I Don’t Want Those People to Have a Say in How I Live My Life

by Don Boudreaux on June 29, 2009

in Entertainment, Fables, Less Than Meets the Eye, Media, Music, Politics

Here’s a letter that I sent yesterday to the Detroit Free Press:

28 June 2009

Editor, Detroit Free Press

Dear Editor:

Mitch Albom is correct that “We’re wacko in how we view Jacko” (June 28).  But not all of us are wacko.  I, for one, am no more touched by Mr. Jackson’s death than I am by the death of any of the thousands of other Americans who died last week, all of whom – like Mr. Jackson – are strangers to me and to the vast majority of people now so self-indulgently and flamboyantly grieving for a man they never met.

Americans’ proclivity to mass hysteria causes me to want government to have as little power as possible.  I neither can nor wish to stop other persons from doing with their lives as they wish.  But I also damn sure despise the fact that, through their votes, so many persons prone to such childish sentiments and displays have a say in how I lead my life.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 11:03 am

It's childish for people to mourn a cultural icon. A guy who for many people provided the soundtrack to their formative years?

Honestly – it's the pedophilia that keeps me from mourning too heavily for him.

But I don't see how it's childish to mourn a man that people enjoyed and respected, even if they never met him.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 11:10 am

That should have been a question mark, not a period – "It's childish to mourn for a cultural icon?". I don't think it's childish at all, and that it's perfectly understandable.

Adam June 29, 2009 at 11:13 am

Oh c'mon Professor Boudreaux; do you think it was silly of people to mourn John Lennon even though they never met him?

I mourned the loss of Milton Friedman, even though I had never met him. there are some people whose work had an impact on our lives, whether it was artistic or intellectual; and I think it isn't fair to call us "self-indulgent" or "flamboyant" when we feel their loss.

I didn't care much about Michael Jackson one way or the other, but know a lot of people who grew up listening to his music who were down about his passing. And I don't respect them any less for it.

erp June 29, 2009 at 11:39 am

We can mourn people we admire even if we haven't actually met them. Ronald Reagan comes to mind.

Ike June 29, 2009 at 11:42 am

I think Mitch is spot-on, and Don is too.

But my wrath is more aimed at the agenda-setters in the media who are too lazy to make any real decision about how to size up Jackson's importance, and are instead providing a positive feedback mechanism to overinflate Jackson's legacy.

Yes, he is iconic, but he is not more important than the dozens of other stories his passing sucked the oxygen and attention from.

As Albom put it — what happened overnight? Four days ago, he was a freak and a punchline; now he's some saint?

Adam June 29, 2009 at 11:51 am

Four days ago, he was a freak and a punchline; now he's some saint?

Strawman. Find me someone who says that he is "some saint" and we can talk. The people I know who have mourned him don't deny that he ended up being a freakshow; his death just reminded them of all the stuff they'd liked about him growing up and so they took the time to reminisce.

Sorry, but as annoying as you guys may find it that people devote so much attention to a topic you take no interest in, I find it much more annoying that you're getting self-righteous about it.

Rafi June 29, 2009 at 11:52 am

"Yes, he is iconic, but he is not more important than the dozens of other stories his passing sucked the oxygen and attention from."

I very much agree with this.

Also, why do we mourn Michael Jackson and not all of the other people involved in the division of labor who enhance our lives? Wasn't the "I, Toaster" post less than a week ago?

I'm just posing the question, I wonder what people think of that discrepancy.

Adam June 29, 2009 at 11:58 am

@Rafi

The answer, of course, is that there is no "we".

Adam June 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm

For what it's worth, I posted something relevant to this discussion a couple of days ago.

Bill B. June 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm

In terms of global fame and recognition he belonged to a very exclusive club. Muhammad Ali, Pele, Queen Elizabeth, Obama, and a handful of other current and former heads of state, and very few others walking the Earth last Thursday were anywhere near as famous. He was known and beloved in every corner of the globe, including those where western popular music has had little penetration. His death, by any measure, is big news.

