I realize this blog has not been active in several months, and first of all, I would like to express my gratitude to those loyal readers who have remained patient and faithful. After a series of setbacks, personal issues and other factors that have kept me out of the saddle for some time, I am slowly getting my groove back and catching up on all things MJ.
However, it saddens me that my return blog post could not be under happier circumstances. As we all know by now, the observation of Michael’s ninth death anniversary was marred by more sad news with the passing of his father Joe Jackson.
Normally I have always written a post to commemorate each passing year without Michael, but for some reason, this year I really struggled. What could I possibly say that I have not already said better in the last eight years? A nine year anniversary is a frustratingly odd number, not like the bench mark of, say, a ten year anniversary. Still, it is “almost” a decade. It is long enough that a baby born in 2009-the year Michael left us-would now be entering third grade (and, no doubt, still recognizing the iconic beat of “Billie Jean”). It is more than enough time to reflect on what a decade without Michael Jackson has meant for us, and for the world.
For sure, that light has not dimmed. Thousands of roses and floral arrangements decked Holly Terrace. Social media blew up with remembrances and the hashtag #9YearsWithoutMichaelJackson. No sooner had Joe Jackson drawn his last breath than a new “duet” featuring Michael Jackson and Drake was blowing up the charts (more on that topic to come). The last few months has seen an explosion of television specials and documentaries (of varying degrees of quality, it might be added, but the sheer fact that they continue to be made is an attestment to the continued drawing power of Michael’s name).
Perhaps best of all, the anniversary came and went in relatively quiet, dignified fashion. No newly invented “scandals” invented by the likes of Radar Online rocked the headlines. Perhaps with the Wade Robson case officially dismissed for good, the incentive just wasn’t there. A sign of progress? Is the world finally ready to let Michael Jackson rest in peace? That would probably be wishful thinking, but at least it was nice to have a relatively quiet anniversary in which the world only remembered that we loved and lost him.
However, it was by no means an uneventful anniversary, as the media “death watch” over Joe Jackson had already kicked into high gear. Speculation that Joe might actually pass on June 25th was rampant, and didn’t we just know the media was salivating over that golden prospect, already thinking what headlines that would make!
The “coincidence” of Joe possibly passing on his son’s death anniversary wasn’t just being talked about by the media, however. Among colleagues at work and even in private conversation, many were speculating: Could it happen? It would have seemed strangely fitting, in a bizarre kind of way, for this to have been the final chapter of what had been a lifelong and complicated father-son saga.
According to at least one tabloid story, Joe was hoping to “hold on” long enough to see his son’s ninth death anniversary. But many could not resist speculating that Joe Jackson-ultimate showman to the end-was already envisioning what a story it would make if he bowed out on the 25th. Well, we can’t presume to know what was going through Joe’s mind in those final hours. Joe had been in failing health for years, having already suffered a series of strokes. The thin and frail man who appeared occasionally in recent interviews and public appearances was a shadow of his former, robust self.
Joe was appearing and sounding increasingly frail in recent photos and interviews:
I had met Joe back in 2010 at the King of Pop Fanvention in Merrillville, indiana and spent most of that weekend seeing him at various functions. At the time, he was already eighty-two but nevertheless was the picture of vitality. (I know because I still have a vivid memory of trying to catch up to him and being literally outpaced by an eighty-two year old man who could still strut fast enough to make a fit, 48 year old woman winded!). The Joe Jackson I had seen in more recent years bore little resemblance to that man.
For all the world knows, it could well have been the grief precipitated by the approach of the nine year anniversary that exacerbated his already failing health. But, whether it was indeed sad coincidence or the last breath of Joe Jackson’s infamously manipulative and stubborn will, he managed to make it close enough. Joe Jackson passed on June 27, 2018 just two days after Michael’s ninth year of transition.
Unfortunately, his death brought out some of the best and worst of an already divided fan community, for just like everything else in the Michael Jackson fandom, Joe Jackson has been a polarizing figure, either respected and admired as the iron rampart behind the Jackson family or villified as an abuser. As someone who has heard all of the stories from both sides, it’s hard to know how to filter all of it to come to some sort of middle ground. As I have said often enough, based on my own experience, I witnessed many sides of Joe the one weekend that I spent in his presence. I knew the moment I was in his presence that he was every bit the intimidating figure his children described. I know he would have terrified a sensitive child-he terrified me! Over the years, I have gotten pretty seasoned about approaching celebrities. But I shook in my shoes when Joe Jackson stood in front of me, and it wasn’t anything he said or did. As Michael said, it was just the fact that he could give you a look and you knew instantly where you stood.
But the very next day, Joe was seated behind me when Jennifer Batten, Michael’s lead guitarist, was conducting a seminar. He asked her to play a song for him. “In all the years you played for my son, I never got to hear you.” She played a song for him, and when I next stole a glance at Joe, he was visibly fighting tears. Abruptly, in the middle of the song, he got up and walked out. I honestly believe that he was still old school enough to believe that a man should not cry in public.
I was further surprised that weekend when Joe actually gave the ok for me to interview him for this blog; however, I misheard the location where we were supposed to meet (the Star Cafe’, NOT the Starbucks!) and due to that stupid mistake, was forever robbed of the chance I might have had to sit one on one with the man, however briefly. This would have been interesting because it would have been more of an informal conversation over breakfast than a formal interview. I will always regret that mistake because I can tell a lot about a person within a few minutes of talking to them. On the other hand, when I look back on it, I always wondered why I didn’t pursue the opportunity more aggressively. Sure, I had screwed up-very unprofessionally-but it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have explained what happened and requested another opportunity. For some reason, I didn’t and looking back on it now, I am still not sure why. Perhaps it was because I really was feeling very nervous and scared about doing the interview (almost as if I was relieved when I didn’t see him waiting in Starbucks). I realized that somewhere between the very intimidating reputation and the sheer force of the man’s physical presence, I had turned from a confident writer and journalist to the state of a terrified six year old child! In short, maybe something in my subconscious will prevented me from pursuing it any further (i.e, did I simply chicken out?). It wouldn’t have been the first time. This was a man who could bring the biggest superstar in the world shaking to his knees. Many stories from those who worked closest with Michael attest that the sheer knowledge that Joe Jackson was on the premises would be enough to make the color drain from his face. “I don’t want to see him,” would be the usual response, leaving it for some unlucky employee to be the go-between. Those stories always bothered me, and still do. I felt sorry for the abused son who evidently had felt so traumatized that this kind of avoidance was the only way he knew how to cope with it. At the same time, though, I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for a father who simply wanted to see his son. (Michael, of course, would have said it was not that simple; that this was about Joe wanting something else from him, and that was probably true, also, at least most of the time).
The next day, a Sunday, I saw Joe again at the Jackson house in Gary. This time, it was more of a family reunion type of event, with the public invited, of course. The tough guard was down. Joe was just uncle, cousin, grandpa, great-grandpa, brother. He was cutting birthday cake with one of his nieces, smiling and laughing at some family joke. Joe really had a great smile that lit up his face, and his entire demeanor changed. I realized that in his older years, Joe’s face had settled into very harsh lines and the media loved to play that up, always posting only the most unflattering and sinister looking, scowling pics. They loved demonizing him just as they similarly loved playing up Michael as “the freak.” But among family, he could let his guard down and just be Grandpa Joe.
One thing I do know is that Joe always gave back to the city of Gary, Indiana. The man was a walking contradiction-intimidating, yes, but also a man who genuinely enjoyed being sociable among Michael’s fans. He was tough, but also had his moments of unexpected tenderness. People who knew Joe best say that he had mellowed with age, and I realize this would have been the version that I met. By then, he was only a shadow of the man who had once terrified his kids, and only a shadow of the force that had swept them from poverty to world fame. But the last vestiges of that gale force remained.
There is a lot that the world still doesn’t understand, or properly acknowledge, about Joe Jackson. The media tears him down without ever once considering the world of the Depression era South that shaped him. Michael himself came to recognize this, and spoke about it eloquently in his Oxford speech on forgiveness. Joe was a Black man growing up in the Jim Crow era South, which in itself tells us all we really need to know. But there was so much more. He was also the son who had to grow up too fast and learn to be the man of the family when his beautiful but emotionally unstable mother, Crystal Lee, abandoned the family. He developed his aspirations for a better life while taking care of his siblings and steering them through the Depression. He would go on to raise nine children in one of the toughest industrial cities in America, and later, as perhaps the very first African American “stage father,” he fought an uphill battle against a white dominated music industry that would never allot him the respect he deserved (Joe always knew this, and to a large extent, it shaped his character, the final indignity that firmly hardened whatever layers of vulnerability remained intact). No matter what we say about Joe Jackson, we have to acknowledge that he always fought as firmly for his family as he fought with and against them.
