long, long time.
    I might go along with your concern when the group is a religious one.

  33. The only problem I can see with heavy emotional investment in music and its idols is the situation of over identification with an idol at the expense of personal identity outside the context of the idolatry; to the point where the idolater’s reason for living is extinguished with the idol’s demise.

  34. Like like people who are heavily involved in their financial interests jumping out of windows when the markets crash?

    Money being an idol as well…

    Another question to ask might be: How broken up are those who stood to make a profit from Michael’s next moves? Now MJ’s posthumous career begins…

  35. Kill your idols, before they kill you? (metaphorically speaking)

  36. OK Listen up, you fxckin’ tit.

    You will never be as cool as Michael Jackson, You will never have the effect Michael Jackson has on the world, you don’t even have the fxckin’ balls to be a real man and feel the pain of what humans do to each other and our world… and do something about it.

    Keep postin your fxckin;’ blogs, that i accidentally fall upon while searching threads and exist in your own little meaningless slump that you call reality

    This message may bring clarity, although it is all hate.

    You fxckin’ tit.

  37. That last comment is the strongest argument I’ve seen so far against
    idol worship.

  38. Ralph,

    You raise a point well worth considering. On one hand, I sometimes suspect my view of extreme fans is on par with the view I used of have of religious folks (back in my tough young atheist days). That is, something grounded in mere bias and prejudice because they hold views I found to be absurd and irrational. It could also be argued that their being such fans does them no harm and hence I have no real reason to be critical. On the other hand, I think that forming such attachments is a mistake. This is based on a view that there are proper emotions and this depends on the usual factors laid out by Aristotle and Aquinas: who, why, what, etc. Naturally, this is just gesturing towards where a theory of proper emotions would be built. Also, I think that fans are making an error in overvaluing the celebrities. It seems irrational to assign such value and the associated emotions to those who merely entertain. But perhaps I am jealous that I have no groupies. 🙂

  39. Ralph,

    True-music fans don’t seem to pose any special threat. True, people have been trampled at stadiums, but that cannot be linked to the fact that the fans are music fans.

  40. Mudlark,

    Good point. Part of my concern about fandom is just that-it can impact the identity of the person. While people do imitate people they like and admire, this can get a bit problematic.

  41. Evan,

    I suspect the folks who set up the tour that his death canceled are very broken up. But, perhaps they can find a way to make a fortune another way. After all, Jackson’s albums have been selling very well.

  42. Truth,

    I’ll infer that your remarks are directed at me.

    I’m not sure Jackson qualifies as cool. But that depends on what is meant by “cool.” Sure, I’ll never sing or dance like him. But you don’t know me-and hence are not a fit judge of how cool I might become. Not that being cool is my goal-that is a superficial sort of thing that changes with every passing fad.

    No, I’ll never affect the world like he did-I’m not an entertainer (except very indirectly).

    Oh, I feel the pain of what humans do to each other. I have empathy and sympathy for my fellow human beings. I did feel bad that Jackson died. But I also feel bad when I learn about people being torn apart by car bombs in Iraq or when I hear about someone dying from cancer. I also do something about it-I teach classes such as critical thinking and ethics. I do do not wow people with amazing dance moves or an incredible voice, but I do (in my small way) help others become better and thus add to the world. While I do not have Jackson’s millions, I do give what I can to help others. Admittedly, this most often involves things like donating clothing to the local homeless shelter, rescuing animals or picking up litter in the park. I have but a modest professor’s income, after all.

    My reality is quite meaningful. I teach, I’m active (well was, before my surgery) in my running club, I have many friends and a great family. I also have much more than I can list here. You don’t know me and have no ground upon which to judge my life.

    You wrote “This message may bring clarity, although it is all hate.” Yes, you are quite right. Your message is all hate. That seems rather inconsistent with endorsing the “feeling the pain of what humans do to each other” and doing “something about it.” If that is what you support, should you not gently correct my errors and urge me to be better rather than calling me a “fxckin’ tit”?

  43. Ralph Sabella

    A quote from Angela Monet: “Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”
    What you’ve been calling inappropriate feelings I think is more universally known as passion, without which this world, in my opinion, would be pretty drab.
    And Mike, in a very subdued sense, I’m a groupie of yours.

