Of course, yes.
If the paedo prince of peace (and, okay let’s be fair here, the King of Pop and much else besides) hadn’t died from a heart attack in Bel-Air right in the middle of the month when the west had discovered the power of soft diplomacy, Iranian democrats had discovered the effectiveness of international support, and progressive international politics had discovered the power of web 2.0, would the future of the middle east have been significantly different?
Well, of course, who knows.
But the undoubted role that the internet has played in Tehran this June means that we cannot discount the idea that the swamping of this weekend’s news and online agenda with Jackson’s death – and what will surely be at least a week’s worth of news cycles after that – will do nothing but harm the cause of democracy in Iran.
Alistair Campbell recently pointed out that the increasingly autistic British mainstream media can only deal with one crisis at a time. One minute we were all about to be killed by swine flu and newspapers could think of nothing else, the next minute we were up to our ears in the biggest constitutional crisis in the history of Westminster and hamaggedon was long forgotten.
“What will the next one be? Who knows? Nobody, least of all [the journalists].
All we know is that when it does come, they will be instant experts, and they
will assume that it - whatever it is - is the only story that anyone out there
Will new media be any different? It could be; Michael versus Mahmood might be the test.
Twitter – while its own role in Iran has probably been overstated – has nevertheless become symbolic of the way the online world has affected the outcome of events on the ground, mostly through chat rooms and uncensored online news. A fellow of the Harvard Center for Internet and Society, no less, told the New York Times today that “My twitter search script sees roughly 15% of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson. Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over 5%.”
As I write, every mainstream news site is devoted to – frankly – deeply dull helicopter shots of hundreds of journalists milling around a hospital in LA. (When will 24 hour news realise that a death – apart from the passing moment itself – is really a pretty uneventful event once it’s happened?) Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and even RealClearPolitics are all splashing on MJ. (I should imagine Mark Sanford is rather relieved, incidentally.)
The death of Neda on the streets of Tehran (I’d link to it but I’m not sure I want to watch it myself) showed the power of the international online community to mobilise. The death of Michael Jackson in LA may show how fickle we are. If this is the real legacy of the man who bizarrely craved to be remembered as a saintly peacemaker we’ll only have ourselves to blame.