De Mortuis and the Anti-Saints

I’m mildly surprised at how much traction Michael Jackson’s death is getting in the Catholic blogosphere. Via David Gibson, there’s this piece up at First Things today. I think there’s something less of the comparison between Lady (of the Tramp)/St Guinefort, and more to the profit-driven engine of the contemporary media. Conservative Catholics don’t get off scot-free in this.

If I may make a more apt comparison, I think Pope Pius XII is a better fit for the Jackson glove. The WWII pope has his own legions of followers and detractors, each trying to out-shout the other to make their point.

Commenting on Michael Jackson as some sort of saint requires us to examine how we really deal with celebrities. Let’s be honest and say that the modern culture might even be more obsessed with discrediting celebrities and outing them as objects of derision. Did this start in earnest with President Nixon? With his enemies lists, and with the delicious nightly unveiling of the congressional Watergate hearings? My dad watched them like a soap opera. Each subsequent political mini-generation seemed to up the temperature, and conservatives were surely no dissenters from escalation.

Even more, Americans seem to rejoice in the rehabilitation of politicians from Nixon to Bill Clinton. Consider also such jailed notables as Martha Stewart. Is Mike Vick not far behind? It seems there’s a curious cult wanting to elevate saints, watch them trip and fall, then cheer again as they are restored to a (hopefully) chagrined greatness. As the Culture War accelerates in the face of Republican political humiliation, we see it on both sides of the ideological divide: a rallying around the heroes, Obama and Palin, and no spared effort to embarrass or humiliate them, or, failing that, their loyal followers.

It seems to me the current culture is more about anti-saints, and Jackson is no different. Stardom in his young life was followed by weirdness and scandal, and now in death, by adulation again. Yet there are those who want to continue the cycle of hero/failure even now. Maybe the Romans were on to something in bringing these messes to a dignified conclusion: de mortuis nil nisi bonum

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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