It is not my place to either defend or villify Joe. Only the Jackson children really know what they endured and what they feel for him. If Michael’s own words are taken into account, his were the conflicted feelings that are almost always the product of a complicated parent/child relationship. It is a tough thing to deal with because along with all of the hurt and anger there is guilt as well-the guilt of knowing this is your parent, whom the Bible teaches us to love and respect-and yet knowing this does not eradicate those feelings. It only adds to the confusion and pain. It is a feeling shared the world over by all of us who know what it is to love a parent and yet know that we simply can’t be in the same room with them for more than five minutes without feeling like we might burst a blood vessel. And then we hate ourselves even more for feeling that way, despite whatever the parent has done.
Michael Opened Up Candidly About His Feelings For His Father In His Spech at Oxford, 2001:
Michael and Joe did eventually come to a hard won “understanding” but it is doubtful those wounds ever healed completely. In his old age, Joe Jackson had learned the hard way that we are all products of the mistakes we have made, and for better or worse, we live with those consequences. But I think in his own way, he was at least trying. The moment when he took his son’s hand at the 2005 trial was a symbolic gesture to the world that “we are united and we stand together” but it also went much deeper than that. It was, finally, the simply show of affection that Michael had craved from his father his whole life. It would not be enough to permanently seal the damage, and indeed not even enough to bring about a permanent closure to their rift. But it was something-a gesture; however small.
There has also been one other memory that I have continued to go back to in the week since Joe passed. I remember that Joe was once asked which, of all Michael’s solo hits, was his favorite. The question automatically disqualified anything from The Jackson 5 or Jacksons era. It could only be something from Michael’s adult solo career. And I’ll never forget how Joe’s answer both shocked me and yet taught me that there was so much more to the man than I thought I ever knew. You see, I was thoroughly expecting that he would have said “Billie Jean” or “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” or something similar from the Quincy Jones era, in which Michael had stayed closest to his r&b/Motown roots. Instead, he said, “That song that he did about the animals” and I knew he meant “Earth Song.” I would never in a million years have thought of “Earth Song” as something that Joe would have even liked, let alone singling it out as his favorite. But I remembered that Michael had always said that his father loved animals, and that in fact his own love of animals had come from his father.
It reminded me of one of the many joys that this journey of discovering the man Michael Jackson has been all about. It is not always about the big things, but those moments of little discoveries that make you rethink everything you thought you knew about someone. Only in this case, it said more about the man he simply wanted to call “Dad” for all of his life. Anyone who loves animals can’t be all bad.
This week, in whatever form these things take, father and son have been reunited. It is not for us to speculate on what that means for either soul. I can only say that I hope Michael was there to greet him and guide him home. Death brings understanding to all things, and Michael no longer has to be that scared child cowering in fear, for he is awash in God’s love and grace.
I always dreaded the inevitable time when we would no longer have Michael’s parents with us. Katherine and Joe are both, in their own way, institutions. Between them, they created and nurtured a musical dynasty. Like stalwart war horses, they seemed destined to stick around forever. They have endured a lot and have shared many struggles. They represent the values of “The Silent Generation,” a generation shaped by the struggles of The Great Depression and the trauma of World War II, a generation that is rapidly thinning in number but from whom we can still learn much.
They shared the bittersweet triumphs of their children’s success and the shared pain of their darkest chapters. It sometimes seemed as if they were both going to go on forever, but even with the benefit of great genes (they both had parents that lived well into their nineties and early hundreds) and all the best medical care that money can buy, we knew it couldn’t be. Sooner or later, one of them would have to go. It is sad, though, to see the start of this chapter. It is one thing to see many of Michael’s friends (and frenemies!) passing, but the loss of Joe-and inevitably, Katherine too-signifies something else, a much deeper kind of loss. As his parents, they have signified that connection that we call the mortal coil. Now that coil has been broken. Katherine remains, but Joe’s passing is a sad reminder that her time with us, also, is limited and growing shorter by the day.
Although I never met Michael, I am grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time in the presence of both of his parents. In both cases, those occasions were made possible due to Joe and Katherine’s continued support of their home town and community. In both cases, it allowed me a glimpse-however briefly-of the man and woman behind the public facade.
I knew that everything Michael had ever told us about Joseph Walter Jackson was absolutely true. But as always, “truth” can contain many facets. Joe was not a perfect parent. Where he excelled at providing and driving his family to succeed, he failed at providing emotional support and stability. To Joe, being able to put bread on the table said, “I love you.” Only very late in life did he seem to finally “get” that bruises don’t heal just because the discoloration goes away, or that those he loved maybe needed to hear it once in awhile, too.
Hopefully it was not a lesson learned too late. The touching bedside vigil for Joe-which included Michael’s children-is a testament to the fact that love and forgiveness are indeed stronger familial bonds than hate, pain or holding grudges.
I know that words are easier written than put into practice. I know that just because someone died it does not automatically wipe the slate clean. But I think now is a good time to take a cue from the family and let them have their space to grieve and to assess for themselves what Joe meant to them (yes, Bette Midler, I am addressing you, too!).
The legacy of Joe Jackson will continue to be a complicated one, marred by the legacy of abuse, and will no doubt continue for many years to both cloud and divide the fan community, who will always uphold him on the one hand as the man who “made” Michael Jackson and by the same token, as at least one of those responsible for his emotional destruction. It is not surprising that even Michael’s own speeches about the man are peppered with these same conflicting emotions-love, admiration and respect on the one hand; guilt, fear, anger and hatred on the other. All of it comes through, loud and clear-all of it equally genuine, and equally valid.
How then, do we really determine the legacy of Joe Jackson? Is it possible to admire what he accomplished, while refusing to whitewash his actions? Even the movie An American Dream, so long considered a classic staple and often accepted as Biblical truth about the Jacksons’ upbringing, depicts a driven man whose determination for success often came at the expense of his children’s emotional well being. This was a tyrant who literally blew up, going into a fit of rage, if the kids missed a step or someone left a dirty towel by the pool. At one point, he traumatically forces a terrified Michael to board an airplane during a storm. But this was also the same father who was there, in a heartbeat, when Michael was severely burned on the set of the Pepsi commercial. Making a stand to a reporter, who asked him how he felt, Joe asked him if he had any kids. The reporter replied “no.” “That’s my son in there,” Joe said. “My son.”
This was not just a scripted moment from the film. It was emblematic of everything this complicated father/son relationship stood for. The love was there, but too often it was “tough love” and not the language of love that Michael understood. As a baby boomer, Michael was already of a different generation, the generation that gave us Ward Cleaver and the era of “let’s talk it out” parenting. But I think as Michael grew older, he came to realize that we don’t get to choose who our parents are. They come to us, given by God, faults and warts and all.
We can’t always love them as unconditionally as they may love us. But in time, most of us learn to accept what we cannot change about them and to forgive what can be forgiven.
Michael Jackson’s Halloween, a new, hourlong animated special, featuring the King of Pop’s music as its soundtrack, will premiere this fall on CBS.
Created and produced by Optimum Productions, the Michael Jackson company now owned by his estate, the special will feature the voices of actors Christine Baranski, Kiersey Clemons, Alan Cumming, George Eads, Brad Garrett, Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Lucas Till.
The special follows millennials Vincent (Till) and Victoria (Clemons), who meet “accidentally” on Halloween night and find themselves, along with Ichabod the dog, at a mysterious hotel located at 777 Jackson Street called This Place Hotel. Once inside, Vincent and Victoria are sent on an unexpected, magical adventure of personal discovery, culminating in a spectacular dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson.
John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson, serve as executive producers. Daniel Chuba is the producer and Mark A.Z. Dippé is the director.
Many, including myself, presumed we were finally building up for the official announcement of the long promised Thriller 3D film project. Alas, although that was not to be for this go-round, we still have a project that is centered around a Halloween theme. (Update: Thriller 3D has been scheduled to premiere at the Vienna Film Festival August 30-September 9). However, the announcement had no sooner been made than a barrage of negative reactions swiftly engulfed social media. That’s really no surprise. These days, the announcement of any major MJ-related project is usually a polarizing affair, but this project, in particular, seems to have elicited a lot of strongly negative reactions-somewhat inexplicable, I think, given the overall benign nature of this project. Sure, it’s not Thriller 3D or Dangerous25 (a project that many were hoping to see come to light) but what could possibly be so wrong with an hour long animated special on a major network, featuring Michael Jackson’s best known dark themed works?
