How quickly they forget

First, let me say that I was weary of the Michael Jackson coverage before it began.

That said…

People are gushing about how Michael Jackson broke racial barriers.  "Before there was Oprah… before there was Obama…" blah blah blah.

Have people forgotten Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dale Crakes says:

    I think its a matter of generations. I am 66 and I vaguely remember Robinson while Owens is someone in sports history to me. But remember today icons and divas are dime a dozen and ‘absolutely’ ‘awesome’ in media California speak.

  2. Well, Jackie did wear one glove (a baseball mitt).

    Seriously, the media has made this more about themselves than Michael Jackson himself. “I knew him”, “I’ll miss him”, “his music affected ME”, etc.

    His “memorial service” will not be about praying for his soul, but a display of celebrities fighting to be seen and reporters shamelessly kissing up to them in an effort to be seen as celebrities themselves.

  3. Michael P says:

    Amen to that Father. What an entertainer, but pioneer of civil rights?!?!?! It seems that people will raise whomever they feel at the moment to whatever pedestal or golden calf status they want to appease some sort of void, I guess. My words fail me there.

  4. Sandy says:

    Your first sentence, Father, sums up my feelings exactly. It is an example of the false gods worshiped in society -fame, music, money… we all know the list. It makes me so sad to see all the young people crying and carrying on as they have been shown by the media. They are empty and have been cheated. I don’t like to watch much on TV, but have to keep flipping channels, rather get my husband to do so! (You know that joke about the remote control.)

  5. Exactly why I’ve boycotted the news, i’m sick of the media sucking up that’s going on.

  6. Seminarian says:

    Amen, Father!

    I’ve only turned on the television once (to watch Virtuality) since I heard the news of his death. Even in that brief window, I was bombarded to the point of frustration by ads for various Michael Jackson tributes.

  7. big white van says:

    Is the media judging Michael Jackson ‘by the content of his character or the color of his skin’? Hmmmm…

    I, too, have been avoiding the news, its just too much blathering on. I am sorry that MJ has died from the POV that he has a grieving family, especially children. Death and grief are part of the facts of life that do not separate celebrities from the rest of us mortals. Will I miss his contributions to our culture and society? Nope.

    May God have mercy on his soul and give peace to his children.

  8. Let me make this very clear. 

    I think the media coverage is short-sighted.

    I did not open this entry so that people could run down Michael Jackson.

    Got it?  If you comment simply to pour bile on this pathetically tragic figure, I will probably just ban your IP as the easiest way to close the unwelcome rabbit holes.

  9. I’m not sure the problem is so much that people forgot history as it is that we quit studying it. Either way: not good.

    The short attention spans of most people these days means everyone lives in the “now”. How soon will this big story be replaced by something else? In any event, Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford are glad to be alive. LOL!

    Michael Jackson, like Elvis and Marilyn, will probably be bigger in death than in life. We, as Christians, need to pray that is true but not in the societal sense of more $$$$ in his estate, but that he attains heaven.

  10. MargaretMN says:

    Well, he did break the MTV barrier. For people like me that came of age in the 80s, I suppose that was something. Not too much as it turned out, but something.

  11. Al Stakhanov says:

    Sidney Poitier.

    Bill Cosby.


  12. tzard says:

    Maybe we should ask what “broke racial barriers” means.

    Barrier to employement? Hardly in the music industry. Barrier to being rich and influential? Maybe (but why?).

    I don’t know what barriers he may have broken – I’m just asking.

    For Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, there were measurable barriers. I wonder how long any individual success by a black man today will be automatically labeled as “breaking barriers”.

    I gristle against the mantle of seemingly perpetual victimhood taken on by many people of today. It’s even farther from “…where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” As MLK said in his famous speech.

  13. Greg says:

    I agree Father. Like in coverage of any celebrity death, particularly regarding those as well known as Michael Jackson, the media tends to overdramatize and attribute much more to the individual than what is due. In the world of modern entertainment, yes, I’m sure that he was a pivotal figure. But in the grand scheme of things, will his contributions be remembered 1,000 years from now like those of a Charlemagne, Chaucer, Thomas Aquinas, etc….clearly not. His impact was limited to the world of “pop” music which frankly changes every couple of generations or so.

    On first hearing the news, I said a prayer asking for God’s mercy on this clearly troubled soul. His life was a tragedy – an abusive father, manipulative “friends”, and emotional disorders that ravaged his life. While I certainly don’t want to minimize his own choices and power of his own free will, one can’t help but feel sorry for this man.