Care or don't, and rest assured that I agree 100% with your greater point, but this was not just any celebrity death. This was a, if not even THE, biggie.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Rafi -
No discrepancy at all. We all admire the division of labor because it is so productive.

Michael Jackson produced entertainment – and he was leaps and bounds more productive at that than most other people in that market. So in that sense, people mourning is very much in the vein of the "I, Toaster" post.

Nevertheless – I disagree with that basic premise anyway. Since when does the primary way that people "enhance our lives" have anything to do with what their market participation. The beauty of the market is that it can enhance our lives from forces completely derived from self-interest. But that doesn't mean we have to mourn for people who were inadvertantly benefiting us in an attempt to benefit themselves.

Ronald Reagan is a grate example – I went to the Capitol to see him lie in state. You don't stand in line on the Mall for 8 hours to see a man that wasn't even appearing in public anymore by the time I was old enough to know who he was because of "childish hysteria" to use Don's words. You do it because he was a great man – and it's possible to recognize the greatness of certain individuals without forfeiting personal liberty.

Again – not to say that I had the same reaction to Jackson, but I see where people are coming from.

John June 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Billy Mays had more impact on my life than M.J., that OxiClean stuff really works!

Ike June 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Adam, maybe you need to hang out on my Facebook page, then.

I was raked over the coals for even suggesting there was anything aberrant about Jackson. I was accused of "hatin'" on Michael, and accused of being racist because I didn't have handy things to say about Farrah Fawcett (who, as far as I can tell, died of cancer and not an overdose of painkillers administered by a doctor to overcome the agony of years of failed plastic surgeries.)

I have my own beef with trending topics on Twitter, but I know there is no agenda there — it's just the masses at work.

My beef is with the editorial decision-makers at the networks, who inundated us with information, but provided no illumination. You'd think he was a pope or something.

Adam June 29, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Ike,

What exactly did you say that sparked said coal-raking?

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I'm with Adam on "Strawman. Find me someone who says that he is "some saint" and we can talk" and his reaction to Ike as well.

Every piece of coverage I've seen contrast his music with the problems later in life.

Big John June 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Spot on correct. Fortunately the reality is that "deadheads" do not vote in large numbers. If we ever have mandatory voting in the USA we will go directly to the toilet.

Adam June 29, 2009 at 12:32 pm

IKE,

I do have to say your comment about editorial decisions made me think of this recent webcomic :D

Sam Grove June 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Don's post isn't about Michael Jackson at all.
It's about people who bathe in second hand glory.

Mark June 29, 2009 at 12:48 pm

"the vast majority of people now so self-indulgently and flamboyantly grieving for a man they never met"

Yes, it is self-indulgent. Anyone else tired of Shmuley Boteach running around telling people how ardently he tried to save Michael's life? Quit patting yourself on the back and grieve in private, Shmuley!

LowcountryJoe June 29, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I haven't seen so many swings and misses since Pedro Martinez pitched for the Red Sox.

I would ask some here to re-read the letter once again and take from it the larger message. Perhaps Don suggesting that the vast majority grieving for MJ were being self-indulgent, flamboyant, and showing their childish sentiments as they did so, was hyperbole. But, certainly some — particularly the ones we see cherry-picked by news outlets — do fit the description. And there's probably no shortage of folks that could have been cherry-picked from to provide the desired 'news' effect. And that effect is to show a mass hysteria, is it not?

And the point: some of these people that have been cherry-picked do vote. And the mass-hyteria generators, they enjoy increasing the pool of people from which to cherry-pick from. Scary thought…for some of us, at least.

Methinks June 29, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Billy Mays had more impact on my life than M.J., that OxiClean stuff really works!

LOL! I was just about to bring up Billy Mays as one of the many people who died and whose story the oxygen and attention was sucked from. And what about Farrah?! She died first that day!

