BESSIE SMITH AND THE NIGHT RIDERS
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Margo Jefferson offers her sensible, outraged two cents on the sad plight of the beleaguered pop star.Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Margo Jefferson offers her sensible, outraged two cents on the sad plight of the beleaguered pop star.
A child star and a freak are often one and the same, Jefferson smartly illustrates in this extended essay—note the plight of Tom Thumb, Jackie Coogan and Shirley Temple. Jefferson delves into the early days of Jackson's career with the Jackson Five, arguing that those performances are evidence of a kind of publicly condoned pedophilia (defined as "sexual desire encouraged in adults for children"). She covers the early Midwest home drama, involving Jehovah's Witness mother Katherine and the philandering, abusive father Joseph, and she emphasizes the early traitorous dealing with adults that later prompted Jackson to entomb himself in Neverland, perpetually in the company of children. Child stars, Jefferson asserts chillingly, never forget they are performers, and "whatever their triumphs, they are going to make sure we see every one of their scars." The last chapters are a journalistic report from Jackson's recent Santa Barbara trial on charges of attempted lewd acts with a child under 14, among other counts. Jefferson gives a look from the sidelines into the motivations of the principal characters, especially the various mothers involved, and offers a scornful consideration of the clamorous media and their collective "portrait of absurdity." Cool and ironic, she ends with a rather touching summation of a damaged, mentally ill character who "compulsively reimagines the violation of his own innocence."
A righteous journalist tours the Jackson freak show.