Stevie Wonder could have chosen a lot of songs to sing at Michael Jackson’s memorial service, but I think it is no coincidence that he chose his lovely romantic ballad “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer.” Stevie was onto something that has haunted me for the last few days, as June 25th has drawn nearer and nearer.
Michael was truly our child of summer. His life began on a hot summer night in August in Gary, Indiana. It ended on a blistering June morning in Los Angeles, fifty years later.
This fact alone isn’t especially unique. Lots of people die in the same season as they were born, and in most cases we can chalk it up to coincidence. But statistically, it has been said that more births and deaths occur in summer than any other season. Obviously, there are many scientific factors that can explain this. But as we know, there are some things that, every so often, simply defy scientific explanation.
I like to think that God singled Michael out to be a Child of Summer. In the Northern hemisphere, summer is the season when the sun’s rays are closest to the earth. It is the season when the gentle warmth of May and June gives way to the fierce heat of July and August. It is the season of light, when the days are longest and the black nights are shortest. It is the time of year when life is in full flower. Doesn’t every quality we associate with summer sound just like Michael and the way he lived his life? He blazed like the sun, wrapped the world in the warmth of his love, set stages on fire with his smoldering performances, and gave humanity hope that we could conquer the darkness. From his first cry in the summer of 1958 to his last breath in the summer of 2009, his was a life dedicated to the light.
Perhaps this is what made his death so especially poignant, coming as it did a mere four days after the summer solstice. I still remember that day so vividly, mostly because it was such an ordinary summer day until I heard. I had been at work all day, and back then they didn’t yet have computers in every office. With no way to really know, then, what was transpiring on the other side of the continent, I passed the afternoon making notes on the story that my evening class at 5:30 would be studying, Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” That is a detail that still sticks in my mind. Perhaps it’s only coincidence that I had scheduled my class to read this story on June 25th, 2009, a story of a teenage girl who is enjoying summer fun when death comes, suddenly and unbidden, in the seductive guise of Arnold Friend (her death in the story is certainly metaphoric even if the physical is only implied). None of my students mentioned the death of Michael Jackson, though it is quite possible they still didn’t know. Word was just getting to many of us in this part of the country at about that time (I would learn later that many who had followed the story on TMZ and CNN were still thinking that he might be alive because reports had been so conflicting all afternoon!). Whatever the case may be, my students weren’t very talkative and no one seemed much interested in the story. The vibe felt strange. I dismissed class early and headed home. “Thriller” was playing on the radio. It was one of those beautiful, long summer evenings, when the sun is still as bright as mid afternoon even at 7pm. I passed fields where kids were playing soccer and baseball.
Only when the song ended did I learn the reason why the radio station-a country station, no less!-was playing “Thriller.” Michael Jackson was dead at the age of fifty. My heart sank to the bottom of my feet. I know I must have driven the rest of the way home on auto pilot because I was just in a complete and utter state of shock. It seemed surreal to think of Michael Jackson being dead, while all around me was a world alive with the sights, smells, and sounds of summer.
It’s been six years, and though the pain is duller now, it can still sharpen at a moment’s notice, in ways I often least expect. Usually it’s when I hear a song unexpectedly, like going to an aerobics class at the gym and suddenly hearing “Bad” or hearing “Man in the Mirror” in the grocery store. His music still affects people. I can’t quite explain it; only that I know it when I see it and am around it. People automatically become a little more mellow, relaxed and friendly. Happier. It’s like reconnecting to that feeling of when your parent sang you a favorite lullabye. It comforts you and wraps you in warmth. Everyone’s mood is a little brighter when a Michael Jackson song plays. There’s just something about it. You can’t hold darkness, anger, hatred, or coldness in your heart when you hear it. His voice melts all of it away. Even his darkest and angriest songs have the power to heal and bring unity, as we have witnessed so often in these recent, troubled times.
People who are born in summer often, also, have a strong affinity with the season. My mother, a summer baby who was born in July of 1945, always hated winter, a season that antagonized her depression. She loves summer-picnics in the park, being able to sit outdoors, watching the grandkids play. Give my mother a winter day of snow and ice and she’s in the equivalent of hell. She’s always told us that she hopes she dies in the summertime, so we can put her away in her happiest time of year.
I don’t know if all Summer Children feel this, but certainly Michael did. As a little boy, when asked what he liked most about coming to California and leaving Gary, Indiana, he was always quick to say that he was glad to be out of the cold. He loved being in the sun, and California must have seemed like Heaven after all of those brutally cold winters in Indiana. He loved swimming. He loved playing outdoors. He loved sunflowers and roses. He didn’t like snow and ice-the one thing about “back home” that he definitely didn’t miss.
In one of the cruelest twists of fate imaginable, this Child of Summer lost his ability to enjoy the sun. With the onset of vitiligo, he spent the last two decades of his life avoiding the sun and only going out in heavy, long-sleeved shirts, hats, and with an umbrella ever present. It wasn’t just that the sun had become a burden-it became something that could literally kill him.
But that handicap still didn’t stop him from living his life based on the principles of being a Child of Summer-or, as some say, a Child of the Sun. His life’s mission continued to be the message of love and hope and of overcoming darkness. He continued on this path despite all the media chatter that would have us believe he had sunk into an abyss of darkness. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Even when he had his dark moments, as we all do, he always worked his way back to us-and we to him. He was our wonderful, quirky, magical, mythical, whimsical, beautiful Child of Summer and we loved him. Yes, we loved him. Not just the fans. The world as a collective consciousness loved him. Look how we all reacted on June 25th, 2009! Even those of us who weren’t fans; those of us who THOUGHT we couldn’t care less; even some who had made jokes about him. Some of us cried and didn’t even know why. If I’ve heard that statement once, I’ve heard it a million times. “I don’t know what it was, but, man, when Michael Jackson died, I cried.” A billion people around the world watched the memorial. A billion. Let that number sink in. Sure, at least some of it may have been the usual spectators-at-the-circus mentality. But we can’t deny, the world genuinely grieved the death of Michael Jackson.
The light hadn’t gone out of the world. But somehow we knew, innately, that it would never again burn as brightly or intensely. And for my generation, at least, it was a cruel reminder that summer can’t last forever. Autumn waits, patiently, to claim us all.
The song “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” ends with this verse:
You said then you’d be the life in autumn Said you’d be the one to see the way I never dreamed you’d leave in summer But now I find my love has gone away
Why didn’t you stay?
While the song itself is just a simple love song about a relationship gone bad, Stevie Wonder gave it a whole new context as a song of tribute to Michael. Somehow, we had thought he would always be there, leading us through the chill of autumn and darkness of winter. But he was called home at the height of summer. A true Child of Summer must go where the light beckons. He couldn’t stay.
But is he really gone? Certainly the light he gave lives on. So does the joy and the pain (in the best possible way). We have his voice forever on record and his image forever on film. We can still hear him speak; we can still see him smile and hear that crazy, wild laugh. But it goes deeper than that. It’s the fact that millions of people all over the world can say they are better people by having been touched by him in some way; in living by his example.
He is one Summer Child whose light will never dim, and whose fire will never go out. Like Icarus, he may have flown too close to the sun at times, but in the end (if you’ll pardon my Greek analogies) he was more like Prometheus, bearing us the gift of his fire, knowing we would keep it forever lit; forever safe.
I admit, I am way, way behind on my book reviews. As always, there are more MJ-related books coming out than one person can keep apace of. Fortunately, summer is here and, along with the laid back pace comes the opportunity to catch up on my MJ reading list. So even though I may be a bit tardy on some of these titles, I figure I can’t be the only fan who’s catching up on my reading list, and it’s never too late to let fans know what books are worth their time and investment.
I was very excited for Damien Shield’s Xscape Origins:The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind when the title was first announced back in March. If you are not familiar with Shield’s blog, he is a music writer and journalist whose blog is dedicated to the very thing that made us all love Michael-the music.
His blog is always one of the first places I go to when there is a pending Michael Jackson release, a place where I know I will always get the most honest and up to date chart information, reviews, and more.
Now that the dust and hype has settled around 2014’s release of the Xscape album, this is a good time to really step back and assess what this album-and perhaps more importantly, its songs-represents for Michael’s legacy. After all, it’s always easy to get caught up in the feverish hype and excitement of a new Michael Jackson release. But only time can really assess how well these songs hold up alongside the great classics we know and love. Regardless of whether you were one of those celebrating or protesting the release of Xscape, one thing that is for certain-and one thing we could all agree on-is that those eight original, demo tracks represented some damn great Michael Jackson work. Where it becomes a much grayer area is determining to what extent the integrity of those tracks was compromised by the modern “contemporizing” done by producers L.A. Reid, Timbaland, Jerome Harmon, Stargate, John McClain and Rodney Jerkins. But that controversy isn’t the focus of Shield’s book. Instead, he puts the focus squarely back where it belongs-on the songs themselves and the stories behind them. In the introduction, he describes a conversation with a friend that took place in June of 2014, at the time in which the album’s promotion was at its peak.
“Our conversation about Xscape was rooted in frustration. We were frustrated with the fact that the original versions of Michael’s work— the versions that Michael himself spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, and in some cases years working diligently on perfecting— were seemingly being ignored during the promotion of the album, while the newly remixed versions were given a multimillion-dollar marketing push and global platform. It felt, at least to us, like the original versions were being treated by the record label and estate merely as obligatory inclusions, rather than the brilliant must-hear masterpieces they actually were. It felt like those in charge of overseeing Michael’s legacy— the gatekeepers to his vast catalog of released and unreleased material— did not believe in his ability to appeal to mainstream audiences. It felt as though they had no faith in the quality of the work itself, and that these timeless artistic blueprints were somehow outdated and out of touch; not trendy or contemporary enough to capture the attention or imagination of today’s youth. It felt like they had absolutely no confidence in the marketability of the “Michael Jackson” brand on its own, instead relying on the names of “current” producers and artists to feature on, remix, and essentially redraw the blueprints that Michael and his team of sonic architects had worked so hard to draft.”-Damien Shields, excerpted from the Introduction to Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind.
Shields, Damien (2015-03-24). Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (Kindle Locations 34-43). Modegy, LLC.. Kindle Edition.
Let’s just ask a few questions, and you can determine if this is a book for you based on how you answer. Were you one of those who found it just slightly irritating that almost all of the hype surrounding the Xscape release seemed to be more about the producers than The Master himself? And yet…did you notice that almost all of the critical praise the album generated was mostly due to the strength of the demos on the deluxe edition, rather than the newly produced versions? Did you question whether Michael really needed a fake duet with Justin Timberlake to sell his music (even if,granted, it was a strategy that worked at least in this case?). Most of all, did you find that over time, it was those original demos-those recordings that best represented Michael’s actual visions for these songs-that kept you coming back to Xscape for repeated listenings? And did you, at any point, find yourself wondering about the origins and histories of those tracks? Yes, we had the liner notes, but if you were like me, you still wanted to dig deeper. For example, how much did Michael actually contribute to those tracks (the ones he didn’t write himself) and just why did these songs ultimately end up on the recording studio equivalent of the cutting room floor? (The answers are not always the ones we expect!). And how much do we really know about Michael’s own vision for these tracks?
When Xscape was first released, we got a lot of these guys’ stories-what was it like to be tasked with producing and updating these tracks? Though their stories were interesting, it still left a huge gap unfilled:
This is where Xscape Origins comes in, and it is a must-have read in order to complete the story of what at least one critic, Buzzfeed’s Matthew Perpetua, called “The Great Michael Jackson Record He Wouldn’t Have Let Himself Make.”
As many of you may recalI, I wrote a rave review of Xscape at the time of its release, and over a year later I still stand by it.
I was not one of those who had an issue with the updated versions of the songs. I thought for the most part the production was handled with respect for Michael’s original vision (if we can make an exception for Timbaland’s quacking ducks on “Chicago; still don’t know what the hell was up with that!). In some cases, I liked a couple of the updates at least almost as much as the originals. “Xscape” is simply a kick ass song in either incarnation, which may have had something to do with the fact that Rodney Jerkins was the force behind both versions. But this is not about the modern producers or the process of “updating” Michael’s songs. That story has already been told. This is about the songs. It’s about the writers, producers, musicians and engineers who first breathed life into these tracks.
And one amazingly talented singer, performer, and writer who oversaw all of them from start to finish, the one who indelibly stamped his blood, sweat and tears into every crevice, every groove. You may have heard of him.
In telling the background story of each track, Shields chose a very simple structure that works well.The book follows the chronological order of the album. He gives the full background story of every track. from inception to its most recently known incarnation prior to the making of Xscape. While a lot of the information may be well known to hardcore fans who have followed the history of his recorded works, there are still a lot of surprising facts and little known trivia, enough to make the book worthwhile even for the hardcore. This is mostly due to the fact that Shields is not an armchair writer content with second hand sources. In writing this book, he conducted exhaustive, personal interviews with those who were involved intimately in the creative process of these tracks alongside Michael. Along the way, he also clears up some of the erroneous information that was put out at the time of the album’s release. For example, “Love Never Felt So Good” did not date back to 1983 and the Thriller era, as some outlets mistakenly reported, but actually predated Thriller by two years, having been recorded at Anka’s house in 1980. The error was widely circulated without check at the time (perhaps because it was assumed to be more advantageous for sales if the public believed it to be a Thriller-era track?). Another “who woulda thunk it” moment was learning that the “warp sound” (as L.A. Reid described it in the documentary accompanying the deluxe edition) was not the sound of a thirty-year-old damaged tape at all, but part of an experiment in sound being conducted by Michael and his collaborative partner on the track, synthesist John Barnes. This was one of the sounds Michael apparently kept because he liked it.
And did you know that the version of “A Place With No Name” that we hear on the album actually dates from a final version that was recorded in 2008, and not the first version that dates from 1998?
It doesn’t end there. You may know, for example, that “Chicago” was never called “Chicago” at all but, rather, “She Was Loving Me.” “Chicago” was never even a subtitle; it was not an alternate title. The song was never anything but “She Was Loving Me” during Michael’s lifetime; its official BMI registration is listed as such,and it remains somewhat of a mystery why the title was changed, other than that someone at Epic evidently thought “Chicago” sounded more catchy. I must admit, I like “Chicago” better, too; “She Was Loving Me” isn’t exactly a title to catch the world on fire, but it does beg the bigger and more disturbing question: Just how many liberties are being taken with these works? (Funny side note: Michael was informally challenged to replace “Chicago” with the name of another city to prove that “Chicago” was the only city whose name would fit the song. He apparently had fun trying out many variations, according to songwriter Cory Rooney, singing everything from “I met her on the way to Los Angeles” to “I met her on the way to San Francisco”).
The track was also a vocal tour de force for Michael, requiring alternate days in which to record the low voice for the verses and the higher “Dirty Diana” register for the choruses. While I won’t spoil too much, I’ll just say that the background stories behind those recording sessions alone are well worth the cover price.
Although the Xscape album does contain three tracks dating to the 80’s and one-“Slave To the Rhythm”-from the early 90’s Dangerous sessions,most of the tracks that dominate the album date to the first phase of the Invincible sessions, from 1998 to approximately 2000. Part of what fascinates me about Xscape is that I can always envision when listening to it that this is the album that Invincible might have been. Don’t get me wrong, I love Invincible. But I still find it, overall, a flawed album, one that begins strong but is ultimately bogged down in the middle by several weaker tracks. So I do somewhat “get” what critics like Matthew Perpetua were saying. The tracks from Xscape comprising the Invincible era-“Chicago,””A Place With No Name,” “Blue Gangsta” and, especially, the title track, are not only strong tracks in and of themselves, but there is a cohesion to them (as well as Xscape’s other four tracks) that makes them work especially well as a unit.
According to Shields, the tracklist for Invincible as it stood in mid 2000, when the mixing process began, was slated to include “Break of Dawn,” “A Place With No Name,” “Blue Gangsta” (basically all of the Dr. Freeze collaborations), “She Was Loving Me” (“Chicago”), “Speechless,” “Cry,” “We’ve Had Enough,” “You Rock My World,” and “Xscape.” Although I love many of the tracks that came later-“Threatened,” “2000 Watts, “Unbreakable,” “Butterflies,” etc, I can’t help but envision what might have been had this earlier version materialized. The truth is that the Invincible album dropped at a time when most music critics simply could no longer look past the media caricature of Michael Jackson long enough to fairly assess his music. Invincible, an album clearly at least ten years ahead of its time, was unfairly dismissed out of hand by many. Yet the critical reception to Xscape did seem to give pause for thought. How differently might Invincible have been received at the time had this original, conceptually tighter version of the album come to fruition? We may never know, but this does bring up another important point that the book addresses. Just because these songs didn’t appear on any album during Michael’s lifetime doesn’t make them inferior. It simply meant, as so often happened out of hundreds of tracks culled, written, and recorded for every project, that Michael ultimately decided their time hadn’t come just yet. A few of these tracks in particular were “A Place With No Name,” which Michael returned to for over a decade, and “Xscape” which he specifically said would be on the next project and to which he vowedto Rodney Jerkins would “see the light of day one day.” As with “A Place With No Name” he was still working on “Xscape” as late as 2008, a year before his death. This is an apt quote from Michael, included in the book, which explains exactly why it often took him years to develop a song to his satisfaction:
“A perfectionist has to take his time,” explains Jackson. “He shapes and he molds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t.”
