STORY BY BRANDI STANSBURY
Michael Jackson’s arraignment at the Santa Maria Courthouse the
morning of Jan. 16 spanned far beyond the boundaries of a media circus,
entering the realm of cultural extravaganza.
Santa Maria, a relatively anonymous city known for tri-tip sandwiches,
farm workers, strawberries, Robin Ventura, Mark Brunell, and Camelot Park,
was center stage. The event felt much like going to a sold-out rock concert
at the Los Angeles Coliseum, with neighbors selling parking spots on their
Three news helicopters flew overhead, adding to the sound of the growing
crowd and mayhem gathered on Miller Street. A small Latino woman informed
others in broken English that there was a truck nearby handing out free
shirts reading, “I support Michael,” and “We love Michael
Jackson. Living King.”
The workers inside the back of the Ryder truck couldn’t hand out
shirts fast enough to the mobs of onlookers, supporters, and assorted
media members. Moms had their small children pushing closer to get the
coveted free souvenirs—paid for by fan clubs? The defense team?
Record companies? The Nation of Islam? Who knows—like Mike, the
jury is still out on that.
Attendees to the event were not without refreshments. Hot dogs, baked goods, and traditional Santa Maria tri-tip were available for sale on each corner of the block. “Access Hollywood’s” Pat O’Brien, donning a Burberry scarf, was perched atop the roof of Michael B. Clayton’s law office (inquiries to the office as to how much a spot on the roof cost were not answered) across the street from the courthouse, a stone’s throw away from the “Entertainment Tonight” media tent.
Traffic on Miller was near stopped as media, fans, and assorted onlookers
crossed from one side to the other, making even the police K9 dog a little
nervous. Perhaps it was at the sight of the hired security from the Nation
of Islam (Jackson is now a member of the Nation; insinuating that he now
feels this is a case of racial discrimination), or the sheer madness of
the estimated 1,500 people gathered on one block.
A small circle of Jackson’s family members, close friends, a Charlie
Chaplin look-alike, and girls in matching FUBU outfits held hands and
sang gospel songs. One passerby took the opportunity to shout out an impromptu
Supporters carried homemade signs, a large beaded mural, babies, and
even a red Macaw on a leash through the masses, all hoping for the best
vantage point to await the world icon’s arrival.
Advertising opportunities abounded. Signs promoted the release of Michael’s
new album, Number Ones, while other people chose to market assorted goods.
A man clad in a suit of plastic chrome armor marched up and down the sidewalk
with a sign that read www.futureman.com. A disheveled elderly man missing
teeth, eating a tri-tip sandwich, and donning a Russian Ushanka for his
head—complete with sickle and hammer—promoted www.bootleg-jury.info
with a canvas banner festooned with stray bits of tri-tip from his breakfast.
Motto: “Let common sense prevail.”
Seemingly missing were the planes flying overhead with banners for Bacardi
and ads for the Super Bowl on CBS. Also missing were outhouses, face painters,
clowns, a marching band, and beer. There were, however, Michael Jackson
impersonators and ample amounts of dogs on hand.
Indeed, the man has put out some of the greatest pop music albums of
all time, and most will agree that throwing Off the Wall on the record
player will be sure to liven up any party. Wearing a remarkably feminine,
military-inspired outfit and flanked by security, lawyers, and an attendant
holding his now-famous umbrella, all eyes were on Jackson as he exited
the limo. Crowds rushed to catch even a glimpse of the back of his head.
Arts Editor Brandi Stansbury is a pop-culture junkie.
In Las Vegas, the show goes on without Jackson
Editor’s note: When news broke that Michael Jackson was being sought for allegations of child molestation, the world’s media descended upon Las Vegas in December where Jackson was filming a new show. Humorist Harmon Leon was there and took advantage of an opportunity to turn the spotlight back onto the media. The images shown here were taken some weeks later in Santa Maria, during Jackson’s arraignment on Jan. 16. The media circus, however, was just as prevalent and silly as ever.
BY HARMON LEON
In my Vegas hotel room, onions and sauce drip onto my lap as I bite into
a Subway sandwich. My attention is focused on the TV. An arrest warrant
has been issued for Michael Jackson. You know, the King of Pop. I switch
Click! “Entertainment Tonight” lets me know what P. Diddy
Click! Larry King has a bunch of screaming lawyers taking sides.
Click! Click! Click! Yes, the media circus has come to town. There’s
a sea of flashing cameras and, afterward, a smattering of sensationalized
headlines in bold fancy fonts.
