It was my intention to begin this blog with an erudite and insightful analysis of the relative decline of the Serial Killer as a pop culture icon, and then--POW!--along came Michael Jackson.Let us for the moment leave aside the specifics of the charges against the King of the Pop, and instead turn our attention to the truly impressive way our culture, faced with war, terrorism, serial snipers, solar flares and [the anniversary of the JFK assassination][1]--an annual pop culture event that has attained the status of a saint's day--has responded to the charges. A quick check of the ever-reliable Yahoo searchable index, a tool we will often rely upon in this space, reveals that at this writing--Friday, November 21, 2003, around lunchtime--a search of the term "Michael Jackson" results in about 1.2 million results. For purposes of comparison, a search of the term "war in Iraq" results in about 1.6 million results. Michael is fast catching up. Further proof is provided by checking Google, which unlike Yahoo performs real-time searches of the entire Worldwide Web; there the war produces about 2.4 million results, and Michael about 2 million. We will monitor these relative numbers over the next few weeks. My money's on Michael.Of course, Jackson has been a hyper-celebrity for two decades, and it isn't necessary to perform web searches to prove that the charges against him are at the moment the [Biggest Story in the World][2]--all you have to do is open a newspaper or turn on your television, where the case already occupies enormous and steadily increasing quantities of bandwidth.The most striking thing about the story's explosion is the speed at which it occurred. Within 36 hours of the execution of the search warrants at Neverland Ranch, the Jackson story had knocked everything else in the news universe into a cocked hat, and 36 hours is very, very fast. What we are witnessing is the perhaps the very first demonstration of the international media's new-found ability to exploit the technological advances of the past generation for the purpose of more-or-less instantly satisfying the public's hunger for melodramatic news that is of very little "serious" social consequence. Aside from war, there have been only two prior events that have generated this sort of saturation coverage: the death of Princess Diana, and the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Jackson's case incorporates the juiciest elements of both, and thus will almost certainly surpass both in terms of media attention.Jackson, like Princess Diana, is an international celebrity of a magnitude that dwarfs mere movie stars or common world leaders. There are millions of people on this planet who have never heard of Tom Hanks, who have only the haziest impression of George W. Bush, but who know every word to every song on Thriller, which for better or worse is [the most successful album in the history of popular music][3]. What made the O.J. case a milestone in media saturation studies was less Simpson's celebrity--his was a garden-variety, widely-liked-retired-star-athlete-commercial-shill kind of fame, similar to that possessed by Mike Ditka or Chris Evert--than the mysterious circumstances of the murder and Simpson's bizarre trip in the white Bronco. But there was nothing in the Simpson case, not even the verdict in the courtroom, that can compete with the [utter outer-space weirdness of Michael Jackson's life and career][4], or the deeply disturbing nature of the charges against him. From the standpoint of media studies, we are setting off on a journey hitherto only dreamed-of, and we can say with confidence that at the conclusion of this case, whatever it may be, Michael Jackson will be the most famous living person on earth.As for the actual charges... dear me.All initial reports suggest that the alleged victim and his family are uninterested in the sort of hefty financial settlement that quashed similar charges against Jackson in 1993. (Media reports have placed the size of the 1993 settlement at more than $15 million.) That suggests these charges will result in a public adjudication; if that adjudication takes the form of a trial on multiple counts of child molestation, which is clearly the prosecutor's intent, then the legal proceedings against O.J. Simpson will be forgotten like the [War of Jenkin's Ear][5]. Jackson is in an extremely awkward position, since what is the historically most effective defense on sex charges--attacking the victim--will even if successful paint him only slightly less a monster than the charges themselves. Instead expect Jackson's attorneys, led by the formidable Mark Geragos, to attack the boy's parents (not a hard sell, if in fact they were in the habit of leaving their child unattended in Jackson's company) even as they push for a plea bargain on lesser charges.The King of Pop is not without a leg to stand on. Already his extremely able publicists are pushing the notion that the prosecutor in this case, Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon, is pursuing a personal vendetta, and Sneddon has done nothing to disarm the suggestion. He has so far made nearly every mistake possible: the curious timing of the Neverland Ranch search, coincident with the release of Jackson's latest album, his chortling jocularity at his press appearances, the faintly racist whiff emanating from his remarks about not listening to "that kind of music." In all of this he is living down to the [general unprofessionalism of Los Angeles-area law enforcement][6], which is far better at advising television shows and staging press conferences than at closing cases. Sneddon gives every appearance of being a media-hungry redneck dunce--his [official biography][7] offers up the fact that he is the father of nine children as if that fact has some bearing on his professional qualifications--and if Sneddon continues to chuckle through his press conferences, Jackson might well be halfway to a dismissal.It is all so sordid, no? So gaudy, so squalid, so distasteful. It is precisely those characteristics that ensure that this will be the real, and not merely the latest, Trial of the Century, and thus an ideal subject to begin our discussion of the topology of pop culture.And now about those dratted serial killers... [1]: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-11-21-jfk-cover_x.htm [2]: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/afp/20031121/wl_afp/us_justice_jackson_media_031121051728 [3]: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&uid=UIDMISS70311211325540159&sql=A5if6zfohehak [4]: http://anomalies-unlimited.com/Jackson.html [5]: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/jenkins_ear.htm [6]: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/lapd/bare.html [7]: http://www.countyofsb.org/da/about/sneddon.asp