“If it’s not right, you throw it away and you do it over. You work that thing till it’s just right. When it’s as perfect as you can make it, you put it out there. Really, you’ve got to get it to where it’s just right; that’s the secret. That’s the difference between a number thirty record and a number one record that stays at number one for weeks. It’s got to be good. If it is, it stays up there and the whole world wonders when it’s going to come down.”-Michael Jackson
Shields, Damien (2015-03-24). Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (Kindle Location 1240). Modegy, LLC.. Kindle Edition.
After the controversial fiasco of the “Michael” album, Xscape was a much needed healing step in the right direction, proving that a good posthumous Michael Jackson album could be a possibility. However, Xscape’s strength stands ultimately not on its modern production values but in the stark, raw power of those eight songs, their master sculptor, and the collaborative teams behind them who helped bring their magic to fruition.
This is their story. And it’s worth reading.
Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind can be purchased on Amazon.com:
Michael Jackson Molestation Case: Wade Robson’s Lawsuit Against Singer’s Estate Dismissed-International Business Times Headline from May 28, 2015
“Lies Run Sprints, But The Truth Runs Marathons”-Michael Jackson
This blog’s previous post focused on many of the sham cases that have been brought against Michael Jackson and the many, numerous attempts to frame him that have been going on for over two decades. However, today I would like to focus on the positive. I have said it before and will say it again: No matter how much we may wish to view Michael as a martyred hero, the truth is that the American justice system has been good to Michael Jackson. Over and over, there have been people who tried to bring him down, but in almost every instance the courts have vindicated him. However, perhaps phrasing it as the American justice system being “good” to Michael is erroneous. After all, it isn’t the justice system’s responsibility to be “good” or “bad” to anyone. It is, however, the responsibility of the justice system to ensure that truth prevails, and justice is done.
So let’s think about what that means in relation to Michael, the man who once said that lies will run sprints but the truth will run marathons.
June 13, 2005 is a very special day on the timeline of Michael Jackson history, a day that fans often commemorate as a day of both celebration and somber reflection. This year has an especial relevance, however, as it marks the tenth anniversary of that event-a decade since justice prevailed. A lot can happen in ten years. Both of the trial’s principle players-who faced each other from opposing ends-are now gone. But justice does have strange ways of winning out. Ten years ago, Tom Sneddon had envisioned an end with Michael behind bars and his own reputation shooting into the stratosphere of glory. Ten years later, Michael Jackson’s reputation and legacy are all but restored, his name and brand stronger than ever, and poor Tom Sneddon is…well, dead.
The day has come to be known informally as V-Day, which is short for both Verdict Day or Vindication Day. It also parodies the nickname V-Day as in Victory Day, bestowed upon May 9 to commemorate the day in 1945 that Nazi Germany capitulated to the Soviet Union, effectively marking the beginning of the end of World War II. There are no doubt some who would think it is trivial, even insulting, to compare the ending of a world war and thousands of soldier deaths to Michael Jackson’s day in court. But for Michael and those who lived through those dark 134 days in early to mid 2005, the name V-Day is all too fitting, and with utmost respect to anyone who has endured a war fraught with great battles. By the end of that ordeal, Michael was a seasoned soldier who had fought the good fight to the end. And so, too, were his fans-soldiers who had dug in their trenches and stood firm for what they believed was right, at a time when it was certainly not the popular stance to take. And, like all battle weary soldiers, victory was not easily won. Both Michael and the fans who stood loyal in those battle trenches came out scarred.
V-Day in the Michael Jackson case produced strong emotions from all sides. For many, it was a day of rejoicing and thankfulness. However, in many circles, it was a day in which “celebrity justice”-a belief already confirmed for many by the O.J. Simpson verdict-seemed all but confirmed. I knew instantly, as the shocked backlash against the verdict began to permeate the airwaves within minutes, that Michael’s victory would be a hollow one in the court of media and public opinion. However, I can’t really blame those who, at the time, thought of this as just another case of a celebrity “getting off” yet again. In the wake of the O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake cases. the mood of the nation at the time was bound to be intolerant of what seemed like another case of “celebrity justice,” especially when the very biased media coverage of the trial had made it an almost foregone conclusion in our minds that he must be guilty.
But while some rejoiced and many lashed out in angry bitterness, Michael simply went home and collapsed in bed. Doesn’t this remind you of every soldier who ever returned home after battle? Relatives rejoice and celebrate, while elsewhere politicians and armchair analysts debate political motives and what was “right” or “wrong” with the war. The poor soldier, meanwhile, shell shocked and battle weary, just wants to shut it all out and forget. Their minds, bodies, and spirits can neither rejoice nor argue; emotions like joy, anger, or even regret have no part. All the soldier can feel is a numb thankfulness that he is home and alive-and if he is fortunate, in one piece.
Pictures speak a thousand words: Michael was a shell shocked war veteran by V-Day, visibly scarred and emotionally detached from his surroundings:
I don’t have to ask anyone if this is how Michael felt on V-Day. I know it, from the depths of my soul as one soldier to another. It doesn’t matter whether our battles are fought on the field, or in the courtroom, or in the traumatic things we endure mentally, physically, or spiritually. The results are the same.
But however shell shocked and battle weary Michael may have emerged from that ordeal, the important thing to remember is that on Monday, June 13th, 2005, justice prevailed. Michael Jackson was fully exonerated on not just one or two, but all fourteen counts for which he had been charged.
And with that in mind, this is a good day to pause and reflect on Michael’s statement that lies may run sprints, but the truth will run marathons. For every crazy and outlandish accusation brought against Michael, and for almost every wrong done against him that has been brought to court, Michael has emerged victorious time and again-not because his money “bought him off” (though having good attorneys never hurts!) but because going to trial has a peculiar way of forcing the truth to come out. Lies can indeed sprint pretty quickly; they can run all over tabloid headlines; they can run amok on TV; they can shoot quickly out of a starting gate. But they cannot hold up under the intense scrutiny of court proceedings.
The record speaks for itself. In 2005, Michael was fully acquitted. But the truth’s long distance marathon doesn’t end there. In virtually every silly case ever brought against him that went to trial (and here I am referring to the gamut of frivolous lawsuits) Michael emerged victorious time and again. In every instance in which he counter sued parties for damages, he was either awarded fully or partially in his favor. In 2011, Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty in Michael’s criminal death trial, resulting in some measure of justice for his homicide. And, just a few weeks ago, Judge Beckloff gave Wade Robson his walking papers, at least as far as the probate case is concerned.
The only thing that puts a crinkle in this near perfect record of justice was the result of the AEG trial. I still feel firmly, to this day, that AEG should have been held accountable in that lawsuit, but I suppose as the old saying goes, you can’t win them all.
That still, however, leaves an incredible track record of prevailed justice, especially for a man who was so often put in the defense position for much of his life. It has been almost six years since his death and he is not here to defend himself against accusations that continue to plague him even in death, but perhaps he need not fear. Truth and justice still seem to fight on his side, as has been proven time and again. In closing, another of Michael’s famous phrases comes to mind: “God is for me, who can be against me?”
God fights only on the side of His children and not for the forces who work for the opposing team. And indeed if God fights on your side, then what is there to fear? I believe it has been proven time and again that God is fighting on Michael’s side.
And if God and Truth are on your side, then the forces of darkness have no power. Ten years and counting, the truth is still running strong.
I know, it sounds like the far-fetched and paranoid rantings of conspiracy theorists. But the shocking answer to the title question is that yes, there is plenty of evidence to suggest this has not only happened with shocking frequency in the past, but is continuing to happen even today, nearly six years after the man’s death.
As this May 16th Facebook posting from Michael Jackson tribute artist Carlo Riley suggests, the desperate attempts to frame Michael Jackson by creating fake evidence against him continues to be big business. And it is big business for one very simple reason: The fact that there was never any actual evidence to link him to any molestation allegation. Looking at the history of this phenomenon, it’s shocking indeed to see what cartwheels these sinister accomplices are willing to perform in order to create that elusive “smoking gun” against Michael that has simply never existed. This quote from notorious MJ hater/stalker Diane Dimond, taken from a January 1995 radio interview on KABC-AM radio, actually says it all. The full interview was concerning an alleged tape of Michael Jackson and a young boy that, as it turned out, was a complete fabrication. But note what she says here:
“You know, I remember way back when, more than a year ago, we interviewed the head of the pedo[ph]ile unit at the FBI in Quantico, Virginia and he said you know the down fall of pedo[ph]iles is that they love to keep a memento of their victims. Or, they love to take pictures or take videos. We don’t know why, but they do this. It is for their own self gratification later but it always comes back to bite them.”-Diane Dimond
Of course, Dimond is referring here to none other than Jim Clemente, whose public comments about Michael Jackson and the case have revealed much bias and ignorance. But casting aside my own personal feelings and reservations about Clements, what he says here is absolutely true. And it is exactly why so many child molestors are caught red-handed. Their urge to photograph and videotape their “conquests” or to sex chat and text their victims, leaves an unmistakable trail of evidence, the kind which is 100% guarantee of a criminal conviction once introduced into court. True pedophiles, it should be noted, seem notoriously immune to resisting this urge, even when knowing full well they are hanging themselves with their own rope. And so the fact that even after an intensive four month trial, repeated searches of Michael Jackson’s home and seizure of his belongings (including searches of every computer in his home)and over a decade of FBI surveillance, not one such explicit, smoking gun piece of evidence ever emerged remains the biggest craw in the necks of Michael’s enemies. The best that prosecutors were able to do at the time-and, to this day, the best that his detractors have been able to continue to do-is to cobble together a flimsy case for circumstantial “evidence” out of certain items that the prosecution attempted to have included at trial but were subsequently precluded due to their complete lack of relevance to the case. You can read more about those items here:
In short, we’ve heard a lot of loud flapping about male DNA found on sheets (none linked to any alleged “victim” of Michael), a pair of soiled underwear, some legal art books…and not a heck of a whole lot else, other than “he said; she said” testimony.
So if Michael Jackson really was this horrific pedophile and serial child molestor that his detractors and accusers try to paint, then WHERE ARE the photographs, the video tapes, the love letters, the sex chat logs, the text messages and all of the usual evidence that pedophiles can’t seem to resist accumulating? To get around that problematic issue, there are some who like to try to portray Michael as an incredibly slick and savvy pedophile who was smart enough to never get caught with such smoking gun evidence, but the odds of Michael being able to get away with such a ruse while being under twenty years’ worth of intense scrutiny is simply highly nil. Are we to believe that in all that time, no one would have ever taped an incriminating phone conversation? That none of those busybody Neverland employees, only too anxious to sell a story to the tabloids, would have rigged a camera to catch something suspicious? Or that, more importantly, if Michael had been an actual pedophile, that he could so successfully resist the innate urge to document his “conquests” in some tangible form?
Let’s face facts. If any such evidence had ever existed, it most certainly would have surfaced long ago. For sure, it would have been seized upon by Tom Sneddon and used in the trial, and no amount of arguing from the defense would have kept such evidence out of court. The lack of such hardcore evidence is precisely why Michael was acquitted, and why the issue of his guilt or innocence continues to be an issue that his haters and detractors have to debate, rather than being the foregone conclusion they so wish that it was.
In our tabloid-driven culture, of course, the idea of fabricated stories and even fabricated “evidence” shouldn’t entirely surprise. The lengths that tabloid publications will go to get dirt on a celebrity, sometimes offering upwards of six figures to entice friends to “dish dirt” or even fabricate stories completely, is not exactly a secret practice. But some celebrities have obviously been bigger targets than others. The Michael Jackson case presented the perfect storm for fair weather friends, disgruntled ex-employees, those sour over fallen deals, checkbook journalism, and unscrupulous journalists with their own agendas to converge in a feeding frenzy that has had few precedents in the whole, sordid world of celebrity gossip. When I spoke with Michael’s longtime friend David Nordahl in 2010, he told me that he had been offered as much as $500,000 by a tabloid publication to make up stories about Michael. He was given offers to fabricate stories about the children who had modeled for his paintings with Michael. This was absurd on many levels, number one because all of the paintings were quite innocent, and two, because no actual children were used to model in those paintings. They were all either products of Nordahl’s and Michael’s imaginations, or in some cases, childhood images of people they knew as adults, such as Nordahl’s wife who appears in Michael’s “Field of Dreams” painting as the mischievous little girl crouched behind Michael’s arm. Yet the conspiracy to fabricate false stories about these images was and remains a big business, and it is fortunate that Michael had a loyal friend in David Nordahl, someone who considered his friendship with Michael much more valuable than half a million dollars.
That has not always been the case. As we know too well, not only did Michael have acquaintances (the word “friend” just can’t apply here) willing to sell him out, but also those who were willing to make up complete fabrications if the price was right. However, we all know that the tabloid business is what it is. I’m talking of something even more sinister, which is the outright planting or fabricating of false “evidence” in order to create either cases and victims that never existed (the so called “phantom victims’) or to create substantiating “evidence” where no such evidence exists. In Michael’s lifetime, this sort of thing happened with alarming frequency, usually as an attempt to blackmail him by creating a potentially damaging scenario. In death, the practice continues, and namely for two very specific reasons-because his brand and image is still very big business, and because there is a faction determined at all costs to “prove” him a pedophile for the sake of their own glory. Some of these people are so determined and desperate, in fact, that they will stop at no means-however sinister-to achieve that end. Creating falsified documents, fake conversations, and even fake photos are not above them. In some of the more well known cases, the perpetrators had no conscience about even involving actual children as part of their schemes!
One of the earliest and most blatant cases was that of Rodney Allen aka John Templeton, a Canadian man who, in the mid 90’s, ran a prostitution ring of young, underage boys in Toronto. Although I assume most hardcore fans are familiar with the details of this case, I will summarize briefly for the benefit of the casual fans and researchers who perhaps aren’t. The story was first broken on Hard Copy in 1995 by notorious MJ hater/stalker Diane Dimond. Although Dimond tries hard to present herself as an unbiased reporter here, that is in reality not the case at all. The reality was that she had to back pedal her way out of a very potentially embarrassing situation for herself and Hard Copy. But it turns out there was also another motive for Diane Dimond to present herself as an unbiased reporter of Michael Jackson. However, I will comment more on the problems with her “investigation,” as well as her OWNrole in fabricating fake evidence against Michael, shortly. For now, we will focus simply on the facts of the Rodney Allen case as they were originally reported.
Here is the story as it was first presented on Hard Copy in 1995:
The story might leave some with a case of the warm and fuzzies. Diane Dimond investigated what “could have been Michael Jackson’s worst nightmare” and uncovered a scam to frame him. In truth, Michael Jackson’s worst nightmare had unfolded long before this, and Diane Dimond was one of its key players!
The real question here is why, after learning the truth about Rodney Allen, did Diane Dimond-this woman who gives so much lip service to truth, integrity, and of being a champion for the rights of child victims- simply walk away from this case, content to leave it to Canadian authorities to untangle? Apparently her concern for this fifteen-year-old kid (who subsequently was arrested for public mischief) ended when the story became a dead end as far as Michael Jackson’s involvement. Rodney Allen was eventually arrested and convicted to a life sentence in 2001, a full six years after this story aired. In the meantime, the fact that he was head of an ever increasing “family” of teenage boys didn’t seem to phase Diane Dimond or anyone at Hard Copy, who were all too busy chasing the next phony Michael Jackson story.
In 2010, Helena of Vindicating Michael wrote a great piece on this story and raised many disturbing questions about how and why the whole Rodney Allen story was handled in such a cavalier fashion:
I agree with most of the questions raised in this piece. For example, just who was this guy Rodney Allen, what was his stake in so determinedly creating a case against Michael Jackson, and most importantly, how did hemanage to have such detailed information of Hayvenhurst, Neverland, and of Michael’s employees? Information that he then used to coach a teenage boy so convincingly that he almost had the Canadian police fooled?
Well, as it turns out, both Rodney Allen and Diane Dimond had a long-time source in common: A man named Victor Gutierrez, who was certainly no stranger to fabricating false stories about Michael Jackson, and who had been obsessed since as far back as 1986 with the idea of “outting” Michael as a pedophile.
I have already written quite extensively about Victor Gutierrez, his NAMBLA connections, and his obsession in past posts:
By far the most detailed and well researched account I have yet read on the connection between Victor Gutierrez, Rodney Allen, and Diane Dimond can be found here.This is from an author who has done much extensive investigative reporting in an attempt to unravel the long, dirty history of Victor Gutierrez’s role in the Michael Jackson allegations. You can also find here many actual court documents that verify the long and convoluted role these individuals played in making Michael Jackson’s life a living hell:
The connection between Dimond, Gutierrez, and Allen is one that can’t be emphasized enough when it comes to the topic of creating false evidence against Michael Jackson, even though Dimond on at least one occasion was able to effectively use the Shield Law to protect her from being sued by Michael. So let’s back up and look at one of the most notorious and blatant cases of creating phony evidence against Michael, and how all three of these players were involved.
