Politics & Policy

Ko by Michael

Child prostitution has become all but a yellow-pages item.

The reaction, in private quarters here, was different from the reaction to the bizarre exoneration of O. J. Simpson in 1995. In the matter of O. J., the jury hardly paused before entering a verdict of Not Guilty. This time around, it was seven days of deliberation, though of course the final results did not suggest any schismatic bodies holding out for a guilty verdict.

And–truly important–the race question wasn’t a factor. Incredibly, there was not, seated, a single black juror. Those who followed the trial by hearing the occasional radio bleats while driving were surprised that racial prejudice wasn’t brought up more insistently by Jackson supporters. One can only imagine the hue and cry on this subject if Jackson had been found guilty. The defense of O. J. was based blatantly on alleged racial discrimination. A useful concise view of it is that if O. J. had been white, he almost certainly would have been convicted.

Now a big difficulty with Michael Jackson has to do with what the jurors were being asked to convict him for doing. One of his first hit songs at the superstar level, 25 years ago, was called, “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” Nice young men and nice young girls would not use such language except in smokers. Certainly they would not bid for market approval in a song so labeled. Jackson not only did so, he was awarded a Grammy for it. Such data persuaded the jury that Jackson had to be thought of as a man from another culture, whose life was of another culture.

As to this, there was evidence writ large on the public screen. Jackson has lived as extravagantly as any sheik. His palace is a great extravaganza fashioned after children’s dreams. He managed to marry twice, but those who saw him discuss home life with Lisa Marie Presley quickly and accurately predicted that that wedding had been one more act in a serial drama. The marriage lasted 18 months, slightly longer than the subsequent marriage, which resulted in two children and divorce. A television interviewer scratched around the subject of conjugal life, but was easily disposed of by Michael and Lisa Marie, whose onstage affection was so ardent, there were those who wondered whether their managers had instructed them to give viewers a little public copulation.

But the Jackson jury was not asked to inquire deeply into what kind of life is expected of a 46-year-old superstar who at age 21 enjoined his listeners, “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.” Some people, we know, tend to behave differently from other people. The point the poor prosecutor was trying to make was that this is indeed so, but unorthodox behavior can became aberrant behavior and, in the case of Michael Jackson, did so when he invited young boys into his bed, which is where aberrant behavior usually happens.

The Jackson team brought in a few boys and their families who insisted that overnight in Michael’s bed was like overnight in a laundromat. This proposition suffered from Michael’s experience of 1993. What happened then was that an outraged mother filed a suit alleging felonious pedophilia. But before any jurors were canvassed on that charge, the case disappeared from the dockets. There had been a settlement. Different figures were cited. Most recently, in the New York Times, it was reported that Jackson Inc. paid $20 million to the plaintiff, who agreed never to mention the case again under any circumstances; so that when the prosecutor in this trial tried to get the mother or her son to talk about past life in close quarters with Michael, there was a stone wall there.

But although that story counted against the credibility of Michael, the prosecution was affected by a complementary aspect of life in that culture. Growing up as a plaything of Michael at Neverland suddenly opened up the possibility of $20 million. The jurors could certainly understand that the moment had to come when Michael’s team said no–no more payoffs. But though such thinking argued for the integrity of Michael, it also provoked legitimate curiosity on why the suits were brought in the first place.

And–finally–the kind of horror aroused within cultural orthodoxy by tales of dirty old men taking the innocence of little boys didn’t seem to have the iron hold on the jury that would have been expected even a few years ago. There is at least one organization that pleads publicly for permitting man-boy love. What is indisputably happening is that child prostitution has become all but a yellow-pages item. And these jurors, while by no means identifying themselves with this particular new age, were apparently never stirred to the point of feeling any responsibility to do their bit to discourage it when they came across it.

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