David Ryan 18 years ago

i got a kick out Slate's quoting the Guardian (and I quote):

"Permitted for four decades by money and fame to behave any way he wanted, Jackson has become a man so bizarre that there must be serious doubts about his fitness to stand trial. A pre-trial plea bargain of insanity by virtue of celebrity might be legally unconventional, but it would be honest.."

That's downright funny - and apt.

Oh - I voted for an Apple Lisa as the 'puter graphic, but this one's even better. . . .

Patrick Quinn 17 years, 12 months ago

Would that by any chance be Ray-Jay "Prepare To Snorkel" Jenkins?

Kelly Powell 18 years ago

I don't think youcan use the word "racism" and Michael Jacksonn in the same sentance....First, being uber-rich absolves you from most of the day to day conflicts that people describe as racist....Lets face it once you gazillionaire ,you have become a elite race of select few. Second: Michael Jackson has transformed himself from a black male to a white female undead like creature.....Maryln manson looks down right normal compared to surgical horror show that man did to himself....And he makes howard hughes look like a joe sixpack on the wacky recluse scale. As to "That kind of music": First that's stretching it a bit, isn't it? Maybe Sneddon is more into Ol' dirty bastard or Miles Davis instead of vanilla pop....And lets face it, Jacksons music anymore has all the soul of a chairman of the board meeting at disney corp. Wheather of not the parents try to pursue a civil case, the law now states that they will call the kid up to testify, civil suit or not......What kind of parents send their kids for a sleep over with this freak anyway? I can hear them now "You are wearing THAT to see Mr. Jackson? Young man you go right up stairs and change into something sexier!"

Rob Gillaspie 18 years ago

I'm glad this Michael Jackson shit finally happened so the media can divert attention away from the war and the slumping economy... Nohting like a tried and true celebrity scandal to distract the viewing public.

dex 18 years ago

i apologize for the long link, but this one's worth it (at the moment at least, the "customer recommendations" have been changing):

http://www.amazon.com/e xec/obidos/tg/stores/detail/-/music/B0000 DJE9R/advice/ref%3Dcm%5Fcustrec%5Fgl%5Fmo re1/104-6138306-9743902

Joel 18 years ago

Couple of thoughts:

  • I'll bet Kobe Bryant is just thanking his lucky stars right now. The horde just went scampering off in a new direction.
  • Michael Jackson's molestation trial will probably take up more space in most newspapers -- and certainly on TV -- than any local reports of sex crimes against children.
  • When you figure a tabloid prints a picture of the kid in the case? Some Australian tabloids are already printing his name.
  • Finally, why in heaven's name are people holding CANDLELIGHT VIGILS all over the world in support of Michael Jackson? That's it. The world officially makes no sense to me anymore.

And welcome to blogging. Whatever happened to the paperback reviews?

lazz 18 years ago

Forget Michael, Kobe, Princess Di, Saddam Whatshishussein ... Quinn's back! The War of Jenkin's Ear? Serial killers? Yup, gotta be. The Return of Quinno.

Shelby 18 years ago

Me sayz this's well-writed. I liked this. Who the hell are you anyway?

Shelby 18 years ago

I respectfully disagree, Blacklit. The subject is the media going nuts over this freakshow (as you aptly put it). It's the absurdity of that which is being discussed. I can talk about the act of scratching an itch on one's ass with a loaded .45 but it doesn't mean I'm encouraging, condoning, or perpetuating this recent fad. I mean, we're criticizing this, right?

Patrick Quinn 18 years ago

hey Joel--

You are quite correct--I'll bet Kobe sent MJ flowers.

Yr also correct that MJ has shoved any local child abuse stories in the dumpster, but recall that before this Jacko business (and with one or two notable exceptions), child abuse stories were handled with kid gloves. It would be unfortunate if one of the backwash effects of the case is to "normalize" such stories to the point that media treats them like divorces or potholes. That an American newspaper of any ilk would print the name and photo of the alleged victim of child molestation is utterly unthinkable, so I'm guessing the end of next week, probably in the loathsome GLOBE.

The candlelight vigils... I confess that sometimes even I am astounded by the behavior of my fellow humans (and as a rule I expect the worst from them). These are presumably the same imbeciles who rallied to MJ's side when he accused Tommy Mottola and Sony of "racism."

Glad we're sharing the smae space. Mr. Mathis.

hey Shelby--

I'm an old townie who likes to talk too much, and who desperately misses Lawrence. Thanks for reading.