  44. Never having been a Michael Jackson fan I must admit to being slightly moved by his death. But before that is deemed inappropriate I would like to add that it is the whole situation and his evident inner disqiet I find moving. His death to me means that he will never come to lay those problems to rest. That seems to me something that is more of a loss than his death and the end of his music. We might well wonder whether if his fans, and a few popped up, would with hindsight willingly put him through some form of psychological deprivation in order for him to turn out a great singer.

  45. Ralph,

    To diagnose my view, I turn to my over-exposure to Plato. 🙂 While I am fine with passion and emotion, I think that it is wisest for passion to be properly ruled by reason. Passion without the guide of reason can turn rather ugly. Of course, reason without passion is a dull thing-a gray machine clicking along in the shadows of life.

    I’m pleased to have a groupie. Just don’t imitate my fall off the ladder-that was my worst performance ever. 🙂

  46. Jonathan,

    Excellent point. An early death robs a person of a chance to finish up his life and to get his plans and hopes to fruition. In the case of Jackson, perhaps if he had lived longer he would have been able to sort out his life and finally sleep well and normally at night.

  47. Why people feel so much about Michael Jackson? It’s complex, mysterious, moving and it definitely has a reason. Not from an intellectually point of view. But how far can intellect take us? Not very far. The answer resides in the heart. Not only I think Jackson had a clear message as somebody said here, perhaps rooted in his own pain, like a phoenix bird singing and dancing (let’s not forget he was an extraordinary dancer), and he had a timeless element in his work (unusual in pop music), but he also was a mirror to a certain type of society (that showered him with money and power and then, when he cracked, treated him as weird – obviously not the society of the “Quijote” where the artist can become crazy and still be appreciated). And let me add that when people were calling him weird, Deepa Chokra talked with Michael and he was wondering why the world outside was so weird and his own country was invading other countries and there was so much killings an unjustice). Who is weird then?? And so why people feel so deeply? Because of all these things and because he was an amazing artist – he will be recognized more in the future. And perhaps he is the man in the mirror, I can actually see him doing one of those “Marcel Marceau” gestures he used to do… So let’s just remember him with fondness.

  48. one could argue that an emotional attachment to God is a one sided

  49. My bond with MJ started in 1970 when we were both 12. He has since been a major part of the soundtrack of my life. I’ve always been a fan. I’ve also watched him give millions of dollars, and huge amounts of time to great causes. For me, his death was a stellar shock, and left me bereft…as much as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Lennon.

  50. I wasn’t a fan of MJ when he was alive. I had limited connection with him. When I was a child, I listened to his social songs like “We are the world” and “Heal the world”. However, since MJ’s death I feel like a part of me died with him, too, and I became his fan since then. Many people I have talked to told me they have the same feeling. People express this feeling in different ways: losing a very important person in their life, losing their childhood, losing a part of them, the world is emptier without him. Nelson Mandela even said that he feels like “The world is over”…They’re just different ways of expressing the same feeling that something in our heart just died. No, I’m not overreacting. This feeling explains why Michael suddenly have so many fans after his passing. It explains the global mourn and the media attention.

    I only began reading about him after his passing. I really love his book “Dancing the dream”. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know the real man behind the King of Pop and why people love him.

  51. The Michael Jackson & Proper Emotions article was interesting but there are quite a few points I have a problem with. As the author points out attaching emotions to a constructed image of a person, not the real person, is as ludicrous as attaching emotions to an object such as jewellery. But people still do this. It doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong but the majority of humans attach emotions to things which are valueless. 

    If the author is correct in his thinking than it it is just as ludacrise to live your life by some philosophy you have read or a faith you follow. Essentially everything is meaningless and humans, because we operate on emotions and thoughts and not just instict like animals, attach emotions and thoughts onto things to be able to make sense of the world, or to make ourselves feel better. Humans attatch their own meaning onto everything themselves, so one persons thoughts can not be deemed inappropriate by another, who will also attach emotions onto an object or being that someone else will deem inappropriate. Something that the author holds in great esteem I may view as valueless. But who is the ultimate correct judge on the actual value of said item? When you really think about it everything in life is subjective so there is never any absolute right or wrong answer.

    This is not just something humans do out of instinct. This is bred by our upbringing. In the West we are indoctriated from birth by schools, governments, the media that all our aspriations and our meaning in life it to achieve as much material wealth and financial gain as possible. This is one reason humans attach emotions to objects. We have been brought up to give these objects value and meaning. This is the very heart at what advertising is about.

