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The MJ Media Experience Remembered

Los Angeles: Fire

Bangkok does a pretty compelling gridlock. Tokyo skips to the rhythm of subways and cyclists. Los Angeles? It throbs to the thwop-thwop of the news-copters . In LA, when celebrities are involved the network media are the first responders everyone else is playing catch-up.

I happened to be close to the UCLA hospital as the events surrounding Micheal Jackson’s death unfolded – it’s not easy trying to work at home with 4 news-copters hovering overhead so eventually gave up, cycled a few blocks and shot of a few reels – a few which are posted here.

To what extent do extremes, such as the the media frenzy surrounding MJ’s death provide clues as to the trajectories of people, culture and technology? With hyper-connected stakeholders and an a massive mega-pixel per m2 count some of practices witnessed outside the UCLA hospital highlight trends that have been bubbling up for years, pulling into focus others that may well become mainstream a few years down the line.

A city official put his death at 13:07 PST and TMZ posts an exclusive of his cardiac arrest kicking off the media storm. By 16:30 4 helicopters are circling – alternating between the hospital and his home, and an hour later there are approximately 20 network vans parked alongside Westwood Plaza the road that runs along the hospital entrance. The first few fans with hand-drawn signs are already milling around by 17:30, with the first with freshly printed MJ t-shirts turn up 30 minutes later. At 18:30 two young girls with shrine candles ask where the shrine is. “Where-ever you put the candles” is the answer although I guess it needs a photo or white glove to legitimise it’s shrinedness.

At 18:00 the crowd of 250 – 350 people outside the entrance and spread along the road were roughly 20% professional media/journalists, 75% liggers – people interested in being part of the event, but with limited obvious emotional attachment to MJ, 4% fans and 1% media whores. Think about it: professional media outnumbering fans 5 : 1, and at a stretch citizen media/liggers with cameras outnumbering fans ~18 : 1 (most of the obvious fans weren’t shooting cameras, it’s probably an etiquette thing. Finding a clear shot of fans in shock/mourning/bonding must have proved a bitch for the media. For the fans present, a chance to experience a bit of Micheal’s world. In death as in life, eh? Look foward to the theme park ride.

A few things of note: the wholesale vacuuming of experiences for later consumption; any notions of whether or not you have a choice of being on camera are out the window – simply by being here you’ve signed a social contract giving up the rights to your own image; the ability for one and all to broadcast live; the volume of drive-by shootings; the extent to which the news anchors are out of the loop compared to the web-browsing, flickring, twittering masses standing behind them, exchanging information; and the sheer volume of camera toting liggers. We are all underpaid photojournalists now, if-it-moves shoot it this is history in the making goddamit.

To what extent does an event like this need a physical epicenter, a talking head to make it real? To what extent will the massive online stream of interest be fed back into events on the ground creating a massive feedback loop? How long before we see real time (mainstream) trending topics displayed on billboards?

How will our appreciation of events change in a future perfect world of hyper-connectivity and real time recognition of media/fans/liggers/media-whores?

Given that every shmoe with a camera is able to broadcast, and re-broadcast events do the networks even need to be here? But the real shift? The real shift occurs when you the bystander, starts to use [heat maps jacked into social graphs] to leverage the power of the networks. Traditional media turned 180.

Bootnote: Particularly touching were the fans singing along to lyrics read off someone’s iPhone, stumbling after the first chorus, a media scrum that surrounding the ad-hoc choir. I left when the exquisitely dressed transvestite tottered toward the cameras in hot-pants, his ego matched only by the size of his codpiece.