    If anything, it reminds us that the things of this world can ultimately cause our lives to be entirely empty and meaningless. Even a man who seemingly had everything can ultimately leave this world a lonely, tired, beaten person. For us believers, we need to cling to Christ and continue to realize that no matter our worldly accomplishments, we are judged on our fidelity to Him and His Church. I pray for MJ and his family and friends who did love him, and for his fans who unfortunately placed too much of themselves in him.

  14. Sam Orsot says:

    Michael Jackson had a tragic life. I for one did love some of his music. In the world of entertainment, he will surely be missed. I agree with Father totally. The media coverage has been short-sided. While MJ has broken racial barriers in the music industry, I still do not feel that it is worth ignoring other problems and concerns such as Iran\’s violent protests. But I do pray for him, Farrah Faucett, and the other countless number of souls who died that tragic day of June 25, 2009. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

  15. OldBob44 says:

    And please let’s not forget Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojurner Truth, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Marian Anderson, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, etc., etc., etc. I learned about these folks when I was quite young – some of them in grade school in the 1950s.

  16. I have been and will continue to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for Michael Jackson. I hope and pray that he finds the peace in death that he did not find in life, and that for whatever sins he has committed God may have mercy on him. His seems to have been a very tortured soul and a tortured life, and in that regard I pray death was the greatest of blessings.

  17. TJM says:

    The problem is that the media in the US has no historical perspective on virtually any topic and does not take the time to do any research. I remember reading in the Chicago Tribune years ago that Benito Mussilini was a “devout” Catholic. That’s when I cancelled that “newspaper.” Tom

  18. irishgirl says:

    I agree with you 100% there, Father Z!

  19. Christina says:

    Nat King Cole

  20. Edward says:

    “racial barriers…”

    To what extent have “racial barriers” been broken?

    On the surface, we have a European/African American president. Public laws prohibit discrimination. But beneath the surface, in our hearts and minds, are racial barriers broken? Do we not feel more comfortable with people who share our respective races and religions? Do we not, speaking generally, live in neighborhoods that are segregated?

    The idea that we have overcome “racial barriers” idea reminds me of ecumenical/interreligious dialogue. The party line from Rome and the majority our bishops is that prior to our having embraced ecumenical/interreligious dialogue, Catholics and non-Catholics were at each other’s throats.

    But today, supposedly, we enjoy wonderful, peaceful relations with each other. However, the reality is that tremendous animosity toward Holy Mother Church remains rampant among non-Catholics. The Catholic Religion is an object of fear among many non-Catholics.

    Therefore, I question as to whether “barriers” have been hurdled.

  21. Rosie says:

    wow. I didn’t know Michael Jackson died.

    I’ve never known racial barriers. Well, until the obama campaign. Now I’m very aware.

    Wow. Michael Jackson dead. Poor guy. Sure was cute when he was little. I’ve often wondered what went wrong. I guess it would be darn near impossible to be in that industry without developing unhealthy ideas.

    OK. Enough of that. On to things that matter.

  22. Well, he did break the MTV barrier. For people like me that came of age in the 80s, I suppose that was something. Not too much as it turned out, but something.

    Indeed, without Michael Jackson and The Artist Who as of This Writing is Known as Prince, both of whom released huge-selling albums in 1983, MTV might have folded. Not sure if we should thank Jackson and TAWAOTWIKAP for that though.

    In any assessment of the MSM’s coverage of anything, and especially a story like this, it is best to remember Mark Shea’s rule: that the TV media exists mainly to sell beer and shampoo. This time last week they sold beer and shampoo by either ignoring Michael Jackson or reminding the public about all his creepiness. Today they sell beer and shampoo by shamelessly exploiting his death for all it’s worth.

    Poor Farrah Fawcett: she had the incredible bad taste to die on the same day as Michael Jackson. She’ll pay, by gum, by being ignored by the MSM.

    Or at least that’s how the MSM sees it. Fawcett was raised Catholic, however. Please pray for her soul.

  23. “wow. I didn’t know Michael Jackson died.”

