So, this is what a slow news week looks like in July. Yes, we are all weary of the incessant (insipid? ridiculous?) media coverage and analysis of Michael Jackson’s death and Sarah Palin’s resignation.
There is an aspect of it that fascinates me, though. I have taken to calling it our cultural Rorschach test. You are probably familiar with the famous inkblot tests.
–Image from Wikipedia
The theory behind the test, created by Hermann Rorschach, is that the test taker's spontaneous or unrehearsed responses reveal deep secrets or significant information about the taker's personality or innermost thoughts.
In more modern renderings, Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink puts forth a similar psychological theory –
… about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.
Per Gladwell – “Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.
I submit that we can stop the media frenzy around Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin because our minds were made up in the first two (or maybe thirty) seconds of hearing the news of their respective death and resignation announcements.
I happened to be in the Philadelphia airport with my family waiting for a flight to Barcelona, Spain to embark upon a long-planned-&-saved-for Mediterranean cruise when I heard (or read via Twitter more precisely) the news about Michael Jackson. My first reactions: shock, disbelief, and then sadness. And a deeply personal punch to the gut with the realization that I had indeed passed a certain stage of life (young, I think it’s called).
For some reason, I needed to call my best friend in New Orleans. As I looked down to call her, my phone was already dialing her number (weird, but true).
Me: “Ok, it cannot be true that Farrah and Michael Jackson died the same day.”
Her: “Nah-unh, Michael Jackson died?”
Me: “Yes, put on CNN. I mean, they were our childhood icons.” [yes, we used to play Charlie’s Angels on the elementary school playground and WERE the Thriller/MTV generation]
Her: “They’re saying he’s in the hospital.”
Me: “But, Twitter-folks are confirming he’s died.”
Me: “I’m a little freaked out to fly now, you know bad things come in threes.”
Her: “Sorry, Lis, but you’re not quite in the same, uh, category, as them.”
Me: “I know, but still…”
My husband, who is 16 years older than I, and rather unperturbed by most things, had trouble relating to why I found Jackson’s death so deeply resonant and tragic. My kids, on the other hand, just found it kind of hilarious and annoying that when we got to Barcelona the only thing on ALL of the TV channels in several languages (Spanish, French, and perhaps Farsi/Arabic) was Michael Jackson news or as they took to calling him –
My kids know him only as the Freak-show Pop star he had become. They didn’t grow up with the Jackson Five, or have WAYYY too many friends who danced their first wedding dance to “I’ll Be There.” They seemed more entertained by the news of it all than affected by his death, which I can forgive them for. Nor do they need to know about the conflicted feelings I have about Jackson’s alleged (& probably certain) pedophilia and psycho parenting style.
In my personal Rorschach reading, I’ll remember him by Thriller, Off the Wall, ABC, the white glove and white socks & loafers, and my favorite, Rock With You, and try to forget the tragic-comic figure he’d become.
Quite like Elvis, another musical genius who many remember as the bloated white-polyester-suit-wearing drug- addicted fallen star playing Vegas. Not incidentally, Lisa Marie Presley was once quoted as saying she was sure Jackson would die like her father. I prefer to remember the young, suave Elvis breaking new ground in Rock n Roll and singing…”Wise Men say…only fools rush in”
Now, Sarah Palin, in another cultural genre, provides another interesting Blink or Rorschach test.
Cynics and doubters like myself had only to hear the news, without even listening to her rambling statement, to know she wasn’t leaving the national stage and certainly wasn’t going to go quietly. I, for one, believe it’s about the money. Isn’t it always?
Others, like my husband, aren’t sure what all the fuss is about.
And, my kids, well, they just think she’s a whack job. My 10-year-old son who happened to be the only person in our 10 person van who knew that Machu Picchu was in Peru, still doesn’t understand how someone running for VP didn’t know that Africa was an actual continent. Dear about-to-be-teenage daughter is trying to make sense of why Bristol is on TV talking about abstinence.
I’m sure there are Palin supporters who greeted the news with eager anticipation and joy that she will somehow save the GOP now. I know this makes no sense, but I don’t think her base is reality-based.
Listening to John McCain’s response and ridiculous attempt to explain her reasoning on TV this morning, I can’t help but think in his personal Blink test how relieved he must feel that he isn’t President right now.
And then there’s Lance.
Armstrong, of course. Love him for the Live Strong, cancer-beating, iron man thing. Hate him for the wife-ditching, Sheryl Crow, ego thing. But, watch the Tour de France, and if you’re American, you can’t help but root for him to win the damn thing. Again.