Michael Jackson: man or merchandise?

It's been less than a week since Michael Jackson died yet those seeking to profit from his life, and indeed death...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Mark Kessler, owner of Recycled Records auctioning off collectibeles (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

It’s been less than a week since Michael Jackson died yet those seeking to profit from his life, and indeed death, have been coming out of the woodwork in a steady stream. Michael Jackson’s unparallelled and enormous global stature ensures that he now stands to make as much, if not more, money as he did when he was alive and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that many people – including the media, his acquaintances and employees and even some members of his own family – are already lined up to take their share of the proceeds.

In a matter of days, the value of owning Michael Jackson-related items has skyrocketed. As a result the online auction site ebay has seen a flood of Michael Jackson-related items. Tending towards the ridiculous, they include a bottle of years-old painkillers with his name on them going for $100,000 and a plaster cast of his face on sale for $2,999.

On Friday, just one day after the singer’s death, 21 items once owned by Jackson went under the hammer for $205,000 at an auction in Las Vegas. They had been up for auction before Jackson passed away and were then expected to fetch only $6,000. Now, people are snapping up such items as ‘investments’. As time goes on, we can expect to see the sale of plenty more of Jackson’s belongings, or anything that he may have touched for a brief moment or even breathed upon.

The desire to exploit Michael Jackson’s name for profitable gain doesn’t just stop with devoted fans or auction houses, however. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was somewhat perturbed by watching his father Joe Jackson peddling a blue-ray DVD and promoting a new record label at the BET Awards on Sunday, when being interviewed on the red carpet by CNN anchor Don Lemon.

It may be that Joe Jackson is still in a state of shock, and there’s no doubt that people process death in different ways, but it’s hard to fight the surge of cynicism that arises when seeing him and ex-Chi lite singer Marshall Thompson using this time as a window of opportunity in which to promote their business ventures.

Publishers, book agents and authors are also apparently in a race to write and release tell-all books about Michael Jackson’s life, with speculation rife as to whose story would command the most money. It has been said that Grace Rwaramba, the nanny who looked after Jackson’s children, could be set to make millions if she writes a book about his life. She has already given exclusive interviews about her experience of working for him, sharing intimate details that have done little except provide more fodder and column inches for tabloids and gossip magazines.

Anyone who has switched on the TV since last Thursday has been unable to avoid the intense amount of Michael Jackson coverage. While some tributes, commemoration and analysis of his contribution and legacy are important, I struggle to understand the significance – beyond boosting ratings – of hour long specials such as “Michael Jackson’s craziest moments”, just one of the many shows loosely termed as ‘entertainment’ that I saw last night on one channel.

It is natural that the death of a major artist, especially one of Michael Jackson’s status, would provoke a rush to buy merchandise and memorabilia. But there is something creepy about what’s been happening in the past few days, and that will undoubtedly continue for some time into the future.

One of the saddest aspects of Michael Jackson’s life is that he was a man who gave his soul to the world. His close friends, including spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, have described him as a very lonely man. His deeply felt isolation was a result of him giving so much of his talent, efforts, time and energy to everyone else while many around him, unable to stem their insatiable greed, exploited him for all that they could get. Despite the fact that Jackson is no longer with us, the profiteering off his name remains.

Tragically, in death as in life it seems that Michael Jackson continues to be, to some, a commodity rather than a human being.