    Blink! Blink! How fortunate you are to have missed all of the folderol! But speaking of truly important people, Billy Mays passed away )-:

  24. Anastasia says:

    I regret the response of the Media to this tragedy and pray for his family. What I am most curious about is what the funeral will be like. Michael Jackson was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and from everything I hear his parents are still practicing Jehovah’s Witness. So, it will be interesting to see how the beliefs he was raised with and his lifestyle are dealt with. As a former JW who converted to the Catholic Church, this is of great interest to me, because I know the problems my new life has caused within my family.

    Let’s pray for his soul, because obviously he was tormented!

  25. Mr. H. says:

    While Mr. Jackson’s death was certainly newsworthy, it certainly did not merit anything close to the 48 consecutive hours of coverage it received.

    Meanwhile critically important news items such as the vote on the climate bill in the House, the story in Iran, and preparations by the US to pull out of Iraqi cities were pushed aside.

    Mr. H

  26. elmo says:

    MTV was the defining cultural force for my generation and could make or break an artist’s career. Back in the 80s and early 90s, music videos were the dominant cultural and artistic expression of my generation and only videos that aired on MTV got noticed. When MTV first started out, they played little to no music videos by black artists.

    In the 80s Michael Jackson broke racial barriers by leveraging his 15-year long career that began in childhood with his brothers to draw enough of an interracial audience for his solo work that MTV was forced to play his videos. He opened the path for other black entertainers’ videos to be aired on that channel, who also drew multi-racial audiences that not just listened to their music on records but were comfortable having black people regularly on their TVs becoming more and more at ease with African-American culture. Michael Jackson made African-Americans mainstream. But none of this would have happened if Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was not also the world’s largest grossing album of all time. The videos from this (and later) albums were mini-movies defining the video medium as an art form and influencing other artists, black and white, to take more creative risks in their music videos. At least for a time until MTV moved away from videos and the artistic marriage of music and videos became less and less commercially relevant.

    Michael Jackson more than anyone else is responsible for creating a post-racial American pop culture. This alone qualifies him as not only having broken barriers but being a singular driving influence on American culture for decades after MTV began airing his videos, including on later entertainers such as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

    In short, Jackie Robinson and other African-Americans were first in their own way and in their own areas, but Michael Jackson broke commerical, cultural, and artistic boundaries in one singular driving force.

  27. Gloria says:

    Tragic. That’s the only word I can think of that fits. I, too, am sick of the overstimulated news of his death and life while the country goes to H in a handbasket. However, I think back to an extremely talented little boy who, as so many child stars, never quite grew up, was pushed and pressured, used and abused, and in the end was someone that he himself didn’t know and probably didn’t like. I pray for his soul. Meanwhile, Farrah Fawcett received the last rites and, it is hoped, got “right” with God. I cringe at the thought of her funeral at the monstrosity in Los Angeles. At least it will be a private affair, not a circus, and her soul, at least, is not there. Pray for them both, and Ed McMahon, and now Billy Mays.

  28. Martin T. says:

    Cell phone post:
    Thanks elmo. I was trying to compose a short note to that effect but yours was better and first.

    Michael Jackson made it possible for blacks and whites to dance together. Something that in the 7o\’s seemed more impossible than having Trads and liberals worship in the same church seems today.

  29. supertradmom says:

    This all reminds me of the week that we witnessed Princess Diana’s funeral, and then Mother Theresa’s at the end of the week. The media had to cover Mother Theresa’s because it had covered extensively Diana’s.

    As to barriers, I missed all this video craze, as I grew out of R and B just as that started. I watched MTV once and was so shocked, I never returned. To me, the real music barrier breakers were the Motown Record groups all of us white kids bought and danced to in our teens: Marvin Gaye,The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Four Tops, among others. At our Catholic high school, we had dances and the nuns were there, as well as parent chaperons, including my parents, at least twice, bless them. Our dancing was monitored to be modest and chaste. Meanwhile, those black artists were selling in England and Europe as well as in the United States and Canada, and my English friends, through the Beatles, liked R and B as much as we did. Michael Jackson followed the record artists’ trail into the newest form, videos, but the record artists, I think, broke the barrier and made “black music” mainstream for my generation.

  30. supertradmom says:

    Martin T., PS, not only did we dance with black fellows at our high school,we dated them. That was in the late 1960s. Catholics broke barriers, too!

  31. supertradmom says:

    PPS. For those who know and love “The Goon Show”, on the BBC radio from 1951-1958 with a mixed race cast, remember that Ray Ellington was a black musician and sometimes actor, on the show. Barriers crumbled….

