Posted by Chris Philpott on Friday Jun 22, 2012 Under Ramblings, TV


I thought long and hard about quitting On The Box a couple of weeks ago.

You might recall a particularly angry review I gave to The GC a couple of months back over at On The Box: after watching the first episode of the show, I believed that the show was undeserving of NZ On Air funding because the finished product did not match up with what had originally been funded – we were left with what was essentially a Jersey Shore clone.

Despite this, I did keep watching the show, making it through about 5 of the 8 episodes. I’ll happily admit those later episodes weren’t quite as bad. There were a few scenes and stories that matched up closer with what the show had originally proposed to do (Cole opening his gym, DJ Tuini’s trip back to NZ). Still, it was a pretty bad show.

Anyway, after I posted that review of the first episode, I started to notice a few comments that were mentioning race as a factor for the negative reviews the show was getting – comments like “This demonstrates your inability to accept views outside your own beliefs….. and a complete intolerance for diversity.” and “been in nz long enough too know that the only reason people dont like the GC is because its about maori and not pakeha”.

And then the emails started.

There is a link at the bottom of each post which lets you email me directly. Most people just use it send through questions about when this show or that show is coming back. After my review went live here on the Stuff site, I started to receive emails that accused me of being racist, the logic being that the reason I hated the show was because I’m some big bad white guy who hates seeing Māori people succeed, especially on primetime TV.

I’ve probably received around 15 emails like this**. Some were questions, politely asking if I thought the reason I hated it was because I’m racist. Others were more abusive and full of colourful language. Every single one was offensive on some level. Frankly, I find the mere suggestion that race would be a factor in a bad review insulting.

One of the worst emails I received came through a couple of weeks ago, after I made some flippant remark on Twitter about the show. It was so bad that I seriously considered throwing in the towel, not just on the basis of one email but because I wondered if it was worth it, getting hate mail from people I don’t know. I decided to stick it out (obviously).

I didn’t say anything about the emails as they came through, either at On The Box, at home, or to family; after all, who wants to listen to some guy whinge about a little negative feedback. Nor have I shared the content of any of the emails, or the names of those who sent them, with anyone. I have no intention of doing so. Negative feedback is just par for the course when you’re a writer on the internet, and there is nothing to gain by snitching on a bunch of random people.

The fact is, the only person I can represent is myself, and I can tell you honestly that race had no effect, none whatsoever, on my review of this show, or any other show. The fact that it was a depiction of Māori wasn’t something I thought about before declaring that I didn’t like it. I would have disliked it regardless of what race the characters were.

To be honest, I never think about race in what I write unless it is applicable in some way. I don’t think about what my writing might say about my thoughts on racial cohesion in modern day New Zealand. Unless a show is about cultural differences between different social groups (or is itself being racially insensitive), I don’t even consider the subject of race. There is no racial ulterior motive in my writing. There’s no racial ulterior motive in anything I do.

That said, I’m not naive enough to think that nobody hated The GC because it depicted Māori; in fact, I’m certain somebody, somewhere, did hate the show for exactly that reason. It’s disgusting, but it happens. Just not on any blog or review that I write.

However, I’m not interested in speculating how often it happens. There is no way to know.

What do you think: do you think it’s common for people to hate a TV show, or even an individual character, based on race? Is race something you consider when evaluating a show?

(*) Regan over at Throng points out that this misdirection might have been a masterful stroke on the part of the producers, who intentionally made the first episode different from the rest of the season as part of some kind of publicity stunt to make people angry and thus gain the show more coverage (after all, all coverage is good coverage).

(**) I don’t know the exact number. I made a point of deleting most of them after reading through them once.

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Posted by Chris Philpott on Wednesday Apr 20, 2011 Under TV

Originally written for The Press in Christchurch, and later run by Stuff’s Entertainment section (click here).


Peter Fleming facilitates financial and retirement seminars, but is instantly recognisable to television viewers as the man who pops up from behind a hedge and flashes a grin on Colorsteel’s Roof Shout commercial.