Well, the answer to that question is quite complex, and to fully understand it, one must take into account how deeply divided the fan base has become over the estate executors and how deeply that issue of trust vs. mistrust has become, especially when it comes to A: Projects that profit off of his legacy, and B: How that legacy is being handled. As I have emphasized many times, I have always been and remain neutral when it comes to the politics surrounding the fandom and estate. Overall, I believe the estate has made some smart moves when it comes to preserving Michael Jackson’s legacy (This Is It, the Cirque du Soleil Immortal show and One) but also some major missteps. The controversy over the Michael album has forever tainted any posthumous music releases, and the insistence on “contemporizing” Michael’s music (rather than simply allowing the tracks to stand on their own merit) has not helped matters. True, they did manage to wrangle a Top Ten hit with the updated “Love Never Felt So Good” but, for the most part, there have been far more misses than hits with the estate’s attempts to ignite interest in a posthumous musical career for Michael Jackson. In a recent article, in fact, it was stated that there were no future plans to release anymore music from the vaults. That is a downright shame, as they are still sitting on a ton of unreleased gems that many fans want to hear. There is certainly still a market for unreleased MJ tracks; it’s just that fans want these tracks, for the most part, in their raw but pristine state, not over produced by a Timbaland or L.A. Reid to try to mimic everything else on the radio these days.
I think it may be safe to assume, then, that the estate has not had a very good track record for its management of Michael Jackson’s posthumous musical output. I’ve said many times, if they had simply combined the best of the unreleased tracks on Michael (minus the controversial Cascio tracks) and the best of the demos that made it onto Xscape, they could have had a great posthumous MJ album. The tragedy is that, between the insistence on including debatable tracks (which weren’t exactly great tracks to begin with) and the insistence that every MJ track must somehow be “updated” to compete in today’s market, the estate has pretty much blown any confidence that fans may have once had in their ability to successfully market a musical career for Michael Jackson beyond the grave. And here we can certainly add that this shaky confidence has not been helped by the loss of the Sony/ATV catalog, nor the little matter of that 750 million dollar debt with Uncle Sam (which I will still be addressing in due time).
However, when it comes to the musical legacy that Michael created in his lifetime-those seven adult solo albums and the many classic tracks they yielded-the outlook has been much brighter. Clearly, public demand for those songs isn’t apt to disappear any time soon, and it is in the continued public demand for those songs-as well as the continued popularity of Michael’s brand and image-that largely keeps the estate’s bread buttered. The estate’s marketing of Michael Jackson’s known works has been for the most part successful, though still occasionally marred by some questionable choices (for example, licensing the use of “Bad” for Angry Birds, a move that many felt reduced the track’s powerful political message to a silly rumble between cartoon birds). Indeed, these are the kinds of arguments and debates that continue to drive the polarization of the fandom over most estate decisions. Inevitably, some are going to argue that these decisions cheapen the message of his songs and will ultimately water down the impact of his legacy, while others argue-just as vehemently-that this is exactly the kind of exposure that will keep his music, image, and memory alive for future generations. Both arguments have their validity, and this brings me to today’s topic. Michael Jackson himself was an artist who constantly balanced the often polarizing extremes of artistic purity on the one hand, and commercialism on the other (Michael did love sales, and anyone who would wish to argue that sales did not matter to him is sadly deluded). This fact is partly what makes the posthumous marketing of Michael Jackson product a particularly challenging affair. The balance between “what Michael would have wanted,” “how Michael would have done it” and what is going to keep fans and consumers happy is a constant challenge. Even this aspect raises another interesting question: With the wealth of material and projects left behind by Michael Jackson that were completed-but have yet to receive their due-do we really need new projects that have nothing to do with him other than the lending of his name? Here in particular (especially since we are talking a Halloween special) I am referring to the short film Ghosts, a film whose re-release fans, including myself, have spent years clamoring for. As far as the general public is concerned, many are still unaware of this 1997 closet classic, which given the right promotional push and a little updated HD magic, could certainly still captivate a modern audience. Personally, I would love, love love to see Ghosts re-released as a major broadcast special.
However, I do think that in all fairness, we have to consider the uphill battle that the estate is against. There are some factions simply waiting to tear down and rip to shreds anything the estate does, regardless of rhyme or reason. As soon as the announcement hit, many of the reactions across social media were viscerally over the top. Granted, I think much of the negative reaction has stemmed from a long series of gradually building disappointments over estate projects, but I’m just not sure that there is anything in the idea of a Halloween cartoon special to warrant so many hostile reactions, even if, granted, the announcement of the project may not have warranted such a major buildup. This post is not intended as an outright defense of the project-which, granted, could still turn out to be a disaster-but I would like to directly address some of the criticisms that the project has raised, and why I don’t necessarily agree with all of them. For starters, a point to consider is that this is going to be a major network broadcast, which in itself speaks volumes about the renewed faith in the Michael Jackson brand. Obviously, its target audience is going to be kids, and the plan seems to be that this might develop into one of those perennial seasonal projects that returns year after year. That will depend, of course, on ratings and the overall quality of the program, all things that have yet to be proven, but the fact that CBS is willing to take its chances and broadcast a Michael Jackson themed special geared towards children speaks volumes about how far the healing process has come in the re-branding of Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson was pretty special to a lot of people.
Special enough, in fact, that a little more than eight years after the sudden, saddening loss of the Grammy-winning music genius, a Halloween-themed animated special centered on the beats, pops, and vocal effects that the 50-year-old left to the planet in the wake of his death, will air later this year, just in time for the annual boo-fest.
And for the record, I couldn’t be prouder, happier, and just about moved to tears to learn of this news. And also, no, I am not ashamed to own or publicize my tears. In fact, the world probably could do better with owning their feelings, kind of like Michael tried to teach all of us through his music.
But, I digress.
The reason why the news of CBS’ plan to air the one-hour long cartoon special, Michael Jackson’s Halloween, themed around the only album that could go with it, Jackson’s seminal Thriller; an album that still charts at least once a year on the Billboard Top 200 (along with a mix of MJ compilations that always include some, if not all, of the seven singles released from the nine-song long 1982 recording), is wonderful to yours truly is for one reason and one reason only.
It means that despite everything that most of us have heard about him, the thing that made Michael Jackson special; his gift of music, has finally found a way to outwit, outrun, and outlast the gossip.
And you know of the gossip, I’m sure. The many whispers. The ones that, just this week, began to hit the headlines again for the umpteenth time since the special Michael Jackson departed this Earth. Whether you believe those rumors or not is up to you, but what I believe at this moment is that for the first time since they’ve been uttered, they’re not the only focus of Michael Jackson being in the headlines.
Right now, it’s also about his music. Right now, there’s also talk about whether the album is too dated for present times for a television show in 2017, or whether anyone wants to actually see a Michael Jackson Halloweenanimated special in 2017, some fans included — and no, there’s not actually wrong with having a third, for the record (following the short films for Thriller and Ghosts, of course).
But with that said, with the storm finally starting to lift on the life of someone who was far too special than anyone ever could’ve imagined, perhaps now, we can finally begin to get back to Michael Jackson’s ultimate dream of making the world a better place through his forever-amazing music.
Perhaps now, the young kids who this Michael Jackson animated special in geared toward, won’t grow up only knowing of him as the “joke” their parents made him out to be.
Perhaps they can be the ones to carry his music and magic over to the next generation without the shame and/or judgment that came along for us with standing by the belief that the King of Pop, Michael Joseph Jackson, the blessed son of Katherine and Joe Jackson, brother of Janet, Tito, Marlon, Randy, Rebbie, Jackie, Jermaine, LaToya, and the late Brandon, father of “Prince” Michael Jr., Paris-Katherine and Prince Michael Jackson II, whom he affectionately relayed to as Blanket for the “blanket” of love that he felt for his children, was actually a good guy.
Maybe now, in 2017, we can start reminding the world just how loving, wonderful, magical, powerful, inspirational, and special Michael Jackson truly was.
And it can all begin, ironically and finally, with a Michael Jackson animated special in 2017.
