Celebrity, high and low, is judged by double standards. We forgive the talented their sins because we appreciate their talents. Sometimes we're hypercritical (and hypocritical) for the very reason they let us down -- when what they say has little, if anything, to do with their talents. The moguls of the old studio system in Hollywood knew what they were doing when they kept the politics, if any, of their stars hidden safely away.
We don't really want to know what a good actor like Sean Penn thinks about politics, overlooking his childish anti-American diatribes, because we know his views are dumb. Even if we like Bo Derek's conservative views, we cut her a little slack because her extraordinary beauty once made her a "10." Few movie stars make the transition from someone we want to watch on the screen to someone we want to listen to on a platform. Ronald Reagan did it the hard way, not by shooting off his mouth for the fan magazines but by serious work, leading the actors union in troubled times and putting meat on the bones of his instinctive love of country.
We live today in a much more visual age, when superstardom is magnified by the insatiable maw of television. It's not enough to sit together in a dark movie house for a shared theatrical experience. Superstars come into our living rooms and dens at all hours, bombarding us from many directions and in many guises. They become icons for love and hate, admiration and envy. And not only for us. They're devoured by their own images, reveling in narcissism and public adulation without limit.
So it is with Michael Jackson. In a psychological and sociological sense, we collaborate as a greater-than-life-size composite of Count Dracula, space alien and carnival freak, creating a monster for our times. I tried not to follow the trial closely, but when I heard the verdict would be on television within the hour, I waited, patiently, debating with myself whether I wanted him to be found guilty or to (moon)walk. I was in no position to decide, but the trial, for all its bizarre spectacle, balanced the considerations of child molestation and the legitimacy of his accusers.
In the end, the system triumphed because 12 jurors decide that Michael Jackson was only guilty of being Michael Jackson, but not guilty of the crimes charged, at least beyond a reasonable doubt. A lot of us think too much time, money and attention were spent on the circus, but like it or not, we live in the circus, clowns and all, where tabloid hype abounds 24/7.