What? There is nothing more self-evidently untrue than to claim Michael Jackson wasn't strange. What was he? The Washington Post asked: "Boy? Demigod? Alien?" Time magazine claimed he "seemed so remote as so be extraterrestrial -- the moonwalking moon child." In a People magazine timeline of photos, he looks like he underwent 25 facial surgeries, which turned what was a handsome man into a walking freak-show headliner.
What made Jackson strangest was his refusal to stop sleeping with young teenage boys. He settled the first sexual-abuse charges in 1993 with a huge $15 million-plus settlement -- an action that hardly clears him of the taint of child molestation. Even after that settlement tainted his reputation, he damaged it further by continuing to declare to TV interviewers that his outsized attention to young boys was utterly normal.
On "60 Minutes" in 2003, Ed Bradley asked Jackson if he thought it was acceptable to share his bed with children. "Of course," Jackson said. Even after the allegations and innuendo? "I would never stop helping and loving people." In 2005, ABC's Martin Bashir asked again, and Jackson gave the same answer: "Why can't you share your bed? The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone."
What the media frenzy over Jackson's death may have accomplished is a whitewash of this disturbing record of behavior. The Washington Post described the memorial service as "the completion of Michael Jackson's 12-day transformation from ostracized to beloved."
Some cultural commissars claimed the musical genius transcended the cloud of molestation. Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic magazine wrote, "Woody Allen wooed his wife's adopted daughter, and may well be a child molester. But I think 'Bananas' makes me laugh. Mike Tyson is, among other things, a convicted rapist. But I had not lived until I saw him demolish Trevor Berbick. And so on. I guess I could peel these people out my life. I guess I could stop separating art from men. Regrettably, I think, I wouldn't be left with much art worth admiring."
This attitude suggests a very dangerous angle to celebrity worship. Once you can make us laugh, or dance, we're so self-absorbed it doesn't matter if you're a rapist? Let's hope Coates wouldn't add O.J. Simpson to his analogy. But millions of Americans did precisely that, as evidenced by their refusal to admit he butchered his wife and her friend. Such is the state of our popular culture today.