Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Come On, Camon

So, the Michael Jackson acquittal came down only a few hours ago, and already film producer Alessandro Camon has published a piece of insipid, pseudo-sociological wankery on the subject over here at Salon.

This article is brutally pointless. I guess the idea is to extrapolate from the Jackson trial, and other celebrity trials from OJ to Robert Blake, a new conceptualization of "American tragedy."

Okay, obviously, the real idea is to get a byline in Salon for whatever reason. Maybe producing isn't really getting Alessandro excited any more, and he wants to move into journalism. Maybe he's had a burning desire to produce fluff, featurey think pieces for liberal online publications for years, and producing American Psycho and Owning Mahoney and Undertow was just a stepping stone. (NOTE: Though I'm goofing on Alessandro, I love all of those movies.)

For whatever reason, Alessandro in his Salon.com article presents an analysis of the Michael Jackson case that ignores whole large volumes of factual information, glosses over important issues and basically arrives straight from his own personal private thoughts with no consideration for actual validity or logic. He doesn't so much build a case about the significance of the Michael Jackson trial as attempt to invoke one through a force of sheer will.

Here's how the pain begins...

The Michael Jackson trial was part of an epic cycle of celebrity trials that started with O.J. Simpson, passing through Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake and Phil Spector (Tyson and the Menendez brothers also bear mention). These trials -- sometimes televised, other times reenacted, always dissected and second-guessed with obsessive attention -- have undoubtedly become a new genre of entertainment. They are American tragedies for our age -- big, crass, bizarre and, most crucially, morally empty.

So right there, you can tell this guy is trying to make something out of nothing. Why else would you tie Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake, Phil Spector, Mike Tyson and the Menendez boys together? Jackson is a faded wealthy superstar accused of feeling up young boys. Bryant is a current pro athlete accused of having adulterous sex with a stranger whom he may have physically assaulted. Blake is an ex-TV star accused of shooting his wife outside an Italian restaurant. Spector is an old-time record producer accused of shooting a strange woman in his house (when there was no one else home!) Tyson is a boxer who was not only accused of, but did jail time for, raping a woman in the 80's. And the Menendez Brothers were unfamous siblings who killed their parents and went to jail for it.

These cases have no bearing on one another. They are not part of some societal movement or social phenomenon. They are separate incidents, some concerning people who were previously well-known, others not. And though they all involve tragic circumstances, they are not neccessarily "tragedies." Because the word "tragedy" actually means something. But Alessandro is just getting to that.

The crimes or alleged crimes involved are as serious as they could be: murders, rape, pedophilia. The suffering, or alleged suffering, is profound. The scope and impact of the trials -- from the investigations to the legal strategies, the media spin, the social repercussions -- are huge. Yet it's impossible to wrestle from them the moral or even the psychological lessons that classic tragedy provides.

Well, of course, Alessandro. Why would you be able to wrestle important life lessons from murder cases? What kind of sick fuck are you? This is real suffering happening to real people. There's no moral at the end of the story, jackass!

Celebrity trials offer a potent cocktail of fame, sex and violence; they allow us to look behind the veil that usually protects the private lives of stars; they tap in to collective feelings and fantasies about the very nature of celebrity. What they don't do is provide solutions, or even serviceable frameworks, for questions of right and wrong. Ultimately, they are just not about right and wrong. They are about wrong and wrong, and though they are tragedies inasmuch as they deal with terrible deeds and their retribution, they suggest a new definition of tragedy.

Why does this guy keep talking about these celebrity trials as if they were an entertainment property designed for his analysis? Doesn't he understand that trials in a movie are about teaching a lesson or providing solutions, whereas trials in real life are supposed to decide whether someone brutally murdered someone else, or tried to touch Corey Feldman's underage cock? I mean, I know the guy is a film producer, so being in touch with reality may not be his strong suit...But trials aren't about defining tragedy. They are about proving or disproving guilt.

But classic tragedy is more complex; it has been defined as the deadly clash of "right and right." In "Antigone," the protagonist dies in the name of a simple principle: a sister must give her brother a decent burial. King Creon had forbidden the burial in the interest of the kingdom and must now -- despite himself -- carry out the consequences of his order, which is law, being disobeyed. Fraternal love clashes with the law: Both are right in their own way, but the two rights are irreconcilable. We watch the characters pay the price of their acts, and so fulfill their destiny, in a clean, inexorable, hopeless drama. The truths we learn are certainly bleak and sobering, but they also illuminate the supreme value of courage, coherence, compassion and knowledge itself.

