Jackson case disturbing - but not surprising

November 23, 2003|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - And so, Michael Jackson's story comes around to a place that seems, in hindsight, inevitable. A police raid on the Santa Barbara amusement park he calls home. New accusations of child molestation involving a 12-year-old boy. His arrest.

And if you ever liked him, if you sent $2 to the fan club to be "Michael's Personal Soul-Mate" in 1971, if you stayed up late to catch him on Carson in '74, if he made you "wanna be startin' somethin'" in '83, maybe it leaves you feeling old, or angry, or sad.

The one thing it ought not leave you is surprised. No more than one is surprised to see a recklessly driven car skid into a wall. Between the obsessive plastic surgery, the sham marriages and the creepy fascination with little boys, Mr. Jackson has been skidding toward this wall for years.

Not that he hasn't been, as they say, enabled along the way. To note but the most obvious: What kind of parents would allow their kid to spend time with Michael Jackson?

He is a 45-year-old man wearing lipstick and eyeliner on a surgically altered face that could give Charles Manson nightmares. He is 10 years removed from a child molestation scandal. His home is a monument to arrested development.

So, how asleep at the switch, how besotted by fame, how flat-out stupid do you have to be, to allow him access to your child? When he comes calling with his Mary Poppins umbrella, his parchment skin and his Disney nose to ask if Billy can play, what excuse could you have for not turning on the sprinklers, grabbing a pitchfork, calling 911?

At some point, perhaps, a reasonable answer will be offered. Until then, we can only marvel at the power of celebrity to make crazy OK, reduce obsessions to eccentricities, get us to celebrate what we'd never tolerate if we were not blinded by the glare from the spotlights.

Did Michael Jackson molest the boy at the center of the new complaint? I don't know. Is he the victim of a vendetta from officials who failed to snare him 10 years ago? I have no idea. There is, though, one thing I do know: Whatever this is, Mr. Jackson himself created it.

He had a chance to learn his lesson after the first scandal, when he was accused of molesting a teen-age boy and settled a civil lawsuit out of court. No matter how he sees, or purports to see, his dalliances with adolescents, the 1993 episode should have taught him that virtually the entire world sees them as disturbing and improper, if not illegal. That ordeal should have sent Mr. Jackson the message that it was time to grow up.

But the message never got through. In an infamous interview in an ABC documentary earlier this year, Mr. Jackson introduced correspondent Martin Bashir to a 12-year-old boy with whom he said he'd shared his bedroom. He explained how he had slept on the floor while the boy slept in the bed.

"Why can't you share your bed?" Mr. Jackson asked. "The most loving thing to do is share your bed with someone. It's a beautiful thing. It's very right, it's very loving."

Anyone who found that unseemly, he said, was simply "wacky" and "ignorant."

Which suggests a disconnect from reality too profound for words. Maybe we shouldn't expect anything else from someone who's been famous since he was 11, who became the biggest star on Earth when he was 24, who has lived virtually his whole life behind gates and under guard in a personal fantasyland constructed from air bricks and dream mortar.

Still, it's sad to see. Apparently, no one ever said, or he never heard, the word "no." Now the law is at the door and it's no longer about fame and fantasy, but about that message Mr. Jackson never received.

As someone who once liked him, I hope he gets it this time, hope he gets help this time, hope this is truly the crash and not just more of the skid. Because his chances are running out, if indeed they are not already gone.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald and appears Sundays in The Sun.

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