The blogpost I have linked to above is fascinating in that it both confirms the connection between Rodney Allen and Victor Gutierrez (via the author’s own correspondence with Rodney Allen) and also confirms a long suspicion I had held regarding the strategic timing of the broadcast of the Rodney Allen story by Hard Copy in April of 1995.
To briefly summarize a very dirty and convoluted story, in December of 1994 Victor Gutierrez had tried without success to sell a story to the tabloids about an alleged videotape that he claimed featured Michael engaging in lewd acts with his own nephew Jeremy. Gutierrez cited the alleged source of the tape as Jeremy’s mother Margaret Maldonado, ex wife of Jermaine Jackson. Gutierrez had claimed that he met with Maldonado at the Century Plaza hotel to view the contents of the tape. Maldonado denied this vehemently in court, claiming she had never even met Gutierrez, and the Century Plaza hotel had no record of Gutierrez ever being there.
Gutierrez had no luck selling the story to tabloids. It was late 1994, over a year since the Chandler story had been hot news, and OJ was now the big story. Secondly, no one really wanted to touch the story because Gutierrez was not able to substantiate the actual existence of the video.
He finally turned to his friend Diane Dimond, and found a more than willing ally to spread the story, even though she had never personally seen the alleged tape or its contents. Based on no more information than her “source” (Gutierrez) she went on record in January of 1995 on a radio interview show and not only reported the existence of a tape she had never seen, but also falsely reported that the investigation of Michael Jackson was being reopened. This was blatantly untrue. The LA County DA had, in fact, already dismissed the story as bogus (or at the very least, as a story that had failed to hold up under scrutiny) and had no intention at that point of re-opening the investigation.
Although no one had even seen the alleged tape other than, supposedly, Gutierrez, this didn’t stop Hard Copy from running with the story a few days after Dimond had first let the cat out of the bag during the radio interview on January 5. On January 9, 1995, Hard Copy reported the story in a segment featuring Gutierrez, and several British tabloids followed suit.
Still, one very big problem remained…where was this alleged videotape, why had no one seen it, and why couldn’t the “source” simply turn it over if indeed it existed? The fact was that it didn’t exist, and never had.
Michael filed a lawsuit against all parties involved in spreading the slanderous story-including Gutierrez, Dimond, and Hard Copy-for $100 million on January 12, 1995. However, Dimond got her good friend Tom Sneddon to write a long-winded declaration in her defense, citing The Shield Law and that as a journalist who was simply reporting, without malice, what had been told to her by her “source” she should not be a party to the suit.
The courts were apparently convinced by Sneddon’s passionate plea for his friend’s case, and Dimond eventually had to be dropped as a party in the suit. The upshot was that Victor Guiterrez was ordered to pay Michael Jackson $2.7 million in damages, but skipped the country and returned to his native Chile in a cowardly act that enabled him to circumvent ever having to pay the money. In a signed declaration, Gutierrez stated that he had returned to Santia to “get a good job” but hadn’t gotten a job and therefore “I do not have money to buy a plane ticket to return.” (Despite the fact that he later bragged about living in a 21-bedroom mansion!).
But here’s where the whole thing gets interesting. Apparently, Victor Gutierrez and Rodney Allen were more than well acquainted in 1995, when this story broke (the author of the above blog mentions Allen stating that he stayed with Gutierrez in LA and attended a book convention with him in the summer of 1995). And Diane Dimond, who was not only utilizing Gutierrez as her main “go to” source but considered him a personal friend as well, would almost surely had to have been aware of this fact! If this is all indeed true, then there was never any “great mystery” about the real identity of Mr. John Templeton, and Diane Dimond would have already been well aware that a pedophile in Toronto, Canada named Rodney Allen and her “source” Victor Gutierrez were working and hanging out together!
Secondly, it is interesting that Diane Dimond chose to run the Rodney Allen story on Hard Copy in April of 1995, at the exact time when she was still involved with the litigation of Michael Jackson’s lawsuit against her. I agree 100% with the blog’s author that the timing made it all seem like a well planned strategy to show that Dimond and Hard Copy were being objective and fair in their reporting on Michael Jackson, at a time when it served their best interests to prove this. It also occurred during a period when Michael was undergoing intense pressure to drop the case against Diane Dimond and Victor Gutierrez. Gutierrez, in particular, through his attorney Robert Goldman, engaged in many threatening tactics, particularly the threat that Gutierrez would promote his fictional fantasy book Michael Jackson Was My Lover at every opportunity if the case went to trial.
I can’t say beyond a shadow of doubt that Diane Dimond was complicit in knowingly fabricating the story of the phantom video tape, but for sure, she willingly aided and abetted the perpetrator of the hoax and reported false information when she stated that the case was being re-opened (Sneddon, it should be noted, was very careful in his declaration of defense for her to make his wording on this ambiguous, stating that the investigation was “inactive but not closed” in order to mitigate the lie and to make it seem understandable how she might have reached that conclusion). She also knowingly and willfully provided details about the video tape for which she had no first hand knowledge as she had never seen it, and thus had no verification that what she was reporting was even true.
But even more disturbing is how she could have possibly been so blindsided by Rodney Allen. And even worse, if she was already aware of his identity and what he was up to in Canada, why was she still wasting time chasing after false leads on Michael Jackson instead of investigating this guy?
Knowing the connection that both Rodney Allen and Diane Dimond have to Victor Gutierrez suddenly makes all of the puzzle pieces fit together. This would have explained, for instance, how Allen acquired much of his seeming first-hand knowledge of Hayvenhurst and Neverland (information he was then able to pass on to the boys in his circle). It doesn’t answer the question of who the “other” Jackson family member might have been who allegedly molested Allen, but given the ability of both Allen and Gutierrez to completely fabricate stories, there is no real reason to believe (without solid proof) that Allen was ever molested by anyone in the Jackson family.
Could the whole story have been part of an elaborate scam cooked up by the three parties involved-Diane Dimond, Victor Gutierrez, and Rodney Allen? I can’t say for certain, but based on the facts, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.
The whole situation reeks to high heaven. The best we can say, if we’re generous about Diane Dimond’s involvement, is that she used her connections with Gutierrez and Rodney Allen to create a fake story that would help to make her look good as litigation moved forward in Michael Jackson’s lawsuit against her. But the worst case scenario-that she may have actually been an accomplice with these two in a scam to fabricate a case against Michael (a case that subsequently unraveled under scrutiny) is even more damning.
Unfortunately, attempts to frame Michael Jackson with phony evidence doesn’t end there.
In 2012, I broke the story of Alexander Montagu, a distant relation to Princess Diana who capitalized on this tenuous connection and Michael’s known affection for the late princess to concoct an unsavory plan. He invited Michael to attend a Los Angeles memorial service for Diana in September of 1997. However, the invitation as it turned out was merely a front to gain Michael’s trust. He even went so far as telling Michael that he knew, personally, that Michael was not invited to the London memorial and that his only option to honor his friend was by attending the Los Angeles event. However, Montagu’s real plan was that after the service, he would invite Michael back to his hotel to meet his young son Alex, Jr. Montagu had picqued Michael’s interest by talking about his airplane business, and it seems Michael had considered purchasing a plane from Montagu. During the two hour visit, Montagu filmed Michael playing hide and seek with Alex, and in fact, seemed to be going suspiciously above and beyond in filming every interaction between Michael and his son. Although Michael later invited the family to Neverland on at least one occasion, whatever friendly relations he may have had with Alexander Montagu apparently soured when the deal to buy the plane fell through. However, it was later revealed by Montagu’s wife Wendy that the entire plan had been a setup from the very beginning, with the intention of framing Michael by claiming that Michael had molested Alex, Jr! Thankfully, I had a wonderful source during the writing of this article, Melinda-Pillsbury Foster, a personal friend of Wendy Montagu’s who had been privy to the whole, sordid scam! You can read my entire, original post on Alexander Montagu and his scheme here:
Years later, during the Arvizo trial, Montagu had contacted Tom Sneddon and was subpoenaed to appear as a witness for the prosecution. Although he had never been successful in creating a convincingly compromising situation between Michael and his son, he still figured the very innocent footage he had filmed of Michael playing with Alex, Jr. could be put to good use. He figured he would use it to help strengthen the prosecution’s case by claiming the film as evidence of how Michael “groomed” his potential victims. This was all part of an elaborate plan from the the prosecution to “expose” Michael’s previous lifestyle, which included the notorious Neverland Five, a group of five disgruntled ex-employees who re-surfaced in 2005 ten years after they had sued their boss and had been successfully counter sued, and were likewise never able to produce any hardcore evidence of Michael abusing children. Mostly they had succeeded only with selling stories intended to embarrass and humiliate their former boss to the tabloids. However, stories of uncontrollable diarrhea and such nonsense (even if true, which they probably weren’t) did not construe evidence of a crime, and such feeble attempts as introducing Montagu’s staged footage as “evidence” of a grooming process in place, while utterly absurd, was apparently the best they could do. It is heartbreaking in these clips to see Michael so innocently playing with this kid, thinking he is among friends, when the reality was that he was being set up.
In the defense’s motion to have Montagu’s false testimony thrown out, it was explicitly stated:
“There is something disturbing about how badly Mr. Manchester wants to testify about an incident in which his own son denies that any wrongful attacks occurred.”
The plans to testify fell through when Wendy Montagu refused to cooperate and threatened to expose the scam. Even worse for him, his son Alex, Jr. refused to accuse Michael of wrongdoing. The boy had only fond memories of his brief time spent with Michael, and chose to stand by his mother’s version of events. Montagu weasled out of testifying by claiming that he was being threatened by Jackson’s camp to stay away from the trial, but the reality was that he knew his story would not hold up if not substantiated by Wendy, and he couldn’t risk the fact that she might make true on her threat and talk.
Alas, there is a direct link of Alexander Montagu to yet another notorious fabricator of stories about Michael Jackson-none other than Scott Thorson!
And, to add further to the topic of those attempting to plant false evidence against Michael, there is a fascinating discussion here regarding Marc Shaffel’s alleged attempt to plant child porn on Michael:
The post is mostly a scan from a chapter of Andrew Brietbart’s book Hollywood Interrupted which is well worth the read. Brietbart’s source for this info was Paul Baressi, who apparently ended up feeling quite bitter when his exposure of Schaffel’s intended scam was not repaid by Michael’s attorneys. Brietbart is hardly a Michael Jackson fan, but all the more reason why he would have little motivation to lie about something like this. Schaffel’s plan, in a nutshell, was to plant one of his own gay porno films featuring two underaged boys on Michael, in the hopes of receiving a $25 milion dollar payout. And he claimed, according to Baressi’s source David Aldorf, an associate of Shaffel’s, that if he didn’t get his $25 million the next step would be the tabloids.
And, speaking of famous set-ups, let’s not forget that one of the most notorious was when Martin Bashir (whom it is now known was using Victor Gutierrez as a consultant during the filming of Living With Michael Jackson) coerced the scene of Gavin Arvizo lying his head on Michael’s shoulder!
I am certain that every incident I’ve touched on here is still only the tip of the iceberg. As I stated before, the practice of bringing false allegations against Michael, and/or of planting fabricated evidence and/or creating phantom victims has been going on at least as far back as the Chandler case, and perhaps even earlier (in fact, it stands to reason that the Chandler case may have simply been the first and only such fabricated case that actually succeeded according to plan, no doubt setting the stage for many other attempts to follow). In that case, also, no explicit or “smoking gun” evidence was ever produced, but the pressure and embarrassment garnered by negative publicity was enough to set the wheels in motion for a payout. Thus, the motivation for blackmail from unscrupulous parties was ever present. Although as Victor Gutierrez and others had to learn the heard way, even the tabloids have their limits. However, many such unscrupulous gumshoe “journalists,” ex business partners, and others with axes to grind all learned how to play the system, and how to navigate the balance between the tabloids on the one hand, and the police on the other-and how to play both. The wisdom, of course, is that if one potential avenue doesn’t pan out, the other will (usually with the idea being that police involvement will force the tabloids’ hand). Either way, many consider it a win-win, thinking that either the threat of negative publicity will force a settlement or that the income generated from the tabloids alone will be sufficient. In the best case scenario, they are usually hoping for both-that is, that a deluge of embarrasing headlines will ultimately force a settlement offer.
However, in the particular case of Michael Jackson, the motive and the stakes for creating fake evidence against him has an even more sinister agenda for some than mere money or greed. For some, it is a life’s ambition to “prove” what has remained frustratingly and elusively “non provable” for them.
This brings us back to Carlo Riley’s recent post. Apparently, according to what I have been able to gather from Riley himself, this is not the first time. Over the last few years, he has been offered money to fake supposedly incriminating photos with children. He has been asked to pose in casket photos (the latter, perhaps, not as serious as the child photos, but still, a duplicitious scheme nonetheless) and it seems to be a practice that has targeted at least a few of the more well known tribute artists. I suppose it’s an idea that may make sense in theory to some. Let’s get a Michael Jackson tribute artist-someone who bears enough of a passing resemblance to MJ to pull it off-and pay him enough money to pose in a photo or video tape (that, of course, is made to look incriminating). The problem is that most MJ tribute artists-at least the ones I know-are people who love, respect, and admire the man they emulate. He is their hero, and they would never do anything so lowdown as this. However, not all tribute artists are scrupulous (there was even one who made some embarrassing headlines a few years back after he molested a child) and I am sure there are some who, just like anybody else, would do “anything for money.” There are some who imitate Michael Jackson simply because it is a way to make money and gain some notoriety. I sincerely hope they are a minority, and I believe that they are. Of course, it is highly doubtful that such a ruse could hold up for long, under intense scrutiny. Michael Jackson fans know what Michael looks like, and a phony can be sniffed out pretty quickly. Also, there are still enough reputable journalists out there whom I believe would see through such a scam pretty quickly. Photographs can be authenticated easily enough. But in today’s world of instantaneous, cut and paste journalism (where facts are seldom checked and a phony story can spread like wildfire within hours) all it would take is one tabloid outlet willing to pick up the story for the damage to be done.
While I have not been able to verify among the MJ tribute artists I know personally just how prevalent this practice is, it stands to reason that the more well known ones like Riley would be targeted. Riley has been featured on TMZ and is a routine presence at many Michael Jackson functions across the country. If someone was going to plot to hire an impersonator to pose for an incriminating photo with kids, it makes sense that they would start by first going after the more well known ones who would be easy to track down.
Could it be coincidence that Carlo Riley broke his silence just a few days prior to the probate case dismissal of Wade Robson’s claim? Could this have been a last minute, desperate effort on the part of Robson and his attorneys to drum up some kind of evidence, any evidence, to support his case? There is no way to know for sure and, unfortunately, I can only chalk up any such speculations to just that. Speculation. Riley has said that the persons behind this were not forthright in either identifying themselves or their motives, and if he does know more, he apparently is not at liberty to say. However, what is not coincidence is just how prevalent these types of stories become whenever Michael’s name is in the news. Whether it is positive or negative, press coverage always has a way of drawing the roaches out of the woodwork.
To return to the original question, the answer to just how prevalent is this practice is very.The scary part is that this practice apparently remains such big business even six years after Michael’s death. It apparently remains big business because a trial, an acquittal and at least twenty-two years’ worth of ample opportunity for that elusive “smoking gun” to surface, without luck, have not been enough to satisfy those who so desperately want the world to believe that Michael committed these crimes. Whether the motive is profit or just to “prove a point” there are some who will stop at no ends to do whatever it takes.
Even if that means stooping to create evidence that never existed, and never will.
ETA: I wanted to add to the main post some additional links that were provided by Suzy which are definitely worth checking out.
Here is the story of the Newts, another family that tried to set up a false claim against Michael during the height of the Arvizo trial publicity storm:
As promised, here is the final installment of student essays for this semester.
Sorrow for Human Responsibility by Paul Reising
Michael Jackson, perhaps one of the most widely known artists of all time, wrote and produced many pop hits and famous videos. He was most famous, however, for his controversies and meanings behind his works. Many such works pale in comparison to “Earth Song.” This work is most famous for being his last performance, and also for showing his true stance on how we as a race, treat and respect our planet, Earth. Michael Jackson was famous for his socially conscious music, but “Earth Song,” his big, bold environmental call-to-arms, is often overlooked (Pasternack). While the vast majority of his songs and videos were focused on relationships and pure entertainment, this particular song took a dark, somber, and more serious tone. The fun aspect was replaced by stark, graphic, and overall disturbing depictions of the effects of human irresponsibility, recklessness, and exploitation. “Earth Song” portrays Michael Jackson’s true convictions toward mankind’s misbehavior toward the planet they walk upon, the creatures they step on, and themselves through the imagery, symbolism, and lyrics.
