In 1990, a few years removed from his Wham! years and into his solo career, George Michael agreed to a rare interview with The New York Times to help publicize his newest album, “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1.”
The conversation he had with critic Stephen Holden was wide-ranging. But, as writer Sarah Kendzior noted when she dug it up following the news of Michael’s death on Sunday, one particular point seems particularly prescient today.
While discussing “Praying for Time,” Michael’s first single off the album, which included the line “the rich declare themselves poor” and talked of people trying desperately to keep hold of their possessions, Michael expressed his fear that the modern media were making people paranoid of one another, rather than worried about one another.
Because of the media, the way the world is perceived is as a place where resources and time are running out. We’re taught that you have to grab what you can before it’s gone. It’s almost as if there isn’t time for compassion.George Michael
“No event inspired the song, just life in general,’’ Michael said at the time. “It’s my way of trying to figure out why it’s so hard for people to be good to each other.”
He continued, “I believe the problem is conditional as opposed to being something inherent in mankind. The media has affected everybody’s consciousness much more than most people will admit. Because of the media, the way the world is perceived is as a place where resources and time are running out. We’re taught that you have to grab what you can before it’s gone. It’s almost as if there isn’t time for compassion.’’
Michael’s comments 26 years ago are still relevant today, after Donald Trump won a presidential election due partly to unsubstantiated fears that economic gains for people of color would necessarily harm white people ― a cynical zero-sum view of the world that Michael saw for what it was long ago.
When I read the sentence “We’re taught that you have to grab what you can before it’s gone,” I immediately recalled a segment from “The O’Reilly Factor” last week, in which host Bill O’Reilly told his like-minded viewers that “the left wants power taken away from the white establishment.”
O’Reilly’s comments caused a small outcry on the internet, but perhaps what’s most noteworthy is how closely his comments fell in line with a tactic common not only in the media but in politics, too: crafting messages meant to provoke fear of others, not empathy for them.
When Michael said “It’s almost as if there isn’t time for compassion,” he hit it pretty on the nose. But the truth is, all the time in the world wouldn’t change Bill O’Reilly’s views now. And that’s the real problem.