goin’ to the movies, I take up 7 rows

6/14/05

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.

0 thoughts on “goin’ to the movies, I take up 7 rows

  1. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Hi Ian. I am catching up on your blog after being away on a little family beach trip. This is funny — while the resort we stayed at had internet service available to its guests, I was not able to access your blog because it was banned by Net Nanny. I laughed out loud! Anyway, I don’t have much to add to today’s entry. . . while Michael was THE DEAL when we were kids, I have been mystified by his choices/actions for years. I don’t really know what to think. Apparently, according to the E! True Life Stories: Michael Jackson, a lot of Michael’s strange behavior is father Joe’s fault. It is always the parents’ fault!
    Why are you going to CA? Has the talented Miss Lucy been signed up to be the next big thing?

    Reply
  2. Annie

    I too loved Michael deeply for many years–who didn’t?–but I just read in a Yahoo headline that another hero of the 80s is rising again:
    “Teddy Ruxpin returning to toystore shelves”:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/adweek teddyruxpinmakeshisreturn;_ylt=AjWeH.XsEbq9BrG7XqV6VEHpsKwB;_ylu=X3oDMTBiM2tvMzFlBHNlYwNjaWQxNjk3

    Reply
  3. Diana

    so true. Juries land on the side of reason in non-celebrity court cases. But with celebrities like Michael Jackson, maybe we feel like we somehow *know* him, which makes it harder to re-envision him as a criminal.
    nice post.

    Reply
  4. kent

    You are avoiding the salient fact in all those celebrity equittals – the prosecution failed to present a compelling case. It’s actually hard to convict someone of a crime without any credible witnesses, and with marginal physical and circumstantial evidence.
    Which is why cops fake evidence all the time. They reason that they know the person they’re chasing is a bad guy, and they aren’t going to wait until they catch them redhanded. With half-assed public defenders, people get railroaded all the time.

    Reply
  5. Dave

    There is a flip side to this coin too – we Americans also tend to not live by our own legal philosophy of “innocent until proven guilty”. Think about it – do you think OJ did it? Do you think Michael did it? How about Phil Spector?
    If we truly subscribe to our country’s legal philosophy why do so many of us automatically assume a celebrity is guilty before they ever get the chance to present their case? This works the same way with non-celebrities too. Ever had a friend or acquaintance accused of something horrible? Its amazingly hard to let that shit go even if the police apologize for getting the wrong person.
    Human nature? American nature? I don’t know.

    Reply
  6. Susan

    My first memory of Michael Jackson’s music was when I was about 9. My friend and I roller skated (yes…roller skated) to “wanna be startin’ something” in the elementary school talent show. The funny thing (or sad…however you look at it)is that we placed second over all the more talented kids who could actually play instruments and such. We thought Michael was the coolest!
    As for now…the case didn’t seem to have that much to go on. So he is bizarre…doesn’t make him a bad person just raises a lot of red flags in my opinion. I don’t know if he did it or not but the words “child molester” will always be attached to his name now I’m afraid. Will be interesting to see if there is some sort of comeback someday.

    Reply
  7. JJE

    Neat site. I had to laugh, though – I didn’t realize crocheting was considered a “dark art” by knitters (the-craft-which-must-not-be-named). Is there some kind of Jets-Sharks thing going on between the two camps? I have to give knitters the edge in a rumble since their weapons are sharp and pointy while the poor crocheters are working with a single blunt hook. I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit. At the moment, I’m furiously crocheting away on a baby blanket (Carolina blue, of course) in preparation for my little one’s appearance any day now.

    Reply
  8. Bud

    Maybe I’m naive, but like Kent I prefer to think the reason he was found innocent had something to do with the fact that the proscecution couldn’t prove he did anything wrong.
    I really want to believe he *didn’t* do anything wrong, but if I’d been on the jury, I’d have put that prejudice aside. I’d have examined the facts and tried to make a reasonable decision based on the evidence, just like I did recently when I was on a jury considering the fate of a non-famous person.
    Aside: jury duty, far from being an onerous chore, was a faith-restoring education — regular people, it seems, really are on the side of the truth.
    With all these celebrity trials, it’s important to remember that *we don’t know the truth.* The tabloid media folks people telling us their version of events want to sell the juiciest story possible, and even the more respectable journalists have similar motives. The best story is The Fallen Hero story, never mind what the truth is. Hey — they don’t know what’s true, and they don’t really care.
    Was OJ guilty? Kobe? Michael?
    I haven’t a fucking clue, and neither do you.

    Reply
  9. REM fan

    As an aside, if I could choose which celebrity trial jury to be on, I think it would have been when Peter Buck was tried in London for getting drunk on an airplane. The witness list included Bono and Michael Stipe. No way in the world I would have found him guilty with character witnesses like that – something makes me think one of the attorneys would have gotten rid of me during selection.

    Reply
  10. cullen

    Aw Bud, OJ was definitely guilty. I feel guilty looking at the man’s face.
    Celebrity ‘just is’.

    Reply

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