Now that Michael Jackson‘s passed away and the mad scramble to cover the breaking story has settled down a bit, the media can now turn its focus toward more important matters—How to profit from Jackson’s demise.
The untimely death of someone like Jackson, a once in a generation worldwide superstar, is one of the few things that can possibly breathe new life into the balance sheets of a slowly dying tabloid media industry. Remember, not only was Michael Jackson a star of Elvis proportions, but he was an insanely weird star of Elvis proportions, perhaps the weirdest star the world has ever known (Even weirder than Elvis himself!) or will ever know, with a long personal history filled with scandal.
Here’s something key to remember on this—In the United States of America, the dead cannot be libeled. Only living individuals can sue for libel. So I can run around all over town saying that Millard Fillmore used to fellate goats in the White House if I chose to and there’s absolutely nothing that Millard Fillmore’s descendants can do legally to make me stop saying it.
Now just imagine how many sensational Michael Jackson stories are out there waiting to be told that were never told before out of fear of being driven into financial ruin with libel lawsuits tied up for years in the American court system. Surely there will be people looking to sell their stories now, and surely there will be tabloid magazines that will scrape up whatever cash they can muster to buy these stories, even the most marginal, and slap them on their front pages under provocative headlines. They will sell by the millions, even in a down economy, because Western society has an insatiable appetite for celebrity scandal. It makes us feel better about our own wretched lives when the curtain is pulled back on those in the spotlight to reveal souls that are just as dark and tormented as our own, if not more.
But it won’t just stop there.
In the days, weeks and months to come we’ll be bombarded with more Michael Jackson television specials, print media special issues, commemorative products, re-releases of albums, etc. than most of us can stand. And then of course the more traditional media will recycle some of the stories dug up by the aforementioned tabloids and their reporting of those stories will bring in viewers and sell copies of newspapers/magazines. What you’ve seen just in the last 12 hours or so, what with the release of Jackson’s death photo and the second by second movements of his corpse being reported on live television, is only scratching the surface.
Now to be fair, we at Gawker certainly aren’t exempt from any of this. It’s no secret that our revenue is generated through advertising dollars based on a rather simple metric—How many eyeballs are seeing the site on a regular basis. We will be covering the coverage of the story, and perhaps adding to the story here and there, as we always do, and stories like this one tend to spark tremendous public interest. Just look at the spike in traffic we experienced yesterday from all of this as evidence. This is all a part of what former Gawker editor Choire Sicha (or maybe it was Emily Gould?) termed, “the celebrity industrial complex,” and we as consumers have no one but ourselves to blame for it. If we ignored all of this stuff it would probably go away, but we don’t, so it doesn’t. In turn, those of who work in media serve it up on a plate for the masses eager to consume it. Then we all medicate ourselves silly so we can get through the days and sleep through the nights and the world spins madly on. It’s just the way we live now.
If only we’d all take a moment to step back and listen to the words of this contemplative visionary, perhaps the world would be a better place.