The Jackson Affair in German Eyes

Time to go back to the €S bread-and-butter: the media survey. Of the recent spate of bombings in Istanbul, perhaps? Much too serious (e.g. Turkey’s September 11 – from the NRC Handelsblad); maybe later.

Instead, now that popstar Michael Jackson has run afoul of California’s “Three-Tykes-You’re-Out” law (not my line, alas; it’s Jay’s), it should be interesting to see what the press has to say about that in one country where his fans are probably even thicker-on-the-ground than they are in the US, namely Germany. There is indeed plenty of coverage to choose from the German mainstream (on-line) press; we’re not going to be able to get to it all.

But wait: One of the many articles is from the Süddeutsche Zeitung describing the American media as “Obsessed” with Michael Jackson.

But note the quotation marks: that was actually Jesse Jackson decrying the press’ “obsession,” as becomes clear upon taking a closer look at the piece. (For you continental readers: Jesse is in no way related to Michael.) “With the singer’s arrival at the Santa Barbara jail imminent,” it reads, “the attacks in Turkey played no further role on US TV-screens.” Did this really happen?: the article talks about the many American TV networks besieging the airport where Jackson was scheduled to arrive, filming anything that flew in the hopes that it would turn out to be the plane carrying Jacko. When that one did finally arrive, even CNN interrupted its normally-scheduled broadcast to cut away to show . . . a private airplane rolling into a hangar. Then it was to the media helicopters, tracking the auto carrying the star on the ten-minute drive into Santa Barbara. But, the paper notes, most cameras, whether TV or still, missed what the Süddeutsche Zeitung calls the “decisive moment” (?) when Jackson was handcuffed upon entering the “jail” (Gefängnis) in Santa Barbara.


But I assume many of you are already familiar first-hand with the American media frenzy over Jackson’s arraignment (if you chose to watch, that is; and if you’re not, you’ll just have to go to Google or find a blog to enlighten you). Let’s instead take up the German media frenzy; as good a definition of that as any is the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s on-line special, a portal to ten separate articles on the artist (although some were published previously). The lead article, given in its entirety on that portal page, is entitled “King of Pop, Number 621785,” for the number of Jackson’s booking at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, and you can confirm that yourself since his booking document is reproduced at the head of the column. You just click to enlarge, although you don’t need to do even that to appreciate the clearly-visible mug shot. I’ll forebear from description, except to say that yes, it’s Michael Jackson all right, and the FAZ writer (uncredited) has got it right with his comments about the entry on the document below, under “Race”: “B,” for “black” – “although,” the article reads, “one can doubt whether Michael Jackson’s obviously-altered (due to sickness) skin color can still be called black.” (It turned white due to some sickness? That’s not what I understand.)

The article goes on: Jackson’s visit to the police was a matter of “In in handcuffs, out not only without them, but with his right hand showing the ‘victory sign’ with two fingers thrust into the air. By the end of these proceedings against the popstar Michael Jackson for ‘multiple harassment of children’ we will know which symbol for his spectacular fall is the right one.” Further down, it laments that handcuffs had to be used at all – none of the police officials could really have been afraid that the 45-year-old celebrity would try to skip town. (Letterman’s turn – scroll down below Leno: “Well, sure, if he runs off, he could fit right in anywhere.”) “But handcuffs it simply must be in America, as a sign of state authority, whose severity every citizen has to fear equally.” Or perhaps not even “equally”; the article goes on to mention county prosecutor Tom Sneddon, whom many suspect of conducting some sort of private vendetta against Jackson – perhaps after having been called a “cold man” in a transparent allusion on his 1995 album “HIStory.” It seems that the popstar might not even be safe from complaints about his behavior with another youth in 1993, the ones he paid the boy and his family $25 million then to hush up; that incident could still be added to the new indictment.


Continuing in the Tom Sneddon line of inquiry, a portrait of that county prosecutor is entitled “Mad Dog” Tom Sneddon. There, the “HIStory” reference mentioned above is fleshed-out: it’s in the song on that album called “D.S.”, which features the repeated chorus “Dom Sheldon [sic] is a cold man,” and starts out with “They wanna get my ass, Dead or alive.” But, the article makes clear, it’s unlikely that Sneddon has actually ever heard this music: “Jackson’s songs have no meaning in Sneddon’s world,” a point made clear by his response “As if the sheriff and I have anything to do with such music,” in response to a suggestion at his press conference that Jackson’s arrest may have been timed to coincide with the release of his latest album, “Number Ones.”