“I was nominated for an audition for that particular part,” says Fleming.

The brief was for a “Retiree clipping a hedge, first looking surprised by the shout from the rooftop, then looking interested”.

The 65-year-old actor has previously appeared in small television and film roles, but says the world of commercial production is new.

The Colorsteel advert “was very well-organised – it was a very efficient operation and proved to be a very pleasant and personally rewarding exercise.”

Fleming is under no illusions why he got the part. “I was probably selected as having a very expressive, comical face with very expressive eyebrows,” he chuckles.

“I had demonstrated an ability to convey the required expressions that would reinforce the commercial message.”

A good number of television commercials filmed in New Zealand are for overseas brands, particularly companies based in the United States.

“US commercials seem to be produced on a more grand and lavish scale,” says Fleming, who has auditioned for many American commercials. “But in spite of this observation, the New Zealand productions do seem to be more innovative and often more entertaining; yet they can be very effective in conveying the required commercial messages.” Alana Schultheis is the general manager of agency Talento, which provides on-screen talent to local and overseas productions.

“We get a brief from the casting director, television network or production company,” Schultheis explains.

“We then forward to them the people on our books that suit the role or job and push for auditions.

“Maybe 30 per cent of the TV commercials are US companies, though it depends from year to year.”

She says companies from Australia, Poland, Germany, England, Ireland are among many other businesses shooting commercials here. Overseas productions are vital to providing work to local actors, providing a boost to the local industry.

“An actor can get a lot of work that pays well and loses no exposure here in local industry,” she says.

“A known face from the show Go Girls can continue working when the show is not filming without jeopardising their exposure on New Zealand TV.

“Also it is good for the agencies – it is important to us that all our people are getting work.” Schultheis says New Zealand is chosen because of the seasons. “They need to film their summer campaigns and it’s winter over there,” she explains, “and it can be more cost-effective for the production companies and overseas advertising agencies.” Fleming says New Zealand has a good number of high-quality actors. “New Zealand is known internationally to be an economically, politically stable, English-speaking country with a substantial pool of acting talent readily available,” he says.

Fleming says he will continue to work in commercials. “I am waiting for the phone to ring!” he laughs.

- The Press

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Posted by Chris Philpott on Sunday Oct 3, 2010 Under TV

The movie came out a few months ago now, but this is the review that wrote for a recent university assignment – I ended up getting an A for this.  Posted incase anyone is interested …


Inception – released in July 2010, written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, and starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page – has a unique, yet remarkably complicated story: Cobb (played by Dicaprio) is an extractor of ideas, a dream specialist and thief who uses shared dream spaces to steal the ideas of his target. After the suicide of his wife, Mol (played by Cotillard), who believes that her reality is actually a dream, Cobb is forced to go on the run and leave his children, as he is suspected of her murder.

Unable to return home due to criminal charges against him, and having been on the run for an unspecified period of time, he takes a job to plant an idea in a business competitor of Mr Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) via a tricky process called ‘inception’. What follows is a journey through the dreamscape, during which Cobb is forced to go deeper into the subconscious – into dreams within dreams – in order to make the idea seem like the targets own.

At first glance, Inception seems to direct us to one possible theme of the film: What is the nature of reality? Is everything we know a dream? However, on further consideration it becomes clear that the film has been an exploration of Cobb’s own guilt surrounding the suicide of his wife. Inception is essentially an exploration of the nature of guilt.

The common understanding of guilt, and certainly the view expressed within this film, is that it takes root in one’s mind and eventually permeates every aspect of one’s subconscious. Unless the guilt itself is confronted directly it will fester and grow, until it starts to affect every part of one’s life.

For Inception, director Nolan has focused primarily on the character of Cobb, whose guilt is the focus of the story; however, during the course of the 140 minute film, there is not a single shot that is shown from the perspective of Cobb himself – he is always present in the shot, and we find ourselves looking over his shoulder, past his leg, from slightly above his head, and so on.

