TELEVISION / Soft soap Oprah

'Do not judge a person unless you have talked to them one on one.' Michael Jackson's injunction, delivered in the course of his conversation with Oprah Winfrey (BBC 2) gave the casual watcher some problems. If you were watching this, his first television interview for 14 years, did that count as a proxy one on one? Could we take these overheard remarks as being in some way revelatory? Or do you have to pitch up at the Santa Ynez ranch in person before it is legitimate to pass comment? As the conditions of entry are a little restrictive (you have to be Elizabeth Taylor, a llama, Brooke Shields, a top-rating talk show host or a child suffering from cancer), most will have settled for adjusting their prejudices on the basis of this 90-minute special, perhaps the longest piece of spin- doctoring in the history of modern broadcasting.

It opened with a soft-drink montage of Michael in action over a soundtrack of religiose utterances from the fans. 'I try to imitate Jesus,' Jackson said much later when talking of his charitable activities, adding hastily, 'I'm not saying I am like Jesus.' But the preceding confection had been so awestruck and reverential that you felt the remark had less to do with modesty than with a practical desire to avoid any confusion amongst those watching.

Earlier Oprah, who insisted throughout on the bona fides of the conversation, assured us that she had not been contractually obliged to call Jackson the 'King of Pop' (though the phrase occurred in the introductory titles anyway), adding usefully, 'I personally think that King of Pop is too limiting for you.' And while she did, as reported in newspapers from Bangkok to Bangui, ask the direct questions - How much plastic surgery? Do you lighten your skin? Are you a virgin? - she received the answers as Moses probably took down the Ten Commandments - very little visible scepticism and no supplementaries.

So Jackson's explanation that his skin-colour was the result of a skin disease passed away without comment. But if he uses make-up to even out the blotches and if he is proud to be a black American, why doesn't he use a darker brand? And where exactly does the heavy eye-liner and lip-stick come in? Similarly it might be true, as he pointed out, that hardly anybody in Los Angeles hasn't had plastic surgery but that still didn't answer the question of why he had, and to such drastic and androgynous ends (he looks now like a Barbie doll that has been whittled at by a malicious little brother). When asked about his relationships with women, he blocked with a cliche - 'I'm married to my work' - ignoring the fact that most celebrities manage a degree of polygamy in this respect. The mere fact that Winfrey asked the questions she did seems to have startled some viewers so much that they overlooked the fact that they weren't ever answered.

Even so, the result was fascinating - a demonstration of the strange enchantments of fame and the virtual impossibility of sincerity on American prime-time television, a medium that has devalued the currency of sentiment so much that the simplest emotional transactions have become impossible. Were La Toyah's stories of parental abuse true, asked Oprah. 'I haven't read her book,' replied Michael, 'but I love her dearly.' So what about his father? 'I love my father but I don't really know him,' he continued before revealing that he was so frightened of him that he frequently threw up before their meetings. These weren't really confessions, just observances of the American ceremony of candour, of which Oprah is high priestess.

In the absence of any real communication you had to look for clues in the details. In the spooky frigidity of Jackson's features, for instance, as he stood impassively at Elizabeth Taylor's shoulder while she sang his praises ('Highly intelligent, intuitive, understanding, sympathetic, generous to a fault almost'), his face unruffled by embarrassment or laughter. Or in the name of his ranch ('Neverland'), an odd choice for someone who protested at one point that his audience wouldn't let him grow up. Or in the Las Vegas style pantomimes of reluctance when Oprah asked him to dance, though a rhythm track was at once to hand when he 'spontaneously' obliged. Whatever he does to his face, this was a whitewash.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living