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Face the Nation

At a time of great national uncertainty, Michael Jackson has provided us with one thing we can all agree on: Whatta freak!

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Oh, the collective horror at what’s become of Jacko! And how strangely comforting it is to have him back in our midst! Who needs to pay attention to Iraq when we’ve got Martin Bashir’s Living With Michael Jackson (aired twice on ABC and five times on VH1), NBC’s Michael Jackson Unmasked plastic-surgery exposé, and Fox’s The Footage You Were Never Meant to See rebuttal.

Still, the timing of our collective obsession seems a little strange. Why now (beyond the fact that it was a sweeps week)? In the same way that Bush suddenly remembered that Saddam needed to be dealt with, suddenly we’re all made to rediscover that Michael Jackson is convulsively weird?

Sure, Bashir’s doc revealed a few new appalling details, particularly Jackson’s shopoholism—in one Vegas store, he spent millions on all manner of gaudy junk. But Bashir’s shocked, shocked response to the boys-in-my-bed stuff (revealed while Jackson held hands with a pretty preteen pal) comes nearly ten years after Jackson’s multi-million-dollar settlement with a 13-year-old boy who accused Jackson of seducing and molesting him.

Speaking of seduction and molestation, Jackson’s retaliatory offering on Fox last Thursday of his own cameraman’s footage showing the ultrasmarmy Bashir’s ass-kissing ways (“Your relationship with your children is spectacular!”) was no surprise to any journalist who has ever charmed an interviewee into self-incrimination. But the truth is that Bashir, who feigned toughness and concern in his own special’s voice-overs, is the celebrity-journalism version of a U.N. weapons inspector. The Neverland and Vegas photo ops were, of course, guided tours, largely choreographed by Jackson himself.

It might just be that the network Jackson mediathon amounted to a welcome distraction that united our nation in amusement, bewilderment, and disgust at a time when we desperately want to feel the same way about something. Finally, we’re uniformly unambivalent—Whatta freak!—and because Jackson is so far removed from anything we can identify within ourselves (he doesn’t look or act like any of us), it’s almost soothing to demonize him.

Meanwhile, somebody’s got to get to the bottom of the Jackson tragedy itself, so that the responsible parties can be punished. I’d start with those shady Germans. You don’t have to look all that closely at the Bashir special to realize that it’s the Germans who truly drove Jackson round the bend during his stay in their land last fall (the Berlin baby-dangling incident figures prominently in Living With MJ). Grown men and women chasing Jackson’s motorcade down the street and weepily begging for hugs—the memory still chills.

Say what you will about us Americans and our prime-time fixation on Michael Jackson. At least we know he’s not a member of ’N Sync.


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