Susan Fast’s “Dangerous”: A Review (Part 3-“Desire”)

in the closet“The first time that noise gives way on Dangerous is at the beginning of ‘In the Closet;’ the calm doesn’t last for long…” (Fast 49).

Indeed, “In the Closet” was such a groundbreaking video for Michael Jackson, in so many ways, that it almost deserves its own chapter within any discussion of Dangerous. And it is now virtually impossible to separate the erotic, visual imagery of the video from the track. However, if we step into a time machine and turn the clock back to November of 1991, when many fans and listeners would have first heard the track after rushing out to buy Dangerous, there was as yet no visual imagery to connect with the song. But even without the well known images of Michael and supermodel Naomi Campbell frolicking in the desert,  the composition alone is enough to set an undeniable tone of eroticism.  Fast describes the track’s somewhat beguiling, soft opening as a foray into the “feminine,” which then gives way to the industrialized, hard beat, creating the tension and juxtaposition of these forces (the masculinity of the industrial beat and feminism of the spoken sections)that will dominate the track. I find it interesting that she references the song’s distinct Middle Eastern feel. I, too, have often noted that the track has a unique, Middle Eastern vibe.  In timbre, it has the feel of an Arabian Beledi number (in common lay terms, that is belly dance!). Such a beat, in and of itself, is more than enough to set a thematic tone of erotic desire. (On more than one occasion, I have heard “In the Closet” referred to as the ultimate lap dance number!). Add to that the element of a forbidden romance, and the dark tension that compels the track is bound to start sizzling.

Although there is nothing really ambiguous about the track, the video, combined with all the usual questions about Michael Jackson and sex, created a lot of speculation, not the least of the controversies stemming from the track’s title.

“People were understandably puzzled by Jackson’s use of the expression ‘in the closet’ to characterize a straight relationship and one has to admit that this is tantalizingly confusing, more so because in a way, this is a kind of ‘coming out’ song for Jackson even as he’s talking, ambiguously, about keeping things in the closet-coming out, that is, as interested not only in romance but sex, as a willing, even aggressive participant, not betrayed by and fearful of some femme fatale and, unbelievably to some, as straight.” (Fast 51-52).

Michael "in the closet"...literally!
Michael “in the closet”…literally!

I have often thought that people tried to read too much into the title, especially in trying to equate it to what is only a relatively recent definition of the phrase. The term as used to define a gay person hiding his/her sexual identity has been in use since the 1960’s, according to most etymology sources of the phrase, but the term “in the closet” as used simply in the sense of hiding a dark secret-any dark secret-dates back at least to the 19th century. According to most sources I have checked, the phrase most likely has roots in the even older phrase “skeletons in the closet” which usually refers to some dark, hidden secret or source of shame that a person keeps hidden. Michael is clearly (at least judging by the song’s lyrics and video concept) using the phrase in its original context, to mean a shameful thing that must be kept hidden away. Fast notes that in the video his character wears a wedding ring, which would indicate that he is a married man trying to avoid the temptations of an exotic seductress. Thus, the thing that is “in the closet” is his adultery. Not exactly a deep story line to figure out, although we have to assume that Michael was surely aware of the phrase’s more current meaning and perhaps, thus, intentionally played up that ambiguity. (This would have been in keeping with Madonna’s alleged concept of the song, which would have involved her and Michael role playing as an androgynous couple in drag! And although it may sound ludicrous in theory, this wasn’t too far removed from the concept he would actually use a few years later with his sister Janet in the “Scream” video).

In this 1992 clip on the making of “In the Closet” Naomi Campbell gives Cindy Crawford a pretty straightforward explanation of exactly what the song’s title means:

Although “In the Closet” certainly wasn’t Michael’s first foray into portraying himself as blatantly sexual in a video, it may indeed mark the first time that we see him in what appears to be, on screen, a fully developed, adult, erotic relationship. Remember that even in “The Way You Make Me Feel,” his steamy cat-and-mouse chase with Tatiana ends with a hug. A lot of us were going, WTF? All of that trouble for a frickin’ hug? Whatever one can say about Michael’s romp with Naomi Campbell in “In the Closet,” we can pretty much safely say that these characters are not going to end things with a hug. In fact, at one particularly steamy point in the video, there is even a moment of implied oral sex! If you never noticed it before, watch closely at the 4:53 mark. Clearly, we are to believe that Campbell’s character was up to something “down there” as the camera follows her body on its slow, sensual shimmy upward, and we can probably safely say she wasn’t admiring his boots.  (A bit of this shot is also briefly inserted at an earlier point in the video, around 2:37. But at 4:53, when everything stops and slows down to nothing but the sound of that clock ticking, is where it gets really extended, and really sexy!).

We Just Knew Things Were Not Going To End With A Hug...Not THIS Time!
We Just Knew Things Were Not Going To End With A Hug…Not THIS Time!

The entire track is built around a series of intermittent moments of building tension and release. “Frustrated desire” and/or “unfulfilled desire” are phrases often used for describing Michael Jackson’s more erotic numbers. Here there is still that element to some degree, because he doesn’t want to “go there” and is fighting it. In that regard, I do not entirely agree with Fast as I see “In the Closet” as being not terribly different from other songs in the Jackson femme fatale category. He is still trying to resist an illicit relationship that he doesn’t want to be in, or at least that he clearly recognizes as wrong. That he’s clearly on the losing side of this battle is no big surprise, either; in the past, it was usually clear that the “Billie Jeans” and “Dirty Dianas” of his repertoire had the upper hand. We always got the sense that, being a man and a vulnerable creature of flesh and blood he was going to give in. But then that moment of “giving in” would be followed by the inevitable “forty days and forty nights” of self-castigation. (I would actually cite “Give In To Me” as perhaps the best example where Michael breaks the lust-followed-by-self castigation cycle, a “desire” track that Fast discusses in depth a bit later in the book).

But perhaps what does differentiate “In the Closet” is the degree of fulfillment as opposed to thwarted desire. Both the music and Michael’s vocal performance leave little doubt that we are meant to interpret this as a fully consummated relationship.

“The chorus collapses twice just, it seems, as it’s about to take off-aborted attempts at fulfillment, joy, release. The third time the music of the chorus takes flight and is allowed to develop, to ‘simmer.’ Jackson’s repeated ad libs culminate in his trademark ‘hee hee’ signifying here in a profoundly different way than it ever has before-as surrender, capitulation, and fulfillment: usually this vocal gesture comes as a sharp interjection, all bravado, control, affirmation of the music’s energy and power. Here, it rounds out his series of ad libs, using his last bit of breath: a haunting, the release of a former, younger self…” (Fast 51).

In her analysis of the video, Fast again aptly deconstructs a lot of the shortsighted nonsense that, for too long, has been the accepted critical narrative, both of this video and most all others that have featured Michael interacting either erotically or romantically with female leads. She is lead at one point to raise the question, in almost perplexed exasperation: “Were we watching the same film?”

Indeed, there is nothing remotely “awkward” about the pairing of Michael and Naomi Campbell. They seemed to have had a natural chemistry that Herb Ritts was able to capitalize on via his beautiful cinematography (and I will have much more discussion of Ritts and his particular influence in just a bit). Campbell was said to have been flirting quite blatantly with Michael throughout the shoot. In the clip posted above, she admitted she wanted to kiss him. And if one story was to be believed, she was willing to take it much further than that!

Back in 2010, I did a post on this video shoot in which I related a story that had been passed down from Michael’s makeup artist Karen Faye. Since those posts are a bit difficult to access directly now, I will reprint that particular part of the post below:

From Allforloveblog, July 3, 2010:
It may have only lasted for as long as the video cameras were rolling, but the chemistry we saw between Michael and Naomi Campbell in 1992’s steamy “In The Closet”-definitely one of the sexiest romps to ever be captured on camera-was very real. At least, we know from Naomi’s end that she would have liked to have carried it “beyond” the cameras. Michael was somewhat more evasive on the subject, but if you observe the photos and body language from the video shoot-well, let’s just put it this way: He obviously wasn’t hating it.

The video conjures up every reason why average people love to hate celebrities. Imagine getting paid big bucks just to romp around in an exotic desert setting with a half-clothed Naomi Campbell, or Michael Jackson at the peak of his sexiest era,and with a bod more ripped than we’d ever been privileged to see before!

It was the one time that Michael actually hit the gym for a video shoot, as well as the studio, and the results were…ooh lala stunning. And with his hair pulled back completely from his gorgeous, chiseled face, we finally got to see some of those fine Native American features that normally our eyes were never drawn to. No wonder Naomi was sprung! And according to Michael, the primitive desert heat was “exciting.” Yes. Especially when you have Naomi sashaying around in that little white skirt!

Well, there’s a funny story I heard that I’m going to relate to you, and no, I cannot verify it with a link-sorry. Just trust me on this. I heard it from a reliable source, and there has been some debate as to whether the story was true or exaggerated. But regardless of whether you believe it or not, the story is hilarious. It goes like this:

Michael comes off the set of In The Closet and into the makeup trailer. He seems very agitated; a little embarrassed and upset. Karen Faye asks what’s wrong.

“Naomi,” Michael says. “She keeps talking dirty to me.”

Karen: “Tell her to stop.”

Michael: “She won’t.”

Karen: “Tell her again.” She goes on to tell him he has to be more aggressive and forceful.

A little while later, Michael is back again. Still upset with Naomi. “She won’t stop. She keeps talking dirty.”

Karen: ‘Well what exactly is it she’s saying?”

Michael: “I can’t tell you. It’s too bad to say.”

At this point (again, I’m merely repeating the story as it was told) Karen is almost amused and making a joke of it. She tells Michael he’s a big boy and should be able to handle the situation. “Tell her to stop doing it.” Sometime later, Michael is back again, still complaining about Naomi and her “nasty” talk. Again, Karen asks what exactly is it that she’s saying. Finally badgered into confessing, Michael looks very embarrassed and says, “She said she wants to suck my dick.”

Karen: “Well you tell her I said she can’t.”

Personally, I don’t know what to make of the story. It’s funny, but I have a hard time buying that Michael would have been too awkward and naive to handle the situation himself. Nor do I particularly buy that he would have been that offended at the idea of  being talked dirty to by a woman (I frankly don’t know many men who would be). It is possible that, with his sense of humor, he enjoyed the prospect of pitting the women against each other, just to watch the cat fur fly! In all of the “making of” videos, his body language with Naomi seems very relaxed, playful, and naturally flirtatious-not exactly the body language of someone who is feeling sexually harassed. But whatever the case-whether it was mutual attraction or one fueled by unrequited tensions, the chemistry between them was very real, and very palpable on camera. 

It is also interesting to note that in the video clip I originally posted with that piece, the reporter who was covering the shoot had absolutely no qualms and no reservations about stating it as Michael’s “sexiest video ever.”

“Michael is generating more heat than the desert sun in his sexiest video ever…”-Media reporter covering the “In the Closet” shoot.

Fast also credits much of the video’s eroticism to the vision of director Herb Ritts. Stylistically, “In the Closet” bore similarities to other sexy videos Ritts had directed, including Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”

Since Fast devotes a good deal of space to discussing the role of Herb Ritts’s vision and his contribution to the shoot, the discussion here likewise cannot be complete without it. Ritts not only specialized in erotic visual imagery, but seemed to have a knack for bringing out a special kind of sensuality in his male subjects. It may be worth noting that many of Michael’s most alluring videos and photo shoots through the years were either those done by women, or by gay male photographers, so it may not be entirely surprising that Ritts, a gay man, was able to bring to the table an especial awareness of Michael’s erotic appeal.in the closet2

It was Ritt’s vision, after all, that dominated much of the video’s storyline and imagery, including the new, exotic look that Michael sported for the shoot (the pulled back hair; the wife beater t-shirt; jeans and boots instead of the usual floods and loafers).

However, regardless of how much of the video’s vision may be credited to Ritts, there is one thing that remained a constant pattern throughout Michael’s career, and that was the fact that whenever he had a serious point to make, or really wanted to call attention to himself, things always went down. That probably sounds confusing right now. But allow me to explain. Most of Michael’s career and public persona was built around the idea of things that were high-the voice, for prime example, and the pants for another. So over the years, we started to learn that when Michael wanted to get serious-that is, when there was a serious point to be made, or when he wished to break away from his characteristic mold-things came down. The voice would drop several octaves, to a deeper and more natural tone. The pant hems came down. His hair, often worn tied back during performances, was allowed to fall loose during numbers that required a special kind of of kinetic, flowing energy (a kind of Samson-like effect).

In between takes, the flood pants and loafers came back out, lol!
In between takes, the flood pants and loafers came back out, lol!

So for “In the Closet” the pants came down (figuratively, at least!). Though his hair remained tied back, the braid was a definite departure from any previous look, and as already noted, since he knew this video was going to call for his body to be exposed as it never had been before, he actually hit the gym and beefed up a bit (not overly doing it, but just enough to give his pecs some real definition). Indeed, the whole idea, as articulated by Herb Ritts, was one of redefining himself once again. Fast refers to Ritt’s desire, for this video shoot, to remove Michael from all of his usual trappings of “dandyism.” But whether this was mostly Ritts’s concept is really beside the point. The fact is, Michael would never have gone along with these choices if he hadn’t felt right doing them (just as he outright rejected Madonna’s concept for the video!) so he must have felt that it was a vision and an image that encapsulated what he wanted to do with the song.

But Fast dips into controversial territory again (as she acknowledges) when she ponders on the “Oriental fantasy” aspect of the video. While many fans appreciated what seemed as Michael’s celebration and embracing of the black woman (all of the love interests portrayed in his videos from Dangerous are black women; Naomi Campbell in “In the Closet”; supermodel Iman in “Remember the Time”) Fast raises the idea that perhaps the casting of these women had as much to do with the desire to exploit the idea of exotic “otherness,” especially given the fact that Michael, by this time, was so “white” in appearance as to give the false impression that he could easily pass for a Caucasian male. Personally, I never bought into the idea that Michael Jackson ever looked “white.” Even during the eras when his vitiligo was most evident-if one didn’t know he had a skin disease-he looked, at the very least, biracial. As the disease progressed, he began to take on a kind of albino, pigment-less appearance. Other African-Americans who have completely lost skin pigment due to vitiligo have a similar appearance, whereby their features remain distinctly African-American even though the skin no longer has the distinguishing pigment that defines one as “black.”

A Sexy Black Couple...Or Something Else? Shots Such As This DID Seem To Emphasize The Stark Contrast Between Their Skin Tones, Raising The Possibility of ITC As An "Orientalist Fantasy."
A Sexy Black Couple…Or Something Else? Shots Such As This DID Seem To Emphasize The Stark Contrast Between Their Skin Tones, Raising The Possibility of ITC As An “Orientalist Fantasy.”

Even though much of “In the Closet” was in sepia, it is apparent that Michael wasn’t exactly pale. Indeed, just as with so many factors of his appearance in this video, it seemed some lengths had been taken to make him look even healthier and more buffed than usual, and it actually looks like he is sporting a suntan (makeup, of course, could have achieved this effect; people with universal vitiligo cannot tan, as prolonged sun exposure can be deadly). Still, I “get” what Fast is saying in the sense that Michael and Naomi could certainly appear as an interracial couple, with Michael’s appearance as closer to Hispanic than African-American, and paired, of course, against the contrast of the very exotically dark Naomi Campbell.

“Often in Orientalist fantasies it’s the dark-skinned woman who’s exoticized, who’s portrayed as some kind of ‘forbidden fruit,’ and Naomi Campbell is so dark next to Jackson that he might be thought of as racially other to her, a potentially controversial idea, I know, given that Jackson’s increasingly lighter skin led to him sometimes being called a ‘race traitor.’ I don’t mean to buy into those narratives here: only that there appears to be, on the level of skin color, a substantial racial difference between Jackson and Campbell, and that Campbell is treated as a hypersexualized ‘exotic’ woman in a way that plays right into the stereotypes.” (Fast 53).

This is similar to the debate that has often been raised with discussions of the “Remember The Time” video, where it is believed by some that Michael intentionally set himself up, surrounding himself with an all-black cast, in order to further emphasize the contrast of his “otherness.” And, in fact, Fast does touch on this later in the chapter when the discussion turns from “In the Closet” to “Remember The Time” although her discussion of Michael’s “otherness” and the contrast of himself against the other cast members, particularly the other males in the cast, goes far beyond simple issues of race or appearance. I love her theory of Michael as a trickster figure in the video, which I would agree with (like a real life Bugs Bunny, he manages to outwit his adversaries even though far outnumbered and outbrawned; but also, like the best trickster figures, he is not entirely guiltless, and his adversaries not entirely unjustified in their pursuit-after all, he has flaunted his affair with the queen, as well as her attraction for him, and has rubbed it in the king’s face-yet like the best tricksters, he is so wily, charismatic, and endearing that we are rooting for him, rather than his justified pursuers. Indeed, cultural trickster figures such as Africa’s Esu are discussed at length in conjunction with this video).

"Leave It To Michael Jackson To Reclaim A REGAL African Past"-Susan Fast
“Leave It To Michael Jackson To Reclaim A REGAL African Past”-Susan Fast

 

According to Fast, Michael’s intentional “otherness” in the video (the contrasting of himself against the cast and, especially, other male cast members) may have more to do with class differences.

“Even in this setting, Jackson challenges class power through his clothing from the moment we see him: the gold metal plate across his chest is called a gorgerine, worn by the Pharoahs of Egypt as a marker of their regal status. Jackson also sports a formal starched kilt worn by noblemen and officials in ancient Egypt. The other entertainers aren’t dressed in this fancy garb…” (Fast 60).

However, as Fast goes on to note, what Jackson ultimately pulls off is a hybrid style that combines ancient Egyptian regalness with modern 90’s hipness, connecting the ancient, royal history of blacks in Egypt to himself in the present.  “Leave it to Michael Jackson to reclaim a regal African past.” (Fast 60).

It made perfect sense, of course, that Michael should go to some lengths to set himself apart from the other cast members of the video. After all, he was the star of the piece, and as such, the concept was naturally to keep him as the center of attention. The choices of hairstyle, makeup, and wardrobe were all intended to emphasize a sense of his “otherness” as compared to the other male cast members, who of course are portrayed as more traditionally “masculine.” Yet the “feminism” that his character invokes is undeniably a source of appeal. The queen desires him above all others, even her own husband.

My Personal Favorite RTT Moment...Breaking Into That Impish, "Trickster" Grin As His Pursuers Overtake Him
My Personal Favorite RTT Moment…Breaking Into That Impish, “Trickster” Grin As His Pursuers Overtake Him

Fast delves into yet another controversial aspect of Michael’s aesthetic (as well as part of his appeal for many) with the topic of gender ambiguity and how Michael actually used the blurring of traditional gender lines to great effect. While this is often a hotbed topic among fans, it is nevertheless a topic that bears discussion because, for starters, it goes to the very heart of what has already been acknowledged as one of the most complex issues of Michael Jackson’s sex symbol status-why critics and the media so often resisted it; why fans embraced it. According to Fast, Michael became a master of how to blend both the masculine and feminine.  I have excerpted below a few of her quotes that best illuminate this discussion:

“During the Dangerous era, Jackson started wearing his hair longer and more loosely curled. The jheri curl had morphed into several strands that hung over his eyes and reached his chin. It’s during this time that he also first straightens, rather than relaxes, his hair…As he ages, from Dangerous onward, his face becomes increasingly ‘feminized,’ exaggerated through the use of heavy make-up, including heavy eyeliner, mascara, and various shades of lipstick…(Fast 55-56).

However, in quoting Meredith Jones and others, Fast goes on to state that Jackson’s modus operandi, if you will, had little to do with any “trans” tendencies which we as a society might normally associate with a male who goes the route of increasingly feminizing his appearance. Rather, she states, Jackson seemed more interested in combining feminine and masculine traits to create a kind of ambiguous middle ground between them.

“This analytical specificity begins to get at how Jackson’s intriguing performance of gender really works: the features don’t ‘add up’ to one gender or another, nor can they be be ‘reconciled.’ Markers of masculinity do not disappear. In fact, these characteristics, particularly the square jaw-line and cleft chin, became more pronounced as he aged, perhaps through procedures, perhaps through fluctuating weight, or perhaps, again, simply through the natural process of aging.” (Fast 56).

In quoting Judith Peraino, she arrives at perhaps the most apt phrase to describe it: “Coming out into the middle.” (58).

But the discussion of Jackson’s “gender ambiguity” cannot end with his face alone. It incorporates many other factors-his body, wardrobe choices, etc. And this is where the lines often became even more blurred.

“His body was slight, without developed muscles, but straight, angular, and strong-not a feminine thing about it, including the way he moved, right down to his walk…” (Fast 56).

This is followed by a discussion of some of his onstage wardrobe choices, particularly the Dangerous-era gold fencing shirt, purposely designed to draw “attention to his bulging groin.” (56-57).

The First Half Of The Dangerous Tour Concerts Emphasized The "Masculine"
The First Half Of The Dangerous Tour Concerts Emphasized The “Masculine”

What Fast is discussing in this section is a phenomenon similar to one I discussed a few years ago in analyzing the concept of Michael’s live performances. It was during the Dangerous era that Michael seemed to solidify the concept for his live performances which often began with the “masculine” (he would come on tough, as a persona who was very masculine, angular, and hard, with military-esque trappings) and, over the course of the performance, would evolve to a more feeling, flowing, ethereal “feminine” persona (a transition that, like the Dangerous album’s concept, usually transpired with the performance of “Heal the World,” “Will You Be There” and the other spiritual “message” songs). Michael’s onstage persona during the first half of his Dangerous tour performances was always somewhat distant and cold; he would often wear a perpetual sneer. The moves are often blatantly sexual (a lot of crotch grabbing, etc). By the time the metamorphosis is complete, he is smiling, interacting with children onstage;the fencing shirt replaced by a flowing white shirt that accentuates his ethereal quality. His dance moves have become fluid and graceful, rather than angular and hard.

