Thursday, February 20, 2003

Michael Jackson

The worst of reality television


Creepy. Creepy. Creepy.

Well, nobody tied me to a chair and made me look at it. I watched the Michael Jackson freak-o-rama of my own free will, being of more or less sound mind and with a choice of a hundred other things to do. I could have read a good book or watched any number of other "reality" television shows.

But having missed the first network airing of Living with Michael Jackson, I chose to see the two-hour rerun on VH1. Then, I followed his further adventures during a special on NBC's Dateline, "Michael Jackson Unmasked."

The breathless tease told us Dateline would answer our questions about the singer's cosmetic surgery - as if the most important truth to be discovered is his relationship with his surgeon. Most of the people I know are more concerned about his relationship with children - his own and those he has borrowed from others.

The balcony episode

After the video of Jackson's squirming baby being dangled off a balcony, people began to wonder aloud whether Michael Jackson's children are safe with him. That's a question we are peculiarly reluctant to ask of "biological" parents, as if it is somehow more acceptable if an abuser raises his own victims. And, Lord knows, we are a nation besotted by celebrity. Furthermore, you can't interfere just because you don't like the way somebody is bringing up his kids.

So, I wondered what would happen if, say, a sweet-faced Hyde Park woman had behaved the same way.

"We'd investigate," Denise Winkler of Hamilton County Child and Family Services says flatly. Carefully noting that she doesn't have enough information to "address the Michael Jackson incident," Winkler said the agency would interview neighbors, other people living in the household. Officials might recommend that the mother get instructions on parenting. Or they might remove the child, if they believe he's in danger.

"We're mandated by the state to protect children," she says firmly. "All adults are responsible for children. If it doesn't feel right, call 241-KIDS. We'll check on the child."

Michael Jackson is the father of three. Paris, 4, and his oldest son, Prince, 5, were attired in masks when they appeared in the TV show. The baby, Prince Michael II, was shrouded in a scarf. Jackson, 44, held hands with a 12-year-old boy, saying, "The most loving thing to do is share your bed," insisting that there was nothing sexual involved.

When his daughter was born, Jackson said, he "snatched her and just went home with all the placenta all over her."

So does this "feel right to us?" The masks. The sleepovers. Are we brave enough to try to look out for the welfare of children, even those who do not technically belong to us?

Would any of the rest of us, unassisted by a private security force and several platinum albums, be allowed to scoop up a newborn baby, still covered with placenta, and race home from the hospital?

Is this a man whose judgment is badly impaired?

The answer is as plain as the nose on his face.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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