Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Jackson Debate

I'm tired of writing about me. There's nothing left to say. The well is dry. I am quite sure that my current malaise is as dull and uninteresting to you as it is debilitating to me. Let's have a look at someone else's problems instead, shall we?

One man with more than enough on his Russell Grant-sized plate is Dr Conrad Murray. Those of you not too engrossed in fucking TOWIE and the X-Factor to open up a newspaper or switch on a news channel (which is most of you because obviously this blog only attracts intellectual types) will know that Dr Murray is the man who yesterday was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson. He will be sentenced in three weeks time and could serve up to four years in prison.

Yet as with everything relating to Michael Jackson, opinion is divided as to Murray's guilt. The hordes of Jackson fans awaiting the verdict outside the Los Angeles court last night were clearly of the opinion that their idol was taken from them by foul means, while others argue that Murray is merely a scapegoat to help the fanatics deal with their overblown, melodramatic sense of loss. The general public do tend to over-react following the death of a celebrity - witness the hysterical outpourings of grief when Princess Diana was killed in 1997 or the similarly berserk reaction to the death of the tragic but hardly talented Jade Goody in 2009 - and Jackson's untimely passing was always going to provoke this sort of reaction. While many loathed him for his eccentricities, pretensions and his as yet unproven involvement in child abuse (more on which later), Jackson's body of work ensured that he became a legend in his own lifetime. Michael Jackson was a man who, more than most, polarised opinion.

That Murray has now been found in some way responsible for Jackson's death by a court of law might in some ways help protect the star's legacy. He can once again be held up by his supporters as a victim. Poor Michael, bumped off by a shady and/or incompetent medical man who should have known better. Certainly, Murray is guilty of extreme naivity in administering a drug which should only have been used under strict supervision in a hospital, but how much pressure was he under? There are those who would argue that Jackson would have insisted on receiving the drugs on which he was becoming increasingly reliant, and that if Murray had not agreed to these demands then Jackson had the money and the celebrity to find himself a doctor who would. Looking after Jackson was a pretty significant gig for Murray, and not one he would have wanted to lose. Hindsight is always 20/20, but perhaps Murray may now reflect that he would have been better served allowing Jackson to look for another doctor in any case.

Still, as much as Jackson's fans might hope for it, the singer's role as the victim in Murray's crime does not wipe his own slate clean. There is still the very grisly question of those child abuse charges. In 1993 Evan Chandler accused Jackson of sexually abusing his then 13-year-old son Jordan. It is interesting though not entirely compelling to note that it was Evan, and not the child himself who brought the allegations to light. What is more persuasive to my mind is the fact that Evan Chandler agreed to settle this matter financially out of court. The figures vary according to which media source you rely on but the Chandlers received something in the region of $20-25million between them. I remain childless, but can say without hesitation that if I genuinely believed that my child had been abused in this way there would not be enough money in the world to prevent me from seeking justice. Surely any parent in this situation would want to see the perpetrator appropriately punished? We are talking about a huge amount of money, but what price can you put on the physical and psychological well-being of a child not just at the time of the alleged crime, but for years into the future and maybe for the rest of their lives?

But not everybody is satisfied that Jackson is innocent of these charges. The old saying that there is no smoke without fire is often trotted out in relation to some of Jackson's unusual behaviour around children. It is hard to deny that there is something quite odd about a man who, 34 years old at the time of the alleged incidents, spent so much time with adolescents and even admitted in a television interview to letting them share his bed. Jackson may or may not have been guilty of any sexual abuse but he surely should have known that this behaviour was inappropriate and frankly, a little bit weird. Again there will be those who defend this, suggesting that his own abuse during childhood together with his punishing work schedule (Jackson was just 11 when the Jackson 5 recorded their first hit) contributed. He never had a childhood of his own, they will argue, and so was only trying to recreate one as an adult. Maybe, but he was a grown man and grown men are not permitted to behave in this manner without some serious questions being asked. Fuelling the fires against Jackson further are some of his other alleged eccentric behaviours such as keeping chimps as pets, sleeping in oxygen chambers and the multiple facial surgeries which left him dependent on the drugs that eventually killed him. I have heard it said that his surgeons should have stood trial alongside Dr Murray. Either way, some of Jackson's lifestyle choices made him a hate figure for some well before Evan Chandler's name appeared in the newspapers nearly 20 years ago.

And finally to the music. Michael Jackson is not, cannot be to everyone's tastes but it is an undeniable statement of fact that he has made a massive contribution to the music industry. The early years of his solo career produced albums of bewildering quality which sold like the proverbial hot-cakes. 'Thriller' remains the best-selling album of all-time, while 'Off The Wall' and 'Bad' are also musical triumphs which would, had they been achieved by a less controversial individual, have been enough to provide a lasting legacy to rival any of the great composers, never mind any modern contemporaries. He failed palpably to reach that level in the latter years of his troubled life and career but in many ways Jackson had already revolutionised song and dance to the point where now, there are a plethora of high profile stars adored by millions who owe much to him in terms of the way they have been inspired by him.

But perfect, he was not.