Michael's Onstage Transformation From The Dangerous Tour Onward Emphasized A Shift From The "Masculine" Persona At The Beginning, To A More Graceful, Flowing "Feminine" Persona
Michael’s Onstage Transformation From The Dangerous Tour Onward Emphasized A Shift From The “Masculine” Persona At The Beginning, To A More Graceful, Flowing “Feminine” Persona

It is interesting that this metamorphosis in his live performances (which would also carry over to the HIStory tour as well) mirrored the similar transformation that takes place on the album, as the initial industrialized, new jack swing tracks (“Noise”) eventually give way to what Fast describes as the album’s “Utopia” and “Soul” sections.

These discussions may be better served in the next posts that will look at those chapters in more detail. However, it may help to illuminate some of the reasons why the purposeful blending of masculinity and femininity became so important to Michael’s aesthetic. Fans often get defensive about any insinuation of Michael as anything less than 100% masculine, but sometimes I think for the wrong reasons (often, such defensiveness is simply a kneejerk response to years of defensive conditioning that have been wrought by the media’s attempt to somehow “emasculate” Michael or to cast him into the realm of “weird otherness”). What Fast does is to go beyond the mere simplifications of either approach. For sure, there can be no honest dialog of Michael Jackson-much less an honest appreciation of his art and his place in the cultural pantheon-without acknowledging that he did challenge conventional ideas of masculinity. And we also cannot deny that, for some, at least, this made him both a source of controversy and, as someone who-whether intentionally or unintentionally-challenged those norms, perhaps a source of discomfort.

"He Didn't Like The Line Drawn Between What's Allowed For Men And What's Allowed For Women"-Karen Faye, Qtd in "Dangerous" by Susan Fast
“He Didn’t Like The Line Drawn Between What’s Allowed For Men And What’s Allowed For Women”-Karen Faye, Qtd in “Dangerous” by Susan Fast

According to Karen Faye, Michael’s longtime makeup artist, Michael believed that a man should be entitled as much as a woman to be able to use his face as a canvas; to reinvent himself, and to have the same freedom to experiment with different looks and, yes, to use makeup to enhance features or play them down, just as women do, to present a more beautiful or attractive face to the world. He reportedly loved women’s perfumes, preferring them over the often harsh masculine scents packaged and commericialized for men. But the important factor that underlies these preferences is a desire for sexual equality in cosmetic preferences (which we might reasonably assume would spill over to other areas as well). So in that regard, we might say such choices had nothing to do with wanting to be  a woman or to be “transgender” (as some falsely surmised) so much as simply being a liberated man who felt that being “pretty” should not be the exclusive right of women. Certainly we could argue as to whether a preference for pink lipstick makes one any less “masculine” than a woman who prefers wearing slacks to dresses makes her any less “feminine.” But I think it is naive to assume that Michael made these choices with no idea that he was going against the grain of cultural norms of masculinity. In making such purposeful aesthetic choices-which he had to have known as surely as he knew that wearing straightened hair, makeup and a gold gorgerine would set him apart from the other males in “Remember The Time”) he was clearly intending to draw attention to himself as someone who was testing cultural boundaries and limits in terms of gender norms.

One reason why it is important to honestly address these matters is because we have to consider not only the fans’ perception of Michael Jackson, but also how he is still perceived culturally at large-and how the public often distorted their perceived ideas of Michael and gender. For example, I have told the story before of a male friend of mine who was convinced that Michael Jackson wore womens’ clothes. I asked him where he got such a ridiculous notion-if anything, Michael’s public style, including his vast array of military jackets, were the epitome of “masculine.” He continued to argue lamely that Michael wore women’s blouses. So I put him up for a challenge. If he could produce one photo of Michael wearing a woman’s blouse (that was authentic and not photoshopped!)  I would concede he was right; if not, he would have to concede to me. After going through literally hundreds of photos on the internet, he had to reluctantly concede that I was right. His idea of Michael as a “cross dresser” had come about due to a distorted kind of cultural perception, based on both media stereotypes and misconceptions of Michael’s gender ambiguity.

There Was Nothing "Gender Ambiguous" About His Dress
There Was Nothing “Gender Ambiguous” About His Dress

This example underscores the importance of examining how Michael both challenged and defied these cultural norms and expectations-in surprising ways. Fast wisely sidesteps the temptation to draw any definitive theories or conclusions about Michael’s aesthetic choices, especially in regard to whatever “statement” he was making, intentionally or otherwise. Her theories are steeped neither in fan adulation nor the kind of critical disdain/dismissal of many earlier critics and scholars; thus, she is able to bring a refreshing honesty and candor to these discussions, successfully bridging the admiration of a fan with the objective perspective of a cultural scholar and critic.

The only thing that really bothers me in this discussion is that, while she refers many times to the controversy of Michael’s “lightened” skin color, she always seems to lump it in with his other cosmetic choices, I am not sure if this is an attempt to simply avoid the whole “did he or didn’t he have vitiligo” issue, or if, indeed, Fast even believes he had vitiligo. I am not sure of her position on this, since she never states it explicitly (indeed, the word “vitiligo” is never mentioned once in conjunction with these discussions) and I find this omission problematic, as it could leave the uninformed reader with the opinion that Michael simply controlled/manipulated his skin color change as he did so many other aspects of his appearance. The reason it is problematic and inexcusable is because the issue of whether he had the disease is, as stated in my previous post,  no longer up for debate. But while the autopsy results should have definitively settled the debate, there still remains in some circles, apparently, a lingering and disturbing notion that he must have, somehow, induced his own vitiligo through some chemical means-which, again, would go back to the notion of some cosmetic desire to appear lighter-a desire that tragically, ended up with a horribly botched result. I need not enumerate that there is still a very large faction who simply can’t put the notion to rest that Michael either did not have vitiligo, or if he did, that he must have somehow brought it on himself.

While Fast never states that she believes those rumors, she never exactly denies them, either, and in so doing, leaves that door open for interpretation and speculation. Like I said, I don’t know whether Fast believes he had vitiligo. I have not yet had an opportunity to personally ask her that question, and do not know if she has addressed it elsewhere. It would be interesting to know. But I think it would be important to any honest discussion of Michael’s appearance to at least acknowledge the existence of this disease; otherwise, it is leaving a bit of a skewered perception of his appearance changes, assuming that all of them stemmed purely from personal or artistic choice.

However, that isn’t to say I do not believe that, once he realized the disease’s inevitable course, that he purposely reworked a new aesthetic for himself based on the new possibilities that this “look” now opened for him. Indeed, it’s naive to assume that Michael Jackson wasn’t acutely aware that he was within a “new skin,” so to speak-and how that would affect the world’s view of him, for better or worse.  This is a subject that has also been addressed in some depth by Willa Stillwater and Susan Woodward, author of “Otherness and Power: Michael Jackson and His Media Critics.” In a recent blog post on the “Dancing With the Elephant” website, Woodward used a 1995 photo from the shoot for the “Earth Song” single sleeve, which she cites as “reminiscent of Italian Renaissance portraits,” as an example, using both the terms “ethereal” and (quoting Willa Stillwater from “M Poetica”) “luminous” to describe his mid 90’s persona.

https://dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/michael-jacksons-otherness-and-power/

As Woodward describes this quality in the post, it is a kind of transcendence “of the bonds of gender, time, and maybe even human flesh.” Below are a couple of other pics that are apparently from that same photo shoot. They both would appear to strengthen the theory that Michael was indeed going for an intentionally “ethereal” and “luminous” appearance that often characterized Italian Renaissance art:

earth song11

earth song13

Typical Italian Renaissance Portrait, "Child Crowned With Flowers," Circa 1466-1516
Typical Italian Renaissance Portrait, “Child Crowned With Flowers,” Circa 1466-1516

To quote those who knew him best and/or those fortunate enough to have met him, his appearance post vitiligo was not really “white”-certainly not Caucasian-but rather, the appearance of someone who was translucent. This description makes sense. After all, vitiligo destroys the cells that produce melanin. leaving the victim, in effect, “colorless.” Did Michael, perhaps, come to view his new, “colorless” body as a kind of blank canvas, one on which he could now reinvent himself in ways that would never have been imaginable to him before?

Portraits Like This-A Favorite Of Mine, BTW-Often Portrayed Him During His Post Vitiligo Era As Both Ethereal and "Angelicized." For Sure, They Heightened The Idea of "Gender Ambiguity"
Portraits Like This-A Favorite Of Mine, BTW-Often Portrayed Him During His Post Vitiligo Era As Both Ethereal and “Angelicized.” For Sure, They Heightened The Idea of “Gender Ambiguity” In Ways Not Entirely Coincidental

These are all ideas that Michael would have never been able to discuss openly in the press, without inviting undue controversy and having his words misquoted or taken out of context (as inevitably, they always were) and so, again, it is largely left up to us to interpret. It is no secret that, culturally, he still identified himself as a black American. The disease didn’t change who he was or his racial identity. It would also be naive to think that he welcomed the havoc the disease wracked on his life and personal appearance, all in the name of “art.”  The disease left most of his body horribly splotched, a condition he was so self conscious of that he spent most of his remaining years wearing clothing that concealed his body. He couldn’t enjoy simple pleasures, such as a day of swimming at the beach. But it is well within the realm of possibility that, in learning to adopt, he found ways to make the idea of being, literally, a black man inside a colorless body, work for him.

By The Time Of "They Don't Care About Us" An Even Angrier And More Defiant Michael Seemed Finally Willing To Show The World That There Was Nothing "Pretty" About The Disease That Had Turned Him "White"
By The Time Of “They Don’t Care About Us” An Even Angrier And More Defiant Michael Seemed Finally Willing To Show The World That There Was Nothing “Pretty” Or Ethereal or “Angelic” About The Disease That Had Turned Him “White.” For The First Time, He Allowed His Splotched Body To Appear In Its “Untouched” State For A Video Shoot.

they don't care about us2

Rather than dwelling on himself as a “victim” he chose another path, presenting an image of metamorphosis rather than of victimhood. PR wise, the decision may have been questionable. But it also enabled him to maintain the illusory aura that was such an important element of his appeal. Had he chosen the more outspoken path-allowing the public to see his blotched body; doing the talk show circuit on TV about being a vitiligo sufferer, etc-he might have won more public sympathy, but the price for that was in putting the spotlight squarely on HIM as a public figure with a disease, rather than as an artist. It was not a role he felt comfortable with, nor one he felt particularly obligated to perform.

But whatever conclusions can be drawn about Michael’s use of style, cosmetics, performance, etc in blurring gender lines, no such discussion would be complete without also considering the traditions that he was a part of. In many fan discussions, it has often been noted that it wasn’t an issue of whether Michael was “masculine” but that his was a masculinity out of step with the current times. There is, of course, a lot of observational truth in those statements and Michael was hardly the first or last male artist to circumvent the stringent defines of masculinity that have been in place, in Western culture, at least, since the Victorian era. Prior to the Victorian era, it was not at all unusual for men to wear long, flowing hair, makeup, and clothing that might be considered highly feminized by today’s standards (ruffled shirts and lace, etc). The fop, or the dandy, became a highly romanticized figure, and then as now, it was not at all unusual for women to be attracted to these men. It was only during the Victorian era that the rigid lines between what could or could not be properly considered as “masculine” became drawn (not coincidentally, these lines became more rigidly drawn as Western society’s homophobia increased).These Victorian ideals prevailed into much of the twentieth century, with no real challenge until the 1960’s and 70’s (though even in the 1920’s and earlier, movie idols such as Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, began to challenge these notions and to revive the concept of dandyism, and writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, hardly the most masculine looking of dudes, nevertheless made women swoon and was embraced for his “feminine sensibilities.” However, by the 1930’s, the macho man was back in vogue-“virile” leading men like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Humphrey Bogart defined masculinity, and it would be many decades before the rock era, again, challenged these notions).  But though we have seen some considerable loosening of these ideals, even in the twenty-first century any full throwbacks to those earlier eras of “dandyism” have been mostly confined to artists. In the music world, particularly, male performers caught on early that the most guaranteed way to drive women wild was to…well, employ some feminine wiles.

Speaking of the historical context of the “dandy” figure and how male artists have used “feminine” sexuality to enhance their own appeal, here is an interesting clip that I ran across on Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors-who, of course, was as famous for his drop dead gorgeous looks and legendary sex appeal as for his music. In this documentary, chronicling Morrison’s final 24 hours, note what Steve Harris, former VP of Elektra Records, says at the 6:03 mark:

“Jim had this love for movies, and so he would emulate Greta Garbo, he had the look in his eyes of Marlene Dietrich staring you down, shaking his hair and his head like Marilyn Monroe did. He had those masculine traits with the feminine wiles, that’s what made Jim unique.”

It is interesting that when Harris mentions all of the models of sexuality that Morrison emulated for his “unique” persona, every one just happens to be a famous female performer of the past. And yet Morrison’s status as a heterosexual sex symbol and rock god who drove women wild has never been questioned.

Perhaps Morrison was, as Harris states, “unique” for the time. That as part of his self styled image (and indeed it was self styled, for The Doors early on had no PR team) he chose to emulate and combine traits of glamorous women probably had much to do with the fact that, until then, there hadn’t really been much in the way of sexual male role models-that is, without pretty much circumventing the last century (which Morrison did) and returning to models of ancient classicism. Similar to what Michael would do two decades later, Morrison was incorporating elements of feminism to create, if not exactly a morphology, at the very least a new kind of masculine ideal. As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, we saw many rockers such as David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and others carrying this new brand of androgynous “dandyism” to even further lengths.

So why, then, did this similar brand of gender morphology become so upsetting-or perhaps more threatening-to some when it was Michael Jackson? There are many theories, but most scholars and cultural analysts are in agreement that it was, perhaps, the combination of both racism and homophobia (“homophobic” in the sense that any male who is perceived as overly sexualized in a traditionally non-masculine way is deemed threatening) that made Michael Jackson such a potent combination for many.

“To this extent it [dandyism] might also involve the appropriation of traits of femininity as a form of rebellion. This is in part what glam rockers were doing in the 1970’s; both Kobena Mercer and Michele Wallace made a comparison between their gender play and Jackson’s and noted that while it seemed alright for the likes of Bowie, it was, apparently ‘intolerable’ for a black man to experiment with gender and sexuality in this way.” (Fast 65).

However, this may be an overly simplified approach. It would fall short, for example, in explaining why Prince-the perfect 80’s embodiment of “dandyism” if ever there was one-still did not raise as much controversy as Michael, but instead, was given pretty much the same artistic pass as Bowie and others. As has been discussed here before, much of it may have had more to do with the general acceptance of avant-garde artists as opposed to “pop” or mainstream artists. We had watched Michael grow up as a beloved child star and as a member of the wholesome Jackson family act; therefore, his actions were always going to invite more scrutiny, and tongues were bound to wag when “little Michael” came out wearing lipstick and eye liner and grabbing his crotch. Most adult artists have the luxury of being able to evolve quietly, behind the scenes, for years before unleashing their persona on the world stage. Michael was never afforded that luxury. His artistic evolvement, just as with everything else in his life, had to be carried out within the metaphoric fish bowl of his existence.

Also, I don’t think we can entirely separate Michael from the context of his time. If there was ever a ripe time for “dandyism” in popular music, it was the 1980’s, the era in which Boy George became an international superstar, Duran Duran was the leading boy act of the day, and hardcore rockers like Motley Crue wore more eyeliner and lipstick than their female groupies. By the time Michael entered his metal/power ballad phase with “Dirty Diana”-replete with tumbling hair past his shoulders, open white shirt rippling in the wind machine, tight spandex pants, and more eyeliner than Apollonia-he was as much a product of his time and era as an innovator-indeed, so much so that “Dirty Diana,” in particular, is often cited as a parody of typical metal hair band videos of the day, which may be true.

We Had Never Seen A Display Of Male Auto Eroticism Quite Like This
We Had Never Seen A Display Of Male Auto Eroticism Quite Like This

If so, this may also go far in explaining at least “some” of Michael’s overly sexualized antics during the Panther Dance segment of the “Black or White” video. Fast also spends a considerable length of time analyzing this segment, for no discussion of Michael and sex (or his sexual persona, at least) can be complete without it. Unlike the eroticism of “In the Closet” or even “Remember The Time,” where he is at least interacting with a partner in a traditionally erotic sense, this segment is pure auto eroticism-and not only that, but pure auto eroticism that seems to come from totally out of left field (given that the song’s content has nothing to do with sex!). Looking back in hindsight, long before we had two decades’ worth of critical analysis of the “Black or White” video-including all of the various theories regarding the symbolism of the emasculated black male, etc-it’s easy to see why so many viewers at the time were genuinely confused (that is, when they weren’t brushing it off as Michael “simply being Michael” and, as usual, doing whatever it took to generate controversy). Michael said in his press statement, released within the hour of the controversial broadcast, that he was only attempting to “interpret the animalistic instincts of the black panther into a dance.” Clearly, the panther’s mating ritual must have been part of that interpretation!panther dance3

However, the whole idea of “gender morphology” becomes interesting when looking at the controversy this segment aroused. In essence, Michael was not doing anything that was any more auto erotic in nature than what many female “video vixens” had already been doing in music videos for years at that point. Indeed, Tawny Kitean’s famous romp on the hood of a Jaguar XJ was every bit as sexual, but as always, women have had far more leeway-certainly far more freedom-in the realm of sexual self expression. For a woman to caress her body in a sensual manner was considered sexy. For a man to do it was just…well, for many at the time, awkward and weird.

80's Video Vixens Like Tawny Kitean Made Auto Eroticism The Norm...But Not For Guys. Michael's "Panther Dance" Broke Down That Barrier.
80’s Video Vixens Like Tawny Kitean Made Auto Eroticism The Norm…But Not For Guys. Michael’s “Panther Dance” Broke Down That Barrier.

To Michael’s credit, he was at least able to pull it off far more successfully than poor Billy Squirer, whose disastrous romp in pink sheets in the “Rock Me Tonight” video cost him a legion of male fans and proved such a career setback that he never fully recovered! Perhaps the major difference was that Squirer, who had built a solid reputation as a typical, macho rocker in an already sexist genre, had never tapped into the traits of femininity that would enable him to get away with such a display. Although there are a lot of misguided theories about the intent of the “Rock Me Tonight” video, I have always believed that the concept was simply a misguided PR attempt to make Squirer appeal to female fans. They, perhaps, forgot one major factor: To successfully pull off male auto eroticism in a video, a male performer HAS to be able to embrace a certain amount of femininity, and to be able to do so naturally and comfortably. It can’t be something that is faked.

Hence, Billy Squirer failed miserably; Michael Jackson succeeded spectacularly, controversy notwithstanding.

In analyzing this segment, Fast hits on something that explains both why the segment worked, and why it invited so much controversy:

“In the ‘panther dance’ the crotch grab becomes a rub-sometimes he only uses his middle finger, and he rubs his hand down his chest into his groin too. All this rubbing, if we have to bring things down to their conventional binaries, is much more associated with female masturbation, less with jerking off…” (Fast 57-58).

Precisely why I love this book is for these moments when Fast nails concepts that I have often found myself struggling with for years, trying to pinpoint exactly why something I had seen Michael do a hundred times either unsettled, disturbed, tantalized, or aroused me-sometimes all in one fell swoop. I was not alone in that department, for across the globe, millions of women (and I would imagine many male fans as well) were reacting to those gestures the same way. The excessive “body rubbing” was something I had noticed, but had never thought to articulate it in the way that Fast does here, although I had long noted that what Michael does in the “Black or White” video certainly goes well beyond his (by then) usual crotch grab. This was something else, less stylized, more “in your face” and certainly more explicitly erotic than anything he had done thus far. But I think Fast hits on exactly what I found so simultaneously unsettling and arousing about this segment-it’s not just that these are explicitly auto erotic sexual gestures, but explicitly feminized sexual gestures. In the final segments of the sequence, just before morphing into a panther again, there is more of the kind of sensual, feminized auto eroticism that Fast refers to-he rubs both hands from chest to groin while throwing back his head in sensual ecstasy, a pose long associated with images of female orgasm.panther dance2

Again, I think what we can take from this sequence is that Michael may not have been so much about pushing gender lines as simply a liberator for the rights of a man to be able to express himself as a sexual being, apart from the repressions of conventional male sexuality. When we look at how women responded intuitively to Michael’s sexually suggestive onstage moves (the caressing of his chest; the suggestive finger wag, the hip thrusts, etc) it was because his female fans genuinely believed he was conveying how “he liked it done” and would do, in turn, to them. The simulations sparked fertile imaginations; yes, it was at least part showmanship but, like the best performers, Michael was literally making love to all of us in those moments-and leaving precious little to our imaginations.  Just as actors can cry on cue, we nevertheless know that in order to cry on cue, they must be able to connect with something that triggers that emotion. Sometimes it’s a memory; sometimes they are simply so involved in the role and the storyline that the situation has become real for them. Tears can’t be faked. Thus, even though an actor may be crying “on cue” the performance stems from a very real human emotion-a trigger. In much the same way, Michael’s onstage sexual “performances” had to have at least been some extension of his ability to tap into his own sexual feelings, whether invoked by the music or the crowd’s energy. We responded because we knew he was tapping into those triggers, and it couldn’t be faked. It’s difficult to imagine why a generation of critics found this such a difficult concept to comprehend. Like Morrison (who, in quoting Willie Dixon, aptly summed up the whole phenomenon: “The men don’t know, but the little girls understand”) and the entire legacy of hyper sexualized male performers who had learned to emulate/incorporate female eroticism to maximum effect, Michael had learned intuitively what women respond to, which for us (if we are honest with ourselves) often has more to do with an inherent, genetic attraction to our sensual, seductive, feminine selves than to the “brute strength” of traditional masculinity. Even the most casual internet search will justify this claim, for if you type in “why women love effeminate men” the hits are mind boggling, as article after article will attempt to explain, in some way, or to arrive at some answer, of why this strong mirror attraction for the feminine exists-even in women who are, by all definition, “straight.”

