Who Will We Remember?

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The Article

When I was eight I wanted Farrah hair. I was forever leaning forward and then throwing my head back to achieve that wind-tossed look. It never worked.

Michael Jackson, though, I never tried to emulate. I may have attempted the moonwalk a few times (though I didn’t grab my crotch), but that’s as far as it went.

The two will be forever connected in our memories now that they share the date of their earthly demise, but they had something in common already. They were both icons. Farrah was the pinup; Michael was the King. And both of them, as large as they were in stardom, were somehow stunted in life.

Michael left this world by accident. By some accounts, he chose the wrong combination of painkillers. A tragedy, reporters declared, just as he was attempting a comeback.

Certainly it is a tragedy to die at fifty. But what if in those fifty years you squandered millions to feed your own obsession with childhood? To me it seems like a waste of a life. Perhaps the real tragedy was his horribly dysfunctional childhood, which led to his horrible choices about how to live.

Farrah, on the other hand, chose a bizarre way to die. Certainly she didn’t choose cancer, but she did ask to die on reality television. I don’t know if and when such a special will be aired, but I can’t help wincing at the creepiness factor. One’s final days are sacrosanct. They’re your last chance to make peace with your family, yourself, and your Maker. But Farrah wanted to share it with millions, because if she was doing it alone, it wasn’t real.

In the last few weeks another woman died on TV, and she actually was watched by millions. Beautiful, lively sixteen-year-old Neda Soltan was brutally shot as she observed the protestors in Tehran. Her death was caught on video, which then spread virally over the internet. The regime, alarmed at the sympathy and anger her death caused, stole her body, buried it without informing her family of the whereabouts, threw the family out of their apartment, and prohibited mourning for the girl. They also forced the father onto television to proclaim that it was the protestors, and not the regime, who killed her.

After Jackson died, some enterprising Iranians created a video of Iran using “Beat It” as the soundtrack, to tie in to the Western preoccupation with Michael that was sucking the energy out of their news cycle. But while we were all Michael, all the time, in the rest of the world Neda still mattered. All over the Middle East and Europe people held up signs declaring “I am Neda” as they stormed Iranian embassies. Thankfully no one’s holding up a sign saying “I am Michael”.

In fifty years, who will the majority of the world still remember? Will it be Neda, who served as the iconic martyr of what I hope is the beginning of the real Iranian revolution, even if it takes another ten years? Or will it be two aging stars who never came to terms with their place in the world?

The world is filled with tragedies, but when it comes to these three deaths, Neda’s seems to me like the biggest one. Hers is a tragedy of humanity’s brutality. The tragedy of the other two is that they lived their lives in such strange and counterproductive ways—and even worse, we ate it up. Perhaps that’s because we live in a culture that no longer has Nedas. Hopefully one day Iranians will have the luxury of idolizing bizarre celebrities. Until then, the world will have plenty more Nedas to mourn, and that is a tragedy indeed.

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