Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

A rant I'd hoped not to write

I would ordinarily let l'affaire Jackson pass without too much snarky commentary for the reason that it's entirely ridiculous to waste time on such matters, however, a cursory look at some of the news coverage and a couple of threads on Blogcritics showed that Mr. Jackson has either an astonishingly partisan fan base (or more likely some remuneration, not necessarily monetary, has been promised to people who will vociferously defend him either through standing in front of the court or by attacking on any online forum that dares analyze Mr. Jackson's actions). For the record, innocent until proven guilty, and that will be my sole comment on the trial.

The quote unquote fans screaming for Mr. Jackson's canonization and decrying his detractors or even observers as virtual Klansmen are an interesting matter though. Needless to say, the race card was played almost immediately in the affair, with Mr. Jackson's demonstrably false claim of being manhandled. Mr. Jackson and his attorneys are not stupid people by any sense, and an attempt to introduce a perception of racial taint, even if it is demonstrably false, is a cunning tactic to taint the entire proceedings and potentially lay the ground for a reversal down the line if the case goes against them, or to merely reinforce the opinions of some observers that the case is a cockup from the get-go. The perceived motivation of course for Mr. Jackson's defenders is that Mr. Jackson is a good, charitable man who happens to be the greatest thing ever in popular music who is being persecuted because of his race and personal affectations. This of course bears some deconstruction.

A quick look at history provides us with another famous trial of an African-American popular singer who was undoubtedly prosecuted because of his race. Objectively, that singer was of far more lasting importance and influence than Michael Jackson. I refer of course to Chuck Berry, whose influence is still pervasive fifty years down the road. Mr. Berry managed to get himself in trouble by violating the Mann Act (transporting a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes") in a case that had plenty of room for conjecture and interpretation. Berry had been charged with a similar offense with another woman more or less contemporaneously and had evaded jail time on that charge, but in the Mann Act case, the judge made several references to Mr. Berry as "this Negro" and other similar pointed references to Mr. Berry that evoked the worst prejudices of the time (remember of course that Mr. Berry resided in Missouri, hardly a bastion of the nascent civil rights movement). The judge's actions were deemed so egregious by the federal Court Of Appeals that a new trial was ordered, however, there were still ample references in the local papers to Mr. Berry's race and occupation (he was described in one screed as a "negro orchestra leader" and "tavern owner", presumably to attach the air of disreputability to him) and Mr. Berry did indeed serve a couple of years in the pokey after again being convicted (although by most accounts the second trial judge was all business and kept the proceedings to the facts of the case).

The interesting thing is that although one could easily see parallels as a disinterested observer, the vociferous loudmouths supporting Jackson do not point to Berry as a precedent. True, Berry has had other legal issues dog him and as such is no saint, but it actually points to a bit of historical revisionism on the part of Jackson's fans. They simply don't acknowledge that there might actually be some antediluvian history before Jackson. They proudly point to his ownership of the copyright catalogs of the Beatles and tons of others as proof of his superiority and genius, when the simple fact is that he was presented with an opportunity to make a good investment. Mr. Jackson had nothing to do with the creation of the catalogs he owns, unless he pulls a Morris Levy and ends up putting his name on everything. He owns the assets, that's it.

Levy of course was a crook who conveniently expired while waiting out his appeals after his conviction for some record industry no-goodnik-ism, and his name appears in the most improbable places (he's now of course listed as the cowriter of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", which was probably written by Frankie Lymon and Herman Santiago on a stoop somewhere). Levy managed to steal the ownership of most of Chuck Berry's songs, and one of the more notorious episodes in Beatles history had Levy threatening to sue John Lennon for the similarity between "Come Together" and "You Can't Catch Me", which resulted in Lennon hurriedly recording what became the "Rock And Roll" album to placate Levy. Levy, being a gonif of the first order, had the tapes stolen and prematurely released on his Adam VIII label as "Roots" (quite a collectable piece, BTW) in order to grab whatever revenue he could before the Lennons and Apple unleashed their legal firepower against him. I well remember the day after Lennon's murder, discussing it with someone familiar with such matters, and that person said that he wouldn't have been surprised if Morris Levy had something to do with it. Obviously it wasn't that at all, but the prospect was chilling.

Getting back to Mr. Jackson's partisans, there's little they're doing to add value to the proceedings. The maxim that the best defense is a good offense is one that Mr. Mesereau knows quite well, and I'm sure that whatever the outcome is, justice will be served. Mr. Jackson's fans only prove themselves to be obsessed imbeciles who cannot differentiate between the concept of probable cause and persecution.

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