Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Remember The Time?

Even despite the not-guilty verdicts, the Michael Jackson trial and verdict still has a sense of tragedy about it -- tragedy in the classical sense. The roots of the tragedy could be seen on ABC's Nightline and MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olberman. It was footage of the young, Jackson 5-era, Michael Jackson leading his four brothers on "I Want You Back" and "The Love You Save." -- Here was a 12-year old vocal and physical wunderkind, a graceful, charming black kid from Gary, Indiana completely and totally in control of a musical moment. Remember the time?

Ten years later, he had a Number One album and two Number One singles. Yet, the amazing thing was, THAT album, Off The Wall, was only the appetizer to a main course, Thriller, would put Jackson in a place in musical fame that few outside Elvis or The Beatles could ever contemplate. Remember the time?

And now? We see a freak with whitened skin, stringy hair, ill -- a literal 98-pound weakling with back problems -- accused on more than one occasion of molesting children. We see a freak accompanied by a sister who seventeen months ago single-breastedly managed to give the FCC the perfect opportunity to start pushing its "indecency" doctrine. We see estranged parents who managed to produce an insanely talented child that, partly because of what everyone now knows was physical abuse on the part of Michael's father , Joe. Estranged parents producing strange kids? There are no surprises here.

A one-time superstar, despite his legal status, looks pathetic. The jurors admitted that he was probably a pedophile, even if not in this specific case. The innocence of Jackson's youth, seemingly evident in the old video footage, now seems like a mirage. And he may now have been the agent of the destruction of other young boys' innocence.

Tucker Carlson's new MSNBC effort, The Situation, was barely 10 minutes old when regular Jay Severin, uttered this idiocy: "I speak for America, when I say that this is 'O.J. Jackson.'" Oh, please. This is so far removed from O.J. that it is not in the same universe (with the obvious notable exception of this being another celebrity trial in Southern California). For one thing, the O.J. jury was racially-mixed (though majority black) and immediately pilloried for its quick verdict. The Jackson jury was all-white and have been praised almost universally for their careful reading of the testimony, the instructions from the judge and the weighing of the evidence.

In the hours before the verdict was read, while everyone in the office volunteered their guess as to what would happen, one colleague who hadn't showed much interest in the case noted that there were "eight mothers on the jury." I volunteered that the question was, "Would they look at Jackson and see a pervert who needed to be put away -- or look at the mother of the accused and see someone who was unbelievable?"

It's clear from all the post-verdict reportage and analysis what the anwer to that question was: The mother and her sons (the accused and his brother) were seen as something like grifters. As often happens in a classic tragedy, the protagonist is never exactly blameless, yet ends up suffering whatever fate destiny has to mete out.

There are others more "evil" and less worthy of sympathy. The jury chose to make that judgment with the accuser's family. Indeed, one shouldn't be surprised if, in the days ahead, that Macauley Culkin's testimony may have turned out to be somewhat critical. Not only did he pointedly reject the notion that Jackson had molested him, but he also sat there as another former child star who had to overcome a dysfunctional situation with his parents. Indeed, Culkin became an emancipated minor and sued his parents to keep them off his fortune. Culkin ended up as an archetypal figure somewhere between the image of the young, innocent, Michael Jackson and his young accuser. Culkin was a prodigy like Michael. Yet, like the accuser, he was also the son of parents with borderline criminal sensibilities.

And Culkin helped exonerate Jackson.

But, he still can't totally exonerate Jackson's reputation -- or this one single fact: A 40-something man who has been a public figure for more than three decades has still fallen further than hardly any can imagine. That earlier time now looks like it belonged to someone else.

Any loss of innocence is a tragedy -- and that is what has happened over the last many months that culminated in yet another Southern California courtroom.

Remember the time?

UPDATE: Welcome, AOL-ers!!! Thanks for coming by. Feel free to check out the other random stuff here on politics, comic books and goodness knows what else!!!

UPDATE: More of my Michael Jackson-related commentary can be found here, here, here, here and here!

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