Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics

Are Michael Jackson Jokes Suddenly “Bad”?

Michael_jackson_bad_cd_cover_1987_cdda.jpgCome on… you know you’ve told one or two Michael Jackson jokes over the years. The self-proclaimed “King of Pop” has been such a startling public figure–with his bizarre plastic surgeries, his wild and wacky but undeniably trend-setting outfits, his dangling offspring, ever-changing skin-color and his unlikely marriages–that his life provided unparalleled fodder for public merriment.

But does all that change with his death?
Maybe we were all a little callous for snickering and cracking wise about the singer’s private life all those years. But, at least to me, it didn’t feel sacrilegious when he was still with us. Now, however, the feeling on the streets for Mr. Jackson is one of almost holy worship and adulation. People are comparing Michael Jackson to Elvis, and the mourning is at nearly the same fever pitch. They’re willing to forget the creepy child molestation allegations, the sad final years, and focus on the genius of his talent (which I won’t dispute). I suspect there are places in America today that, if you told a MJ joke, you might find yourself in serious trouble.
So, my question is… Is it somehow more immoral or unethical to make fun of the dead? 


Now, at the risk of sounding utterly awful, I must tell you, the minute I heard MJ had had a heart attack (but before I knew it was serious) I posted my facebook status as:

“MJ had a heart attack? What, did he look at the man in the mirror?” 

And you know what, I didn’t really feel too guilty about it even after I found out he was gone. Then again, I wasn’t a huge fan. And, compared to some of what I was seeing on social networking sites, my comment barely registered as off-color. Part of me is tempted to lay a few of the jokes I heard on you here, but perhaps it’s best not to do so. Suffice it to say most of them involved underage children.

Anyhow, I’m torn here. I think really the problem isn’t so much that these jokes soil the memory of the deceased–Jacko did enough to soil his own legacy with his behavior while he was alive–as about how it offends fans who want to remember his good traits. Still, I think it’s kind of ridiculous for people to suddenly turn all pious and sanctimonious about someone who was clearly quite complicated, to say the least, and make the man so one-dimensional that history is practically re-written. 
In the end, I guess it seems most ethical to me if we keep our behavior consistent. If we were the sorts who mocked MJ before, then I think we’d be hypocrites to stop doing it now.
Do you agree?
Comments read comments(89)
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posted June 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm

It all just goes back to simple respect which I think is generally lacking these days. My parents always told us that if you do not have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. To say things about a person and even more so moments after their death is not only callous and insensitive but wrong on so many levels. Yes, people might have joked when he was alive but I think that that is really not the same as telling a joke after a person has died and others are grieving. No matter what you thought of the man, he is someone’s son, brother, father, uncle and the like.
Over the years I know that I might have made a few MJ jokes here and there. And I admired the guy and the joke was in fun as it would be toward a friend but I would never joke about someone at their death. I would go as far as to say that I would not even say a mean thing against my worst enemy on that persons day of death.
Perfect example of jokes that are totally inappropriate are the likes of those being told by the late night crew such as Jimmy Kimmel.

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Bill Safsel

posted June 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Michael Jackson is with the angels now. I just hope that the angels have good lawyers and their own beds.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Oh Bill that was so wrong!

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Bill Safsel

posted June 26, 2009 at 1:44 pm

I know…I apologize.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I am old enough to remember the Jackson 5. I have seen the family grow and Michael as well. I’ve said some and shared off color jokes about him. But, he is truly the most celebrated music icon I have seen over the last 30+ years. Please always remember in death, we should always remember to celebrate one’s life and know that thier spirit is on another plane and God has him now. Remember all of us will have to take the same journey as M. Jackson and F. Fawcett took yesterday.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 3:15 pm

When a Celb is made fun of or there are rumors about them, they sometimes make a public statement or write a book to defend theirself.When they are dead and defenseless other people feel obligated to defend them. Jokes at their expense seems like a cheep shot at defenseless people. MJ to the younger crowd is a weirdo, but to people over 40 we saw him grow up and saw him in a day when he was really cool before all the weirdness. He is being compared to ELvis who was also a huge giant star and became very weird in the last 10 years of his life and died to young.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Hey Jewels the only thing that Michael Jackson and Elvis had in common was their country of birth.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I think it would be great if people could just focus on the discussion Hillary eloquently presented and drop the offensive jokes. I’ve come to expect intelligent discourse from this blog and nowhere in this piece are the repeating of said jokes requested.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Gail I believe you have misunderstood the blog. Read Hillary’s comments again below is a quote taken from above:-
“If we were the sorts who mocked MJ before, then I think we’d be hypocrites to stop doing it now.” Hillary Fields
Michael Jackson is dead, hospital staff don’t know what to do
with the body, as plastic recycle in not until next Friday.
Rumor has it that Michael Jackson wanted to be buried at sea,
naturally strapped to a couple of buoys.
And they just keep coming, the texts started arriving within an hour of the news going public, and will stop no time soon.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 4:13 pm

For those who cry for mj, you must have a sad life to be so tied to this mess. yes a great singer and entertainer, but just that no more and a lot less.

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posted June 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm

“Taste” and “respect” and “honor” are funny, hard-to-define, instinctual words. We can ridicule their inconsistency, but that does not make us immune to their power, immune to feeling anger or insult or humiliation when we are the targets of behavior that breaks those undefinable norms.
So I would try to err on the side of empathy, given that it’s impossible to be “consistent” in this regard. I never knew or understood Michael Jackson, but it seems just as inconsistent for me to treat him disrespectfully on his death only because I don’t know the guy. If it were someone close to me who died, I would feel bad if millions of people around the world decided to taunt that person.
It it arbitrary to be more circumspect at the time of someone’s death? In some ways, yes. But in terms of respecting the mourners’ feelings of loss, I think it’s entirely reasonable.
Now, I might still crack some jokes among friends, secure in the knowledge that none in that company would feel hurt. But I’d shy away from doing it publicly.