Fast does an excellent job of exploring how Michael Jackson both fit into the long tradition of “dandyism” and, also, in many ways, defied it. The history of black dandyism, in particular, is illuminated quite well, with Fast discussing how Michael in many ways fit the historical prototype of the “Pinkster king,” an African American man who would be elected to a prestigious position and allowed to emulate the dress (and all other pomp and circumstance) of a white elected official. The discussion of Michael’s “syncretic” style of dress and its historical context is, alone, one of the most fascinating passages in the chapter. My male friend whom I referred to earlier in this post would have done well by reading the following passage:

“Hard fabrics were used. The jackets were always short to the waist to meet his form-fitting pants…the broad chest tapering to the waist in a classic V shape is characteristic of a classically normative male form and signifies male strength; his ‘effiminacy,’ with very few exceptions, did not extend to his dress.” (Fast 67).

The “Desire” chapter focuses on many aspects of Michael, sex, and gender. In exploring all of these controversial issues, she offers no hardcore theories or “answers” but manages to successfully examine Michael’s sexual persona both within its historical context and in looking at why these have become such hot button topics, both in the past and present. Their relevance, of course, is due to the fact that the first six tracks of Dangerous (as well as their accompanying videos) solidified the adult image of Michael Jackson as both “soul man” and as a newly liberated, libidinous performer who was exploring his adult sexuality in ways he had never dared to before.

But the temptations of the flesh, as it turned out, was only one facet of Dangerous‘s many moods. In the next installment, I will look at “Utopia” and, finally, rounding the series out, I will explore what Fast has to say about Dangerous and “Soul.”

Susan Fast’s “Dangerous”: A Review (Pt 2-Desire)

 

1465149_585973018141813_673964419_nDesire:

“Michael Jackson’s diffuse expression of sexuality, which so many people found disturbing, because it doesn’t fit into any normative paradigm, is the ‘line of flight’ along which he continued to singularize himself…[It] is the aspect of his persona, or expression, that is least understood today, and that desperately needs to be more fully explored.”-(Steven Shapiro qtd in Fast 42).

Now I am getting into perhaps one of the most controversial; certainly most interesting chapters of “Dangerous” and that is her chapter titled “Desire.” The reason I say “controversial” is because I know already, from the various heated debates we have had here on some of these very topics, that many of these are hotbed issues among MJ fans and critics alike.  There is nothing new, of course, in the ever ongoing debates of Michael’s appearance (or more aptly, the reasons why it kept changing) or the issues of his sexuality. Susan Fast certainly offers some interesting perspectives on these topics. As I have stated before, some I agree with and some I question; that doesn’t make anyone “right” or “wrong” but only goes to show that  many of Michael’s aesthetic choices regarding his image and appearance (both the things he controlled consciously as well as those, such as his skin color, that he had no control over) are open for many varied forms of interpretation, and perhaps always will be since Michael himself was rarely forthright on these matters. In other words, there is nowhere you are going to find an interview in which Michael explicitly states, in black and white, “This is the statement I wanted to make when I…” so much of his intent has been left for fans, critics, and scholars to unravel.

However, the chapter opens with a topic that certainly no fans will dispute-Michael Jackson was undeniably one sexy mutha, but in one of the greatest and most inexplicable twists in pop music history, there arose a critical paradigm of Michael Jackson as anything but sexual, as it seemed an entire generation of critics sought to emasculate him by whatever means necessary. However, Fast’s theories delve much deeper beyond this seemingly and illogically simple explanation, even examining some of the reasons Jackson himself helped contribute to this rather blurring and confusing paradigm of himself as a “man-child”-one who was a teaser at best, but perhaps had intentionally set himself up to be a non threat (and why this was a necessity, at least in the early days of his solo career, for both his career and survival in the business).

The Annie Leibovitz Photos For "Vanity Fair" Showcased The New, Hyper Sexual Michael Jackson. He Seemed To Have Gotten Well Past Some Of His Early Shyness and Inhibitions About Being Viewed As An "Object."
The Annie Leibovitz Photos For “Vanity Fair” Showcased The New, Hyper Sexual Michael Jackson. He Seemed To Have Gotten Well Past His Early Shyness and Inhibitions About Being Viewed As An “Object.”

The reason this is an important topic to discuss in terms of Dangerous is because this was the first album in which Michael, on a serious level, really attempted to shake loose and transcend that “non threatening” image (hence the title, perhaps?). Bad had given us many hints, of course, of a “badder” and tougher Michael. But “Dirty Diana” notwithstanding, a lot of Bad still came across as a bit of over the top posturing, like a child calling attention to himself-“Look how grown up and bad ass I am”-but who, at the end of the day, still goes home to mom and dad. And this is not a far off analogy, because though Michael certainly was flexing both his wings and his muscles on Bad in ways he never had before, in the end he was still living at home with mom and dad, quite literally, and in the studio was still under the tutelage of his “father figure” Quincy Jones.

But the Dangerous era was understandably confusing to loyal fans who had grown up with Michael throughout his Jackson 5, Jacksons and Quincy Jones-era solo career. When the videos for the Bad album started playing on MTV, we noticed that Michael was looking considerably lighter than he had in the past, but for all intents and purposes, he still looked “black.” It became an unspoken consensus that Michael must be “doing something” but we didn’t know what, and because the music was so good, we frankly didn’t really care. But then, with Dangerous and the premier of the “Black or White” video-of all the ironies-we got our first taste of a completely, pale “white” Michael Jackson. (However, it is interesting that in the scene where he rips his shirt and the Royal Arms Hotel sign comes crashing down, the lighting actually makes him appear quite dark in this segment; whether this was an intentional effect I do not know, but have always wondered). And remember that an official explanation for this seeming “transformation” was still almost two years down the road (an explanation that would be mocked and disbelieved even when it came, but for the moment, let’s stay in 1991 and the mindset of the time). The reactions at the time were as varied and complex as reactions of anything relating to Michael Jackson have always been, from enchantment and awe (“I thought he must be magic!” came one memorable quote from a male fan looking back on his childhood reaction to “white” Michael) to bafflement (“what the heck IS up with him?”) to outright hostility (“how dare he?” and “who does he think he is!”).

That Michael Jackson Had Vitiligo Is No Longer Up For Debate. What DOES Remain Debatable, However, Is To What Extent His Appearance Changes Were Aesthetic Choices
That Michael Jackson Had Vitiligo Is No Longer Up For Debate. What DOES Remain Debatable, However, Is To What Extent His Other Appearance Changes Were Aesthetic Choices-Or Even If The Disease Itself Somehow Became Accepted As Part of the New “Aesthetic.”

Discussing Michael Jackson’s changes in appearance on any kind of aesthetic level is always a touchy subject because the situation simply can’t be discussed without his changing skin color being an inescapable part of it. And once that subject comes into the equation, it raises many other deeper, controversial issues-ones that have certainly been well debated here, as elsewhere. After all, we certainly aren’t talking mere cosmetic changes here. Many artists routinely change their appearance and image from album to album via conventional means such as hairstyles, makeup, and wardrobe (although Michael certainly played a pioneering role in freeing the male artist to express himself via those avenues as well). But a complete change of skin color can hardly be equated to a change of hair style! This wasn’t a mere cosmetic change, but (for many) a seismic shift in identity. The fact that the issue is still debated at all, over twenty years after the explanation was given, speaks of just how deeply this change resonated with the public, and still does.  That Michael Jackson had vitiligo was confirmed in his autopsy. That is a fact that is not up for debate. Therefore, the ongoing speculations about it, including some of the very questions that Fast raises of if, why, or how he applied this transformation to his art (in ways perhaps both conscious and subconscious) are inevitably going to be questions that invoke their share of controversy.

But before wading too deep into those waters, let’s get back to the discussion of desire. Susan Fast kicks off this chapter by raising the very question that I addressed in one of my most popular blog posts: “Why I Love The Mature Face of Michael.”

http://www.allforloveblog.com/?p=5924

Fast’s discovery of Michael, both post vitiligo and post cosmetic surgery, as someone who was still invoking “desire” on a mass level echoes my own similar journey. She describes going on Youtube, and being fascinated to see so many fan videos devoted to the celebration of Michael’s mature “hotness.” She concludes that this is not a phenomenon unique to any one demographic, either, but rather, one that seems to be consistent among female fans from all cultures. It is not, of course, the idea of so many fans from so many diverse cultures, ages, races, and backgrounds finding one man so desirable that is the big mystery, but rather, the fact that it is such a persistent view and such a polar opposite view to the image of Michael Jackson that was being sold by the mass media.

“With all the talk of how Jackson ‘destroyed’ his face and became a monster in his later years, often described as ‘an inevitable tragedy to pity and mourn,’ it’s interesting to contemplate this very different discourse. What do these fans find so sexy, so beautiful, when pretty much all we hear from the media is that he was a freak? Some critics have admitted that Jackson ‘[irradiated] sexual dynamism in his performances, but then they’ve knocked the wind out of that claim by determining that it was all show and no action: ‘He might be threatening if Jackson gave, even for a second, the impression that he is obtainable,’ wrote Jay Cocks in 1984. Since when did the obtainability of pop stars have anything to do with them as threatening to society’s mores?” (Fast 43-44).

For the next several paragraphs, Fast goes on to point out and deconstruct many of these ridiculous critical theories. She demonstrates aptly how all of these theories, stretching from the early 80’s when Michael’s solo star first began to rise to the present, when taken as a whole, go well beyond the limits of the absurd and all seem to have one basic element in common-to somehow deny Michael’s sexual presence as a performer (even worse, perhaps, to strip it from him as a human being) or to somehow deflate its power.

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The reasons for this are obvious in some ways (blatant racism, no doubt, being the biggest factor) but more troublingly elusive in others. Michael Jackson was hardly the first male black superstar to appeal to women of many races and ethnicities, but he may well have been the first in which so many unique factors-his power, influence, commercial success, and cultural status-combined to create the perfect storm. The words of Jay Cocks, as quoted in Fast’s book, may be worth a deeper examination. He purposely chose the word “threatening” and as quickly did double duty to deflate its meaning when paired in the same sentence with Michael Jackson and sex. Cocks wrote the words quoted by Fast in 1984, which means this was at least a good three years before Michael had even officially performed his first crotch grab on TV, let alone any of the hyped up sexual moves of the Bad tour (and which would become even more blatant by the Dangerous tour). It was long before the era of any controversies surrounding Michael, or talks about plastic surgery (a subject that wouldn’t really become a source of controversy for Michael until later in the decade) or before serious questions of sexuality/gender issues were raised. Yet already, it seems, he was being viewed as someone who was clearly threatening and challenging acceptable sexual norms. Otherwise, why the need to protest so much?

Michael Jackson as I recall him from this early 80’s phase was still very much within the realm of what Fast defines as the “soul man” persona. The early 1980’s was still a time when white girls such as myself, especially those of us living in the Deep South, could still not be entirely open about finding a black performer sexy. When I look back on it now, I find it amusing that I always felt the need to qualify any comment I made about Michael Jackson and “hotness” with the preface, “I could really go for him if I was black girl.” But it was the Deep South, thirty years ago, and social norms dictated what we could or could not find “sexy”-at least, not without being branded a slut or worse. (That the idea of interracial mixing was still a quite sensitive subject in the 70’s and early 80’s  was not unique to the South, however. In 1972 when Michael appeared as a guest on the popular show “The Dating Game” they made sure that all three of the “batchelorettes” he picked from were African-American; in 1982, an innocent song like “The Girl Is Mine” could still incite controversy because  it featured a black man and a white man arguing over the same girl). Yet I cannot recall, either among myself or my peers, any sort of condescension about Michael’s sexiness or any doubt regarding its authenticity. Perhaps as teenagers we simply weren’t analyzing things that deeply, but for sure, questions of whether Michael’s sexiness was “real” or “feigned” never entered the equation. Which would appear to indicate that none of these ideas of Michael’s “feigned” sexuality were coming from its most rudimentary grassroots level-that is, the actual fans and the kids who were buying his music. So if it wasn’t coming from us-the kids, the giggly suburban white girls who were secretly buying Thriller over parental objections and ogling at the cover, or the black girls who, of course, were still loving him and finding him as “fine”as they always had-then where did it come from, and why?

I Don't Think His Adult Image Was EVER Exactly "Boy Next Door." He Had Always Known How To Mix Innocence And Sex.
I Don’t Think His Adult Image Was EVER Exactly “Boy Next Door.” He Had Always Known How To Mix Innocence And Sex.

By the mid 1980’s, there had already been a major shift of perception. Michael was still the biggest pop star on the planet, but it had become fashionable by then to poke gentle fun at his masculinity and to tease anyone who openly declared themselves a Michael Jackson fan. Had the campaign to “desexualize” Michael Jackson taken its toll? Had it resulted in its desired effect? I remember quite vividly that by the time the “In The Closet” video premiered, I just found the whole thing kind of weird and awkward. (Weirdly enough, I now find it one of his most erotic and appealing videos). So when I look back on my reaction to it in 1992, versus my reaction to it today, it is clearly obvious to me that it wasn’t that I really found the video awkward; it was what I had become conditioned to thinking about Michael in terms of sex appeal and eroticism. If you hear something repeated often enough, it’s bound to rub off on you. So when I trace the full arc of my appreciation for Michael’s sexiness, it is interesting that I can pinpoint it to two very distinct eras- the era when I was still too young and naive to care about what critics thought  and, likewise after I became mature and aware enough to no longer care.

Fast explores all of these questions in depth, and arrives at some startling insights:

“…[D]enying it [his sexuality] and his masculinity, as well as his maturity, which terms like the omnipresent ‘man-child’ do, demanding reconciliation between his on- and off-stage performances of sexuality and concluding that he became grotesque and therefore undesirable through plastic surgery, works to contain his complex gendered and sexualized self and to police the boundaries of what can be considered desirable, sexy, and masculine. It erases the beautiful conundrum. But it also makes him safer” (Fast 46).

Now, why all of this talk about Michael and sex and/or love and romance is important to a discussion of Dangerous is because those initial six tracks on Dangerous not only represent some of his most politically conscious and “black” music to date, but also his most adult erotic. Again, it’s not that we hadn’t had sexy tracks from Michael before. Long before Dangerous, he had definitely proven beyond doubt-if this was his intent-that he was all grown up and not innocent little Michael anymore (although given the very grown up material he was given to sing even as a child, I am not sure we can ever pinpoint a time when he was allowed to be “innocent little Michael.”).  But again, what Fast is arguing is the very purposeful impact that is created by the tight grouping of these tracks. She also makes the very convincing argument that, perhaps for the first time, Michael is targeting these songs at a very specific age group-not children; not older listeners, but to red blooded adults (like himself, we can presume) who are caught up in the tumultuous prime of adult lust, love, romance and all that they imply.

“…It’s a full-on assault of all things sensual, sexual, and romantic like we haven’t seen from him before. While so much of his songs appeal across generations, these songs break away from that; the adult sentiments don’t, significantly for Jackson, speak to children, or perhaps to older fans (like my 87-year-old neighbor, who listens to Jackson’s music all the time, but only through the Bad album, not later work). All in all, these songs suggest that love is complicated and cruel-he’s chasing it (her), but can’t quite get it; he had it, but it slips away; he’s git it-he’s got it bad-but it needs to be hidden. These songs are as much about desires of the flesh as those of the heart…(then, following a passage in which she acknowledges some of his earlier explorations into these territories)…”[B]ut the songs on Dangerous feel more personal, more in the moment, more about a guy who’s wrestling with his libido and his heart. And unlike those earlier femme fatale songs, or songs about romantic love, Jackson is a willing partner, turned on, if never quite getting what he wants or needs. Isn’t that how the most powerful love songs go?” (Fast 46-47).

It is at this point that Fast introduces the concept of this new direction as Michael asserting “soul man masculinity” (a term originally coined by Mark Anthony Neal).   In her words, she describes the term as it applies to Jackson as “a version of gritty masculinity that maintained gender ambivalence and that was not, on the whole, violent or misogynistic.” (Fast 47).

But if “soul man masculinity” was a response to the cultural emasculation of the black male, why did Michael so strongly feel the need to reassert it now, at this time?  Fast raises one of many interesting, if albeit controversial theories put forth in this chapter when she hints that Michael himself (or his PR?) may have been at least partly responsible for the earlier sanitizing and de-sexualization of his image that would ultimately prove so difficult to overcome.

The theory seems ridiculous unless one takes into consideration the long, complex history of race relations, especially in the United States, and how deeply ingrained was the stereotype of the overly sexualized black male, who in turn was often viewed (by whites) as a threat. Up until at least the 1950’s, all black male entertainers who had achieved any degree of crossover or mainstream success had been those who were thoroughly “sanitized” (i.e, “sexless) and deemed “safe.” Performers like Louie Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Sr. were hardly going to upset the status quo (or threaten the masculinity of the white male); the black male musician was going to be for the most part either the grinning fat guy blowing brass in the band, or the jovial tap dancer (ala’ Bill Bojangles) or the seasoned blues man. There were, of course, always exceptions (the flamboyant, suave, and outrageous Cab Calloway comes to mind as perhaps the earliest example of “soul man masculinity” before the rock era) but in general, it is not until the 1950’s and the rise of performers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry that we first see truly sexualized male black performers who proved that a male black performer could be overtly sexual and, yes, could (heaven forbid!) attract your white daughters. (And yes, I include Little Richard here because then, as now, androgyny usually only added to the appeal of the taboo and the forbidden. Anyone who doesn’t think that boy was getting his fair share of “tutti fruitti” from all sides is sadly deluded).

Cab Calloway, Perhaps One Of The Earliest Examples Of "Soul Man Masculinity" Before The Rock Era
Cab Calloway, Perhaps One Of The Earliest Examples Of “Soul Man Masculinity” Before The Rock Era

Just as quickly, they made sure to get Elvis on the market. The reasoning was not too hard to figure. He may have been just as sexualized, just as “dirty” and controversial, and most parents still weren’t particularly thrilled about it, but by jove, at least he was white.  In that regard, his brand of “threat” was at least somewhat more palatable.

And we don’t even have to begin to enumerate what actually happened to successful male black performers whose sexual appeal crossed racial boundaries. It is a long and already well documented, sad history.  And the double standard ensured that a black artist would always be under the microscope of scrutiny, and would always be persecuted twice as hard, and punished twice as much, for any perceived act of sexual deviance. Thus, Elvis could move a 14-year-old girl into his home and Southern society (oh heck, let’s just say American society) barely blinked an eye; Chuck Berry could allegedly transport a 14-year-old girl across a state line and be sentenced to prison.

Where Fast is going with this is to raise the question of whether Michael may have, at least in the earlier phase of his career, purposely presented himself to be as asexual and non-threatening as possible in order to appeal to a broader audience, knowing as he must have that the only way to achieve the kind of huge mainstream, crossover success he craved would be to make himself appear as “safe” as possible. This would have entailed purposely playing down stereotypes of male black artists and presenting a pure, almost “Disney-fied” image (my phrase) in order to court those masses. Just how intentional or conscious this campaign was-if indeed it was a campaign at all-is a matter of debate. And a lot of it, no doubt, was a carryover from his Jackson 5/Motown days, where he had already been thoroughly groomed and had built a successful foundation on being a wholesome act. I don’t think that it was ever Michael’s intention to alienate his original audience; rather, it seemed to me that he was always seeking to widen his audience by maintaining a certain level of what was expected of him (or what he knew his old fans already loved about him) while at the same time constantly pushing the envelope and taking just enough risks to gain new fans.  If indeed we can liken it to a campaign, it was a cleverly subtle one; he never gave the appearance of a leopard changing its spots overnight, but rather, took it by degrees, a few steps at a time, until by the end of his career he had amassed a following so huge that he could indulge himself artistically in most any direction he chose, and would still be guaranteed universal adulation and mass record sales. However, that Michael was desperately seeking crossover, mainstream success is not a debatable point; it is fact. He stated himself that it was the main motivating factor behind his desire to create Thriller, an album that, from the very beginning, he vowed would not be ignored at the Grammy’s as he felt Off the Wall had undeservedly been. So the question must be raised: If Michael was keenly aware, as he must have been, of what it took to gain that kind of commercial, mainstream acceptance as a black performer in the late 70’s and early 80’s, did he seek to make himself-or at least his public image-as “safe” and “non threatening” to that audience as possible?

