The Michael Jackson trial is underway, and the media is licking its chops each day in anticipation of all of the lurid details that will continue to surface over the next several months.  Jackson, who is 46, has been charged with molesting a 13-year-old boy who was, at the time of the alleged incidents, a recovering cancer patient.  And the fact that the self-proclaimed King of Pop regularly engages in what nearly everyone agrees is bizarre behavior has some in the American jury pool leaning toward a guilty verdict even before the testimony starts.

Oh, for those halcyon days of 1984, when Michael Jackson had not yet completely mutilated his face (only one nose job by then, according to some sources), when Thriller was number one (for 37 weeks), when he talked in a relatively normal voice.  Far from the professional joke that he has become in the eyes of so many American consumers of pop music, Jackson was, in the Year of Orwell, at the top of his game.  In February 1984, for example, he was nominated for 12 Grammys and took home 8 of them.

Times have changed, however, and, today, Jackson is in trouble.  It is difficult to imagine any future Grammy nominations for the King of Pop.  And, since the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, the 24-hour-a-day U.S. infotainment industry has lived from one celebrity trial to the next, allowing us to revel in other people’s shame.  (Covering such a trial can make a journalist’s career.  We wouldn’t even know about Greta Van Susteren’s own facial alterations, nor would she have her own Fox News show, were it not for the Juice’s Trial of the Century.)  Worse for Jackson, America today is particularly sensitive toward charges of child sexual abuse.  We are not willing to tolerate any monster who has satisfied his own megalomania by sexualizing children.

Back in 1984, however, it appears that we were.  This is the cold, hard reality that we must face: Michael Jackson has always been about the business of sexualizing children, and America rewarded him for it by making him a multimillionaire.  Where were the parents of the MTV generation when Michael Jackson rocketed to superstardom, singing such lines as “Relax your mind / Lay back and groove with mine / You got to feel the heat” (from “Rock With You”)?  Or what about his ejaculatory protest to “Billy Jean” that “the kid is not my son,” even though “She came and stood right by me / Then the smell of sweet perfume / This happened much too soon / She called me to her room”?

The sad answer is that those parents were shelling out tens and twenties of their hard-earned disposable dollars to buy those records for their teenage and even prepubescent children to enjoy.  They were paying for concert tickets so that their kids could be part of the adoring throng that screamed and fainted at his concerts.  They were forking over cash for the cable bill so that those children could watch Jackson grab his private parts and dance in a manner that can only be described as simulated sex.  And the rest of America looked on in approval.  On May 14, 1984, President Ronald Reagan even gave Michael Jackson a “Presidential Award” for the “outstanding example you have set for the youth of America and the world.”

Today, Michael Jackson might be passé, but sexualizing children isn’t.  How many of today’s junior-high kids know all about Paris Hilton and her videotaped dalliances?  How many of them know all of the words to the Top 40 songs?  On Ash Wednesday, the number-four song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Lovers & Friends” by Lil’ Jon, featuring Ludacris and Usher—a song about sadomasochistic sex.  “Be a good girl now, turn around, and get these whippings,” they intone to America’s impressionable youth.  “So on all these separate days, / Your legs can go they [sic] separate ways.”

This goes way beyond “wardrobe malfunctions” or inane puritanical crusades.  We’re talking about a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds off of America’s kids.  Recently, NBC’s Katie Couric did an exposé on junior-high “friends with benefits,” expressing “shock . . . [at] how casually young people treat oral sex.”  Is she shocked at the standard fare on today’s Billboard Charts?  Would it change her perception of local Top-40 radio stations or national record chains if they said, up-front, that their goal is to turn a profit by selling sex to her children?  What lengths would she go to in order to protect her kids from a pedophile trying to talk dirty to her children?  She might even give her life, if need be.  But would she throw away her television or radio?

If the indictment before the Superior Court of California, Santa Barbara, is any indication, the parents of America will recoil in horror as details of testimony in the Michael Jackson trial emerge.  But will they be brave enough to say no to today’s executive pedophiles, who push sex on their children through the same media that helped make Michael Jackson what he is today?