[Featured Image by Junko Kimura/Getty Images]
To add my own after thoughts to this, being “moved to tears” over this project may be a bit hyperbolic but Brown does bring up an interesting point that cannot be emphasized enough. The news of this special hit the same week that the Jimmy Safechuck case was officially dismissed, resulting in yet another round of media attacks by a desperate Vince Finaldi in order to salvage whatever chance the Robson case may have. In the wake of Finaldi’s revenge, the fact that CBS would be broadcasting a Michael Jackson Halloween special was still considered by mainstream media as the bigger story. This is a positive no matter how you slice it, but I would still like to move beyond this (to some extent it is a given that Michael’s art will always trump the tabloid trash) to, rather, addressing some of the direct concerns about the artistic merits–or lack thereof–of this project.
By far one of the biggest criticisms the project has raised is the fact that it is a cartoon. Many of the harshest criticisms I saw could basically be summarized as the estate reducing Michael Jackson’s legacy to an animated cartoon, and how insulting this is for a serious artist. Considering Michael’s own love for animation (heck, we are talking the guy whose dream was to purchase Marvel comics!) I find these kinds of criticisms particularly baffling. Certainly Michael had always loved incorporating these kinds of fantastical, often animated, elements into his work. We know he was a huge fan of Walt Disney, that he loved comics, that he loved the idea of casting himself as these kind of comic, “Superhero” characters. In fact, a very good discussion on a recent MJ Cast episode addressed this very issue, as various points were raised both pro and con regarding the upcoming special and the entire Thriller 35 promotional campaign (of which, supposedly, this project is just one of several planned–we hope, anyway). We also know that a plan for a television Halloween special, to be broadcast on CBS, was already being proposed as part of Michael’s planned “comeback” following the This Is It residency. However, this would have shaped up (according to Michael’s plan, at least) as something very different from the current project (though that isn’t to say that the current project bears at least some similarity in spirit). The plan that Michael drafted with Randy Phillips would have been a reworking of his “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment from the This Is It shows. Michael very much wanted to reintroduce the world to Ghosts, and the plan had been to include footage from the classic 1997 film.
The Halloween Special Jackson Was Planning For CBS Would Have Recreated Elements From His This Is It “Thriller/Ghosts/Threatened” Sequence
So the argument that this was something Michael had already planned before his death does have validity, but then becomes one of those pesky “yes, but…” kind of questions that will drive you bonkers if you find yourself drawn into a debate over it. Yes, a Halloween special was in the cards and on the drawing room table, but the actual product that Michael envisioned making would have been very different from the project that it now looks as though will actually materialize.
But in all fairness, we still have to come down to the obvious. Michael Jackson didn’t live to do his planned spectacular “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment on tour, let alone to oversee the production of this proposed Halloween special, which I’m sure would have been something quite wondrous to behold. And it goes without saying that he is not here to actually host the program as he had intended. So what to do? Well, either the idea could die with him and wither away in the vault, or the estate could try to find a way to at least partially realize this vision. Again, some will call it exploitation and others will see it as keeping his brand alive, and these days there isn’t much room for middle ground in these debates. The real challenge-and ultimate test-will be in how well the project is actually pulled off.
To that end, I have no crystal ball and certainly can’t predict how this project will play out. As it gets closer to the broadcast date, I’m sure we may start to see some trailers and other teasers that may give us a better idea of what to expect. But in the meantime, here are some points of concern that have been raised and some possible points of refutation to consider (as Michael would say, all for love, of course).
Point #1: The estate is treating Michael like a joke by reducing him to a “cartoon”:
I saw a deluge of social media outrage over the idea of portraying Michael as a cartoon. I think for many, the idea conjures up recent associations such as the hologram fiasco. However, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with giving us either an animated Michael Jackson special, or for that matter, an animated Michael. We already know that Michael was a huge fan of animation. What’s more, a lot of younger fans (particularly those only born in the 80’s and 90’s) seem to have forgotten that many of us who grew up with The Jackson 5 also grew up with seeing Michael as a weekly, Saturday morning cartoon. The Jackson 5 cartoon was a huge favorite of fans in the early 70’s.
True, we might argue that Michael himself didn’t exactly have much say or control over his career and image at that time (he was only a kid) but in one of his taped conversations with Rabbi Schmuley Boteach (which made it into Boteach’s 2009 The Michael Jackson Tapes) the adult Michael gave us some interesting insight on how he felt about being a Saturday morning cartoon figure:
It is very interesting here that Michael states being a part of that cartoon series was something he felt “more special about” than all of the “hit records and concerts.” He stressed the importance of the connection to children around the world, who were still watching The Jackson 5 cartoon a generation later (and no doubt are still watching it today). Michael’s own words certainly leave little doubt how he felt about being a “cartoon figure.” He certainly didn’t view it as something demeaning or as something that belittled his image, but said, in fact, he thought it was one of the coolest experiences of his life.
Point #2: They would not do this to someone considered a “serious” musician or artist. This is proof of the estate’s ongoing refusal to take Michael Jackson seriously:
But really? I could point to at least half a dozen examples that outright refute this argument. The most obvious, of course, would be The Beatles, who not only got the cartoon treatment in their 1968 classic Yellow Submarine but also, like The Jackson 5, as a Saturday morning cartoon. (The Osmonds, likewise, had a stint as a Saturday morning cartoon, though I suppose there could be room for debate as to whether The Osmonds count as “serious” musicians!).
But certainly being made into cartoon figures didn’t reduce the artistic status of John Lennon or Paul McCartney, so again, there is no reason to jump to the knee jerk assumption that such a project is somehow cheapening his legacy. (However, with that being said, we can still argue, Yes, but…The Beatles did maintain some degree of creative control over projects like Yellow Submarine and therein lies all the difference in the world. To that, I would say it is definitely a valid point, but The Beatles’ actual input into the finished project was actually quite minimal, as they considered the vehicle more as a convenient and quick way to wrap up their three picture commitment to United Artists).
Point #3 This project doesn’t even feature Michael Jackson until the very end. His image is nowhere to be seen in the promo. Is the estate trying to “erase” Michael Jackson from his own brand?
Again, this was an interesting question raised on the MJ Cast webisode I linked to earlier. We are being promised that an “animated Michael Jackson” will make his appearance at the end of the special, but it seems that until then, we will simply be making do with Vincent, Victoria and “Ichabod the dog” having various spooky adventures in a haunted house (albeit, presumably, to a Michael Jackson soundtrack) for nearly an hour. This could go either way, I suppose. On the one hand, it could be a very satisfying and climactic buildup to the big moment when “MJ” actually makes his grand appearance. OR it could have the opposite effect of simply reducing his grande finale performance to a footnote at the end. Again, much is going to depend on how well the project is ultimately put together, and will the big payoff at the end be worth it? If it becomes just an hour of two animated teens having silly, lame adventures and the finale falls flat, the project will be sunk. So obviously a lot is riding on how well that finale comes off.
On the other hand, it does appear that Michael’s “presence” as such will certainly be a factor throughout the program, not only the music, of course, but in all of the various allusions to his song titles and films. It seems that at least part of the idea is that these two “millenials” will not immediately make the connections, but of course they will be very obvious winks and nods to those of us old enough to remember.
As to whether the promotional ad is a deliberate attempt to erase Michael’s image from the project, or simply to preserve the element of surprise at the end, I can’t say. I would certainly hope that it is the latter. A mystery still remaining, however, is which “era” Michael we will get when he finally does appear at the end. Is it going to be “Thriller” era Michael? Or the “Ghost” era Maestro? Or something else altogether? The one argument I would buy is that it seems the estate has continued to push “Thriller” era Michael as its brand of choice, while ignoring or downplaying much of his later, more controversial work. And it may explain in part why Dangerous 25 has been all but trumped by Thriller 35. Clearly, we know there is a very large percentage of Michael Jackson fans who remain nostalgic for 80’s era Michael, pre-vitiligo, pre-political, and pre-controversial. Is the estate catering to that faction? It would not surprise me, although we also have to remember that Bad25 was largely a commercial flop because it did not receive sufficient fan support (again, we had about roughly half the fan base actively boycotting it as an estate project) so there is that argument to be considered, and again, may have a lot to do with why no Dangerous 25 project has materialized.
For now, I am willing to give Michael Jackson’s Halloween the benefit of the doubt. My initial gut reaction to the announcement was, “It seems like a cute idea, but I’m not blown away.” As I have continued to emphasize, everything is going to depend on how well the idea is actually executed. But I would say that certainly at this point, the estate cannot afford another disappointing output. The likelihood that this is going to be something brilliant is pretty slim, but at the very least, if done right, it may turn out decently enjoyable. The sad irony here, of course, is that Michael Jackson, as we all know, was the master of perfection who never settled for mediocrity.
