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American Thriller


Sitting here at George's Cafe on the Aegean island of Patmos, a chill spot for Athenian Greeks, mellow Europeans and a few adventurous Americans, the Great American Ghoul Show for Michael Jackson plays out a bit more oddly, if that is possible.

CNN International is on around-the-clock MJ watch, with Honduras coup news and the Iranian street protest crackdown allowed intermittent attention. Breaking News these days only emanates from gossip reporters prowling the gates of Neverland.

A British ex-pat cook here marvels at the coverage of throngs of loyal fans hoping to make a pilgrimage to view the mummified King of Pop.

Fifteen years ago I sat in the Budapest Marriot trying to explain to Hungarian friends who this footballer was driving down the 405 in his Ford Bronco, and why it seemed to matter so much to Americans, or at least to the American media machine.

Eight years ago, the country was transfixed by the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy affair, before the media circus was shattered by 9/11. Will this mid-summer sideshow be vanquished by some real world event that has more meaning than the death of the most spectacularly talented but repeatedly accused pedophile?

Perhaps not. Jackson's early passing is a perfect globalized mass media storm, as it combines Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll with a healthy dose of those two basic staples of the American story: Race & Money.

I have tried to resist getting into the details of this particularly sad story, and just enjoy my vacation here in paradise. However, even as I turned off the TV in the hotel room, I downloaded all the Vanity Fair articles about Michael Jackson over the years, to see if I could understand some bit of truth beyond the South Park version of MJ. After reading the extended reportage, it seems that Trey Parker and friends got it scarily right.

Yet...beyond the debates about whether he was done in by doctors and hangers-on, and what will happen to his money, there rest the multiple layers and endless cycles of abuse that form the rise, fall and death of this American Thriller.

A child is abused by his father. He rises to be the adoring centerpiece of America's most celebrated boy band. The brothers cross over the color line to help shift the culture. A star is born, and he grows into a once-in-a-generation megastar.

The abused boy is robbed of his childhood by the media glare and money grab that envelopes him. He cannot live in his own skin, and suffers the hideous results of a transmogrified facial makeover. The media machine feeds off the tawdry scandal behind the gates of Neverland.

The last act was a promised London concert finale (This Is It), but that was not fitting (or profitable) enough for this American story. In death, as in life, dignity is buried to make way for the hype, sensation and endless profit-taking from the King of Pop.

The American Thriller media machine, refined and well-rehearsed by the O.J. and Princess Diana dramas -- and the shorter-lived media circuses ever since -- is now in overdrive. The story will live on through the autopsy, battles over the will and kids, and never-seen-before photos and videos. Of course, all commentators will sign-off saying that all that really matters now is the interests of the children.

As we keep gazing on and on...