June 13, 2005,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece appears in the June 20, 2005, issue of National Review.
If you put “Michael Jackson trial” into an Internet search engine, you get links to approximately 5,110,000 web pages. If you put in “Mao Zedong,” you get about 509,000; “Lenin” comes up with 2,770,000. Thus the trial of a show-business celebrity appears to interest the world more than the lives and careers of the two framers of the most disastrous revolutions in world history.
The case is a surpassingly sordid one, of course, and the accused bizarre beyond belief. His celebrity and wealth have allowed him to indulge his whims to such an extent that the most egotistical Roman emperors, by comparison, seem models of psychological stability. And whether innocent or guilty, Michael Jackson is certainly the Nero of kitsch.
That does not mean, however, that the family of his accuser is a model of bourgeois propriety. At the very least, entrusting a minor to the care of a man of Mr. Jackson’s reputation would seem a serious error of judgment, and raises questions as to the motives of those who would make such an error. But whatever the eventual outcome of the trial, the case will be of considerable interest to social historians seeking, a hundred years hence, to understand the psyche of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Those future historians (assuming that an interest in the past survives) will be struck, I suspect, by the confusion in our society concerning sexual boundaries. On one hand, almost no sexual display is forbidden, and the most casual of liaisons is perfectly normal; on the other, university professors dare not be alone in a closed room with a female student for fear of accusations of sexual misdemeanor, and in some offices the most mildly flirtatious of remarks is taken as little short of rape. Extreme licentiousness thus coexists with a Puritanism that out-Calvins Calvin. One minute we are told that anything goes, and the next that we must carefully censor ourselves for fear of permanently traumatizing anyone who might overhear supposedly salacious remarks. At last, Herbert Marcuse’s concept of repressive tolerance seems to make some sense: We can do what we like so long as we live in fear. . .
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