Jacko May Have to Beat Rap to Regain Fans

Michael Jackson (search) crooned about healing the world, but can he save his own career?

The self-anointed "King of Pop" is defending his honor in a California courtroom on Monday, as the 46-year-old star's trial on child molestation charges begins.

The mere allegations of criminal activity have undoubtedly affected Jacko's public image — and his strange, surgically altered appearance and odd lifestyle certainly haven't helped.

But will his hit songs live on no matter what? Rolling Stone deputy editor Joe Levy is not so sure.

"People are more forgiving of men who are accused of victimizing women than men who are accused of [sexually] victimizing other men," Levy told FOXNews.com, explaining how some celebs have managed to beat similar charges in the past. "People are especially less forgiving of black men who are accused of victimizing men, and in the case of Michael Jackson, possibly children," he added.

Americans, however, have shown that they can see past an artist's unsavory behavior if they produce stellar work.

Woody Allen (search), who became involved with and later married the adopted daughter of former lover Mia Farrow, was also accused by Farrow in 1992 of molesting their young adopted daughter Dylan. But medical experts found no evidence of abuse and cleared Allen, and he has remained well respected by both the Hollywood community and many of his fans.

"I'm very capable of disassociating emotion from substance. There are plenty of talented people who are morally reprehensible," said Brett Martin, a 22-year-old New Yorker who is a big fan of Allen.

And filmmaker Roman Polanski (search), who fled the United States in the 1970s after being convicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, went on to win the Best Director Oscar for "The Pianist" in 2003.

But David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center in New Hampshire (search), said the fact that Polanski and Allen work largely behind the scenes, as opposed to in front of the camera, makes their situation easier to beat than Jacko's.

"I can watch a Polanski or Woody Allen film without feeling guilty about it," he said. "However, it is probably more difficult for someone who thinks that Michael Jackson is a child molester to watch one of his music videos than it is to watch a Roman Polanski film, because in the case of the Polanski film, you don't have see the offender."

Indeed, not all celebrity offenders are redeemable in the eyes of the public. Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (search), who spent three years in jail for rape, has had a hard time beating the rap of violent oddball.

And O.J. Simpson (search) was acquitted of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but many former fans still consider him guilty — and certainly, offers to star in movies or broadcast football games have been slim or nil since his trial.

But Greg Kushnick, a clinical psychologist from New Jersey, feels that people generally are capable of separating the art from the artist.

"If [the consumer] grapples with something related to the fault of the celebrity, then listening to their music or watching their movies might bring on more problems," he said. "Otherwise, I think you can separate the art from any faults of the person."

But Levy points out that Jacko's career recovery might be harder than most, because in addition to the allegations and offbeat behavior, like dangling his child over a balcony, Jackson is well past his prime.

"This happens to all of them 10 years after their peak," Levy said. "There are no criminal allegations against Madonna, and her fan base has shown that they are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to see her in concert and unwilling to spend $18 for her new CD."

And even if Jacko is found not guilty in his trial, the damage may have already been done. The moonwalking star's career has not been the same since similar child-molestation charges were levied against him in 1993, even though the case was dropped (after the singer reportedly paid millions to settle a civil lawsuit with the accusing boy).

"'Invincible' (Jackson's 2001 release) was a much better album than the reviewers gave it credit for. People did not give it a fare shake," Levy said. "It was a better than average record but treated as a worse than average record. It is impossible to say if this was the typical misfortune of an aging artist."

But time as well an innocent verdict might be enough to bring Jackson the pop star out of the shadow of Jacko the eccentric man who lives in his own amusement park.

"Personally, right now, if I were at a party and they were playing Michael Jackson's music, I couldn't enjoy it because he is in the spotlight," said Kushnick. "Five years from now I probably won't be thinking [about the allegations] while dancing to Billie Jean."