The song portrayed a lone man walking through what looked like a deforested wasteland. The man, who was Michael, preached his sadness for what had become the state of the planet. Imagery such as: a forest being systematically cut down, a mutilated elephant, a dried up lake without living animals near, a war-torn town, a seal being slaughtered, a trapped dolphin, a graphic display of industrial pollution, sorrowful natives for their loss of lively-hood, and tank heading straight for the camera. Deforestation was, and is, a menace to the well-being of the balance of nature. Michael shows to be weeping for the falling trees and hurts when they hit the ground. A dried up lake in the video goes back in time to its perfect original state of harmony, showing lifelessness and human calamity. A gruesome sight next to the dried up bed of water was a dead elephant with its tusks removed by poachers, also, with a dead calf next to it. This depicts the ongoing illegal exploitation of nature and its resources for a profit, as does the seal being killed and the dolphins being trapped. The destroyed village depicts a distraught, displaced family about to search their crumbling home in search for their child, only to find a wrecked bike. A quick yet impact heavy scene depicts an industrial complex spewing and flooding the atmosphere with toxins and unknown gasses, which gives an ominous feel and we know to be devastating to ozone level. Natives of several places, including Africa and South America are shown to be weeping over their destroyed land and lively-hood. And finally, a tank rolling towards the camera gives a graphic reminder of the ongoing presence of unwelcome warfare. These scenes and images provide a myriad of painted pictures, showing how Michael felt about the wrongs of mankind.
Michael uses the images, however, for a deeper, more meaningful purpose of showing his true, underlying feelings in the symbolism. Michael’s full black outfit throughout the video represents his emotions while singing. It shows his sorrow and dissatisfaction with the current state of how mankind is treating its home. The wasteland surrounding him show what effect humanity had on that particular area and how far it is willing to go in exploiting nature. The hand being repelled by the oncoming chainsaw on the tree symbolizes innocence and good intentions being overthrown by greed and lust. The home of the war-torn family was shown to have a kid, but all that was known from the destroyed house was that a destroyed bike was all that was left. The bike is a symbol for innocence and it being destroyed represents how it was lost to the horror of war.
A selection of cultures from around the world were shown weeping and bowing submissively, scooping up dirt and pleading for salvation. This shows the extent of desperation for a positive change. A tank was shown heading straight for the viewer in one scene, and this symbolizes the part of humanity that is unstoppable and unrecoverable, just like the image of that tank. This aspect would be greed. Finally, the large gusts of wind blowing across the surface of the earth represents the much wanted cleansing and renewal of Earth and all its resources. These symbols reveal and punctuate Michael’s true opinion on how Earth is being treated by its inhabitants.
Although symbols and images reveal a lot, the lyrics come straight from Michael’s heart. There were three main lines that made the most impact. In “Earth Song,” “What about the peace you pledged your only son?” questions god as to why he allows suffering or it could mean he is questioning mankind as to why we have not been able to end and resolve means to warfare. “I don’t know where we are,” shows Michael’s belief that humans have altered Earth to a state where it could no longer be recognized. The repeated use of “What about us?” indicates his concern about our uncertain future. His lyrics come straight from the heart and show his love of Earth.
“Earth Song” as a whole portrays someone who loves the Earth dearly and hates the changes to it based on humanities’ shortcomings and mistakes. It uses imagery to paint the picture of sorrow. It makes use of symbolism to show a deep understanding of his feeling for Earth. Finally, the lyrics emphasize his feelings about humanity, Earth, and its future. Michael Jackson was a person who deeply loved Planet Earth.
Themes and Symbolism in Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” by Jacob Slaughter
Like a great many of pop singer Michael Jackson’s works, “Earth Song” and the music video released with it is packed with symbols and deeper meaning. The third single from his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, “Earth Song” was all about humanity destroying the beautiful planet on which we live on. The video opens in an apocalyptic wasteland, with scorched earth as far as the eye can see. The video sheds light on the cruelty of humanity.
While “Earth Song” eventually became the highest selling single of all time in the U.K. and garnered much acclaim throughout many European countries, it never got near as much praise in the United States. Its unusual blend of blues, gospel, and hard rock was perhaps something that American audiences weren’t used to hearing. Hits like “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” and “Man In The Mirror” garnered much more acclaim in Jackson’s home country because of our tendency to lean more towards more pop-oriented music.
One of the many sad parts of the video includes an African family looking on at the remains of an elephant and her baby, killed by poachers. The environment changes from having dead grass and dead elephants to being full of life, with a crystal clear lake and a whole herd of elephants gallivanting around and having a great time. This is perhaps Michael saying that he thinks whatever damage we have done to the Earth isn’t entirely unfixable.
In Joseph Vogel’s Excerpts From Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, Vogel sums up the overall tone and message of the song perfectly:
“The six and a half minute piece that materialized over the next seven years was unlike anything heard before in popular music. Social anthems and protest songs had long been part of the heritage of rock-but not like this. ‘Earth Song’ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a modern-day “sorrow song” haunted by voices of the past; a lamentation torn from the pages of the Old Testament; an apocalyptic prophecy in the tradition of Blake, Yeats, and Eliot.” (4)
While I wouldn’t exactly call it an apocalyptic “prophecy,” I think Vogel’s description of the message that the song is trying to convey is perfect. Songs like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and NWA’s “F*** Tha Police” are counterculture anthems that challenge listeners to stand up for their rights against authority; songs like these have always been common in mainstream rock music. “Earth Song” is similar in that it is trying to convey a message to its listeners, but it is something a lot deeper. “Earth Song” doesn’t challenge social issues of a particular race or region but rather contains a meaning that everybody can relate to: the gradual destruction of Planet Earth by its inhabitants.
About halfway through the music video of “Earth Song,” a storm begins to ravage the landscape, tearing up houses and creating dust storms. This is perhaps symbolic of God or Mother Nature’s wrath against humanity. In the Biblical book of Genesis, God was more than a little displeased with the way His people were behaving and the way they were treating the beautiful planet that He had created, so he flooded the Earth, killing everything there was and starting anew. The storm in the video is perhaps a second “purging” of humanity by God.
Another symbol found in the video is the people scooping up dirt with their hands. While I’m no expert on symbolism, I look at this as humanity admitting its wrongdoing and asking for Mother Earth’s forgiveness. In the second verse, Michael asks “What have we done to the world? What have we done?” Michael sees that we have treated the Earth with utter negligence and change needs to happen soon.
“Earth Song” is a beautiful anthem that carries a very crucial message: if humanity does not get its act together, it just might be doomed. However, while it is a rather dark song, it does provide a sense of hope and redemption (at least in the video). While we humans may be a rather stubborn species, we can all pull together and do our best to prevent any more devastation than we have already caused.
What makes a great musical artist? There are many ways to measure what makes one great, such as the duration of his or her career, number of hit songs, critical reception, impact on culture or album and ticket sales. One artist that possessed all of these things and more was Michael Jackson. Often referred to as the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson was a driving force behind modern pop music. Throughout his career, Jackson won 23 American Music Awards, the most of any artist, as well as 13 Grammy awards (CNN Library). Michael was also a very active philanthropist and advocate for change in the world. He wrote and performed several songs to draw attention to causes he felt were important. In 1995, Jackson released his single “Earth Song” which was accompanied by a dramatic music video. Jackson wrote “Earth Song” to try and convey his interpretation of how the Earth was suffering, and that the suffering was caused by the actions of mankind. The video is an allegory, and as such it is brimming with symbolism and different thematic elements.
The video to “Earth Song” opens to a lush forest teaming with wildlife. There is a drastic change to the setting however, as the viewer next sees a bulldozer moving steadily through the trees. Then, the viewer sees Jackson wearing tattered clothing and walking haltingly through a devastated forest that has been razed and left aflame. This opening scene sets the tone for the remainder of the video which is very somber and despondent. The ruined forest which Jackson is walking through is also very symbolic. The large trees are all cut down to nearly the same height, and flames can be seen across the entirety of the horizon. The destruction of this forest was obviously caused by man, and not by a natural event which is evidenced by the cut marks left in the stumps of the trees. Through this scene, Jackson may have been trying to convey this eventuality of our world should we not change our ways and stop our incessant destruction in the name of progress.
Jackson’s disheveled attire in the opening scene is also symbolic, and clearly done with purpose. He is wearing a jacket and pants, both of which are in poor condition. He wears a dark shirt underneath the jacket, it too is in poor condition with apparent tears and holes in the fabric. While the devastated forest is meant to show the destruction caused by mankind, Jackson’s clothing appears to show that the condition of man is attuned to that of the Earth and that mankind cannot survive without the Earth.
Later in the video, there comes a scene with Jackson falling to his knees and grasping handfuls of dirt. This is followed by groups of people from various cultures across the planet, with each group falling to knees and grasping at the earth as Jackson did. After each group of people is shown to the viewer, it is quickly followed by an example of destruction caused by mankind. These images may represent the actions of those specific cultures that precede them. This scene serves to show that all of mankind serves as steward for the planet, and every person and culture is responsible for protecting the Earth.
Another example of symbolism in this scene is the commonality of every culture descending to their knees. The action of dropping to one’s knees is common in many religions around the world. Resting on the knees is also often associated with the act of prayer. The scene could be intended to represent the people of the Earth all repenting for their destructive ways and seeking forgiveness.
Religious themes are not foreign to Jackson, and “Earth Song” has clear Gospel music influences. The religious overtones are further confirmed in Joseph Vogel’s book Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus where the author writes, “Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, he was taught to believe in a God that was rigid and demanding (including the commandment not to celebrate holidays or birthdays). The main purpose of life was to prepare oneself for Armageddon, which Witnesses believed was imminent and futile to try to delay or prevent. The goal, rather, was to become one of the elite righteous members (the 144,000) that would survive and preside over the earth once it was cleansed of wickedness” (25). If Jackson truly believed as Vogel claims, then Jackson’s motivation behind the next scene of the video becomes more clear. In the scene following the groups of people grasping the Earth, a powerful earthquake begins to assail what appears to be the entirety of humanity. The earthquake is followed by a great storm which seems to reach every corner of the world. This terrible storm is reminiscent of the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible, and the story could be the inspiration for Jackson’s storm. The storm represents the cleansing of the Earth, and a return to its natural state. The final scene of the video shows a single man standing in a forest, which could also represent a fresh start similar to Noah.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is a desperate cry for change. The song is a lamentation for what has beset the Earth, as well as recrimination for man’s fault in destroying both the planet as well as atrocities committed against mankind. Many musicians have had their ambitions sated by monetary earnings or fame, but Jackson was not satisfied with simply playing music to the masses. He desired for his music to have greater meaning and have a positive impact on the world. Nowhere is this desire for impacting the world more evident than in “Earth Song,” and if we heed Michael Jackson’s words, perhaps the world will be the better for it.
Earth Song is a cry out not only to God, but to humanity in general. Struggling with his leaving the religion he grew up in, Jehovah’s Witness, Michael Jackson is trying to understand why God is allowing our planet to be destroyed and why mankind is destroying it. Released November 27, 1995 the song about the destruction and rebirth of Earth was accompanied by a video that was filmed in four geographical regions of the world, the Amazon Rainforest, a war zone in Croatia, Tanzania and New York. (contributors)
The song “Earth Song”, brings a lot of truths about the destruction, that is happening all over the world, to planet earth and the destruction that was yet to come if things did not change. As with many songs, it takes people watching the video to get the full effect of the song. In “Earth Song”, the lyrics are hard to understand through much of the song. Reading the lyrics while listening to the song helps to understand what Michael is trying to get across in his song, while watching the video makes one not only understand the song, but to actually “get it”. The video to” Earth Song”, could get the point across even without the words being said.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jeremiah is a voice in the wilderness, known as the weeping prophet, that “cries out to the people to change their apostasy and return to God”.-Excerpt from Michael Jackson’s Love of Planet Earth, pg.41 (Veronica Bassill) Michael Jackson seems to be portraying Jeremiah in the video of ”Earth Song”. He is seen pleading with God throughout the whole video. The video begins in what could be the Garden of Eden from Genesis, but the first scene that Michael appears, seems to be a scene from the end of the world as told about in Revelations. He is crying out with is arms raised towards the heavens seemingly looking to God for answers. At a complete loss, he along with many other people from different nations hit their knees pounding the ground, running the soil through their fingers and praying for earth, praying for change.
Throughout “Earth Song”, Michael Jackson asks thirty-eight questions beginning with “what about sunrise?” The sunrise symbolizes the beginning of a new day, which is what he is wanting for planet earth, a day that the earth is not being destroyed by trees being cut down, flowering fields being destroyed, forest trails being burnt, animals being trapped, tortured and killed, and children dying from starvation, or war. Ironically, the next to the last question in the song is “What about Death?” It begins with a fresh start and ends with death, just as any living thing does. The song covers so many questions that every human should be asking. Twice in the song, he asks “Did you ever stop to notice?” Most people do not stop to notice. As long as they have a roof over their head and food to eat, they do not think about what is going on around them. Millions of people are homeless, hungry, or sick, but as long as it is a stranger, and not someone they know, people do not notice. This planet is home to billions of people and it is slowly being destroyed a little more each day. The final question in the song, is the strongest and most important of all. “Do we give a damn?” Do people care and are they willing to do what it takes to make changes for the future of planet Earth?
Michael Jackson did give a damn and that is obvious in this song and video. Jackson said, “I remember writing ‘Earth Song’ when I was in Austria in a hotel, and I was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the planet earth. And for me, this is Earth’s song, because I think nature is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the Earth.” (Paternack). The song and video have made a difference in how many people view the treatment of Earth, but obviously it was not enough because destruction is still happening every day. Unfortunately the Earth cannot repair itself as it does in the video and one man cannot make the whole world a better place, but Michael Jackson tried. This song was special to him and it is ironic that this was the last song that he ever sang before his death on June 25, 2009.
Michael Jacksons Earth Song is a cleverly composed ballad of our reality and influence on the world and people around us. The lyrics are well composed and clear however, they are not the only message in the song. The use of visual symbols gives one a focusing point that reinforces the spoken words. It gives means for the viewer to relate beyond the sound they are hearing. Earth Song contains symbolic imagery hidden in plain sight if one just looks deeper into the meaning which itself is a hidden meaning that is also a warning.
The opening of the video shows us common images of the world we see around us today, the sun is shining and the trees are green, monkeys are hanging out in trees and, nothing is abnormal here right? Suddenly a drift of smoke is seen and a brush clearer comes slowly ripping through the forest and the scene cuts to a devastated cut up forest across a vast land scape. This is reality, the real world in a clever twist Michael has gained our attention. He himself appears wearing tattered clothes a reflection of the environment surrounding him. This segment is highly focused our destruction of the nature aspect around us. Michael’s accusations are clear. Through deforest station and toxic air we destroy the very environment that supports us. Eleanor Bowman said in a Dancing with the Elephants segment. “To me, Earth Song is both a lament and an accusation. Michael Jackson’s lament is not only for what we are inflicting on nature, but for what we are doing to each other and what those in power are doing to the less empowered” (Stillwater and Bowman). This is not some possible future this is now today. Next images of dead elephants are shown, their ivory tusks cut out and the rest left rot having no value. This speaks of the impact that greed and desire for rare possessions and the lengths at which people will go to get them. It also reflects the impact we have on wild life. A quick flash is seen where the world turns back and we see the elephants in a herd alive and surrounded by life showing us perhaps what once was.
Meanwhile while the events are going on we see various people of different lifestyles looking on sadly affirming that our actions not only affect the world around us but also ourselves and our fellow man. The forest that is being cleared out may have been the home of the Amazonians looking on as trees are cut down. The elephant may have held a tribal or spiritual meaning to the Africans who stand before its mangled body. More images are shown of animals running freely without human intervention and then a small section of a tribesman walking beside a herd of elephants though he is not hunting or hurting them he appears to live peaceably beside them. This shows us that we can co-exist with the creatures that live besides us and everything is more peaceful. Flashing over a family is walking through a small destroyed town with soldiers all around them. It appears there has been some conflict that has affected the lives of this family. Michael is saying that we destroy each other’s lives as well as our animals and environment. Soon we at the rise of the song we see everyone fall to their knees symbolic of admitting defeat or recognizing the outcome of their actions. They scoop dirt up into their hands like an affirmation of the inevitable. Covered in the “blood” of the earth it seems as though they are crying from rage for justice, but a storm is coming.
The storm is a very interesting aspect of the video. With the storm comes a reversal of everything that has happened. One could see two potential aspects from this, one is the storm brings new life. Rain brings water to end the drought and regrow the trees. The storm is an energy that is unleashed upon the world to inflict a positive change upon the world in a natural event in nature. Another aspect of the storm is its relation to how people should go about making the changes to help the environment and things around them. They should be tenacious and powerful about healing the world and their voices thunder upon the ears of all. With the reversal of all the damage Michael is saying it’s not too late we can prevent this future now. He is saying act now not later. The wind has a very heavy effect in the video as well as it seems to be the driving force of the turning back. This perhaps symbolizes the winds of change. Regardless Michael is saying we need to get together and start making some changes before we end up hurting ourselves and our home the earth.
