Thursday, June 16, 2005

Taking the Michael

So, Michael Jackson has finally been found not guilty this week on all counts in his trial on child molestation charges, ending a two-year legal case. However the question of how he is to resurrect his previously celestial pop career remains unanswered. Jackson's stunned response denied the world's media with hoped-for footage of a jubilant star, and wall-to-wall media pundits queued up on television news to speculate as to his recovery plan (a show at Vegas? Touring Asia? Setting up a theme park in Africa?)

Meanwhile the real star of the trial was Jackson's defence attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr. (nicknamed 'The Mez') became his official mouthpiece and something of a celebrity in his own right. With his flowing white hair and tenacious cross-examination of witnesses, plus an intriguing past: an amateur boxer, defending celebrities such as Robert Blake and Mike Tyson, recently acquitting (without fees) a man on Death Row, it is surely not long before The Mez joins the celebrity chat-show and book promotion circuit.

Jackson's trial undoubtedly dominated the news agenda of the last few weeks. I suspect that most people thought he would ultimately be acquitted, not least due to an increasing cynicism in the legal process that has led to a number of celebrities - from O.J. Simpson to Kobe Bryant and Robert Blake - walking free from serious crime allegations. However Douglas Gomery has suggested that by not having cameras in the courtroom Jackson may have got a fairer trial, less influenced by his celebrity status. Of course, despite the lack of a live feed from inside the court, there was no shortage of television crews outside and following the daily vigil of his fans at Neverland.

The lack of media access to the proceedings created, for me, the most fascinating part of the trial: Sky News' television reconstruction of the events of the day each night. Turning the celebrity trial into a compulsive soap opera, as a viewer I felt compelled each day to check up on the day's events. Part of this fascination, of course, lies in the simulation of the real: marvelling at 'Jackson's' performance (played by impersonator Edward Moss) and that of The Mez (a gripping performance by Rigg Kennedy) overseen by Judge Rodney Melville (Star Trek veteran, Jack Donner). Watching the nightly performance, followed by 'expert' commentary and, online, by a discussion group, allowed us to speculate about the case in ways that reading a court transcript could not. How did Jackson look when witnesses took the stand? How close did the actor that played Culkin resemble the former child star? How did the evidence presented stack up?

Although Sky emphasised the programme was a 'reconstruction' and not a 'dramatisation' , and emphasised the meticulous copying of the actual court-room, the presentation of events, often complete with cliff-hanger ending, inevitably led me to look forward to the next 'episode'. It seems that the Jackson story will be continue to run and run. Today I read in the Hollywood Reporter that a television project featuring Michael Jackson and some of his relatives is being pitched to media companies. A prospective six-episode series revolving around the Jackson family (a kind of 'Meet the Jackson's') has been touted, with exclusive footage promised from during the trial.

Doubtless one might see these programmes as some kind of postmodern mediatisation of celebrity, where the simulation replaces the real. However all celebrities are mediated - this is the nature of our para-social contract with them - and the authenticity of Jackson may ultimately be no more demonstrable than that of his impersonator. And yet, the promise of the 'real me', the revelation of the authentic celebrity remains, for us, as consumers of media, as alluring as ever.


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