The trial by media loves to build up its celebrity idols, then delightfully
tear them down to the smug, ironic detachment of the American viewing
It’s time to strike back and hit the sensational media where they
live. Fortunately, it’s rumored that Michael Jackson is here in
Vegas filming a music video for his now-scrapped CBS special, “Number
“You might want to try outside the CMX Sports and Entertainment
Studio,” relays a helpful local newswoman. “It’s near
My camera crew of three drives past the bright lights of the Vegas strip
with its mammoth signs. Turning off on Nevso Drive, we perch ourselves
on top of the Palms’ parking garage to get a bird’s eye view
of the action.
“Time to get the big story!” I proclaim to my camera crew
as I adjust my crooked goatee. The big story, of course, is to infiltrate
the circling media sharks waiting to devour every inch of Michael Jackson’s
“We’re here in front of the CMX studio. As you can see it’s
a regular media frenzy,” I say to our camera. My crew tries to wrangle
other reporters to stand in the background to make it look frenzied. I
get a comment.
“There’s rumors flying,” offers a reporter from the
local paper, “that Michael Jackson is going to be arrested right
here.” There’s also the possibility that Michael’s already
on his way back to Santa Barbara, he adds.
Again, I address my camera: “You heard it right here in front of
the gates of the Michael Jackson video studio! Chas Lemon, Canadian Music
“How long have you been out here?” I ask.
He has yet to see anything. To cheer him up, I point to the Palms’
“You know if you went up to the top deck, you can get a clear camera
shot of everything going on inside the entire CMX complex,” I offer
with a huge informative smile.
The cameraman’s eyes glaze over, “Oh, really?”
“Yeah, about an hour ago, we filmed Michael getting into a black
limo leaving out a back exit!”
Uncomfortable silence, then “Oh.” More uncomfortable silence,
then, “I’m basically told just to stay out here. I get paid
by the hour.”
“100% Innocent,” “Leave Him Alone,” and “We
Believe In Michael.”
“So far there’s no word whether Michael Jackson is inside
or has already headed back to Santa Barbara … .”
Within camera range, I stand right behind her, then get on my cell phone
and start screaming.
“YES! I’M HERE! … AT THE MICHAEL JACKSON STUDIO! …THE
MICHAEL JACKSON STUDIO! … YES!”
News crews take turns interviewing the half-dozen Michael Jackson supporters,
the leader of which is a really bitter looking woman with big hair. She’s
the founder of the King of Pop Fanatics and is wearing buttons all over
her coat, all featuring her big-haired self with Michael Jackson. She’s
a media darling.
“I find it very funny these charges come at the same time his album
comes out,” she theorizes, then adds with sarcasm, “That’s
really a coincidence!”
Since Chas Lemon and ambiguous Canadian Music Television have to stand
in a long line before getting an interview with these media darlings,
we move on to a girl wearing a “Beat It” T-shirt with a sign
reading “Love Always Michael Jackson.”
“Canadian Music Television would like to ask you a few questions.”
“No,” she’s told.
“I’m a nanny,” she says, “and I love kids as
much as Michael Jackson does. I have total faith in him. I couldn’t
be the fan that I am if I believed any of it.”
Wrapping up the interview, she moves along the press junket to Canadian
“Have you ever met Michael Jackson?”
“Yes, and he’s the most down-to-earth, kindhearted person.
He has completely no ego,” she expounds.
It seems like the MJ supporters are getting all the airtime. Thus, the
need arises to regroup and come back in disguise, posing as yet another
Michael Jackson supporter in order to give inane interviews to the press.
He plays to the cameras, holding court for the sea of reporters. He’s
getting huge, Carrot Top-sized laughs, throwing out zingy one-liners about
the arrest warrant concurring on the same day as the release of Michael’s
“Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music,”
he smugly retorts. Huge laughs. The DA’s killing the crowd.
With signs complete, I choose the pseudonym Monroe Bennett. The plan
is, I’ll take my place among the other supporters. Then my camera
crew will start interviewing me in order to get the ball rolling with
the other news crews.
I waddle unnoticed past the reporters I mingled with earlier, and then
rigidly stand undetected right next to the girl I interviewed less than
an hour ago. The mom in black eyeballs me with suspicion.
“What does your sign say?” inquires her angry son. I hold
up each. The group reads them out loud.
“That’s good,” praises a tall guy whose sign reads
“Michael Jackson #1.” He then does a few Michael-esque dance
moves. I frantically wave my sign at every vehicle that passes. Still,
the media-darling clan doesn’t take me in as its own.
