Much Ado About Nothing

Call it Dornan’s first law of junk journalism (copyright pending). A celebrity in motion is a news story in perpetual update. A celebrity at rest is a journalistic black hole.

Case in point: the fusion of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. The daughter of the most famous dead guy in America weds the world’s second-most-famous troubled superstar.

Talk about two wavefronts of sheer celebrity smashing together. For those of us who study popular culture, this is as close as we’ll come to the particle colliders of sub-atomic physics. The high-energy impact of the Presley name with Michael Jackson’s increasingly unstable public persona can’t help but yield a shower of media sparks: strange, ghostly traces of the fundamental building blocks of fame.

Jackson’s fame is so incandescent he’s under round-the-clock media surveillance, even when he’s in hiding. If he gets the hiccups it’s newsworthy. For him to get married, in secret, to the daughter of the King, is enough to make your celebrity newshound hyperventilate with ecstasy.

The weddings of the ultra-famous are invariably depicted by the media as storybook romances. Remember Wayne Gretzky and Janet? Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger? But the Jackson-Presley union has something even better than fairy tale appeal. It looks like the late-20th century equivalent of those medieval arranged marriages, designed to cement alliances between empires. It’s as though Henry V took the hand of Margaret of Anjou as his child bride, and then the two of them holed up in the Trump Tower.

Michael Jackson not only controls the copyright to his own extensive library of compositions, but he owns the rights to most of the Beatles’ output. Lisa Marie, meanwhile, is the heir to the Elvis estate. All those tunes we hum in the shower — they own them. Together, they’re bigger than the DuPont corporation. They’re worth more than most countries.

And the wedding has, shall we say, its political convenience. Michael Jackson has been hounded of late by some very nasty allegations. What better to put the whispers to rest than a high profile marriage to a comely damsel? Of course, not everyone’s buying it. One of Letterman’s Top 10 reasons for being married to Michael Jackson was that Lisa Marie wouldn’t be pestered by annoying requests for sex.

In any event, the confirmation of the marriage was big news. At the same time, the story sputtered almost as soon as it broke. Beyond announcing that the wedding had happened, the media were stumped as to how to follow up. The media machine may be ravenous, but there’s only so much it can do with a story that involves no violence, no shame, no vile accusations or ruination. On the other hand, every celebrity marriage is just a bitter, public divorce waiting to happen, so there’s hope yet for the press corps on this

CBC Radio August 3, 1994