Nolan seems acutely aware that he doesn’t want us to step into Cobb’s shoes and take on his guilt ourselves (an inevitable effect of continually showing things from Cobb’s point of view), but he does want us to see the effect of Cobb’s guilt for ourselves. A scene early in the film backs this up: after a short venture into his own “dream world”, Cobb having a minor anxiety attack – a common side effect of guilt – and washing his face in a derelict bathroom. In the background of the shot is a curtain flapping in an open window, through which we can see a ghostly image of Mol. Cobb doesn’t notice the apparition.

Could Nolan be trying to show that Cobb is haunted by his own guilt surrounding the death of Mol?

As we move into the main “dream world”, consisting of 3 nested dreams, Cobb’s guilt manifests itself in each level – for example, in early scenes taking place in the first level of the dream a train appears in the middle of an inner city street; we later learn that the train is part of a memory Cobb has of his time with Mol. On the second level of the dream Cobb sees a projection of his children in the foyer of a hotel. On the third level of the dream Mol herself – or more accurately, Cobb’s subconscious projection of Mol – shows up.

As each of these levels represents a different level of subconscious, it does make sense that Cobb’s guilt would manifest itself in each, since guilt also operates at a subconscious level. Cobb tries to fight his guilt by keeping it trapped within his own dreams – the only “dream world” we see, which is created entirely by Cobb, is a multi-storey building in which each floor is a carefully locked away memory: the night Mol committed suicide, the day that he was forced to flee the country in the wake of her death, a nostalgic trip to the beach with his family, and so on. Cobb keeps these memories hidden away, reliving them again and again, trying to understand them, which provides an excellent metaphor for the way humans typically deal with guilt, by obsessing over the event that caused it again and again.

Nolan helps the viewer navigate the different dream levels by giving each a distinct visual look that separates it from the others. This means that the viewer can easily follow what is happening and which dream level they are seeing on-screen.

The first dream level is a large city, in which it is pouring with rain and a large portion of the action takes place in a moving van. The second level is the interior of an upmarket hotel. The third dream level takes place at a fortress located in a snowy mountain range. Even the dream level known as ‘limbo’ is unique from the other levels, with its crumbling buildings and dystopian feel providing something of a chill for viewers.

The film score also helps the viewer to differentiate between levels: a subtle violin movement during the earlier dream levels contrasts with the noisy bombast of the orchestral movements during scenes taking place in ‘limbo’.

Director Nolan also included references to Edith Piaf’s song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” as an integral part of the script, in order to provide a musical cue for viewers to identify and recognise when transitioning back and forth between the dream levels. The end result is a film which seems complicated, but is easy to follow.

Cobb eventually overcomes his guilt by forgiving Mol and forgiving himself, which brings us to the most contentious scene of the film: throughout Inception, Cobb uses a totem – a small top which will spin indefinitely in a dream, but topple quickly in reality – to tell whether he is awake or in a dream; however, at the films end, Cobb spins the totem and the movie smash cuts to black as the totem continues to spin. This raises a very pertinent question: Does the totem keep spinning indefinitely, or does it eventually topple over? In other words, is Cobb awake or in a dream?

If we accept that the nature of guilt, as told through Cobb’s overcoming of the guilt he feels surrounding the death of Mol, is the theme of the film, then it stands to reason that the totem could have represented Cobb maintaining a separation between himself and his guilt. In earlier scenes involving the totem Cobb is anxious to see it topple; however, at the end of the film he is not concerned with the totem at all, possibly because he has overcome his guilt and no longer needs to maintain that separation between himself and it.

It is my belief that the preferred reading of Inception is that it is the story of one man’s attempt to overcome guilt, told by exploring the nature of guilt and the subconscious. Director Christopher Nolan guides the viewer through these “dream worlds” by employing visual and musical differences between each level of subconscious, and keeps the story focused on Cobb, but keeping the viewer separated from him, by shooting his main character in such a way that the viewer cannot identify his or herself with him directly. Through attention to detail and a willingness to tell this complicated story as simply as possible, and in terms of creating and writing a unique and complicated story idea and producing it for a mass audience, Inception is a resounding success.