“What do you think of the allegations against Michael Jackson?”
“I think they are off the wall!” I stress in a very high,
effeminate voice, hoping that other TV camera crews will hear my interview
“Have you ever met Michael Jackson?”
“Yes,” I continue. “On several occasions!”
“If he doesn’t get out of here,” he whines to his mom,
“I’m going to kill him!”
“Don’t say anything,” explains bitter mom. ”That’s
just what they want you to do, get angry.”
“As you can see behind me, there are many Michael Jackson supporters
here, some who have brought signs … .”
“HEY-HEY! HO-HO! ALLEGATIONS GOT TO GO! HEY-HEY! HO-HO! ALLEGATIONS
GOT TO GO!”
“Inside Edition”?!) to speak my mind on the Jackson matter.
“What brings you out here today?” I’m asked.
“I’m here to show my support,” I say, uncomfortably
shifting my eyes back and forth. “I work as a Michael Jackson impersonator
so I can only get an impression of the pain he must be feeling right now!”
I then end the interview with a few more chants of “HEY-HEY! HO-HO!
ALLEGATIONS GOT TO GO!”
With more moronic sign waving, it suddenly hits me. Instead of being
part of a news story, why not, instead, create the news story!
“I can’t get you a Michael Jackson,” one agency informs
us. “But we do have a Tom Jones.”
“No! We don’t want a Tom Jones—we want a Michael Jackson!”
“Our Michael Jackson impersonator won’t do it if it’s
making fun of Michael Jackson!”
I explain we’re not making fun of Michael, but the press. My parade
is rained upon. They request $3,000 for one hour. It’s looking bleak—we
might have to go with Tom Jones.
At zero hour we get a call from Pete. God bless Pete! Pete is our celebrity-impersonating
savior. First he plays a little hardball. He wants too much money.
“Well, how much would it be just to rent your costume?” we
I metamorphose back into Chas Lemon and rent an electric yellow golf
“Really!” he exclaims.
“Yes,” I state with conviction. “I guarantee it!”
“Maybe, but I also do Prince.”
Heading down Nevso Road, our impersonator seems pensive, almost nervous.
I give him a little pep talk (hoping his nervousness will make him forget
his no moonwalking policy).
“Okay, I’m going to pull the golf cart into the CMX driveway.
I’ll sing ‘Beat It.’ You’ll get out in front of
everybody, do a few dance moves, and then get back into the cart, then
we’ll drive off.”
“Besides,” I say with a big broad smile, “I don’t
think it’s illegal for a Michael Jackson impersonator to drive up
in a golf cart! LET’S DO IT!” I scream.
HONK! HONK! HONK!
All eyes turn to us; the bitter reporters, the burly security guards,
the big-haired mom in black, her two kids.
“Hey what’s going on here,” I scream, as if I just happen to be driving by with an oblivious Michael Jackson. He bellows, “Leave Me Alone!” It takes a second to sink in as Michael waves from the golf cart. First there’s a look of
“maybe that really is Michael,” followed by laughter, and,
I’m almost positive, jubilant joy from even the most hardened observers.
“Michael, look over here!” shouts one cameraman after another.
Everyone seems so happy. It feels like 1982 again and the Thriller album
has just been released. I can now see the jubilant joy Michael Jackson
once brought, as my Michael Jackson keeps crooning “Leave Me Alone,”
while I bellow “Beat It!” We drive off, laughing our heads
Michael, now out of his shell, hams it up for the cameras as we zip past
without stopping. I belt out “Thriller!” A few older, bitter
newsmen give a look like “You’re making a complete mockery
of our media circus.” We speed out of sight.
Five minutes later: HONK! HONK! HONK!
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” he sings while pointing
at their flashing cameras. I get out of the golf cart and start dancing
beside Michael Jackson, doing my rendition of the moonwalk and robot.
It’s simply beautiful. The moment’s short lived as the cars
behind us start honking. The large security guard lumbers towards us.
“Michael, time to get back in the cart,” I instruct to his
dismay. He is thoroughly enjoying his moment in the sun. We once again
speed off in our yellow golf cart into the Vegas setting sun and the glow
of the early evening glittering lights.
“Wow! This has been the weirdest gig I’ve ever had,”
Michael Jackson confesses to me in a quieter moment. And then we decide
to go back one more time.
HONK! HONK! HONK!
Yes, there’s nothing like overkill as the subtext of my loud horn says, “Hey! Here we come again!” ?
Harmon Leon is a Bay Area humorist who loves a good laugh.