The Cebu inmates pay tribute to Michael Jackson
It was the perfect argument for social media.
Curtailed by a repressive and authoritarian oligarchy, the people of Iran resorted to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to get their message out. International correspondents were able to give us the picture in broad strokes, but Twitter feeds and mobile phone-shot videos made it all real for us. Case in point: who hasn’t heard of Neda’s death — all sixteen seconds of it — becoming the rallying image of not just opposition Iranians but of worldwide sympathy. From the outside looking in, we witnessed how an election was stolen, especially when Michael Jackson died.
Easily, the focus shifted from sympathy and solidarity with the Iranians to the grief and shock over the passing of a pop star. Some likened his death to the entertainment industry’s 9/11. Perhaps. In the end, Jackson represented what happens when natural talent and unchecked ambition collide. Like American neo-capitalism, Jackson was a victim of his own success and his passing has much to say to the R. Kellys and Chris Browns of the world. But I digress.
There is no doubt that to many, his death is tragic. But at the risk of sounding callous, that is how it is with human beings. We are fragile creatures and we refuse to admit that. No surprise then that MJ hysteria choked the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, iTunes and Amazon. And the plight of the Iranians receded quietly into the background. With global attention diverted, the Shia clerics may have just found the Hidden Imam in the King of Pop.
Do I dare say that Iran is more significant than Michael Jackson? To me it is. I understand that it won’t be the same for everyone. Simply, death is inevitable. Yet the death of democracy isn’t. Ultimately, history is the final rival of the reform movement in Iran. The aging ayatollacracy have engineered a strong state, a weak society and a docile citizenry but even that is changing. Will the growing educated middle class finally tip the scales?
Time will tell. They will also need our help.
Social media has been instrumental in Iran insofar as it has helped create a global outrage that is difficult to deny. Ahmadinejad can compare Obama to Bush all he wants, but he completely misses the point that the anger comes not from the White House but from ordinary people. No doubt, state to state actors will still be important. Presidents and foreign ministers will still be wise to express concern over the violence. They will only be at a better and easier place to do so given that indignation against Iran has been so grounded and widespread.
Hence it would help not to get distracted, but people will be people. After all, outrage directed at the clerics and grief over Jackson may not be mutually exclusive. Perhaps we just have to put aside the Thrillers and Billie Jeans. Even before the age of the Internet, Jackson has been singing a refrain that we repeat with every blog entry, facebook note, or tweet — We are the world.
- Michael Jackson Infinity: The Globalization of the King of Pop by Hua Hsu (Foreign Policy)
- Don’t Assume Ahmadinejad Really Lost by Robert Baer (TIME)
- Don’t Forget Mousavi’s Bloody Past by Robert Baer (TIME)
- What You Know About Iran is Wrong by Fareed Zakaria (Newsweek)
- ‘Fatal wound’ inflicted on Iran regime’s ideology by Fareed Zakaria (CNN)
- The Thugs Who Lead Iran’s Supreme Leader by Gary Sick (The Daily Beast)