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Harmon impersonates a Jackson supporter.

Michael Jackson's Media Circus of Horrors

Harmon Leon unleashes his bad self on the Michael madness

By Harmon Leon

THERE IS NO ONE the media circus loves more than Michael Jackson. He's the clown hulking clumsily on the high wire--and instead of the courtesy of a net below, there's a sea of flashing cameras and sensationalized headlines in bold fancy fonts.

With the November arrest of Michael Jackson on charges of child molestation (he was subsequently released on $3 million bail), the circus has hit high gear. Entertainment Tonight tells you what P. Diddy thinks! Lawyers bicker on Larry King Live! Inside Edition tells you what Jessica Simpson thinks!

It's time to strike back and hit the entertainment media where they live. Fortunately for me (and you), it is rumored that Michael Jackson is in Las Vegas filming a music video for his later-to-be-scrapped CBS special Number One, attracting a full-fledged media circus extravaganza.

Coincidentally, I also happen to be in Vegas. Also coincidentally, I happen to have a Toronto camera crew at my disposal. Why not take advantage of these coincidences? I'm going to infiltrate the Michael Jackson media circus!.

A camera crew will garnish media clout (and media clout is what I wish to garnish). Wielding my newly fabricated press credentials as Chas Lemon, reporter for the fictional Canadian Music Television network, I call a local news station to find out where my fellow esteemed journalists are staked out.

"You might want to try outside the CMX Sports and Entertainment Studio," relays a helpful local newswoman. "It's near the Palms."

BINGO! I'm hot on the savage press trail. Applying a fake goatee and tucking my hair into a Las Vegas beanie, I, Chas Lemon, flash onto TVs everywhere, a well-groomed newsman standing in front of the CMX complex. Chas has yet to catch a glimpse of Michael Jackson leaving the studio. He will stay on hand to keep the viewing public posted. Let the media-circus games begin!

Media Circus Fun Fact: In Entertainment Weekly, Pete de Graff, music director of WXXL-FM in Orlando, Fla., was quoted saying, "His career is toast!" How the hell is Pete de Graff an authority on this matter, and why do we care what he thinks?!


It's Chas Lemon of Canadian Music Television and his innocent friend!

Game Time

With camera crew of three, we drive past the bright lights of the Vegas strip with mammoth signs flaunting such luminaries as Danny Gans (Vegas Entertainer of the Year!) and Carrot Top (Entertainer of No One!). Turning off on Nevso Drive, we perch ourselves on top of the Palms' parking garage in order to get a complete full bird's-eye view of all the action under the big top.

From the TV coverage, I expected a full media frenzy with such key players as CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Entertainment Tonight's Mark Steines. Instead, a few satellite trucks are parked across from the studio. Several cameras are poised directly at the gate as if to somehow capture Michael suddenly moonwalking from the building with his hair on fire, toting a bag of Elephant Man bones and Bubbles the chimp. Everyone appears bored but anxious, afraid of missing something. From our parking garage vantage, I can see clearly inside the CMX compound, protected by humorless security guards, with a black SUV parked within the gates. A few scattered staffers run inside, then back out.

"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 media sharks circling the cage waiting to devour every inch of Michael Jackson's flesh.

"We're here in front of the CMX studio. As you can see, it's a regular media frenzy," I state to our camera, while my crew tries to wrangle other reporters to stand in the background. 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." Or, he hints, that there's also the possibility Michael's already on his way back to Santa Barbara.

Upon getting those "answers", I again address my camera.

"You heard it right here in front of the gates of the Michael Jackson video studio! Chas Lemon, Canadian Music Television."

During the downtime, the media have nothing to do. One older cameraman sits in a lawn chair waiting, simply waiting.

"How long have you been out here? I ask.

"Eight hours," he replies.

During this time, he has yet to see anything. To cheer him up, I point to the Palms parking garage.

"You know, if you go 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."

Thankfully, there's a break in the monotony. The extras from the video shoot, carrying dance bags, begin to exit from behind the gates. They head toward their cars in the adjacent parking lot. The camera crews descend upon them like flies on video extra shit.

"Was Michael Jackson inside?" asks a newscaster in a suit.

"I'm not allowed to comment," a snippy blonde woman snips.

"Did you see Michael in there?" asks another.

"I'm sorry, I don't know," she snips again.

She's hiding something--yes, hiding something, I tell ya (huge maniacal laugh), and Chas Lemon is going to get to the bottom of it! With camera rolling, I approach the snippy woman.

"Can I ask you a question about the controversy?"

"I signed an agreement that says I can't say anything!" she snips.

