Leading Article: The world of Michael Jackson

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AMONG the verses in Dancing the Dream, a book by Michael Jackson published last year, is an autobiographical poem called 'Magical Child'. Here is one stanza: In endless ways they tried to destroy

His simple trust, his boundless joy

His invincible armor was a shield of bliss

Nothing could touch it, no venom, no hiss.

Those words are now bitterly ironic. The allegations of child-molesting made against Michael Jackson in the United States earlier this week have put his career in jeopardy - whatever the outcome of the investigations of the Sexually Exploited Child Unit of the Los Angeles police department. Yet money and popularity are likely to be the last things on the singer's mind as he lies in his suite on the 17th floor of the Bangkok Oriental Hotel.

Sympathisers might wish to dismiss the allegations of molesting a boy of 13 as the worst kind of American legal sensationalism. The boy's parents are fighting over him, after all; his father, a celebrity dentist from Beverly Hills, has entangled Mr Jackson in the case by hinting that his wife irresponsibly encouraged the child's friendship with him. She denies the claim.

Yet Michael Jackson is no ordinary rock star. He is also a strange, androgynous mixture of libido and innocence. Underneath his much-remodelled face is a sad, shy person who does not appear able to come to terms with being adult, being black, or being a man.

In a rare television interview, Mr Jackson told his friend Oprah Winfrey that he had been beaten by his father when he was a child. One of his sisters has made still more serious accusations against her father. Beyond doubt, however, is the fact that the Jackson children were put on the stage at such an early age that few of them had a normal upbringing. Michael's was the least satisfactory of all.

Hence, perhaps, the choice of Neverland for the name of his ranch outside Los Angeles. Hence his decision to install a private fairground in its garden. Hence his inclination to whisk children off to toyshops in limousines and tell them, like a fairy godmother, to take what they wanted. Hence his revealing admission that he prefers children to adults, because they are 'more honest and straightforward'.

But even the richest and most reclusive star must pay some attention to what society thinks. Proof of Michael Jackson's lack of judgement came when another of his young friends, an 11-year-old Australian boy who was staying at the ranch when it was raided by police, tried to defend him on television. The boy declared that Michael was 'like a best friend, except that he's big'. It was almost in passing that the boy added that he used to 'hug, kiss and nuzzle' up to him ('just the fun stuff'), that he used to kiss him ('like you kiss your mother'), and that they slept in the same bed ('I was on one side, and he was on the other').

Children may see the innocence and friendship in such actions. At 35, Mr Jackson should have expected adults to be more cynical.