Idol Chatter

What do Michael Jackson and Pope John Paul II have in common?

Answer: They were the most recent famous public figures whose bodies were chosen for public viewing after their deaths.

Before Michael Jackson, another famous figure whose body was public viewing was Pope John Paul II in April 2005.  Droves of Catholics, people of faith, and tourists filled St. Peter’s Square, standing in line to wait for a glimpse of the religious father figure who had bridged so many faiths, countries, and cultures.  Before that, even though Princess Diana‘s body was never presented for public viewing, her death in August 1997 brought together waves of people who left a blanket of bouquets outside Buckingham Palace.

Since the announcement that Michael Jackson’s body will be sent back to his Neverland estate for public viewing this Friday, there’s no doubt millions will descend upon Neverland to get a first and last look at the King of Pop.  While this may be sacrilegious to say, it’s quite possible the crowd of mourners might outnumber the ones who left bouquets for Princess Diana and the ones who visited Pope John Paul II. 

Yet, what does it mean when the legacy of a pop music royalty can trump–and almost outweigh–the legacy of religious royalty and blood royalty? 

In a way, Michael Jackson was able to transcend more religions, cultures, ethnicities, and even cultures than Pope John Paul II.  Whether or not you loved MJ, he was a huge icon of the 80s and there’s no doubt everyone in the world has heard about him and heard his music.  Does this mean that the legacy of his pop culture fame is more meaningful than the legacy of religious fame? And what do the responses to his death tell us about what is sacred today?

Professor Gary Laderman has written a thought-provoking piece about the intersection of celebrity, funeral rituals and faith in response to Michael Jackson’s death. Excepts from the piece are below:

“The recent announcement that Michael Jackson’s body will be put on display for public viewing is not surprising. Regardless of his private beliefs at the time of his death, Jackson is embedded in a larger religious culture that requires fans have one last look and intimate moment with their adored celebrity saint. But more significant than any religious tradition is Jackson’s standing in the public eye, and his celebrity status as more than an idol in the pop culture landscape.

“The moment of death and the public response to the life cut short called forth religious behaviors and emotions and attachments that put this sacred quality into sharp relief. Think of Valentino and the riots surrounding the funeral home in NY that gave the public what they wanted, a last look at their venerated screen icon; or recall the death and funeral ceremonies for Elvis Presley, whose drug ravaged body was also embalmed and given over to the public who made the pilgrimage to Graceland. Only a few celebrities achieve this level of adoration…” >>Click here to read the full article


Do you think that fame trumps faith?  Does the importance of Michael Jackson’s death transcend even the deaths of faith figures? 

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