  32. Megan says:

    hahaha, yes, indeed, Father! Great post!!

  33. Ryan says:


  34. Patrick says:

    Although MJ is not the quintessential breaker of barriers racial, it might behoove some of us to revisit that time just a few years prior to his arrival, (his first records were late sixties as I recall) when many, many American white teens just did not bring home records by black artists, even if they had wanted to. This is better understood in the context of the enhanced popularity in the fifties of southern white “soul” artist Elvis and also the soon to follow British invasion led by artists not so assuaged by the stigma of being fans of black music and who wholesale copied and then reconstituted such and delivered it in a package much better and acceptable for mass consumption by American teens. This is, of course, well known but sometimes seemingly forgotten for whatever reasons. MJ both benefited by this and at the same time was the embodiment of a black artist in this new era, (good timing) who was cute, non threatening, universal and therefore ready to be embraced by a mass audience, which was already becoming more and more world wide.

    Someone here already mentioned, and rightly so, MTV, which was becoming a phenomenon all its own but in the early stages, fairly off limits to black artists, the main exception being MJ, and that set the stage for many more to come – good and bad, talented and …(to be continued..)

  35. Patrick says:


    supertradmom mentions Motown, and this was a black music purposely packaged to have the aforementioned so called “broad appeal” and they (Motown)sent their artists to their own equivalent of charm or finishing school to this end. So there was this palpable barrier, even as it was slowly being worn away. Again, Jackson was part of the Motown family and as such, again, was no doubt schooled in the art of being non threatening, and therefore mass market friendly — whether he, and his brothers, really needed this or not.

    A recent marketing survey found that Motown was the category of music “least offensive” to the the greatest number of all listeners (and by that I imply nothing to do with race, but simply taste) and broadness of appeal was Motown’s (Barry Gordy’s)original intent and they fairly well succeeded – to make an understatement. BTW, I used to work for a with few of Motown luminaries, lest some question the facts as stated.

  36. Aaron says:

    Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about the media obsession with Jackson is the way it overshadowed the death of Farrah Fawcett, a Catholic woman whose story has been an inspiration to many who were aware of it. Her final days and passing could teach people about the Church’s position on death and dying, as a counter to our society’s increasing acceptance of euthanasia.

  37. Danby says:

    MJ didn’t break the race barriers in the entertainment business. Nat King Cole did. Cole insisted on always being treated as a man and a professional performer first, and a Black second. Throughout his career, Cole refused to play in segregated venues. When he was on his way up, one of the clauses in his contract was that he entered via the front door like everyone else. That may seem a small thing today, but in the ’50s, Blacks were expected or even required to enter through the back door, for fear that White customers might see a Black man entering a hotel or bar and refuse to enter themselves. These stands cost him dearly, both in immediate finances and in the path of his career, not to mention being beaten onstage by three White thugs in Alabama. He bought a house in an all-white neighborhood in LA, getting a cross burned on his lawn as a “welcome-to-the-neighborhood” reception. He was the first Black man with a regularly scheduled network television show, and the first Black superstar. The only thing Michael Jackson did in breaking color barriers that Cole didn’t do earlier, better, and with more class and dignity was dance.

  38. mfg says:

    What it meant to me? I couldn’t get any news about Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Cap and Overtax, even ‘the wun’ had to take a back seat (not all bad). And I couldn’t find Krauthammer.

  39. mfg says:

    Loved Jackie Robinson. Too young to remember Jesse Owens. My favorite: Joe Lewis, “He never laid a glove on me, Mom”. Is that an age giveaway or what?

  40. Danby says:

    My dad used to spar with Joe Lewis. in the early ’30s Dad was #2 or #3 welterweight in the Detroit Golden Gloves and trained at the same gym that Louis used. When he thought he needed to work on his speed and reflexes, Louis would spar with Dad. Always pulled his punches though. I doubt Dad could have taken one of Louis’ right hooks.

  41. Papalator says:

    You know, I don’t much care for his music, (or that of Michaels Jackson, either,) but I am surprised that more is not made of Johnny Mathis in this respect.
    The height of his fame was before my living memory but huge numbers of middle-class, middle-brow, middle-American WHITE women who are now sixty-ish seem to have had their first big celebrity “crush” on Mathis.
    I suspect that promoted greater tolerance in this country on a broader scale than Oprah or Michael Jackson’s fame and success.

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