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Wackier than Jacko 

When 'justice' reinforces real trauma

I was asked constantly last week why I hadn't written about the Michael Jackson verdict. After all, a friend explained to me, it involved everything important to me: sex, freaks, psychology and the decadent state of American media.

Indeed, it was adding to the media's overkill that made me reluctant to write about it. It was bad enough that reporters gave the sordid details of the trial all the scrutiny they never bother to give George W. Bush's lies. Even worse was the unabashed bias of people like Court TV's Diane Dimond and Nancy Grace. They typified the widespread presumption of Jackson's guilt.

Jackson's acquittal was appropriate. The prosecutor, obsessed with Jackson for more than 10 years, failed to make a case that proved actual molestation. So blind was he to his own obsession, he produced witnesses whose character reeked of moral turpitude far more offensive than Wacko Jacko's creepy frolics in Neverland.

A young cancer patient schooled to prey on the sympathies of wealthy celebrities was the star witness. His mother, who claimed to be held captive at Neverland (while she got her legs waxed), had already scammed a department store with a phony charge of molestation. Former Jackson employees with large axes to grind also testified for the prosecution. The entire four-month trial was so much like a bad movie, one had to keep in mind that it was in fact precipitated by a sensational video documentary in the first place.

The trial was completely reflective of America's need - and especially the media's need - to reduce every drama to one of heroes and villains. The notion that Jackson could occupy the vague moral middle ground didn't seem to enter anyone but the jurors' minds. Indeed, the very suggestion that Jackson's sleeping with boys might be inappropriate for appearance's sake but not explicitly sexual is instantly characterized by many as a defense of pedophilia.

Who's got the dirty mind?

Americans have invested inordinate energy in the subject of childhood sexual abuse. There is ample evidence that ongoing sexual abuse of a child can have lifelong consequences. In such cases, though, there is usually literal penetration or a pattern of physically overwhelming the child. None of this was even suggested in Jackson's case. Instead, the prosecution, with no denial from the defense, described a wealthy, middle-aged man bizarrely hosting sleepovers in his bedroom suite. The alleged molestations amounted to copping a feel a few times.

Even if the latter were true, it is unlikely that they would produce anywhere near the psychological consequences that result from a life with a mother who trains her sick child for use in her own gold-digging. One measure of the prosecutor's own indifference to the welfare of the child was his decision to put the kid in the position of, on the one hand, playing the part of a defenseless underage boy and, on the other hand, subjecting him like an adult to the defense's crushing depiction of him and his family as lying gold-diggers. What is the kid going to remember as most hurtful - his time at Neverland or in a courtroom?

But this indifference to the child is exemplary of the hypocrisy with which children are generally treated in our culture. On the one hand, we depict them as innocents who must be protected from the world's evil. At the same time, we make no effort to shelter them from the erotic pop culture that produced, for example, the teenage Britney Spears, dolled up like a prom-queen hooker.

The age of initial sexual experimentation has been dropping for years, along with the onset of curiosity about it. The idea that an 11-year-old boy cannot already have an interest in sex is quaint. Such should be considered when adults are teaching their children about the hazards of sex. We don't come by a sense of right and wrong about sex on our own. Without teaching, that depends on experimentation. And nothing could be clearer than the lack of teaching in the case of Jackson's accuser.Another interesting aspect of the reporting about the trial was the media's myopic investigation into Jackson's own childhood. He was widely depicted as having been denied a childhood by an abusive father completely focused on his children's commercial success. Thus, the argument goes, he has spent his adulthood trying to capture his lost childhood by becoming Neverland's eternal boy, Peter Pan. Of course, in this case it was Peter Pan the Pedophile, according to most of the media.

But the irony is that Jackson's situation - used by a father for commercial purposes - was not much different from the situation of his accuser, who was used by his mother for even less legitimate commercial purposes. It is this kind of history that proves most traumatic to people and, in a very real sense, the entire culture has acted out that same dynamic with the Jackson trial. By using these crippled birds for our amusement in a freakish trial, we have simply reinforced cruelty wrapped in the unctuous and phony guise of "doing justice."

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.

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