Michael’s song goes beyond the spoken lyrics it is a call to action. The Dedication he put into the song shows us his passion for his beliefs. A powerful song that send a clear message earth song is full of imagery that conveys to us the dire situation we are in and the repercussions of what will happen if we do not change our ways. Michael used his status as a music icon to get his message across to his listeners. Earth Song contains symbolic imagery hidden in plain sight if one just looks deeper into the meaning which itself is a hidden meaning that is also a warning to stop our destructive nature and heal the world and its peoples, that we need to take care of each other and our planet Earth.
When Michael Jackson wrote “Earth Song” he was changing spiritually and emotionally to the world around him and what it had become. He sees all the harm we are putting the earth through and he wants to find a way to make everyone aware of it. He creates this powerful piece of music that pulls us forward realizing what harm we have caused the earth. He even creates this music video where it shows us what might happen. like he is predicting the future of our earth and people did not really like that.
“At the time, climate change was still a relative seedling of an ecological crisis to many (and the science of greenhouse gases doesn’t lend itself easily to the pop form). Still, heard by millions, “Earth Song” was pop music’s biggest environmental song, and probably the first ecological eye-opener for millions of young fans.”(Pasternack) During what seemed like the millennial ages people where bustling around everyone was getting cell phones, computers were starting to become the norm and even MTV getting bigger by the minute most of us did not stop to think about what was happening to the earth we lived on. Jackson brought us to that reality and no one seemed to care for it but once the music video was released it was a number one hit. People started to look at the world in a different way. As Michael would perform the song on stage he would create this whole theatric motion to symbolize how he felt. “Jackson performed “Earth Song” at the 1996 World Music Awards in France, backed up by a choir of young children and cheered on by a crowd of crying fans.” (Pasternack)
Jackson’s music video to “Earth Song” was a looking to “…scenes of environmental destruction and war…Jackson wandering across a landscape of drought and fire, before he does his yell-through-the-wind thing, undoing all of our ecological damage…” (Pasternack) I think his wind in the video was the symbol of how God is going to cleanse the earth and rid us of all the bad things we have created. Not only is he talking about the environment but he is also talking about wars we have going on and how they are affecting people. He is taking about the racism that is still flooding the earth and how the wind will come in and make everything right again. The wind in itself could be the people of the earth and how we need to make the change for the better so that we can have somewhere to live. Slowly that wind has come because now as a whole nation and as a world united we are seeing the global warming effects and we want to make a change for the better. It might be a long journey but we are slowly getting there. Now I don’t think that the earth will be getting anywhere make to the point of just trees and jungle everywhere but I think that we will be in a much greener earth that will be more aware of are global footprint. Now in Jackson’s video I think he is portraying more of a God like figure coming down on the earth and reversing everything that has happened over the years. He is even bringing back people who have died in the war and even animals who have been killed because their environment was ruined.
There are even mythological meanings behind “Earth Song.” “In the legends of ancient Greece there are tales of punishment for those who reject being earth’s loving children and instead become earth’s destroyers. In one tale, a wealthy man cuts down the trees in a grove sacred to Demeter, the Earth Mother, in order to build a hall for his feasting. His name is Erysichthon, which means “one who tears up the earth.” Demeter punishes him by giving him an insatiable appetite. He even eats the food intended for his children, and so they starve. In our desire to have a “feast hall” for ourselves, we too are literally starving our children, stripping the nourishing capacity of the planet for profit, destroying ecosystems and species, and hoarding the wealth of the planet for a select few. As Jackson knew so well, thousands of children die of starvation every day. In fact, 25,000 people, including 16,000 children, die of starvation-related illnesses every single day.” (Bassil) This story even shows us that back in B.C people believed that there was a God or Gods sent down to punish the people for what they had done and even to this day we are still paying for it in different ways. Jackson’s wind is the symbol of hope to people that the change is coming and will come soon in order to save us.
Even though Jackson’s performances are a little theatrical he gets his point across to the audience and makes them see what our world is. He used symbols and children to call upon the things that are wrong in the world and how it is affect are future children. Wind is ever changing so even though it might have been blowing in the wrong direction when Jackson’s “Earth Song” came out we are starting to see a change in that direction of wind. We heard the message and we started to act on it. Not all of it has been settled or gotten better but we are more aware of how things are in the world and what we need to do in order to save it. Jackson wanted us to know that the change starts with us and we have to be the ones who make it or no one else will.
Michael Jackson was known not only for his musical talent but also the messages that are placed in his songs. He liked to throw messages that related to the world he grew up in and that he was living in now. For instance the song “Black or White” talks about how it doesn’t matter what color or ethnicity you are we can all live together in peace. One of Michaels crowning achievements is the song “Earth Song”. He wrote this song while going through the biggest transition of his life. He was stepping away from the faith that he had grown up with and followed for most of his adult life. He undoubtedly had a lot of emotions moving inside of him and he didn’t know how to deal with them. One of these emotions was a sadness for the state of the earth that we all live on. It seemed to him like no one cared what we were doing to our planet. Even though it is not in the lyrics one of the biggest symbols in this song is when the tank and soldier crash on stage during his live performances. The soldier gets out and points his gun at everybody then lowers his weapon and begins to weep. I think that this is about how the soldier doesn’t do what he necessarily wants to do but what he has to do because that is what he is told to do.
The soldier blasts onto the stage after Michael has finished singing all of his lyrics. After a pause he emerges from the tank looking very frightened pointing his gun all over the stage. He goes to the people standing on either side of the stage. After they cower in fear it he realizes they are no threat and points his gun at Michael. They hold this stance for a while until Michael, who is visibly in a lot of emotional pain, lowers the gun by it’s barrel. Michael bends over and faces the ground while the soldier removes his helmet and goggles and begins to cry. At this point I believe the soldier is meant to have seen all the destruction that the war he has been fighting has caused. He is truly moved and sorry for what he has done to these people. Next the little girl comes over and gives the soldier a flower. She realizes that what happened is not his fault, that there is a higher power that decides what the soldier must do. The piece ends with the soldier standing next to Michael who is spreading both arms to the crowd. This gesture can be interpreted for the soldier saying, “Look, here are people who understand and don’t hold what you’ve done against you.” There were a lot of people who were greatly offended by this whole scene that Michael created. They saw it as an insult to the military. Being a supporter of the military I can see why they thought this. The main theme of this part is that war is destructive. I one hundred percent agree with this statement. It is the most destructive thing that we have ever done to this planet. Personally I think that sometimes it is necessary for certain situations but destructive none the less. The other part of this piece is pointing a finger, not at the soldier but at the one leading the soldier.
It is no wonder that Michael was on the FBI watch list. This is just one of his many not so subtle messages about the government. Mostly he was on the list because the government had no idea what he might do, how far he might be willing to go. But this shows great courage for someone who is in the spotlight to take a stand that may not have been to poplar and that would give a lot of negative feedback from people in authority and for that I applaud him.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is one of the most influential and successful songs of the century: an anthem dedicated to the preciousness of our environment and the harmonic balance in our ecology. His love for Mother Earth shines through this song with emanating light. The song’s message is so powerful; it has sold over ten million copies in over fifteen countries. In Jackson’s music video for “Earth Song”, we see images of destruction with fire and drought and a barren land. “What about sunrise? What about rain?” These questions in the song, and many more, are asked in desperation as to why Mother Earth has had to come to this point through human irresponsibility and carelessness. Jackson is addressing the important issues of what we have done to the Earth and also, that we need to make a change and nurture a sacred place that also nurtures us. He is trying to bring awareness to the population of the world, for we are the only ones who can change it. Climate change, war, drought, over-fishing, pollution, and deforestation are the themes that are very clear in this song. Instead of caring for the Earth, as it does us, we have been destroying it. Once we start making a change, the Earth will mirror our actions. In the music video and the music itself we see symbolism including the pain and suffering brought onto the Earth and its inhabitants, the realization of the way the Earth is responding to the way it is being treated, and also the reversal of the affects of human’s destructive power.
Jackson’s powerful song is sung with the crying and the weeping of the people and it’s Earth. “Ahhhh” “Ohhhhh….” This is not for the dramatic effect of making a good or catchy song, but is used to make the Earth and its’ people voices heard all around the world. All of the pain and suffering is loud and clear and tugs at the heart strings of the people who realize what is happening at this very moment. The song is full of sorrow and is a cry for help. Towards the end of the song the tempo quickly picks up and the Jackson makes the “ahhs” and “ohhs” much more intense. “What about us?” also is symbolizing not the people as a whole, but the Earth and all the innocents that have been caught up in the destruction of it’s inhabitants. Humans are naturally selfish people and only think of themselves, when the real issue is the fact that we need to start thinking about others and and the things that are most important to us and the affects we have on them. For example: the planet in which we reside should be very important to us, and we should be very concerned of the status of its well being. We have to think of the Earth and us as a whole, as one, finding the problems within ourselves which would help us with the problems we face outside, and gear us towards finding a solution.
Another form of symbolism is shown in the music video regarding to the indigenous peoples, and Michael Jackson included, scooping the dry dirt of the Earth into their hands and trying to hold on to and grasp it. There is no more moisture and no more life within the dirt and it slips right through their fingers. They have begun to realize the affect of our actions and are now grieving over the lifelessness of Earth. I believe he uses the indigenous peoples as an example of how we used to treat the world including the animals. They treat it with love and compassion for nature, and not industrialism and destruction. They cannot grasp the dirt because everything nutritious about it has been taken away. It has no water, no plants, and no life. It also symbolizes the future of Earth if we continue to destroy it and take advantage of it the way we are doing today. We need to become aware of the actions that we take as a whole that shape the condition of the place we live. When dirt is dry with no moisture it cannot contain the essence of life, for it needs nurturing and watering. That is the way the Earth works. We need to keep it fulfilled with what it needs instead of stripping it away of the very resources we need to survive. It is impossible for us to live without it. Like the characters in the video, we literally need to try and hold on to or grasp what is left of the loving Mother Earth we have so irresponsibly been looking out for.
Lastly, another form of symbolism in the “Earth Song” music video is the storm or strong winds that sweep through at the very end, reversing everything that has happened to the Earth. All of the destruction, war, climate change, drought, over-fishing, deforestation, and pollution have been taken away and restored. This part of the video symbolizes the affects our actions would have on Earth if we were to change the way we take care of it. If we become more aware of the present issues, more people would realize what is actually happening throughout the world. Only we can stop the destruction since we are the ones creating it. The Earth is crying out in desperation and the measures we take could save all of humanity. Michael Jackson is promoting and causing awareness throughout the world with this song and I believe through that, a mighty storm of conservation and ideas would sweep through all of humanity and change the way we do things forever. Our destructive power does not have to succeed over our progressive power. We can make a change, and Jackson’s storm symbolism in this song is one way of helping ourselves believe we can.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” has changed the people who have heard it and viewed the video by giving them more awareness of the prevailing actions of people today. War,destruction, drought, pollution, and many others are a main outcome of the way we have been treating our Mother Earth. Jackson has helped with our consciousness of our environment and ecology by symbolism shown within the song and video. He shows us the outcries of the people and the Earth, the recognition of the destructive power we have over it, and also the reversal of such destructive power and how we can change the Earth and also ourselves.
As Joseph Vogelstates in his book “Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus,” “’Earth Song’ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a modern-day “sorrow-song” haunted by voices of the past…” We as a whole need to takeresponsibility for the destruction we have caused and use our awareness to our advantage and change the world forever.
Jackson’s Trials and Tribulations Portrayed Through “Earth Song” by Amanda Harris
In Michael Jackson’s song “Earth Song” a lot of his own insecurities are laid out on the line and depicted metaphorically. “Earth Song” was first broadcast in 1996 in many other countries but not in the United States. Even though it wasn’t first released as a single on Michael’s album it became one of the most popular and moving songs he will have ever written. During the time of “Earth Song’s” release Michael was going through his own crisis in his life; growing up a black man, questioning his religions, and not knowing who he really is was enough fuel not only for disaster but also for greatness.
Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana in August of 1958. He was born into a black working class family who had the dreams of being stars. Michael and his four brothers were signed to a record label by the time Michael was 10 years old surpassing any dreams these families ever wished for. For Michael this was just the beginning to a lifelong career that would change his life forever. In 1973 Michael started his solo career while also being a part of the Jackson 5. In the early eighties Michael was beginning to become a completely solo artist.” Jackson went on to become one of the most internationally famous award-winning solo pop sensations to date” (Bio) In 1996 when “Earth Song” first came to be known this was around the era Michael was facing turmoil. He was accused of molestation in 1993 and then faced the divorce of his first wife in 1996 and would then go on to remarry within that same year. Michael was losing his persona, and he needed to regain who he was. Some could say that around this time he was suffering a midlife crisis.
“What about the holy land (What about it) Torn apart by creed (What about us) What about the common man (What about us) Can’t we set him free (What about us)” (Jackson). These few words out of the entire songs draw me in and make me feel what Jackson is going through in a way. Jackson was a man of religion but seems to be confused over which path to follow. Also in a way it seems to me that he doesn’t differentiate between race he just sees a man and wants to know if he can be set free. But what man isn’t free that lives in our country. Yes we are bound by laws and yes he was raised in a time of segregation but this was 1996. Is he talking about himself? Can he as an individual be set free? Is he hostage in his own mind of being able to make the right decisions or make any decision at all?
Jackson went on to be one of the most successful music artist of all time only to end up dying at such a young age. He had such a wide array of a fan base and was supported by so many, but in reality Michael seemed lost. In 2009 Michael made the announcement that he would be doing a series of concerts known as his “Final Curtain Call” that would kick off in the summer in London. He would be able to see his shows sell out before he ended up passing due to an overdose that his doctor would serve a four year sentence because of. Jackson’s life was very well lived even through all the ups and downs that he faced he ended up pushing through and even coined the name “The King of Pop”.
In “Earth Song” Jackson says, “I used to dream I used to glance beyond the stars Now I don’t know where we are Although I know we’ve drifted far” (Jackson). Jackson state of mind is best related to these lines. He knows that he has come a long way from where he was but he doesn’t know who he is anymore or where he is headed. ”Earth Song in my opinion can be best described as “a modern-day “sorrow song” haunted by voices of the past” (Vogel). He was dealing with living and at times that can be the hardest thing anyone can ever do is just push through their own life.
Jackson had to deal with racial issues, struggles with religion, though he never lost his faith, and an identity crisis that I don’t believe he would ever regain. Jackson was a superstar and regardless of all the accusations that he dealt with those are not the things he is remembered for. He is remembered for his stardom, for being that ten year old little boy who stole our hearts and for being the man who wrote and sang “Earth Song” which “ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal” (Vogel). Jackson poured his heart and soul into his music and each and everyone of us got to see a glimpse into the life of Michael Jackson who is no longer with us but who will never be forgotten.
Earth song is a song written to express to everyone on how the world is not what it used to be. This song shows tough times in many different cultures to show everyone that people are not so different. Michael expresses in this song that everyone has lives and the simplest things can take that innocent life away from that person. He wants the people to stop hating one another and instead he wants everyone to start loving one another. By loving all kinds of people and stop discriminating, the faith in this world may finally be restored. The symbolic act when all the people scoop the dirt into there is the sign that their faith in this world along with themselves was beginning to restore and the world as we know it was beginning to change.
Jackson used this song as basically a way of showing everyone that by hating him and hating certain people, this world would be run to the ground. Jackson wanted every last human being to realize what they were doing with the life God had granted them. He wanted them to ask themselves why they were being the way they had been acting towards certain types of people. God wants all of his children to love one another and that is what Jackson was trying to fulfill as if it was his soul duty to fulfill God’s wishes. This question could play a substantial role in bringing the act of being civil towards one another back to the world. This in Michael’s eyes could symbolize a civil act being started and everyone pitching in to love one another for once. This was Jackson’s entire goal for writing this song. His hope that people will stop to hear and listen to what he is really trying to say throughout this song will hopefully change the world to becoming a much better place. This perfect place that Michael wanted to build was a place of peace where everyone loved each other and no one could ever hate another person. This was also God’s wishes to have all of his children to be together and to love each other more than anything.
In his video, it shows many people destroying the world and Michael’s “job,” was to restore and rebuild the once cruel world to basically a utopia. The turning point in the song was when Michael threw his hands into the ground and scooped the dirt into his hands. In Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth by Veronica Bassil, it uses a phrase “Jeremiah, a voice in the wilderness, known as “the Weeping Prophet,” cries out the people to change their apostasy and return to God.” What this could be interpreted as is Michael is the prophet and he is crying out to the world to change hence he threw his hands into the ground and scooped the dirt into his hands. This resulted in all the people scooping the dirt into their hands and reestablishing faith in this world and faith in humanity.
Michael through this song had a substantial effect on the lives of so many. This song had such great power and depth, I believe that people were starting to change their ways because of how this song took to them. Granted he was not able to change the entire world, however, he did manage to reestablish the long lost faith in this world and eased up so much hate in people’s lives. This was one of his many goals that he tried so hard to accomplish. He did not want any more selfishness from people. He wanted everyone to stop and think that because of their greed that this world would begin to fall until there was no longer a world to live in. Michael would never want this world to fall apart, and because of this he wrote this song to try and stop the hate and start to love people. He tried to use this song as a civil acts movement so that he could move the people and bring their mindsets to an understanding.
