Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2003 / 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

E.R. Shipp

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Society needs to get a grip | The child molestation charges against Michael Jackson raise so many questions, it is hard to know where to begin in trying to sort them. For sure, media hyperventilation, prosecutorial zeal and, yes, race are at the top of the list.

Even as Mike Wallace, the octogenarian reporter, was lamenting, "There are more important stories, but apparently that's what people want to watch," we were seeing, for what seemed like the millionth time, TV images of a handcuffed Jackson with his processed hair entering the Santa Barbara, Calif., jail for a different kind of processing - in the criminal justice system.

The height of the media madness was the misinterpretation by CNN and others of Jackson's waving, blowing kisses and displaying the two-fingered V-for-victory sign, all of which was labeled arrogant. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Further evidence of the mania came Thursday night when most news programs let the Jackson story dominate. Thursday was the same day that two suicide bombings in Istanbul claimed the lives of 27 people and wounded more than 450.

The sites targeted, a British-based bank and the British Consulate, were obviously meant to send a message to the United States and Britain even as President Bush was in the midst of a state visit in London, where he lauded the British for being key allies in the war on terror.

That's a much larger story than Michael Jackson, but he's a celebrity, and there's the rub. Along with the media hysteria, the prosecutor's 10-year quest to nab Jackson and the racialization of the case - Michael's brother Jermaine called the arrest and coverage "a modern-day lynching" - celebrity is a major issue here.

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Along with celebrity goes the related issue of weirdness. In the strange world Jackson constructed for himself, he apparently felt invincible, immune from the laws of the land. Who at age 45 tells the world, as Jackson has done in interviews, that he likes inviting young boys to sleep in his bed at his fantasy ranch called, weirdly, Neverland?

Celebrity can cut both ways. Perhaps if Jackson weren't a huge star, the prosecutor wouldn't have pressed California legislators to change the law so that an accused child molester no longer can evade the law by buying off the accuser's parents, as prosecutors believe Jackson did in 1993 when pedophilia charges first emerged.

But perhaps if Jackson were not a celebrity, he would not have been treated with kid gloves the way he was after the new charges emerged. Even though authorities knew exactly where he was and could have gone and arrested him, they negotiated a surrender.

Most troubling of all is that his celebrity must have numbed the brains of the parents of the boy who is at the center of this case.

Who in their right minds would allow a child to sleep over with Michael, especially after the 1993 case that resulted in his paying something like $20 million, according to various reports? Or after his acknowledgment of enjoying the company of boys in his bed?

We are a star-struck society. How else to explain why a young woman would place herself in harm's way by flirting with Kobe Bryant and leaving her front desk post at a Colorado resort to visit his room? Her visit led to rape charges.

People need to get a grip - but not the kind of grip that leads them to reach out for the hand of a celebrity whose car is stuck in traffic, as Jackson's was Thursday night upon his return to his Las Vegas-area digs.

Regular folks, including kids, just wanted to touch a celebrity. And Jackson, despite the charges hanging over him, loved the attention.

We're so blinded by celebrities that we don't apply to them standards we apply to ourselves, our relatives or neighbors. The Jackson case should be a reality check.

E.R. Shipp is a columnist for the New York Daily News. She won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1996. Comment by clicking here.


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