Saturday, November 22
Bashir'd, but not beaten
Despite his interviewer, Michael Jackson emerged as engaging, enthusiastic and difficult to demonise
Kathryn Flet, The Observer, February 9, 2003
The media's kneejerk response to Martin Bashir's interview with Michael Jackson
(and, indeed, Bashir's own response) was nothing if not predictable: hey, the man is even more bonkers than we'd imagined and, worse, those peculiarly intense declarations of his love for children must mean he's a paedophile.
But, in many respects, he turned out to be considerably less mad than I'd imagined he might be; I also refuse to accept that just because this particular 44-year-old manchild enjoys the company of kids more than that of adults, it automatically follows that he must be an evil child predator. [...more]
In fact, I was charmed by many aspects of Jackson's personality, the gentle, little sweetnesses and revelations overlooked by the tabloid screamers, his encouraging patience while teaching Bashir to moon walk, for example, and his assertions that, when it comes to writing a song, 'artists get in the way of the music', and that 'thinking is the biggest mistake a dancer could make'. It was good to be reminded (albeit briefly, when, for a few heart-stopping moments, he sang the intro to 'Billie-Jean' and then spun across his studio floor) that this is a man who has created popular music of pretty much incomparable brilliance.
I loved Jackson's enthusiasm as he climbed his 'giving tree' (to Bashir: 'Don't you want to climb it? Aren'tcha coming? You don't climb trees? You're missing out!'), that he admitted being terrified by the teenage Tatum O'Neal's sexual advances ('I was trying to be Mr Bigshot and brave'), his passion for shopping ('It's not so much the buying - and I'm not cheap - but I love seeing how people make things'), and his frankness about that billion-dollar bank balance ('Come on, Martin, I've done really well!').
And bearing in mind that this was Michael Jackson , who is not like any other 44-year-old man on earth (other than, perhaps, in his love of computer games and go-karting), I didn't see anything particularly sinister in his relationship with 12-year-old Gavin.
When asked what was so special about Jackson, Gavin, who claims Jackson's friendship helped him to overcome cancer, said: 'He's really a child at heart. He knows how a child is.' We had already seen so much evidence of this that it was impossible to be surprised by Jackson's assertion that 'whenever kids come [to Neverland] they want to stay with me'.
Of course they do - it's like getting to live at Disneyworld with Mickey as your host.
When confronted by Jackson, is it impossible that children might see beyond the spooky visage to a kindred spirit inside? Something that we ordinary adults, with our ordinary baggage of prejudices and preconceptions, can no longer see?
At the end of the programme, clearly increasingly uneasy with Bashir's questions about whether it was appropriate for a 44-year-old man to share his bedroom with kids, Jackson struggled to share his worldview: 'The world needs more love. The family bond has been broken. We need to bond again. I'm very sensitive to [children's] pain, to the human condition.'
Aside from the incontrovertible fact that he has written large cheques to ensure his own children have no relationship with their mothers, should he really be demonised because he doesn't play the game by our rules? (And what would have happened had Bashir interviewed the children's pretty black nanny and discovered - oh my God! - that they are turning out just fine?) I feel sorry for Jackson's kids in some respects, but consider ably less sorry than I felt for the toddler I recently saw being thumped by his mother for the crime of wanting some of her cheese and onion crisps. Who on earth is a perfect parent anyway?
Clearly, Jackson is far too strange, rich, famous and emotionally isolated to inhabit our world, so he has simply created his own.
For the most part, it appears to make him happy. Since he now claims to have been betrayed by Bashir, he'll doubtless retreat even further, building a water park, buying $275,000 gilded urns for his houses, animals for his zoo and, assuming he is not arrested for loving children too much, surrounding himself with more of those, too. There are worse ways to live a life.
... ... Personally, I think that Jackson gets whatever it is that passes for his sexual kicks by writing and performing, and that otherwise he exists in some sort of suspended pre-adolescent, pre-sexual state. Still, I'm no shrink, and it's not impossible that by the time you read this Neverland will be crawling with California's social services.
[written in February 2003, after the Martin Bashir interview broadcast on ABC]