Earth Song was not just his last song. This was his last chance to get people to change and love rather than hate. He tried so hard through his career fighting through all the prejudicial people and hatred until he managed to cry out to this world. Thus, Earth Song was his way to cry out to this world in an act to rebuild the world we live in to something truly great. Jackson left us after his last performance of this song hoping that the people had heard and believed him that it could be done. Earth Song had done its job in its great emotional moment.
“Earth Song” is a song written and performed by Michael Jackson. It took Jackson seven years before he was ready to present this song to the world, and even after that it continued to change through a variety of performance choices. (Vogel 4) “Earth Song” is an emotionally raw cry to God. It is a cry of grief, indignation, and hurt which is born out of Jackson’s own experiences of the world being filled with hate, destruction, and manipulation. This song asks of God, why? Why is such evil and pain allowed to continue if there is a good God in heaven? Jackson also uses this anthem as a call to restoration. But one can not get a full image of Jackson’s intentions for this song without seeing the music video for it. The themes of “Earth Song” including the themes shown in the music video, are the question of whether or not God cares about the plight of the earth, the belief that it is up to people and not God to change the world, and that the world will eventually be restored either by itself or by the hand of God. This paper will discuss the song and its music video as a lament for the planet, a theodicy, and a Biblical Jeremiad.
This song is a lament for the earth which starts out directed toward God, but as the song unfolds it becomes clear that the song is also meant to call out the people of the world. The first verse of the song is completely focused on God “What about all the things that you said we were to gain.” Jackson asks the question “Did you ever stop to notice?” He points his finger at God for all the pain and suffering he sees. The second verse is still directed at God, but he starts it by giving the blame to the people of the world. The chorus of the song is a cry of sorrow that is universally recognizable around the world. (Vogel 5) The third short verse turns from God to a more introspective direction. Jackson laments the dreams and wonder he once had to only be replaced by confusion and a feeling of being lost. The music up to this point has been in the tone of an epic blues or rock piece, but after the third chorus and a key change, the tone becomes more like that of a soulful gospel song. Jackson then goes into a long line of questions about the plights of the earth with back up singers repeating over and over the question “What about us?” What started out as a sorrowful song turns into a passionate cry to be seen. In this final long section Jackson laments everything from war to poaching to man’s own apathy. The music video gives the visible change that can be caused by mankind’s conquests. A forest changed to a desolate wasteland, a city being reduced to rubble, and a herd of elephants being poached to nonexistence are a few of the visuals given in the video.
This song is loaded with Jackson’s emotions and his own struggles to know who God is and why He allows such evil to take place on earth. This song should be considered a theodicy because of where Jackson focuses his anger and pain. Jackson questions God’s legitimacy and worthiness based on the problems of the world. He sees so much death and so much destruction of the earth’s ecosystems that he needs someone to blame. But the song and its music video show that Jackson knows that it is the people of the world who have let all this evil happen. The final section of the song comes across as a call to action. Both a petition to God to bring change and a calling for all the people of the world to stand up and do something. The back up line of “What about us?” can be taken as an indictment toward God or as a statement that it is people’s responsibility to make a positive difference in the world. In the video all the people fall to their knees and begin clawing at the dirt which shows their desperation and brokenness; they seem to be praying ‘God, are You even there?’
A Jeremiad is different than a lament in that it calls for a change in action and it foretells of the consequences of not changing. “Earth Song” should be considered a Jeremiad because it calls people out for letting the world get as bad as it has, and he makes the impression that it can not go on like this forever. Something has to change. In the music video Jackson is dressed in tattered clothes walking through the wilderness. He seems to take on this persona of a prophet crying out for the earth to see a change. He laments the damage to the earth and its inhabitants, and then claws at the ground with the rest of the people praying for God to see their plight. Then a storm comes bringing restoration to the earth. During the storm, Jackson’s soulful gospel tone comes across as victorious and not broken which reinforces his image as a prophet seeing the change he has been looking for. This storm symbolizes a change either supernatural and complete or man made and temporary.
Jackson’s “Earth Song” should be considered a lament for the planet, a theodicy, and a Biblical Jeremiad. This song is an anthem for change, but is it even possible for humankind to effect its own change? Or is it only by the hand of God that global change can occur? After all it was mankind that caused all this harm to the planet in the first place. Jackson brings an indictment before God, and then he seems to believe people are the ones will have to make the world a different place. What if it is both? What if God’s plan is to change the world through people like Jackson, who will speak up for what they believe?
“Michael Jackson was a gem of the universe…we took for granted what he had to say in his message, and it will hit us hard when the time comes”-Cameron Fulgenzi
As I mentioned in the previous post, this semester brought an avalanche of particularly thoughtful essays on “Earth Song.” There were so many, in fact, that I will have to split this section of the post over two parts to include them all. I hope everyone enjoys these as much as I enjoyed initially reading, grading, and commenting on them.
“What Comes to Mind When You Hear ‘Michael Jackson’?” by Jon Greene
What comes to mind when you hear “Michael Jackson”? Is it the iconic dance moves that inspired so many pop artists of this current age to incorporate dancing into their live shows? Is it his spontaneous and audacious behavior that always had people of all ages at the edge of their seat in anticipation for breaking news about him? Maybe when you hear his name you just think of another fast lived celebrity that kicked the bucked too soon. I think back to when I was a child with little opinion on anything relevant to society. No opinion on music or how it can affect peoples’ lives. No opinion of how a life should be spent or what it even meant to truly live. I think back to all the times I would see him on T.V., with each week came a new story about Michael. I grew up to know Michael as more of a leader or pioneer of a movement than a talented pop star. Michael Jackson used his fame and status that he gained through music as a pedestal to lead a movement of change. In his moving music video, “The Earth Song”, Michael exposes the social and environmental problems of his generation.
Michael Jackson understood very well that he could have an impact on other peoples’ lives through his music. A multi millionaire celebrity, Michael used his popularity as leverage to get things done that were being overlooked. His music was the megaphone that was used to get peoples attention in an unproductive society. When his songs weren’t enough to get the attention of listeners all around the world Michael used his music videos. Music videos such as “The Earth Song” were the explicit blueprint to his outreach for society. “Earth Song would become the most successful environmental anthem ever recorded (Vogel, 5)”. They were the graphic doctrine being displayed for what he believed in, for what he was passionate about. Michael is the archetypal hero, using his talents and gifts for the benefit of others. He used his obligatory publicity and directing all the attention to greater issues. It seemed that Michael had it all figured out. Be famous enough to make a difference.
His music was the middleman between his aspirations for change and the reality of them coming true. Michael gained nothing except more publicity from using his music videos to raise awareness for social and environmental issues. Publicity that he could easily get from making music that didn’t raise such great emotion. This is proof that he used his talent solely to benefit others. He seemed to always realize the importance of the society and the direction it was headed in, but never forgot the important role of the individual within the society.
Michael uses open-ended provocative questions in “The Earth Song” to address overlooked environmental issues. This was Michael’s style. He was never clear about what he wanted the reader to get out of his artwork. He would use dances that seemed meaningless to the naked eye. However if each individual dance move was broken down into context and style there is a very strong message behind it. In the case of “The Earth Song”, Michael addresses issues through his questions. Questions are ambiguous and allow the listener to project their own feelings and emotions into the song. They require the listener to search for more within themselves in order to understand what Michael is talking about. Throughout the first verse of the song Michael is asking what happened to the beauty of creation. He is implying that creation as a whole has lost its innocence because man has turned it into something it was never supposed to be. If he had simply stated that the earth was not in good shape the listener would not have the privilege of being introspective. In the second verse there is even some hint of anger at God. Michael asks what happened to the peace that was promised through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is reason to believe that the second verse is Michael calling out God for letting the earth get to its corrupting state. In the third verse Michael goes back to talking about how far the earth is from where it is supposed to be. He implies that it is our own negligence towards the earth that has led to the state it is in now. Michael uses “The Earth Song” to voice a dire need for change in the world.
Michael lived passionately. Towards the end of his career he began to use his music as a mirror that reflected the state of his society and environment. All of his aspirations for change within his society were made possible through his popularity within the music industry. He used his stature as a gateway to reach a bigger audience of people. In “The Earth Song” he voices his cry for environmental change by using the ambiguity of a question in order to direct the listeners to issues they have been over-looking. Society had over-looked the fact that the earth is far from what it was created to be. It was no longer a plentiful and natural creation but a breeding ground for all sorts of manmade wealth. Michael addresses these issues in in his song. He created awareness for the state of the world simply by addressing its issues through great music.
One of the impression felt while listening to and or read what other critics have to say is that “Earth Song” has a very broad spectrum of ideas on how to decipher what Michael Jackson wanted to convey in this song. Feelings of doubt were prevalent upon listening to the song while following the lyrics. What could I possible propose that would convey and help other reads come across to their own understanding, whether complete or semi-partial, of the intentions this song has on changing the world itself? The German Enigma came to mind, how difficulty it was to break the code, how much of an advantage we had, and the undeniable effects it had on winning the war for freedom. Hopefully the reader will come out understanding a little more about “Earth Song” upon terminating this article.
Due to the connect felt between Earth and Western Deity there is a strong apparent connection with the way that most westerns view the importance of protecting the Earth and how it can relate to this song. Jackson had somewhat of a spiritual relationship to this song and was evident with the following statement, “It starts with us, it’s us. Or it will never be done,” “Earth Song” is rooted in the fervent jeremiads and apocalyptic passion of the Bible… Jackson wasn’t content to simply wait for God to fix the world…,” (Vogel 26). As someone who enjoys the outdoors and prefers spending days out hiking rather than a weekend wasted sitting on the couch, I have always felt a strong spiritual connection as I have gazed upon the wonders of the Earth and pondered the diversity of creation, and the idea of lucrative gain at the expense of what someone holds onto for life and prosperity is unjust to the utmost degree.
Jackson true catches lamentation not only in the lyrics but in the portrayal in the music video shows just how strongly and simultaneously devastated the people were of the region in which that occupied. The collective group coming together in the video though separated by region and digging into the Earth and to feel it as it falls through their hands as if they are expressing their own hopeless to have change. As part of the Jewish culture, someone who shows great lament as an outward sign of pain takes dirt or ash and sprinkles it on the head. This has some reference to what was portrayed in the video, although the earth was not placed upon their heads that same feeling of anguish can be seen. Along with the blatant visual aspects show for lamentation, the lyrics pose their own weight in showing strong feeling, “This crying Earth, those weeping shore,” and then it continues further with sounds of lament and strife “Aaaaaaah, Ooooooh,” to convey to the listener feelings that propose what the Earth might be feeling. At the time of the death of Christ according to the Bible, the Earth suffered spiritually as well, the graves yielded up their dead, mountains fell into the sea, cities were engulfed by water, and the period of darkness.
One of the greatest follies of the human race is the tendency we have to forget; sometimes it can be blamed of the direct result of selfish pursuit of achievements or endeavors, or just the nature habit that we have to forget small things that once had or continually has an impact on the way we view things. The lyrics that repeat “Do you ever stop to notice,” are repeated four times and are implied in other parts of the song. Jackson places the call out to notice what is going on the in world. The day after Michael Jackson had passed away the Waxman-Markey bill was being prepared to be taken to the U.S. House for a ratifying vote. The start of legislation that would become a historic turn for climate control (Pasternack).
Michael Jackson undoubtedly had an undying passion for what he viewed as right and was never afraid to express those feelings at the expense of his own personal reputation. Watching other video that he has produced and the lyrics he has written are a testament to a man who truly was his best self always. There is a special connection felt while watching any of his videos and is most likely the strongest attribute to his vast fan base whom to this day continue to listen and are changed by the words he sang.
Earth Song is more than a song or a performance, it is a simple message, an educationally song that depicts what the world may come to without change. Dirt is a pure form of Earth, hands are the character of Earth. Humans have lost their identity and their inheritance. The song describes that the world is near ending and human actions have caused much destruction. Michael moved many people through his music, but this song was different, it was a powerful movement and an understanding that if something does not change, the world may self-destruct.
I believe that Michael meant for this song to be a great moving message to the world. He wanted people to know that, his success and his power was not above presenting the world as it should be. Michael has great intentions and carried most of them out in a wonderful way but the media did not want people to fully understand Michael they portrayed him as a monster. Michael had a boundless love for the world and he knew that world was precious and a true gift. Michael wanted people to understand the Earth as one of them.
The dirt is a pure form of mother Earth, one single gain of dirt has a unique identity that symbolizes the untainted soil. We has humans have destroy millions of acres of rich soil to pollute, to profit and to seize power. What Michael meant is that the world can only handle so much destruction in one cycle. The dirt passing through the crack in the hands mean the Earth is falling before our eyes and there is no stopping it. The Earth is so enormous that humans cannot fully comprehend the size or the importance of every gain of dirt. In our eyes if a small amount is still bountiful then the world can live but that’s not the case.
Humans have made countless amounts of brilliant achievements, form the great pyramids to the empire state building. With all this success comes devastating consequences to the environment. Such as over planting, smog for industrial purposes, slash and burn techniques and destruction of magnificent mountains. All for the glory of human beings. Yes, we can be great in all ways but incite of our dreams we destroy beautiful mother Earth. Michael did an outstanding job describing the abuse we as humans have put on the world. The hand in Earth Song depict the hard work humans have put into the Earth, but still come up short every day. Hard work is all measured in completeness, the video shows the people’s hands can only hold so much. That leads us to believe that Michael was portraying the idea of how big the world really is.
The human race has become too involved within the world, is what Michael was symbolizing. The Earth needs its space away from human madness. Just as people need alone time, the Earth does as well. If humans do not let the Earth vent, many religions and voodoo people believe that the Earth will untimely self-medicate itself through violent storms, just as the video portrayed.
The individuals that held the dirt, were the ones looking in from the outside, like a higher power of some sort. It was as if a power message to the world, the human hand has caused so much stressed and devastation to the world. At one point it has to start fighting back, the natural way the Earth fights back is destroying the hand that caused the damage. Just as anything that ever happens, what goes around comes back around and Michael hit the nail on the head with this song.
Michael Jackson’s Spiritual Crisis Portrayed in “Earth Song” by Sidney McDavid
“Earth Song” is one of the most politically and representatively sincere songs produced by Michael Jackson, and still today is a true sentiment to the religious conviction he was facing when writing it. As much as he went through with racism, and all of the unrelated allegations everyone made against him, it was only a matter of time before he stopped fighting back and became emotional. His change from leaving the Jehovah’s Witness was the tipping stone for him and he had to find a way to express it in a way that maybe people would not just understand, but appreciate and recognize the genuineness of Jackson and his attempts to make the world a better place. When he wrote “Earth Song” he really proved that this world, and people can only take so much destructive criticism before it all comes crashing down. Society has long seen piteous songs as well as ones about dissent but this song was much more meaningful and symbolic than originally understood. (Vogel)
In the very beginning of “Earth Song” Jackson sings some soft verses asking questions about the simple beauties that we take for granted. As the video progresses there is a native American family that watches a tree fall because of the weather or logging efforts, and a family of color that stands in despair at a deceased elephant and it’s child. One of the children looking at the elephants starts to veer into his imagination and he envisions a tribe of elephants roaming through the little valley, this is such a heartbreaking scene to see someone so young go through the pain of seeing life deteriorate in front of their eyes. Jackson really sets the tone for the rest of the song here because he cuts straight to the hearts of the listeners by using himself and the painful expressions on the children’s faces as well as his own. He really presses through the despair he is in, he feels so lost and betrayed by not only the people around him and society but he also feels like he aided to the destruction as well and he’s questioning some higher being, or maybe addressing the human kind, as to why things are turning out the opposite from what he was told before.
One of the lines in “Earth Song” is “What have we’ve done to the world, look what we’ve done”, this is very symbolic in the way that Jackson isn’t just blaming everyone else for what they have done to break him down, but also what he did to provoke it, or let them do it. He’s not just blaming the rest of the world for his problems, he’s taking responsibility for what he has contributed to that has harmed himself as well as the Earth itself. Another line that sticks out to me is when he sings “I used to dream, I used to glance beyond the stars, now I don’t know where we are, although I know we’ve drifted far”. In that line he’s showing weakness and the guilt he feels for betraying his mother and the Jehovah’s Witness religion. He knows that it isn’t what he wants to participate in anymore, but he also doesn’t know where he is, or where he is going to go. He just feels weak, lost, and afraid. I think by this point he knows that he is too far gone to go back, not that he wanted to, and that he cannot seem to find peace in anything or anyone, he’s just morose and sorrowful.
Jackson’s emotional outpouring in this song comes not only with the feeling of failure for himself, but with the feeling that he could have done something about it if there were others on board with him, and there were not promised the moon and stars from childhood. A lot of the beginning of the song is asking what about this, and what about that, as if he is just now figuring out that life isn’t as grand and splendid as it seemed in the younger days. Today most people find that life is tough at an early age, but why did it take so long for Jackson to give up on the dream of such a wonderful society and environment? Or is “Earth Song” more than just a cry of help and maybe the Earth and its inhabitants really are coming to a crashing halt and Jackson was the first to see it, and voice it?
