by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 4, 2003
BLAMING MICHAEL JACKSON ON BEETHOVEN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I may be one of the few people in the United States today who thinks Michael Jackson is innocent of child abuse.
Guilty of bad judgment? Certainly, but we knew that when he started chopping up his face. Guilty of an enormous sense of entitlement? Of course, but he came to that through his phenomenal gifts as an entertainer. Guilty of being a total freak from another planet? No doubt about it.
But guilty of what we now call child abuse, which involves genital fondling and penetration? I just don't think so. Otherwise there would have been many more accusations over the years, and much more proof.
My guess is he's telling the truth about feeling like a young boy again by playing with other young boys. Since he lives in a unreal world of his own making, there is no one around to show him how to grow up. On this issue, as with so many others, I side with Elizabeth Taylor. He's not guilty.
But his case brings up questions that have been on my mind for while - and no, this is not a socially redeeming column about how the media and the American masses focus on celebrity while people are dying of horrible diseases and the results of American foreign policy.
This column is about my personal obsession with celebrity, which involves trying to see the reality behind the carefully constructed images.
If I was alone in my obsession, I'd write it off as being a byproduct of a dull and unglamorous life. But I'm not alone. We have a huge gossip industry devoted to pulling back the curtains. For example, when the Star, the supermarket tabloid, recently ran on its front cover photos of Rene Zellweger, Cameron Diaz, Barbara Streisand and other stars without makeup, its circulation went through the roof.
In a neat example of capitalism's endless flexibility, in the same way a prosthetics industry might Spring up in the wake of a prosperous land mine manufacturer, the demystifying industry almost balances out the huge industry designed to create the myths in the first place.
I believe America is hungry for what I call demythification. My favorite demythifier is "Punk'd," Ashton Kutcher's MTV show, which plays practical jokes on celebrities. Agreed, it's hard to take Kutcher's "Hey, Dude" cornball style for more than a few minutes at a time, but he's performing a public service here. If you get celebrities mad enough, they drop their carefully rehearsed images of cool and sophistication.
For example, the rest of the world may celebrate Missy Elliot's pop music gifts, but I know she's a spoiled bitch. On "Punk'd" I watched her attack a salesman in a jewelry store who frustrated her need for instant gratification; she actually climbed up on the counter and threatened to break the glass with her foot. I wanted to slap her then, and when I hear her music today, the feeling returns.
It's not difficult to find celebrities being real on television. The other night I watched Nicole Kidman win an award from the American Cinematheque. When she made her acceptance speech, her extraordinary glamour fell away and she became a tall, pretty, eager girl with an overwhelming passion for disappearing into different characters. "Odd" is how she described herself. It was a hugely touching moment.
My heroine in demythification is Julianne Moore, an intelligent actress who recently spoke about anorexia. It's no secret that for years Hollywood - especially in television programs - has played havoc with women's body images.
"People must realize that what we do is an illusion," Moore said calmly.
And she's right. It's all a marvelous illusion. Talented makeup artists, costume designers, hairdressers, lighting designers, stunt doubles and even buttocks doubles - they all contribute.
It's illusion now and it's always been illusion. Just ask Marlene Dietrich, who studied costuming and film lighting and knew more about creating her own glamour on film than the technicians who worked with her.
In our celebrity-drenched world, the most important thing we can do is deconstruct the images as fast as they come along, much as we would address balls in a batting cage - with a heavy bat.
Jackson is a case in point.
Charles Murray, the loon who, a few years ago, claimed in "The Bell Curve" that African-Americans are genetically intellectually inferior (had he never listened to Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis?), had some interesting things to say about genius in The Sunday New York Times this past week.
If you read Murray the right way, Jackson's bad behavior can be blamed on Beethoven.
As a composer, Murray says, Beethoven was "God's gift to humanity." But unfortunately, "he also played The Genius to the limit, especially in his later years. He was rude, obstinate and self-absorbed, and railed against the slightest interference."
In other words, Beethoven established a model for celebrity behavior.
Add greedy parents, gadzillions of dollars, swooning fans, eager groupies, the concept of entourages and posses, aggressive paparazzi and glossy magazines to the mix and voila! You get Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and all the rest of them.
I think gossip columnists and Ashton Kutcher are doing us all a favor.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.