Family, fans exploited Jackson

Michael Jackson in 2009. Photo / AP
Michael Jackson in 2009. Photo / AP

When the verdict was announced, his sister shrieked. She sent a tweet to her 125,000 followers saying "VICTORY", and ended it with seven exclamation marks.

His fans waved their banners praising Jesus, and screamed, and wept, and blew horns. People said, while crying in front of cameras, that there had, at long last, been what their banners had demanded: "Justice for Michael!". His mother agreed. "I feel," she told reporters, "better now."

Everyone seemed to. Everyone - apart, perhaps, from Conrad Murray, and his defence lawyers, and maybe some of the women who claimed to be his girlfriend, and maybe some of the mothers of some of his children - seemed to feel an awful lot better now.

They seemed to think that although nothing could bring back the man they claimed to love so much, this was a very, very happy day. They seemed to feel like Michael Jackson's mother, who couldn't wait "to go home and share this day" with his children, and "couldn't hold back tears of joy".

Everyone seemed to think that what had been a tragedy wasn't any more. Because a man who was paid US$150,000 ($188,550) a month to give him the kind of drugs you can't just pick up at a normal chemist, had given him an awful lot of the kind of drugs you can't pick up at a normal chemist, and been so careless about it that he'd been chatting on the phone to a cocktail waitress while the man he was meant to be looking after was having a bad reaction to a drug you definitely can't pick up at a normal chemist, had been found guilty of killing him by accident.

Or it wasn't as much of a tragedy as it had been, because the person who caused it had been found and would be punished.

Perhaps when these people heard that the most successful pop star in world history, who was not only a brilliant singer, and songwriter, but also did some of the most athletic and original dancing ever done by a rock star, and who cared so much about his appearance that he made improving it into a life's quest, was crippled with arthritis, and nearly blind, and had a toenail fungus so bad that doctors thought his flesh was rotting away, they thought this was a normal thing for a 50-year-old man.

Maybe when they heard a recording of his voice, which was so weak and slurred that you could hardly make out the words, but which had sounded pretty good on the albums that almost everyone in the Western world had bought, they thought this was normal, too.

And maybe not a single one of these people wondered what on earth had happened to his family, and the people he called his friends.

Perhaps they thought it was normal to watch your brother, or son, or friend, have so many operations on his face that some people said some of the bones in it were in danger of collapsing, and that what you should say, when he came out of hospital from the latest one, was that he definitely looked better than before.

Maybe they thought, when they heard he was paying someone US$150,000 a month, to give him drugs almost every doctor in the world would say he didn't need, that this sounded like excellent value.

And maybe when they heard another recording of the pop star in court, telling that doctor that he wanted to use the proceeds of the tour he was planning to help sick children, because he himself "didn't have a childhood", they just shrugged and thought "so what?". Maybe they thought that it didn't really matter whether you had a childhood. That a childhood was a small thing to give up to produce the kind of music that the King of Pop produced, and a small price to pay for the fame he had.

It isn't all that easy to know what Michael Jackson's family, friends and fans thought about any of these things, because, when they talk about him, they tend to talk as if he was a god, and not as if he was a human being. His sister, La Toya, said that "victory was served" because her brother was, though technically dead, "in that court room".

She didn't say what, if anything, she'd done when she'd watched her brother being flogged by their father for making mistakes in rehearsals throughout his childhood, and from the start of his singing career at the age of six. Nor did his mother. And nor, of course, did his father, who used, according to his son, to watch his sons rehearsing with a belt in his hand, and often told him that his nose was "too fat".

You'd have thought that sisters, and brothers, and parents, and friends, might think it wasn't usually a good sign when someone built themselves a giant fun fair, and zoo, and named it after a fantasy land in a children's book about a boy who never grows up.

And that they might be a little bit worried when their best friends seemed to be pre-pubescent boys and a chimpanzee called Bubbles. But sisters, and brothers, and parents, and friends, didn't seem too worried by any of this, or, if they were, they didn't say so. They seemed to think that nothing could be strange in the life, and lifestyle, of someone who was very, very talented, and very, very successful, and very, very, very rich. They seemed to think that someone who was very talented, and very successful, and very rich should always do exactly what they wanted, even if what they wanted was to wreck their once-handsome face and body with plastic surgery and drugs.

Michael Jackson called the drug that killed him "milk". He never stopped seeking the props of the childhood he had lost. Perhaps when he looked at photos, of that brown-skinned boy, with his big nose, big lips, and big smile, he saw a shadow of the person he once was, the person he'd paid doctors to wipe out.

Perhaps he remembered a time before his life became a giant freak show.

"Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy," Al Sharpton told Jackson's children at his funeral. That, of course, was a lie, but what he said next was true. "It was strange," he said, "what your daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it anyway."

Yes, he dealt with it anyway: the parents who cared more about money and fame than that their son had a childhood, the brothers and sisters who were nearly as damaged as him, the people who said they were friends, but who only seemed to want to be sprinkled with his star dust, and the people - so many people - who just wanted his money.

And a press poised for every new twist in the crazy carnival his life became.

It was Conrad Murray's defence lawyer who reminded jurors that "this is not a reality show, it's reality". Unfortunately, no one in Jackson's sad, strange and shockingly friendless life, seemed to know the difference.

- INDEPENDENT

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