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Posted by Chris Philpott on Sunday Oct 3, 2010 Under TV

The following essay was written for an essay on the university paper I’m currently studying. I’ve posted it here incase anyone is interested in having a read. It scored 7/10, by the way.


In this essay I will explain the meaning of the term ‘revisionist western’, in relation to the wider notion of the western as a genre, by drawing on examples from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

According to the American Film Institute (2008) the Western can be defined as “a genre of films set in the American West that embodies the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier.” The Great Train Robbery, a silent film released in 1903, is often cited as the earliest Western movie. This film helped to establish the Western as a legitimate film genre, as well as proving its financial value as a form of entertainment.

Western films are easily identifiable due to a number of conventions that can be found in a majority of works within the genre. Large, open patches of desert, stretching outward from a small settlement on the western frontier, are often the setting for stand-offs between heroic men who stand for law and order, themselves representations of the taming of the west following the introduction of civilisation, and the gun-slinging outlaw trying to protect his wild way of life.

The traditional western places value on the “eastern” way of life, favouring civilisation and the law over the unknown element of the western frontier, while marginalising female, Native American and Mexican characters. William Phillips points out that, “Symptomatic of the transformations celebrated in westerns … near the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), the main woman character says of the area now settled, ‘It was once a wilderness. Now it’s a garden.’” (Phillips, 1999)

By contrast, the revisionist western takes the established conventions of the traditional western and turns them on their head. Where traditional western films celebrated the civilised nature of American society, film-makers of the late 1960s began to use the western as an outlet to voice their criticism of American society and values, achieving this by using stories, settings, and visual conventions in the mise-en-scene that were directly opposed to the established conventions at the time. Thus, the revisionist western was born.

Robert B Ray, in his book A Certain Tendency Of The Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980, explains that “the western’s importance derived from the national ideology’s eagerness to assert an American exceptionalism as the basis for avoiding difficult choices.” (Ray, 1985) The revisionist western opposed this notion and openly questioned the national ideology.
Film-makers were sometimes able to question the idea that the American “exceptionalism” and the American method of civilisation was superior by telling stories that focused on typically non-American social groups. For example, 1970 film Little Big Man, directed by Arthur Penn and starring Dustin Hoffman, tackled issues of prejudice by sympathetically portraying a group of American Indians who are forced to raise a Caucasian boy as one of their own.

Strong female characters, and the use of so-called “anti-hero” characters, are also commonplace in revisionist westerns. George Roy Hill’s 1969 film Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid makes use of both: the main characters of Butch and Sundance (played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford respectively) are bank robbers in the infamous Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, while Sundance’s lover Etta (played by Katharine Ross) goes against the female stereotype by repeatedly standing up to the men and eventually leaving them of her own accord. The use of outlaws as the film’s heroes flies in the face of traditional westerns, in which law and order reign supreme.

Other film-makers voiced their criticism by using visual cues to show that the established conventions of the western were gone, as a metaphor for the way in which the established ideals of American society we no longer adequate. An example is found in McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), in which director Robert Altman replaces the clear blue skies and pristine, golden settings of earlier western films with gloomy clouds and desaturated colours, and replaces the dry, dusty streets of the conventional frontier town with messiness and mud.

The preferred reading of revisionist westerns, as films that oppose the established conventions of the genre and can be read as opposing the established beliefs of society, is entirely dependent on the idea of binary opposition, pioneered by philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss. “Levi-Strauss argued that an abiding structure of all meaning-making, not just narratives, was a dependence on binary oppositions, or a conflict between two qualities or terms.” (Branston & Stafford, 2006). Branston & Stafford continue to point out some typical binary opposites in the western, such as feminine/masculine, domestic/savage, and Christian/pagan.

