By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Michael Jackson will get off. I mean he won't be declared guilty. Prance through a bunch of jails and you won't see a whole lot of celebrities there; they're all clinking mojitos in fancy nightclubs while looking, O.J.-style, for the real killers and molesters. Some of them are even innocent. And faced with a superstar pleading for mercy, jurors would almost always rather have an autographed head shot than a clipping saying they sent said star to his or her doom.
Besides, the case against Jackson may have some, you know, holes in it. The accuser's mom will surely be put on trial as an alleged scam artist and a waffler who perhaps enjoyed the ka-ching of the Jackson connection she now so abhors. And the kid, Gavin, already appeared on that Martin Bashir documentary, swearing that not only didn't Jackson harm him, but the singer's waves of brotherly love helped him beat cancer! If a parade of other accusers march forward to squeal about the star's supposed improprieties, then Michaela modern-day Tinkerbell meets Willy Wonka in sheepdog's clothingwill no doubt provide proof of their miracle cures. Get ready for falsetto choruses of "Not only didn't I diddle them, I got rid of their HIV!"
What's more, the jury is being selected in the glare of so much media attentioneven if only their feet are allowed to be photographedthat you expect Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul to be sitting on the sidelines waving their thumbs up and down. (That would be perfect; this trial is already being presented as the ultimate reality showAmerican Juniors meets The Swanvia Fear Factoron the road to The Surreal Life, with an occasional lawyer being told, "You're fired!")
And what jurors they'll end up with! To be truly objective about this case, the chosen ones would have to be blankly indifferent slates with no preconceptions about Jackson and his alleged high jinks. In other words, they'd have to either be complete nut jobs or have been trapped in a well for more than two decades. Whatever he islawn elf, groundbreaker, dream snatcherJackson's never been the kind of personality who elicits no reaction whatsoever. Tofu in matador pants he certainly isn't. When people hear his whispery coos, they either go limp with joy or tremulous with ragenothing in the middle column.
So the jury will no doubt be a heavily medicated bunch, and that means things are looking pretty good for Mr. Jackson. With star power on his side, he might even triumph over the fact that his icky old pal David Gest has gone to bat for him along with that other credibility risk, sister LaToya. (Remember when we we were reminded last year that Vincent Gallo is a Republican? The Dems rejoicedbut still lost.)
Whatever ends up happening, the frothing media have embraced this intergenerational soap opera with an enthusiasm almost approaching the Bronco-chase frenzy. They need this trial. The tawdrily engrossing Scott Peterson saga had finally ended (Scott, not a celebrity, got death), and then the even nastier tsunami gave the cable channels a morbid boost, but it quickly fizzled as a story. (Few crews want to pursue the aftermath of a massive disaster, just the during. Better footage.) So now duck-butter-gate has come along to hand all the journalistic parasites a ratings bump that will allow them to tsk-tsk and lick their lips at the same time.
Who am I kidding? I need this too. (Though I'm not overjoyed to hear that anyone may have been abused.) I've always depended on Jackson for riveting entertainment valuefirst with his magnetic performing and now with his relentless acting out and pleas for acceptance. It's hard to turn one's lined eyes away from a star who wants to help the childrena lotto make up for his own lost childhood; a moonwalker who never seemed earthbound; a man-child who's currently best known for the figurines of him dangling his baby from that hotel balcony (yes, I have one, artfully perched on the cable box). In the other corner, Jackson's biggest tormentor, D.A. Tom Sneddon, can't hide his glee when making public statements about the sober quest for justice. And piercing through all the hype are the allegations themselves (which Jackson flatly denied after they were leaked on thesmokinggun.com). With their dry litany of boozy encounters and forced masturbation, they are either stunning truth or brilliantly detailed fiction. Even the most comatose juror won't be able to deny the dime-store-novel sweep and power of the supposed cocktails, grope sessions, and chats about "white stuff."
Making things extra ambiguous and fascinating, there seems to be some fault on all sides of this showdown, from Jacko's controversial sleepovers to the kid's apparent flip-flopping of loyalties. Like in a good Clint Eastwood movie, the flawed but darkly intriguing characters are lashing out at each other on the road to possible redemption, while a cash prize looms. Million-dollar babies indeed.
But let's please stopafter this articlemocking Jackson for the fact that he's not exactly the grimy-faced quarterback ideal of the American heartland. What gets lost in all the hoopla is that freakiness and fey looks have nothing whatsoever to do with deviance, even on the Vegas strip. I've never felt that Jackson's lovely outfits or loud makeup made him any guiltier of crimes than my favorite drag queens are. (Though the obsessiveness of Jackson's surgery redefines self-effacing; there's no face left. And some of the drag queens have been known to shoplift cosmetics.)