How Jackson May Cost Iranians Their Election


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.

Further reading:

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8 thoughts on “How Jackson May Cost Iranians Their Election

  1. Sisihin daw ba si michael jackson? choice ng fans niya na maging malungkot at makialam sa pagkamatay niya. Wag mong sabihin na si Michael ang magiging dahilan ng kawalan ng election sa Iran. Truth is, karamihan sa mga tao ay walang pakialama dun bago pa siya mamatay. Wag niyo na subukan idawit pa si MJ sa issue. Instead, sana cinoconvince niyo na lang yung readers niyo to actually care about Iran. Di ba possible na makialam kay J at Iran at the same time?Wag niyo na siya gamitin. Patay na yung tao for God’s sake. Let him be. Wag mo siya gamitin para makakuha ng attention. RIP Michael Jackson

  2. You can’t blame someone for dying. And even in the scenario where someone dies just to shift attention from Iran, it’s still the choice of people whether to care for Iran or not. And even if they choose not to, it’s pointless to be angry at them because they have their own views, their own lives.

  3. Wow & 😡 : No one is being blamed. The post is all about the wonders of social media and how it affects the world. It just so happen that Iran & MJ are the hottest news nowadays ( opposite poles definitely) and social media played a huge part.

  4. Jackson had nothing to do with Iran. It’s not his fault that he died while political turmoil was happening in that country. The man was an icon, and that’s just how things are. If nothing was happening in Iran and he died, I wouldnt see anyone making a fuss about it. And not all people are ignorant and stupid; we havent forgotten about Iran just because of Michael. Relax, ‘Bono.’

  5. Iran doesn’t need media attention and international sympathy to settle its problems, the same way Georgia and South Ossetia needed media attention and international attention to settle their problems.

  6. If we’re talking about displacing the Shah, which is firmly rooted at the moment, international pressure will help and hence media will play a role. But the Middle East is a complicated web. The allies it would listen to (Russia, Syria) have other considerations other than moral indignation.

    In some sense, Iran won’t need ‘media attention’ insofar as its effect can be rather suspect. Russia turning its back on Iran is as unlikely as them yielding to pressure from the United States, but time will tell.

  7. Though latest comments from Robert Baer suggest that the Shah has already been displaced and Iran is under a military coup. Then they can go by way of Pakistan or by way of Burma. The latter seems more likely.

  8. Well if that’s your point of view, try seeing #squarespace and #moonfruit. Those are certainly not better.

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