That Michael Jackson was religious; had been raised in a religious home, and would have been taught (at least in theory) that sex before marriage was wrong was no act. But that these beliefs were perhaps “amped up” in a way to make him appear as a “good, safe, wholesome boy” also seemed part of a carefully calculated plan to eliminate part of the risk factor he presented. It might be worth mentioning that at the same time that Michael’s early solo career was taking off, there were artists like Rick James who personified the “pimp” stereotype and certainly were perceived as sexual; Prince, also, was an up and comer whose album cover for Dirty Mind featured him nearly nude in bikini briefs and an overcoat-an image that was not only blatantly sexual, but also one that was already blatantly blurring gender lines. But at the time, acts like James and Prince were still quite marginalized. It was one thing to court a daring, exotic, or controversial image if one was a marginalized artist appealing to a certain demographic; quite another if one’s ambition was to be the biggest selling artist of all time. (Of course, Prince would go on to become a mega crossover star in his own right by mid decade, but arguably, that success may have owed a lot to Michael having already paved that path).

To illustrate the point that African-Americans never totally bought into Michael’s “wholesome” image Fast refers to a funny but scalpel sharp joke made by Eddie Murphy in the 80’s.

“…[Michael] went on television and said, ‘I don’t have sex because of my religious beliefs’ and the public believed it. Brothers were like ‘get the fuck out of here’ and white people going, ‘That Michael’s a special kind of guy, he’s good, clean, and wholesome…” (Eddie Murphy qtd in Fast 48).

The upshot, according to Murphy, was that by the time of the 1984 Grammy’s, Michael could waltz down the red carpet with Brooke Shields on his arm and “nobody white said shit.”

For sure, it must have felt like quite a triumph after having been snubbed as a date for Tatum O’Neal at The Wiz premier back in 1978 because her manager had said she “shouldn’t be seen with a n*gg*r”!

With Brooke Shields At The 1984 Grammy's
With Brooke Shields At The 1984 Grammy’s

But if this was all a purposeful strategy-and if it did in some ways help him achieve his goal-it was nevertheless a strategy that he as quickly began to dismantle, taking more and more risks both with his image and with his art, until by the premier of the “Black or White” video in 1991 he was smashing car windows and (more or less) simulating masturbation in our living rooms. All, it might be added, while kids everywhere watched and still proclaimed “I love Michael; he’s the best!”

The conundrum that was Michael Jackson, if not born in that moment, was certainly solidified.

In the next installment: Going even deeper into “the closet”…and into “Desire!”

Susan Fast’s “Dangerous”: A Review (Part 1)

I've Been Waiting For The Perfect Occasion To Showcase This Adorable, Rare "Dangerous" Era Photo!
I’ve Been Waiting For The Perfect Occasion To Showcase This Adorable, Rare “Dangerous” Era Photo!

 

“1991’s Dangerous announced the end of Jackson’s innocence and the command of a complicated, conflicted sensibility.”-Armond White.

This quote from Armond White kicks off the introduction to Susan Fast’s Dangerous, the most recent addition to Bloomsbury’s 331/3 music series.

dangerous book coverSince its publication last September, a lot of people have been asking for my thoughts on the book. I will just start off by saying, hands down, this is probably the most comprehensive volume we are ever likely to get on Michael Jackson’s fourth solo studio album, an album that marked a watershed moment in Michael’s artistic maturity and post-Quincy Jones partnership.  If you are one of those prone to believing that Michael’s artistic peak was Thriller or Bad, this book will definitely make you rethink your views. And even if you are one of those who are already well aware that Dangerous marked not the end, but the beginning of a whole new epoch for Michael Jackson-one that would see him delve into much deeper, darker, and yes, sexier depths than ever before-you will still have much to learn from this book. It definitely gave me a lot of new insight into the album, although some of Ms. Fast’s views are bound to spark some controversy among fans and critics.

As always when I do book reviews, I will offer not only my reactions to the book but, also, at times, will use the author’s views as a springboard to discuss some of my own opinions on these topics.  In other words, those who have been following me for any length of time know that a book review here is as much apt to become an in-depth dialog between myself and the author’s views. So if you just want to know whether the book is worth buying, I will cut straight to the chase for you and say, unequivocally, yes. And if that’s all you want to know, get thee straight to Amazon. But if you are truly interested in a round table dialog about this book and its subject, you’re in the right place.

First off, I can’t discuss this book without discussing the very worthy series that it is a part of. Since 2003, Bloomsbury’s 333 series has been dedicated to the serious academic analysis of the most important and influential music albums of the rock era. That this is a field in which Michael Jackson’s music remains woefully underrated is something Fast discusses in the introduction, but as we know, that is changing and will continue to change in the years and decades ahead. For years, the common narrative among music journalists has been that Michael Jackson’s artistic output peaked with Thriller critically, and perhaps Bad commercially.  Although Dangerous received mostly positive reviews upon release and was a mammoth best seller, remaining on the charts for over two years,  it didn’t take long for the album’s reputation to become engulfed in a kind of music critic amnesia, the same one that plagued most of his post-Bad work (the fact that HIStory, a #1 and Grammy nominated album that produced two hit singles stateside as well as his UK chart-topping “Earth Song” is also conveniently overlooked). When these albums were acknowledged at all, it was often only to lambast them as self-indulgent works-“whiny,” “paranoid,” etc became favorite descriptive monikers. It wasn’t, of course,  that these opinions were entirely without some merit. Michael’s albums from the 90’s on did become increasingly long, often uneven, and with an increasing diversity of styles that often left critics more confused than enlightened. Sometimes this came down to too many producers, too many guest stars, too many collaborators, and an ego-driven star who, yes, felt every note of every track was too important to cut (and,conversely, it was this same drive for perfection that often led to some questionable decisions about what was ultimately left out).

But it also came down to something else. Michael’s 90’s work simply became less “fun”-and that was a bit too much for those who could forgive him most anything as long as he gave us catchy dance grooves. Now he was making artistic statements, and not even the kind of generic, feel good philanthropy of “We Are The World” or “Man In The Mirror.” Instead, he was addressing heads-on issues of racism, poverty, the AIDS epidemic, and other things that many felt should be politely swept under the rug-or at least sublimated to a catchy groove. Michael’s ’90’s work also became by turns both more militant and more intensely personal and introspective-after all, this was the era that saw him become a victim of cruel allegations and a relentless witch hunt, and in which he explored the depths of a soul that had been somewhat cast adrift, for he was still in many ways dealing with his break from the Jehovah Witness faith and coming to terms with what that break meant for him spiritually. This was the era in which he would experience, in short succession, first time marriage, divorce, and fatherhood. In short, Michael Jackson in the 90’s had grown into adulthood. Whatever vestiges of innocence that had given his 80’s image its boyish charm was long gone, replaced by a new sensibility, one that was by turns both politically mature and more self aware than ever before. It made sense that he was evolving on his life path, so his music should evolve with him. Yet it has taken over twenty years for critics to gain the perspective needed to finally start recasting Michael’s 90’s and 2000’s work in a new light.

"Dangerous"-An Era Of Increased Introspection and Political Awareness
“Dangerous”-An Era Of Increased Introspection and Political Awareness

Susan Fast’s book is an important step in that direction. But what I got most out of it was a newfound appreciation for the deliberate chronology and cohesive concept of the album. If you’re one of those Jackson fans who, like me, have often found some of his later albums a bit “all over the place” it is quite enlightening to learn how much of this was actually intentional, as Michael’s 90’s work became less about creating albums full of hit singles, and more about creating concept albums.  This may be a new revelation for many Jackson fans. For years, most of us have been thoroughly indoctrinated into Michael’s oft-circulated quote that he believed every song on an album should be a potential hit single. The idea of Michael Jackson as a serious musician creating “concept” albums may thus seem foreign to some, but by taking this approach, latter albums like Dangerous, HIStory, and Invincible can definitely be appreciated in a new light. In short, Fast describes Dangerous as an album with a fully realized arc, and once that concept is understood, the sequencing of the tracks makes far more sense.

“…Far removed from the gleaming Off The Wall, the concise brilliance of Thriller, and the clean, theatrical synth-pop of Bad, Dangerous is messy, industrial, excessive on every level. Like HIStory and Invincible, it doesn’t want to stop: the songs are long, there are so many of them, listening leaves Jackson’s guts all over the speakers, yours all over the room. Not that I’m particularly interested in taming any of this wondrous music, but it all makes more sense if it’s thought of as a concept album. Alan Light criticizes the running order, commenting that ‘the sequencing of Dangerous often clusters similar songs in bunches when a more varied presentation would have been stronger,’ but the ‘clusters’ give us a compelling arc and delineate a number of themes Jackson wants to explore.” (Fast 11).

Fast then proceeds to use that arc as the outline for her book. The chapters follow the sequencing of Dangerous‘s arc, of which she has conveniently divided into five sections-Noise, Desire, Utopia, Soul, and Coda. Likewise, I will break down each section of the book by these same labels.

NOISE:

“Press play on your copy of Dangerous and you enter Michael Jackson’s decade of noisy music-making…” (Fast 17).

This chapter is devoted to the album’s initial six tracks, although there will be some back and forth bleeding and overlapping among the sections (especially since many of the tracks will also be discussed at length in “Desire.”). As Fast states, Dangerous begins with the sound of breaking glass, and it is not until the roughly mid section of the album, beginning with “Heal The World”) that we will have any respite from this sensory overload of sound.

Although Fast expends a good deal of effort in analyzing the reasons for all the noise, it might be worth remembering that the 90’s in general was a musically noisy decade. It was the era of the big, industrialized beat. Janet’s Rhythm Nation 1814 likewise kicks off with a cacophony of clangings and what sounds like military gunfire; Nine Inch Nails’s The Downward Spiral starts off with what sounds like heavy, thudding footsteps, increasing to a frenetic march-like gait before exploding into a fusillade of distorted sound, giving its opening track “Mr. Self Destruct” a feeling of being lost in a machine driven age.

And indeed, that seemed to have been much of the calculated reasoning behind the industrialized sound that drove much of the early 90’s. It was the idea that we were becoming products of a militant and industrialized society; the over production of these tracks, especially in regards to non musical sounds, was a part of that dehumanizing process. This was not an entirely new concept. For sure, most of the psychedelic music of the 60’s also relied heavily on its ability to assault the senses with often distorted sound. But the major difference was that the music of the psychedelic era was still relying on mostly musical sounds to achieve this effect. When we listened to Jimi Hendrix creating his sonic “sound paintings” they could sometimes sound other worldly, but we never lost sight of the fact that we were listening to an instrument. The emphasis on non musical, or “object” sounds was indeed a phenomenon unique to the 90’s. And, as Fast notes, hip hop itself would emerge as a musical art form in which “noise” takes front and center.

Michael did tend to follow trends as much as create them (for example, I believe his track “Morphine” owes a heavy debt to industrial bands like Nine Inch Nails)but it does seem that from the very opening of “Jam” there is a a purposeful shift in musical direction. And it goes without saying that Dangerous, an album released very early in the decade, would have had a monumental impact on albums that followed, including The Downward Spiral.

jamBy this time, Michael had established a pattern of kicking off his albums with aggressive. upbeat songs, from his joyous and spontaneous “Ow!” of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” to the tight funk of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” to the street smart taunting of “Bad.” But “Jam,” while similar to its predecessors as an uptempo dance track, clearly has a darker and more troubled edge. His vocals are noticeably lower, and he sings in a tormented voice about his generation-the baby boomers-coming of age and “working it out.” Fast analyzes this as Michael’s statement that his baby boom generation, far from having solved the world’s problems (as they idealistically thought they would do in the 60’s) are actually responsible for much of the state the world is in.

By the way, I love her analysis of Michael’s singing style on this track.  Calling his vocals here “wounded” and “terrified” she states:

“…The melody is like a run-on sentence and it sounds as if Jackson won’t have enough breath to get through it-sometimes he just barely makes it to the end of a phrase. And although the rhythm of this melody is made up of straight eighth notes (no swingin’), they’re all sung ahead of the beat, like he can’t wait, he’s in too much of a rush, or maybe even panic, to stay in synch with the music. Adding to the tension is the fact that there’s very little bottom end in the verses-it feels like we’re in suspension.” (Fast 39).

This is the kind of passage where Fast excels most, and throughout the book she painstakingly analyzes Michael’s vocal performances on every track of the album in similar fashion. It serves to remind me that there hasn’t been nearly enough serious and critical attention paid to Michael’s vocal prowess, and how he was able to use his voice as the ultimate instrument.

The back to back analysis of “Jam” and “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is a passage that I found particularly insightful (for sure, I will never listen to “Jam” quite the same way again). For starters, I never really considered the idea of Dangerous as Michael’s most “black” album (ironic considering the album dropped at a time when Michael was becoming increasingly stigmatized for not being “black enough”). But on hindsight, this is a remarkably accurate conclusion. Both stylistically and in subject matter, Michael was closer to his James Brown roots on those first few tracks of Dangerous than he had, perhaps, been on all of Thriller and Bad combined.  Part of this is steeped in the far more politically conscious, anti-neoliberalism  of these tracks (which Fast exhaustively analyzes, and in far more depth than I can touch on here) but it’s more than that: It’s in the bottom heavy sound of these tracks, and their visceral assault. There is no pop sheen to these tracks; they are straight up, raw r&b and funk, and as stated previously, it’s an assault that doesn’t let up until “Heal The World” even if, albeit, “Remember The Time” does at least slow the pace a little, allowing for a breather. But even that track is unarguably Michael’s most “black” love song since “The Lady in My Life” on Thriller. Case in point: Today, when most of Michael’s 90’s output is largely ignored on most oldies AOR stations, “Remember The Time” remains a staple on many old school urban/r&b stations (and where it is also not unusual to hear “Scream” and “You Are Not Alone” in heavy rotation). This raises an interesting point. Were Michael’s black fans connecting more with him during this era-a time when he was routinely being castigated by white critics for having “sold out” his black identity? If recent events are any indication-as millions of protesters across the country have embraced Michael’s militant 1996 track “They Don’t Care About Us” and, to a lesser but no less notable extent, “Black or White” as official theme songs-this would seem to be the case. Although it may be only slightly off topic, the recent words of Baltimore Sun writer D.B. Anderson are worth pondering in this context:

On Twitter, #TheyDontCareAboutUs is a hashtag. In Ferguson, they blasted the Michael Jackson song through car windows. In New York City and Berkeley last weekend, it was sung and performed by protesters. And In Baltimore, there was a magical moment when the Morgan State University choir answered protests with a rendition of Jackson’s “Heal The World.”

The price has already been paid, but the check was never cashed. Maybe we just need to finally listen to Michael Jackson.”-D.B. Anderson

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-messenger-king-20141209-story.html

By his own admission, Michael had felt so humiliated by the Grammy snub of Off the Wall that he vowed to make his next album something that could not be ignored-something so huge that it would not matter to anyone if he was black or white, In that spirit, Michael’s classic album Thriller was born, and ultimately followed up with Bad which comprised mostly the same formula for success. Perhaps, having proved his point with Thriller and Bad, he no longer felt the need to “prove” himself. In other words, he was Michael Jackson; he didn’t have to kiss butt anymore if he chose not to. Not that he ever had, but if anything, Dangerous does mark the era of Jackson’s independence-and a whole reaffirming of a black identity that  narrow sighted critics would continue to deny him for years to come. 130411012913-01-michael-jackson93-0411-story-top

Further elaborating on the “Jam” vocal, Fast states in rounding out her “Noise” chapter:

“This is decidedly not the voice of a ‘man-child,’ as people liked to (condescendingly) call Jackson, nor is it the voice of someone who ‘wanted to be white.’ It’s the voice of an adult man who understood and was deeply connected to his black musical roots.’ Given his upbringing among r&b greats like Brown and Jackie Wilson, he always had a tendency to ‘go raw,’ as Nelson George has expressed it, but this tendency grew more pronounced in his later works, starting here; there’s less and less of that pristine, conventionally beautiful tenor and more grit and roughness. More blackness. More noise. More danger.” (Fast 41).

Indeed, those initial six tracks of Dangerous could almost stand alone as an album in and of itself (at the very least, an EP) and it would have been Michael’s most cohesive album since Off the Wall. Another six tracks or so in the vein of “Jam,” “Why You Wanna Trip On Me,” “In the Closet,” etc and Michael could have easily had the greatest and certainly most pure funk/r&b album of his career. But rather than being content to go that route,  Michael clearly had a different vision for this album, one in which in which the mini segments (of which the tightly knit r&b funk of those first six tracks is merely the first of several such unified segments) become part of a greater whole. As powerful, jolting, and sexually charged as those first six tracks are, they are simply one movement of a much bigger symphony-and really, as I have discovered, that is the best way to approach any understanding of Michael Jackson’s later albums. A symphony is often comprised of many separate “movements” within the piece, each movement often having little to do (or seemingly little to do) with the main composition, until everything ties together at the end.  We have to trust that the composer is taking us where he wants us to go.  Fast’s book is, to my knowledge, the first serious attempt to analyze the compositional journey that is Dangerous and to put it in its proper perspective.

In Part 2, I will take on Fast’s “Desire” chapter and some of the book’s more controversial aspects. Although I love the book. obviously, there are points I disagree on, and some conclusions she draws that I question, so this should get interesting. The series will round out with discussions of “Utopia,” “Soul,” and “Coda” respectively.

 

More Pieces of Michael Sold To The Highest Bidder

The Video Features Some Of The Most Intense Few Moments of Gazing Into Those Soulful, Brown Eyes One Is Ever Likely To Encounter...But This Was No Photo Shoot!
The Video Features Some Of The Most Intense Few Moments of Gazing Into Those Soulful, Brown Eyes One Is Ever Likely To Encounter…But This Was No Photo Shoot!

I mentioned in my previous post that there were a couple of developments this week that I wanted to comment on. Aside from the new “South Park” episode, the other matter of concern is the recent surfacing-and auctioning off-of these adorable and priceless Christmas home movies. Although the video here is labeled 1993/1996 I am pretty certain that is in error. Michael’s 1993 Christmas was well documented in an earlier video that has been circulated ever since 2003, when it was first shown as part of the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies (the famous Elizabeth Taylor “squirt gun” Christmas, notable for being Michael’s first celebration of Christmas.). Other dates for this vid point to Christmas of 1996, which is probably more accurate given Michael’s appearance (he appears thinner than in the ’93 video, and his makeup heavier) and the age of the Cascio children here. (UPDATE: Please see the discussion of the dates in the comments. In light of the timeline, and the fact that Michael did celebrate Christmas in December of ’93 with the Cascios-the earlier celebration with Elizabeth Taylor was in January of ’93-the ’93 date given for this video is most likely accurate).

I know there has been quite a bit of Cascio bashing since these movies surfaced and were put up for auction. I don’t know if they were behind it, and I would rather not get into the judging of it. I don’t know the circumstances of how these movies were put up for auction, but I do know that once again it is saddening to think that so many pieces of Michael are just being scattered to the winds. It also raises another issue: Why do so many of Michael’s friends and relatives have a dollar value on everything they have of him, even down to something as trivial as private home movies? Does EVERYTHING have to be sold?

http://www.gottahaverockandroll.com/michael_jackson_s_never_before_seen_home_movies_fr-lot14759.aspx

Then, there is the whole “invasion of privacy” controversy. As with so many things of this nature, fans will delight in viewing them (and yes, Michael IS absolutely at his most adorable here) and yet will feel guilty for watching them. Because we know they weren’t really meant for our eyes, there is a kind of voyeuristic thrill and guilt at the same time. But just as with bootleg outtakes or anything else that is “leaked” to the public, once it’s “out there” it’s already in the public domain.  These have made it to Youtube and have gone viral within the fan community.  The video itself is harmless enough-it’s just Michael goofing around with friends; certainly no more personal in nature than similar clips he had already allowed the public to see. Yet, for a man who had so little in the way of a private life, it does feel in some ways like a little part of him-something he had kept for himself-is once again being exploited for public consumption.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny there is a certain fascination in viewing them, and trust me, I know fans are viewing them. Part of what makes them interesting is that they DO offer a rare glimpse of a completely candid and casual Michael. Even the clips he selected for Private Home Movies were all carefully chosen to preserve an “image”-we saw what he wanted us to see. And yet it is interesting that what we see here is nothing different. This reinforces the fact that Michael was far more honest and open in his public persona than many detractors give him credit for, preferring to believe that Michael put on an “act” for his fans. Yet what we see here is that the very private and candid Michael Jackson, behind closed doors, was no different from the public persona so many of us adored.  And for the Cascios, who by this time had already known Michael for over twelve years, there was no pretense. So in other words, this is about as “real” as it gets. So we get Michael wandering around in white flannel, striped pj’s, humming songs, discussing dinner, trying out his new camera and taking what is already being described in the media as perhaps the first mirror “selfie” in history :

WATCH: Did Michael Jackson take the first ever mirror selfie in 1993?

Thursday, December 04, 2014 – 04:22 PM

A never before seen Michael Jackson Christmas video has emerged from the Michael Jackson personal archives.

The video begins on Christmas Eve, 1993, with Michael and friends opening presents in Neverland.

The rest of the video shows them touring Neverland, taking rides, in the game room, playing with the animals and taking the first ever mirror selfie?

This takes Man in the Mirror to a whole new level.

This colour home movie is not available to watch in full but we are lucky enough to catch these two shorts clips that were either shot by Frank Cascio or Michael Jackson himself.

The video is to be auctioned on gottahaverockandroll.com tomorrow – and it already has one bid of $5,000.

