Random Play by Graham Reid

Age of reason

A few years ago at the height of the OJ Simpson "trial" I was in Santa Monica so thought I'd go down and check out the circus around the courthouse. The "trial" had been going for quite a few months but the loopies were still in attendance with their banners, placards and odd charts tracing the persecution of OJ back to the Israelites or some such nonsense. Television crews, increasingly desperate to keep the story going, were interviewing every man and his dog. Literally.

I saw a woman reporter asking a guy in a wheelchair his opinion of the trial, and then she bent over, pointed the microphone at the wee dog in his lap and asked the man what his pooch thought of it all. I snapped a photo to capture the very moment that a major American network took to interviewing small animals about OJ. Every man and his bloody yappy little dog, in fact.

The OJ "trial" was nothing less than a circus and the Michael Jackson "trial" is shaping up the same way. The woman who has said Jackson molested her son sounds utterly flaky in that particularly American way -- big on the God Concept -- and has been involved in previous and similar litigation and accusation. Add to that Jackson and his posse turning up dressed in white and you have a whole lot of messianic complexes trying to occupy the same small space.

It will get more mad yet.

The uncle of the boy who previously alleged Jackson had molested him has written a book All That Glitters (sic) in which the boy says Jackson was "the Devil in God's clothes". Now the "Devil" bit I could almost understand and you would too if it was you who had been molested. But "in God's clothes"?

God wears epaulets and a military uniform, weird face masks and one white glove?

What kind of religion do these people have? I thought it was whacky that some conceived of God with a long white beard and wearing an XXOS nightie, but there's something seriously wrong with Bible class today if God is being sold as looking like a psychopathic guardsman.

Frankly, the Jackson "trial" doesn't interest me much other than for it's voyeuristic possibilities because after OJ (and a dozen other high profile celeb-trials since) any notion that Justice might be present in the courthouse is pretty alien. So it won't be a trial as we understand it, more a spectacle played out for a nation watching another of its own go down while the outside world shrugs its shoulders in indifference to America's politics, heroes and especially its judicial system.

What does interest me however is the line taken by Jackson's apologists, that he is An Innocent, a Peter Pan, a childlike man for whom the world is little more than a technocolour playground dreamed up by Walt Disney.

This is the conclusion to a recent book detailing Jackson's private affairs, Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness by J. Randy Taraborrelli (Pan MacMillan $27.95).

J. Randy -- if we might be so familiar and call him that -- is one of those celeb-biographers whose previous darlings have included Diana Ross, Madonna, the women of Camelot (Jackie, Ethel and Joan, the Kennedy women) and Princess Grace. His Jackson book is an update of his 1992 edition which, to give it credit, was pretty thorough, and the result of research and interviews with Michael and various family members. Mostly however J. Randy is Michael-watcher in the same way that Brits have royal-watchers.

But there's something uncomfortable about his new final pages of this book in which any semblance of objectivity (and to be fair there had been only small doses of it beforehand) is thrown out and J. Randy comes off as just another Jackson apologist.

While we might agree that it is a tragic turn of events if Michael J. has been targeted with untrue allegations of child-molestation, it is something else to editorialise that this has happened just when he had begun to rediscover the joy of making music, that this "thing" (as J. Randy calls it) could set him back years, and ask "Will this man never be free of crisis?"

This is J. Randy painting Michael J. as the victim, especially when he says that alone among his peers Michael J. has had to endure exploitation and hundreds of lawsuits, and perhaps he is just one of the unluckiest people ever to be in show-business.

"You have to feel sorry for the guy," says J. Randy.

Well, actually you don't. Jackson is not, as J. Randy would have us believe "only human, no more than the nine-to-five worker trying to support a large family on a meagre wage and no less than the wealthy socialite without a care in the world".

No, Michael Jackson is different -- and that's because he chose to be. The preceding 600 pages show how adept he was at manipulating the media and his image, and being a hard-arsed guy when that was required. Yes, he had a difficult childhood but as an adult he has been surrounded by lawyers, record company minions, Liza Minnelli and other low-lifes.

J. Randy concedes that Jackson is not a child, but in making the point that he is a man, he then asks that because of that he should be allowed to lead a good and dignified life.

But let's be clear about this, Jackson is a 46 year old man, an astute businessman (read the section on how he outplayed Yoko Ono and his then-friend Paul McCartney to win control of the Beatles catalogue) and was once very adept at media massage. Like OJ, he lived in world where no one ever said, "No" to him.

Jackson is not a child, he is an adult and to suggest he has no sexual desires is to deny nature and bizarre in the extreme. But his apologists constantly play the Peter Pan card when it comes to Michael Jackson. They are not alone in that, and in reportage the age thing increasingly troubles me. We are sometimes told that people in their 20s -- usually representative rugby players who get boozed up and bop someone in bar -- are just young.

Nope, at that age they are adults, albeit irresponsible ones. So let's not have their age used as an excuse.

There is a creeping erosion of age so as to disavow responsibility and culpability for individual actions.

Lynndie England, the US army reservist charged with abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, might not have done too much with her life (she was working in a chicken processing plant when she was called up) but at 21 she was hardly the "girl" that her mother said. Her lawyer said she was "being made a poster child for the deficiencies of the administration's Iraq war".

England might not be the brightest light in the harbour, but she is not a child and not a girl. She is a woman. An adult. And with that comes an understanding of right and wrong, and responsibility for your own actions.

Right, J. Randy?

Michael Jackson is not a child.