Jennie Bristow

Cheap Thrills Documentary

Jacko is wacko. Thanks to Martin Bashir's intrepid, insightful journalistic skills, we now know that. And there we were thinking that he was a nice well-adjusted all-American boy.

But what else do we know? Following the two-hour ITV special Living with Michael Jackson, broadcast in Britain on Monday night to an audience of 14 million, the UK press has worked itself into a revelation-induced frenzy. Apparently, Jacko is everything from a serial pedophile who lures boys into his bed to a shopping-addicted logical conclusion of our consumer society to a fucked-up prototype of an abused childhood.

As if to compensate for the fact that Bashir's tedious documentary, with its combination of obsequiousness and snide asides to camera, got nowhere near any "deeper" issues, psychobabblers and po-faced social commentators have rushed in to theorise, understand and condemn. What has Bashir's two hours done to deserve such attention?

The striking thing about Living with Michael Jackson was not anything that Bashir uncovered, but what Jackson boasted about himself. "I am Peter Pan," he said, escorting the camera crew around his personal fairground, showing off his toys, talking about his love of climbing trees. The idea that this apparently unhinged personality likes having innocent sleepovers with his pre-pubescent friends was quite believable -- or at any rate, more believable than the allegations that he wants to have actual sex with them (or, indeed, with anybody else).

Okay, so it is not normal for a 44-year-old man to aspire to being aged 12. But it's a reasonably interesting story -- and one that Bashir, with his muttered innuendo and moral outrage, skimmed over in his quest to push the pedophile button. Just as he pushed the poor-parenting button instead of getting anywhere interesting on the story of Jacko's kids. It can't, indeed, be much fun for two children to walk around wearing masks or veils -- although Bashir's solution to their inability to lead normal lives ("Get the security guards to take them to the zoo") seemed pretty surreal, too.

And Jacko might have excruciating taste in over-priced furniture -- but did we really need to spend what felt like half an hour with him in a shop, with Bashir playing to that famous British anti-ostentation and muttering things like "a bargain at a quarter of a million dollars, that one!" to the Argos customers on their couches at home? Was this worth eight months of Bashir's life, let alone five minutes of our time?

In fact, when Jackson's PR people slam the documentary for being a "salacious ratings chaser," you can only think that they don't go far enough. It was two hours' worth of tawdry moralising, which substituted rumour and innuendo for journalism, and in which Bashir didn't even criticise Jackson to his face, reserving that for his after-the-event bitching to the TV audience.

Of course, Bashir isn't a journalist. He's a Big Ear with a talent for therapeutic smarm, who made his name with that famous 1995 BBC Panorama interview with Princess Diana. Jackson knows this -- which is why, now he too has been Bashired, he claims to be "devastated" and "betrayed." "Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him that his would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life and told me that he was 'the man that turned Diana's life around,'" Jackson whinges now.

Given that Jackson doesn't seem to live in the real world, he may have missed the fact that Diana had never been accused of child abuse, and that while the likes of Martin Bashir might play along with tree-climbing and learning dance steps, he's not going to do anything that his audience might find controversial. Like criticize Princess Diana, or not claim moral outrage behind Jacko's back.

From this viewer's couch, Living with Michael Jackson was a superficial portrait of two equally unappealing characters. At least one of them can dance.

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