Michael Jackson: Lovable eccentric? Persecuted genius? Child-molesting freak?
Take your pick. In fact, it seems that most of us already have.
It's clear that millions of people still love Michael Jackson. Or think they do. Actually, there's no way you can "love" a reclusive multimillionaire you've never met. You may love his music or his videos, but the man himself is more than just the sum of those things. His real thoughts and feelings, and the things he does in private, can't be known at such a distance.
I'd imagine that many of today's younger Michael Jackson fans may respond to his "sensitivity," his cultivated air of limp sweetness: He seems so harmless, only a deeply mean person could suggest he might be capable of inflicting harm. And I wonder if a lot of his older defenders aren't really pledging their allegiance to a Michael Jackson of the past, back when his music mattered and may have played an exciting part in their fondly remembered youth. But that Michael Jackson — especially the handsome, dazzling star of Off the Wall (1979) and Thriller (1982) — is long gone. He's been replaced by somebody else.
There are also those who point to Michael Jackson's undeniable talent as proof of ... well, proof of what? Talent is famously no guarantee of character. In fact, on Thursday, the day that Michael Jackson was arrested, Phil Spector, another reclusive multimillionaire, who transformed the sound of popular music in the early 1960s, was charged with murder in the shooting death of a woman in his home last February. Spector, too, is a talented man. But that doesn't preclude the possibility that he may be found guilty of this killing. The two things are unrelated.
So, OK: child-molesting freak? Tabloid journalists — the people who years ago dubbed him "Wacko Jacko" — are clearly panting for Michael Jackson to take a fall this time. They think (and they are not alone in this) that the only reason he wasn't nailed on a child-molestation charge 10 years ago is because he had the multimillions of dollars necessary to buy off his 13-year-old accuser, thus ensuring that no criminal case could be brought against him. His rationale for that payoff — that he just wanted to put the whole unfair mess behind him — was, in this view, preposterous.
We may never know what actually happened between Michael Jackson and young Jordie Chandler back then. And while it's tempting to jump to conclusions about the current case, it's unfair to do so until all the evidence, on both sides, has been presented in court.
However, I don't think this means we can't come to at least one conclusion about Michael Jackson: Any 45-year-old man who regularly goes to bed with pubescent boys — who flaunts his obsession with them in public and even demonstrates and defends it on television (in Martin Bashir's documentary, Jackson, holding hands with a 12-year-old boy whose head is resting on his shoulder, says, "It's what the whole world should do") — is appalling. Can this be a controversial assessment?
If anyone other than the wealthy and willful Michael Jackson were known to be bedding young boys and all but boasting about it, can we doubt that some sort of protective legal action would be taken to put a stop to it? And what if, instead of boys, it were young girls he was having these little overnights with? Might that be seen as somehow more worthy of objection? (Stay tuned for the R. Kelly trial.)
In the past, Michael Jackson has attempted to defend his dallying with children as an innocent way of compensating for his own nonexistent childhood. This isn't entirely persuasive: On Thursday, his brother Jermaine Jackson told CNN that "We had an incredible, wonderful childhood." But that's not the point. Whatever the facts of Jackson's own upbringing, they are irrelevant to what he's doing now. And what he's doing now is disturbing on more than one level. Because if the collecting of children by the rich and powerful is now OK, then what isn't?
—Kurt LoderKurt Loder