Is he really comparing Michael Jackson to "Antigone"? First of all, it's so lame to use "Antigone" as your example of a classic tragedy, because that's the one everybody has to read in high school. Plus, it's not even a good example of what he's talking about. King Creon and Antigone don't have equal positions in the play. She's fighting for what is right, for what would please the gods, whereas Creon maintains his position out of hubris. What just happens to be his tragic fucking flaw, which is the whole point of the play.

So, it's not right vs. right. It's right vs. wrong. And wrong happens to win, but only after realizing that it is wrong, so it's a tragedy. Get it? Evil wins, but then evil is punished. Catharsis. Check into it some time. And read at least one other Greek tragedy before writing any more essays about them.

American tragedy, as embodied in this cycle of celebrity trials, seems to present something different: the clash of two people -- or two "forces" -- who are both in their own way wrong. O.J. and the LAPD. Robert Blake and his wedded grifter. Kobe and his testimony-shifting accuser. Michael Jackson and his alleged victim's mother-pimp. (The exception here is Phil Spector, who allegedly took the life of a waitress-actress whose only mistake was to accept his invitation.)

Now, wait, wait, wait, wait, hold on...He's acting like he, Alessandro Camon, film producer, actually knows what happened in any of these cases. How does he know OJ and the LAPD were both wrong? I mean, I think OJ killed his wife, so I think OJ was wrong and the LAPD was right. Now, I also think there's a lot of racist obnoxious jackass LAPD officers, but that doesn't mean the organization as a whole is somehow objectively "wrong." At least, not as concerns the OJ Simpson case. They are objectively right - they accused him of being a murderer, and let's face it, folks. That guy's a murderer.

I mean, I don't know about you. No one has ever found my blood at the scene of the grisly murder of someone I know really well. That has never happened to me. And don't give me this "garbage in garbage out" nonsense. You can't taint blood and make it look like someone else's DNA. Duh.

Sorry, kind of got off topic there. Camon also insists that he knows both Robert Blake and his dead wife were "wrong," further implying that she was a "grifter," which is certainly not a nice thing to say about a dead lady. I'm not sure what to think about that case...the guy went free when his alibi was that he went into the restaurant to retrieve his gun? There must be more to it than that, right?

But I'm also not writing essays for Salon analyzing the case. And I don't think Camon has any additional insight than I do. It's unfair with so few facts to say that both Blake and his wife are tragically "wrong."

Also, he proceeds to exempt one of his main examples from analysis, admitting that it doesn't fit into his already meager framework. And there's two more pages of this crap! I can't get my articles published in Flak Magazine, which doesn't even freaking pay, and this guy's getting three-page spreads of bullshit in one of the Internet's most popular liberal publications! God dammit!

The outcomes, therefore, cannot be "resolutions." There is no "moral of the story" -- if not a twisted, ambiguous, ironic one. O.J. gets off as a slap in the face of the LAPD; he becomes persona non grata in his former L.A. hangouts and has to relocate to Miami. Kobe gets off but has to admit infidelity and make it up with gifts of oversize jewelry, tattoos honoring his "queen," and renewed commitment to his fans (as ultimate proof of his new faithfulness, he re-signs with the Lakers). Michael Jackson gets off but may soon have to sell the Beatles catalog back to Sony.

Okay, so he says there are no resolutions, and then, in the same paragraph, describes all the resolutions. My question would be, "what trial has ever provided a satisfying resolution to anything?"

I mean, cause we all know the Scopes Monkey Trial ended that whole evolution vs. creationism debate, and Roe v. Wade decided abortion once and for all. And how, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of treason and executed, all discussion of their possible innocence ceased. And thank god for those Nuremburg Trials, or Jews would probably still be upset about the Holocaust to this day.

And, MAN, what would we ever have done without Jim Garrison's trial of Clay Shaw, dramatized in Oliver Stone's JFK? It would be almost like we never found out as a nation what happened to the President in Dealey Plaza!

But you see where I'm going with this...Alessandro acts surprised that the Michael Jackson trial didn't settle the case of whether or not he's a creepy pederast for good. I submit that this indicates he has not been paying a lot of attention to current events until recently.

Much as classic tragedy is exact and rigorous, this American tragedy is messy and arbitrary.

This is retarded. Read "King Lear" some time. That's a tragedy and it's fucking messy as hell. The guy's insane wearing a crown of leaves talking to a guy who's named THE FOOL while wandering around in the woods. How rigorous!

I guess what he means (and this is just a guess) is that punishment is meted out fairly in classical tragedy, whereas these celebrities all get away with their crimes. But, I mean, those are plays based on mythology, and this is real life in the 21st Century, so I don't know what the guy really expected. Debbie Rowe admits she's Michael's mother, and Michael blinds himself in front of the jury box? OJ steals fire from the Brown Family, and they tie him to a mountaintop to have his liver eaten out by birds of prey, perhaps? Martha Stewart is sentenced to wander a labyrinth containing a fearsome minotaur?

