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Michael Jackson’s Brain and the False Narrative

Michael Jackson Buried Without BrainSince the news media seems to be unable to tear itself away from the Michael Jackson story, we learn about every fascinating detail about his life, and his death. Including the details of standard autopsy procedures, as though they were new or bizarre. The latest, of course, is that Michael Jackson’s body is being buried without his brain.

But this is not unusual in an autopsy where the cause of death isn’t certain and the brain is suspected to carry some clues. The brain needs to harden, in order to perform the later slicing needed in the autopsy procedure:

It involves removing the brain from the skull and leaving it to soak in a diluted mixture of formaldehyde and water called formalin. This soaking process usually takes four weeks and the brain genuinely does harden.

Vaughan over at Mind Hacks has the gory details of a brain autopsy.

I sincerely wish the media attention would die down on this story already. Michael Jackson was a talented performer and singer, but he wasn’t Einstein or Michelangelo. I enjoyed his music, but I was sorry to see the tragic turn his life took later in his career.

Josh Visser over at CTV.ca News has an insightful article into Michael Jackson and the “false narrative phenomenon” — how the singer’s death completely changed the story people tell about his life and what they think of him:

But here’s the rub: Three weeks ago, Jackson was seen by most people as a joke at best; or another rich celebrity who got away with horrible crimes, at worst.[…]

But in death, all that changed. The media in particular, and society at large, seemed to develop a mass amnesia — the last 18 years of lacklustre musical output, the criminal allegations and civil judgments, and the just plain weirdness was forgotten.

Why do we paint these stories that only emphasize and focus on the positive in a person’s life, and discounting the negative? Visser has a suggestion:

We do it for our gone-too-young celebrities and politicians, but we also do it for the regular people in our lives — choosing to remember only the good — rather than an accurate portrait of a person.

Indeed, news organizations know they are going to get more traction with their stories about how great a person and entertainer Michael Jackson was, glossing over the later problems in his life, than to paint a more balanced picture of a seemingly troubled individual who had apparent difficulties adjusting to his life and celebrity.

I would also point readers to Maureen Orth’s five investigative journalism articles in Vanity Fair that detailed Michael Jackson’s celebrity life and the difficulties he faced.

In death, we seem to always focus on the positive, perhaps simply out of respect for the deceased. That seems reasonable. But I think a celebrity should be different, especially because they can act as role models for others. I’m certain the same happened when Elvis died, but his death also serves as a warning about the excesses of such celebrity lives. We need to hear about the bad, along with the good, so that we understand the humanity of the person who has left this world.

Because Michael Jackson, in the end, wasn’t just a celebrity or performer — he was a complex and seemingly troubled human being. Understanding that he wasn’t simply a great singer or dancer helps us understand how we are all imperfect… How we lead lives trying to understand how we fit into this world.

And how, sometimes, we fail to do so.

Michael Jackson’s Brain and the False Narrative


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Michael Jackson’s Brain and the False Narrative. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 9, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/michael-jacksons-brain-and-the-false-narrative/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Jul 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.