Those Lips, Those Lies

Is Michael Jackson guilty of more than dysfunction?

Rude comments about the state of Michael Jackson's face don't exactly raise the level of discourse, but come on, when that mug shot hit the news, you had to stop and shriek a little. Had Jacko spent the entire flight to Santa Barbara playing around with his M.A.C products? (Or maybe the eyeliner and lip color are permanently tattooed—yeah, in fact, I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere.) Did he—desperate to avoid a Nick Nolte—end up uncannily echoing the pleading eyes and near grimacing mouth of that other alleged child abuser, Joan Crawford? And how 'bout that nose, huh?

But wait a Neverland minute! We need to separate the blusher from the bullshit. I'm terrified that we may be turning into a tabloid version of Brandon Teena's lynchers, making merciless fun of any celebrity's gender nonconformity or fashion extremism. I of all people shouldn't be casting stones, having spent my entire adult life celebrating drag queens, freaks, and kooks (though most of them are openly gay and the worst thing any of them has ever done to a kid is scream, "Sit down!" at a birthday party). Are we all just afraid to accept a female-bloused Cat in the Hat who simply provides a playland of wonderment and life lessons to needy little ones? Maybe we need to decide if Jackson's giving drag queens a bad name or people are giving him a bad name because he's a drag queen.

But—end of compassionate sidebar—back to the lip jokes, all right? It's way more fun to ick-ify Jacko, and besides, it's not too hard to argue that his cosmetics (and cosmetic surgery) are less self-expression than cover-up. Our collective "eew" can be justified—after all, this guy hasn't been straight with us! Any remaining fans I knew lost faith when Jacko bought off his last accuser in '94 because he didn't want to bother with a trial. ("Extortion!" he cried, then promptly paid up.) Since then, even when coming off completely out of it, Jacko's often reeked of sheer calculation, from getting various women to farm out babies for him to dangle, to bizarrely thanking Britney Spears for the Artist of the Millennium award on the VMAs when all she'd offered was a piece of birthday cake. Jacko marches so loudly to his own arrested-development drum that no one was surprised when he turned up as an ick-tegral part of Liza and David's wedding party last year. (These people all shill for each other's dysfunctions. They're—this feels so good—freeeaks!) Worst of all, he loves children—but mainly if they're drop-dead gorgeous, and in some cases even ready to drop dead.

Yes, Jackson's aggressively weird, and inspiringly enough, this has united a nation in political disarray! His excesses bond us against a collective enemy—he's much more popular to attack than Iraq—while fueling our desperate desire for the charges to be true. No, we're not rooting for anyone to have been molested, but we want Jackson to be the repository of all our fears so we can agree on something, send him away, and bring on the sunshine. We couldn't get Rosie or Martha to melt—and we can't even find bin Laden or Hussein—but if Jacko would just agree to be a pedophile, we could have our kook and eat him too.

The trouble is that no one else has exactly been behaving with any restraint or dignity either. For all his insistence that he's not making this into a vendetta, D.A. Tom Sneddon Jr. has been grinning like a rat with a ham hock. Sneddon's smug press conference last Wednesday inappropriately started with a jokey tone and a plug for Santa Barbara commerce and went on to spew a little too much bluster, which was undercut by Sneddon begging anyone else who'd been molested by Jacko to please come forward and help the case.

Even less credibly, the level of around-the-clock "experts" wrapping their unlicensed pop psychology around the subject quickly became thinner than those pained ruby lips. Alternating squeals of "He had no childhood!" and "How can these families leave their children with him?" (this from the same pundits trying to make a living off his name) proved as obvious as a Chanel top with Peter Pan hair. One cable channel proudly featured a Jackson family friend who'd brought his two girls to Neverland and said they absolutely loved it. Yeah, well, they're girls. Another one had the usual array of chattering heads, under which absurdly flashed the fun fact, "Michael Jackson once dated Brooke Shields." (So he doeslike girls? This was getting shocking.)

And the Jacko camp was sending out its minions, convicted sexual assaulter Rick James damagingly coming to the singer's defense and brother Jermaine making his usual rounds, coming off a little like he'd be at home on Christopher Street himself. In his brief Barbara Walters interview, jaunty Jermaine cried racism, invoked the power of his family (which my crazy ass thought was the most dysfunctional one in pop history), and even suggested that the cops may have planted evidence. With O.J., we had to at least wait for the evidence before people were accused of planting it. The persecution of superstar sociopaths is happening faster and faster these days!

Things reached an even more feverish pitch when I got a press release from a child sex-abuse expert who feels Jacko should submit to "a penile plethysmograph"—a device that measures your sexual arousal patterns to various pervy scenarios. All righty, who wants to be the one to hook up the plethysmograph?

Eventually, some cleansing truths will flush out all the murk, but until Bonnie Fuller outs the cancer kid (which at least one Brit tab has already done, in addition to breaking the love-letter scoop that gave us twisted hope), we're only left with more trash-minded questions. Like, if the kid ends up detailing Michael's penis on the stand, couldn't the defense argue that he might have just read all that in the book about Michael's other molestation charges? (Not that I've read the epic work nine times. It's circumcised, with very little pubic hair, and pink and brown patches on the testicles.) And when the Daily News outlined the secret passageway to Jacko's kiddie stay-over room, were we sick to relish lines like, "In the back of Michael's closet, there's a hidden door"?

And psst, how 'bout that freakin' schnoz?

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