In conclusion, we can see that the term ‘revisionist western’ describes a set of films which have rejected the conventions of traditional westerns, and uses the system of binary opposition to challenge the established ideas of the western genre and, by extension, the established ideology of American society as a whole.

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Posted by Chris Philpott on Friday May 14, 2010 Under TV


I’m just going to come right out and say it: TV series finales usually fail to satisfy fans and viewers.

More often than not, fans end up walking away from the finale disappointed or angry at what they had just seen.

Even worse, this seems to be a problem that affects only the most popular, the longest running, and most iconic shows.

You might think this a trivial observation, given how rarely – if ever – one will sit through the finale of a show that they truly love, but it is a real concern for me.

I’ve been watching desert island castaway show Lost since its debut in late 2004.

I’m the guy who knows all the characters and how they’re connected. I’m the guy who knows why there was a polar bear on the island. I’m the guy who blogs about each episode as it happens. I’m the guy who has ‘Lost finale’ written on his wall calendar.

And as the show counts down to its grand finale – to be screened here in New Zealand in mid-June – I’m also the guy who has a nagging feeling that he is going to be disappointed.

Lost is one of televisions most popular shows, with around 10 million viewers each week in the US alone and countless millions online and around the world. It managed to draw twice that audience at its peak in 2005, and its final episode, simply titled “The End”, is expected to be one of the most viewed series finales of all time.

The show is often hailed as a creative success for creating a fictional world where every detail matters, and for embracing storylines that carry on for not just multiple episodes, but multiple years. The final season of Lost, currently airing around the globe, is drawing the highest critical acclaim the show has ever received.

The problem is that – historically – when shows end during a peak in creativity and popularity, the chance that its audience will be disappointed by the end seems to go up considerably.

There are a number of examples that back this up…Fans of Denzel Washington’s 80s serial St Elsewhere criticised its infamous finale, where nearly 23 million US viewers found out the events told during the shows’ run were actually the daydreams of an autistic child staring into a snow globe, for allowing its producers to escape creating a more satisfying ending.

In the 2009 finale of hit sci-fi remake Battlestar Galactica the producers managed to rile up its 3 million US viewers (a record high for the show) by presenting a preachy finale that avoided resolving the core conflict the show had focused on during its entire run and made one Blend Magazine contributor write an article titled “Why The Battlestar Galactica Finale Is A Huge Cop Out And It Doesn’t Matter”.

Finales in which core characters simply say goodbye or part ways simultaneously – such as Cheers and Friends – are often criticised because the actions seem out-of-character, the events leading up to the end are often a little too convenient, and the final scenes can seem oddly self-serving, like we’re watching the actors say goodbye instead of the characters.

Some shows even inspire pure vitriol from their viewers: the finales of Seinfeld and The X Files have both been heavily criticised for pointless, nonsensical storylines that are simply unsatisfying to viewers.

However, in 2007 HBO aired the finale of The Sopranos, which might be the most talked about series finale ever.

Allow me to set the scene: James Gandolfini’s troubled mobster Tony Soprano, having earlier learned he was targeted for a hit, enters a diner, sits alone at a booth and selects Journey’s classic song “Don’t Stop Believin’” on a jukebox, before being joined by wife Carmela and son AJ, all while being watched by a man sitting at the counter.

Shortly after this, the man at the counter heads to the toilets and we see Tony’s daughter Meadow parking a car outside. She crosses the road and enters the diner. Tony Soprano looks up at the door for a brief second.

The action on-screen suddenly cuts to black. A few seconds later the credits silently roll.

So sudden was the ending that fans of the show initially feared that their TV reception had disappeared or that their video recorders had stopped recording at the worst possible moment. Stations reported that they received complaints from angry viewers who thought they had screwed up. The shows’ fans were immediately disappointed, and found their way to public internet message boards and discussion forums to express their anger and lament the shows final scene.

In hindsight we can see that the writers and the audience had different ideas for how it should end: audiences felt that Soprano should die on-screen, giving them closure on the series, while creator Chase felt that wasn’t necessary to telling his story, and even that audiences didn’t deserve to see that.

