Roll up for the weirdest show on earth

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New visitors to Michael Jackson's website this weekend will encounter the singer in a jittery mood. I'm sorry, that should of course be the "recording superstar", who is shown in a pensive pose in a photograph taken from sufficient distance to minimise the ravages of cosmetic surgery. Jackson somehow contrives to look like a Romantic poet, even if his message to fans is hardly Byronic: "The theme of this website is called [sic] a new beginning." The star says he has been disturbed to find strangers speaking on his behalf, and he intends the website to act as a source of reliable information for his millions of fans. So what does he wish to convey to his admirers?

Well, under the rubric "breaking news", we are offered the following: a statement from Jackson's lawyers in response to last week's revelation that he has been indicted on sex charges, an announcement that he has obtained a restraining order against one Henry V Vaccaro, a denial that he has asked the authorities to return his passport in order to travel to Africa and a declaration that there is no truth in a "recent rumour regarding Michael Jackson". Um, so what's your favourite colour, Michael? Even the most devoted fan - and I am second to none in my admiration for "Billie Jean" - would have to conclude that something is amiss in Jackson's awesomely weird world.

Jackson's next appearance - perhaps I should say exhibition, after he leapt on to a car bonnet and serenaded fans who turned up to support him at an earlier stage in this saga - will be before the Santa Barbara Superior Court later this week. Three days ago, it emerged that a grand jury has summoned Jackson to face a full public trial on undisclosed charges involving a 12-year-old boy. The precise details have yet to be announced, but the trial follows Jackson's arrest in November, when he faced seven counts of "committing lewd or lascivious acts" with the boy, who is suffering from cancer. Jackson's penchant for sharing his bed with boys is well known, and the series of events behind the charges was described in a recent issue of Vanity Fair.

This is not the first time Jackson has faced such allegations - in the early 1990s he settled out of court after allegations involving another boy, Jordan Chandler - and he regards himself as the victim of a witch-hunt. Of course, he should be treated as innocent unless a jury decides otherwise, but what I find so interesting in both cases is the reluctance of almost everyone involved to acknowledge what they are about. The press is not as a rule reluctant to use the word "paedophilia" when someone faces charges of a sexual nature with children, so why not in this case? I suspect Jackson is protected both by his celebrity and his freakish appearance, which makes him appear frighteningly vulnerable. When a man - Jackson is 45, however boyish he aspires to appear - inflicts so much damage on himself, all but the sternest critics are disarmed.

Jackson's misfortunes, it seems to me, are twofold. In the first place he was a child star, required to work gruelling hours at an age when most kids are in school or messing around with their mates. This is pretty much guaranteed to mess someone up, and in Jackson's case, worse was to follow. His successful recording career provided the cash for him to create, as an adult, the childhood he had missed, financing his famous ranch, Neverland, with its fairground rides and other infantile indulgences. More to the point, Jackson does not appear to have had anyone on hand to warn him of the dangers of existing in a fantasy world in which skin colour and just about everything else to do with the body are infinitely malleable, with the dreadful results that can be seen whenever he appears in public.

A nervous awareness that Jackson is not normal seems to have translated into a suspension of judgement among his fans, allowing him to pursue an increasingly eccentric lifestyle. Even so, it is clear that the boy who was forced to perform adult emotions in public has become a grown-up with the emotional apparatus of a child. Now Jackson is to appear in an adult courtroom, where the collision between his fantasies and judicial reality may produce the most spectacular performance of his career.

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