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The Pop Of King - You Don't Know Jackson
Stephen King talks pop culture -- and tries to understand Michael Jackson by Stephen King
I've been sick. Pneumonia. Three weeks of hospital time. Now I'm getting better. Did you miss me? After this column, you may not. But, if you remember way back at the start, I said I'd tell you exactly what I thought about American pop-cult, and if you didn't like it... hey, grab a quarter and call someone who cares. As the punchline of the old fable about the turtle crossing the river says, "You knew I was a scorpion when you picked me up."
About a week after I got out of the hospital, I had to go back for X-rays. Since I was still too weak to drive, our longtime caretaker drove me. I'll call him Josh. Josh is a late-forty-something pickup-truck guy, a gun guy, a woods guy, good husband, good daddy; a taciturn Maine Yankee, yes, but an all-around straight shooter.
On the ride to the hospital I happened to bring up Michael Jackson, who recently had been brought in by the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department and fingerprinted. I said something fairly noninflammatory, as I recall - something like "Michael's really in trouble now" - and my taciturn Yankee caretaker and handyman... well... he just exploded.
They'd taken away the man's living, that was Josh's main scripture; had done it for no good reason and with no proof; had reduced him to doing what Josh termed "idiotic TV interviews" to pay the salaries of his considerable staff and to maintain his properties, including what Josh called "Nevermore." (As a Poe fan, I relished that.)
I was fascinated to hear this guy - who lives with his family in a trim eight-room house-defend the opulent Jackson lifestyle. When I asked him about it, Josh shrugged and said, "Michael Jackson was making tens of millions a year. He had every expectation of keeping on the same way for quite a while. Why wouldn't he spend it on property? And if you're gonna have property, you gotta have staff. So then they come and make a bunch of accusations, and he's on the verge of losing everything he worked for."
They. They. Who, I wanted to know, were they?
According to Josh, Jim Anderson, sheriff of Santa Barbara County, was They No. 1; Anderson had had a hard-on for Jackson for years. Enough so he'd brought the man in on charges that even legal eagles with absolutely no interest in the case (and no CNN aspirations) agreed seemed "thin." Then, Josh went on, there were the accusers - an unnamed child (sick with cancer, something Josh assumed Anderson would milk for the sympathy vote), his unnamed brother, and their as-yet-unnamed mother. It reminded him, Josh said, of the child-abuse uproar in the '80s, when for a while every nursery school and day-care center in America was supposedly staffed by kiddie-abusing monsters.
I sat silently in my seat, wondering if Josh had ever read or seen The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman or The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I thought the answer would be no; during his time off, Josh is a Frasier kind of guy. But I thought he'd put his finger on something, and I still do. Nor was he quite done. As he turned into the hospital's outpatient driveway, he mentioned They No. 3.
The American press.
"This used to be a country where you were innocent until you were proven guilty," Josh said. "Even if you were a funny-looking gink like Michael Jackson. Now look! The TV and the newspapers have practically got him up on a cross."
I've thought about that conversation a lot since then, and do you know what? I think Josh was right. I think it's sad that talk-show hosts think it's okay to make fun of this eccentric and obviously disturbed man; I think it's horrible, almost sick-making, that tabloids like the New York Post and the New York Daily News can regularly vilify him as Wacko Jacko and (for pix with the umbrella, natch) Scary Poppins. Maybe he's a child molester and a jury will say so, but right now, sir or madam, he is as innocent as you are. Right now, he's just this weird guy who came by his kooks and kinks from being raised in a gotta-sing, gotta-dance family where he was the principal breadwinner because he and Janet were, quite clearly, the only ones who really could sing and dance. When your childhood is stolen from you, it's probably not all that unusual to try to steal a little back in your early middle age.
None of this gives Michael Jackson a free pass to sleep with the kiddies, whether their parents say it's okay or not. I'm not much for politically correct-speak, but that really is inappropriate behavior, even if he is just lying there and looking dreamily into what he calls "the face of God." But let's be crystal clear here: ALTHOUGH IT'S UNDOUBTEDLY WEIRD, THIS IS NOT THE CHARGE.
Nor does it address the question I'm asking here. What I'm asking is whether this is still a country where a peculiar person such as Michael Jackson can get a fair shake and be considered innocent until proven guilty... or is this just a 21st-century American barnyard where we all feel free to turn on the moonwalking rooster... and peck it to death?
Hey, you tell me. I'm only asking.