Why Jacko Beat It, Beat It, Beat It

Celebrity got Michael into this unholy mess, and damned if it didn't help him get out of it too.

The Michael Jackson case brought out the (noted psychic confidante) Uri Geller in me. You'll remember that back in February, I wrote that Jackson would most certainly moonwalk. After all, the case against him had more holes than a botched nose job, the accuser's mother would surely be painted as a bloodsucking zombie ripped from the anus of a dead dog, and the jury would either be heavily medicated blank slates or starstruck celebrity hounds with their tongues out. I knew they'd end up cottoning to Jacko's side even if they did not exactly comprise an assemblage of his peers. (But what would a jury of peers consist of in this case? Twelve skin-lightened, nasally challenged pop stars in military jackets?)

And lordy, I was even more on target than with my Tony predictions! Shockingly enough, both sides seemed so inefficient at times that you wondered if they'd even pre-interviewed their witnesses, a few of whom ended up helping the other side. Eventually you started thinking that faced with either Tom Sneddon or Tom Mesereau, Martha Stewart might have gone freer than an unstapled chicken.

But it was the prosecution that really took the crumbling cake. The molestation charges Sneddon's case leveled were mesmerizing, mind you, but he seemed to think they'd speak for themselves—and if they didn't, well, he was going to throw in conspiracy and other charges too and see if maybe those stuck like a white glove on congealed duck butter.

The King of Pop gets off.
photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
The King of Pop gets off.

They didn't—partly because a bizarre hodgepodge of celebrities came out to defend Jackson, proving that showbiz people, especially second-string ones, always rally to protect their own. As George Lopez, Macaulay Culkin, Debbie Rowe, Mark Geragos, Wade Robson, Chris Tucker, and Chris Tucker's ex-fiancée lined up to take the stand, the jury may not exactly have been blinded by stardust, but they at least became susceptible to a light, distracting sprinkle of glittery cheese.

That was all too poetic since none of this unsavory situation would have ever happened without the fabulous construct of celebrity. If he weren't a frustrated ex-child star, Michael would not still be living out his youth, this time with more playmates and possibly fewer boundaries. If he weren't the King of Poppers, I mean Pop, he wouldn't be able to use his fame and wealth to lure kids into his multi-acre theme park estate and his bedroom. ("They followed me!" Michael always claims, as if they just showed up and invited themselves in.) And if he weren't a star, so many parents wouldn't be impressed enough to leave their misgivings (and children) at the door, especially since abuse—whether real or imagined—might always lead to attention and dollar signs.

Celebrity got Michael Jackson into this unholy mess, and damned if it didn't help him get out of it too. The trial became a real-life game show whereby weird tabloid personalities converged to answer questions and crown Jacko the winner, while portraying the accuser's mother as a loser grossly feeding off his majesty. (As if almost everyone else for miles weren't up to a less obvious version of the same thing. And besides, isn't it a tiny bit possible that the woman is a sleazeball, but so is Michael? Feeding frenzies generally take two.)

But I digress. Jackson was found not guilty on all 10 counts—fair is fair—and it was B-listers who helped save him, while A-lister Jay Leno proved to be a washout and sister Janet didn't materialize at all. (That was just as well for Jacko; if Janet supposedly corrupted the world's youth with her flashing breast, how could she now be held up as a moral weather vane on the subject of child abuse?) Rowe—a backfiring witness for the prosecution—is the one who came through most royally for the singer, lavishing him with gushy praise while apparently reveling in hopes that he'll let her see their kids again. And Culkin also went to bat, rather than exclaiming—as some were praying—"He wasn't a homo alone!" That would have forever branded him as the person who brought down Jacko, not to mention a victim of abuse and a longtime liar. Besides, if he was messed with, Culkin may well have buried the memory, rationalizing, "Well, at least there was some affection there. Overall, he treated me better than my father." But of course the main reason Culkin defended Jackson, the verdict instructs us, is that the pop star has children over merely to serve them cookies (not Jesus juice) and tell them stories.

He's certainly entertaining enough that I'd listen! In fact, even though he didn't testify, Jackson triumphantly called on his own star power (or just possibly weird luck) to cement his courtroom dominance. In a twist that's now legend, the day the accuser was set to deliver devastating testimony, the master showman was rushed to the hospital for a back problem and finally arrived in court looking even frailer than usual in pajamas and slippers (but miraculously managing to wave to fans). The only one not riveted by the sight of him in pj's was the accuser himself, who's undoubtedly seen the guy in his bedwear before. The upshot? Michael became the victim that day as the boy's scorching allegations were relegated to the funny pages.

Of course Michael stopped by the hospital again, sometimes mid-deliberation. But when the fragile image was perhaps not helping his chances, Jackson's rep took over the TV to assure everyone, "He is not falling apart!" and to add that he was actually optimistic and trusting of the wonderful jury, who were so terrific to sit and listen to all that testimony blah blah blah. As those jurors pondered his fate, a parade of other camera hoggers speaking for Michael swarmed the tube, but I guess no one was asked to speak for the accuser—or maybe they were just honoring that silly old gag order. The height of the one-sided circus was Jesse Jackson going on TV to discuss whether Mesereau's edict that no one was authorized to speak to reporters applied to Jesse himself. Absolutely not, the good reverend unsurprisingly concluded!

Meanwhile, Michael's showman-like behavior was fueling the accuser in a lot of us—and after all we wanted him to be guilty, partly because he seems of a different breed and because it somehow makes us feel better to think that showbiz has deeply corrupting influences. Besides, anxiety about children's safety happens to be at an orange-alert level right now. At the time of this trial, you couldn't turn on the TV without hearing about kids being mishandled, and that same panic was being reflected in artful plays (Doubt, The Pillowman) and movies (Palindromes, Mysterious Skin) obsessed with the horrifying ramifications of child abuse. Jacko's guilt might have helped indie film fests and the next Broadway season, but when our serious concerns had us lusting for a conviction without enough consistent evidence, we all threatened to turn into Tom Sneddon.

The defense had its own problems, but it was so successful at turning the tables and putting the accuser's mother on trial that some of the jury probably ended up wanting to declare, "She's guilty of all charges!"

Whatever the case, Michael (if not his "blemished penis") is now free to entertain children all over again. Let's catch up in 10 years, when the next accuser hits.

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