America's Princess Di moment

Oscar Levant’s description of Hollywood — “it’s made of tinsel, but once you get beneath the tinsel, you’ll find the real tinsel” — is writ large, and we all live in Hollywood now. The death of Michael Jackson is our Princess Diana moment. Such vast outpourings of alligator tears and synthetic sincerity were once reserved for mourning presidents. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the small looms large.

Celebrity grief, like the real thing, unfolds in stages. The first stage is the work of Michael’s fellow celebrities. They’re doing their jobs well, as we expect professional actors to do. Elizabeth Taylor, still famous for once having been the most beautiful woman in the world, led the way. “My heart … my mind are broken,” she said. Madonna “can’t stop crying.” Lisa Marie Presley, basking one more time in the eminence of the ex-wife, is “sad and confused with every possible emotion possible.” Justin Timberlake, wary of verbal malfunction, “can’t find the words.”…

The second stage of this mourning exercise begins with the arrival of the major-league scam artists. The inevitable reverends, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have landed and even now are erecting competing circus tents. Rev. Al, always on the scout for the racial slight, says, “Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah, way before Barack Obama.”