On the positive side, I do have much higher hopes for Thriller 3D which may possibly see a theatrical release in conjunction with the TV special. In any event, Halloween 2017 is shaping up as the season of Michael. It will be interesting to see how these projects play out. Duds or classics, the proof will be in the pudding-the pumpkin pudding, that is.
There has certainly been no shortage of Michael Jackson news the last few weeks! While I plan on delving into all of these recent developments in due course, I feel it is urgent that I begin with the most timely, since the Oxygen channel’s four part series on high profile celebrity criminal cases, The Jury Speaks, is set to kick off with its opening episode on the O.J. Simpson murder trail on Saturday, July 22, with the Michael Jackson episode following on Sunday, July 23.
Generally, it can be expected that any show purporting to dredge up the 2005 trial can’t be good news-unless, of course, its primary goal is to finally shed some much needed light on the under reported defense side of the case. Since many fans were led to believe that this was indeed going to be the case-or that at the very least, this would be a fair and balanced documentary on the trial, the sword of betrayal that many fans felt, including myself, after viewing the series trailer felt especially eviscerating. Granted, the episode has yet to air and it may not prove to be as bad as the trailer suggests (as usual, the trailer for the series has been designed as salacious click bait, highlighting only the most controversial sound bites of the series) but given the show’s overall premise, coupled with the fact that it appears that the “star” juror from the case to be interviewed will be Raymond Hultman, one of two rogue jurors who later publicly recanted the “Not Guilty” verdicts when bribed with a book and movie deal (neither of which ever materialized), fans have every right to feel outraged-and also every right to feel justifiably concerned with the manner in which Oxygen plans to “re-try” these cases, as this essentially does seem to be the show’s major premise.
So let’s address that premise. The series will cover four cases in which the nation was shocked by “Not Guilty” verdicts-O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, George Zimmerman, and Robert Durst. In each episode, the jurors will discuss details of the cases, as well as why they voted as they did. Since this is essentially just another form of reality TV (i.e, this is for “entertainment” rather than education) we can expect lots of drama and conflict to ensue between the respective jurors as they hash out old (and no doubt personal) battles that are probably best left behind closed doors. At some point (not sure if this will be a feature of each episode or a one-time event to occur at the end of the series) each of the jurors will be asked to vote once again whether they believe the subject to be “Guilty” or “Not Guilty.” The idea is something like this: If you had it to do over, would you vote the same way? Yes or no?” This is why I say the show is basically all about putting these subjects on trial all over again. Even though it may well be “for entertainment purposes only” and obviously has no bearing on the verdicts in the real world, the producers’ modus operandi is blatantly obvious-to find out if, given a second chance, along with weighing both old and new “evidence,” (note quotation marks!) these jurors would vote to convict. Obviously, they are betting that many of them will (after all, it wouldn’t make for very compelling drama if they simply said, yep, we got it right the first time).
I can’t speak for the other three trials because I didn’t follow those cases as closely, but for the Michael Jackson case, such a premise could be especially damaging. It’s not that I have any fear of the case being revisited. The facts of the case-a case so blatantly absurd that Mesereau spoke the truth when he said it should never have gone to trial-can certainly still hold up to scrutiny. But that is provided that the facts are presented accurately, that no exculpatory evidence is purposely or accidentally omitted, and that the coverage is not skewered or slanted with an obvious bias in favor of the prosecution’s case. Obviously readers know where I’m going with this. If the trailer and PR articles are any indication, there’s no reason to believe that balance or fairness-or, for that matter, accuracy-is going to play any part in this production. Basically, it would seem that we can expect to see the 2005 media version of the trial-you know, the version that led the ignorant masses in 2005 to assume his guilt because they weren’t inside the courtroom. What’s more, it looks like they plan to bring in the more recent Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck allegations as added fuel to the fire:
But now, after the emergence of new accusers and hard truths about Jackson’s troubled childhood and tragic death, do they stand by their decision today?-excerpted from Oxygen.com.
Well, with Ray Hultman at the helm cheering them on, we need not guess how that is going to fly!
So as you may guess, my concern for this program is the same concern that many fans are sharing right now. It’s not that there is anything to fear from the case being revisited or discussed if done in a factual and educational manner.The 2010 Frozen in Time seminar, for instance, was an excellent example of how the Michael Jackson trial could be deconstructed in a factual and balanced manner for educational purpose.
But I do very much have concerns about the likely possibility that this program is simply going to sensationalize and distort facts to a public that is already woefully under informed, both about this trial and the reasons for its resultant 14 “Not Guilty” verdicts. I am rightfully concerned that their plan is to simply sensationalize the details of the trial for ratings, and that the exculpatory evidence that rightfully exonerated Michael will be either downplayed or, worse, ignored altogether. Michael Jackson fans are no strangers to how the media works, and we know all too well how the media will manipulate, edit and distort to paint the picture they want. Let’s be honest: The premise of this show isn’t simply to reexamine or reevaluate these trials to understand how the jurors got it right, or even “if” they got it right. Rather, it seems purely for the purpose of reopening and exploiting old wounds while egging on the substrative premise that, indeed, the jurors did get it wrong. In every case, they have chosen subjects who were voted guilty in the court of public opinion, and the entire series seems nothing more than a cheesy attempt at further exploiting those perceptions.
The premise is doubly disturbing because the Michael Jackson case, unlike the others, was not a clear case of celebrity acquittal or failure to convict due to some legal loophole or technicality. This was not a case like the Simpson case where one could point to a clear cut motive, or the Zimmerman case in which national outrage had been sparked over the killing of an unarmed teenager (and for whom it was never up for debate that Zimmerman had killed; only his motivation for doing so), or Robert Durst who supposedly even confessed to killing his wife. Although I understand the national cynicism and skepticism that has surrounded many of these high profile acquittals, the simple fact remains that Michael Jackson’s case stands unique in the amount of exculpatory evidence that exonerated him. The many reasons why The People vs. Michael Jackson cannot be put into the same classification as The People vs. O.J. Simpson (or any other high profile celebrity crime cases) is a topic that I touched on in far greater depth in my last Huffington Post piece so I will provide the link to that article in the interest of avoiding the need to repeat myself here. However, the topic of trial-by-media is certainly one that remains relevant. In the wake of even more recent celebrity scandals and controversial verdicts (the mistrial of Bill Cosby and the alleged sex ring scandal of R. Kelley coming to mind) we have seen time and again how the ill informed love to lump Michael Jackson’s name among them, as if they all merely constitute the same category. And always, inevitably, they do so with no preponderance of the actual circumstances and/or differences of the cases. In this era of “Guilty Until Proven Innocent”-a slogan fueled by the tabloid, medialoid, and yellow journalism ethics under which we now operate-we are driven by an ever insatiable thirst for celebrity blood.
The choice of Ray Hultman as the representative juror of the Michael Jackson case should certainly raise some alarms. Although it appears that other members of the jury will be included, it is Hultman’s remarks that were purposely chosen to provide the sound bites on the Jackson segment in the series trailer. Given that there were twelve men and women on the jury, this obviously comes down to which jury members were willing to go on camera-again-after twelve years, to discuss the case.
Eleanor Cook Was Among Six Jurors Interviewed For “Good Morning America”. This Was Her Speaking Before Acquiring Her Promised Book and Movie Deal.
Most of the jurors who served on the Michael Jackson case were humble, ordinary citizens who, after the grueling five month ordeal, simply wanted to return to their lives. That is, all but two who evidently loved the spotlight just a little too much to give it up.
Within two months of the verdict, Ray Hultman and Eleanor Cook had both sought book deals, and the only way they could secure those deals was by delivering controversy. They could only “sell” their stories and continue to milk the celebrity status that the trial had given them by changing their story of Jackson’s case from one of “Not Guilty” to “Guilty.” In August of 2005, both Cook and Hultman gave an exclusive interview to Rita Cosby of MSNBC. This was an AP article of the time that discussed their appearance (added emphasis in red is mine):
2 jurors say they regret Jackson’s acquittal
The Associated Press
Two jurors in the Michael Jackson trial say they now regret voting to acquit the singer of child molestation charges.
Jackson’s defense attorney ridiculed the two, who spoke exclusively with MSNBC’s Rita Cosby, saying it was “time to move on” from the case.
“The bottom line is it makes no difference what they’re saying,” Tom Mesereau told The Associated Press, pointing out the jurors announced their turnaround Monday as they began publicizing book deals.
