Death Of A Salesman

July 23rd, 1999

I write this editorial at the height of the hype over the tragic consequences that led to the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr.  It is quite possible that by the time you read these words, the story will be old news (thankfully) and you will have passed onto something else.  That is, in fact, my hope.

Like everyone, I was saddened by the news that JFK, Jr. was lost at sea.  The thought of another tragedy befalling the Kennedy family made me pause and remember the days of his father.  John F. Kennedy didn’t change my life, but he changed the way I look at life.  His brief presidency breathed oxygen into the decaying process of politics, which was, until his ascension, dominated by fat, old men in bad suits  You could smell the stench of cigars, booze and back room deals through the flickering tv images, which were as blurred as their morals and promises.

No one will forget JFK.  Everyone from my generation can tell you where they were when notified of his death.  The loss was cataclysmic.  It made you ponder your place in life…and history.

Now, his son is gone and the media frenzy that followed his final blip on the radar screen is over the top.  Enough already.

The media has become a medium that celebrates celebrity…with a passion.  I watched, disgusted at the coverage from all networks, “broadcasting live from the  Kennedy compound in Hyannisport.” Producers scrambled to put together pieces that chronicled the “exceptional life” of JFK, Jr.  I counted 26  “close, personal friends” who were interviewed.  Each told extraordinary stories.  I tuned out when they interviewed a sad-faced man who was JFK, Jr.’s camp counselor.

Give me a break.

With all due respect to JFK, Jr., the media event that accompanied his disappearance was bigger than his life.  John was, by all accounts, a normal student.  Upon graduation from law school, it took him four tries to pass the bar exam.  He dabbled as an Assistant DA before using some of his considerable fortune to establish a new magazine. George is cute, fun and political.  The truth is, George is widely read only inside the beltway.  Circulation outside of D.C. is moderate , at best.

Let’s face it, JFK, Jr. was best known as the son of an icon and as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”

This isn’t criticism, but an honest account of his life.

Yet, the media turned upside down to portray his death as a tragedy of epic proportions.  The “tragedy” will touch normal americans Americans as much the death of any good looking, wealthy young man.  It’s terribly sad.  But that’s all.

Why are we so hooked on the life and times of celebrities? What makes celebrity so great? Do you get smarter? Do you get wiser? Does it make you do more for others?  Generally, it makes you richer. And a jerk.  That’s it.

The news people who hype the death of JFK, Jr. do so more as a self-serving ritual than for any moral sense of right. Their intrusive cameras, set up across the street for a fleeting glimpse of a Kennedy through a window, are done to “capture an exclusive” rather than to give us pictures of breaking news.  Anchors line up across the street and proudly end their reports, “Live, from the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport,” only because it makes them feel important.  It makes me want to vomit.

If this tragedy and the surrounding hoopla that rises well over knee-deep doesn’t prove the point I’ve been trying to make for years.  Nothing will.  We aren’t what we do.

It’s easy to criticize.  It’s much tougher to do something about it.  So between my moods of abject hatred of vampires of the network news, I began to question my own worth.  Who am I? What do I do? If I augered a plane straight down into the ocean tomorrow, what legacy would I leave?

Who do you think you are?

What have you done that stands for something?  Don’t pretend records you worked or ratings you won count.  Those accomplishments hardly last a week until there’s another.  That’s only your job.

What about your life?

I write this editorial with mixed emotions.  There’s a lot of hypocrisy at work here. Network 40 serves as a vehicle to promote the very celebrity I’m criticizing.  But hopefully, we do it because it makes calculated business sense, not because we believe it’s our salvation.  There’s nothing wrong with harmless hype for personal gain and glory…as long as we don’t buy into the hype that what we do makes us better.  It only makes us successful.

What you do at home when nobody’s watching or listening is what ultimately matters in your life.

For those of you who don’t agree, I can only say, “Live from Hollywood. I’m Gerry Cagle.”

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