Two months ago I read a book I found extremely interesting: Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson.
I wasn't sure what to think about this book going in. It has the unique distinction of having equal numbers of five-star and one-star reviews on Amazon, with virtually nothing in between. It seemed like the only outcome would be for me to love it or hate it.
That didn't turn out to be true. While I certainly didn't hate it, I don't know if "love" is the right word either. Instead, I found it to be a very interesting, very detailed, and very compassionate look at the bizarre, often painfully sad life of a strange, strange individual.
This book is not for everyone. The alternate title could have been Lawsuits: There Were a Lot of Them. The book is 802 pages (although some of it is footnotes). And a LOT of it covers various lawsuits that were filed against Michael Jackson, by Michael Jackson, around Michael Jackson...etc. If you really enjoy reading biographies, then I would suggest it. If you enjoy the intersection of pop culture and the legal system, this book is for you. If you're looking for light reading to take to the beach? This probably shouldn't be your first pick.
While I thought the entire book was really good, there's one chapter that I think should be required reading for anyone exposed to the 24-hour news cycle in America. Chapter 21 outlines the 2003 child molestation case against Michael Jackson. Remember when you and everyone you knew were shocked that Michael Jackson had been declared innocent in court? I definitely do. Well, apparently there was a LOT of stuff we didn't see. That chapter was the single-best case I've ever seen against trusting the questionable individuals (à la Nancy Grace) who make their livings by discussing court cases on TV. The book describes how during that trial, the journalists stayed to tape the prosecution, and then ran out of the room and didn't cover the defense at all. What they missed in their coverage was nearly-undeniable proof that the family bringing charges against Jackson was a group of repeat con-artists who were at it again. As a result, all of us familiar with the news coverage were shocked when Jackson was declared innocent.
However, as we all know, a declaration of innocence wasn't nearly enough to clear Jackson's name in America. The whole high-profile ordeal in many ways completely ruined his life - and directly led to its early end.
Chapter 21 was the kind of chapter that leaves you stunned. It was a really forceful reminder that in life, and especially when it comes to TV, you don't know what you don't know. Of course every TV anchor and news organization wants to make it look like they're fairly presenting both sides of the story. But more often than not, they're not. And by influencing the population's opinion in such a unilateral way, they are often completely ruining the lives of the people at the center of the trial. I think that's something we all need to keep in mind the next time our country's obsessed with a high-profile trial. If you're not physically inside the courtroom, you most likely don't have the whole story. And it's probably not appropriate to pass judgment.
What's the other lesson I learned from this book? Don't trust the reviews on Amazon! Seriously, there are about 1 million better ways to find out whether or not a book is good. Don't let mass opinion dictate your own :)
Have a great Thursday!