As far as I know, Michael Jackson didn’t dance on top of a luxury SUV in front of adoring fans when an indictment was handed down Wednesday accusing him of child molestation. He probably didn’t ride a ferris wheel or frolic with his llamas, either. It is also unlikely that he plans to throw a lavish party for his ardent supporters at Neverland Ranch. No, right now Mike is probably working on his perp moonwalk and wondering if it’s possible for a guy already in disguise to walk around in disguise.
The stakes got a little higher when a grand jury in Santa Barbara handed down the sealed indictment, which, as secret developments go, ranks right up there with Lindbergh’s landing in Paris. It was not unexpected, but now that it’s here, the public is confronted with the somewhat ugly reality that the self-proclaimed King of Pop will at least stand trial on charges that he committed sexual acts with a 12-year-old boy at his Santa Barbara County compound.
Just a reminder, but the O.J. Simpson trial happened in the mid '90s, in the 20th century. This being show business, Mike and Kobe Bryant will now compete for the coveted honor of Trial of the (21st) Century. The bet here is on Mike, primarily because he has so much more to work with. While I don’t mean to make light of the allegations in Bryant’s case, nevertheless they come under the heading of a “he said, she said,” and as far as we know, there are no titillating details of a bizarre or extraordinary nature that would catapult it into the realm of freakdom.
With Mike, the sky’s the limit.
An arraignment in Jacko’s case is set for April 30. Attorneys for the singer have stated that he will plead not guilty to the charges.
And now under the big tent ...
When the trial does begin, it will be the largest media big-top in history. There will be reporters from all over the earth, looking for that shred of information that nobody else has. It will reflect the incredible amount of interest in the case. People in all corners of the world will wake up and the first thing they will see is his mug shot on TV. At first, there will be widespread panic, but eventually they’ll get used to it.
As the trial unfolds, Mike will not be able to avoid the airing of sordid details, even if they are still only allegations. Before this, his handlers could refute reports like the lengthy piece in Vanity Fair, which painted Mike’s behavior as, shall we say, somewhat out of the mainstream. They could attack the messengers, or the sources who provided them information.
But this indictment ensures that prosecutors will have their day in court, and Mike will have a lot of explaining to do, even if, like all suspects, he is innocent until proven guilty.
Each day, Mike will arrive at court in a highly secured caravan. It is unlikely he will hide his face upon entering the courthouse, as many suspects do, although in this case it might not be a bad idea. Anything that might prejudice a jury should be pondered. If Mike can’t admit that a scalpel has touched his nose more times than cutlery has sliced shrimp at Benihana, then what else might he be hiding?
I will have to assume that Mike learned not to be tardy to court, as he was at an earlier hearing. It’s permissible for Jackson to show up 20 minutes late to a performance at Madison Square Garden or Staples Center, but he is advised not to do so at a child molestation trial. It might make the judge revoke his $3 million bail, and toss him in jail for the duration of the case. As we have discussed before, Mike should avoid jail at all costs, lest he be passed around the cell block like a good book.
No endorsement deals pendingThe most salacious moments of the trial will come when the specific details of the allegations are discussed. Mike is alleged to have plied the youngster in question with wine poured into soda cans before he took advantage of him. Guilty or innocent, I think Mike can kiss off any soft-drink endorsements from here on. Usually companies like Pepsi and Coke get squeamish whenever their products are used in a way that doesn’t comply with the directions on the can.
In fact, this entire situation is a complete fiasco for Michael Jackson’s career. Maybe in '93, when he bought off another accuser, he could make all this go away. People with whom he did business were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially since there were no criminal proceedings. But this time it’s clear that Santa Barbara prosecutors want his head, and with it, they’ll get his livelihood, one way or another.
Mike’s music lost its allure long ago. His last album severely underachieved on the charts. Unless he is exonerated, and that cleansing of his reputation results in renewed interest in his albums, he is finished as a viable force in pop, save for the occasional Motown reunion show or surprise appearance on someone else’s stage. And if he is convicted — he could face more than 20 years in prison — he’d better learn to play the harmonica and sing the blues.
No, this isn’t a show anymore. The fun stuff is over. The exotic animals will have to be penned up, or perhaps sold off. The rides will grind to a halt. The rhetoric from defense attorneys will now give way to the harsh reality of a criminal trial. And the visits to the ranch from children will probably have to be curtailed, and monitored.
Michael Jackson will soon go on trial for his life and career, or what’s left of them. He’ll have little say in how this production ends.
Michael Ventre is a Los Angeles-based writer and a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.