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Jewish World Review
Nov. 21, 2003
/ 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Michael Jackson and us
By Rabbi Dov Fischer
It's not a question of The Gloved One's innocence, but ours
Unexpectedly, I found myself traveling on the freeways most of Wednesday, when the Michael Jackson story erupted into a media feeding-frenzy. No matter what talk station I sought, the conversation was salacious, incendiary, and vicious.
Certainly, the allegations, if proven, are horrific. But the frenzied commentary also emerges from the nature of our newsmedia. Live radio and 24-hour television news demands that time be filled. A succinct account cannot fill three hours of a talk host's program. And "good radio" is measured by the amount of telephone lines that light up, the amount of listeners riveted. Arbitron and Nielsen polls dictate the approach. The more salacious, the more the gossip the more people that will remain riveted.
I do not know whether Michael Jackson is guilty. Our legal system is predicated on the principle that every person is innocent until proven guilty, but none of us believes in that fundamental. We "know" that O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole, even though he was found innocent by a jury of his peers in a fairly conducted trial in an open courtroom. And, certainly among radio talk hosts, we "know" that Michael Jackson did "it."
But I do not know.
I know, from his interviews, that he has an eccentric understanding of the way that grown men and other people's children are supposed to interact, to interrelate. But that does not, in itself, convict him of child molestation. I know that he apparently paid someone $20 million ten years ago, in order to terminate a child-molestation accusation and prosecution, but that does not prove much to me. I have been a civil litigator for ten years, representing some of the most important corporations and prominent people in California, and I know that all-too-many baseless allegations settle for reasons unrelated to the veracity of charges. But, then again, sometimes they do settle because of veracity.
So I do not know whether Michael Jackson dunnit. And, on a much deeper level, I do not care. I do not associate with Michael Jackson. Odds are that I never will meet him. The chances that he would invite my pre-adolescent son to spend a night at his ranch are less-than-nil. And most important here the chances that, if invited, my son actually would spend a night at Neverland with Michael Jackson were, are, and always will be well, Never.
And that really is the discussion that the Michael Jackson matter should be eliciting. What parents would allow their child, in the aftermath of the prior scandalous allegations and mega-million-dollar out-of-court settlement, to spend private time with Michael Jackson? Who would take such a chance? What cost-benefit analysis could justify that chance?
And what kind of parents are we? We do not know Michael Jackson, and no one of his milieu invites our children to spend the night but ABC television does, and so does NBC, and CBS, and Fox, and the myriad cable/satellite stations. Do we know what our children are watching on television, as strangers enter our home each night through the tube, babysitting our children and spending a chunk of the night with them? So many of us do not.
Earlier in my parenting years, as my college daughters were growing up, I knew that I did not want them watching "Beverly Hills 90210" or anything of that genre. By contrast, "Cosby" was wholesome. But what about the shows "in between"? "The Simpsons" seemed cartoonish and therefore fine until we started noticing that the story lines too often reflected a troubling line, even if Lisa was clearly good and Bart was clearly bad. "Roseanne" seemed funny and family oriented, but we soon determined that her boorishness did not belong in our home. "Friends" seemed like a bunch of nice kids who were, well, friends. But then we saw that they also were the kinds of friends trying to get into each other's intimate-apparel.
We became censors. As :Jerry Springer and Geraldo moved to daytime, along with reruns of "Married with Children" and so much of the network sitcom trash, we no longer treated that time zone as safe. We monitored, and we censored. That is how we reared our children censoring television. Even "Nickelodeon," which began as a "safe harbor" on television a decade ago, soon moved into "Nick at Night." Now, "Roseanne" is there and our son is not.
In 1993, after law school, we drove from California to Kentucky, where I served a year's clerkship for a United States Appeals Court judge. En route, we listened to the car radio and, for the first time, I heard the lyrics to the pop music that my children would hear. I was shocked absolutely shocked. So we moved the family to country music. Plain and simple. Yes, country music includes lyrics about bars and drinkin'. In the greater pantheon of concerns in our family, that was just not our problem. It includes songs about troubled relationships, and we monitored those, too. But the lyrics also speak about Mama and about family. Even about G-d. We preferred that music for our children and those lyrics. I would rather that my children, during pre-adolescence, be singing Garth Brooks's "Sometimes I Thank G-d for Unanswered Prayers" than the latest panting-and-moaning recorded by Britney Spears. I would rather they watch the Country Music Awards, where tales of redemption abound in the performers' lives, than to watch Madonna and Spears or Aguilera French-kiss each other.
If the censoring of television and music became part of parenting my daughters when they were in grade school, I now also censor video games as my son grows up. I had no idea that the evil and trash elsewhere in our culture had permeated the joystick sanctuary. But it has. Virtually every interesting game that is not sports-based entails glorifying anti-social behavior: racing away from the police, shooting people, murdering people. Clerks at the stores have told me that some games even entail rape. Well, not in the Gamecube at Chez Fischer, they don't.
There is a broad spectrum for parental preferences, and reasonable minds may differ. Not each parent would make my choices. That's fine. But if L'Affaire Michael Jackson teaches us anything constructive if we are to draw anything from the story beyond the salaciousness and the gossip every parent must begin by asking "How could it be that the plaintiff's parents ever, in a zillion years, allowed their son to spend private time alone with Jackson?"
And, then after smiling smugly at how much better our parenting skills are we all must ask: "And what are we doing to assure that our children's precious minds and innocent souls are protected from other societal pollutants aiming to poison that preciousness and to tarnish that innocence?"
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JWR contributor Rabbi Dov Fischer, a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles, is Rabbi of the Young Israel of Calabasas.
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© 2003, Rabbi Dov Fischer