A collector’s item indeed.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/entertainment/watch-did-michael-jackson-take-the-first-ever-mirror-selfie-in-1993-653439.html

“I’m not a narcissist,” he jokes, with a perfectly straight poker face as he stands in front of the mirror to “test” the camera by getting a shot of himself.  This moment alone may well be worth the seven thousand dollar price tag that someone eventually forked over for this rare treasure. The footage beautifully captures Michael at the height of his adorable 90’s “sprite” phase. When I first began seeing the screencaps from these videos surfacing on my Twitter timeline and elsewhere, I thought, “My god, where did these absolutely stunning shots come from!”  Well, it didn’t take long to find out.  Those moments, starting around 4:17 and leading up to his “Something’s weird here” comment are, hands down, some of the most amazing views into those soulful brown eyes ever captured on film.  Perhaps Michael really was his own best photographer!

This Composite Captures Some Of The Best Poses From Michael's "Selfie" Photo Shoot. "I'm Not A Narcissist"-No, But You Sure Were Adorable!
This Composite Captures Some Of The Best Poses From Michael’s “Selfie” Photo Shoot. “I’m Not A Narcissist”-No, But You Sure Were Adorable!

Something else interesting that was learned from this clip: It was a myth that Michael never listened to anything but classical music at Neverland! At one point, we can very clearly hear Yes’s 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” blasting at rather full volume!

There’s nothing earth shattering here, and certainly nothing of the usual juicy, scandalous nature that the media loves when it comes to celebrity private home videos: This isn’t Michael’s and Lisa’s leaked honeymoon video, for crying out loud (though I don’t suppose fans would exactly hate that, either, if such a thing were to surface, lol) nor does it contain anything so embarrassingly humiliating as drunkenly eating a cheeseburger off the floor (poor ol’ David Hasselhoff, still gotta feel kind of sorry for him over that one!).  For what it is, it is simply a very sweet moment captured on film, of Michael indulging in something that in 1996 was still a novelty to him-celebrating Christmas. But for all that is is a very sweet moment, it was all the same,a private one, which brings me back to where this began.

For seven thousand, three hundred and twenty-one dollars, someone has purchased yet another piece of Michael’s private memories, and along with it, another tiny part of his soul.

How much, honestly, is left?

 

Michael Jackson’s Hologram Is On The Loose: Another “South Park” MJ Parody and My Thoughts On It

He Seemed Harmless and Fun Enough At Last May's Billboard Awards. But What If "Virtual Mike" Escaped And Was Running Loose In The World? That Is The Premise Of The Latest "South Park" Episode!
He Seemed Harmless and Fun Enough At Last May’s Billboard Awards. But What If “Virtual Mike” Escaped And Was Running Loose In The World? That Is The Premise Of The Latest “South Park” Episode!

While I am hard at work on my review of the Susan Fast book Dangerous  there have been some interesting late developments that are worth at least a mention. Not the least is the fact that “South Park” has once again done a Michael Jackson parody episode, only this time it is actually “Virtual Mikey” who is the object of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s sharp, satiric pen.  The ninth episode of Season 18, this is a two-parter that is scheduled to conclude next week.

Are The Words "Starring Michael Jackson's Hologram" A Phrase We'll Have To Get Used To Hearing?
Are The Words “Starring Michael Jackson’s Hologram” A Phrase We’ll Have To Get Used To Hearing?

This is not the first time that Parker and Stone have done an MJ themed episode. While Michael Jackson has been fodder for these types of shows for many years-often with cringeworthy results (I despise the “Family Guy” ones, for example)-“South Park” to its credit has at least had some of the more intelligent spoofs. Granted, they still poke fun at many aspects of Michael’s “tabloid caricature” eccentricities, which may rub more sensitive fans the wrong way. But over eighteen seasons, “South Park” has a long and established history of satirizing celebrities. In fact, it has become almost a code of honor within the industry that you are really nobody until “South Park” has taken a stab at you-at least once. The fact is, no celebrity, great or small, is immune to the “South Park” treatment. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are actually Michael Jackson fans (so I’ve been told, at least) so perhaps it is not surprising that their MJ parodies are always balanced and sometimes surprisingly sharp and insightful, even as they do, of course, poke fun at him for all the usual comedic reasons that have been comedic fodder for at least the last quarter century.

Granted, if you are the type of fan who takes offense to any MJ-related humor or mocking of him, these episodes are not for you. “South Park” has not survived eighteen years as a result of being scared to offend. But what is often interesting about the “South Park” parodies-and what I think makes them a definite cut above similar parodies we have seen on shows like Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy”-is the larger context of the episodes’ social commentaries. Ultimately, there is always an underlying message about the state of our culture and our often tabloid-driven relationship with celebrities, which sometimes says more about “us” than about them. While the show never pussyfoots around a celebrity’s controversies, the storylines are usually serving more as a mirror that reflects our own foibles in allowing the media to shape our views.

2004's "The Jeffersons" Episode Had Michael Living "Incognito" In South Park Under The Alias "Mr. Jefferson." An at times surprisingly sweet episode, this scene featured an interesting parallel with Michael's real life, as he attempts to bond with a "real family."
2004’s “The Jeffersons” Episode Had Michael Living “Incognito” In South Park Under The Alias “Mr. Jefferson.” An at times surprisingly sweet episode, this scene featured an interesting parallel with Michael’s real life, as he attempts to bond with a “real family.”

The first MJ themed “South Park” episode, “The Jeffersons,” aired in 2004 at the height of the Martin Bashir fallout and Arvizo allegations. At a time when MJ bashing was at its height and the witch hunt mentality of the media was in full swing, the “Mr. Jefferson” episode, as it came to be called, was a surprisingly balanced spoof that argued for the fact that “Mr. Jefferson” was merely eccentric and misunderstood, but not guilty of any crime.  So who were the perpetrators here? As it turned out, the episode made a case of greedy parents with their hands out for money, and an over zealous Park County police investigator named Harrison Yates who contacts Santa Barbara Police and learns of a plan to drive a wealthy African-American man out of the community (sound familiar?) because he is “wealthier than we are.”  Of course, there are some tasteless, crude “nose jokes” and things of that nature-“Mr. Jefferson’s” noted eccentricities are not spared-but the bigger context is that the show clearly depicts Michael’s caricature as a framed man. It’s a bit Frankenstein-ish in its approach, where “Mr. Jefferson” is depicted somewhat as the beastly but gentle and misunderstood creature. This, in essence, is simply replacing one paradigm with another which might be as equally erroneous and harmful (either way, it is reducing a very complex man and human being to a caricature) but at the time, it was, at least, quite progressive in putting forth the idea that there were certainly many more facets to the allegations than what was meeting the public eye. (For the record, there was no statement of what Michael thought of the episode. It would have been nice to know what he thought of it. I don’t imagine he would have liked it, particularly, since it hit on some areas that I know were sore points for him. However, it was 2004 and Michael, as we know, had much more pressing issues of concern than a silly TV parody).

Another classic MJ themed “South Park” moment: Chef does “Thriller!”

Fast forward five years, and the second MJ themed “South Park” which aired in October, 2009. This episode was intended as a take on the unusual blitz of celebrity deaths that occurred in such rapid succession that year, and this time Michael, like the other dead celebrities, appears as his ghost. Although it was weaker than the Mr. Jefferson episode (and the whole idea of Michael wanting to come back as a little white girl was just tacky) it had its moments where the usual Stone-Parker humor was right on point. For example, the best scene was when all of the newly departed celebs are on board a plane, waiting for the take-off that will lift them to Heaven and out of Purgatory. Michael is conspicuously absent. “What’s the hold up?” demands a very irate Ed MacMahon. It is explained that they are all waiting on Mr. Jackson, who is apparently being held up in getting his bags checked. “Mr. Jackson has a lot of baggage,” it is explained. At the end of the episode, Michael’s spirit has been released-presumably to find the freedom and peace in the afterlife that he never had on earth.

But now, fast forward another five years, and Michael is back-this time as a constructed hologram. The episode is, of course, spoofing the now famous MJ hologram performance at last May’s Billboard Awards. Actually, to clarify, this episode is spoofing a lot of things. The episode actually has two, distinct parallel plots, one that is spoofing Youtube game bloggers, and another that is making a very razor sharp statement about the current status of the music industry, in which all pop stars seem to be manufactured fakes, or are talentless bimbos who win acclaim not by their music but how well they can twerk onstage (or rub their clits, apparently) and that the great, truly unique and talented idols of the past are now manufactured for profit via hologram technology. (“Tupac,” as his hologram self, is also resurrected for the episode).

For my purposes here, I’m not going to focus too much on the whole gamer/blogging plot, though there is a thematic connection. The connection is that something which was once genuine and “cool” has been lost, replaced by a much inferior activity. Kids don’t actually play video games anymore; instead, they would rather spend hours on the internet watching someone COMMENT on playing video games. The irony and its obvious connect to what has happened to music today, thus, isn’t too far of a stretch. In one scene, Kyle notices dust accumulating on the TV. As he wipes the dust away, the thought occurs to him: “The living room is dying!” Yes, it seems a lot of things are dying, replaced by commodities and gimmicks. The great irony is that in the 1980’s, when artists like Michael and Whitney and Prince were at their peak, we thought the music industry had become too commercialized and real music was dying even then. We hadn’t seen nothing yet, as the absolute nadir of pop music was still a few decades away.

In what is apparently a continuation of a plot gag that has been running throughout the season, the pop star Lorde is not really a teenage girl at all, but rather, Stan’s father Randy, who at the bequest of a greedy manager has been faking it all along, making people believe that he is actually the teenage pop star. The ruse has worked quite well until…well, now he has to perform live at a “Women in Rock” concert. The concert also features Nicky Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea-and Michael Jackson’s hologram, who is supposed to perform onstage with Iggy. When it’s revealed that “Lorde” can’t even carry a tune, “she” is immediatly booed offstage. Out of desperation, “she” resorts to the cheap tactics of Iggy, Miley, and the others, and performs an outrageous “clit rubbing” onstage (of course, what makes this scene so hilarious is in knowing it is actually Stan’s dad Randy who is going to these ridiculous lengths!).

In all the chaos over Lorde’s “clit rubbing” Michael Jackson’s hologram escapes! Proclaiming that he’s now “free,” he (or it?) spins, moonwalks, hee-hee’s and shamone’s all the way across the parking lot and into the wild blue yonder.

Being cornered and backed into "fight or flee" mode was a common theme in many of Michael's works, including this shootout scene from "Moonwalker."
Being cornered and backed into “fight or flee” mode was a common theme in many of Michael’s works, including this shootout scene from “Moonwalker.”

So what ensues when suddenly you have a runaway celebrity hologram on the loose? Well, apparently, we will have to wait until next week to get the full answer. All we know right now is that music execs, deciding that the only effective way to capture a hologram is with a hologram, have now resurrected “Tupac” to chase down runaway Mike. “Virtual Mike” is last seen on a bus, where after a conversation with an elderly passenger that engages in a bit of double entendre hinting at the allegations (I wish they wouldn’t always feel the need to “go there” but I suppose it’s unavoidable) we learn that “Virtual Mike” has some unfinished business to tend to. Judging from the evil look in his eyes, we can only hope that maybe it involves Sony, Conrad Murray, Diane Dimond, Martin Bashir or, who knows, maybe all of the above! But…guess we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Will Tupac's Hologram Be Able To Capture Michael's Hologram-Or Will They End Up Joining Forces? Guess We'll Have To Wait To Find Out!
Will Tupac’s Hologram Be Able To Capture Michael’s Hologram-Or Will They End Up Joining Forces? Guess We’ll Have To Wait To Find Out!

Aside from the fact that Matt Stone and Trey Parker seem to think that the only memorable line Michael Jackson ever uttered is “That’s ignorant” (the joke wears really thin after the umpteenth time) I “get” what they’re trying to say. And, for sure, the comedic potential of a virtual Michael Jackson who is now free to wreck havoc on his enemies-as well as perhaps the music industry itself-is brilliant. One wonders if Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur’s virtual versions of themselves will end up teaming together against the greedy vultures who have singlehandedly ruined the music industry. If it happens, this would surely be an ending in true “South Park” style!

On a deeper symbolic level, the idea of an escaped Michael Jackson fits perfectly with the whole thematic idea of Xscape. “You want me/come and get me” Michael taunts, barely audibly, in the track’s fade out. Even Michael himself, no doubt, might have gotten a chuckle out of the idea of his virtualized image-meant to be a “slave to the rhythm” for the corporation-actually living out his ultimate fantasy of escaping and putting it to them. When the hologram was first revealed, a common assumption was that here was a true, bona fide puppet for execs to continue milking his brand-even better, for this was a “virtual reality” Michael Jackson who could be completely controlled, who would sing and dance on command and otherwise never cause any problems or raise any demands. In other words, all one had to do was pull his strings, or wind him up (whatever the analogous equivalent of how a hologram is brought to life); he would dance and sing for you, then no more worries. After all, he isn’t human and will never cause any of the headaches that, gosh, our dear beloved human Michael must have sometimes caused them.

The entire episode isn’t available for embedding (copyright infringement and all that!) but here’s a clip from the episode:

Although the crude jokes are to be expected (it’s “South Park,” after all, where nothing is sacred) I think that Trey Parker and Matt Stone “get” Michael Jackson on a far more important, crucial level. While we can laugh at some of Michael’s performance tics, eccentricities, and tendencies sometimes towards the grandiose (and all of these, at some point, have been the butt of “South Park” satire) Michael is most often portrayed, ultimately, as a victim of fame, of greedy execs, and of the media that drove its relentless vendetta against him.  If one thinks for a moment that this is all just some writer’s fantasy, listen again to the lyrics of Xscape, Leave Me Alone, and oh, about a dozen other tracks I could name.  This was the life that Michael lived for over forty-five of his fifty years. Indeed, a predominant, recurring theme of the MJ “South Park” parodies is the idea of Michael Jackson finally being “released” from the metaphoric prison of his existence, and they have played on this theme in many and various ways, from the persecuted and incognito “Mr. Jefferson” to the earthbound spirit of “Dead Celebrities” and, finally, as his own imprisoned “virtual self” in this latest and most recent episode.  In the case of the latter two, it has been some bit of unfinished business or unfulfilled desire that holds him bound, and only by finally accomplishing these final objectives does he find release. In the “Dead Celebrities” episode, the humor of this supposed objective (that he wanted to compete in a little girls’ beauty pageant) is patently ridiculous, but its very absurdity is analogous to the idea of someone who has been trapped in a world since childhood where, presumably, he was never allowed freedom of choice; where no one ever bothered to ask him what he wanted to do with his life.  So it turns out, after all the accolades and the millions of records sold and all the awards won and women fainting at sight of him and dining with dignitaries and zipping around the world on private jets, it turns out all he ever really wanted out of life was a silly trophy for competing in a kids’ pageant. As silly as it sounds, it’s not totally out of character for Michael, either. After all, he spent a lifetime compensating for the simple joys of childhood. So in the end, when his ghost is proudly holding his trophy on the plane, yes, it’s absurd but there is a kind of bittersweet triumph in it, as well. Michael Jackson, so the message goes, finally got something that he wanted-not what his family wanted, or what Sony wanted, or what the world wanted. The implication is that, no matter how absurd, silly, or trivial, he has finally gotten to do something just for Michael.

south park10

 

And, to further add to the relevant timeliness of the current episode, yesterday’s release of the 2015 Grammy nominations have further fueled the speculations of pundits everywhere that the music industry truly is experiencing its own Gotterdammerung. There are few, if any, genuine artists left. We live in an era where the ability to twerk is valued far more than the ability to dance or sing; where being a trending topic on Twitter is more valued as a gauge of artistic success than sales, where auto tuning has replaced vocals and where even the great uniqueness of past pop icons are now reduced to the gimmicky of hologram technology.

I have a feeling that, from Heaven or wherever he is looking down, Michael just might be cheering on his virtual self and its current victory! But what is in store for Virtual Mike? Will he be able to carry out his plan, or will he be captured and forced back into a life of corporate slavery?

Gosh, this reminds me of why I detest two part episodes!

Well, rest assured that whatever mayhem “Virtual Mike” unleashes, we won’t be able to blame it on Michael. After all, he’s in Heaven. So whatever happens, it’s not him-it’s his hologram! Remember when Michael said, years ago, that he would love to be invisible just once so he could slap the paparazzi off those silly motor scooters they drive? Hmmmm…now imagine a world where Michael is finally free, and whatever happens…”Oops, it wasn’t me! Musta been my hologram!”

"It Wasn't Me...Musta Been My Hologram!"
“It Wasn’t Me…Musta Been My Hologram!”

 

UPDATE 12/12/14: Part 2 of the “South Park” hologram episode aired 12/10. Although as it turned out, Michael’s hologram was hardly the centerpiece of the episode (and, in fact, many celebrities and celebrity holograms were spoofed) it turned out to be a quite satisfying conclusion. As predicted, Michael’s and Tupac’s holograms did end up working together, after an initial confrontation at Stan’s house in which the two hologram icons realized that as black men, they had to work together. The episode touched on many relevant, current events, with both Michael and Tupac’s holograms ending up in a stand-off with white cops surrounding Stan’s house. They debate at one point whether Michael’s hologram is actually a black man since “we couldn’t put a choke hold on him.” Michael’s hologram was supposed to be the featured star of a cheesy Christmas TV special (featuring many celebrity holograms), one in which he would play Peter Pan. They mention that this is the segment of their show that has the biggest response on Twitter.  But rather than going back to play Peter Pan, Michael is persuaded that a stand has to be made to save the music industry. Tupac and Michael’s holograms return together to the studio with guns, and Michael gets the shot that brings down the evil music mogul, putting a (most thankful and welcome) end to this sad spectacle.

Other celebrities that were spoofed in this episode included Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Robin Williams, Taylor Swift, and Bill Cosby (I would imagine a recent add to take advantage of the current headlines while the iron was hot).

Some interesting things of note: I liked that this episode gave Michael the heroic ending, allowing him to be the one who fires the fatal shot that saves the day. Even if teamed up with a famous “thug” rapper like Tupac, it seems only fitting that the final stand that saves music should be made by The King of Pop.  Secondly, it may be worth noting that while Bill Cosby’s character is portrayed as being guilty of his crimes (he is obviously trying to come on strong to Taylor Swift, and puts a drug in her drink) Michael’s hologram repeatedly asserts the reminder that his crimes were only “alleged” ones. Of course, as I have said before, the fact that this response is supposed to be somehow humorous (repeating in an effeminate voice that the accusations are “ignorant” ad nauseam) deflects the denial-and another running gag is that the hologram is always too quick to assume he is being accused even when it is supposedly just an “innocent” conversation.  However, another way to interpret the hair trigger responses is that they are conditioned responses that have come about as a result of being hounded and persecuted. In this episode, there is a clear connect to the earlier “The Jeffersons” episode. When the cops come into the station with Michael’s hologram in handcuffs, they say that they found him snooping around “the old Jefferson place.” Since we know that “Mr. Jefferson” was really supposed to be Michael, this means that the hologram’s unfinished business referred to in Part 1 involved returning home, even though this had been the earlier scene of his persecution. Now, with the increased attention of white police brutality against black men, Michael’s hologram is being subjected to even harsher treatment, the white cops presumably having been made even angrier by the fact that their choke hold was unsuccessful. Then, while Michael’s hologram is still in handcuffs, Tupac’s hologram enters the police station. After many incredulous jokes about a “black guy walking into a police station” they start to fire on him. Of course, since “Tupac” isn’t really Tupac but a hologram, the bullets go right through him.

I cringed when I first heard the rumor that Part 2 would consist of Michael’s hologram playing Peter Pan on a TV special. That would have been every bit as incredibly lame as the spoof promo for the show suggested. I am glad that, as it turned out, Virtual Michael never had any intention of taking part in that lame production, a decision that had apparently been made for him and for which he never had a say (then again, he’s supposed to be a hologram, right?). It seems somehow fitting that, in the end, Virtual Mike gets not only the last laugh, but the heroic honor of taking down the man responsible for this corruption.

While I don’t think there is any danger of “Happy Holograms” going down as a classic “South Park” episode it was, for this MJ fan, at least, a pretty fitting end.

 

The Current Conspiracy and…The Australian Connection? Part 3

When We Ask "Who Really Wanted To Destroy Michael Jackson" There Are Always Two Names That Will Crop Up At The Root Of It All-Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond!
When We Ask “Who Really Wanted To Destroy Michael Jackson” There Are Always Two Names That Will Crop Up At The Root Of It All-Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There have certainly been a lot of interesting developments since I last posted in this series. In an interesting coincidence (perhaps?) it was shortly after the last post in this series that one of the two main MJ hater sites that I reported on in that piece has completely disappeared off the face of the internet. What they may be a harbinger of, if anything, I do not know, but somehow I doubt that these very obsessed and persistent individuals have laid down their arms and given up the ghost that easily. Most likely, it simply means that they have figured ways to become much more subversive in their campaign. I would suspect that whatever happened to my adversary’s blog, “she” has most likely simply closed shop in order to merge the ranks. The Topix faction has been surprisingly mum on this sudden and abrupt silencing of their Queen B leader. But no matter. At least for now, there is one less available hub for the hatists and their propaganda.