It's rare that I don't agree with Don completely, but here I don't. I still haven't quite recovered from Milton Friedman's death – mostly because I always wonder what he would have to say about what's going on now. Although I never met him, he actually had a fairly direct impact on my life through a professional relationship someone who is very important to my husband and me both personally and professionally. Michael Jackson's music provided a soundtrack to some memorable moments in my life and I can't help recalling them now that he's dead. As a teenager, my friends and I woke up at some ungodly hour to watch Princess Diana get married. I was unnerved by her death because I'd never had anyone close to me die, she was close to my age and even though this woman couldn't be more of a stranger to me (and I wouldn't have stepped two feet out of my way to change that), her death for some reason brought home how fleeting life is and how quickly it can all end. I guess you get accustomed to these people providing the background music (for lack of a better word) for your life and when they go, you mark the change. Time passes. We're all marching to our death. It makes you stop and think when young people die so suddenly (and, yeah, I'm at that age where a 50 year old is just a pup). Stuff like this just makes me feel old and so I'm mourning that.

I can't help but think that Don's point goes beyond MJ's death. Many people blur the line between reality and fantasy long before their idols die. They believe those people are magical and that they are somehow personally involved with them. I wouldn't want people so given to brain dead fantasies controlling my life either. Actually, I don't want anyone controlling my life.

dg lesvic June 29, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Really, Prof Boudreaux, how can you not want these morons to run your life for you?

Adam June 29, 2009 at 12:56 pm

@LowcountryJoe,

I got the larger message and I find it distasteful. To take how people responded to Michael Jackson's death as a sign of failings in people's character that would translate into shortcomings as voters is simply an absurd proposition for me. And frankly a bit offensive, for those of us who know people that reacted strongly to the death, people who we respect.

dg lesvic June 29, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Whenever there's a simple note of sanity here, there's sure to be "self-indulgent and flamboyant" protest.

dg lesvic June 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm

There are pompous morons everywhere.

And, Daniel, since you can read minds, who am I thinking of now?

Trout June 29, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Mr. Boudreaux, while I appreciate your candor, I think you have missed the mark with this letter. Consider for a moment the self-indulgence and flamboyance of your own protestations; Exhibit A in that indictment is your weaving the death of a famous musician and subsequent public mourning into a narrative about the evils of big government. How very subtle of you.

While I do not count myself as one of the mourners of Jackson's death, it seems perfectly natural to me that people who grew up enjoying his music, and watching his transformation from wide-eyed prodigy into a tortured eccentric would feel the emotional weight of his sudden passing.

Cynically dismissing the richness and diversity of our capacity for empathy strikes me to be as much an affront to our nature as anything you regularly rail against politicians for on this very blog. In the future, I think it might do you some good to set your crosshairs on a more deserving target: the man in the mirror.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 1:59 pm

dg -
What's with the mind reading thing?

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

And what's up with that link to your name?

Ummm… needless to say I haven't read it through. But could you provide a synopsis/explanation?

Adam June 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Exhibit A in that indictment is your weaving the death of a famous musician and subsequent public mourning into a narrative about the evils of big government. How very subtle of you.

This is really what bothers me, and why I am skeptical about IKE's claim that he was "raked over the coals for even suggesting there was anything aberrant about Jackson" because I doubt that he was just "suggesting" anything.

I you don't think Jackson's death deserves much attention, then don't give it any. But to look down your nose at those who disagree is condescending, and seems to often involve attempting to draw attention to what you think people should be thinking about. Whatever you may think of paying so much attention to a celebrity's death, using that death in this manner surely must be worse.

John June 29, 2009 at 2:56 pm

I'm with Adam on "Strawman. Find me someone who says that he is "some saint" and we can talk" and his reaction to Ike as well.

I didn't get that from Don's post, though I did from the one he referenced.

What I gathered is that Don is observing that there are people prone to mass hysteria over a wide variety of things.
Some of those things, like M.J. dead a fifty, have no tangible effect on their lives.
Yet these same people prone to mass hysteria are making decisions at the ballot box that directly effect Don's life, and he's not too happy about it.

