Michael? Hm-m-m-m-m-m-mmm . . .


September 03, 1993|By CLARENCE PAGE

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The question was supposed to make me squirm.

It did.

It was brought up at a dinner party by a clinical psychologist: What would you do, she asked, if you checked into a hotel for a business conference and the hotel said there was only one room left and you would have to share it with another man, a business associate?

There's only one problem: The room has only one bed. One big bed. What would you do? she asked.

Without hesitation, I said, I would graciously volunteer to sleep on the floor.

The psychologist's husband burst into laughter. She was appalled at him and at me. I had given, it turns out, the same answer he had given. Most men give that answer, she said, while women tend to wonder what's the problem. Women tend to see sharing a bed with another woman as no more shocking than a teen slumber party.

In fact, women tend to be surprised not just that men recoil at the suggestion but that we recoil so vociferously: Not just ''no,'' but, ''Hell, no!''

That's men.

So, what's all this got to do with Michael Jackson?

It all came to mind as I was arguing with my wife about why parents would let their children sleep over with Michael Jackson.

=- After all, I offered, he is a 35-year-old man. Were he not a celebrity, were he an ordinary guy who punches the clock the way most of us do, would we not think it a little strange that he likes to spend all of his spare time surrounded by little children? Is this not, as Arsenio Hall would say, one of those things that make you go, ''Hmmmmmmmm . . . ''?

My wife was appalled, certain that I was convicting this happy-go-lucky, if admittedly a bit mixed-up, young man before he had Most of us can't have it both ways in life. Michael always has.

been formally charged with anything.

On the contrary, Mr. Jackson's spokespeople were charging that it was Mr. Jackson who was the victim of a $20 million extortion plot by a dentist dad trying to make it in the movies. Last time I checked, the only ''news'' medium the father had talked to was the National Enquirer.

Welcome to Hollywood, perhaps the only place on the planet where, no matter how unusual Michael Jackson seemed to be, he always fit right in.

Most of us can't have it both ways in life. Michael always has. He's black. He's white. He's male. He's female. He's something in between. He's a kid. He's an adult. He's spiritual. He's hedonistic. He's grandiose and super-human. He's timid and vulnerable. He dates Brooke Shields. He dates Elizabeth Taylor. He dates a chimp. He's a hero to children. He grabs his crotch onstage.

Sure, we arched our eyebrows with each new nose carving, chin buildup, hair process and skin peel, or whatever it is that he does to himself.

But we, his public, quickly grew to accept it. Our collective hearts have been embracing him since he was a kid in Gary. After a childhood and adolescence as turbulent as his was, if he didn't want to grow up that was just fine with us. Besides, as

long as he produced terrific albums and dazzling stage acts, we didn't want to let him grow up.

I suspect that bubble has now burst.

No matter how innocent Mr. Jackson may turn out to be of the current allegations, the New York Post's doomsday-sized headline, ''Peter Pan or Pervert?,'' brings to its notoriously crude front page the question that has been looming in the back of our minds all along. It is a genie once released from the lamp that never quite can be returned.

This is not, I must add, a high moment for journalism. The charge of child molestation is horrendous enough to be its own punishment. No matter how unfounded it may turn out to be, no matter how innocent the accused may be, it always leaves a cloud over the accused's reputation.

By contrast, when a woman calling herself ''Billie Jean'' claimed a few years back that Michael Jackson fathered her out-of-wedlock son, I didn't know anyone who believed it.

''Michael?'' we said. ''Na-a-a-a . . . '' But this time? mmm . . . ''

I suppose that's the risk of building a show-biz mystique on the flouting of social traditions. With his endless ambiguity about his own racial, sexual and generational identity, Mr. Jackson challenged our preconceptions, as art should.

Playing against his castrato voice and innocent image, he taunted us with titles that told us he was ''Off the Wall,'' a ''Thriller,'' ''Bad,'' ''Dangerous'' and a ''Smooth Criminal.''

Like a Pee Wee Herman, who made children's entertainment out frantic, darkly suggestive mania, or a Woody Allen, who turned neuroses into sophisticated comedy, Mr. Jackson took us for a walk on the tightrope of sanity, just for laughs.

But a tightrope is a treacherous place to stand. Any public charge that tends to lend credence to our worst suspicions (''Maybe he really is a little sick?'') can burst the bubble and put a soaring career into jeopardy or, in Mr. Herman's case, a tailspin.

JTC Michael Jackson deserves the benefit of our doubt. I hope the charges are not true. I hope he blows the cloud away. I hope he continues to give us terrific entertainment.

Even so, can all Michael's horses and all Michael's men ever put his bubble back together again?

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.

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