“Twelve people deliberated and out of that process justice is supposed to result. Now, two months later, these jurors are changing their tunes. They clearly like being on TV,” Mesereau said. “I’m very suspicious.”
Eleanor Cook and Ray Hultman revealed in a televised interview that they believed the singer’s young accuser was sexually assaulted.
“No doubt in my mind whatsoever, that boy was molested,and I also think he enjoyed to some degree being Michael Jackson’s toy,”Cook said on MSNBC’s “Rita Cosby: Live and Direct.”
Their comments will have no bearing on the verdict, which prosecutors cannot appeal.
Threat from jury foreman?Cook and Hultman said they agreed to go along with the other jurors when it became apparent that they would never convict the pop star. The two denied being motivated by money and tried to explain why they were coming forward now.
“There were a lot of people that were interested in this case from day one. People expect to know what’s going on with their justice system and how things work,” Hultman said.
Added Cook: “I’m speaking out now because I believe it’s never too late to tell the truth.”
Cook and Hultman also alleged that jury foreman Paul Rodriguez threatened to have them kicked off the jury.
“He said if I could not change my mind or go with the group, or be more understanding, that he would have to notify the bailiff, the bailiff would notify the judge, and the judge would have me removed,” Cook said in a transcript provided by MSNBC.
Hultman said he also felt threatened and didn’t want to get kicked off the trial.
A call to Rodriguez was not returned. A jury foreman cannot remove other jurors just for disagreeing.
Cosby asked Cook if the other jurors will be angry with her.
“They can be as angry as they want to. They ought to be ashamed. They’re the ones that let a pedophile go,” responded Cook, 79.
Upset at other jurors Hultman, 62, told Cosby he was upset with the way other jurors approached the case: “The thing that really got me the most was the fact that people just wouldn’t take those blinders off long enough to really look at all the evidence that was there.”
The New York Daily News first reported Aug. 4 that Hultman and Cook planned books and believed Jackson was guilty.
Hultman has said that when jurors took an anonymous poll early in their deliberations he was one of three jurors who voted for conviction.
On June 13, the jurors unanimously acquitted Jackson of all charges, which alleged that he molested a 13-year-old boy, plied the boy with wine and conspired to hold him and his family captive so they would make a video rebutting a damaging television documentary.
Cook told Cosby: “The air reeked of hatred and people were angry and I had never been in an atmosphere like that before.”
In June, Hultman told the AP about the verdict: “That’s not to say he’s an innocent man. He’s just not guilty of the crimes he’s been charged with.”
During an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with five other jurors in June, Cook was one of three who raised their hands when asked if they thought Jackson may have molested other children but not the 13-year-old boy.
“We had our suspicions, but we couldn’t judge on that because it wasn’t what we were there to do,” she said at the time.
Hultman’s book will be called “The Deliberator” and Cook’s is “Guilty as Sin, Free as a Bird,” said Larry Garrison, a producer who is working with both on their separate books and a combined television movie. Part of the profits from their book sales will go to charity, he said.
Note that I highlighted Eleanor Cook’s comments above, not because I agree with them, but because I think the entire comment (aside from being very, very weird) sheds some interesting light on how she felt about pretty much everyone involved in this case. Throughout the proceedings, her demeanor was pretty much that of a grumpy old grandma who didn’t particularly like anyone involved in this case-prosecution or defense, it didn’t seem to matter. In this case, her obvious detest for Michael Jackson and his lifestyle, perhaps, was only outweighed by her absolute detest for the Arvizos, which she never made any secret. In one television interview, she spoke openly about her disdain for Janet Arvizo and her habit of snapping her fingers at the jury. Her comment to Rita Cosby is interestingly telling, in that she obviously didn’t feel much sympathy for Gavin even as an alleged “victim.’
Another interesting tidbit: While it is Hultman who loves to toss around the phrase “the blinders came on” (he used it here and is quoted using it again in the Oxygen promo) the second quote I have highlighted reveals that he formed his own bias very early in the deliberations (no doubt during the prosecution testimony) and then evidently must have put on his own blinders, refusing to listen as each prosecution witness in turn crumbed under cross examination.
The next highlighted quote reveals something of Hultman’s own savior/victim complex. He loved the idea of selling himself to the public as the “lone juror” who held out for truth and justice, but the reality is that he seemed to love the attention much more. He never specifies what “people” were angry with him, or why. In the Oxygen promo, he mentions receiving threats and the obvious inference is that the hate mail must have come from Michael Jackson fans. However, the passion of MJ fans is a glaring red herring that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual case.
Lastly, we see that Hultman and Cook were hand in hand, obviously working with the same producer on a deal that was supposed to yield them two separate books AND a combined television movie! All in all, it was a deal that would have netted them quite a handsome profit. It gets better, though, because apparently longtime Michael Jackson hater Stacy Brown (singlehandedly responsible for planting many of the vilest stories on Michael in the media for the past decade) was on board to serve as the book’s ghost writer. The deal apparently fell through, however, when leaked passages revealed that Brown had plagiarized the “work” of yet another notorious MJ hater-Maureen Orth, apparently having lifted large chunks from her Vanity Fair article. Hilariously, even the slimy Stacy Brown ended up tossing Hultman under the bus before the whole ordeal had ended! In a 2005 Santa Maria Times article, Stacy Brown publicly denied any association with Hultman’s book and was quoted as saying:
“I think this is another attempt for Ray to keep himself in the media,” Brown said. “No one is interested in his book. He was badly misguided. He/d be better off riding into the sunset and getting on with his life.”
That these two would have even considered relying on Maureen Orth’s nonsense (remember, she was the one claiming that Michael had engaged in secret voodoo rituals to hex Steven Spielberg!) speaks volumes about the contents of this thankfully never birthed monstrocity. So apparently, instead of relying on the evidence and testimony of the trial, it seems the plan was to fill the book with tabloid nonsense. This was exactly the same tactics that Wade Robson’s attorneys are using now. In the case of Hultman and Brown, it seems they weren’t sorry for anything other than the fact that they got caught in the act of fabricating “evidence” from a source even more ridiculous than anything they could cook up on their own. And now, Hultman’s decision to participate in The Jury Speaks makes it quite clear that after twelve years, he still hasn’t been willing to take Stacy Brown’s advice and just ride off into the sunset (one only wishes that Stacy Brown would likewise apply his own advice to himself!).
In September of 2005, legal analyst Jonna Spilbor blasted Eleanor Cook and Raymond Hultman in a scathing article that called to task jurors who are seduced by the almighty dollar, or as she put it, jurors who attempt to “profit from their duty.” As Spilbor pointed out in 2005, what Hultman and Cook did was more than reprehensible-it was also illegal!
When The Jury Has Spoken, But Won’t Shut Up: How the Jackson Jurors’ Book Deals Broke the Law, and How We Can Avoid Having Jurors Undermine Their Own Verdicts
By JONNA M. SPILBOR
Thursday, Sep. 01, 2005
By now, there probably isn’t a single Earth-dweller who doesn’t know Jackson was acquitted following the fifteen-week trial. The jury of four men and eight women rendered a collective “not guilty” verdict to each and every charge. And their verdicts rang out loud and clear across a courtroom which, at times, seemed more like a battlefield.
Several weeks have since passed, most of them quietly – appropriately so – as Jackson’s across-the-board acquittal literally means this case is closed. The jury has spoken, and frankly, there is nothing left to say.
Why then, won’t Jackson’s jury shut up?
Less than two months after clearing Michael Jackson of all charges, jurors Ray Hultman and Eleanor Cook have come forward publicly to announce they made a mistake. In their words, they feel Jackson’s jury “let a pedophile go.”
Cook has reported being “bullied” into her not-guilty verdicts – all fourteen of them.
Hultman claims his conscience has gotten the better of him. At least, so says his publisher.
Whether these claims are publicity stunts, or genuine revelations, the world will never know, because, as has been the case since time in memoriam, jury deliberations are done in secret. Privately. Behind closed doors, only to be interrupted by a welcomed pizza person or bailiff.
These surprising revelations are of no legal significance whatsoever to Michael Jackson – double jeopardy prevents Jackson from being retried, no matter what any or all of the jurors say post-verdict. Yet they are significant for us all – for they are destructive to the integrity of our criminal justice system. There is something very powerfully unsettling about a jury, or rogue members thereof, undermining its own verdict.
