God knows all the blogosphere needs right now is another armchair schlub weighing in on the Michael Jackson verdict, but this case has fascinated me. To wit: has any human being in American history come from such a height and fallen so low?
Benedict Arnold was a Revolutionary War hero, lauded universally by those who fought with him, until he went Tory and become synonymous with “traitor” in American vernacular. Fatty Arbuckle was one of America’s favorite movie stars until he was accused (wrongly, it turns out) of a vicious rape. And I guess you could call O.J. Simpson something of a hero to kids in the 1970s before, well, you-know-what.
But I think all of these pale in comparison to Michael Jackson. The recent verdict is a subdued affair, likely because a) we’ve heard these allegations for 12 years now, and b) we’re pretty much inured to scandal (see: Bush, George).
It’s easy to forget just how insanely, insanely huge Michael Jackson was for so long. Even if you discount the Jackson 5 stuff (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” etc.) and start with tracks from “Off the Wall” (“Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Rock With You”) and on to “Thriller,” nobody in pop history except Elvis and the Beatles was his equal in the adulation department.
There was an electricity crackling from everything he did; when I saw the Motown 25 Year special in 1983, and he did the moonwalk during “Billie Jean,” I lost my shit. He was so touched by magic that his mere presence on Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” one of the worst songs ever written, shot it into the Top 10. He was unbelievably fun.
And from thus, he went from being the most adored artist in the world to an alleged child molester. The only thing more sickening, perhaps, is “serial killer,” but somehow, the molestation of children sounds worse. He still has his small, disturbed collection of rabid fans releasing doves in his honor, but I still contend that nobody in the history of America has fallen farther than Michael Jackson.
And yet, it’s not that simple. Salon’s Alessandro Camon seems to say that Americans are stuck in this empty round-robin of celebrity schadenfreude, where we wish our most famous personalities the cruelest end possible. But it doesn’t square with facts: every single famous person in trouble gets off. Robert Blake, Kobe Bryant, O.J. Simpson and now Jackson are free men.
This can’t be due entirely to money buying the best lawyers on earth – that sort of thing would have backfired by now. I have begun to believe that our public spirit may enjoy kicking mega-famous people while they’re down, but when it comes to individuals, we all want our heroes back. If you’re sitting on that jury, and the time comes to convict or acquit, most Americans will dig deep inside themselves and find a place where these broken men, these murderers and molesters, are back on top of their game.
We are such kids, us Americans. We just want to put posters up on our wall, watch a running back elude a tackle for the touchdown, and keep our movie stars sacrosanct. It’s infantile, but I have to admit, a little sweet.