    And in such a competitive environment human very quickly become egocentric and forget their primal connection to each other. This is why I think people invest heavy amounts of emotions onto people who remind them of this and this gives them something to aspire to, to make them feel more ‘human’ again.

    For me the image that was projected of Michael Jackson was one of kindness, humbleness, altruism, genius talent, grace and dignity. An image most people would like to aspire to, or traits that are deemed in society as good. And I think this is why people felt such emotion towards him. He was a great role model in a time of much destruction – be it destruction of society, the planet or of each other. He reminded people to not think of themselves but look at the bigger picture and remember to look after others and the planet. And I feel that there is nothing wrong with wanting to aspire to this as there is no real difference between this and what religious followers partake in. The only difference is that society tell us it is acceptable to follow a religious mantra and regime of living but it is not acceptable to apply a similar thought process onto something that is not holy and deemed by ‘god’.

    But the very concept of god and religion is abstract itself. And who is actually capable of dictating what is true and good or false and bad when it comes to human thinking? After all ancient Greek religion is now termed mythology as ‘they’ (whoever they are) deemed it is not realistic or rational yet modern religion is seen to be these things. But what really is the true difference? Why is a god of thunder like Zeus any different to ‘God’, ‘Allah’ or ‘Krishna’? To me it is no more ludicrous to believe in a god than it is to believe in unicorns or the values that ‘Michael Jackson’ (I this as the Michael Jackson the public know is not the man himself. But we are not talking about the actual man instead we discuss the public image and what this means to people as this is the only Michael Jackson we know of) embodied.

    For some people Jackson would have been a constant in their life and when everything else was bad they still had this man who’s nature and philosophy on life was inspirational and aspirational and as he is unspeaking he is therefore unjudging. But isn’t this actually what a god is? A constant ‘being’ that guides you to live a better life by a written mantra on how to live a good and happy life. A ‘being’ who is unjudging and always there? The only difference is what society deems is acceptable and unacceptable.

    I would like to point out that I do not see Jackson as some sort of god-like figure but as per my previous point I don’t think that attaching those emotions to the image of Jackson is any more ridiculous that attaching emotions to a god. Both are just constructs humans have created to make sense of their perception of the world.

    And how many of us truly know someone. Everyone portrays themselves in a certain light and this is projected in different ways to different people. For example you will act one way with your mother, another way with your friends and another way with colleagues. And there are very few humans that actually lay themselves bare and show their true selves. Those who do are actually something quite beautiful. And a celebrity is just a spotlighted version of this. Of course they have a media image to make them look good, but what person out there doesn’t portray themselves as good?

    Also you can never judge a persons emotions until you know why they feel the way they do. Every person’s views are dependant on what they have experienced in life. So the author may not attach much emotion onto objects or people he does not know but other people are more sensitive and emotive and may have a reason behind why they are like that. As the author knows nothing of their experience then it is very unfair to tarnish everyone with the same brush and ultimately dismiss every one of their feelings or thoughts.

    And I am not denying the fact that people do over react. There is something back Jackson that enables these ‘superfans’, for lack of a better word, who give up their lives to follow the man. We all know this is not normal, rational behaviour. But I would be more interested in understanding the psychology and experiences of these people rather than automatically dismissing them.

    And the fact that a lot of people were saddened by the loss of Jackson more than they would when other celebrities die is testament to the man. After all he is lauded as someone who united people, broke down barriers and revolutionised the entertainment industry. He is a key cultural figure of our times and this is partly the reason I feel there was such a public reaction to his passing. After all it is very few that are mourned by a nation, or in this case the world. And often they are people of great accomplishment on speaking on peace, altruism and equality. Only people like Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Kennedy’s experience this outpouring. Which shows that human’s respond to the loss of these figure with grief as they are more ‘grieving’ for what the person stood for not the person themselves. People identified that what these people stood for were good and something to aspire to. It is important to realise a person can be separated from themselves. Michael Jackson, the public figure is not Michael Jackson the private figure. No one can judge the man himself and not many people, and quite possible no one, knows the real Michael Jackson. And lest we forget that people are constructs of their circumstance and experiences. If you look at elevated figures in history like Michael Jackson and Martin Luther King their upbringings and experiences are not dissimilar to people such a Hitler. Yet it was only the way that they dealt with these experiences and how these experiences shaped their world view and philosophy that separates them. And this is the reason why it is important to remember to look into the fact that people are constructs of their experiences and their emotions are dictated by that. So as the saying goes ‘don’t judge another until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’.

