How could social psychologists think about the recent, sad and tragic death of Michael Jackson? An obvious example would be to focus on public mourning and perhaps the psychological distress experienced from loosing a superstar icon. A less obvious, yet equally interesting means of viewing Michael Jackson’s death, is to consider the media categorizations of him during his lifetime and how this may influence the way people remember him.
Categories comprise part of the central machinery of social organization and focusing on their deployment can provide a valuable insight into the management of people’s categorizations of themselves and others. For example Michael Jackson was categorised as a ‘superstar entertainer’ with its particular (and his personal) category-bound activities (actions) e.g. dancing ‘backward-gliding moonwalk’, singing ‘high-pitched singing’ and fashion sense ‘white glove, military-style jacket and aviator sunglasses’. These category-bound activities are conventional expectations about what constitute normative behaviour for a ‘superstar entertainer’.
When the link between a category and appropriate normative behaviour is broken, a disjuncture occurs and that person may be seen as different, morally accountable for their actions and re-categorised. Michael Jackson wearing a ‘germ mask’, ‘keeping a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles as one of his closest companions’ and ‘surrounding himself with children at his Neverland ranch’ provide us with an interesting example of this moral accountability and re-categorisation e.g. from ‘normal’ to ‘crazy’ (The Sun, 2009).