[4 February 2005]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Only days into the jury selection process for Michael Jackson’s upcoming trial, the carnival atmosphere continues to follow the Gloved One like his shadow. From agitated bands of courthouse protesters to Jackson’s televised proclamations of innocence, the latest chapter in this tragic tale has the potential to outdo all of his previous legal encounters as the trial shapes up to be the ultimate theater of the absurd.
California is host to mudslides, floods, earthquakes, and forest fires, but these pale before the natural disasters that most fixate the media, celebrity criminal proceedings. California has treated the nation to these perversely fascinating spectacles on a regular basis, and Jackson’s is sure to be more lurid than O.J., more exciting than Baretta and more entertaining than Scott Peterson. Order some cotton candy and grab a seat, the circus has come to town.
It’s ironic that Jackson finds himself defending his person in the hallowed halls of justice, since he has spent the bulk of his adult life being tried in the court of public opinion. Before our collective eyes, he’s evolved from his prepubescent days as the focal point of the Jackson 5 into an asexual MTV monopoly and embarrassingly wealthy pop icon, and then into a surgically altered oddity and compulsive water-cooler topic. His albums sold in the tens of millions, yet since Thriller his artistic talents have been continually overshadowed by his personal eccentricities. Curious onlookers have been baffled by the paradox he poses: Is he a little boy in an adult’s body, or is there a serious psychosis brewing? Jackson continued to confound matters with his peculiar behavior and well-publicized affinity for adolescent companionship, thus changing the prevailing question to: Is he a delusional sexual predator who exploits the young visitors to his Neverland ranch, or merely an inscrutable man-child interested in sharing his fame and fortune with juveniles?
Regardless of the correct answer, Jackson polarizes societal sentiment, as admirers hold him in fanatically high regard while detractors ridicule him as a pedophilic freak. Contrary to race-card spin, ethnicity plays virtually no role in whether Michael Jackson is loved or loathed; his transformation over the years has left his image as colorless as his de-pigmented skin has become. Jackson is being prosecuted because of the grotesque nature of the charges levied against him coupled with his celebrity status. To suggest anything else sinks the case deeper into the muck and accomplishes the unthinkable; it makes Jackson a gratuitous victim of white society whose primary motivation is the figurative lynching of a powerful black man. Let the Johnny Cochrans of the world perpetuate this type of racist rhetoric; Jackson’s fate should be decided strictly upon the merits of the presented evidence.
That said, believing that a pool of jurors completely devoid of biases can be impaneled is a fallacy. Violations to gag orders have repeatedly occurred, as leaks make their way to the media from parts unknown. Everyone has formed opinions based upon past news stories and gossip column fodder, with Jackson’s legal dilemmas and antics making headlines for over a decade. Reports of questionable conduct behind closed doors, hush-money payoffs and additional alleged victims coming forward only muddy the water further.
Jackson hasn’t done himself many favors either, staying true to form by releasing carefully orchestrated pleas for understanding and holding fast to his proclaimed devotion to children. Public-relations minions from both sides stand at the ready, prepared to affect damage control on a moment’s notice, as reporters circle the spectacle like hungry buzzards. So how will Jackson get a fair trial amidst the chaos? He won’t, despite what the judge assures him, as he and his past are simply too well known by even the most casual passersby. So it seems unlikely, in this climate, that justice will be served. Rather than come to terms with Jackson’s guilt or innocence, the Jackson case is more likely to exemplify all that’s wrong with the judicial system.
Should Jackson be found guilty, the empire he’s painstakingly constructed around himself will assuredly crumble. He will be a convicted child molester, one whom the recording industry will cast aside. Defectors from his once-lavish payroll roster of assorted handlers and sycophants will seek ways to capitalize with book deals offering firsthand accounts of life in Wacko Jacko Land. Conversely, if Jackson is exonerated, he will never completely escape suspicion, or the hordes of litigious opportunists looking for a quick buck. He’ll remain as alone in his world of surreality as he would be in a six-by-eight foot cell.