“[The audience] had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie, and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted ‘justice.’ They wanted to see his brains splattered on the wall. I thought that was disgusting, frankly,” Sopranos creator David Chase said later, in an interview with Brett Martin for The Sopranos: The Complete Book. “The pathetic thing—to me—was how much they wanted his blood, after cheering him on for eight years.”

So, the question we have to ask ourselves is: why are audiences so often disappointed by season finales?

My first thought was that the answer might be somehow linked to auteur theory – a French idea from the 1950s that basically stated any work of film would invariably reflect or express the directors’ own philosophy on life, thoughts on love, or personal worldview.

In the case of shows like The Sopranos or Lost, I wondered if this theory could extend to creators, writers or producers, and if perhaps the problem was that one or two head honchos were expressing their own ideas on ‘the end’, and it was in fact them – rather than the shows or characters themselves – that we were disagreeing with.

To find out more I approached Gavin Strawhan, one of the creators and producers of locally made shows Go Girls, Mercy Peak and the upcoming mystery drama This Is Not My Life, who explained that this probably isn’t the case.

“TV requires a lot of money and other people’s hard work, so I don’t know if it’s fair to be too indulgent,” Strawhan says when asked about David Chase’s comments about The Sopranos’ audience. “Story telling is, by definition, for an audience, but that doesn’t mean the story tellers aren’t being visionary or writing what is entertaining and important to them. So I guess I’m saying it’s about a balance.”

“In fact, I think a lot of the craft of television writing boils down to giving the audience what they want – but not how they expected it.”

So if auteur theory doesn’t explain things, what does? I asked Strawhan if maybe disappointment is unavoidable, since audiences have come to know and love the characters and simply don’t want them to go.

“I just think it’s inevitable,” Strawhan says. “If they love a show, they won’t want it to end.”

“Maybe it’s just a case of there being too many expectations that can’t all be met,” he continues. “Writing endings is hard enough in a film. By the time a series has been going for a while, there are often so many characters with so much baggage, it’s kind of daunting. Wrapping up often feels naff.”

I ask what part audience response might play in deciding how to wrap things up.

“We write stories that interest us [as writers], and they kind of take on a life of their own, through the characters, which in turn spring from the premise,” Strawhan replies. “But at the same time, when it comes to HOW we tell the story, we’re thinking of the audience and how they’ll feel about our story and characters.”

“That’s the point of stories – how do they make the audience feel? You can’t anticipate every point of view, neither would you want to.”

For executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the creative force behind Lost, the problem of ‘the end’ is arguably more complicated than it would be for a great many other shows.

While the two have always maintained their show is all about the characters, Lost is also infamous for its mythology – that is, the elements of the show that are explained by the supernatural (déjà vu, synchronicity and coincidence) or are science fiction story devices (time travel and paradox).

“Our focus has always been on the characters and we spend 80% or 90% of the time talking [in the writer's room] about characters and 10% talking about mythology,” says Cuse, talking in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in January. “So our main concern is to have satisfying resolutions to the characters. We can’t answer every last question about the show. If we did that, the show would be so pedantic that it would be uninteresting.”

The problem is that viewers want the mythology wrapped up as much as, if not more than, they want the character resolutions Cuse mentions, to see if it’s what they expected. Lindelof tries to explain that this is going to be unachievable, due to the wide variety of viewer theories.

“How can you wrap it up not just for the characters but wrapping up a very intricate mythology which will essentially tell people their theories are wrong?” Lindelof asked rhetorically, in the Wall Street Journal interview. “People don’t want to hear that. We resigned that we won’t satisfy everybody so it became about satisfying ourselves.”

In a interview with the producers in April, Lindelof again commented on the end.

“As much confidence as we have in the story we’re telling, we are also comfortable saying, ‘But what do we know?’” he explained. “This is our best version of the story of Lost, and it’s the definitive one. The worst thing we could ever do is not end it.”