It is tragedy crossed with melodrama in its most degraded expression (the soap opera). It is tragedy for people who crave the frisson of morbidity much more than any catharsis. Classic tragedy is hopeless because the tragedy is preannounced and inevitable. American tragedy is hopeless because it assumes that we all are. One type of tragedy is moral; the other is cynical.

I would type a response to this paragraph, but I'm choking on my own bile at the moment, so just fill in your own mental reaction to Camon's pompous wankery...I suggest goofing on him for trying so hard to work in the phrase "frisson of morbidity."

But then, why do we need it? Why do we turn these trials into such compelling spectacle?

Yes? Yes? Do tell?

The answer, I think, has two levels.

Alessandro, you son of a bitch...

First, the trials reveal that our relationship with celebrity has become perverse.

What? Perverse? I mean, we're just watching the Michael Jackson trial results. He's the one bedding the actual pre-teens.

This appetite, which has always been the inseparable underside of the adoration for stars, seems now to be out of control.

Oh, get over yourself. People have always been obsessed by celebrities, and have always enjoyed watching them fall from grace. It's part of life. There's nothing out of control about it, any more than there was in the 50's or the 30's or any other era. Remember, Fatty Arbuckle had a scandalous celebrity trial just the same. And let's not forget those glamorous McCarthy inquests, when many members of Hollywood elite were exposed as the dirty pinko commie reds they were.

We are now likely to feel stronger about the celebrities we don't like than the ones we like: a "reverse fandom" that can be a form of satire but easily spills into meanness.

Okay, well, this does kind of account for my feelings towards Zach Braff. But in true Alessandro Camon style, I will acknowledge this flaw in my argument before skipping immediately past it and never bringing it up again.

We obsess on the weight they gain or abruptly shed, the fashion blunders, the mating patterns, the abrupt weddings and divorces. The union of two celebrities seems to create grotesque two-headed monsters such as "Bennifer" or "Brangelina."

I have not heard anyone use the term "Brangelina," and I hope not to, for I may become physically ill. I like how he indicts himself in this sentence, as if he's spending his days obsessing about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as opposed to obsessing about how many points he's getting on the international DVD sales on The Cooler. (Which I like not as much as American Psycho or Owning Mahoney or Undertow.)

He goes on to mock tabloid gossip newspapers (gasp!) and keeps on wanking for a whole other page. There's only one part I need to draw your attention to:

My friend Larry Gross (a veteran screenwriter and one of Hollywood's sharpest minds) has convinced me that there is a new and profound cultural problem to contend with: as a society, we no longer understand power. The power of kings and dictators was always visible, tangible, understandable. The power of elected officers is by definition (if not always in reality) an expression of popular power. But the power of mega-corporations is as faceless and nebulous as it is pervasive. It hides in plain sight and communicates in code.

Bull fucking shit. Only someone powerful, or at least powerful within their limited domain (West Los Angeles, perhaps?), would ever think to make a statement like this. Corporate power is faceless and nebulous? Then you deal with Cingular customer service for two hours, jerkoff. The power of elected officials expresses popular power? When over 50% of Americans disapprove of George Bush, and 100,000 Americans are off fighting an unpopular war?

I mean, what does that mean, understand power. I think most Americans understand that they have none, and don't know what to do about it. And I think that only a person resting comfortably on an unearned power trip would think of writing a puff piece for Salon theorizing idly about the ramifications of the Michael Jackson trial for navel-gazing executives with too much time on their hands the world over.

Celebrity trials provide people the sense of witnessing a form of history up close and personal. But the cultural dynamics represented in the trials always point to the fact that celebrities are ultimately "weird," and that mere mortals getting too close to them are (intentionally or not) inviting trouble -- which means they must also be weird. What we understand about celebrities is ultimately that we do not, cannot, understand them.

He ends (essentially) with this thought, even though it has nothing to do with what has come before.

Do you think he spent a lot of time on this essay? That he had a strong feeling of accomplishment upon turning it in? Also, think about this...It was published only a few hours after the verdict was read, so he must have written it in advance. Did he write two versions, one for a guilty verdict and one for not guilty? Did he only write one and hope to god MJ was innocent so his piece would run? Or maybe he's wish he was guilty, and he could avoid the embarrassment.

In either case, Alessandro definitely has a good eye for film projects, and I'd encourage him to spend his time looking for the next American Psycho, rather than dithering around with the word processor and trying to reinvent cultural studies. Levi-Strauss will take it from here, buddy...thanks for playing...

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