Just imagine that, during the course of the Michael Jackson scandals in which the global pop music sensation was accused of molesting young boys - a gag order had been issued by the court forbidding the publication of his name as the investigation unfolded.
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Jackson could only be referred to as a ‘very famous singer’ by newspapers or television stations, or they would face severe legal consequences.
Now, transplant the story to today’s free-for-all Internet age. Every detail of the story would spread like wildfire and across Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere. Jackson’s name would be everywhere online. Michael Jackson would be the focus of every gossipy conversation. Everyone would be discussing the singer by name on every form of social media possible, over every water cooler, every street corner and in every bar.
All except, absurdly, the press, where his name would be strictly forbidden and photos and videos of him would have to be pixelated and his voice distorted, even though both the news announcers and their audience knew perfectly well who was being talked about.
Sounds crazy, right?
But in Israel today, it’s reality. Over the past week, every mainstream Israeli press outlet has been twisting itself into knots trying to avoid saying the name or displaying the image of the country’s most famous singer, or, as they put it, “very very famous singer.”
‘I still love him’
The not-so-mysterious figure is among those being investigated under suspicion that members of the singer’s entourage, including his father, was systematically pimping underage girls from the audience of his shows and bringing them to the singer for, among other activities, sex.
Her face not shown, a 17-year old girl described to Channel 2 News how she was picked out of the audience of adoring fans and paid visits to the singer’s house. They also met at coffee shops, movies, shopping in the mall - in what she said a consensual relationship.
At first she said, the “very very famous singer” didn’t know her age but, “After a while, he knew that I was a school kid.”
In classic pop-music groupie style, she said, “I could see it was problematic,but it didn’t matter to me. I waited for it to happen. I wanted him, I didn’t care about anything. I still love him.”
The news reports tell us the investigation involves girls between the ages 15 to 17, though the Internet buzz says are girls as young as 14 rumored to be involved. That buzz includes stories of parties, sex, drugs and rock and roll involving not only the “very very famous singer” and another whose fame is slightly less stratospheric, referred to as “the other singer.”
Standing by their prince
In the social media world, naming names isn’t an issue and there are no secrets. The Facebook page of the ‘very very famous singer’ is filled with messages of support and videos with encouraging messages from devoted fans, declaring “Real fans stick by their heroes, even in hard times” and “our prince, we are here, holding your hand - for we know you are innocent.”
But among the messages of support are posts that aren’t as friendly, calling for a boycott of the singer’s records and expressing dismay and disgust at the charges, and at the behavior of the singer and the girls involved.
While the immoral, if not illegal behavior of the adult men in the matter is not really an issue, it is the girls involved that strike the troubling note in the conversation.
It isn’t a pleasant discussion: if the men reeling in these teenaged girls are legally defined as ‘pimps,’ does that make such girls ‘prostitutes?’ Should star-struck teens of loose morals who would do anything for proximity to their music idol and his lavish lifestyle really carry that label? Where does one draw the line?
As we are reminded by books like “The Lover” to films “An Education” to “Almost Famous” (remember the rock groupies who called themselves the “Band-Aids”?) inappropriately young girls actively interested in sexual relationships with older and more upstanding men in exchange for thrills and trinkets isn’t anything new.
And the hypersexualization of ex-teen idol celebrities like Miley Cyrus writhing all but naked in music videos doesn’t help the situation much in modern times. And the way that Facebook and WhatsApp and other technologies used to pass around provocative pictures and messages makes it easier for men in search of these girls to find and woo them.
But the technology doesn’t make it any easier for society to confront the phenomenon and deal with it. In a perverse way, Israeli parents might just have to thank the still-unnamed ‘very very famous singer’ for forcing open the conversation nobody really wants to have with their daughter.