Saturday, January 24, 2004

Welcome to Jack-O-Land

Artful Dodger takes a break, but hey look! It's the Media Gadfly!
Welcome to Jack-O-Land
(Thoughts on what shall become of Neverland Ranch)

Eccentric popstar Michael Jackson?

Eccentric popstar and accused child molester Michael Jackson?

How about Michael Jackson, fallen superstar, purported kiddiediddler and the 21st century's incarnation of the boogeyman? I think that about nails it.

Yes, no matter what comes of the approaching Jackson trial, it seems allusions to his bizarre behavior will forever be affixed to his name. Innocent or not, his future's in more trouble than a fifth grader in soccer shorts caught wandering the Santa Ynez ranch country after sundown.

But the question the residents of Santa Barbara County should be asking is, "How can we benefit from all this?" Aside from cruising up to the Santa Maria courthouse and spending an afternoon mocking the diehard Jackson devotees gathered to support their hero, the trial could open an avenue of entertainment for us — namely, one that goes through gates of the Neverland Valley Ranch itself.

Jackson's attorney Mark Geragos publicly denied the longstanding rumors that legal fees, sagging album sales and superstar spending sprees have eaten a considerable hole in Jackson's finances. Whether the trial puts Jackson into the red remains to be seen, but the King of Pop suggested that he might give up the Neverland Valley Ranch anyway on a Dec. 28 interview with "60 Minutes" anchorman Ed Bradley.

"I won't ever live there again," Jackson said. "It's a house now. It's not a home anymore."

Thus, there's some evidence to support the possibility that in the near future, those of us older then the Nickelodeon demographic could be admitted to Jackson's estate.

Geragos, being a lawyer, could be putting a happy face on a bad situation. Jackson's public representative certainly wouldn't admit that his client had squandered his multimillion-dollar fortune, especially before a costly trial. Regardless of the verdict, a 2,700-acre, $50 million mansion-cum-fun park might prove too costly for Jackson, and he could either open it to the public to recoup his money or concede it to the government as a means of escaping its surely massive property taxes.

Alternatively, Jackson could be both wealthy and innocent, but the bad memories of this ordeal might prod him to abandon the park completely. And as I'd imagine few people would have the resources to purchase and operate the Neverland Valley Ranch, the state of California could transform the locale into a state park.

Such a transaction isn't entirely unheard of. Six years after the death of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst in 1951, his heirs decided that his behemoth estate Hearst Castle weighed too heavily on the family bank account and convinced the state of California to buy it. Today, Hearst Castle draws about 800,000 tourists annually and the revenues to match.

People should be excited by this prospect. A bright star long since burnt into a black hole of weirdness, Michael Jackson would leave one hell of legacy if he gave folks an opportunity to marvel and gawk at his digs. If perusing paintings of him flanked by Disney characters or statue gardens of frolicking children doesn't suit the public's tastes, Neverland has amusement park rides, trains, a zoo, and — according to a Jan. 18 article in the
Santa Barbara News-Press, a "water fort with giant water guns."

So cross your fingers, folks. There's a chance we could one day all check out the weirdest spot in Santa Barbara County. And as extra insurance that Jacko runs out of cash, how about the four of you who bought his last album vow to abstain from the next release?

I think I should stop writing about Michael Jackson for a while.