When Jackson wrote this song he was going through so many trials and tribulations that he felt the need to create something bigger than his problems. In one of his live performances, he directed emotional illustrations at so many social stereotypes and in one part, that hits really close to home for a lot of American widows and veterans, he triggers a matter that is very controversial and sensitive. There is a soldier, ready for battle and holding his gun (pointed at Jackson), and after an exchange of looks between the two the soldier slowly bends down, puts his gun down and breaks into tears. At this instant Jackson is depicting that for his whole life he has been defending himself from those attacking him and their malicious tactics are much stronger and powerful than his defense strategies, he is confessing his visions of an earth where everyone finally erases hatred from their lives and moves to a more forgiving and peaceful society. (Murphey)
Towards the end of the official music video for “Earth Song” everyone has hit their knees wherever they are and they’re digging their hands into the dirt, sand, soil, or whatever is beneath them and just kind of giving off the physical motive that they have nothing left to fight. This symbolic moment illustrates hitting rock bottom so to speak. Whether it be Jackson himself or mankind as a whole just completely letting go and just giving up. As they’re all scooping their hands through the soil a storm starts to abrupt and it kind of brings relief to the people’s faces, you can see it in their eyes and smiles, they just look thankful to see something change. As the storm continues the trees reroot, the animals come back to life and humankind is so calmed and gratified by what is happening in front of them. After the storm the sun shines and everything just looks normal and peaceful. Jackson here is really putting himself into the illustration being that his last few years in his own personal life seemed like he had been giving everything and trying so hard to make himself happy as well as his fans and family, he had battled with societies vicious attacks, both physical and emotional, and his religious debacle. When the storm calms and the Earth is once again a beautiful place is left open for interpretation. Maybe Heaven, or maybe the coming of a new era in which everyone is free and peace is abundant. Life for Jackson was surely to improve with the toll that this song would take on people, that’s what was portrayed at least, and fittingly “Earth Song” was the last song he performed. Michael Jackson was a true inspiration through this song and it really laid out a foundation for people to build upon so that they may see him in a different light, and respect him with the gratitude he deserved.
One of the major themes in Michael Jackson’s music video “Earth Song” is that the human race is harming the environment. The extent to which the Earth is being harmed is very extreme and Michael Jackson wanted it to be apparent to all listeners and viewers. Michael was very much an environmentalist and he deeply cared for nature so he wanted to get his message across to all listeners and viewers. “The message was clear: we are the world indeed, and we need to take care of it accordingly” (Pasternack). This song and music video has many underlying themes and symbols but the human race destroying the earth is the most important.
There are many elements in the music video “Earth Song” that exemplify the theme of humans destroying the Earth. The first one is the deforestation in the beginning of the video and the fires that run rampant after the forests are cleared. The people who are native to the land are forced to watch in horror as the people in the bulldozers take their home away from them with no remorse.
The aftermath of the war in the music video “Earth Song” also relates to the theme in the same way as the deforestation. Many people have lost their homes and all their belongings because of mankind. Humans are killing each other and destroying entire cities leaving nothing to stand causing great sorrow to those affected.
The third element in Michael Jackson’s music video “Earth Song” that exemplifies the theme is the animal cruelty. Poachers kill elephants and leave there dead bodies lying on the ground with their tusks removed. They are driven by greed because ivory is very valuable and they know they can make a quick profit. Dolphins are shown being trapped in fishnets which leads viewers to feel Michael Jacksons pain about the subject of animal cruelty. The most violent scene in the music video that displays animal cruelty is when the hunter is swinging a giant axe at a helpless seal.
Pollution is the final element seen in the music video “Earth Song” that shows how destructive mankind can be. Giant smoke stacks are shown releasing poisonous gases into the atmosphere. These gases are the cause of global warming during the time this video was released scientist were just reaching the tip of the iceberg on the causes and effects of global warming.
At the end of the music video “Earth Song” the wind begins to blow rapidly and it begins to storm across the whole entire world. This storm is a symbol for mother earth trying to cleanse itself from all the harm mankind has done. Time goes in reverse and animals come back to life and the forest is whole again and the fires are gone. This is Michael’s way of showing that we can reverse what is happening to earth but we have to make a difference. The human race as whole has to take a stand and stop doing the destructive things that are slowly destroying earth.
‘The Earth Song’ by Michael Jackson Pamela Rodriguez-Pina
The world as we know it has always been based on war. We can go back thousands of years, and war will be the main thing that we have going on. It is not a matter of why we are in war, or when will it end, but it is a matter of opening each other’s eyes on this subject. Michael Jackson sings about problems in today’s world that have been problems for ages in his song ‘The Earth Song’. He varies from the most crucial devastations us humans have been making, from deforestation, war, and global economical problems. War is not about who is winning what, but how much hatred humans have, greed, and lack of knowledge around the subject.
Everyone knows how much Michael loved to love, and he was not shy about expressing it through the public eye. War will always be a problem and soldiers feel the need to express it by defending their country; however, if we show our politicians that we do not need to hate our neighboring countries due to oil, money, or the need to be the most powerful country in the world then we would not be in war. Of course, ideally, the world without war would be too perfect and we can only dream of such a place. In one of Michael Jackson’s live performances of ‘The Earth Song’, he ends his song by a military tank coming out on stage and the soldier pointing the gun at Michael. Michael then gently pushes the gun down. The soldier than weeps and a little girl shows affection towards him. What Michael wanted people to realize is that we cannot get anywhere with war, and we must teach each other how to love.
In Michael Jacksons, ‘The Earth Song’, he says ‘it is us’ who must make the change. (Vogel 27) We have dug our Earth into ruins. God cannot save us we must save ourselves. We have to realize what we have done to our lovely Earth, and repair it. In the music video, Michael shows soldiers in another country walking around a ruined town. We can see that the people who live there are terrified and live in ruins and fear. War is not just based on hate but also on greed. Greed to become the richest and have the most of everything. Our politicians have become so engraved of wanting the most of everything because when you have everything then you do are the most powerful country. Greed is a sin. It does not get you anywhere except with everything you want or with absolutely nothing. Money has always been the root of all evil. Happiness does not come from war or money; it comes with generosity and kindness. Michael truly believed that love could conquer all and he showed it in his performance of the soldier on stage.
We can go back to the 19th century and war was a problem. Absolutely nothing has changed because no one cares to open this to the public eye. Everyone listens to the radio, and society makes people cheer on for whatever is playing behind the radio. Michael did an excellent job on doing so. Joseph Vogel explicitly says, “Earth Song would become the most successful environmental anthem ever recorded, topping the charts in over fifteen countries and eventually selling over ten million copies.” in his book ‘Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus’. (5) Michael truly reached out to his fans to inform them on this crucial problem that has been going on for centuries. Nowadays, we have so many artist that waste their talent and sing about sex, drugs, and money. Michael shared his beliefs on economical issues, war, world hunger, and many more causes that need to be exploited to the world.
Michael Jackson was one of the most influential people in our world. In his music video of ‘Earth Song’ he speaks and visibly shows us that we still have problems in our world. War has always been a crucial part of American history; however, killing towns and scaring innocent people can do nothing but harm. We must show our people that we can put the guns down and teach each other how to love just like Michael showed the soldier that it was okay to put the gun down and love everyone around him. We can support each other like the town people and the little girl supported the soldier on stage. War is all about greed, the want to become the most powerful country in the world, and hatred against others; we can change each factor about what war is all about through love, support, and acceptance.
Songs can send a very strong message. Many artists turn towards music to send their messages to reach all ages. Many issues that cannot easily be said out loud, can easily be put in lyrics of a song. Music has always been a very popular way to express issues or ideas. Michael Jackson, like many other artists used music to raise awareness. His song “Earth Song” was a very moving music video and song. The music video holds theme and symbolism in every scene. Michael Jackson also used the music video to bring awareness to many environmental issues as well as moral issues.
In the music video Michael Jackson has meaning for everything. Whether it be the setting he has chosen or the lyrics he has created. Jackson seems to focus on the environment. The video begins with the beautiful sun shining through a forest, earth’s most natural setting. Then a bulldozer is shown destroying the forest, then fire and destruction set the scene. A forest is not man made it was here before civilization, the most natural place. This scene of destruction shows our human destructive power. Showing forests and fields destroyed and brought down is also a site of war. War where humans kill animals and ruin land and nature to gain personal wealth, to expand to take from what is not ours. This destruction is our own. We take the forests and fields to build our cities and expand our neighborhoods, but what we do not realize is that we are taking the homes of animals as well. We take native peoples homes, the people who have lived there for their whole lives and we just take their land. People complain about how other cultures need to blend with ours and how animals are coming out in the open and roaming our neighborhoods, but we have taken their homes from them. Jackson used his gift and music to reach out to his fans, to bring light on the destruction of nature. As stated by Alex Pasternack of Living Culture, “This song was pop music’s biggest environmental song and probably the first ecological eye-opener for millions of young fans.” We are the earth’s destruction.
In the music video with all the destruction and death, there are still people left who considered that their home. They are left to look around at all the destruction and death of the animals that used to roam the land. Jackson points out that even when we have come through with our machines and bulldozers, that there is still life left. Showing the natives who have lived there much longer, shows that we have taken a land that is not ours to take. Brings to more modern times when it shows a family walking through their town to find their home destroyed. Their home and town destroyed by war that humans create. As shown in the video many of the people whose homes were destroyed reminisce on what it was. Many of the characters across the globe are shown, scooping their home land dirt in their hands while on their knees in a pleading motion. This scene is a very symbolic part of the music video, as if pleading why; also as asking forgiveness from the land. Praying to the land and environment as if saying, sorry for what has happened to you, sorry for what us humans have done. Also, they might be praying for a new beginning or another chance.
Once the destruction is done to the land and everything is gone a storm comes. After all their pleading and praying it is as if God grants them a storm, to put back and bring back all the life and beauty. It shows the forest that was being cut down all the trees being restored and brought back to life. The African animals brought back to roam the land as they did before, the life of an elephant when humans came to take its tusks for wealth and personal gain. It shows the Amazon peoples’ environment being restored as well, as if God is giving the Earth another chance. In the more modern issue, the storm with its wind pushes the army men out of the town that was destroyed. As if God has given nature a voice and a chance to restore, taken back, and pushed out the destruction. The storm symbolizes a new beginning.
Michael Jackson was an incredible artist and his work lives on today. He brought light to issues many were afraid of even talking about. He used his music to reach people and send a message that would impact every age whether it be elderly, young, teen, or adult. His song “Earth Song” was one of the first ever songs and music videos to focus on preserving our world and Earth’s resources.
“Earth Song”: A Cry for Help by Michelle Heatherly
Michael Jackson is the spokesperson for the whole world and for all the inhabitants of the earth in the music video “Earth Song.” He personifies Earth by saying “This crying Earth these weeping shores?” The earth is in bad health and something needs to be done. Jackson addresses environmental and moral issues and raises self-awareness.
In the beginning of “Earth Song” the music is very tranquil and meditative. This is thoughtfully done so that people would stop and reflect upon themselves and the things they do. Jackson addresses both God and mankind about the condition of Earth. Bassill states that “Jackson confronts us in Earth Song with the great damage the Erysichthons of the world have done.” (38-39).
Bassill clarifies the background of Erysicthon by stating:
In the legends of ancient Greece there are tales of punishment for those who reject being earth’s loving children and instead become earth’s destroyers. In one tale, a wealthy man cuts down the trees in a grove sacred to Demeter, the Earth Mother, in order to build a hall for his feasting. His name is Erysichthon, which means “one who tears up the earth.” Demeter punishes him by giving him an insatiable appetite. He even eats the food intended for his children, and so they starve. In our desire to have a “feast hall” for ourselves, we too are literally starving our children, stripping the nourishing capacity of the planet for profit, destroying ecosystems and species, and hoarding the wealth of the planet for a select few. As Jackson knew so well, thousands of children die of starvation every day. In fact, 25,000 people, including 16,000 children, die of starvation-related illnesses every single day. (38-39)
The sceneries in the “Earth Song” video display the cause and effect of the gluttony and greed that is evident in mankind throughout history. The “killing fields” that leave lands barren and decimated is not limited to a battle field. Mother Nature is also affected; defenseless to the attack on trees by excessive logging and the brutal slaying of animals that never seem to meet human satisfaction. The lyrics are in the form of a question which move the listener by causing self-reflection and thus raising awareness. Jackson feels the pain that has been wrought on mankind and asks why? He asks God specifically when he questions the promises that were made. He feels that God’s son was crucified in vain because peace is definitely not present with all the turmoil that is going on. He is also addressing the population as well when he asks “What have we done to the world?” Jackson is wanting answers not only from God but from the people. Jackson wants to know what is in the human nature that causes people to conquer and destroy the earth instead of treating everything as equal members of the planet. Do humans regard themselves as superior and godlike? There is a strong conflation between God and man
One of the key elements that Jackson uses in the video to draw compassion from listeners is innocence. The pictures of the animals being slaughtered such as the elephant lying in the desert without its tusks. Jackson also reminds people of children who have died because of war. In one scene there is an image of a small broken bicycle, and a father’s memory of when his daughter ran to the bike, but before she gets reaches it, a bright, blinding white light flashes and she isn’t seen again. The man is alive but is reminded of his loss when seeing the broken bicycle. The innocent, helpless animals and children are the affected bystanders. All these questions and problems that Jackson asks about is met by his refrain which isn’t any word but a cry. There are no words to express this pain because it is so deep. Jackson is crying for the world at war within itself.
The most important part of the song is “Do we give a damn?” This is the question that really matters. All the issues that have been brought to light, but does anyone care enough to do something about it? The entire song just builds like a storm and Jackson’s voice is so powerful that if one doesn’t feel moved when listening then that person does not have a soul. It truly shakes the individual to the core and it awakens the spirit. The people falling down grabbing the soil shows regret as they try to hold on to earth. The music builds up and the winds of time start to change during a call and response part of the song. The winds blow back the devastation and soon all is repaired down to the tree connecting to its stump. This is the answer to when Jackson asks “Is there a time?” The time where peace and tranquility exist is shown. The overall video, music, and lyrics work together to create such a masterpiece that is literally mind blowing
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” by Devonte Fletcher
Michael Jackson’s music video “Earth Song” is more like a visual aide to show the people on this planet what we are doing to the Earth. Not even 30 seconds in and the tone of the whole video changes. There is an immediate shift from a peaceful forest filled with life and animals, to a tractor coming in and plowing down trees. Michael Jackson was always well known for the environmentalist that he was, but with this song, that was taken to a whole new level. “Earth Song” contains a major theme within it that anyone can see, which is the way Jackson incorporates the many environmental changes the Earth endures.
Every year, people are becoming less and less considerate of the planet. Deforestation, war, and pollution are all major problems that have affected earth over time. The video alternates between flashback-like scenes showing what the world was like before people’s harmful ways changed it. Visual evidence is incorporated to give everyone a real feel of what is happening to our world. The chopping down of trees with chainsaws showing deforestation, tanks and huge piles of rubble showing the negatives of war, and all throughout the video black smoke carries through the skies from pollutants. Jackson made this song along with the video to pose as an environmental message. “With the ecological unbalance going on, and a lot of the problems in the environment, I think earth feels the pain, and she has wounds, and it’s about some of the joys of the planet as well. But this is my chance to pretty much let people hear the voice of the planet” (Jackson).
“Earth Song” features a lot of destruction in the video that is present all over the world. Jackson realizes that enough is enough, and that it is time for change. “In the epic music video, scenes of environmental destruction and war are cut with Jackson wandering across a landscape of drought and fire, before he does his yell-through-the-wind thing, undoing all of our ecological damage like magic” (World’s Biggest Environmentalist?). The cry/shriek he releases at the end of the song is resembling of the cry he feels the world is trying to let the world hear. Through his lyrics and this video, he wants to promote ecological change. The heavy machinery, animals, and the colossal storm that comes through and cleans up the Earth are all parts of the major theme, the environment, that Jackson is portraying with this work. “’Earth Song’ is indisputably the most popular green-themed tune ever. It remains Jackson’s best-selling song in the U.K. (yes, bigger than “Thriller” or “Billie Jean”), and beat out the Beatles’ first single in 25 years for the top spot on the British charts. But the song, and its lavish globe-trotting video, barely registered in the U.S. Record executives at Epic apparently didn’t think it had much life stateside. Perhaps the themes of ecological destruction weren’t suited to pop radio in the U.S. market, or the song’s musical approach — gospel, blues and opera — was considered too offbeat for American audiences” (Pasternack) .
Michael Jackson is attempting to show everyone the negative affects our bad habits are having on our planet with this video. Deforestation, war, and pollution have all taken a toll on the Earth. The Earth was crying out and Jackson decided it was time to let that cry be heard by everyone around the world. After “Earth Song” went viral and became wildly successful, especial in the UK, Jackson started to become regarded as the world’s biggest environmentalist. Whether that may be true or not, he did an exceptional job of using visual aides of the environment as a theme for this piece.