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Hillary Fields

posted June 26, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Great point, Yugo. Perhaps the ‘public vs. private’ mockery thing is key here. For instance, it seems worse to a lot of people that Jimmy Kimmel made a bunch of lame MJ jokes on his talkshow last night than that you and I might mutter something out of the sides of our mouths between friends and out of hearing of those who might want to remember MJ more fondly. Also, our words are less likely to reach MJ’s actual family or friends than those of ‘public figures’. Apparently, Sascha Baron Cohen’s people took out a scene in the upcoming fim “Bruno” that dealt with MJ and La Toya–surprising, since SBC of all people doesn’t seem afraid of causing offense!

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posted June 26, 2009 at 7:05 pm

live up, people make jokes all the timeee! hes nothing special to not makes jokes that!
I’m making them and if anyone doesn’t like it they can suck me bum

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posted June 26, 2009 at 7:25 pm

I am disgusted with newspapers and television all around this world. They are more immoral and unethical than anybody who has submitted to this site. If we need to point fingers look at the hypocrites. These people are the same that made a lot of money on the “Wacko Jacko” headlines,
his court cases, they are definitely going to miss him.
Today he is a hero who will be missed, King of Rock (Elvis Rolling in Grave), we will miss him, Pack of mongrels. I liked Michael before he became aware he was twisted.
At least his 3 children will now have a chance to look at reality, it’s going to take time to sort them out I presume.

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posted June 27, 2009 at 12:45 am

The autopsy results are in. Michael died of food poisoning.
Turns out, he ate some nine year old weiners.

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posted June 27, 2009 at 7:35 am

I have a couple of jokes, do you think are bad?
actually they are more like dark humor comics
There is a grave, on the stone there is MJ
then an arm is coming out from the ground
and the word “thriller” appear
Another one is a skeleton face with sunglasses and MJ hairdo is singing
You know I m DEAD
Im Dead
You know it

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Charles Cosimano

posted June 27, 2009 at 11:31 am

The latest one I heard had Michael Jackson landing in Hell and being given his room. It is a big room, even bigger than the one he had at his ranch with a humongous bed. The only problem is that he has some roommates, about 2000 Catholic priests.

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posted June 27, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I don’t think its too soon. And, apparently, neither did National Lampoon.
Michael Jackson jokes: The Greatest Hits

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posted June 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Michael Jackson was supposed to be creamated, but the E.P.A. put a stop to it declaring that since He was nearly 80 percent plastic, that it would be pollution. So the new plan is to melt him down, and make Lego’s with his remains so that now children can play with him for a change.

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posted June 29, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Diana Ross has already filed a lawsuit against MIchael Jackson’s estate wantig her face back.

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Basil the Basilisk

posted June 29, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Michael Jackson jokes were always whistling past a graveyard. Michael had gone from the very essence of sincerity and purity as a ten-year-old to a freakish human wreck. That frightens people. So they cope with it by making jokes.
As for the probably true allegations of pedophilia, you can’t claim to care about the children Michael allegedly victimized and not mourn the talented, sincere, lonely, but hopeful boy that he was.

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posted July 2, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I loved Farrah, so when she passed she was standing at the pearly gates, she was asked if given one wish what would she wish for, not being selfish to come back to Earth well, she wished for all children on Earth to be safe, the next day MJ passed…………………

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posted July 4, 2009 at 4:07 am

Nobody cared about Michael Jackson months ago when it was said he had 6 months to live cause of his infections. Nobody was crying over him then

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posted July 7, 2009 at 10:25 am

Got a metajoke for you all: “What’s the difference between Michael Jackson and Michael Jackson jokes? Michael Jackson jokes CAN get old.”
Courtesy of

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Your Name

posted July 25, 2009 at 7:07 pm

I’ve always been a kind of serious person, so what’s in a joke to me nothing I don’t see the humor. Have you ever been at the butt end of a joke? How did you like it? Not so well, so that’s what I think be considerate and not so judgemental might come back and haunt you. Jokes told about real people are not exceptable dead or alive.

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posted July 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I think that he was a good person and i feel really bad that i didnt know about him. But he was a very good singer and i love his songs

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posted July 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm

First of all don’t forget the accusations of molestation were only accusations. There are many ways that prove he didn’t touch those kids, you can believe what you want to but I know he didn’t. I don’t see why everyone thinks its to funny to pick on someone so big. Maybe it was because he was so big and they were just jealous. I didn’t like them making jokes about him when he was alive, but it’s just disrespectful now that he’s passed.

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Your Name

posted November 3, 2009 at 8:58 am

I do not feel it is in bad taste to speak ill of the dead. You know what you call a dead child molester? Well, A dead child molester. Just cause he had the money to buy the accusations away does not make it OK.
Oh yea, I was not a Michael Jackson fan when he was alive and I am not going to jump on the band wagon now. Further more I will not be guilted into feeling bad for him because he was black and I am not. All my grand parents were immigrents to the U.S. and never owned anyone or kept anyone down. So do not try to play the reverse race card on me. It will not work.

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posted July 31, 2010 at 4:03 am

R.I.P mj

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