No, two worlds, two entire value-systems, are set to collide at the upcoming trial. For Sneddon, 61 years old, is not only white (although, as noted, on this point Jackson may have concluded that, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em), but leads a “well-ordered family life,” with (“at last count,” as “Mad Dog” supposedly is wont to say) a wife of many years, nine children, and six grandchildren. He’s also in his sixth term of office as Santa Barbara country prosecutor – he was first elected in 1983 – which he has declared to be his last, and now faces his biggest case of all.


The FAZ adds to all of this an article from a year go, entitled “We love Michael,” recounting Jackson’s three-day visit to Berlin then, to take part in something called the “Bambi” awards, and in fact to receive one such award himself for his life’s work. Upon his arrival the gathered fans were almost uncontrollable in their adulation; barriers were broken through, bodyguards brushed aside, and one older man was even injured. The article also speaks of his waving through the window of his presidential suite at the luxury hotel Adlon to the throngs of his fans gathered below – but somehow doesn’t mention the infamous incident in which he dangled his 9-month son, Prince Michael II, off of the balcony, which I believe did happen there in Berlin. And the FAZ also reproduces a column of the time from its “Koffein” column (“Caffeine – a daily look into the media”), entitled A Gift for Michael Jackson – namely a nose. For it seems that it was Jackson’s nose that was right at the center of the German media’s attention for that trip to Berlin: what had happened to it, where had it disappeared to? The saucy Berlin paper B.Z., for one, was willing to render assistance. “B.Z. Offers Him a New Nose,” ran the headline, with a “before-and-after” photo set: to the left, Jackson with his current nose (a “crumbly nose” – Bröckelnase – in the eyes of B.Z.), to the right, Jackson with the newspaper’s much more-elegant suggestion, courtesy of Photoshop. For good measure, on that issue’s inner pages more photos of Jackson were offered, with his face carrying the noses of various German celebrities, just to provide him with the widest choice of possible new looks. But be careful, Koffein warned the B.Z.: Michael could take you seriously, send one of his high-price lawyers to collect on your promise of that “gift,” and stick you with an expensive plastic-surgery bill.


Right. Moving on to Die Welt and its latest article on the whole affair (Michael Jackson to the Judge in Handcuffs) – we see the handcuffs! – right there at the top of the column, in a picture taken from behind of Jackson as he is entering the building – via a back-entrance, the newspaper reveals. But Die Welt’s contribution is precisely mainly visual; otherwise there’s little new here. Like: After the awkwardness in Santa Barbara (and surrender of passport + $3 million) Jackson flew immediately back to Las Vegas to resume work on a new video, where his family (parents and siblings) joined him to show solidarity. They all put the blame on prosecutor Tom Sneddon. But the US media-frenzy has probably already made you aware of all that.

It’s the Süddeutsche Zeitung out of Munich that provides us with a bit more profundity – but could it be possible that the whole situation fails to call for that in the first place? – in Michael Jackson: The Deep Fall of the Man-Child. You know, writes Wolfgang Koydl, Peter Pan once had his hands bound behind his back, too, and was made to walk the plank by the evil Captain Hook. But he escaped from that predicament and managed to fly away, helped out by his young friends from Neverneverland.

“But there are no fairy-tales in real life,” as Koydl reminds us, together with the fact that Jackson’s next court date is on 9 January, where he will get a lesson in paragraph 228 (a) of the California penal code over “lewd and lascivious” conduct with minors – which even after a recent reform, Koydl comments, seems like something out of the Old Testament. In any event, Jackson is no stranger to the courtroom, having spent millions of dollars on legal affairs over the years: over contract disputes with Sony Music Group, over indemnification for concert appearances that he canceled for one reason or another – and, of course, paying many millions to a boy and his family in order precisely to stay out of the courtroom ten years ago, when accusations of improper conduct with minors first started to surface. It was at that point that his long downfall began, in Koydl’s estimation; since then, album sales have not even come close to those of the singer’s glory days.

This latest accusation may be the end. “He’s finished,” according to Kurt Loder, MTV’s news correspondent. And further: “[People] can’t believe what he’s done to his face, his behavior, that he dangles children from balconies, that he travels the world with youngsters in pre-puberty and makes that documentary in which he says that he likes to sleep with them, and that everything’s so sweet, just milk and cookies. But that [latest accusation], that’s the last nail in his coffin.” Especially considering his protagonist, Tom Sneddon. He isn’t called “Mad Dog” in this article, but is rather compared to a terrier, that simply won’t let go of something once he’s sunk his teeth into it. And he sunk his teeth into this one way back in 1993. “Once he thinks that someone is guilty and has gotten off scot-free,” Koydl quotes one of Sneddon’s colleagues, a retired judge, “then he’ll never forget it.” In any event, Koydl writes, Sneddon “would have to be a saint to remain personally indifferent to the accusation of sexual abuse of youngsters: he has nine children himself.”

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