Here we go again.
This time it's Michael Jackson, the bewildering king of kink, who will have the media running like the bulls of Pamplona, in pursuit of a sad, aging pop star who is charged with violating the law.
He is being accused of felony child molestation at his kiddie farm in the Santa Ynez Valley, where the lure of Neverland is more than young boys can resist.
To say that the man-child is a little strange is to say that the Vietnam War was a little disruptive. A guy who's had his nose shaped like an ant-eater's, who wears a surgical mask in public, who drapes his children in veils and who dangles his baby from a balcony might, yes, be considered somewhat odd if not downright balmy.
All of this has, of course, been noted in some detail by those of us who write and talk for a living, because Jackson taunts us not only with his peculiarities but also with his run-ins with the law.
In 1993, he was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland ranch and, although never charged, reportedly settled with the boy's family for millions of dollars following their civil suit. Not a bad payoff to eliminate what he regarded as an annoyance.
Guilty or not of the current allegations, his presence in court will summon stampeding herds of reporters, photographers and commentators in embarrassing numbers to chronicle every moment of the fading star's public humiliation. I'll bet you $4 that even Dominick Dunne will be there, tapping out gossipy, celebrity-oriented prose for Vanity Fair.
Jackson's anticipated ordeal will no doubt be yet another Trial of the Century. Any trial that involves sex or murder, and maybe even both, manages to work its way into the public's heart at least partially due to the excesses of the media, both written and electronic.
Ever since Fatty Arbuckle was accused of the rape and murder of a showgirl during a wild party in his hotel room 82 years ago, a crime for which he was subsequently acquitted, the American appetite for juicy details of luminary wrong-doings has never abated.
Wasn't it just yesterday, for instance, that O.J. Simpson was the object of a media feeding frenzy in a downtown courtroom? You might recall that the sweet-smiling former downfield runner was accused of having done in his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a local waiter, Ronald Goldman, in a fit of jealousy.
Marcia Clark and her gang blew the case for the D.A.'s office during a trial that was often so bereft of solid news that we began concentrating on her new hairdo ("from tight curls to a more relaxed shag") and speculating on whether or not she was loving it up with her co-counsel, Chris Darden. A houseboy named Kato Kaelin edged into the spotlight for a moment or two, as did a neighbor's dog, but both quickly faded into darkness when the spotlight blinked off.
My own experience with the wild determination of the mass media occurred during the trial of so-called Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss about the same time and in the same courthouse where O.J. was, you'll forgive the expression, knocking them dead. While media snobs characterized Fleiss' charge of pandering as "sleazy" and Simpson's ordeal as the big news in town, sleaze had enough drawing power to get the Pamplona bulls thundering again.
I was mistakenly among them when a frightened Fleiss emerged from the courthouse one day and was instantly set upon by reporters, photographers, cinematographers, radio commentators, celebrity writers, curious bystanders and religious zealots holding signs that read, "Jesus is coming, prepare to meet thy doom." The idea of a judgment day was taking on a whole new meaning.
Even though I have charged uphill with fixed bayonet in the face of enemy fire as a U.S. Marine during the Korean War, being caught in a furious mass of charging media was an experience that shook me to the toes of my tasseled loafers. One is, of course, determined in combat to achieve one's objective, but no more determined than, say, a television sound man swinging a boom in the direction of someone he is trying to record.
There have been so many major trials in L.A. that one would think they would have lost their celebrity value. Not so. Watch closely as Michael Jackson exits a limo wearing a surgical mask and holding an umbrella and whispering his innocence. In the background you will see the wild bulls descending on him, their heads lowered and their horns gleaming in the sunlight. The very idea sends a chill through me. Not just the herd, but also the dreaded possibility that the whole thing will someday probably be, shudder, a movie of the week.
Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He's at firstname.lastname@example.org.