Saturday, February 12, 2005

Michael Jackson and the media both on trial

Whenever I think of Michael Jackson, I always go back to a skit from In Living Color (when it was still a good show). Tommy Davidson plays Jackson in the "Black or White" video. He jumps up on a car, pulls his crotch and then starts smashing the windows with a crowbar, imitating what actually happens in the real video. A cop comes by and says "OK pal, why don't you come down here?" Jackson comes off the car and says: "Officer, can you tell me whether I'm black or white?" The cop says "I don't what you are but I do know that you're under arrest" as he handcuffs him. The Jackson character is obviously upset by this and delivers the punch line as he's taken away: "Well, I guess I AM black..."

Granted that by the 90's, Jackson was an easy target and he's even more so now. But even though you'll get your fill of pokes at him on many channels and publications, rest assured that they won't be as poignant or meaningful as that skirt.

That's because a media feeding frenzy is approaching over his court case. When one spectacular trial ends (Scott Peterson or JonBenet Ramsey), there's always another one to take its place. Robert Blake will be overshadowed for his day in court and he should be grateful for that. Ditto Phil Spector. The Tyson and Enron trials which added up to billions of dollars in fraud and thousands of jobs? A mere piffle. They can't match up to the King of Pop in terms of media interest.

It goes back to OJ Simpson and the media-constructed 'trial of the century,' especially with having the cameras rolling during the proceeding. Even the prosecutors who lost the case became news stars. This was built up to real-life celebrity drama that no mini-series could match. It became a mini-series itself obviously.

With Jacko, he already has a well-documented eccentric history and unbeatable name-recognition so they're ready to milk this for all it's worth. There are undoubtedly books and TV movies based upon this already in negotiation. Any kind of pertinent issue brought up by the case will be lost in the spectacle. The judicial system itself and having a fair day in court? The problem of child molestation? The price of celebrity? They're all laughable asides that will be quickly brushed by. What will be the focus of the trial is the horse race of which side won each day and which juicy tidbit comes up during the course of the trial. Is it too much of a stretch to say that an already-damaged journalistic trade will also be on trial, seeing how they respond? Unfortunately, they'll go for the lowest common-denominator and deliver tabloid trash at its worst. Any real news about the Middle East or the on-going battle of the United States budget will get buried and that's definitely good news for the Bush administration.

And oh yes, isn't Jackson a musician too? Sometimes. As far as I'm concerned, I haven't heard anything extraordinary from 'the king of pop' since Thriller or Off the Wall (which are both justifiably classic albums). He obviously doesn't do himself many favors, does he? Between the many faces of Jacko, oxygen tents and Elephant Man worship, he's an eccentric guy to say the least. Though it was obviously music that got him to be a celebrity in the first place, it's all the freaky details that makes him a media favorite. "What new bizarre detail of his life can we reveal now?" editors around the world wonder each day. And so they constantly exploit him, making his life worse and hoping that he'll still be a punching bag who'll come back into the spotlight long enough to get knocked around again. His only real hope would be to hide out and stay out of the spotlight but as a celebrity who wants attention (good attention actually), he has little choice, even though he must know that he fights an uphill battle by now.

At this point, it doesn't matter what the verdict of the trial will be. In the eyes of the media and the court of public opinion, he's already guilty. The real winner, again no matter what the outcome, will be all the networks and publications that have reporters staked out around the court to deliver the story and good ratings. It's only going to get better for them and worse for Jackson as the prosecutors pull in people like former teen heartrob Corey Feldman to testify against him and then who knows? They might try to get Brooke Shields or Liz Taylor on the stand too for some high profile star power. Knowing that, how would you not feel bad for the guy in some way?

Well, maybe not. There's two sides to a story and there's still the matter of the original complaint against Jackson. If there is any basis to the molestation charge, what's going to happen to the kid who pointed the finger? Other than the inevitable raking over by the lawyers and the media, the best they can hold for is probably a settlement and then trying to get on with their lives. And then who will care about them? They provided good story fodder but then it's on to the next trial of the century- child abuse isn't a story that sells or interests major media unless they have an angle with a big star. Again, the big winner will be the media covering this. That's unless people start to tell them how sick they are of this or stop watching and reading about their coverage. Call me a dopey optimist but it could happen...


Blogger ScottB said...

Nice piece Jason.
I hope we can get to hear MJ's "uniqueness" within his music someday. I enjoy your posts.

9:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home