February 6, 2003

what is wrong with michael jackson?

i’m not a great michael jackson fan. no, i’m not a michael jackson fan at all. if i happen to spot jackson at a concert i will not run to him for a hug that would squeeze tears from my eyes…no, forget i said that. i don’t ever imagine myself to be attending any of his concerts in the first place.

i would barely be able to locate a jackson-number on a compiled list of the top-100-hits and i guess the one tune i truly remember is you are not alone. i also remember the very dazzling videos of remember the time, and the scary thriller terrorised my childhood…putting me miles away from horror movies for the rest of my life.

perhaps that’s why, i have a detached viewpoint about all issues jackson. and i know when i have to like him, or dislike him, and i know when something is unfair.

as far as i can recollect, he’s been around in all our lives …either singing on tv, giving live performances, in an audio cd or tape, on a colleague’s computer at office or in the car, and of course, when he’s not singing, he’s in the headlines. i’ve also observed that before every tv performance, every public appearance or tv interview, arrives a huge aura of hype. like the deeply irritating bzzzzz of a housefly on a solitary afternoon that just knows there’s food around somewhere, the media seems to sniff, hover and cling on to almost anything the chap does, and turns it into a big issue. in one word i would call this fly the type of nosey journalist who thrives on sensationalism.

i was among the 14 million who watched the much-talked about michael jackson interview this monday, and right from the beginning martin bashir fit the description of the journalist i just talked about above.

for eight months bashir hovered around jackson, and his interview with the pop star clearly shows how he clings on to to any sentence that might create ripples of interest or provoke controversy among the media. note, i said media, and not the ‘public’. i am positive even the public saw how the journalist literally nagged jackson with his questions and went on and on about how he was not satisfied with the answers. because he didn’t get what he wanted to hear? or did he?

sure enough, bashir’s efforts brought itv a £3-million advertising revenue for a single 90-min programme. and a further £3.5 million when the rights of the programme were sold to the us network abc. full- and quarter page itv ads in the guardian on that day screamed with questions like “why did you dangle your child from the balcony?”, and “do your children get to meet their mothers?”…making sure even a person like me who’s not so fond of the 21-inch-idiot-box sit up and make a mental note of the time the show was to be broadcast.

the interview

michael jackson, three questions, eight months, martin bashir and a 90-minute interview.

that was all there was to it. like a chewing gum that you chomp and chew till every essence of the flavour is reduced and disappears, the three questions were thrown at michael again and again and again in every possible form and place. they were the main issues of his “changing face”, his relationship with his children, and his relationship with other’s children.

initially, i felt it was all laughable. the way bashir was allowed access to the star’s children, to his neverland ranch, the shopping trip at las vegas…while all the time he seemed so skeptical about the very answers he had been digging for. in one article published before the programme was broadcast, bashir said he was “disturbed” by what he saw and heard, and that michael jackson has all the financial ability to do what he wants, when he wants. well, i don’t see why not. whose money is he spending anyway?

i’m not sure if i’m using a harsh word here, but bashir seemed very much a hypocrite. he misused jackson’s trust to portray and magnify the mystery that was michael jackson. why, just half-way through the programme, most viewers would have wondered why michael is letting this happen to him. how could he not even suspect, in the eight months, that this reporter can easily turn his story around?

in the last 20 minutes of the interview, bashir tells the viewers that he’s finally decided to “confront” jackson again, for the “real truth”. in the grilling session that followed, a very visibly upset jackson repeats the same answers again…that he had an unhappy childhood, that he really has not changed the shape of his face and lips, that he does not see what is wrong with sharing a little love, and with sleeping with children.

bashir pounced on the last statement at once. very predictably, its echoes will be heard on every news bulletin, radio and paper for weeks, till the media finally gets tired of it.

perhaps jackson was born in the wrong country.

had it been india, where families are so emotionally bound by love and care that it is perfectly normal for children to sleep with their parents in the same room if they so wished; where lunchboxes carry hot home-cooked rotisabji or dalchawal in them, and not cold sandwiches, fries, crisps or salad and pizza from the nearest superstore; where parents still find it hard to let go of their grown-up children who want to study further or work away from home; and where grandparents don’t understand why children these days need a separate room for themselves…in a country where friends get together to sleep over dinner, gupshup and movies — in a single room, it would be martin bashir’s turn to be questioned: so what?

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