What else is new? Well, we have the defection and sudden turnabout face of Alan Duke, a former respected CNN journalist who had always been noted for his fair and balanced coverage on all aspects of Michael Jackson. During the AEG trial, Alan Duke’s updates were always an oasis of reasonableness in a sea of biased gutter reporting. Now, for whatever unfathomable reason, he has hitched up with “the Aussie conspirator” incarnate, Dylan Howard. Which just goes to prove a theory I’ve long held to, which is that the integrity of any journalist is really no more believable than the fake on-air personas that radio dj’s adopt. I mean, have you ever noticed how your favorite radio personality will suddenly shift personas completely once they go to another station? So your favorite cool dj whom you thought loved all the same punk bands as you is suddenly over at the local country or AOR station, and voile’, they have a new on-air name and a whole, new on-air persona to match! Sometimes they even change their voices. It’s all a part of shedding that old skin so that, like a chameleon, they can now blend right into the new environment. When I was younger and cared more about stuff like that, I always took such defections quite seriously-and sometimes personally. It felt like a kind of betrayal. Of course, as we get older we get a lot more more blase’ about these things. In the case of those defector dj’s, for example, we start to realize that these people aren’t in the business for the love of music. It’s a job to them. And like any job, they go where the money is and where the opportunity for advancement presents itself. If that means changing their whole identity and ditching the loyal following they may have amassed, so be it. The way most of them will justify their actions is that they may lose a few followers but they will gain new ones. That’s how the game is played. Alan Duke has proven that journalists really do not operate much differently. For many, their integrity and loyalty depends on which side their bread is buttered. So now that Duke has hooked up with Dylan Howard, suddenly “Jackson” has become “Jacko” and Wade Robson is no longer even an alleged victim, but a “victim” who is being “silenced” by Jackson estate lawyers (if one of Duke’s more recent headlines is to be believed).

Last but not least, as reported in the previous post, Tom Sneddon passed away on November 1. But we can be rest assured that his death will hardly be the closing of a dark and ugly chapter, much as it would be nice to think so. Instead, what we are bound to see-and indeed it is already happening!-is that Sneddon’s death is only going to reinforce the bitter determination of those who counted themselves among his friends, and for whom Sneddon was a personal hero. This is the faction that now, more than ever, are pinning their hopes of ultimate vindication on two individuals who have recently been coerced into the family fold-Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck.

Which brings us to Diane Dimond, who used the occasion of her friend’s death to take a needless and tasteless dig at Michael Jackson and his fans. I have been patiently watching and analyzing this woman’s words and actions for the past five years. There was a time, very early on, when I gave her some benefit of the doubt. She is just a journalist, I thought, and her job isn’t to be Michael Jackson’s fan. A journalist is entitled to have their biases (the title, after all, doesn’t mean that we aren’t still human, although true journalists do nevertheless have an obligation to keep their personal biases out of their reporting). I was even almost fooled by her charade in reporting the Rodney Allen story (pretending to be the undercover journalist with integrity who unearthed a potential scam against Michael Jackson, when in reality she merely used that angle to cover her own ass when the “lead” she investigated turned out to be a gigantic hoax that nearly cost her job with “Hard Copy” who had footed much of the bill for her obsessive wild goose chase to Canada!). But after wading through much evidence over the years, it has slowly dawned on me that Diane Dimond’s role in all of this (i.e, what happened to Michael Jackson and is continuing to happen) is much more complex than what first meets the eye. Is Diane Dimond merely an objective reporter-as she would have us believe-or is her role in the Michael Jackson allegations-both past and present- a much more substantive and sinister one?

A huge part of the objective of this series has been an attempt to get to the bottom of who is really behind the allegations-and why. If Michael Jackson didn’t molest any kids-and there remains to this day no substantive proof or evidence of such claims-then who stood to gain by creating such allegations?

As I have explained before, I chose to subtitle this series “The Australian Connection” due to some curious coincidences that, while I have yet to fully connect the dots, are nevertheless quite intriguing. Wade Robson (Jackson’s current accuser), Dylan Howard of Radar Online (the only web source and media outlet that continues to act as a direct mouthpiece for Robson and his lawyers), the MJFacts website (responsible for perpetuating much of the internet flaming against Jackson and spread of inaccurate information), and at least one “insider” for the Wade Robson support page, all have ties to Australia. This could all be coincidence, of course. But one thing I have noted is that, time and again, the web of individuals who have worked in concert to either plant or perpetuate these stories (the “fan flamers,” so to speak) is surprisingly small and close knit.

These Birds Of A Feather Have Been Flocking Together...For Over 20 Years!
These Birds Of A Feather Have Been Flocking Together…For Over 20 Years!

And if we look past “the current conspiracy” to where it all began, two names in particular have been consistently intertwined from the beginning-Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond. From that hub, we have the whole satellite connection of other names-Paul Baressi and Maureen Orth, on down to  Sneddon  and Zonen, on down to the ring of disgruntled ex-employees befriended by Gutierrez and Dimond, and then on down to the actual accusers (all of whom appear to have been coerced in some way after coming into contact with either Gutierrez or Dimond, or both). I have little doubt that both are continuing to play a very pro-active role in current events.  Dimond, especially, who has never been known for her subtlety (or professional demeanor, for that manner) continues to give the game away in ways that she probably doesn’t even realize.  In other words, hot heads and weaklings are fairly easy to catch in their own trap. Diane Dimond’s hypocrisy and changing of facts to suit her own agenda has been called out more than a few times in mainstream media (a good case in point being when she jumped the gun in defending the fake FBI story and her friend Paul Baressi, only to have to embarrasingly retract in the light of overwhelming evidence that the story was a hoax-of which she was well aware all along!). In a now famous email to Susan Etok, whom she ingratiated herself with under the false pretense of a being a Michael Jackson “supporter” in order to gain an interview, she made a blatantly false claim that over twenty boys testified to having been molested by Michael at his trial. This was a blatant lie, purposely intended to pull the wool over the eyes of Susan Etok and unsuspecting readers who would not think to actually investigate the truth. There were, in fact, only five such witnesses who testified at Michael’s trial in 2005, and that is if we count Gavin Arvizo himself.  Of those five, three of them-Macaulay Culkin, Brett Barnes and Wade Robson-denied vehemently any wrongdoing on Jackson’s part. Jason Francia, heavily coached by his mother Blanca Francia, was the only one who claimed anything in the way of inappropriate behavior, but was reportedly such an unconvincing witness that he was laughed off the stand. That left only Jordan Chandler, who refused to testify and never even appeared.  So all in all, a total of five testimonies, and three out of those five claiming adamantly that nothing happened-a far cry from Diane Dimond’s claim of “twenty crying victims.” And in the same email, as she has at various times in the past, Diane Dimond made vague and dubious claims about phantom victims and these alleged dozens of distraught families who have supposedly cried on her shoulder (literally, she would have us believe) about being afraid to press charges.

Email in which Diane Dimond BLATANTLY LIES to Susan Etok about witnesses at Michael Jackson trial:

“I met Diane Dimond for the first time last week and found her to be intelligent, funny, down-to-earth and very open-minded. ”

Letter from Diane:

Are you telling people that I now think Michael Jackson was completely innocent of the child molestation charges?

I keep getting these random e-mails informing me of such.

Please tell me it isn’t so. Because, Susan, I don’t believe that. It was nice meeting you and I know you love your departed friend but I’ve covered this story since 1993. I’ve sat with damaged children and crying parents too many times, parents too scared to press charges for fear of the media onslaught. I’ve talked with police officers and seen sworn statements they’ve gathered. I sat in the nearly 5 month long trial and watched 20-something young men take the stand and tearfully describe what happened to them at Michael Jackson’s hand. Forget the outcome of the trial – where three jurors later said they were coerced into their acquittal vote and wish they could take it back. It cannot be that ALL these people are lying and Michael is just a victim of his own celebrity.

Please. Don’t speak for me on this very, very delicate and important issue. As you said – your friend was a drug addict. I’m here to tell you he was an addict for years. He was not a person in charge of his behavior. I know it’s hard to hear but he was also addicted to little boys – and that’s a fact – just as sure as he was addicted to alcohol and drugs.

I wish you all the best in your endeavors.

Diane Dimond

http://www.michaeljackson.com/us/node/239141

I have seen this statement before from Diane Dimond, and for me it really raises a troubling and disturbing question: Who the heck are these alleged, nameless families, and (presuming they even exist!) why on earth would they seek out Diane Dimond? You would think that if someone thought their child had been molested, they would go to the police. And if not to the police, at least an attorney. A psychologist. Something. Why would a sleazy, ex-“Hard Copy” tabloid reporter be their go-to person? If they were too afraid to press charges (as per the excuse that Dimond always uses) would not they have just as much to fear by going to the media?

It is clearly obvious, based on Dimond’s own track record and the way she operates, that if she has had any such conversations at all (which is debatable) it is very clear that she sought these people out, rather than the other way around. That is the only viable explanation of why they would be talking to her in the first place. But with nothing to go on but the word of a woman who has already been exposed time and again as an outright liar at worst and exaggerator at best, there is simply no way to authenticate these stories one way or the other.

Diane Dimond Uses The Occasion Of Her Friend’s Death As Just Another Excuse To Take An Unnecessary Stab At Michael Jackson!

Santa Barbara District AttorneyTom Sneddon has lost a year long battle with cancer. His wife Pam and many of their 9 children were at his side. 
In my opinion, we lost a man of integrity. Sneddon was an Army veteran, public servant for more than 3 decades, started his county’s first Sexual Assault Response Team and dedicated his life to helping victims try to get justice.
When word of his death was officially announced by his family ill-informed “haters” — fanatics who worship at the alter of Michael Jackson and never forgave Sneddon for prosecuting Jackson on child molestation charges — came out in droves to say the ugliest things. 
They are childish and ill-informed. Sneddon was the ONLY person who had the courage to do the right thing even though law enforcement knew for years about Mr. Jackson and his misbehavior with young boys. 
A testament to the facts is this: Five young men have now come forward to claim they were molested at the hands of Michael Joseph Jackson when they were young boys. Five. Five. I’m betting there are more. 
RIP, Tom Sneddon. Go with God.

What was the point of the above? Clearly, even on the day of Sneddon’s passing, Diane couldn’t shake Michael Jackson off the brain!

I have written extensively about Guiterrez and his motivations for beginning his aggressive, one-man campaign in the mid 1980’s to “out” Michael Jackson as a pedophile. But how did Gutierrez come to be so inextricably linked with Diane Dimond, and what was her motivation for becoming so doggedly involved with this man and his campaign? How did this Chilean reporter become a “mentor” for Diane Dimond?

Awhile back, a reader sent me an email with a link to a rather explosive video, an expose’ on the relationship between Diane Dimond and Victor Gutierrez . Since the view count on this video is still relatively low, I have to assume that a lot of fans still don’t know about it. This is an absolute “Must Watch” for anyone who cares about what happened to Michael Jackson in 1993, in 2003, and is continuing into 2014. The English translation is a little rough in spots, but bear with it. It’s well worth the effort.

Even if Michael Jackson fans are already familiar with much of this background info, it is still quite chilling when you see laid out the connection of these individuals and their motivations, stretching back over at least two decades or more. A couple of things that really stand out to me from the video: 1. How Diane Dimond willingly went along with a scam to create and report false evidence against Michael Jackson (the phantom tape that was alleged to show him molesting his nephew Jeremy) with only the word of Victor Gutierrez as a source! At the time, she falsely stated that the investigation into Michael Jackson was being re-opened, as a means of intimidating Margaret Maldonada Jackson under false pretenses! This goes far beyond the role of a reporter or journalist; this is someone actually taking a pro-active stance to create a story and evidence. Even more disturbing is that after learning the truth about Rodney Allen and his pedophile ring in Canada, she completely turns a blind eye to it, never bothering to follow up on what was obviously a far more frightening-and real!-case than the Michael Jackson story. Apparently, she was quite  content to let a real molestor off the hook when it turned out his name wasn’t Michael Jackson. To my knowledge, there was no attempt made by Diane Dimond to follow up on the case of a man whom she obviously knew was pimping teenage boys on the streets of Toronto. According to the clip and Dimond’s parting words, Rodney Allen’s case was left to the police to unravel. But if Diane Dimond was, as she self proclaims, so interested in justice for child abuse perpetrators, why didn’t she continue to obsessively investigate what was obviously a disgusting and frightening situation going on in Canada? Clearly, her obsession remained Michael Jackson, and Michael Jackson only. In fact, throughout that segment something interesting emerges: We see not only Diane Dimond, but the entire production team of Hard Copy carrying out the role of investigators and district attorneys-in other words, carrying out the work that normally would be handled by police and investigators in cases like this.

At 22:40, something is noted that has also been called out before by many fans who noticed this when Dimond’s Skype interview on Michael Jackson’s death first aired. On her wall, at her home, hangs iconic photos of Michael Jackson from the Panther Dance sequence of “Black or White.” Why does this woman, who professes so much animosity towards Michael Jackson and clearly believes he was a pedophile, surround herself with his images?

 

This image from Diane Dimond's Home-Clearly Showing Photos Of MJ Decking Her Walls-Made Quite A Splash When This Image Went Virale
This image from Diane Dimond’s Home-Clearly Showing Photos Of MJ Decking Her Walls-Made Quite A Splash When This Image Went Viral

Well, to back up to something I said in the last post of this series, when examining the psychology of Michael Jackson haters, I said that there is a fine line between love and hate: they are really just polar extremes of the same emotion, both of which are born out of the same passion. I, too, have many iconic photos of Michael Jackson on my wall. Those photos help provide inspiration, from a place of love, when I sit down to write about him. It would not be too big of a stretch to imagine that Diane Dimond, likewise, uses images of Michael to inspire, only in her case it is the opposite. Just as millions of us MJ fans keep images of Michael nearby to inspire and uplift us, Diane Dimond clearly keeps those images close by to inspire her in the opposite direction. It reeks of a strange, very bizarre, and very sad admiration/hatred for Michael Jackson that has become her obsession, and has been for over twenty years. Think on this: Many journalists covered the Michael Jackson story at the time. Most have long since moved on. A journalist’s job, after all, is to cover the latest stories-not to obsess incessantly over one story and one subject, to the point that it has dominated the last two decades of their life.

ETA: This passage from a NY Post article confirms it. Note what Dimond says here (thank you, Susan, for the link!):

“I did it not because I ‘m obsessed with Michael Jackson,but because I wanted the reminder that that was the one story that I hadn ‘t finished,” Dimond says.. “I wonder what Jackson would think if he knew that I had it.”

http://nypost.com/2005/02/13/jacksons-shadow-a-confidential-report-led-to-the-story-of-diane-dimonds-career/

The headline of the story is quite revealing. The Michael Jackson story was indeed “the story of her career” and, according to her, it remains the story that was never finished because it didn’t have the outcome she wanted. It is also clearly BS that she considered herself still “in the middle” in 2005. This was the same year that she published “Be Careful Who You Love” so clearly she already had her mind made up on the case.

Interestingly enough, one of the most common things that haters of Michael Jackson love to insist is that they are not “haters.” I read a lot of their propaganda. I read it to understand both their mindset and the tactics that they use to manipulate. They will insist that they are “reasonable” people but this is far from the truth. I know people in everyday life who are skeptical of Michael’s innocence. I do not label those people as “haters.” Why? Because clearly, even though they have their beliefs, they are people who have actual lives and do not devote themselves 24-7 to the subject. Clearly, anyone who is so obsessed as to create websites, organize followers, and who spends countless hours on the internet stalking fansites and trolling any pro or anti article about Michael Jackson on the internet is clearly not a “reasonable” person but a person who is clearly mentally disturbed and fixated on hate. Thus, I use the term correctly.

As a celebrity who was constantly hounded by the press and by false stories, Michael Jackson had to deal with many devious and shady reporters. But both Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond have the dubious honor of being the only journalists Michael Jackson ever brought a lawsuit against-and won. As the video mentions, Tom Sneddon went above and beyond to write a letter that would prevent Diane Dimond from being charged in the case. Gutirrez was ordered to pay 2.7 million in damages, but avoided the court order by returning to Chile. Michael appealed the decision to exempt Dimond from the charges. The 2.7 million he was awarded was far short of the $50 million in damages he had sought. As it turned out, Michael never received a penny from either of them.

Michael Jackson Sues ‘Hard Copy’ Reporter and Radio Talk Show

January 13, 1995|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three days after a “Hard Copy” report alleged that Michael Jackson was videotaped in an illicit sexual encounter, the pop star filed a $50-million lawsuit against the tabloid television show’s reporter and a radio talk show that aired her assertions.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that “Hard Copy” correspondent Diane Dimond slandered Jackson with a false and unsubstantiated report, and compounded the injury by repeating the allegations on KABC-AM radio.

The suit also alleges that Dimond falsely reported that authorities had renewed their investigation of child molestation against Jackson.

The suit–which also names “Hard Copy” producer Stephen Doran, Paramount Pictures Corp. and KABC talk show hosts Roger Barkley and Ken Minyard–stems from a Jan. 9 episode of “Hard Copy” and an appearance on Barkley and Minyard’s show that morning.

Jackson’s lawyer, Howard Weitzman, said the show was based on British tabloid reports published last weekend and on a claim made by Victor Gutierrez, a self-proclaimed biographer of Jackson who is also named in the suit.

http://articles.latimes.com/1995-01-13/local/me-19724_1_michael-jackson

Dimond may not be an Aussie, but it is clear from recent events and headlines that she is much more than just a side player in current events. If nothing else, she definitely has a reputation among anyone who wishes to bring allegations against Michael Jackson, as someone who will lend a sympathetic ear and as a convenient gatekeeper to the media on the one hand, and authorities on the other, via her long standing friendship with Tom Sneddon. But her history reveals something far more disturbing, and that is her willingness to take a pro-active stance in these accusations. Far more than merely reporting events as they unfold, she has been a key player in shaping those events, and I believe has had some hand in coercing certain players to come forward. A trait that many haters share in common is a tendency to badger young men who were known to be close friends of Michael Jackson. In some cases, the bullying and harassing has been so bad that some have had to go into hiding. She has been, and remains, one of the key instigators of Michael Jackson’s downfall.

Tom Sneddon: The Death Of The “Cold Man”

sneddon22
Michael As Tom Sneddon, aka “The Mayor”

Last week, Michael Jackson’s long time arch nemesis, Tom Sneddon, drew his last breath. I was a bit shocked to hear the news, but reports indicate that he had been suffering a bout with cancer. Most likely, his illness had been a well guarded secret from the world for some time. Whatever the case, the man that Michael forever tagged as a “cold man” is indeed now a cold man quite literally.

The irony and timing of his death was certainly not lost on Michael Jackson fans. Tom Sneddon died on Saturday, November 1, 2014.  He would have been drawing his last, ragged breaths on Halloween night, as across the globe millions celebrated “Thriller” with the usual outpourings of flash mob dances. That week, as Tom Sneddon lay dying, “Thriller” reentered the Billboard charts at #35. But is this, as some have suggested, a kind of poetic justice? As Tom Sneddon, the man who tormented Michael Jackson for decades, lay dying, Michael was still undeniably on top. Forbes has ranked him as the top earning dead celebrity. Obviously, the public’s love and adoration for “Thriller” isn’t in any danger of dissipating. On Halloween night, as millions all over the world danced to Michael Jackson’s music, Tom Sneddon lay dying-a death that was guaranteed to create no more than a footnote to the pages of history. But while there may be satisfaction in this fact, it is not really justice. Let’s not forget that Michael himself is also dead. While his legacy and music live on, his body lies in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn, as cold and lifeless as Sneddon’s. And let’s not forget that, in whatever measure great or small, the man Tom Sneddon is at least partially responsible for that.

Tom Sneddon As...Himself, The "Cold Man"
Tom Sneddon As…Himself, The “Cold Man”

But lest some of you are already forming preconceived notions about this post, this is not about to be another bitter lashing out at Tom Sneddon. There has been plenty of that in the last week. But there has also been a surprisingly large number of fans who have taken the high road, proving once again that we are certainly not all the raving lunatics that the media and haters try to portray (in fact, that Sneddon was able to live out a quite comfortable life to age 73 should in itself be enough to squelch the nonsense that all MJ fans are rabid lunatics looking to harass and threaten every perceived enemy of Michael Jackson). This brings up an interesting point raised by those supporting the Cadeflaw initiative (of which I, too, am a firm supporter). As we know, Cadeflaw’s purpose is to bring about legislation that would prevent slandering of the dead, or in general, of talking ill against the dead in the media. Well, for sure, there can’t be a double standard if this is going to be something we support. That is, there cannot be a standard for those who speak against Michael Jackson, and another for those who speak ill of anyone else who is dead. Tom Sneddon is now among the dead, and like it or not, that fact does entitle him to the same respect we would like to see applied to Michael and all deceased persons.

Michael In 2005, Emaciated and Devastated. Tom Sneddon Was Not The Sole Player, But He Damn Sure Was A Leading One.
Michael In 2005, Emaciated and Devastated. Tom Sneddon Was Not The Sole Player, But He Damn Sure Was A Leading One.

However, just to clarify, there is a difference between what is slander, and what is truth. Death doesn’t change the facts of a person’s life or the deeds they did (I realize this is the same logic that haters love to twist when rationalizing why they continue to sling filth about Michael, but bear with me for a moment). If anything, the fact that the person is dead may make us only slightly more forgiving. Some of us-those capable of taking that higher path-will say that hanging onto that kind of futile bitterness only harms ourselves. After all, we can’t now undo what Sneddon has done, and at least in this life, he will never pay any consequences for what was done to Michael. That, perhaps, is the most frustrating reality of all. Sneddon should have been prosecuted for his crimes while he lived. He should have been held accountable for all of the actual child molestors he turned a blind eye to and allowed to go free while he relentlessly pursued Michael Jackson. A lot of things “should have” been but “should have” never could, as my grandmother used to say. That’s another way of saying it’s all water under the dam now.

