We are the World — and the World Killed Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop“, made an untimely exit from the stage of life after suffering a cardiac arrest Thursday, June 25, Brian Oxman, a Jackson family attorney, reports. More shockingly, Oxman told a CNN reporter that he warned the Jackson family that the star may be headed for a fate not unlike Anna Nicole Smith, who died little over two years ago following prolonged prescription painkiller dependence. Smith also lost her teenage son to a fatal drug interaction in 2006. In Jackson’s case, Oxman says the entertainer suffered chronic pain from a multitude of former stage injuries, among them a fractured vertebra and a broken leg.

Prescription drug abuse often starts legitimately enough. Life happens. We suffer injuries and accidents. And we don’t want to live like cripples before our time. But oftentimes the so-called cure comes with its own consequences.

The similarity between the average Jane or Joe and the Jacksons of the world seemingly ends in the doctor’s office. The average American who suffers a chronic pain condition, whether it is arthritis or severe back pain, is more likely to end up disabled as opposed to receiving pain management that succeeds in restoring one’s lifestyle. Celebrities, on the other hand, encounter the opposite: Eager to satisfy the demands of their high-power clients whose careers and lives must go on in a very public fashion, doctors are less likely to deny their well-known patients powerful forms of pain relief whether such medications are needed or not. The assumption on the part of the medical establishment, ostensibly, is that successful people who “have it together” are not going to throw it all away in pursuit of an addiction. Far be it from the public, all the while, to view a figure who is vibrant, charismatic and larger than life as weak, sickly or disabled. With enough drugs to combat the pain, life goes on as normal — until the consequences catch up.

The exact cause of Jackson’s fatal cardiac arrest, to be clear, is not yet known. Some suspect the superstar’s undernourished appearance, implying that the rigors of Jackson’s physical training program in preparation for a comeback tour are to blame. To that we now add the all-too-familiar specter of drug dependence. Let us not forget that Los Vegas headliner Danny Gans also died this month as a result of cardiac toxicity brought on by a legitimately prescribed painkiller. This is a story, sadly, that never ends. And that is the point. It should end, but it doesn’t.

Aside from the obvious — that drugs, even legitimately prescribed drugs — may lead to an untimely end, what does this tragedy have to teach us?

When singing sensation Susan Boyle, a contestant in the Brittish equivalent of “American Idol”, showed signs of stress and later admitted herself to a treatment facilitySimon Cowell, among others, cited her fragile mental state as the cause of her concert cancellations and erratic moods. In truth, however, the spotlight drives a lot of performers and public figures nutty. Eccentric behavior is much easier to brush off, however, when blamed on prescription tranquilizers, alcohol or illicit drugs. From Elvis Presley to Marilyn Monroe, celebrities of all generations, it seems, are pressured — if not explicitly than implicitly — to turn to drugs for answers rather than to allow anyone to see that their bodies, if not minds, cannot keep up with the frenetic pace of their lives. Were each of them, like Boyle, “unfit” and “ill prepared” for their success? Or would it be more accurate to say that this is the dark underbelly of celebrity — the reality check our celebrity-obsessed culture never confronts no matter how many famous people succumb to the inability to live up to their own or others’ expectations?

Let’s face it: We never want to accept deblitation. We never want anyone to grow old. But for a few fashionably naughty exceptions for sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, we never want anyone to seem all that human, either. As the Susan Boyle “case study” shows, cruelty is aimed at those who are too old, too overweight, too fragile, too offbeat, too ordinary. We like our stars airbrush perfect, immune from the unglamorous slowdowns associated with age and chronic medical conditions. From concert promoters to ordinary fans, we the people seem more inclined to tolerate rumors of substance abuse than to accept the news that a superstar has reached the limits of their physical and mental stamina. Drug abuse and stardom may go hand-in-hand, whereas honesty doesn’t get you very far in a world where image is the only reality that counts.

To live in the fishbowl that is celebrity you have to be a little bit crazy. And if you aren’t off kilter to begin with, living in the glare of paparazzi camera flash will surely induce as much. But the blame belongs to society too. We are the ones who idolize celebrities’ lives, never willing to hear the admission that the pressures are too much and they can no longer live up to fans’ expectations. Doctors, too, are not immune. There’s a pill for that. A surgery that will fix it. And an expectation that enough is never enough.

We are the world — and the world killed Michael Jackson.

May he rest in peace.

###

Straight Talk to Conservatives: What it Will Take in 2012

The 2008 presidential election offered an opportunity to nominate a candidate who offered a proven mix of conservative and libertarian principles. This individual had 30-some years of experience and unprecedented grassroots support. Although he was the only candidate to counterbalance Barack Obama’s cult-like following with generous numbers of his own homegrown supporters, he never had a shot at the Republican party nomination. He was just too radical for our postmodern times in which questioning the economic sustainability of policing the world and the necessity of Big Government agencies has become taboo.

