This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2003 edition of the Boston Phoenix.
The New York Post got to resurrect its priceless "Wacko Jacko" headline. Barbara Walters scored Super Bowl-level ratings without having to lift a pretty little finger. And Michael Jackson, well, no matter how you slice it, he got screwed royally. That's how they do it in Britain. His first mistake was to give journalist Martin Bashir access to his inner sancta – to his playground-style home, to the floor of a Las Vegas hotel that he'd rented out, to a day out with the kids (three of them) at the zoo. After all these years as a celebrity, Michael Jackson still hasn't picked up the most basic aspects of dealing with the public. He's clueless when it comes to gauging how his smallest actions will be interpreted once they've been writ large across the headlines of the world. And he seems unaware that behind the masses of adoring kids who scream for hugs and autographs wherever he turns up, there's a much larger mass of people who are repelled by him and everything he's come to represent.
If Jackson hoped to find allies by submitting to a lengthy televised interview, he failed utterly. There will be a few people – myself among them – who feel sorrier for him than they did a few weeks ago. But as soon as someone mentions the millions of dollars he's got in the bank, that pity melts away, and you're left no longer caring what happens to Señor Wacko – especially when he's put in the context of Iraq and North Korea.
His attorneys are, of course, claiming that it was all – the entire two hours of it – taken out of context. And maybe some of it was. But no amount of backtracking is going to undo the harm the Walters special did to his image. The shot of Michael nervously feeding his youngest kid, fumbling around in front of the camera as if not quite sure where the nipple goes. The hyperactive swing through his "favorite store" – that swanky and heroically tacky Vegas boutique full of million-dollar art objects that Michael apparently owns half of already. That moment at the zoo when he complained to his handlers that his daughter was holding his hand too tightly. The open admission that he spends a large amount of time playing and even napping with school-age children. And the straight-faced denials that he's had any kind of cosmetic surgery except, when he was pressed, two rhinoplasties that were "necessary" to improve his vocal range. Yeah, and I bought that penis enlarger so my underwear would fit better.
The controversies have only just begun. There will be court battles and countersuits, and tonight (February 20) at 8 p.m., Fox will air Jackson's two-hour rebuttal to Bashir, Michael Jackson Take 2: The Interview They Wouldn't Show You. But the damage has already been done. We all now know what many of us had already suspected: there's something very, very wrong with Michael Jackson. And I'm not sure he'll ever be able to sing and dance his way out of this one.
Yet there is one issue that's been overlooked in the wake of his public humiliation, and that's the allegation that he's slowly been changing his appearance over the years in order to look more "white." Given the evidence – lighter skin tone, a cleft chin, and that once broad Afro-American nose cut down to the kind of dainty, diminutive, upturned little nugget all those pretty little Lacoste-wearing WASPy girls seemed to have in junior high – it made a certain sense. But white-envy isn't Jacko's pathology – as he enters his fifth decade, it's clear that he's no race traitor. After all, he grew up in an era when white-music moguls had lost their hold on African-American stars who'd been their bread and butter since the jazz age. Black stars were coming into their own in the 70s, and there were just as many white as black performers getting screwed by the man.
No, Jackson's surgical procedures seem to have been aimed at allowing him to maintain the face of a child. Because what he had to deal with was not overt racism but allegations of questionable dealings among his own family and his parents when it came to managing his money. Add to that the wall of yes-men and yes-women that was erected around the Jackson Five and then the solo Michael Jackson and you have the makings of an adult who's always been treated like a child, and who'd rather spend his free time with the only people he can trust – children.