In one of my favorite episodes of the Simpsons, Troy McLure - famed Hollywood personality and star of such classics as "The Greatest Story Every Hula-ed" and "They Came to Burgle Carnegie Hall" - needs to get hitched in a sham marriage to Homer's sister-in-law in order to save his career. You see, Troy has a dark secret. When asked if it's that he's gay, McClure responds, "Gay? I wish! If I were gay they'd be no problem! No, what I have is a romantic abnormality, one so unbelievable that it must be hidden from the public at all cost."
I bring this up because a.) I still laugh at it, and b.) the prosecution has rested its case against Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson's perversions are as close as we have today to Troy McLure's situation. Of course, the key difference is that Troy's terrible secret seemed to involve tropical fish. That's funny. Jackson's more terrible and less secret perversion is that it involves little boys.
A lot of eat-your-spinach media critics think it is unseemly for the press to pay attention to the Jackson trial. To them it's just another exploit of tabloid TV. I couldn't disagree more. First of all, this story would have been hot stuff even during the Golden Age of Murrow. After all, coverage of Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin moved a lot of newspapers back in the day.
More important, this isn't like the childish coverage of the "runaway bride" - er, sorry - "flee-ancee" we've been subjected to. One can't help but suspect that the producers who pumped the story into a round-the-clock obsession were disappointed when it was discovered the woman hadn't been abducted but just got a case of cold feet. Still, since people who buy bridal magazines are a more valuable demographic than those who read The Economist, they seemed perfectly willing to run, and run, and run with the story.
No, the Jackson story is about a hugely rich and successful man using his money and influence to cover up years of sexual and psychological abuse of children. It's about the moral depravity Hollywood is willing to tolerate and enable. (Then again, tolerance and enabling are really the same thing.)
In many respects this is the perfect story to unite the entire country. O.J. Simpson's murder trial split the nation because Simpson's lawyers expertly manipulated the case into a fight about racial politics, rather than the obvious fact that Simpson murdered two people.
The Terri Schiavo case wasn't purely a courtroom battle, but it certainly divided America along fascinating fault lines. The media desperately tried to portray it as a purely left-right conflict, but that analysis was too simplistic to account for the many splits on the right over the issue, or the presence of Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson on the pro-life side.
Meanwhile, Michael Jackson can have no defenders on left or right. He doesn't fit any normal categories. Like Troy McLure, he's not gay. Unlike O.J. Simpson, he's not even black anymore. Who was it who said, Where else but America can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman?
Indeed, even if you think the prosecution failed to make its case - which it may well have - it is almost impossible to be on Michael Jackson's side or on the side of those who've allowed him to live the disgusting lifestyle he has.
At minimum, Michael Jackson's handlers knew he had a reputation for abusing children. Before that, they knew he behaved in ways with children that sane, normal, people do not. They saw how he surrounded himself with a giant playroom used to entice boys into his bed. Jackson's staff crafted elaborate electronic warning systems other safeguards to ensure that Jackson was not caught doing anything with children by people who might turn against him. What sort of person installs an electronic warning system for an accused pederast? What sort of person sees that system every day - or even every now and then - and does nothing? What sorts of parents send their kids to a rumored sex offender's house on the thin rationalization that he was never technically convicted of wrongdoing?
The Michael Jackson story is an extremely exaggerated microcosm of Hollywood's moral climate. Hollywood is ruled by a class of people who believe that money solves problems and that the worst sin in the world is to judge another person's behavior. "Comedian" Bill Maher, for example, recently explained that he thought the charges were no big deal, even if true. After all, Jackson didn't rape anyone, he's merely accused of "servicing" young boys - and that's not nearly as bad as getting beaten up by schoolyard bullies. Wrong. In normal America, if kids beat up your kid, you demand a reckoning. If a middle-aged freak "services" your kid, you call a hearse.
Obviously, there are lots of people in the entertainment industry who are horrified by the allegations and behavior of Michael Jackson. But only in Hollywood could such a thing happen in the first place.