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Off the Wall

As I write this column, the Michael Jackson trial remains in progress. By the time you (read: society) see this column, it’s possible that his guilt or innocence will have already been resolved. However, the court of public opinion (read: E!) has already delivered its verdict on a related topic: Michael Jackson, it seems, is a “weirdo.” And this is no longer an insult that critics lob as an incendiary anti-Jacko projectile; this is now an accepted designation, no different from “Nazi chess legend” Bobby Fischer or “noted orangutan enthusiast” Clint Eastwood. More than any public figure since Howard Hughes, Jackson is officially weird; you can now refer to his weirdness without any ancillary evidence.

In fact, Jackson actively makes other things weird. For example, if Michael Jackson started eating strawberry pancakes for breakfast, the practice of daily pancake consumption would immediately take on an alien depravity that would taint all others who share that inclination. Obviously, this will never happen, as Jackson subsists exclusively on a diet of colorless, gluten-free sludge and bubble gum Skittles. 1 But I think you know what I mean. We can all safely argue that Michael Jackson is crazy in a very specific way; there is a universally understood totality to his weirdness that (almost) makes his eccentricity unremarkable.

As such, I will not remark upon it. Instead, I will take an alternative approach; I want to explore the myriad qualities of Michael Jackson that are abundantly normal. These are the traits the mainstream media never want to address. Oh, you’ll inevitably see wall-to-wall coverage whenever Jackson climbs a magical tree and asks its noble wood for advice, because this is how journalists love to marginalize him; they constantly want to paint him as one of those “tree people.” But why doesn’t anyone report that Michael Jackson’s name is Michael? Why won’t CNN mention that “Michael” is the second-most popular male name in America and that more than 6.5 million people share this same moniker? I don’t hear anyone calling actor Michael Caine “weirdo.” Nobody automatically assumes Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) is a “homosexual pedophile.” Sometimes it seems like Jackson’s unorthodox behavior completely usurps the normalcy of his first name. Moreover, Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana, a city with a population of more than 100,000 (and the city famously sung about in Meredith Willson’s beloved play The Music Man). In this respect, he is no more sinister than Gary native Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, the 1994 Sporting News collegiate hoopster of the year and a man who’s only been arrested twice.

Jackson even gets labeled “curious” and “reclusive” and “batshit insane” for things he hasn’t done. Perhaps you have heard the urban legend about Michael owning the skeleton of 19th-century medical anomaly John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man. This is actually not true; Jackson has never owned the Elephant Man’s bones. But let’s say he did purchase Merrick’s remains: Why criticize someone for an interest in life science? Marilyn Manson claims to have smoked human bones in New Orleans, yet nobody thinks he’s weird. Jackson should not be attacked for unconventional thinking, especially when such thinking focuses on dead people. It’s akin to all those rumors (and photographs) indicating that Michael was sleeping inside a hyperbaric, life-enhancing oxygen chamber: If you ask me, he’d be crazy not to sleep inside such a chamber. It sounds awesome.

“If there were no children on this earth, if somebody announced that all kids were dead, I would jump off the balcony immediately.” This is what Jackson told documentary filmmaker Martin Bashir in 2003. “I’m done,” he reiterated for emphasis. “I’m done.” Here again, wes ee the hypocrisy of the public’s perception of Michael: the (possibly sane) British pop star Morrissey, Jackson is hated for loving. I mean, just imagine the nightmare scenario Jackson has theorized. Imagine if all the world’s children were suddenly dead. Imagine if there were a poison gas that only attacked the red blood cells of prepubescent humans, or if packs of invisible werewolves ate all the babies on earth, or if I traveled around the world shooting every kindergartner in the back of the skull. Imagine if the streets of Gary, Indiana, were suddenly covered with young corpses, facedown in their own warm blood. Surely, this scenario would cause any sane man to leap to his death. Who would want to live in such a godforsaken kill zone? Certainly not Michael Jackson; he would sooner commit suicide than exist in such a place. And in some cultures, he would be rewarded for those values. In some cultures, he would be lionized.

But not in America. Oh no. Not here.