"Just one question about the controversy," I ask. "Are you sad to see Friends go off the air and will you, in turn, watch the Friends spinoff Joey? Canadian Music TV wants to know!"

She stops in her tracks. Another camera crew (Entertainment Tonight? Inside Edition?), thinking I've uncovered a key piece of information, comes running over and turns on its camera light to capture my astute interview for its viewing audience.

"Yes, I'm going to be sad Friends is going to be off the air," she admits. "But Joey's cool; so yeah, I'll watch that."

The other camera crew (PBS? The Learning Channel?), completely befuddled, sheepishly turns off its obtrusive camera light and slinks away.

"You heard it right here in front of the Michael Jackson video studio. Chas Lemon, Canadian Music Television!"

"You're Canadian Music Television?" inquires a perky guy who claims to know Michael personally. "You can interview me. I'll talk," he says. We bring him in front of our camera, feeling proud that the only news crew he'll speak to is that of ambiguous Canadian Music Television.

A few extras yells at him from a passing car, "You're going to get us all in trouble, Raymond." I ignore their catcalls in order to get to my pressing question: Whether he thought the Britney/Madonna kiss was hot or not.

"Now, about the controversy ..."

Midquestion, I get scooped. Another camera crew comes over. The newscaster (NBC? Wild on E!?) plows in and steals my interview as his cameras roll. He touches Raymond's shoulder.

"Did you see Michael Jackson inside?"

This doesn't sit too well with Chas Lemon. I decide to steal my interview back. Before he can answer, I touch Raymond's other shoulder.

"Did you see Emmanuel Lewis inside? Canadian Music Television wants to know!"

Media Circus Fun Fact: Besides celebrity scandals, we, the viewing public, also love sensational stories involving attractive people (Laci Peterson, JonBenet Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart, et al.), which is to say, if you're a missing child in America and you're ugly, you're shit out of luck. There's no 6 o'clock news for you! Because in order to be a missing-child media darling, you need to be blonde, adorable or a beauty queen!


'Michael' gets airtime.

Fling of Pop

After a good night's sleep, Chas Lemon and Canadian Music Television are ready at 8am sharp for Day Two of the Michael Jackson media circus. Added to the frenzy are the addition of several more bitter reporters ("We're just hanging out not covering the bus strike!"), along with a half-dozen Michael Jackson supporters bearing such profound protest signs as "100 percent Innocent," "Leave Him Alone" and "We Believe in Michael."

A reporter (The New York Times? National Enquirer?) with a pad of paper stands at the gates, scribbling furiously. I walk up directly next to him, nod and start scribbling furiously as well. Two ace reporters on assignment to get the BIG STORY! I then start looking over his shoulder and start copying his notes. He catches me. He quickly walks away.

A TV reporter who looks like a faded cheerleader steps in front of a camera and delivers her diatribe for the morning news with utter seriousness.

"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!"

In search of any crumb of a story whatsoever, each news crew takes turns interviewing the half-dozen Michael Jackson supporters, the leader of whom is this really bitter-looking woman with big hair who is the founder of the King of Pop Fanatics fan club. She has Michael Jackson buttons all over her coat. She is a media darling.

"I find it very funny these charges come at the same time his album comes out," she theorizes to several news cameras, then adds with sarcasm, "That's really a coincidence!"

The bitter mom has brought along her two teenage kids. Mom, son and daughter, all dressed in black, are supporting Michael. Apparently, her chubby (also bitter) 15-year-old son (who's been on shopping sprees with the Gloved One), skipped school today because "he was just too upset to go."

"We been through all this before, in 1993," the bitter woman tells TV cameras, adding that she wouldn't have a problem letting her chubby son go to Neverland Ranch. "It's a witch hunt!"

The cameras turn toward angry son.

"It's all a bunch of crap," he articulately expresses his anger. Since Chas Lemon and ambiguous Canadian Music Television have to stand in a long 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."

"You'll have to wait," she pooh-poohs me with a take-a-number-attitude. "I have to do another interview first!" Stepping in front of another camera (Dateline? Extra?!), she defensively quips, "You're not going to twist my words around, are you?"

With a conformation of "No," she elaborates, "I'm a nanny, 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 ambiguous Canadian Music Television. Again, she gets defensive.

"You're not going to twist my words around, are you?" Chas Lemon confirms, "No," then the hard-hitting questions start.

"About the controversy, how do you think these allegations are going to affect thousands of Michael Jackson impersonators? Do you think they are going to have trouble finding work?"

She looks dumbfounded.

