Michael Jackson’s contemptuous display outside the Santa Barbara district court on Friday is indicative of all that is wrong with the celebrity culture. While you and I were raised to respect the law, the idols of the celebrity age believe they are above any kind of law. As are all gods.
You and I may have been raised to have a modicum of respect for the institution of marriage. But for a celebrity like Britney Spears, it’s just something to do when you get drunk.
Had Michael called a press conference outside the courtroom and condemned the charges against him with a biting tongue and raised fist, I would have had no problem. A man has a right to denounce that which he believes is false and defamatory. But to frivolously convert a trial into a rock concert demonstrated a contempt for the institution of justice itself.
Say what you want about O.J. Simpson, but at least he took his trial seriously. I had hoped that the gravity of these charges against Michael would have inspired him to take stock of his life. Instead, he seems to be getting worse by the day.
There is a greater chance that the Mars Rover will find life on the red planet than we here on Earth will find a wholesome celebrity. There are many reasons why our famous people are so damaged, but here’s an uncomfortable truth that most of us refuse to acknowledge: Celebrities behave without restraint because we allow them to.
We, the public, not only tolerate, but are entertained by these disgusting displays. Rather than finding their virtual wife-swapping – as they marry and divorce each other within days or weeks – disgusting and outrageous, we pay to read about it in Us Weekly.
I have written repeatedly that I find it difficult to believe that Michael Jackson is a molester. Having said that, two of the most outstanding criminal-defense lawyers in America – Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman – watched as their client came late to court, jumped on top of an SUV to rally his desperate fans, and guided his videographers to record the carnival-like event as if it were his birthday party. Not once did we see either lawyer tugging on his jacket as he rushed to climb the SUV, refusing to allow him to make a mockery of his court appearance.
Had this been any other client, any self-respecting lawyer would have shouted at them, “You pull one more outrageous stunt like that – which is embarrassing to all of us and deeply injurious to your case – and I’m outta here.” But Geragos and Brafman, it seems, would never say that to Michael since that would mean giving up the spotlight of the biggest celebrity case of all time.
The same was true of Michael’s “60 Minutes” interview, in which he first reiterated his immoral practice of sharing a bed with children, and then made the preposterous claim that the Santa Barbara police had dislocated his shoulder, amid clear evidence to the contrary.
As I watched this bizarre spectacle, I was sure that his highly respected attorney Mark Geragos would pop out from the background and scream, “Cut! Michael, are you out of your mind?” Instead, Geragos has repeatedly defended Michael’s claims and called the Santa Barbara police chief a “moron.”
Earth to Mark Geragos: Get control of your client quick, or get out of there before your own credibility is destroyed. I was around Michael Jackson. I know how seductive that spotlight is. And I know how hard it is to cut oneself off from it. Releasing myself from the grips of my close friendship with Michael – once I concluded definitively that his chaotic lifestyle was pulling me into its vortex – was one of the hardest professional choices I have made.
But it came down to the central question of my own credibility. Since I saw that Michael was no longer open to my influence to normalize his life, I would end up being yet another ineffective hanger-on to a superstar. I made a clear choice. Either Michael live by the healthy lifestyle modifications I demanded, or I would move on.
And the same thing is true with his defense counsel. At what point will Geragos and Brafman say that this whole case – however gratifying from a media standpoint – just isn’t worth it? We have reached the point where Michael’s counsel must go in to see him and give him an ultimatum. “Either you listen to us and act like a normal human being who is constrained by the same rules as everyone else, or we resign this case.”
That ultimatum would be good for the lawyers and – more important – it would be good for Michael Jackson. Had the people around Michael not allowed him to get away with all the things that have ruined his life – repeated plastic surgery, being alone with boys whose parents could cast suspicion on him, removing his children from access to their mother – his life would never have deteriorated to this tragic state.
The same is true for the rest of America’s celebrities. It’s time the public come forward and punish errant behavior by not buying CDs or attending the films of celebrities who behave like grotesque miscreants. If Pete Rose could be thrown out of baseball for betting on his sport, then why can’t Hollywood celebrities who are deadbeat dads or drug abusers be punished as well? It is a privilege to be famous, and it comes with the responsibility of being an accountable role model.
The conventions of normal living are not arbitrary. In the same way there are rules for taking care of a car, there are rules for taking care of a human life. Our celebrities burn out their engines quickly because they live with no respect for law. Everyone around them is afraid to enforce the rules. It’s tragic enough that, like Michael Jackson, they become rusty and desiccated even while still young. But it’s even worse that their dirty engines pollute the environment in which our children must be raised.