Can we begin to forget about them now?

Thank goodness the Michael Jackson trial is over. We can stand only so much exposure to the warts of society before we begin to wonder if we're seeing the beginnings of the end of civilization as we know it. And there were plenty of warts on display in Santa Maria, Calif.

Without running down the entire sorry cast of characters, let us just say that Jackson's habit of sleeping with little boys - which the jury said stopped short of sexual molestation - is so far beyond the bounds of moral decency that a criminal acquittal is meaningless in the eyes of most Americans.

The court of public opinion has found him guilty of being seriously disturbed.

On the other side, what mother in America (or father, for that matter) hasn't recoiled in horror at the idea of willingly sending their young sons to spend the night in bed with a 40-something man. For money. For bribes. For a brush with celebrity.

Over the past months, trial watchers and gossips worldwide have been debating just who was worse: mother or pop star? That's obviously the wrong debate. None of this behavior is acceptable by any stretch of the imagination.

Jackson's most ardent fans believe Monday's verdict was somehow vindicating. Blinded by celebrity, they believe he is "innocent" of acts they wouldn't tolerate for a moment if it were their children and the weird guy who lives down the block.

No, Michael Jackson is far from innocent. And the American justice system is far from perfect.

But, from Fatty Arbuckle to O.J. Simpson, the fascination with celebrity trials can have a cleansing effect on society. The vast majority of cases never go to trial - they are plea-bargained, or settled with million-dollar payouts - and so are never subject to testimony under oath and the rules of evidence.

The glare of truth is much harsher than the performer's spotlight, and the public may decide for themselves the guilt or innocence of the people involved. Or simply recognize them as warts on society, and be glad we no longer have to be reminded of them every day.


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