"Who cares about Michael Jackson impersonators," she sneers.

"Why do you feel that way?" I ask, stroking my fake goatee.

"Because they all have big attitudes like they think they are Michael Jackson."

I press on. "Have you ever met Michael Jackson?"

"Yes, and he's the most down-to-earth, kind-hearted person. He has completely no ego," she expounds.

Without having to twist her words, I add, "So then, if you say Michael Jackson has no ego and that Michael Jackson impersonators think they are Michael Jackson, wouldn't it follow then that Michael Jackson impersonators act like someone who HAS NO EGO!" We move the camera in close. "Canadian Music Television wants to know!"

She clearly doesn't know how to answer. I address the camera.

"You heard it right here in front of the Michael Jackson video studio! Chas Lemon, Canadian Music Television!"

Media Circus Fun Fact: Michael Jackson's new single, "One More Chance," was written by R. Kelly. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm praying to God that it isn't about peeing on underage children!

Fan Logic

It seems like the MJ supporters are getting all the airtime. Thus, the need to regroup and come back in disguise, posing as yet another Michael Jackson supporter in order to give inane interviews to the press. Going back to my hotel, I drastically change my appearance, rip off my fake goatee, don black, thick-frame glasses and put on a big cowboy hat. I top off my look by wearing a Vegas T-shirt with big dice, shorts and cowboy boots. With magic markers, I concoct two large protest signs: "MICHAEL JACKSON IS NOT 'BAD'!" and "ALLEGATIONS 'OFF THE WALL!'"

As I accidentally misspell "allegations" and must return to my motel room, I catch a snippet of the live press conference. Media ringmaster Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. is actually doing his shtick on TV! Holding court for a sea of reporters, he plays to camera. He's getting huge, Carrot Top-size laughs, throwing out zingy one-liners about the arrest warrant concurring with the release of Michael's new CD.

"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 decide to go by 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 (also with mild suspicion). 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 Michaelesque dance moves. I frantically wave my sign at every vehicle that drives past to emphasize my point. Still, the media darling clan doesn't take me in as their own. They give me the attitude like I, Monroe Bennett, am not worthy enough to be a Michael Jackson supporter. Regardless, contingents of photographers snap our group photo. I scowl, sternly holding up my signs. (One photographer is actually the same man who, in the '80s, snapped Michael with his hair on fire.) My camera crew (who forgets the meaning of subtle) rushes over and immediately sticks a camera and microphone in my face.

"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 sound bites.

"Have you ever met Michael Jackson?"

"Yes," I continue. "On several occasions!"

This gets the attention of the angry kid who whispers something to his bitter mom. Being a media darling, he scoops my interview (the young bastard!) and adds his 2 cents about going to Neverland Ranch (how can I compete?!). My cameraman turns the tables. He asks the kid too upset to go to school today, "Has Michael Jackson ever tried to have sex with you?"

"No!!!" he proclaims in horror. "I can't believe you even asked me that!"

The 15-year-old wants to beat up my cameraman.

"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."

A well-groomed TV newscaster sets up his camera right in front of the CMX gate. As he addresses the camera, giving a live update on what's going on, I park myself right behind him and start frantically waving my idiotic signs. For his viewers, Monroe Bennett is a representative the sea of fans showing Michael Jackson support. He even refers to me during the broadcast.

"As you can see behind me, there are many Michael Jackson supporters here, some who have brought signs ..."

I'm inspired to ham it up, adding some chanting in my high effeminate voice.

"HEY, HEY! HO, HO! ALLEGATIONS GOT TO GO! HEY, HEY! HO, HO! ALLEGATIONS GOT TO GO!"

The media ball is rolling. I'm granted an on-camera interview (Fox News? 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!"

The reporter nods his head with fake concern. "Do you believe the allegations brought against Michael Jackson?"

"It's a witch hunt!" I add (acting like I'm the first person to ever think of that). "When you're that talented, people get jealous. Just look at other geniuses who have been persecuted, Beethoven ... Albert Einstein ... Oprah ..."

I then end the interview with a few more chants of "HEY, HEY! HO, HO! ALLEGATIONS GOT TO GO!"

Media Circus Fun Fact: The prospect of Court TV televising the Michael Jackson trial will bring about a network frenzy not seen since the days of the O.J. trial. Well, fuck me sideways!

Topping the Big Top

With more moronic sign waving, it suddenly hits me. Instead of being part of a news story, why not, instead, create the news story? The sole reason these media clowns have their cameras perched here--the very reason they're staked out here for days--is to capture Michael Jackson on camera! That's just what I'm going to give them. I want to throw a little meat into the shark cage for them to devour with cameras flashing. Yes, I'm going to rent a golf cart, then hire several Michael Jackson impersonators and drive them through the gauntlet of press for a media-circus extravaganza not seen since the days of Ringling Brothers.

