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Man in the Mirror

How twisted was Michael Jackson's TV special? Chris Willman knows what it's like to be seduced by Neverland. He sounds off on Jacko's latest comments

Michael Jackson | SMOTHER'S DAY Jackson holds baby ''Blanket,'' whose face he covers in public
SMOTHER'S DAY Jackson holds baby ''Blanket,'' whose face he covers in public

How twisted was Michael Jackson's TV special?

The first logical impulse while watching ABC's ''Living With Michael Jackson'' was to suppose that some sort of intervention is in order. The second was to wonder what sane people left in his circle could enter the gates of Neverland to intervene.

There are a lot of horror movies left to come out in 2003. But there may be no shot of a victim quite so terrifying as the close-up of the infant Jackson has dubbed ''Blanket'' being literally, as well as figuratively, smothered by his father, the baby's wide eyes peering out from underneath a veil as if to silently cry for help, his father trying to stick a bottle in his mouth with one hand while holding a veil over the baby's nose with the other.

Later on in the show, Jackson defended himself against charges that dangling Blanket over a hotel balcony rail in Berlin was reckless, insisting that the infant enjoys these kinds of ordeals. ''Why would I throw a baby off a balcony? That's the dumbest, stupidest story I've ever heard,'' said Jacko, deflecting criticism by suggesting that his detractors are accusing him of attempted infanticide instead of just idiocy. ''We were waving to thousands of fans down below, and they were chanting that they wanted to see my children, so I was kind enough to let them see. I was doing something out of innocence.'' And poor Blanket? ''He was responding. He started singing....'' Or maybe it was a scream.

A slightly sympathetic aside here: I've been to Neverland. Back in 1993, I tagged along with an MTV crew and a handful of contest winners to spend a day gallivanting around Jackson's home-cum-theme park. I rode on his Ferris wheel and bumper cars, ate popcorn and Moonwalker-brand chocolate bars, toured his private movie theater (which includes a bed next to the projection booth -- for sick kids, supposedly), walked around beautifully manicured grounds in which Disney songs are pumped out of speakers disguised as rocks.

And much as interviewer Martin Bashir mocked the idea of a grown-up enjoying this child-centric environment, it WAS seductive. Like Jackson, probably, I grew up thinking that Disneyland's safe, sanitized Main Street USA was more heavenly than any biblical street paved with gold. Stronger souls than Jackson's might find their development pleasantly arrested in this hermetically sealed of an environment. I can also vouch that he has the greatest amusement park ride of all time in his park, the Zipper, and that, wonderful as it is, it will definitely scramble your brains, which could explain a lot.

The childhood abuse Jackson reportedly suffered as a kid, as detailed in the special's first hour, explains a lot, too. But not enough, because everyone ultimately is responsible for breaking cycles of abuse. Jackson seems to be repeating the cycle, not by beating and berating his kids, but by ''loving'' them too much. If he only wished he could wear a mask while he was growing up, well, by golly, his children will get to, even if it makes them look like they're starring in a G-rated version of ''Eyes Wide Shut.''

And the smothering started literally at the moment of birth, we found out: As his second child was delivered into this world, he related, ''I was so anxious to get her home that after cutting the cord, I hate to say this, I snatched her and just went home with placenta all over her.... Got my child and ran... I got her home and washed her off.''

In California, attorney Gloria Allred has begged the child protection agency in Santa Barbara County to investigate Jackson further. We'd all like that, but -- the old allegations of sexual misconduct aside -- his actions may fall short of what the law would consider actionable abuse.

Is it against the law to spirit a placenta-covered infant away from its mother and into a limo? Probably not, if the mother is dumb enough to agree. Is it a crime for someone who grew up admittedly wishing he could wear a mask to brainwash his kids into thinking that every day is Halloween and that it's normal to wear a Mardi Gras mask every time they leave the house? Unfortunately, maybe not. It seems legislators never thought ahead to someone like Michael Jackson.

With apologies to Allred, what Jackson needs is some true friends, not the law, to step in for that intervention, formal or otherwise. (The same thing might have helped another of pop's infamous isolationists, Phil Spector.) Liz Taylor, Uri Geller, Al Sharpton, sister Janet, anybody... please, help get that smothering blanket off Blanket.

What do you think of Michael Jackson?

Originally posted Feb 07, 2003
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