I never knew the flesh and blood Michael Jackson, only the icon who had songs on the radio and produced videos for television. So, while the individual known by that name died in June of 2009, the Michael Jackson I knew has never died and never will. As long as there’s some sort of visual and audio medium, I’ll always be able to see or hear him.
I was reminded of this fact by the recent death of Betty White. Many rightfully mourned her passing, as is befitting someone of her stature, and many tributes pay homage to the vital role she played in shaping the early days of television. Still, to most, she was an image on the screen, and as such, has gained a form of immortality. While we can no longer interact with the unique human being known as Betty White, we can, nonetheless see images of her on the screen, read the words she has written, and watch her in shows, and see her interviewed. In a real sense, she is still with us, just as screen icons like Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino still exist, long after they passed from this Earth.
It has been said that no one truly dies as long as there’s someone who remembers that person. Many of our ancestors existed without anyone really paying much attention to them, and still, vestiges of them remain through that part that lives in us and many of us even have memories of our predecessors. In fact, most people live and die within a limited context, with just their friends and families to remember who they were or that they even existed. Still, as long as someone remembers, there’s hope of some form of immortality.
The challenge is for us to make ourselves memorable for something, hopefully not too infamous. Often, people are remembered for the less than savory aspects of their characters. Perhaps being remembered at any expense is not the proper way to go out, though quite a few are anxious for such notoriety. Certain recent public officials come to mind. Still, to be memorable doesn’t necessarily require earth shattering events or actions. Mr. Rogers is largely recalled for being a nice guy who cared for the welfare of children.
In this day of worldwide media via the Internet, it’s increasingly easy to draw attention to oneself through a vast array of social sites. We can leave videos, podcasts, photos, and posts that often outlive the platforms to which they’ve been posted. We may not have quite reached the plateau of being famous for fifteen minutes, as predicted by Andy Warhol, but for many, the goal isn’t far off.
It leaves one to wonder, how should we be remembered? Is infamy truly better than obscurity? Does one truly want to live forever if one has no control over how history will judge?