Mark Steel: The macabre details of Michael Jackson's death

One reporter told us the news from LA was 'truly a JFK moment'
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The Independent Online

Within minutes of the first reports, it was clear the world was going mad. The reporter on Radio 5 Live told us the news from Los Angeles "was truly a JFK moment". Because the sense of shock and grief were identical, in one case millions feeling a new era of civil rights and peace had been cruelly snuffed out; in the other, the realisation we would never again see a man go "Yow" while spinning in a circle.

From the tone, you expected the next reporter to say: "I think it's much more momentous than that, and feels like the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings, or even the collapse of Roman civilisation into warring feudal tribes."

Then came the messages: "Judith from Luton has texted to say nothing matters any more so she's going to convert her Facebook page into a suicide cult. Well, Judith, I think we all feel that way and wish you the very best of luck with that project."

Then the newspapers started, with 63 pages devoted to pictures of painkillers and articles about the impact of "ABC" on linguistic theory, and agony aunts advising how to console an orphaned monkey. It seemed every bit of every paper had to be dedicated to him, so the chess puzzle would go "Today, in honour of Michael, the pawns are allowed to move one square backwards as long as they make it look like they're going forwards. And both players can be on the same side, as the black pieces are allowed to pretend they're white."

And the crossword would be full of clues like "Tennis queen who loses her King is not my lover. 6,4."

At one point on Friday evening, while in a bar in Runcorn, I noticed a huge TV screen was displaying tributes, and for a whole minute it told us: "Amanda Holden says 'I'm thinking of his family on this sad day'." Well that must have been a comfort to them. But presumably this kept going all day, so eventually it was displaying messages such as "Mick McCarthy, the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, says, 'I'm absolutely gutted. I haven't felt this bad since I was relegated with Sunderland in the 2002-3 season. Rest in peace, Michael'."

And it's still going on. The front page of yesterday's Daily Mirror showed a picture of Michael, declaring that it was taken on the morning he died, and asking in huge letters "So what went wrong?" It certainly is a mystery, how anyone that dies in the evening can have been alive in the morning. Presumably, inside it carried on, "Our investigations have revealed that he may have been living RIGHT UP TO THE MOMENT HE DIED. But still the authorities have provided no explanation."

One music journalist on Radio 5 Live told us "he was the most influential pop musician ever," and on Radio Four we were told he was "more influential than any other soul artist, including James Brown". And this is where the madness springs from, because they seem to confuse record sales and celebrity status with influence. For example, James Brown's "influence" cannot be measured just in retail units, but from the impact of him yelling to people categorised as officially inferior, "Say it out loud, I'm black and I'm proud." Whereas Jackson's attitude towards his colour was slightly less forthright. Still, he could at least have made an effort and sang, "Say it's apparent, I'm almost transparent."

Michael Jackson aimed solely to make people dance, which is a fine aspiration, and he was himself a fantastic dancer. But while he provided a catchy soundtrack to the early 1980s, truly influential dance music has created more than a hypnotic beat, it has made its audience want to dance to express itself, finding pride in its colour, sexuality or youthfulness that is restricted in other areas of society and transform the world beyond the dancefloor,

Jackson, though, was tragically hollow, which may be why his main influence was on combining music with new technology, firstly by transforming videos into mini-feature films, then by becoming the subject of the world's first globally mass-texted useless jokes.

So, as the media assured us the universe was in mourning, most of the planet's JFK moment will mean always remembering where you were when you read a contrived question that could arrive at the punchline "Don't blame it on the boogie".

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