Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It’s too easy to shift blame

I cared less about the criminal trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, and actually went out of my way to avoid watching the live coverage of the legal proceedings.

In part, it is because I think real-life court hearings are deadly dull to sit through – even when gruesome criminal details are being discussed. Something about legalese manages to bleach the “life” out of them.

YET THERE IS something about the joy that so many people are feeling now that Murray has been found guilty of a criminal charge that is attracting my attention. If anything, it kind of bothers me.

Because now, we’re going to be asked to think of the Michael Jackson saga as some sort of sad story, with the Michael who sang “ABC” growing up into a man who was taken advantage of and killed by the gross negligence of someone else.

Almost as though he’s the victim in this whole saga.

When as I see it, he was the one who took the substances that ultimately messed him up physically and killed him at age 51 (considering that I’m 46, I can appreciate how much life Jackson should still have had ahead of him).

IF IT READS like I’m writing that a lot of this blame ought to go on Jackson for letting himself get carried away to the point that he overdosed, then you’d sort of be correct. I view the Jackson saga as one where those substances got the best of someone who should have known better.

The idea that he was forced by his doctor to take this stuff is just a bit too absurd for me to accept. I wouldn’t have thought it a great injustice if Murray had somehow been acquitted of all criminal charges against him, even though I believe his ability to call himself a "doctor" ought to be terminated.

Although I suspect if he had, the people who are now expressing joy at the “guilty” verdict would be trying to claim that his acquittal was a greater injustice than that of Casey Anthony earlier this year.

That’s the problem with these celebrity criminal trials. Any sense of perspective goes out the window. People get way too wrapped up emotionally and they want the knee-jerk reaction.

IT’S AS THOUGH we’re not that too far removed from those generations whose reaction to just about anything was the lynch mob – seriously believing that they were carrying out “justice” with their rash reactions.

Which is a thought that scares me greatly. We already have too many ideologues in our society who want our politics to go back to the 19th Century. I’d hate to have our criminal justice system do the same.

Of course, I’m not about to say that Murray is an innocent – although I think labeling him a “quack” is more accurate than saying he’s a “criminal.”

For I do appreciate that medical doctors are supposed to use their expertise to advise their patients. It should have been Murray’s duty to realize how reliant, how strung out, Jackson was becoming to those substances, and should have been doing everything he possibly could to wean him away from them.

INSTEAD, IT SEEMS that he sat back and became an enabler. But that merely means he assisted. Which means Jackson himself had to permit this to happen.

I didn’t pay attention to every blow-by-blow moment of the trial (in fact, I specifically avoided most moments of testimony broadcast live). But I did see some of the summaries.

And for me, the moment that will stick in my mind about this whole affair was that Jackson himself referred to his drug, his medication, as his “milk.” As though it was a substance he needed to have to stay alive – instead of being the substance that ultimately caused his death.

My initial reaction to hearing that word used was to think that someone should have realized Jackson’s troubles long before it reached that point. Perhaps instead of having criminal prosecutors spending taxpayer dollars to push for charges that would have put Jackson in prison as a convicted child molester, someone should have looked into the possibility of having him committed.

AS IN HOSPITALIZED. Institutionalized. Locked away for treatment. Whatever phrase you prefer to use.

He might still be alive today (even if his musical career in this country had been dead for so many decades that his physical presence really didn’t matter so much anymore).

This whole mess also reminded me of the outcry that occurred about three decades ago when long-time Washington-based reporter wrote the John Belushi biography entitled “Wired!”

The last third of that book is literally a moment-by-moment diary of Belushi’s last week of life – which was a near-constant pursuit of more drugs to satisfy his developing habit.

BELUSHI FANS CLAIMED the book “missed the point” of the actor’s life and career – his humor and talent. I’d argue it caught the real significance of Wheaton-native Belushi’s life – a potentially-great talent lost to drugs.

That book deprived Belushi fans of a chance to “blame” his death on someone. Whereas fans of the Gary, Ind.-native Jackson now have a name and face they can blame, while overlooking Michael’s own behavior that led to his early demise.

Let’s just hope nobody tries to make as awful a film about Jackson’s life and death like they did back in 1989 about Belushi.


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