So, where do we go from here? For sure, a huge part of “vindicating” Michael Jackson comes with continuing to cast light on what Sneddon did. Evan Chandler, likewise, died and under even more tragic circumstances than Sneddon. But that fact has not stopped us from continuing to look with a critical eye at the key role that Evan Chandler played in Michael’s demise. By the same token, we do have to remember, in extending the same courtesy that we would like to see given to Michael,that a deceased person can no longer speak for themselves. Sneddon’s death should not be an excuse now for “anything goes.” That doesn’t mean that we stop telling the truth about what he did, of course. It just means that the focus may have to change. Whereas before, many of us wanted to see Sneddon pay for what he did, now we have to adjust those expectations. It is truly now about justice for Michael’s name. Nothing else, for Sneddon is beyond paying in this life, and whether he must pay in the hereafter is for God to decide.

Personally, I felt no sense of rejoice at the news. My first reaction was: Great. Here’s another one who got away with destroying Michael. He got to do his dirty work, and then he died. I do feel sadness for his family, of course. Someone said, “He was probably a loving grandfather.” Any death is always a tragedy for somebody, and it’s a point well worth keeping in mind. But either way, physical death isn’t exactly payback. It is simply the end of an existence.

In some weird way, though, Tom Sneddon was a member of what we affectionately call “the MJ fam.” That is, he was among the merry cast of characters whose names I became vastly familiar with over the course of my intense, five year study of all things Michael Jackson-those whose names, for better or worse, were forever linked to Michael’s. Tom Sneddon was not blind to this fact, of course. It was partly what drove and motivated him. He wanted the fame that would come from being the man who convicted Michael Jackson. Perhaps he should have taken a few history lessons from people like Pat Garrett and Frank Hamer. Don’t recognize those names? Not surprising. Few people do. But I bet you’ve heard the names Billy the Kid, and that of Bonnie and Clyde! Granted, I realize there is a slight flaw in this analogy. Both Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde, however much we romanticize them, were nonetheless cold blooded killers who probably got their just deserts in the end. In other words, even if their crimes were greatly exaggerated (I believe they were) their killers could at least rest easy in the knowledge that they were guilty, and some measure of justice had been served. But in the end, as with all things of this nature, they did it ultimately to satisfy their own egos. Yet, as history has proven, their names have been largely forgotten, while those of the criminals they fought so hard to bring down continue to live on in infamy. As Billy the Kid was allegedly reported to have said to Pat Garrett, “You’ll never be Billy The Kid. You will only be known as the man who shot Billy The Kid.”

For the purpose of this analogy, I am casting aside for the moment the fact of Michael’s actual guilt or innocence. The fact is, Tom Sneddon rationalized in his own mind that Michael Jackson was guilty, and sought glorification in the idea of bringing him down.  It would have been the coup of his career, just as his friend Diane Dimond was banking on a Michael Jackson conviction to boost her reputation as an investigative journalist. Instead, they both had to swallow a very large crow sandwich on June 13th, 2005. Reports of Tom Sneddon’s face that day turning red as a turkey vulture’s are not exaggerated (I have seen the photos!).

For years, the name Tom Sneddon has been connected to everything that has been most evil and repulsive to Michael Jackson fans. While there is no single “villain” of this tragedy, Tom Sneddon-as the man who relentlessly persecuted Michael Jackson to the point of driving him out of his home; the man ultimately responsible for the trial that slowly and torturously drained the life from him-has been, perhaps, the most convenient scapegoat; the easiest “villain” of the piece on which to project our frustrated and outraged sense of injustice. With his over the top, comedic appearance (Sneddon could easily have been cast as the “bad guy” of any of those cheesy 80’s movies where some uptight official despises anything that is fun, like music and dancing) and over zealousness to “get” his guy at any cost, he made an easy target, especially for those who loved Michael and needed, perhaps, an easy target. That is, it seems almost like a comedy until one realizes it was all too real. Tom Sneddon really was that guy. When my sister and I made the trip to the state fair in Selma a couple of years ago to ride Michael’s Ferris wheel, we made jokes about what Sneddon would do if he had the Ferris wheel in his possession. “He would be scraping the seats for possible semen stains,” I laughed. But while it may have seemed at times like some grossly exaggerated comedy, what ultimately played out was no laughing matter. Many people suffered and paid the price for Sneddon’s obsession, including Michael and his children. And perhaps even Sneddon himself, for no one can do what he did and live out his years peacefully with a clear conscience. Certainly the years he spent doggedly pursuing Michael Jackson could have been put to more productive use; time that he might have spent with his children and grandchildren, or putting real criminals behind bars.

The great irony is that, for the man who so wanted the fame and glory of putting Michael Jackson away, his death went relatively unnoticed by the world except for-you guessed it, the MJ fandom, where it was the equivalent of a trending topic and, as you see, meriting its own post here! The little media attention that was paid to it was, again not surprisingly, the reaction of Michael Jackson fans. As usual, the media singled out only the most extreme and rabid sounding responses as examples of what “lunatics” those MJ fans are. Stacy Brown, as usual, used the occasion as an excuse to try to make the fandom look bad, by posting this statement (not coincidentally, of course, on his buddy Diane Dimond’s Facebook page!):

” You know what’s interesting. I spoke with Mr. Sneddon the day Michael Jackson died. He, in no way, was joyful or happy. He respected the artist Michael Jackson and he said he thought the death was a tragedy and had hoped that, before Jackson’s death, the singer would find some real peace in his life. Peace, Mr. Sneddon made clear, that Jackson, his family, and hangers-on were responsible for taking away, not the criminal justice system. Mr. Sneddon exemplified class and for those who didn’t have the privilege of getting to know him just a little, it’s really your loss.”-Stacy Brown

Although I never give much credence to anything out of Stacy Brown’s mouth, I don’t doubt that the above statement is probably true. While it’s laughable to presume that Sneddon had no hand in taking away Michael’s “peace” (I only have to remember those stories of Michael crying on the phone to Thomas Mesereau at three am, terrified of what was going to happen to his kids, or those stories of him being sick and vomiting on the way to court on those mornings to know the ludicrousness of that statement!) I suppose I can at least give it to him that he could have used the occasion of Michael’s death to speak ill and rub salt in old wounds, but he didn’t. That, of course, didn’t mean he’d had some change of heart; only that he was abiding by the old civil courtesy of not speaking ill of someone who had just died. But his inability to acknowledge any responsibility whatsoever for his own role is nevertheless chilling. Also, if we want a real taste of Sneddon’s “class” we only have to transport ourselves back to that time (2003-2005) and watch how gleefully he gloated on TV-“We got ‘im!”-and how tackily he and his cohorts celebrated even before the verdict had been announced. There was nothing that smacked of class in those antics.

But perhaps we have to look to Michael himself for the real keys in how to feel about Sneddon-and more importantly now, how to regard his death. In “D.S.” (the song we know was simply a thinly veiled reference to Tom Sneddon) Michael chose what has remained, for me, a somewhat puzzling descriptive phrase. For sure, he could have chosen a lot of phrases for the song’s refrain, but the one he settled on (repeated purposely almost to the point of ad nauseum) is: “Dom Sheldon (Tom Sneddon) is a cold man.” (For the record, it was many years before I realized this was not a song about an “old man,” lol).

Why the phrase “a cold man” in particular? Well, I don’t know but I have some theories. A cold person is not, in actuality, a hostile person. Being hostile means having hot blooded emotions. Remember, rage and hate are considered simply the polar opposites of love. But a cold person is a hardened person; a person devoid of love; a person whose heart is hidden beneath many layers of protective ice; a person who is no longer capable of receiving love. In other words, a person who is not capable of empathy or feeling of any kind.

Did Michael view Tom Sneddon as such a man? It is, like I said, a curious choice of words. “A cold man” would, for sure, make him the polar opposite of someone who stood for love and hoped to bring about world change through the power of love. Love is warmth, the direct opposite of “cold.”

I read an insightful comment on another web site that raised the question of whether Tom Sneddon was, in fact, someone who never had enough love in his life. Perhaps something had scarred him as a child, this person said. Perhaps he was denied love. We know that monsters aren’t born. Everything has its cause. Perhaps we can take another clue from Michael’s (again thinly disguised) portrayal of Tom Sneddon in the film “Ghosts.” I have already written several posts about how Michael essentially used that film as a vehicle to have a kind of “showdown with himself” in the confrontation between The Maestro character (himself) and The Mayor (Sneddon and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Michael’s own alter ego of himself). There is a point in the film, during the title track dance sequence, where The Mayor becomes possessed with the spirit of The Maestro-the equivalent of Tom Sneddon becoming possessed by the spirit of Michael Jackson! During this sequence, the formerly uptight and hateful Mayor is suddenly dancing, spinning, moonwalking, and grabbing his crotch. It is hilarious, of course, as it is intended to be, but something else happens during this sequence as well. The Mayor is grooving; everyone is getting down and having a good time, and for just a few moments, he is almost human-almost likable. We think, briefly, he has a shot at redemption (for obviously, as with most films of this genre, it is not the eccentric protagonist whom we are against, but rather his uptight nemesis). And indeed, once The Mayor is no longer possessed, we can see that nevertheless, a lot of the wind has been knocked from his sails. He is not so sure of his former stance anymore. Something inside him has changed. But nevertheless, he has to keep up the appearance of authority. So in an effort to overcome his own weakness (his own susceptibility to love) he over compensates by now turning on The Maestro with even greater fury. “YES! YES!” he shouts, as if in fervent hallelujah, when The Maestro asks “Do you still want me to go?” Yet, for all this, we can see that something in The Mayor’s convictions have been severely shaken.

In the end, Michael does go, but only to reappear triumphantly at the end of the film, while The Mayor, scared out of his wits by this resurrection, crashes through the wall, presumably never to be seen again. We can chalk this up, perhaps, to Michael’s own wishful thinking, as he was forever telling us that he would remain “invincible” and that no matter how hard his enemies worked to destroy him, he would always survive; always come out on top. On film, at least, it was still possible to believe that evil could be vanquished by a song and a dance. Wishful thinking, yes, but in some ways also chillingly prophetic in ways perhaps Michael could never have envisioned.

I feel sympathy for Tom Sneddon’s family and I will never bash a dead man on these pages just for the sake of bashing. But by the same token, I will continue to go forth with the work I am doing here and to report on the facts of what Tom Sneddon did. We cannot afford to shy away from the truth just because Sneddon has died. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I will as respectfully as I can continue to call out Mr. Sneddon for the actions he should have been held accountable for in his life.

The death of Tom Sneddon is a solemn reminder that no matter how hard Michael’s enemies worked to bring him down, in the end their lives and their names are but a footnote to his. In some ways, Tom Sneddon got what he wanted. He wanted his name to be forever linked to Michael Jackson’s.

He got his wish.

A New Take On “The Next Michael Jackson”

He Is The Gauge By Which Greatness and Success Are Measured
He Is The Gauge By Which Greatness and Success Are Measured

Fans always tend to get very defensive when someone says that “so and so” is going to be “the next Michael Jackson.”   I am one of those. It’s irritating to constantly see some lame up and comer being compared to the magical wonder that was our King of Pop, Rock, and Soul. But the bigger question is: Why do they do it, and why is it always Michael? I am going to offer an alternative to the usual racist and media conspiracies that claim it as an attempt to knock Michael from his throne-perhaps a refreshing one that will enable us to view these comparisons minus the paranoid tendencies. I was thinking about this especially in light of recent comments about Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Jack Antonoff defended his comment of comparing “1989” to “Thriller” by saying it’s amazing that an artist of today can still have sales numbers that are comparable to twenty years ago. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that anything by Taylor Swift or anyone else today will still be holding up twenty or thirty years from now. But the comment really made me start to think: Michael Jackson is the gauge by which EVERY new artist is measured. That is actually a tremendous compliment. So another way to look at the constant comparisons of some new artist to Michael Jackson may not necessarily be because they are anxious to “replace” Michael-as so many often interpret it-but because he is the yardstick by which success is now measured.

When I was growing up and latching onto whoever was the latest pop idol in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, my grandmother would always say, “Do you think he’ll be as big as Elvis?” Inevitably, the conversation would always lead to my grandmother concluding, “There’ll never be another Elvis.” In a way, she was right. Most of the ‘flashpan” idols of that time came and went-except for one.

For many decades, Elvis was the gauge by which any solo artist was measured. Until you could count yourself among that league, you were nobody. And even today, The Beatles are the gauge by which every group’s success is measured. For years, “we’re going to be bigger than The Beatles” was the inspirational motto of every up and coming rock band. Not to mention, the line became the selling point of any manager trying to pitch his or her latest discovery. “I tell you, they’re going to be the next Beatles!”

Did Michael Jackson, in fact, become the “new Elvis” in the 1980’s by surpassing his solo fame, sales records, and cultural significance? Well, I am sure that any Elvis fan would debate that matter hotly. Personally, I don’t think it is possible for any artist to become the new whoever/whatever and if they did, it would mean they lacked the originality to be themselves-the very thing that makes every artist unique-and thus great. That is, if ranking among the greats is to be their destiny. What people mean, of course, when they claim that any new artist is going to be “The Next _______” is that the person who fills that blank is someone who has made such a monumental impact on the world of music; someone who has left such an indelible stamp, that they have become that metaphoric yardstick by which phenomenal success is measured. The artists who join the ranks of Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson, however, have to do a lot more than just sell records. They have to impact our culture in some way; they have to be movers and shakers whose seismic impact shifts the music scene for decades to come.

So the next time you hear of any new artist being compared to Michael Jackson, just remember, it’s because he is considered a gauge of greatness and the pinnacle of what every artist hopes to achieve.

Writing About Michael Jackson: Who Has The Real Authority?

As the legacy recedes into shadows, who will ultimately have the authority to "write" Michael's story?
As the legacy recedes into shadows, who will ultimately have the authority to “write” Michael’s story?

This post was prompted by a recent post from another MJ blogger (whose blog bears a name confusingly similar to mine, although there is no affiliation). Hers was a statement against blogs that have become part of “the clique” and a kind of lambast against those bloggers who have apparently attempted to become “authorities” on Michael Jackson.

http://allforlove1970.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/should-we-be-burned-are-good-pieces-really-bad/

The post did not mention any names directly. However, anyone who has been part of the MJ blogosphere for any length of time certainly knows that “cliquedom” has become an unfortunate fact of life. Inevitably, MJ blogs and their authors have become lumped into various cliques, based on the author’s particular ideologies and those of their followers, and the approach they take to their subject-namely, Michael Jackson. I need not enumerate them. We know who they are. There are vindication blogs, anti-Sony blogs, anti-estate blogs, pro-estate blogs, conspiracy theory blogs, and just about everything that falls in between. There are blogs solely dedicated to Michael as an artist; blogs that celebrate his humanitarian work, and blogs that attempt to separate myth and fiction from reality. The nature of that “reality”, of course, is what was being called into question-and rightfully so. But let me back up for just a second.

I have always thought that the MJ blogosphere is a wonderful, diverse community where many of us are sharing our knowledge and research, and in so doing, building an archive of information that has seriously dented the narrative of the tabloids and mainstream media. Sure, we don’t all agree on everything. But that is the beauty of it. Readers are free to accept or reject what is put out. MJ fans, especially, are well informed and well aware that they are free to accept or reject any opinions or theories that are put out. They are free to absorb it all, to compare views, and to draw their own conclusions. However, with that being said, I have certainly seen my share of intolerant communities, where bloggers belittle, bully, and sometimes even block anyone who disagrees with them. A few have even gone on actively aggressive campaigns against other bloggers, publicly questioning the intents and motives of fellow bloggers-energy that certainly could be put to far better use by focusing on the subject at hand-Michael Jackson. Sadly, however, it seems that the MJ blogosphere, like so many things these days, is not immune to petty jealousy and the desire to drive off the “competition.” And I sometimes feel that this is the very motive behind a lot of the petty snipping and heel biting that I see.

But this does raise an interesting question. Are we, in fact (as this blogger suggests) guilty of merely supplanting the tabloid spins with a spin of another kind? Are we merely supplanting the mainstream MJ narrative-which has been mostly concocted by journalists with agendas-with an equally questionable narrative that is being spun by well intended fans and armchair researchers who also have agendas? Perhaps more to the point, is that a bad thing? Perhaps the answer is both yes and no.

The crux of her argument is that most of us did not know Michael; therefore, none of us can be qualified as the final authority on him. Well, that’s true. My favorite joke-especially when I hear someone being touted as a “Michael Jackson expert”-is that there is only one person who could have ever been a true “Michael Jackson expert,” and he has been gone for over five years! (Some would even argue if Michael really “knew” Michael!).  But by that same argument, we would also have to reject the full body of scholarship on every single historical figure who has ever lived! In the academic world, it is quite common to refer to colleagues as a “John Keats scholar” or a “Geoffrey Chaucer scholar.” But all the title really means is a nod to the amount of time and energy the scholar has poured into researching their subject. They have earned a certain entitlement due to their hard work and dedication, at least enough that students know to listen carefully and take good notes when they speak-if they want to pass the course. And, of course, it may get them invited to all the right parties, where they will be sure to sit and banter with other “authorities” on many past lives. But no one is ever truly an “authority” on anyone, no matter how many ph.d’s we have or how much  research we pour into that person’s life. We might, over time and with enough dedication, eventually get all of the facts of a life down. But always, the many facets of what truly comprises a human being-their heart, their soul, their dreams, their motivations and aspirations- will always be that elusive shadow we chase. What we think we know about famous celebrities or historical figures is constantly being deconstructed and then revisioned by subsequent generations. So, too, will it be with Michael.  Certainly our thirst to understand these individuals who have shaped and impacted our world doesn’t end just because they die-if anything, death intensifies the need to understand what their lives meant. If everyone ceased researching and writing about historical figures just because they have died and because we did not know them, then pretty soon there would be no biographies left; no documentaries, no library of research or knowledge at all.  We can say we didn’t know them, so why bother?

We Often Don't Even Grant Authority To The Ones Who Knew Him, So How On Earth Can We Entitle It To Anyone Else-Including Ourselves?
We Often Don’t Even Grant Authority To The Ones Who Knew Him, So How On Earth Can We Entitle It To Anyone Else-Including Ourselves?

On the other hand, when the subject is Michael Jackson, how much credence or authority is really granted to anyone who knew him? I never met Michael, but I have met and in some cases have maintained close contact with many who did know him-some quite intimately. To this day, I have only shared a small fraction of some of the wonderful stories and memories that have been shared with me because I considered those things to be private information. Having access to this knowledge, however, still doesn’t make me someone who “knew” Michael Jackson nor does it qualify me in any way to wear the label of “expert” or “final authority.” It is simply what it is-knowledge that has come about second hand, via two degrees of separation, and for which many variables must be accounted, including the nature of that individual’s relationship, the time period in which they knew him (for as with most of us, Michael changed and evolved over time) and their own motivations and experiences, which of course will invariably color their memories of Michael.

But as for actually knowing Michael and allowing that to serve as some kind of right to authority, we have certainly all seen for ourselves just how much weight that carries in the fan community-and even in the media. Karen Faye, Frank Cascio, Bill Whitfield, David Gest, and many others I could name are all certainly people who knew Michael Jackson as well as anyone could know him, yet their comments and motivations have constantly been held up for scrutiny, and even dismissed outright when they did not suit the preferred narrative of fans. Likewise, individuals who knew Michael and who have tried to speak out positively in the press are almost always invariably dismissed as biased sources (if only the same standard would be applied to those who speak negatively!). Lisa Marie Presley can go on Oprah and say she had a real marriage with Michael, and there will still be people calling her a liar. Michael’s own family, including his parents and siblings, would for sure have to count as people who knew him. Heck, he came from his own mother’s body! Yet I don’t even have to touch on how much “authority” or credibility they are granted by many, especially fans, when they talk about Michael! I have seen how quickly any quote from anyone who knew Michael can be shot down by fans and foes alike who don’t wish to accept any “truth” about Michael that deviates from their own-good or bad. And while it’s good to keep a critical mind, it is sometimes just as important to keep an open one.

If you read the information I posted on my “About” page, which I haven’t altered much since November of 2009, I made it very clear that I do not consider myself a Michael Jackson expert. I considered myself a researcher and newly turned on fan whose mind was being blown by all that I was learning about Michael. I was on fire with all that I was discovering and wanted to share it with the world. I figured if I encouraged at least one person to take a closer look at the life and work of Michael Jackson, I had fulfilled my mission.  I am human, of course, and not immune to the allure that is the attraction of the name Michael Jackson. Over the past five years, I have seen so many attach themselves to this name, all in the name of research, scholarship, and “authority”-and, sometimes, ultimately, glory. In time, many individuals come to develop their own following-in Michael’s name, of course, but it is still a kind of ego-driven glorification, a kind of fame that inevitably is riding the coattails of Michael Jackson. I am sure most do not start out that way, or with that intention. It evolves over time and perhaps to some degree, is both subconscious and unavoidable. If you do good work, you are eventually recognized. Then people  who love Michael come to love what you do. And that, of course, is a very satisfying and rewarding feeling-as long as we can keep the egos in check.