In this column, using the Jackson case as a prime example, I will discuss how, when it comes to criminal trials – particularly in high-profile cases – a few minor modifications to the law could save future defendants from similar fates.
The stakes are high – when jurors whose verdict was “Not Guilty” start to reverse themselves in public statements, their comments degrade the sanctity of the criminal justice system, and violate the paramount right of any defendant — the right to a fair trial. They also threaten the spirit of the double-jeopardy clause; despite his acquittals, Jackson may not be at risk in the courtroom anymore, but his guilt is being debated, once again, in the court of public opinion.
Why Jury Duty and Dollar Signs Don’t Mix
To see why situations like that of the Jackson jury are happening, it’s worth stepping back a bit, and looking at the character of jury duty as a whole.
Jury duty. It’s the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. A girder within the framework of our Constitution. A noble commitment that nary an American citizen shall escape – save for those who have themselves been previously convicted by a unanimous group of twelve unfamiliar peers.
That is, until now.
Today – especially when it comes to celebrity trials, or those that become celebrity trials (think Scott Peterson; he was a fertilizer salesman, remember) – being selected for jury duty is almost like winning the lottery. It leads to lucrative book deals. Movie options. All-expenses- paid interviews in exciting cities. The post-trial money-making opportunities for celebrity-trial jurors abound. And it’s all perfectly legal – indeed, arguably protected by the First Amendment.
But should it be? The First Amendment is involved here, but so is the Sixth – which guarantees a fair trial. Might the future prospect of payment for post-mortem, jury deliberation tell-alls cloud jurors’ judgments and affect their decisions?
In high-profile criminal trials, it’s not difficult to imagine an enterprising potential juror with dollar signs in his eyes, and fingers crossed, dutifully answering all the questions of voir dire as if he were channeling Mother Teresa in an effort to be chosen.
And, it isn’t much of a leap from there to imagine an unscrupulous publisher who, with a wink and nod, secretly convinces a juror that his or her advance may include an extra zero should the verdict be, say, guilty. It’s been said that “sex sells,” but acquittals? Eh, not so much.
Jurors are the ultimate triers of fact. When we offer to pay for an account of a juror’s experience in the jury box, we risk changing what the juror has to sell. Put the prospect of making a million bucks in front of a middle-class juror (which most are) and you may create a monster.
And even if eleven jurors have perfect integrity (let’s not forget the admirable ten Jackson jurors who do NOT have book deals), it won’t matter much if the twelfth does not. That twelfth could either hang the jury, or else hold out so strongly for conviction, that he or she batters the rest into submission.
The Case of the Michael Jackson Jurors: Why Did They Come Forward Now?
Looking at jurors Hultman and Cook, I asked myself this: Why come forward now? For that matter, why come forward at all? If they cannot change their verdict (and they can’t), and therefore cannot change the outcome of the case, why speak out?
The answer, sadly, requires little imagination. Obviously, something happened in between what appeared to be an unwavering “not guilty” verdict following several days of deliberation, and August 8th, when they appeared together – on a primetime cable news show – to announce their about-face.
What was it? Did these two people happen to show up at some “Jurors Anonymous” meeting, only to learn the Step Six is admitting when you’ve rendered the wrong decision? Or, were they approached with the prospect of a book and movie deal which (wink, wink) just might make them a whole lot richer if there were (hint, hint) a controversy of sorts surrounding the verdict?
I can’t truly know these jurors’ motivations, but I can hazard a guess based on the timing of events, and the statements they’ve publicly made. I’m putting my money on the book and movie deal because, simply, the revelations of jurors Hultman and Cook coincide with the announcement of their individual books deals and combined television project.
Each juror will be coming out with his or her own book, and both, not surprisingly, will be published by the same publisher. Hultman’s is to be entitled, “The Deliberator”, while the title of Cook’s tell-all is to be, “Guilty As Sin, Free As A Bird.” I imagine that books entitled “Yup, Like We Said, Still Not Guilty” would be a lot less saleable.
How The Jackson Jurors Broke the Law: They Were Supposed to Wait Ninety Days
In California, Penal Code section 1122states, in part: “After the jury has been sworn and before the people’s opening address, the court shall instruct the jury…that prior to, and within 90 days of, discharge, they shall not request, accept, agree to accept, or discuss with any person receiving or accepting, any payment or benefit in consideration for supplying any information concerning the trial; and that they shall promptly report to the court any incident within their knowledge involving an attempt by any person to improperly influence any member of the jury.” (Emphasis added.)
This is California’s version, but most states, it turns out, have similar statutes – imposing moratoria, but not forbidding jury book and movie deals.
Looking at the calendar, it has not been 90 days since Jackson’s jury was discharged. Clearly, the pair is in violation of the statute — a statute punishable by contempt of court.
How can this violation be addressed? Jackson – or the prosecution, though I doubt it would be so inclined, since it too believed Jackson guilty – could file a motion for an “Order to Show Cause” why the jurors should not be held in contempt. Or the court could issue such an order on its own initiative (in legal parlance, “sua sponte”).
But this is an unusual case: Most jurors would simply have complied with the law, and waited the ninety days. Most publishers’ attorneys would have been sure to advise them to do so. And that leads to an important question: In a typical case, is a ninety-day moratorium on juror book deals enough?
In my opinion, absolutely not.
An Ounce of Prevention: Why Not Do Away with the 90-Day Clause of Penal Code §1122?
There is an easy fix. It’s time to do away with statutes that allow jurors to profit from their duty. Until then, a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial jury of his peers continues to be severely compromised. Forget the ninety-day limit. Let’s just say no to juror book and movie deals.
Even in a society as delightfully entrepreneurial as ours, there are a few things in life that simply mustn’t be for sale. For example, judges cannot take gifts, and lawyers cannot represent conflicting parties, no matter how that might negatively affect a lawyer’s income stream. Nor can a lawyer publicize his client’s secrets to the world – then take refuge in a claim that he was only exercising his First Amendment rights.
Similarly, never should the rights of an accused be trumped by the price tag one juror places on his or her sworn duty to be fair and impartial.
An Acquittal Should Guarantee Freedom – Not Being Tried In the Press By the Same Jurors
The conduct of Michael Jackson’s jurors is downright shameful. In this country, an acquittal should guarantee one’s freedom. And I don’t simply mean freedom from future prosecution, I mean freedom from public ridicule, freedom from suspicion, freedom from having to be berated publicly by the same individuals who set you free.
Comedian Norm Crosby once said, “When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.”
Today, with potential book-and-movie-deal paychecks that dwarf the $12 dollars-a-day and free lunch of bygone juries, I gotta ask, who’s dumb now?
With The Jury Speaks kicking off this weekend, this paragraph from Spilbor’s article bears repeating for emphasis:
The conduct of Michael Jackson’s jurors is downright shameful. In this country, an acquittal should guarantee one’s freedom. And I don’t simply mean freedom from future prosecution, I mean freedom from public ridicule, freedom from suspicion, freedom from having to be berated publicly by the same individuals who set you free.
If fans and persons who are knowledgable about the Jackson/Arvizo case needed further confirmation of this series’ intended direction, that confirmation appeared with an article on the Oxygen.com website titled “10 Of The Most Shocking Facts From the Michael Jackson Case.” The article, credited to Kat George, actually consists of few “facts” at all and is, instead, riddled with egregious mistakes and inaccuracies about the investigation and trial. Although it appears now that at least “some” edits and corrections have been made (perhaps following the deluge of angry tweets they received from Jackson fans rightfully correcting these errors!) the piece is still a hot mess of sloppily researched and inaccurate information. Among the most glaring, it credits the rebuttal video Michael Jackson, Take Two: The Footage You Were Never Meant To Seeto Martin Bashir (this was footage shot by Michael’s own team; Bashir had zilch to do with it) and erroneously claims that there were criminal charges filed against Jackson that were later dropped. Where this information comes from I have no idea! It appears that Kat George is simply confusing the initial investigation with the actual charges (an initial investigation was launched by The Department of Children and Family Services and the LAPD in February of 2003 following the airing of Living with Michael Jackson. After extensive questioning of the Arvizos, both the Department of Children and Family Services and the LAPD determined there was no case, and officially closed the investigation. However, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department then launched their own investigation in April of 2003. District Attorney Tom Sneddon had changed the alleged dates of the molestation from “Feb 7th-Mar 10th” to “Feb 20th-Mar 12th” in order to help explain away a rebuttal tape the Arvizos had made in which they sang Michael’s praises as a father figure to them). The dropping of the first investigation launched by the Department of Children and Family Services and the LAPD is most likely what Kat George was referring to, but there is a huge difference between an investigation and actually charging someone!