I would tend to agree.

dg lesvic June 29, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Daniel,

About that link to my name. I am trying to post my whole book, Dumb Jews, but am still in the process of smoothing it out. It's all up there now, but a mess, and, for some reason, appears differently depending on how you access it. If you access it through my link here, at least some of the graphics are missing. All of it can be accessed through http://www.econotrashtalk.org, but it's still a mess, and I'm still in the process of making it presentable. But, it's all there. So, thanx for going to it, and I take back all the mean things I said about you, until your next dumbass post.

Rohit June 29, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I haven't thought about MJ for 8 years or so now.

And now all of a sudden the media frenzy (or as you say "mass hysteria") won't let me breath any information without making me think about him!

Adam June 29, 2009 at 3:11 pm

@John

You guys keep using the phrase "mass hysteria" so casually. People were upset to various degrees. That's hardly "mass hysteria". And it's condescending to extrapolate voting behavior on the basis of how they respond to the death of celebrities.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm

dg lesvic -
RE: "So, thanx for going to it, and I take back all the mean things I said about you, until your next dumbass post."

Then I'll be very careful to not make any dumbass posts :)

Just out of curiosity – because the title is so… eccentric… what is the premise of your book. I don't mean to be nasty by saying "eccentric" – I just can't think of another word for it :)

John -
But the point is it's NOT hysterical to be moved by the death of someone you haven't met if they've made a big impact on your life. People are deeply moved by the death of people that didn't even have an impact on their lives – if the circumstances of the death itself is impactful (take Neda in Iran, for example). What makes Neda different from other Iranians who've died in the last couple weeks? Certainly nothing about her personally.

People are not hysterical or childish (both Don's words) to be moved by Jackson's death. It's very troubling to me that someone would accuse them of that and that so many would agree.

Sure the media hypes things. But this post wasn't about excessive media coverage – this was about the mourners themselves, who were accused of being (1.) hysterical, (2.) childish, (3.) self-indulgent, and (4.) flamboyant. Really??? I don't think so. And it's unfortunate that Don can't imagine having a meaningful emotional reaction to the events that impact other people that we don't even know personally.

SaulOhio June 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Mourning Michael Jackson is one thing. If someone really liked his music, its perfectly appropriate. But some people's reaction is clearly hysterical. One woman here in Ohio set fire to the bathroom in a night club, and said she did it because she was distraught over his death!

Adam June 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm

@SaulOhio

Charles Manson said he was motivated by the Beatles song "Helter Skelter"; how lone nutjobs react is hardly relevant.

Methinks June 29, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Dan,

Certainly many of the reactions are 1.) hysterical, (2.) childish, (3.) self-indulgent, and (4.) flamboyant. There's a big difference between a simple meaningful emotional reaction and some of the hysteria some mourners are exhibiting.

Veritas June 29, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Daniel,

I find your relativist argument unsatisfying.

Some people are worth admiring and mourning.

Michael Jackson is NOT one of them.

A freakish sideshow, who lived in a fantasy land, mutilated his own body, most likely molested the bodies of innocents, profligately drove himself to poverty, entered into contrived marriages, treated his birth child like a pet dog, etc.

His is objectively not worthy of being mourned.

Perhaps you could mourn his music, but that funeral parade should have begun years ago.

Pity, relief, disgust

But do not mourn. The world just became a little more sane.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Veritas -
I didn't say I was mourning him. In my first post I pointed out the pedophilia as a reason I'm not particularly moved by all this. And I'm not asking you to.

But it's absolutely astounding to me that we would insult mourners like this who have been impacted by Jackson.

I have no idea what's so "relativist" about that.

"It's not tasteful to insult mourners". My point is pretty cut and dry and based in some pretty traditional values. No relativism to speak of.

Adam June 29, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I find your relativist argument unsatisfying.

Some people are worth admiring and mourning.

Michael Jackson is NOT one of them.

