Essay

One Strange Case

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Just like that? Oh yeah, just like that.

After the decision of a 12-person jury in Santa Maria, Calif., Michael Jackson is now free to be everything that makes us so uneasy, free to resume sleepovers with whomever he likes at his earliest convenience. (And he must be exhausted.)

For years we've longed for someone to tell us what the heck's going with Michael Jackson. So we had this trial, in which seemingly every piece of his private life was unearthed and examined like the ruins of Pompeii, and we peeked inside the locked closet off Jackson's bathroom and found . . . a Macaulay Culkin doll, still in its original packaging.

Jackson was found not guilty on all 10 counts yesterday. What's it all mean? The decision is rendered but we're no wiser. Pieces of the mystery break off and float to the top: Michael Jackson's bedroom is filled with child mannequins. Michael Jackson was once hand-fed by Liz Taylor. Michael Jackson may or may not wear tighty-whities, may or may not climb trees for inspiration or sleep with his simian friends, who may or may not dirty his room when they refuse to wear diapers. An acquittal doesn't clear his name; it only muddies the waters.

Three years ago it might have seemed impossible that Michael Jackson could seem any more freakish, but then came the trial. What now?

Move to Europe, Michael. They still love you in Europe.

"People say he looks weird," Deborah Dannelly, president of the Michael Jackson Fan Club, said during the trial. "I've been very close to Michael, and I don't think he looks weird."

This is actually completely wrong. If the past few months have proved anything, it's that Jackson is even weirder up close than he is from afar. In Santa Maria, we saw him day in and day out -- our most sustained glimpse since he disappeared down the rabbit hole of fame and eccentricity decades ago. The closer you got, the more he didn't make sense. Up close, that face looks as if it's made from puzzle pieces that weren't meant to fit together.

What took place on the central California coast was essentially a conversation about what happens when a particular combination of wealth and celebrity festers and goes bad. Here was a man of such excess, it seemed, social conventions didn't apply. He could share a bed with children if he wanted to. Star-struck parents loaned their kids out just to be near him. He paid them in jewelry and, later, in settled lawsuits. Remember that scene in the Martin Bashir documentary -- the one that started this whole mess -- when Jackson spent an estimated $1 million in a single shopping trip? He ran around, pointing at everything he liked. There was nothing it seemed that he couldn't buy. We didn't like that.

(Of course, the goings-on among the throngs of media and fans off Miller Avenue in Santa Maria were also a lesson in excess. When a Jackson fan gets his own spokesman, as happened in recent days, we can all agree the world has gone horribly wrong.)

Jackson was what kept us looking, not at the details of the trial, which were far too confusing. To follow a trial, you need a clear timeline, not this mess. When exactly did the alleged molestations take place? Observers were never sure. And there was no sense of good and evil, no sympathetic character to root for. Nearly everyone was dirty, or at the very least, possessed of questionable motives.

There were Jackson's former employees with their petty thievings and their tabloid deals. There was the prosecutor, Tom Sneddon, who was accused of pursuing a 12-year vendetta against Jackson and whose disgust for the pop star's pornography seemed matched only by his desire to keep showing the jury more of it.


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