Joan Smith: Front-page Jacko pictures show red-tops' true colours

Even dead stars deserve some dignity

Share

The late Michael Jackson made an unscheduled public appearance last week. If he'd been around to witness it, I don't suppose the singer would have been surprised to learn that even death hasn't managed to guarantee him a degree of privacy that most human beings take for granted. But the widespread publication of photographs of Jackson's corpse on a hospital trolley in 2009 is a reminder that, in the world of the 24-hour media cycle, the grave is no longer a fine and private place.

It isn't the first time a public figure has been subjected to this final indignity. A stomach-churning photograph of Marilyn Monroe's corpse exists, taken after her post-mortem examination in 1962, but it hasn't been printed anything like as often. In May this year, the United States government rightly decided against releasing photographs of Osama bin Laden's dead body, although in that instance I doubt whether questions of taste were paramount; pictures of his damaged face would have enraged al-Qa'ida sympathisers, while conspiracy theorists would have screamed that the pictures were fakes. Hours after the Jackson photographs appeared, claims were already circulating on the internet that they'd been "doctored" to make them look worse.

What's instructive about this episode is that it comes at a moment when popular journalism is on the defensive, having to defend itself against charges of wholesale intrusion into private life. There's nothing new about this; tabloid editors are always swearing that they've got over their paparazzi addiction, only to carry on publishing photographs of famous people snapped from behind bushes with lenses that resemble drainpipes. Members of the public rarely suffer this degree of intrusion, although last week's pictures of a British man who'd just been attacked by a shark – one of his legs was bitten off as he swam on a beach near Cape Town – seemed an unnecessary exposure of private horror.

Editors who decided to blazon the Jackson photos across their front pages would no doubt argue they were already in the public domain, having been displayed during the trial in Los Angeles of the singer's doctor, Conrad Murray, for involuntary manslaughter. I don't know whether reporters covering the trial knew that the prosecuting authorities decided to show the pictures against the wishes of Jackson's family, who were in court and visibly distressed, but it might not have made any difference. One of the most egregious offenders was Rupert Murdoch's Sun, despite the fact that that proprietor is said to have vetoed corpse-photos in the past on the grounds that "stiffs don't sell papers".

That's hardly the issue, which revolves around concepts the popular press isn't terribly interested in: taste, privacy, and respect for the feelings of friends and relatives. I can think of circumstances in which relatives might choose to display photographs of loved ones taken after death – to reveal evidence of torture or a massacre, for example – but they're few and far between. The fact that Jackson chose to live his life in the public eye is a pretty pathetic excuse for publishing pictures of his corpse, while the heartless response to the photos on some websites confirms the numbing effect of such invitations to voyeurism.

Jackson was a very damaged human being, like Marilyn Monroe, and there's no doubt they would both have absolutely hated the idea of being exposed in this way. So would most of us: dead bodies speak volumes about our vulnerability and they shouldn't be turned into the kind of spectacle we've just witnessed. Forgive my cynicism, but these outbreaks of taste and sensitivity in the popular press never last long.

www.politicalblonde.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week