Michael Jackson’s voice, torpid beyond recognition; his urine, his blood and heart; his tattooed pink lips and hairline; the vestiges of the weave attached to his short, grey hair; the galaxy of scars on his attenuated body; the drugs in his body, on his bedside table, in his closet – these are some of the images that have emerged from the involuntary manslaughter trial of his personal physician, Conrad Murray. Testimony in the trial ended on Tuesday, with Murray opting not to testify in his own defense.
For more than two years, Jackson’s body has rested in an austere, unmarked tomb in a private section of the Forest Hill cemetery – a mysterious site, designed to ensure some measure of dignity for the much-maligned artist.
But this trial (available as a phone app and through live stream video), with its cavalier and interminable reference to Jackson’s body (when the autopsy shot was shown, Jackson’s horrified family fanned out of the courtroom), has, once again, reduced him to a series of repulsive signals; to an unspoken argument about his degeneracy.
Much of this six-week case has involved agitated harangues regarding the timeline of events after Jackson’s jubilant conclusion of his rehearsal on June 25, 2009, (for the This Is It comeback concerts) and return home to the care of Murray, his personal physician.
What transpired from roughly 1 a.m. until noon that day is at issue, and more specifically, Murray’s statement about those events to the Los Angeles Police Department on June 27, 2009.
Murray told the police that, after administering a series of lightweight sedatives throughout the morning, after listening to Jackson, a torrid insomniac, beg for his “milk” (the infamous Propofol), he administered a small dose at 10:40 a.m. and went to the washroom. Two minutes later, he returned, and Jackson wasn’t breathing.
It was after noon that a call to 911 was finally made: Jackson was dead.
The room had been swept, and Murray’s phone would reveal he talked to several people for 33 minutes during the time he claims he was rushing back to Jackson’s bedside.
The prosecution has done an excellent job of presenting witnesses testifying that Murray made many shocking deviations from all known standards of care: most glaringly, his having taken his sweet time calling 911; his inept attempts at CPR; and his chatting with his sexy girlfriend (arguably, the most ridiculous witness ever to testify at a criminal trial) while his patient lay dying.
Whether Murray is let go or thrown in jail (he faces a maximum of four years in prison and the removal of his licence), what will this trial have done to Jackson’s reputation?
Recently, Jackson was revealed to be the highest-earning dead star of the year, though his posthumous income has dropped significantly from the fiscal year immediately following his death.
Jackson’s hard-core fans are following the trial proceedings, and excoriating “Dr. Death”; the trial is written about every day and has generated bizarre sideshows, like the flurry of lust online after Dr. Alon Steinberg – a handsome, charming heart surgeon – testified for the prosecution. (One of many smitten women wrote on a fan site of “Dr. Dreamy, “woo hoo! MJ is smiling down on Dr. Cutey.”)
But in the main, this trial as a cultural event is dead in the water.
There are no Dancing (Michael) Pastors (like the Dancing Itos of the O.J. Simpson trial); no Saturday Night Live routines and, most tellingly, there has been surprisingly little tabloid coverage.
In life, commentators from the South Park writers to Chris Rock, and particularly Vanity Fair, whose highly unsympathetic Maureen Orth followed Jackson’s story obsessively, as well as the tabloids, dissected each of the star’s movements, hungering after any image or interview, however spurious, confirming Jackson’s deviance. They mocked and vilified him.
Through his music, Jackson kept a strange and brilliant record of his life horribly similar to the film Ed Wood’s Bela Lugosi, implicating himself as a junkie, an animal “hunted” and “despised.”
In 1996, in They Don’t Care About Us, the still-defiant Jackson sang, ‘I’m tired of being the victim of hate.”
A year later, in Morphine, he spoke, in the second person, about his “shame,” self-loathing and being a “drug baby.” Neil Strauss, writing for The New York Times, compared him, with admiration and compassion, to the Elephant Man “screaming that he is a human being.”
The Murray trial, with its focus on science, has made a medical specimen of Jackson, a wan, repellent object that is somehow smaller than the sum of its battered parts.
Missing from this trial is a Chris Crocker (remember his tearful Internet plea to “leave Britney alone”?), someone audacious enough to scream that it’s time to end these proceedings and, once and for all, to leave Michael Jackson alone.