And what objectivist criteria are you relying on, Veritas? Other than your relative feelings on the matter.

Whether or not someone is worth admiring is not something set in stone, something that exists out there beyond our private perceptions.

Veritas June 29, 2009 at 4:11 pm

A freakish sideshow, who lived in a fantasy land, mutilated his own body, most likely molested the bodies of innocents, profligately drove himself to poverty, entered into contrived marriages, treated his birth child like a pet dog, etc.

These are objectively immoral acts.

Veritas June 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Whether or not someone is worth admiring is not something set in stone, something that exists out there beyond our private perceptions.

This is false.

Murderers are not worth admiring.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Veritas -
RE: "Murderers are not worth admiring."

But the very identification of someone as a murderer is a relative thing. One man's murderer is another man's freedom fighter.

Come on.

What you think everyone else should think about MJ is besides the point.

Methinks June 29, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Daniel,

And yet…it is Don's OPINION that the mourners are hysterical and he is as entitled to his opinion of their behaviour as they are entitled to behave in this way.

His point is pretty simple – he doesn't want these people to be able to have a say in how he lives his life. A powerful government allows them that say.

You don't think he has a right to his opinion?

Although, I think he's wrong to single out Americans. Mass hysteria is a human phenomenon.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Methinks -
RE: "You don't think he has a right to his opinion?"

Where are you getting this stuff?

Of course he does. And I have a right to say he's unfairly maligned the MJ mourners. Keep in mind I haven't called Don childish, hysterical, self-indulgent, or flamboyant. I've simply said the mourners shouldn't have these labels applied to them.

I don't see why he needs the prop of people who are genuinely saddened by the passing of MJ to make a political point.

Veritas June 29, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Daniel,

Murder has a definition.

The direct, deliberate killing of an innocent.

Including ‘direct’ in the definition allows for cases of double effect, wherein a death is an anticipated but not intended consequence.
‘Deliberate’ of course rules out cases of manslaughter or other accidental killing.

Point of view is irrelevant.

Eric Hammer June 29, 2009 at 4:29 pm

I think that it is more to the point of Don's letter to realize that people have very different cares and concerns in life, and that trying to control everyone's behaviors and tastes through legislation is both immoral and doomed to failures. When people can not even agree upon the proper way to mourne a fellow known (not personally) by everyone over the age of 15, it stands as a strong argument against assuming one could ever successfully make decisions for millions of people on any subject.
At least that is what I took away. Perhaps Don lives or works around people who are having an unproclaimed competition about who can proclaim their loss more flamboyantly. It would not be unheard of; I doubt most of the people wailing over her death thought about Princes Di except when standing in the check-out line in the store, and merely emoted heartfelt loss because that is what everyone else was doing.

Daniel Kuehn June 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Veritas -
Usually it's "innocent" that people get tripped up on :)

Do you think Osama bin Laden thinks he orchestrated the "murder" of thousands of Americans, or the "execution".

Anyway – this is besides the point. Either way, your view of Michael Jackson doesn't have one iota to do with whether the mourners are justified or childish/hysterical/self-indulgent/flamboyant.

DAVE June 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm

For what it's worth, let's just say that Dr. Boudreaux is not a Michael Jackson fan.

Methinks June 29, 2009 at 4:39 pm

And I have a right to say he's unfairly maligned the MJ mourners. Keep in mind I haven't called Don childish, hysterical, self-indulgent, or flamboyant. I've simply said the mourners shouldn't have these labels applied to them.

So, your opinion about the mourners should trump Don's opinion? Why is that?

Keep in mind, I never said you called Don childish, hysterical or self-indulgent. So, I'm confused by your defensiveness.

I also don't understand is why you think you're the ultimate judge of who deserves those labels and who doesn't.

I don't see why he needs the prop of people who are genuinely saddened by the passing of MJ to make a political point.

Don said nothing of people who are merely "genuinely saddened". He was specifically referring to the histrionics.

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