'I blame the parents'

 

The cheap potency of Celebrity Culture could be responsible for a mother allowing her son to share a bed with Michael Jackson, leading to the current court case, writes Brian Boyd.

Back in the 1980s, Channel 4 broadcast a programme called Minipops. It featured pre-pubescent girls dressed up as pop stars and singing the "hits" of the day. The scantily clad eight and nine-year-olds were smeared in make-up as they gyrated to the music. The Channel 4 switchboard lit up after the show . There were about 30 calls of complaint about this tawdry, morally questionable show - but there were more than 100 from parents wondering how they could get their children on next week's show.

Never underestimate the cheap potency of Celebrity Culture, from people wilfully humiliating themselves on reality TV shows to the fact that infamous mass killer Charles Manson still receives an average of five marriage proposals a week. And can it also be responsible for a mother allowing her young son to share a bed with a middle-aged man - as in a very rich and very famous middle-aged man? The fall-out from such a "sleepover" is now being played out in a Santa Barbara court room as Michael Jackson faces nine felony counts involving improper activities with a child under 14.

These sleepovers in Jackson's Neverland mansion occurred despite the miasma that hung around the singer over a series of child sex allegations that stretch back to 1993 when Jackson allegedly paid out $20 million to the family of the then 13-year-old Jordy Chandler to get child molestation charges dropped.

The boy at the centre of the current case, named by several media organisations as Gavin Arvizo, first met Jackson four years ago after Gavin's mother wrote to the star looking for an introduction - Gavin had just recovered from leukaemia.

Gavin and his family (two siblings and mother) were effectively living with Jackson at Neverland when Martin Bashir made his TV documentary about the singer. In it Jackson sits on a couch holding the then 12-year-old Gavin's hand and tells Bashir how he and Gavin share a bed.

"Why can't you share your bed?" asks Jackson on the documentary, "the most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone."

Gavin's mother, Janet, then 34, obviously aware of the sleeping arrangements in Neverland, went public to support Jackson when the controversy broke. "Michael is a saint," she said, "I am appalled at the way in which my son had been exploited by Martin Bashir and Granada Television".

It's a diseased celebrity culture when parents shove photographs with phone numbers of their young children into the hands of Michael Jackson's minders on his public "walkabouts" in the hope that their child will be "chosen" for a sleepover at Neverland.

Even last week, Jackson was still receiving such solicitations.When, back in the early 1990s, another set of parents, the Chandlers, introduced their child, Jordy (then a 10-year-old) to Michael Jackson, the relationship between the singer and the child allegedly involved sleepovers. After some time, the Chandler family told the singer they were bringing child-molestation charges against him and Jackson allegedly bought them out for $20 million. The incident caused him considerable harm but his record sales actually increased on the back of the publicity (sales of his Greatest Hits album went up 1,000 per cent in one week).

Jordy Chandler, meanwhile, had his life taken away from him. He had to go into hiding because of death threats and both he and his family have been constantly harassed by hard-core Jackson fans who blame the Chandlers for wounding their idol. Jordy Chandler, now 23, lives, by necessity, in high-security seclusion in a "yuppie prison". There is a bounty on his head of $250,000 for a paparazzi picture of him. The more demented Jackson fans try to "monitor" his movements and spit abuse at him whenever he's sighted.

The only beneficiary from the sordid saga was Jordy Chandler's uncle, Raymond, who got a publishing deal for a miserably written "tell all" book.

What was the 10-year-old Jordy Chandler ever going to get out of a relationship with a bizarre and eccentric middle-aged man in the first place? Why did his parents introduce him to Jackson? So they could drop Jackson's name at a dinner party? Arguably, Chandler's parents did more damage to him than Jackson was ever alleged to have done.

History is now repeating itself. Arvizo is the new Jordy, only it's worse this time. As a direct result of the Chandler/Jackson out-of-court settlement in 1993, Californian law has changed - young alleged victims of sexual abuse can now be forced to testify and Gavin Arvizo will appear in one of the most high-profile court cases ever heard.

The charges being brought against Jackson are very serious, but then so were the charges brought against O.J. Simpson, and to this day more people know the name of the judge who presided over the Simpson trial than know the names of the two who were murdered.

The media scrum has already begun; the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office has hired a Hollywood PR firm to manage the press; we know the DA's chief prosecutor's name is Tom "Mad Dog" Sneddon; soon the nightly comic sketches on Leno and Letterman will start; and the DVD of the court case (with Special Bonus Features!) is certainly on its way.

Outside the Santa Barbara courtroom there is a statue of "Lady Justice", modelled on Themis, the ancient Roman goddess of justice and law. In one hand she holds a scales to represent impartiality; in the other, a sword to signify the power that is invested in her. A timely cartoon could replace the scales and sword with a microphone and a chequebook.

There is no justice under Celebrity Culture law. Regardless of what happens, another young boy's life is ruined. Bring on the circus. Send in the clowns.