The Sunday Times – RIP Michael Jackson: your passing has shown the power of Twitter, by India Knight

I’d gone out to supper last Thursday and came back at about 11pm, made a cup of tea and logged on to Twitter, as you do, whereupon I found hundreds of people were posting about Jackson being taken to hospital, being in a coma, possibly being dead.

I turned on the television but that didn’t give me any new information at all. Ten minutes later someone posted on Twitter that the Los Angeles Times was confirming that Jackson had died. Meanwhile, the news networks were still speculating; it took them a good 20 minutes to catch up and call in the talking heads — people who had met Jackson twice 15 years ago and who spouted the most hilariously inane platitudes such as, “Of course, he was a tall man. Over six foot.”

Back on Twitter — I very nearly wrote “back in the real world”, because that is what Twitter now feels like — people were doing what twitterers do best: engaging with each other and passing on news, thoughts and information.

Los Angeles residents were reporting that the sky had blackened with helicopters, describing the crowd outside the hospital, discussing the television commentary, making playlists of Jackson’s work, expressing sorrow, saying how stunned they were and making jokes. Hundreds and hundreds of jokes. The death couldn’t be blamed on the sunshine or moonlight, which left only the boogie (everyone); “Let’s all turn our Twitter pictures white. It’s what he’d have wanted” (@wardytron); “Reports of MJ’s death are incorrect. He was found in the children’s ward having a stroke” (@ivan007). And so on.

The jokes, as off-colour (see what I did there?) as you might expect, came within minutes of the announcement of Jackson’s death, swiftly followed by everyone wondering whether Elton John would once again nobly volunteer to record another reworking of Candle in the Wind.

Heh. Yes. Thursday was a lot of fun. I was trading awful puns with a coworker of Peter’s as well as with Peter and on the Twitter. The BBC was live streaming its news coverage, as it does in cases of terrorist attacks, deaths in the royal family, or, apparently, the need to put a Michael Jackson Fan Club president on. Streamed and broadcast around the world, the hang-dog expression of the 22-year-old with nothing interesting to say was seen by how many people, I wonder, tuning into the world’s greatest news organization. Then they cut to the press conference from the police too late (because the fan club president was telling them how important Michael Jackson was to his own life) and only caught only the “I have nothing else to tell you folks” at the end. Then they went live to an affiliate station interviewing people gathered on the lawn of the hospital, including one fat chick who said, visibly thrilled, that she’s “A big fan of popular entertainment!” and that’s why she had to be there.

Then by the time the rest of the media caught up with TMZ, they’d managed to scrape some “experts” together, everyone was solemnly pronouncing on the man’s business genius. He sold more copies of an album than the next runner-up by a factor of two and a half and owned half of the Beatles catalog. I think with that kind of income, Bubbles the Chimp could have run a musical career simultaneous with a children’s fairground. The fact that he had that kind of income and ran both into the ground, dying $400 million in debt (if not more), and 2 weeks before finally making some money of his own for the first time in about 15 years means that I think we might want to solemnly pronounce on the man’s moon-walking and leave the finances out of it.

Then by Friday, it emerged that Jesse Jackson had positioned himself as the spokesman for the family. By Saturday it was evident that the family hadn’t managed to plan a funeral, but they had started on a “tribute” tour. And by yesterday it was set in stone that the children, orphaned because of how screwed up their father was, was going into custody of the family that made him that way. And I’m a little tired of having Black and White in my head. God what an awful song.

And I just have to post this:

<br/> A Famous Person Has Died, by John Campbell