I am not the sort to kick a man when he’s down or dead, but I am the sort to kick around some of the people who go a little bit too far in commemorating his death, especially if the misuse of the English language is involved.
From the Associated Press
In China, thousands of fans in cities held vigils for Jackson over the weekend. … About 200 fans gathered for a candlelight vigil in a Tokyo park.
From WHAM TV (Rochester, NY):
Fans of Michael Jackson gathered in Detroit Sunday night for a candlelight vigil in memory of the King of Pop.
From WRBL (Columbus, GA):
The official city-wide candlelight vigil celebrating the life of Michael Jackson, the king of pop, will be held Tuesday evening from 7p-9p in the 1100 block of Broadway.
To be fair, one definition of vigil is the act of keeping awake at times when sleep is customary (from our friends at M-W.com), but even that definition is stretched to fit what’s going on at 7:00 in the evening in Georgia. A vigil is an act of watching or surveillance; in the context of someone who is ailing or dying, a vigil is sometimes kept so that people may lift up prayers for recovery, or even so that someone might not die alone. This kind of vigil, with or without candlelight, is a special thing. I think of that great sequence in Rocky II when Rocky refuses even to look at his new baby until Adrian returns to consciousness, because he is determined that they will look at him together.
Vigil is related to vigilante or vigilant. It’s a very cool, very powerful word, but it does not describe what Jackson’s mourners are doing this week by candlelight all over the world.
I swear, I am not trying to minimize anyone’s grief, but call it a memorial. Call it a wake. Call it group catharsis, or a freak show, or a chance for people to sell t-shirts, but please, please do not call it a vigil. The King of Pop is dead, and you cannot stand vigil against his dying again or against the truth and finality of his dying.