Patrick Quinn 18 years ago


I liked the Lisa, too, but I like this 'un better. The Guardian pretty much nailed it, and one wonders if a smart lawyer will someday devise a slick defense that makes exactly the Guardian's argument: "My client is an unnatural celebrity freak worth hundreds of millions of dollars who cannot drive an automobile, can barely sign his name and is incapable of maintaining any ongoing relationship w/ a person over 12 years old. Not guilty by reason of whatever...."

Buddha: The plastic surgery is deeply unsettling, isn't it? What's curious is that people tend to react much less intensely to actual transgendered people--most people are far less uncomfortable w/ someone who goes whole hog, has the operation, changes their name from "Michael" to "Mikki" etc. than w/ Jackson's transformation, in which he appears to be trying to become his sister while still (somehow) remaining the King, and not the Queen of Pop. I'm not a Tom Sneddon fan, and if you saw the press conference, you'd have absolutely no doubt that when Sneddon said "that kind of music" he was talking about music-that-isn't-by-crackers-in-silly-ha ts. As for MJ's work, it pretty much all went down the tubes when he split from Quincy Jones and tried the new jack swing thing w/ Teddy Riley. Why do pop stars always want to be "relevant"? Thanks for reading pq

Patrick Quinn 17 years, 12 months ago

There are divers over the side. Do not spin the shaft, blow any tanks, operate or energize any underwater equipment. There are divers over the side.

Long time no see, Petty Officer Jenkins... How's life as a big-city architect? How's Bird Irondick? The 617 is rusting to the pier in Bremerton, unless she's already razor blades.

EricaAnderson 18 years ago

I am tired of all the air time this MJ story received is still receiving. And the parents of the child or children that allow themselves to be star stuck are sickening. Who would allow their children within feet of his Netherland gates? The parents, if this happened, should also be held acountable. And don't we have more news worthy bits to show on these so called News networks other than watching MJ's jet sitting on the runway. And as I sit here Fox news has footage of MJ in his jet...give me a break! I am tired of having to log on and find news that the Media refuses to include in their daily line-up.

Sdormat 18 years ago

Hi Patrick! So good to read your words.
The bug eyed mug shot says it all. What the hell happened to this guy? Blacklit- i hate to get involved- but, i have to ask: if you're so offended by people's interest (horror?) in MJ- why are you taking so much time to comment? Seems like a lot of effort to put forth for something you find so tedious.

blacklit 18 years ago

A few things:

first, i can't stop glaring at this sentence: "The most striking thing about the story's explosion is the speed at which it occurred."

I'm sorry, is a fast explosion really striking? If so, then tell me, what would qualify as a slow explosion? hehehe

More to the point, why is anyone talking about this freakshow at all? God damnit, now you got me talking about him. ugh. Yes, we can see the headlines and the coverage, blagh blagh, and it is indeed revolting. But doing an article on the people who are doing articles on michael jackson seems to me close to the apex of absurdity.

And thank god I just cancelled cable tv.

blacklit 18 years ago

lol murderama

the war itself was a distraction too...

En-what? What corporate malfeasance?


or maybe American's just have a short attention span

blacklit 18 years ago

Shelby, I was talking about the original blog, especially note the last 5 paragraphs or so (start at "As for the actual charges... dear me.")

And yah, criticizing, my god, what else could be done with it?

Oh wait; where's dex and murderama...we could hold a michael jackson vigil on mass and maybe provide an alternative to the anti war sign holders. Nothing like a little bit of free market competition in protesting

And yes, it is absurd....but come on, this is michael jackson, and this is the media; what do you expect? I mean, if people didn't know that the news coverage (one sex scandal to one famous trial to one missing girl to one sex scandal to one famous trial to one missing girl...etc.) was absurd, then they probably don't watch the news. Likewise, michael jackson...come on.

taking time to type the words that michael jackson is absurd is equivilant to the mumbled utterence following an epiphany from a retarded kindgergartner.

blacklit 18 years ago

It's just cheap hype Hype is the media's life (and the advertising greens In the media mogul's pipe)

blacklit 18 years ago

I'm just saying that the reason this crazy hype exists is because people take the time to follow it and they talk about it. But it's not real. I don't really care about time, just pointing something out.

MikeHuntington 18 years ago

Patrick, it's damn fine to hear yer voice again. As I left Lawrence a number of years ago, didn't know you'd left. Where'd you go?

Blacklit, I suppose it would be the acme of foolishness to point out that "close to the apex of..." is some damn watered down language to say the least.

rjenkins 17 years, 12 months ago

Who is this Patrick Quinn? He seems to be an insightful writer and he has Michel figured out. We don't have guys like that here in Silver Spring Maryland...

rjenkins 17 years, 12 months ago

There are men in the sail. Do not raise, lower, rotate, or radiate any mast or antenna. There are men in the sail. But there are none in the sail at Torti Gallas.

blacklit 18 years ago

If nobody talked about it, nobody would care and nobody would watch it so the networks wouldn't play it.

And Dex, do you realize how difficult it is to successively and succesfully cut and paste 4 parts of one link while stoned?

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