As a fan of Lost, I don’t feel at all relieved.

But at the same time I do understand.

The problem with audiences being disappointed in TV finales isn’t linked to auteur theory, as I earlier thought; one guy isn’t making things up and demanding that we respect that and either like it or lump it.

The truth is quite the opposite: creators, writers and producers – as Gavin Strawhan pointed out – are just trying to remain focused on the premise and characters they’ve created and come up with an ending that resolves the story and satisfies themselves as writers, and the audience, in equal measures.

Perhaps the most accurate explanation is the simplest: audiences just don’t want the characters and stories they’ve grown to love to go away.

Perhaps what seems like anger or disappointment or complaint is actually misplaced sadness.

Whether Lost ends with the Smoke Monster being sucked into the trap of one of the Ghostbusters, or if Jack, Kate and Sawyer get a Three’s Company style spinoff, or if we find out the island only existed in the mind of that kid from the end of St Elsewhere, it really doesn’t matter.

Whether I’m happy or sad, disappointed or satisfied, it really doesn’t matter. The show will still be over.

Of course, there’s always re-runs …

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Posted by Chris Philpott on Wednesday Jul 8, 2009 Under Music, Ramblings


Like everyone, I’ve been following the news of pop star Michael Jackson’s death closely, trying to figure out exactly what happened to one of the most talented, most gifted musicians to ever walk the earth.

In a little under 25 years Jackson went from being an idolised pop star performing on the back of Thriller, an album that is considered perfect by most music critics (myself included) and sold an estimated 109 million copies, to being a reclusive shell of his former self, dealing with a decade long career slump, widespread skepticism over his ability to perform an upcoming series of concerts, an addiction to painkillers, and the stigma following a high-profile trial in which he was found not guilty on seven counts of child sexual abuse.

Up until his death on June 25th this year any mention of Michael Jackson invariably brought up his chequered past; his increasingly bizarre behaviour, such as moving to Bahrain after the aforementioned trial; and his odd parenting techniques, such as having his family wear surgical masks during outings or leaning over a balcony while holding a baby son, known as ‘Blanket’, in 2002.

Given all of this, it strikes me as odd that “Wacko Jacko” has been remembered a lot more fondly since his death than he was thought of during life. The outpouring of emotion in the seven days following his death has been truly baffling.

A year ago our general collective opinion of Jackson was that he was crazy and weird, a recluse, a likely paedophile, a musical has-been, and a poster-boy for the damaging effects of the celebrity machine.

We are now lauding him once again as ‘the King of Pop’, the most gifted musician and dancer in music history, and equating his loss with the shocking death of Princess Diana in 1997.

A little over a year ago, in March 2008, Los Angeles Times staff writer Ann Powers wrote that “Michael Jackson will never be just like us. … a snap of him shopping invokes not normality, but one of those renderings of space aliens from the Weekly World News.” (source:
Now he’s simply Michael Jackson, the mastermind behind a decade of best-selling albums.
So, why the sudden change of heart?

I mean we’re not suddenly a more forgiving race of people, and we didn’t somehow forget everything that happened, involving Jackson, in the last 25 years.

The truth is that Michael Jackson was the bizarre recluse we considered him to be.

But the problem was that we’d completely lost sight of the fact that he was also the mastermind behind Thriller, that he was also the guy who sold hundreds of millions of albums, that he was also the most gifted musician and dancer in pop history, and that he was idolised the world over, beloved by music fans everywhere.

Perhaps more troubling is that we didn’t tell him any of that – until now.

A speaker I saw recently discussed the phenomenon of eulogies and memorials, suggesting that we should say to people what they mean to us now, rather than wait until their death to say them to everyone else.

For Michael Jackson, just a little of the kind of coverage he’s received since his death might have been the difference between the reclusive life he led or a more normal, balanced life.
Being told that what he meant to those who loved and idolised him – even just once – might have been the difference between life and death.

The tragedy is that it took Jackson’s death for us to realise it.

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