It is more than ironic how the most “liberal Democrat” in the Senate and an alleged socialist was nominated for the Democratic party and ultimately elected to the presidency, while the candidate who most sharply counterbalanced Obama’s liberalism wasn’t deemed fit for the Republican ticket. This election year, Republicans were seemingly fearful of foregoing a supposedly moderate candidate (Sen. McCain) in favor of nominating an extreme candidate (Rep. Ron Paul). Yet that very act on the flip side of the ticket — pandering to extremes — didn’t seem to hurt the Democrats.

Sen. McCain’s attempt to distance himself from the religious conservative “base” in effect hung those supporters out to dry, a less-than-conciliatory decision that only ceded territory to President-elect Obama. Having said that, however, it would be remiss not to lay some of the responsibility at the feet of religious conservatives: They had their pick of not one but two experienced candidates with a staunchly pro-life position, among other issues, yet aided and abetted by FOX News & Friends sent Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Mike Huckabee packing.

For all this seemingly partisan commentary, the lion’s share of blame for the loss of the 2008 presidential election belongs at the feet of those who, without compunction, perpetuate the notion that only Republicans care if the nation is attacked by terrorists (or any other ill for that matter). Crackpots like these were present at McCain’s rallies, publicized in the media and ultimately responsible for infusing the McCain campaign not only with a negative tone but a paranoid one. This is the type of PR that no campaign strategist needs or wants, yet Sarah Palin, in particular, attracted the fear and hate-mongers like flies. Toward the end, McCain campaign staffers privately assailed Palin as a “diva”, a loose cannon. In all likelihood, however, Palin made an easy scapegoat for McCain staffers frustrated by the off balance elements who consistently reared their hostile heads at rallies.

Republicans cannot save face until they admit that the Bush Administration has given conservatism a bad rap. President Bush, given not one but two terms and the hindsight of the horrors of 911, failed just as miserably to take out Osama bin Laden as President Clinton. The Bush Administration’s support of surveillance state technologies has violated the Fourth Amendment vis-à-vis former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his even more irreverent replacement, Alberto Gonzales. The Bush Administration yanked our chains after 911, compelling a great deal of the American public to perceive a link between Iraq and 911 that didn’t exist, bungled intelligence that by the 2004 election had already come to light. Yet playing upon our post-911 fear to revive his father’s war — removing Saddam Hussein from power, an otherwise admirable aim but for its poor timing and convenient sales pitch — failed to cost President Bush a second term in office. In no small part that is because many of his hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil supporters refused to call a spade a spade.

Loyalty to a wartime president is one thing, deeming the Bush Administration infallible, another entirely. That President Bush’s tenor in the White House lived to see another term during which the economy has collapsed and his reputation has further suffered can be attributed to those who refused to read the writing on the wall. The Bush Administration could have been given a graceful exit in 2004, which may have made the “fall guy” for the ensuing four years a single-term Democrat (Sen. John Kerry). Instead, the reelection of President Bush paved the way for Obama, who like President Clinton, may occupy the Oval Office for a long, long time.

Make no mistake, however: The sins of the GOP are by no means relegated to the Bush Administration. For over 25 years Republican leadership has practiced Big Government even as they win elections claiming to represent the opposite. In view of these many contradictions, the irony that so many conservatives harp on fears of a liberal takeover is nothing less than dumbfounding. The nation witnessed the Clinton Administration reform welfare so that it can no longer serve as a permanent crutch, and the Clinton Administration exited office with the first budget surplus in decades. How can anyone in their right mind make a Democrats-are-capable-of-no-good argument with a straight face? Are we still living in 1993? No one will argue that the Clinton years were idyllic. But one thing President Clinton didn’t do is commit presumed liberal sins: tax us into oblivion and run the nation into record deficits. We have President Reagan, H. W. Bush and G. W. Bush to thank for those.

For Republicans to come out ahead in the next presidential election, a period of deep introspection is in order. The actions of Republican leaders have been a part of the problem. Liberals have been perennial favorites in the conservative media shooting gallery for so long that conservatives risk appearing off balance for never so much as aiming a token shot at the bad actors within their own party. Confessing the sins within the Republican ranks would go a long way toward restoring conservative moral and intellectual credibility. It might even win back the respect — and the votes — of those who became disenfranchised enough to “go Blue”.

Only time will tell if GOP leaders and their supporters have the courage to clean house. If conservatives don’t want President-elect Obama or like Democrat to trump the GOP again in 2012, they need to cut out the arrogance and don some humility. The same goes for the poor sports making doom-and-gloom predictions on talk radio and television, forwarding baseless political email rumors to the discredit of their own intelligence, and posting off-kilter comments on news items and blogs. It is all well and good for Republicans to express disappointment over the election outcome, concern even. In fact, given all the problems the President-elect faces, it would be irrational not to feel some degree of trepidation about the future. Voicing over-the-top paranoia, on the other hand, is just plain self destructive.

Bottom line? Republicans need to step out of their own way. If conservatives aren’t too proud to do so, they just might find cause for celebration in 2012.

###