The three month trial that ended this week with the acquittal of Michael Jackson was the ultimate assassination-of-character attempt on the one time King of Pop. And as he emerged for the final time from the Santa Maria courthouse Monday he was a free, albeit shadow of a man, hobbling to his SUV, barely managing to raise a hand to acknowledge his fans, many of whom recognise him now only as a zombie from his Thriller music video.

He appeared the relic of a human being, whom once, to quote Sir Bob Geldof, sang “with the voice of angels. And when his feet move, you can see God dancing.” His fall from grace was neatly packaged for network television and we gawped and gazed, not at the mastery of his art, but at the curiosity of his demise. From master to monstrosity, Michael Jackson is, at best, a freak.

But Michael Jackson is us.

Since he was a child, he has had the tragic misfortune of having been cast as a lightning rod for our cultural diseases: racism, homophobia, gender confusion, celebrity obsession, sexual obsession, materialism, beauty obsession, paedophilia, security obsession. The bomb that loomed over Jackson’s head over the last few months can not be underestimated.

And it took 12 sensible-minded men and women seven days to defuse it.

We can see the way American culture has deteriorated to a society at war with itself – eager to demonize, unable to heal – in the tragic deterioration of Jackson’s face and form. The crossover King of the 1980s, who offered a true promise, to quote Funkadelic, of “one nation under a groove,” left the courthouse on Monday to a more divided America.

The ugly ordeal of the past few months revealed a monster that lurks among us. Only it turns out the monster was not the freak.

It was the assassin.