Initially, the article had repeated the thoroughly debunked media hoax regarding child porn found at Neverland. At least that error appears to have been corrected, but it is still linking to a tabloid article from The Sun that mentions “life sized creepy dolls” being found (which were actually mannequins, and simply one more item in a room filled with hoarded clutter). And really, do we need “Pajama Day” listed as one of the “10 Most Shocking Facts” about this trial? Here Kat George is simply doing the same thing the media did back in 2005, using the spectacle of “Pajama Day” to divert from any real facts about the trial. (To further add to the confusion, the website is using a photo from Michael’s 2002 civil trial against Marcel Avram, making it appear to an unsuspecting public as if Jackson took the witness stand in his own behalf at the 2005 molestation trial. It is the well known photo of Michael taking from a jar of candy while on the witness stand. In the context of a civil trial-which this was-it’s an adorable photo, but if readers are led to mistakenly believe that it is from the molestation trial, it certainly creates the wrong impression, making it appear as if he is treating a gravely serious accusation in a frivolous manner. One almost has to wonder if this was the intent by using that photo, which has nothing to do with the Arvizo trial). If we want to talk about “shocking facts” from the trial that the public may not know, how about starting with a DA who intentionally changed the timeline of the alleged abuse in order to make his case fly? How about this same DA having a pornographic magazine tested for Gavin’s fingerprints after having knowingly had Gavin touch the magazine? How about how witness after witness crumbed under cross examination? Or the illegal raid of Mark Gerago’s office, which violated client/attorney privilege? Or the fact that Janet Arvizo had already coached her kids to lie when she scammed JC Penney? Any or all of these (and so many more!) make for far more “shocking facts” of this case than anything mentioned in the Oxygen article, which simply sources tabloid articles.
One can only assume that if the content of that article in any way reflects the overall content of the episode, this can’t bode well-either in the name of factual accuracy or fairness to a now deceased defendant, one whose full acquittal in 2005 should have ended the matter once and for all. Just as with the Reelz channel’s recent series Rich and Acquitted, these shows seem designed with little more than one purpose in mind-to blatantly defy the laws of double jeopardy and to make a mockery of the justice system, all in the name of sensationalistic entertainment.
Important Update: Just as I was preparing to publish this post, I was informed (thanks to my good friend sanemjfan) of a Q&A session conducted on Reddit by the show’s executive producer, Nancy Glass. I have to say, I was both pleasantly surprised and genuinely encouraged by what she had to say in answer to some fans’ questions and concerns. In the name of fairness-and especially given that I blasted the show pretty good here-I would like to include those responses for you guys.
Given Glass’s responses, I feel somewhat better and more hopeful that this show may not be the total trainwreck I was anticipating. I’m still not thrilled about Ray Hultman being the apparent major spokesperson for the Jackson jury, but perhaps the opinions of the other four jurors will help balance things out. I am hoping this may turn out to be a valuable lesson that we can’t always judge an entire program based off of a horribly edited trailer, but as the old saying goes, the proof will be “in the pudding” this Sunday night. I will update this post with a full review once the episode has aired.
UPDATE: The show will also be featuring juror Paulina Coccoz. I hope she will be allowed ample time in the episode to be able to speak on the case as passionately as he has in this recently published Fox article:
Juror Paulina Coccoz is shocked many people still believe Michael Jackson was guilty on all charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy he befriended as the child recovered from cancer in 2003.
The then-46-year-old King of Pop walked free in June 2005 after a nearly four-month trial. While the jurors said at the time they wanted to “return to our lives as anonymously as we came,” some, including Coccoz, have spoken about their experience for Oxygen’s four-night special, “The Jury Speaks,” in hopes it will set the record straight.
“It’s really important for me to share my story because when I talk, even in my daily life to people that I don’t know or even with people I know, everybody still thinks he was guilty,” Coccoz, known as juror #10, told Fox News. “And I find it hard to believe that it’s still going on. That’s not what happened… he was accused of some horrible, horrible things and it’s a sad thing that we lost such a wonderful human being on this planet.
“We need to all look at things for what they were instead of saying, ‘Oh yeah, he was a freak. He was guilty because he was a freak.’ Everybody’s different and God forbid we should all be judged in a courtroom because we’re a freak and we’re guilty.”
Coccoz didn’t always feel that way about the pop star. When the mother of three boys first heard the accusations, she was ready to find him guilty if they proved to be true.
“For me, it was a real sensitive spot,” she admitted. “I took it kind of personal in a way that you would never want something like that to happen to your children. So I really didn’t think or care that he was Michael Jackson. If he was doing these things that he was being accused of, I didn’t feel that I had any problem finding him guilty if that was the case.”
The case first arose after a February 2003 broadcast of the British documentary “Living with Michael Jackson,” in which the entertainer said sharing his bed with children in the Neverland Ranch was a non-sexual act of affection. He was shown holding hands with Gavin Arvizo, a cancer patient Jackson wanted to help, which immediately sparked outrage.
While the family originally insisted no inappropriate contact occurred between the two, Jackson was charged later that same year. Prosecutors claimed at the time the singer gave Arvizo alcohol in order to abuse him.
“I do remember looking at his face and his body language when Gavin Arvizo took the stand,” recalled Coccoz. “It was very obvious he was deeply hurt. You could see that his head was down and there was no eye contact whatsoever. He was taking in all of the testimony and his body language really showed his sadness.”
The jury found the testimony of Arvizo’s family to be not credible. Some jurors even noted Arvizo’s mother would stare down at them and even snapped her fingers at the bewildered group.
“There were a lot of moments where you felt… ulterior motives was money,” she explained. “And it appeared that they were imposing themselves on everyone that they could and they used different opportunities and a ‘feel sorry for me’ scenario. There were a lot of moments, really.
“There were several people, several stars that indicated they really needed something from them. It was very strange that they talked to an attorney and said he was molested. And ironically, it was the same attorney that had something to do with the Jordan Chandler case. So, I don’t know, that raised some eyebrows. It just seemed really, really far-fetched. And unfortunately, the family’s credibility was just horrible.”
In 1993, Chandler’s father accused Jackson of sexually abusing his 13-year-old son. While Jackson always denied any wrongdoing, they reportedly settled the case out of court for $20 million and both parties signed a confidentiality agreement.
The mother also noticed something she thought was peculiar about Arvizo.
“Because I have boys, I guess that’s my experience I’m using to refer to,” she said. “Boys are pretty obvious in their mannerisms. [And] he didn’t seem upset…when you put kids in a situation where they’re suddenly surrounded by adults, you see a different person…when it comes to talking about being molested, I would imagine that’s a very difficult, difficult thing to talk about, especially in front of a lot of people in a courtroom setting. So I can see how it’s something that would be upsetting. [For him], it’s something where it would come across as ‘no big deal, just another day in the courtroom.’
“But also, the emotions that go with a moment that causes trauma or impact on you, especially if you cared about someone or were so enamored with someone who totally let you down. I would think that would be a little more intense…not even a tear or a moment of choking up arose. And that was kind of strange, too.”
The jury delivered the verdict in California Superior Court on their seventh day of deliberations. Coccoz revealed she will never forget Jackson’s reaction.
“I remember looking and I could see that there was a tear running down his face…we were all very emotional. It was a very emotional moment,” she revealed.
And while the courtroom drama came to an end, Coccoz believed the trial haunted Jackson since then. The singer passed away at age 50 in 2009 from cardiac arrest.
“[It] painted a picture of him being this monster when he spent all his life trying to do good things for children, that had to have just crushed him,” she said. “I know it would have crushed me. To rob him of the joy of what he worked so hard (for) in his life was just so, so wrong. I can only imagine for him, that was probably the reason why he had a hard time with finding that spark again. I imagine that spark was just taken away.”
Coccoz added that if the trial were today, she would still stand by her not guilty verdict based on the evidence presented to the jury.
“It was pretty obvious that there was no molestation done,” she said. “It was pretty obvious that there were ulterior motives on behalf of the family. And the mother, she orchestrated the whole thing…that’s my opinion. But there wasn’t a shred of evidence that was able to show us or give us any doubt in voting guilty. It was pretty obvious there was no other way to vote other than not guilty.”
“The Jury Speaks: Michael Jackson” airs Sunday, July 23 at 9 p.m.
Also, at least one of the featured jurors will be conducting a Q&A on Reddit after the broadcast.