International Papers

Play Wacko, Jacko

Did childhood fame warp Michael?

The self-styled king of pop’s fame has spread to every corner of the globe, so it isn’t surprising that newspapers everywhere want to report every detail of Michael Jackson’s sordid downfall. While wire accounts provide most of the basic stories in hundreds of newspapers from Bangladesh to Bolivia (like this Associated Press report from the Age of Melbourne, Australia), smart commentators are missing no opportunities to slap Jacko across his stylized plastic face.

“So warped by his fame as a child that the only adult companions with whom he feels at ease are Elizabeth Taylor and a chimpanzee, the singer constructed a fantasy world in which a theme park could be a home and 45-year-old men could have 12-year-old friends for sleepovers,” declared a Guardian op-ed. After running through the oft-repeated pontifications about the impact of repeated rounds of plastic surgery and makeup on Jackson’s mug shot, the column concluded with a bit of free advice for the singer’s high-priced legal team: “Permitted for four decades by money and fame to behave any way he wanted, Jackson has become a man so bizarre that there must be serious doubts about his fitness to stand trial. A pre-trial plea bargain of insanity by virtue of celebrity might be legally unconventional, but it would be honest.”

Rather than rely on AP and Reuters for the basics, some papers put their own people on the story. The Times of London ran a lengthy assessment of Jacko’s background, including the determination of Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom “Mad Dog” Sneddon to pursue the pop star and this stark declaration from a psychologist: “It’s quite clear that he has a kind of pedophile personality.”

The Guardian ran a lengthy profile of Sneddon that focused on the decadelong animosity between the two men. While noting that “Sneddon has denied there is anything personal in the prosecution of Jackson,” the piece goes on to say “he could barely disguise his glee at the press conference to announce the arrest warrant for the singer.”

Many papers shy away from heavy-handed analysis, opting instead for tabloid snippets like the Hindustan Timesclaim that Jackson “prefers blondes.” In a more substantive story, the HT took an angle of particular interest to its Asian audience: comments from Gotham Chopra, the 27-year-old son of lifestyle guru Deepak Chopra. When he was 15, Chopra, who works in television in Los Angeles, was one of Jackson’s buddies. Chopra painted a picture of a grown man who behaved like a 15-year-old boy—playing video games, watching movies, and eating popcorn until sunrise. Despite hanging out in the king of pop’s bedroom for many hours, “Chopra never saw any ‘impure’ behavior from Jackson on his weekend visits,” the HT reports. “But he had even then sensed trouble looming for the singer. He told Jackson that. But Jackson paid no heed to Gotham’s warnings.”

In an op-ed, the Sunday Telegraph claimed the biggest beneficiaries of Jacko’s downfall may be his own three children. “[P]erhaps now the authorities may take steps to limit the freakish control that Jackson exercises over the cramped lives of his own three small children, the absurdly named Prince Michael I, Paris Michael, and Prince Michael II.” While the charges that led to the latest chapter in Jackson’s very public life may not be proved, the column says that the three children he covers in veils before letting them leave Neverland suffer from his continued care. “Jackson may not be a child-molester, but he is a mentally ill man who is treating his children as living playthings.”

Despite Jacko’s charge that the timing of his booking was calculated to hurt the sales of his just-released compilation album, Number Ones, The Independent reported that sales have been strong enough to push the new disc to the top of the U.K. charts. While fans may be lining up to line Jackson’s pockets, however, the paper’s arts and media correspondent said that many of his celeb friends have been declining comment when asked for character references.

Even if the sales for Number Ones look strong, the Toronto Star’s pop music critic predicts Jackson has reached the end of the line, regardless of the outcome of the current case:

To the public, Jackson has been a professional lunatic, not a musician, for years. Exoneration for these latest charges isn’t going to change that, nor is it likely to rekindle a career long overwhelmed by its attendant strangeness. If he’s found guilty, however, Jackson will lose one remaining thing he has left: Our sympathy.