Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Beating It

"This case is the ultimate sizzling shit pile of American society: It is what our culture of gross celebrity worship looks like when it comes out the other end. A pop star gone sideways under the lights, maggots nibbling at his fortune, hourly underpants updates on cable, industry insiders trading phone numbers over drinks, and boy orgasms. And people like me writing about it all. We're the worst America has to offer -- and we're all here."

So wrote Matt Taibbi about the Michael Jackson trial. He's right: the Jacko circus is made to order for a society so drenched in corruption, violence, torture, denial and hypocrisy, and it took an obvious toll on Taibbi's sensibilities as well, if this motel guest book entry is any indication (prompting the always-smirking Gawker to toss some wet pasta his way). I followed the three-ring event sporadically, trying my best not to get sucked in. But yesterday, when it was announced that the jury had reached a verdict, I, like millions of other voyeurs, promptly dashed to the TV, knowing that the cable news nets would be wall-to-wall Jacko.

It's in this area where cable news really shines. Celebrity crime sagas are guaranteed ratings boosters (as are defendants who become celebrities), and the more sordid the charges, the higher the viewership. This also allows lawyers and assorted legal "experts" to strut and squawk over one another, dispensing empty opinions and making errant predictions, or anything that'll keep viewers from zapping elsewhere. On CNN, OJ trial celeb Robert Shapiro confidently told Wolf Blitzer that Jackson would be found guilty, and that the fallen pop star would not "beat it." Oh, you knew that Shapiro had waited a long time to use that line. So when the endless Not Guiltys were rattled off, Shapiro had to shift to his B material, saying that Jackson would be "moonwalking" out of court a free man.

Remember, this is what passes for "news."

I didn't watch the evening cable chat wrap-ups, but if I were a segment producer, I'd insist that guests insert Jackson song and album titles into the discussion:

"So, Susan, is this a 'Bad' verdict?"

"More 'Off The Wall,' Chris."

"How about you, Roger. Does this verdict make Jackson 'Invincible'?"

"Well Chris, I think 'HIStory' will be the judge of that."

"Coming up next: Is Michael Jackson a 'Smooth Criminal' or an innocent 'Man in the Mirror'? We won't stop 'til you get enough . . ."

Did Jackson get away with it? Given all the stories and testimony over the years, I'd guess that yes he did. Big time. Even the jurors who acquitted him said that they thought Jackson has probably molested boys, but that in this specific case, the prosecution couldn't prove it. Maureen Orth digs into the grittiest details of all this in the July edition of Vanity Fair, for those who can stand such nastiness (and if you can, there's more to enjoy). And like everything else in our national Neverland, the more powerful you are, the more you can fuck over others with virtual impunity. It's an old and obvious lesson, one of the glories of democracy, but it takes a Michael Jackson molestation trial to help remind us how lucky we are. As simple as A-B-C.