Sunday, March 13, 2005

The End Times

I often joke with friends about how we are all constantly surrounded by indicators that they apocalypse is near. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California, terrorists contemplate abducting film stars to destabalize a nation, and for $32,000 you can have your pet cloned. (See here for more information about the company Savings & Clone, you won't even believe it)

Among the latest clues that society is crumpling upon itself is the latest moral transgression by E! Entertainment Television. Every day at 7:30 PM, around the time most news networks run the nightly news, E! airs "The Michael Jackson Trial" an E! News presentation. This program is a re-enactment of the proceedings that have occured earlier that day at the Santa Barbara County courthouse where the Michael Jackson Trial is currently taking place. E! has somehow legally finagled complete access to the court transcript, and uses actors to portray all parties in the courtroom including the judge, lawyers, witness, and Jack-O himself. The one hour program intercuts the dramatized scenes in the courtroom with a roundtable of four "experts" who pick apart the testimony of each witness on the stand, and then discuss their implications upon the case. The experts are comprised of an attourney who works at Johnnie Cochrane's law firm, a former trial attourney and Court TV personality, another trail lawyer and is hosted by James Curtis, another Court TV hooligan.

Words cannot really describe the experience of watching the show. First of all the actor portraying Jackson has on a prosthetic nose and quite a bit of makeup, the resemblance is pretty uncanny. Secondly, they actors playing the part of the abuse victim and the victim's brother are very young looking, and you actually hear them give some of the explicit testimony. It is unbelievably disturbing. But like most things that are harrowing, it is also completely engrossing. It's that old adage of the car crash from which you can not look away. When I first heard about this mock trail on the Daily Show, I think I was expecting something a lot goofier - the clip they had showed was of the defense attorney in that ridiculous white shaggy wig. I thought they might be going for laughs (which would be twisted in a completely different way) but was surprised to find that its all taken very seriuosly, both in the dramatized scenes and the panel discussions.

I approached the veiwings of this show expecting to find good comedic material, expecting to laugh at the absurdity of it all. But after watching two episodes, it finally hit me what's so wrong about this show. It is the way in which the lurid sexual abuse details are bandied about without a shred of tact or consideration for the victim. I don't feel bad for Michael Jackson, and I'm sure the attourneys are thrilled for the press, but its those kids that I really pity. The entire world can just tune into the nationwide broadcast of their suffering. People say the media crosses the line time and time again. Everyone from religious groups to the U.S. government were infuriated by the fact that Janet Jackson's breast was briefly exposed last year at the Superbowl, when Bono used an expletive during prime time another controversy ensued. But in my opnion it is shows like E!'s MJ Trail coverage which is far, far worse. It is exploitative and icky material like this that lacks decency in the true sense of the word.

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