It Is Highly Doubtful That One, Definitive Version Of The "Truth" Will Ever Be Arrived At. But Over Time, We Can Certainly Chip Away At The Media Caricature To A More Balanced Perspective.
It Is Highly Doubtful That One, Definitive Version Of The “Truth” Will Ever Be Arrived At. But Over Time, We Can Certainly Chip Away At The Media Caricature To A More Balanced Perspective.

It is true that none of us can stand as the final authority. In the end, I think this blogger made a very valid point. We can only be the authority of ourselves and what Michael’s life, art, and struggles mean for us. But by the same token, I think it would be a terribly impoverished state of affairs if we all suddenly threw in our towels and ceased asking the hard questions about Michael’s life-what it meant, who he was, and what happened to him. After all, it has largely been through the hard work and dedication of bloggers that, finally, many of the long held misconceptions about Michael are being deconstructed. Social media and the internet have eaten away at the almighty power that the tabloids and mainstream media once had.  The dedicated research of MJ bloggers has provided an invaluable wealth of knowledge. I don’t think that can be a bad thing-and I am frankly not sure how I feel when someone lumps us in the same category as the tabloids that ought to be “burned,” even if albeit by “we” I am assuming she is including herself as well. Her argument, in essence, seems to be that we are just another side of the tabloid coin. Well, as someone who has been, by turns, both frustrated and enlightened,  betrayed and supported,  by the MJ blogosphere community-and at times outraged by some of the holier-than-thou attitudes that prevail- I can certainly see both sides of the argument. However, it may be a slippery slope when we start asking the question of who really has the authority to write on Michael Jackson.

Michael’s story-and his legacy-may be best left to the music and words he wrote. However, that isn’t going to stop a whole host of others from jumping on that ship, from fans and scholars, to music critics and cultural analyists, to haters and tabloid journalists, to biographers and even psychoanalysts. I have heard it often said that the bloggers, in fact, may be the last and only real bastion of truth that is out there for the MJ researcher. With such a myriad of opinions, it may be impossible to ever pin down one definitive version of that “truth,” however. When all is said and done, most fans will pick and choose and assemble the narrative that suits them best. Perhaps Michael might even say, if that’s the version of me that makes them happy, so be it. As has so often been said, what matters most-what should and HAS to be our top priority-is clearing his name from the allegations. His legacy will more than survive all else. So we might agree to disagree on whether he was always a strict vegetarian, whether he preferred white wine to red, or exactly how many surgeries he actually did have-in the end, this is all small fry stuff and none of it will ultimately matter.

So who has the authority to write on Michael Jackson? The answer may well be all of us, and none of us. If you have a passion for him; if his music or his life touched you, affected you in any way, you have the authority to write about him. If you have read and researched enough to feel you have a say about him, then you have the authority to write about him. If you feel there are still questions about his death that need to be answered, or even questions about his life that still need to be answered, then you have the authority to write about him. Does that make your word the final authority, however? Certainly not. You have to consider that yours is just one of thousands of voices-perhaps even millions-who are contributing to the fabric of that “truth,” perhaps a “truth” that will never be definitive but which, over time, will certainly be much more accurate and multi-faceted than had we all remained silent, simply allowing the tabloids and the media to tell that story. In time, Michael’s story will be one that has been sculpted and shaped by many hands, from the fans of remote African villages to Harvard Ph.D’s.

We bloggers do have a responsibility. With every word about Michael Jackson that we cast into cyberspace, we are formulating and shaping someone’s perception of him, whether for better or worse. That is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, nor one that is meant merely to stoke our own egos or whatever sense of “power” it gives. We have to remember that when it comes to that vast cosmic ocean of voices raised in search of truth about this man,each of us, individually, are just small drops in that ocean. Let’s not over inflate our worth. But by the same token, let’s not sell ourselves short, either.  After all, it takes every single drop, working in concert, to create that ocean.

Michael’s Alabama Adventures-From the Allforlove Archives (Jan 2010)

Hi all! I am going to be on a brief hiatus for a little while, as I am very stressed with work right now and trying to get things caught up before we leave on an out of town trip for the weekend. To tide you over in the meantime, here is an article that has been buried for a long time in the old, pre-2011 Allforloveblog archives. I thought it would be worth resurrecting for two reasons: One, not many people saw it back when it was first posted, since the blog was still relatively new at that time. Secondly, I will soon be doing some important updates to this piece as I am planning my own on-the-road investigation into Michael’s Alabama roots (probably this spring). Now that I have access to the old archives and have copied most of the pre-2011 articles, I will be reprinting and updating quite a few of these classic posts as time permits. Enjoy, and I will be back with all new material, including the latest updates to the “Australian Conspiracy” soon!

NOT MANY PEOPLE WOULD GUESS THAT THIS TINY TOWN-POPULATION 592-WAS A PLACE MICHAEL JACKSON VISITED OFTEN
NOT MANY PEOPLE WOULD GUESS THAT THIS TINY TOWN-POPULATION 592-WAS A PLACE MICHAEL JACKSON VISITED OFTEN

While most people are aware of Michael’s roots in Gary, Indiana, not as much is known about Michael’s ties to Alabama. As a native and lifelong resident of Alabama, this is a subject that has fascinated me–largely because, like many Alabamians, I was totally unaware of Michael’s Alabama ties until after his death. After all, it was never something that was widely publicized. His mother Katherine was born here, and her family then moved to Indiana when she was a small child. In fact, to the end of his own life, Michael Jackson retained a slight Alabama inflection, obvious in his speech (but one that, for the most part, only a discerning Alabmaian ear would pick up on). I do remember that it was a huge deal in 1984 when The Jacksons came to Birmingham to rehearse for the Victory tour-a huge deal because it meant, at least for those few weeks, we in Alabama had Michael Jackson all to ourselves for just a little while.

But what most of us Alabamians did not know was just how often Michael was in the state, usually lowkey and even incognitio, of course, to visit his mother’s relatives in Russell County and the small city of Hurtsboro (Katherine was actually born in nearby Barbour County, but her mother and stepfather later resettled in Hurtsboro). In LaToya’s autobiography, she states that Hurtsboro’s population is around 1,000. But a more recent census listed on Wikipedia gives the town’s population as 592.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurtsboro,_Alabama

The name of the town may be more than a bit appropriate, considering that Michael Jackson and my home state, unfortunately, did not always have the most cordial relationship. While I’m sure Michael may have had some happy memories of the state, it seemed later in life that coming to Alabama often spelled disaster for him. His string of bad luck in the state included everything from a racially motivated beating that landed him in an Alabama hospital, to a severe case of stomach cramps that nearly put an end to the Victory tour in ’84.

Of all the things I have learned about Michael’s comings and goings in Alabama, the beating remains for me the most disturbing-disturbing for two reasons, one being the fact that it occurred AFTER he was already famous (in fact, the incident occurred post-Thriller) and, 2: Why was it kept out of the local media and never reported? What were they afraid of? Or did Michael himself choose not to go public with it?

But before getting into all of that, let’s back up for a minute to get some more background on Michael’s Alabama roots.

MICHAEL STAYED IN BIRMINGAM FOR SEVERAL WEEKS DURING THE VICTORY TOUR REHEARSALS
MICHAEL STAYED IN BIRMINGAM FOR SEVERAL WEEKS DURING THE VICTORY TOUR REHEARSALS

After June 25th, 2009, a rash of local Alabama writers took an avid interest in educating the public about Michael’s maternal ties to the state. One of the more in-depth and interesting articles came from a colleague of mine, Joseph Margetanski. Margetanski and I both do freelance articles for the same local Alabama paper, “The Valley Planet.” Margetanski had spent a considerable amount of time tracing Michael’s family roots in the state. In his article that appeared in the July 23rd issue, Margetanski wrote:

Michael Jackson’s family ties to Alabama date back to the beginning of the 20th century. His grandfather, Prince Albert Screws, was born October 16, 1907 in Jernigan in RussellCounty, Alabama, just across the state line from Columbus, Georgia. He saw service in the First World War, but his main occupations were railroad work and cotton farming. He later moved to neighboring BarbourCounty. He married Martha Upshaw (from whose mother, Josephine, Michael received his middle name Joseph). Like her husband, Martha was also an Alabama native. And on May 4, 1930, Martha gave birth to Kattie B. Screws.

Kattie’s life was a challenge almost from the moment she was born. Shortly after her birth, the Screws family left BarbourCounty and their name behind. Prince changed their last name to Scruse, and changed Kattie’s name to Katherine Esther Scruse. As if getting three names wasn’t traumatic enough, young Katherine developed polio-all before she was four.

Katherine beat the deadly disease, but it left its mark on her. To this day, she walks with a limp. After her bout with polio, at the age of four, the Scruse family moved north, as did many African-American families. They settled in East Chicago, Indiana, not far from where her famous son would be born. It was there that Katherine met Joseph Jackson, a former boxer…

…As brief as they were, Katherine’s Alabama roots tugged at the souls of her children as well. Michael Jackson sang backup vocals for Kenny Rogers in the country singer’s 1980 hit “Goin’ Home To Alabama.” Four years later, The Jackson 5-brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael-rehearsed in Birmingham for their “Victory” tour. They greeted fans from their hotel balcony, after a heartfelt request from the city’s mayor, Richard Arrington. At least two Alabama residents became intimately involved with the youngest, and most famous, member of the pop group. John Ray of Birmingham, founder of Just In Time Music, Inc., promoted three Michael Jackson concerts in Dallas. David Rowland of Summerdale was Jackson’s pilot for six months, , while the rising star was touring North America. Rowland flew Jackson as far as Niagara Falls and Vancouver

Not only were the Jacksons in and out of the state many times through the years, but often, in times of her greatest troubles, Michael’s mother Katherine would return here (often on her own) simply to seek solace and to regroup spiritually. Of course, that would make sense. Often, in dark times, one can find the greatest comfort in getting back to their roots. In the early 80′s, when Joseph’s adultery had finally gotten the best of her, Katherine escaped for several weeks to the refuge of tiny Hurstsboro. Later, she would return on a search for her family roots. This was when she looked up a young local man, Larry Screws, who had no idea until that visit that he was actually Michael Jackson’s distant cousin!

But in a county as small and rural as Russell County, Alabama, it doesn’t take much asking around for anyone named “Screws” for one thing to lead to another. Eventually, Katherine was directed to Larry Screws,who of course was delighted to learn he was actually related to the King of Pop. He says it was the “glitz and glamour” of Michael’s life that kept them apart. (Note: I was not able to embed it, but if you click on the link for the below article, there is an interesting local news video on Larry Screws and Michael’s ties to Alabama).

“We were just proud of knowing that they were related to us.” said Larry Screws.

Larry Screws was a distant cousin to Michael Jackson, but he didn’t know it until he was in his early 20’s.

“I guess the thing that strikes us most is that we didnt know of them until she came to us.” said Screws.

Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother’s decided to search for her relatives.

The search lead her back to the place she was born, Alabama. She was born in Barbour County and moved up to East Chicago, Indiana when she was four.

Her maiden name Katherine Screws.

Larry says that’s all she needed to say to find her way to her them.

 “Russell County is a county where everybody knows everybody.” said Screws.

 Larry says the life of glitz and glamour is the reason he never had a chance to meet his cousin.

 “I guess because of the celebrity status we never became close.” said Screws.

http://www.dothanfirst.com/story/michael-jackson-has-roots-in-alabama/d/story/pA5wP_55-kO2t3tFmMu42g

Of course, given the frequency of Michael’s visits here, it was probably much more likely that Michael simply did not know of his cousin’s existence. The Screws/Scruse are a large, extended family, scattered throughout the neighboring counties of Russell and Barbour. And every day, it is almost impossible to not find someone claiming to be kin to Michael, claims that are nearly impossible to either verify or disprove with any certainty. But given the proliferation of Scruse/Screws in the area, it’s usually far more logical to assume they are probably being truthful than not.

DOWNTOWN HURTSBORO
DOWNTOWN HURTSBORO

Michael’s family ties to the state have for sure been played up more since his death. Even in 1984, when The Jacksons spent several weeks in Birmingham rehearsing for Victory, I didn’t recall hearing that much about his family ties. However, as I said, I do recall that his residency here was a HUGE deal. The biggest superstar in the world was right here in Alabama, rehearsing for a tour, and you’d better believe, the local media made the most of it! If he ventured out of the hotel to go to the park, we heard all about it. If he went shopping at a local mall (which he did, in disguise, of course) it made the local papers even as far north as where I live, approximately eighty-two miles away. When he went Witnessing, it was all the talk on the local radio, though of course they did not reveal to the public that he had gone Witnessing door-to-door in the Birmingham suburb of Trussville until the next day.

I remember at the time the reaction of many locals was that they thought it was a little bizarre. Back then, a lot of people weren’t aware that Michael was a Jehovah’s Witness, so it kind of struck people as odd-the idea of this mega-celebrity going door-to-door, in disguise, to talk to locals about Jehovah and to pass out copies of The Watchtower. We didn’t know back then that Witnessing played a huge role in Michael’s faith; it was something he had done for years, even after he was famous, and something he would continue to do for several years thereafter.

I’m sure there were more than a few very surprised Birmingham residents who, after the story broke, were thinking back to that “nice but rather nervous acting, young man with the afro and mustache” who knocked on their door, and thinking, “Was it…could it have been….?” In interviews, Michael always said that one of the things he enjoyed about Witnessing door-to-door was the rare glimpses it gave him into normalcy; an excuse to see how average, ordinary people lived their lives. Usually, his disguises worked well enough, but he said that while it was easy enough to fool the men of the household, the women were much more challenging-and the kids even worse. They would see right through the disguises. “Mommy, it’s Michael Jackson!”

(Note: The original “Alabama News” link I posted with this article in 2010, which detailed some of the stories from the chauffeur who took Michael on that Trussville Witnessing venture, has since disappeared. Among his stories included an incident with a vicious dog, and how he tried to park the limo insconspicously on a residential street while Michael walked on foot throughout the neighborhoods. I am hoping at some point I will be able to track this driver down-he apparently owns a limo rental service in Birmingham-and interview him).

Here is what is apparently the only remnants of that story still available online:

JULY 2:

1984: Michael Jackson left Birmingham after concluding rehearsals for his “Victory” tour at the BJCC. He was largely unseen during the time here, save for a balcony appearance and a Sunday morning when Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness at the time, disguised himself and went door-to-door in Trussville for about two hours. He wore a mustache, afro wig, hat and black suit while he handed out materials about his religion. No one knew it was him, until it hit the papers the next day.

http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2014/06/the_week_in_birmingham_history_3.html

I am not quite sure why this outlet reported it as such a lowkey affair, because my memory of that time is certainly quite different. However, I think they mean it was lowkey in the sense that Michael did rarely come out of hiding to show himself during those two weeks. Rather, it was the intrigue; the possibility; the ANTICIPATION of a possible Michael Jackson sighting that fueled most of the local hysteria. Judging by the local media, it was, however, almost a relief when the rehearsals were over and the last vestige of The Jacksons had finally packed up and moved on. The presence of Michael Jackson in a town the size of Birmingham (even if, granted, it IS our largest city) had practically brought the city to a standstill, with traffic jams, crowd control and security issues a constant problem. Although it was an exciting few weeks, I think most of the town’s more conservative citizens (i.e, “the old fogies”) were heaving a big sigh of relief when the madness was over. But oddly enough, in a time when my entire home state of Alabama was caught up in Michaelmania and reporting his every move, his every coming and going, it seems rather bizarre that the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to him-or to anyone-went unreported and ignored in the media.

A SEVERE, RACIALLY MOTIVATED BEATING LANDED MICHAEL IN AN ALABAMA HOSPITAL...SOMETHING THE PAPERS NEVER TOLD US
A SEVERE, RACIALLY MOTIVATED BEATING LANDED MICHAEL IN AN ALABAMA HOSPITAL…SOMETHING THE PAPERS NEVER TOLD US

In LaToya’s autobiography, she gives a brief but horrific account of how things went down. The incident apparently occurred during one of Michael’s many routine visits to his mother’s relatives in Russell County. During a drive with Bill Bray, an associate who had made the trip with Michael and Katherine, Bray decided to stop for gas and to use the restroom. Michael, who loved nothing better than a chance to browse and putter around in small shops where no one would know who he was, couldn’t resist the temptation to go into the shop next door. When Bray came out of the gas station, he noticed Michael was gone. Then, according to LaToya’s account, he heard this “Help! Help” coming from the shop. He ran inside to find Michael on the floor and a white man standing over him, kicking him viciously in the stomach and head, over and over, while shouting, “I hate all you niggers!”

It took Bray several minutes of struggling to get the guy off of Michael. The incident reportedly left him with several severe cuts and bodily injuries, resulting in a hospital stay. As it turned out, the reputed “cause” of the attack was that, according to the shopowner (the guy who was beating Michael), Michael had put a “candy bar in his pocket.” Bray argued and said that was ridiculous…”He doesn’t steal, and he doesn’t even like candy!” Michael continued to protest his innocence, but the man kept insisting that Michael was trying to steal from him.

Well, actually, I think Bill Bray may have been trying at least in part to cover for his friend-Michael certainly DID love candy-but I highly doubt he was trying to steal; this was Michael Jackson, who had the #1 selling album in the world, why in heck would he need to steal a fifty-cent candy bar! (Though the way he liked to pull pranks, it’s entirely possible he could have been “messing” with the guy as a joke, but if that was the case, it was a prank that backfired on him horribly).

But whatever the case, the fact was that the guy never gave him the benefit of the doubt, and for one reason only-because he was black.  Reportedly, the man never even recognized who he was; as LaToya put it, Michael to him was “just another nigger he could abuse.”

So during the time that was supposed to have been a fun and pleasant visit with relatives ended up being, for Michael, a very painful time laid up in an Alabama hospital, being treated for his severe cuts and bruises.

As the story went, Katherine called from Alabama to report what had happened. The family was horrified and outraged; according to LaToya, Jermaine was ready to fly down here and “whoop Alabama ass.”  But cooler reasoning prevailed, and instead, a lawsuit was filed against the store owner. However, nothing came of it.

“Two girls standing outside had witnessed the beating, and one offered to testify on Michael’s behalf. We felt very strongly that racial violence must be stopped, but unfortunately, justice did not prevail in this case. The racist harbored no regrets. In fact, discovering that the black man he’d assaulted was a celebrity only inflamed his hatred. Now he threatened to kill Michael. Bill convinced us that this person was mad, that the threat was quite serious, and that it was better for everyone to drop the action. None of us was happy about this, but there was really no choice.”-LaToya Jackson.

As I said before, my big question-since this incident reportedly occurred at or close to the same time as when Michael was here for the Victory tour and rehearsals-was why it was never reported in the local media? Or for that matter, why Michael Jackson being the victim of a racist beating never made it into the news at all (amazing, considering how his every sneeze or fart was usually fodder for the tabloids?).  However, given that the lawsuit was dropped out of concern for what action this guy might have taken, perhaps it’s understandable why the incident was kept lowkey. But I also have to wonder if Alabama didn’t feel some sense of shame that something like this could happen to the biggest star in the world right here in our own backyard…and was that part of the reason why it never made it into the papers?

Through the years, it seemed that Michael continued to have bad luck whenever he crossed paths with my home state. A Brazilian chef, Rema Vila Real, who had worked for Michael, and whose talents for healthy dishes was one he keenly appreciated, recalled in an interview the time she was mysteriously but urgently summoned to drop everything she was doing and get on a plane-immediatly.

“… I was living in West Los Angeles in a small apartment when I got a phone call. The person on the phone asked me to look outside. He said: “See the limousine? Get in it, now!” I told him I could not because I was taking care of a person off the street and could not leave him. They said that they would send someone to look after the person right away and for me to get into the car. I told them I had to change my clothes because I all dirty from cleaning. They didn’t care. Finally I agreed when the man arrived to take care of my guest and I was taken to a big building in Beverly Hills and up to the very top penthouse. It was very luxurious.

The man on the other side of the desk handed me a ticket and said ‘you are going to the airport right now. Here is your ticket.” I asked him why. He explained to me that Michael Jackson was having stomach aches and specifically requested me to be his “nutritionist” on the “Thriller” tour. He was feeling sick to his stomach and refused to go on stage until they sent me to be his private cook. They were all very nervous. They said they were losing millions of dollars in canceled shows and I had to go right then.

I told them I could not and could only go in the morning. After a lot of arguing, the agreed to let me go home and they picked me up early in the morning and I was off to Birmingham Alabama…”

http://twitpic.com/1lry57

So…it looks like the stomach ailment from unhealthy eating that was costing the tour millions reached its crisis point in…where else, Alabama! (Maybe too many stops at those Birmingham barbecue joints, hmmm?).

But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, one of the funniest segments of the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies is when he talks about going “down home” to Alabama, and we see the clip of Michael, his brothers and relatives having a good, old-fashioned hootenanny. Even though bad luck sometimes seemed to dog his steps in Alabama, I think he also enjoyed the bit of anonymity of just getting back to the country, traveling the backroads, shopping at The Salvation Army and being able, for a little while, to just drop the mask of stardom and see how us ol’ regular folks down here live. I can never travel I-65 (Alabama’s main north-south interstate) without thinking how many times Michael and his family must have traveled this road; probably more times than any of us everyday Alabamians will ever know. To this day, I still don’t think most people around here realize the extent of Michael Jackson’s Alabama connection.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing. At least it ensures that tiny  Hurtsboro, Alabama and rural County Road 12 in Russell County are not destined to become mega tourist attractions anytime soon. Hopefully, they will remain as pure and untouched as they were in this hilarious clip from a Jackson Alabama road trip in 1979:

 

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