Though it's short notice, my crew frantically calls every single damn impersonation agency in Vegas, leaving bewildering, vague and confusing messages.

"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," I stress sternly into the phone (though one Tom Jones and a handful of Michael Jacksons might work). "We want a Michael Jackson!"

Others agencies get indignant.

"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 of the press. My parade is rained upon. They request $3,000 for one hour (huh?). It's looking bleak (or we might have to go with Tom Jones). We'd even settle for a guy who looks vaguely like Michael and had the suit.

At zero hour, we get a call from Pete. God bless Pete! Pete is our celebrity-impersonating savior. First, he plays a little hardball (Pete is skeptical). He wants too much money.

"Well how much would it be just to rent your costume?" we pathetically plead.

This makes the Michael Jackson impersonator laugh. He agrees to do it for $350. He stresses that at that price there will be no moonwalking! We happily agree. We got our Michael Jackson!

I metamorphose back into Chas Lemon and rent a yellow electric golf car.

A few blocks away, I patiently wait to pick up Michael, who apparently was paranoid to be seen in full M.J. regalia, fearing police would arrest him (our Michael Jackson is that believable!).

A couple from Idaho pull their car alongside my golf cart.

"Have you gotten a glimpse of Michael Jackson?" asks the man part of the couple.

"No. But if you go back to the CMX studio, I guarantee you will see Michael Jackson in 20 minutes!"

"Really!" he exclaims.

"Yes," I state with conviction. "I guarantee it!"

Moments later, I get the call. It's showtime! I rev up my yellow electric golf, cart, spinning a 180 to pick up Michael. When I arrive, Pete looks uncannily like Michael Jackson--if Michael Jackson happened to be really tall, still black and wore his clothes from the late '80s. Pete gives a few Michael squeals, some spins and even a bit of moonwalking to show we got our money's worth.

The plan is to drive through the press gantlet three times. Michael Jackson gets in my yellow electric golf cart. As we drive toward the media circus, I make small talk with Michael Jackson ("So where are you originally from?" "Florida." "Do you think this will affect your career as a Michael Jackson impersonator?" "Maybe, but I also do Prince," etc.) Heading down Nevso Road, Michael Jackson seems pensive, almost nervous. I give him a little pep talk (hoping his nervousness will make him forget his no moonwalking policy).

"OK, 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."

I reassure Michael that security guards don't have the authority to arrest people; they can only call the police who will do the arresting.

"Besides," I say with a 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.

The electric golf cart whizzes closer. The studio is bustling with activity, with several more news crews, the local curious and tourists. I trumpet our arrival clear down the road by continually honking the golf cart's horn, while loudly bellowing "Beat It."

HONK! HONK! HONK!

All eyes turn to us: the bitter reporters, the burly security guards, the big-haired mom in black, her two kids.

HONK! HONK! HONK!

"Hey, what's going on here?" I scream, as if I just happen to be driving by with an oblivious Michael Jackson. He belts out "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, bitter person. For a brief moment, our Michael Jackson actually becomes Michael Jackson. I see the smiling faces--the security guards, the mom with big hair and her angry kids, the media--because, finally, something has actually happened in front of the CMX studio gates.

"Michael, look over here!" shouts one cameraman after another. "MICHAEL! MICHAEL!"

Everyone seems so happy. It feels like 1982 again and the Thriller album has just been released. I can now see the 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 off. Ah, yes, there's nothing in the world like a shared laugh with a Michael Jackson impersonator.

But there's more. We turn the corner. Wait five minutes, then turn back around and drive through again.

HONK! HONK! HONK!

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!

This time the security guards aren't smiling so much. I break into "Billie Jean," creating a bigger commotion by blocking all the traffic behind us. Like Pavlovian monkeys, the press once again goes apeshit. Michael gets out of the cart and does a few spins, hamming it up with cheese.

"MICHAEL! MICHAEL!"

"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 the robot. It's simply beautiful. The moment's short lived as the cars behind us start honking. The large security guard hulks toward 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 electric 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!

There's nothing like overkill as the subtext of my loud horn says, "Hey! Here we come again!"

Yes, like the media shoving a steady stream of sensational stories down our gullet, it's best to always leave the press wanting less.


Harmon Leon is the author of The Harmon Chronicles and the forthcoming Scam America.


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From the December 18-24, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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