    I fear I have made my response longer than the actual article but I felt it was something I wanted to give my self-constructed, experience lead opinion as well. After all I am only human.

  52. You said, “From my perspective, the fans who are emotionally devastated by his death are overreacting” I know you must be kidding, Michael Jackson had diehard fans who actually grew up with him from the very beginning of his career. so being emotionally devistated over his death was very real.

  53. From most of the post that I read, I guess ignorance comes in all forms!To think i was going to do some research from this site for my college paper! Grow up people! 😡

  54. I don’t claim that they did not react that way-obviously they did. Likewise, someone who shoots another person because they mildly insulted them did react that way. However, there is the rather important question of “should they have reacted that way?” That is, is the reaction fitting and proper? In the case of his fans, I argued that for those who did not know him personally, their extreme reaction was probably excessive given their relation to the person.

  55. Ignorance does indeed come in many forms.

  56. Hi,

    I know it’s been 5 years since Michael Jackson’s death, but I didn’t come across this post until now.

    I’m a die hard Michael Jackson fan and what you said in your post must have annoyed a lot of fans, but I’m definitely not going to react that way.

    So let me put it this way, Michael Jackson was a pervert to some, just a celeb to some others and a guiding force to many. Since you didn’t have a personal relationship with Mr. Jackson, he’s JUST a celeb to you,and you thought it was unnecessary to react the way his fans did, which is an appropriate response on your part. But to say or publicly post the meaninglessness in his fans’ reactions is not appropriate. Under no circumstances should you forget the influence he had on people. I’m not going to talk about his legacy when it comes to Music and performance cause that would be ridiculous. But what you failed to notice miserably is that he actually imbibed the culture of ‘loving fans back’. And I truly mean it. Michael Jackson himself knew that he wasn’t in personal contact with a lot of his fans, but he never made any of us feel left out. That was his greatness. When he said “I love you more”, he wasn’t just saying it from the tip of his tongue, he really meant it. When he said “Don’t touch my fans” to the media which was hurting his fans just to take a snap, he meant it. When he called his lawyer to help his fans out of trouble, he meant that too.

    I hope you realize the fact that YOU are not a Michael Jackson fan, which means that you never knew what the man was all about and it also means that you never understood the relationship his fans share with him.

    Michael inspired people to work harder, he helped them realize their true identity and build dreams. I never met him, but I am greatly indebted to the kind of support he extended, on both emotional and spiritual levels. And I know there are millions of people who feel the way I do.

    And let me also say, you probably never met a majority of Michael Jackson fans, maybe you have, but you surely never could relate to them. How can you, in that case, say that what we felt on June 25, 2009 is the same as losing jewelry? He was, as I said above, a guiding force in our lives and I feel quite sorry for you that you are not acquainted to these emotions, it’s probably because you either don’t have a guiding force in your life or you are terrible at understanding emotions.

    Your very last couple of lines really intrigue me:
    “Who am I, one might say, to judge their grief and tears as proper or improper? An excellent question, to which I give an obvious reply: if I am not to judge them, then I am not to be judged for judging them.”

    I would like to ask you what exactly you had in your mind when you typed these lines. Were you afraid fans were going to attack you? Or did you know, somewhere in your mind, that what you’ve posted in technically and politically incorrect? I don’t know, but you sure sound like an ‘escapist’ to me.

    Honestly saying, there was no need to write an article about this, because clearly you are not a fan of Mr. Jackson’s. But to determine how people should have reacted or shouldn’t have reacted, and labeling it “proper” on a subject you are not even closely related to determines what quality of a blogger you are.

  57. SL,

    No, I was not a fan-although I did rather like most of his music and still watch the Thriller video every Halloween. However, the fact that I am not a fan does not entail that I cannot understand him or his fans. After all, a Latino female researcher studying white men could presumably still understand them and their ways. Likewise, someone who is not a fan of Elvis Presley or DaVinci could still understand both and their fan bases. One need not be X to understand X. But, this could be argued against. After all, if one is not a fish, how can one say what the fish is thinking?

    No, I did not think I would be attacked. It was just a stock reply to the usual counter about not judging. If judging is wrong, then judging people for judging would be wrong.

    I’m not sure why that would sound escapist. But, like most folks, I do like to escape into movies, music, books, and games from time to time.

    I was interested in the issue of proper grief and certainly welcome opposing view points. That is the kind of blogger I am.

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