Michael Jackson was a gem of the universe. Not only did he allow others to relate to his lyrics, being one of the most talented artists in history, Jackson created music that told a story. These stories were in effort to make a movement. He was caring and at the same time, able to visualize the falling apart of the universe. One of Jackson’s most overlooked songs in the United States would have to be “Earth Song”. His compassion for the living and his love for the entire world allowed humans to react and become fans that would, unknowingly, help participate in his worldwide masterpiece. “Earth Song” has very powerful lyrics that follow an extremely well produced music video showing the result of humanity and our devastation to the world.
Michael Jackson remained consistent with his helpful ways and showed the world that color and looks had nothing to do with the inside soul. Living in our world, we are dragged into repetition of believing we each individually have to be the best at everything and see money as our prime living source. To Jackson, although he made millions, he dedicated all of his time outside of show business to helping third world countries that have been devastated by war and starvation. He started the Heal The World Foundation, which lead to thousands of children being helped and put in new shoes to start a new life. Jackson was well known worldwide and when he traveled to these countries, he wasn’t going to perform, he was going to help make a difference.
Michael was raised a Jehovah Witness all of his life. Being a Jehovah, you are taught to believe in a demanding God. One of the commandments was listed to not allow celebration of holidays or birthdays. In the book Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, Joseph Vogel describes Jackson as a Jehovah Witness. He also describes the purpose of being a witness as such:
“The main purpose of life was to prepare oneself for Armageddon, which Witnesses believed was imminent and futile to try to delay or prevent. The goal, rather, was to become one of the elite righteous members (the 144,000) that would survive and preside over the earth once it was cleansed of wickedness” (Vogel 25).
Because of this life he lived, Jackson never celebrated Christmas until he was an older adult. He was secluded from these celebrations all of his life. When he finally decided to separate himself from being a Witness, we started to really see a new side of Michael. He started to see the world more of our existing paradise instead of looking at the world as being a place that would eventually be paradise. He wanted change! Jackson wasn’t going to simply wait for God to fix the world. “It starts with us,” he insisted. ‘It’s us. Or it will never be done” (Vogel 27). Instead of waiting, he was now ready to take action. With this huge change of feeling during his career, Jackson started with a bang. It was his first Christmas and his newfound holiness that allowed Michael to create the inspiring “Earth Song” which opened his eyes to a new beginning.
The video in general shows epic devastation from deforestation, over fishing, war, pollution, drought, and even hopes of a clean coal industry. The theme of the song has a notable religious significance. The video actually demonstrates themes from the bible. These themes include everything from the creation, prayer, prophecy, and resurrection. Jackson appears as a prophet in the video and even a Christ-like figure in other eyes. We witness man made devastation and then the video begins to take us into a renewal or re-creation of the world. The video does a wonderful job of showing the viewer true footage of actual demolition and the scenes of burning oil fields and falling trees really makes you cringe. I believe the symbolism of the characters that are seen scooping the dirt into their hands in repetition as being a cry for help to the world. They are praying to God to give us back our land or better yet just simply allow us to keep it. Another way of looking at it would be the people grabbing the dirt and feeling the pain and suffering being caused by humans by allowing the dirt to pass through their fingertips. What is our world turning into? This seems to be the main question when watching this video.
Revelations in the bible describes the day when God will recreate the world and flood the land in order to allow a new beginning for his followers. In Jackson’s video, critics describe it as being very similar to Revelations. The dramatic wind, rain, and firestorm behind Michael and the others show the beginning of the devastation, which starts with the end of the world. The clean up is what I refer to it as but also you might think of it as the rebirth.
The lyrics chosen for this song were written by Jackson on purpose to deliver a powerful message to the viewer. He throws questions into the choir asking God, what about this, what about that, and what about us? He also questions humanity; asking what have we done to the world, look what we’ve done (Jackson). If only this song could have been looked at in more seriousness at the time of 1995, I think the world could of been better off in some way if the general population could of at least listened and gave it a try. This was truly Jackson’s song for the Earth! We now struggle tremendously with pollution and global warming that our world is becoming scared to think of what is to come.
Michael Jackson was an entertainer and an environmentalist. He made the difference that no one saw until after his passing. We took for granted what he had to say in his message and it will hit us hard when the time comes. Nothing further as technically been done since then but other people, like Bill Clinton or Al Gore, have attempted to help start the movement. I will say that I have seen a lot more recycling trucks in the past ten years and it will simply be the small changes that will start it all off. We have to work together and learn to listen to others regardless of the color and looks. Jackson was an innovator and somewhat looked at as a prophet. He did what he did best while he could and that was making people smile one day at a time. Unfortunately, the death of Michael Jackson put our world into a sad and devastated state of mind. On the contrary, I do believe his death was a wake up call to our society and without him; we would be in much worse shape today.
Michael Jackson, hours before his untimely death, performed an iconic and eye-opening song. This song was called “Earth Song”. The contrast between the beautiful images of nature, and destructive power of man-kind shows us what we have done. The references to God and the coming of the storm are very symbolic of a “cleansing” of the earth. Jackson had a very powerful message in his lyrics, some say it was strictly about his confusion with his own beliefs, others think that it was a message to the world. A message of pleading for peaceful days, and less death worldwide over man made issues. Joe Vogel summed it up perfectly in my opinion in his book about Jackson, “‘Earth Song would become the most successful environmental anthem ever recorded, topping the charts in over fifteen countries and eventually selling over ten million copies. Yet critics never quite knew what to make of it. Its unusual fusion of opera, rock, gospel, and blues sounded like nothing on the radio. It defied almost every expectation of a traditional anthem. In place of nationalism, it envisioned a world without division or hierarchy. In place of religious dogma or humanism, it yearned for a broader vision of ecological balance and harmony. In place of simplistic propaganda for a cause, it was a genuine artistic expression. In place of a jingly chorus that could be plastered on a T-shirt or billboard, it offered a wordless, universal cry.” (pg. 5 Vogel)
In Jackson’s video for “Earth Song”, in the beginning a lot of beautiful images are shown of nature. But as the video progresses, it shows us that the destructive power of man-kind has destroyed this for us. The world takes on a colder, more industrialized agenda and no longer cares for what sustains us as human beings. The stanza “What about killing fields?” is referring to an act that is completely man made. It could relate to a battlefield filled with death, a deforestation project killing millions of trees and animal habitats, or a poverty filled country with no resources for decent survival.
Another aspect of “Earth Song” was the connection to God. Jackson seemed to point all of his questions to God. He is pleading with God to know why so many bad things happen to this world, and why we possess such a destructive nature if he is supposed to give us peace and love for one another. A true theodicy and really a lament as well. The lyrics are a cry of sorrow for this world and what is happening in it. I believe that Jackson couldn’t even fathom why all this was happening. The wars, the killing of our environment, the killing of innocent people in the name of war or religion. Jackson was going through some type of spiritual change, he really did not know if what he had believed his whole life (being a Jehovah’s Witness) was how it was supposed to be. So I think that Earth song was a somewhat “cleansing” of himself as well. In his live performance, he brings out a soldier with a gun, but then a young child comes to give this soldier a sense of forgiveness. This is what I think his “cleansing” has led to. That no matter what you believe in, there will always be forgiveness there for you if you are willing to accept it.
The biggest aspect in this song is the coming of the storm, and the many people with their hands in the dirt. The act of praying is brought to mind when I saw all of these people rubbing their hands in the dirt. They are desperately praying for the world they had. The growing trees, the clean water, the peace between man-kind. All of this was what Jackson wanted to share with the world. He wanted to show them that what we were doing, was not going to have a good outcome. Going back to the focus on God, I think it also had a self-centered approach as well. Jackson was trying to tell us as well, that everything we were doing was wrong. That it was killing the world we lived in. This is where the coming of the storm comes in. This storm that comes through is not just another summer shower, it is the world cleansing itself. It is sweeping away all of the bad, destructive, and debilitating aspects of our earth and bringing back the beauty in it. It is bringing back what we need to survive, and thrive on.
Jackson asks the question of if we have time. If we have time to change the things that we have done. He brings up the possibility that we didn’t even a time of complete peace, that this destructive nature was just simply in our nature. A line that I specifically favor is “Do we give a damn.” This is the overall question. Even if we are aware of the issues around us, do we care? Are we doing anything to prevent them? I think that was the whole point of releasing this song. He wanted to show the world what we were doing to the land that we were sustained by. This world is what is keeping us alive, so to destroy it the way we are, it’s terrible.
All in all, “Earth Song’ is very eye-opening. The video encompasses a lot of real world problems we have now, even more so now than back then. It is a plea for change, to know why all of these bad things are happening. Some people think it was strictly to God that he was asking those questions to, some believe it was straight to the people of the world. Honestly, I believe that it was both. Jackson had his own belief system, and he tried to follow that, wholeheartedly. But, because of all these terrible things happening throughout the world, it gave him his doubt. I think that for this to be Jackson’s last performance, it fits pretty well.
Once again, I am pleased to present some of the best essays from my students on “Black or White” and “Earth Song.” When we cover this particular unit as part of the 102 curriculum, students are given the option of writing on either “Black or White” or “Earth Song.” Today I am going to feature selected essays from our unit on “Black or White.” The next post will feature some of the best essays written this past semester on “Earth Song.”
The current crop of essays are from the Spring 2015 term. These students range in age from seventeen-year-old Dual Enrollment high school students, to middle-aged returning students who grew up with Michael’s music. They are from many different backgrounds and ethnicities. Although we did discuss these works thoroughly and they did have a select number of sources to use, the many varied ideas, opinions, analysis and reactions to Michael’s work that you will read here are, as always, their own. To maintain the integrity of each essay, I have altered nothing, not even spelling or grammar mistakes (if/when they occur). These are, without exception, the words, ideas, and reactions of real students who have granted permission to me to post their work. I always find these essays very enlightening, both in learning how young people view Michael’s work and legacy today, and in seeing reflected in these pieces the understanding they have taken away from our unit.
In 2008, while in the Marine Corps, I was stationed at the entry control point to Al Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq. I had to deal with several different Iraqis who could not speak English, and I could not speak Arabic. When trying to communicate with them I found one name that they all knew, Michael Jackson. Some would even try to dances like him, to out delight. Honestly, all of them were better than me. These Iraqis and my Marines were from totally different parts of the world and different cultures, but one thing we had in common was our appreciation for Michael Jackson and his dance moves.
As Joe Vogel put it in his article, The Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson’s Music, when referring to Michael’s dancing, he is “continuing to shape, define, and redefine his routines”. From his iconic kick to the moonwalk, Michael had helped shape our culture. In Michael’s music video for his song “Black or White” he shows off not only his dances moves, but also those from around the world.
In the opening scene, it shows a boy dancing in his room. As I am sure most of us can relate to, he is playing the air guitar and jumping around his room. The child is just being a child. Listening to load music, at the expense of his parents, and enjoying himself. In this way, Michael is showing the free spirit of children. In the context of the song, I believe he is showing that children don’t care if your black or white. All they want to do is have fun and listen to whatever music they enjoy.
The following scene has Michael dancing in Africa with a group of hunters. They start off dancing in a native tribal dance while Michael does his own thing in the middle of them. Eventually, the hunters sync up with Michael as they all start to dance in unison. Michael is showing that he does not care where you are from, we all have a common aspect to our cultures. A love of dance.
After dancing with the African hunters, Michael runs onto a stage while the hunters continue past him. There he is joined by Indonesian women, who begin to dance when Michael joins them. He does not sync up with their dance, but rather dances in the middle of them. I do not know the meaning behind this Indonesian dance, as I am sure Michael did. Either way I am sure he chose it for its beauty. As to say, no matter where you are from, or what color you are there is beauty everywhere.
Michael is then seen jumping onto a stage, surround by a group of Native Americans. They are all dancing around him, as several others ride horses around the stage and dance elsewhere. Michael again does not sync up his movement to theirs, but lets them show off their own unique dance moves from their culture as he stands among them. I do not know what dance they were performing, but I can say, do not ask a Native American to do one for you. While I was in Iraq my Marine, Lance Corporal Blue, and I were waiting for a helicopter to take us to another base. We were delayed, and had to wait several hours due to a sand storm. I told Lance Corporal Blue, who is Native American that he needed to do a rain dance and knock all the sand out of the air. He did not find it as funny as I did, telling me that he could but he would have to kill a white man first.
Following his dance with the Native Americans, Michael is seem dancing with an Indian woman. The Indian woman is performing a native dance from India, while once again Michael dances beside her. At certain points during this performance there moves do sync up, as to say we may be from different parts of the world but even some of our dance moves are the same. The segment ends with them in unison dancing together, freezing in a moment where both their hands are up looking at one another.
In the next sequence, Michael is seen dancing with a group of Russian men. The Russians are performing a dance known as the Hopak, which is a Ukrainian dance and translates to jump. I am sure Michael chose this dance for its beauty and because it is what most Americans thought of when it came to Russian dance. I say this because the roots of the Hopak dance originated from the Ukrainian military celebrating their victories, while the song “Black or White” is all about peace (Foote). Though I am sure Michael either did not know it origins or just did not care. Choosing it for its beauty above all else. Michael does sync up with the dancers in this section, them not performing his moves but him joining in on theirs.
After all of these multicultural dances, Michael is shown back in America dancing on a stoop amongst a group of children. A mixture of black and white, all the children are showing simply dancing. In this way Michael was conveying that no matter black or white, we can all get along. Especially since we are all American.
Black, white, Indonesian, or Native American Michael broke thru all of these racial divides. His music and his dance moves can be seen and heard throughout the world. His stand against racism and fight for world peace are still ongoing to this day, and the legacy that he left behind will most definitely stand the test of time. I mean, if a boy from Alabama can go to Iraq and see an Iraqi man spin, then grab himself while sticking his hand in the air I am sure of it.
Michael Jacksons Black or White music video is rife with symbolism about racism in America. It is well known that Michael Jackson was one of the first very popular African American pop artists. The time period he first became popular, he encountered a lot of anti-black sentiment against him and other artists aspiring to be like him. Michael was fed up with it, as he said in previous statements, and if you watched the music video until the end there is a sequence where Michael does a dance in a seemingly abandoned city street. In this sequence he morphs to and from a panther, and is seen smashing windows, yelling, and jumping on cars. This might be Michael showing his frustration at the music industry and the obviously biased view they had on African Americans in the industry, or it could be Michael was trying to convey what black people as a whole felt like at the time.
Michael Jackson was one of the first African American artists to become popular, and he was also one of the first to be played on MTV despite being told that his videos would not air simply because he was black. Michael pushed through that barrier despite being told he would not, and became one of the most prominent black men of his time. When Michael finally was aired on MTV, he asked the question “can you hear me now?”(Kaufmann). This question could have been either directed at the African Americans in the audience, which would be a supportive question meant to challenge the black community to push the boundaries against racism. The other group the question could have been directed toward was the producers of MTV and mainstream media, asking if they could hear his voice then and challenging them to silence the message he was trying to get out. This question was very indicative of the frustration not only Michael was feeling, but the African American community as a whole was feeling at the time.
The ending sequence after the song shows Michael transforming to and from a panther or mountain lion that is black. The panther is very symbolic of the civil rights group called the “Black Panthers” whom advocated civil rights for African Americans against the oppression of the government, and they sometimes used violence to get their point across, though not nearly as much as some other groups such as the group that followed the civil rights advocate Malcolm X. The appearance of the black panther symbol in one of Michael Jacksons videos could be him showing his support of the black panther’s message, their methods, or both. The video certainly seems to show him supporting both, because after he morphs out of the panther he begins to destroy the city block he is dancing in by smashing windows, cars, and eventually smashing up a hotel, which after he smashes it up Michael turns back into a panther and walks away, seemingly finished with the message he was trying to send. The violence Michael showed could have one other meaning, however. He could be trying to get the message to not only African Americans, but the world as a whole that an oppressed people would soon tire of being oppressed. That the violence in the city blocks could not be placed solely on the shoulders of the ones committing the crimes. Maybe Michael was trying to warn of the powder keg that was America, lit at both ends and pressure rising, events coming to a head one way or another. The whole point Michael was trying to get across was that the way things were at the time, they couldn’t stay that way. The world needed to change, or the oppressed people were going to change it.
Michael Jackson’s Black or White was a video rife with symbolism for racial equality. The ending sequence of the song with the black panther was just as long as the original song for a purpose, and that purpose was to raise awareness of the impending change that was going to head our way, regardless of whether we wanted it or not.
“Retaliation in a Public Place” by Simone Robinson
Retaliation in a Public Place
Suppression of an individual or a group has the characteristics of a suppressed slinky. Yes, the force that is held within is still there, but is not fully appreciated or in other words revered until it is released. Being black in America is, more often than not, seen as a bad thing. Almost every person of African descent who came to American by means of a slave ship did so not by choice, and yet since then have been treated like they are less human due to the pigment of their skin. However, that kind of repression can last for only so long. The panther as a symbol represents a fierce demeanor and agility. However, though these felines are smaller in comparison to their relatives: lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards and such, they are known for their power (Woolcott). In Michael Jackson’s short film called “Black or White” he took on the persona of a panther because as the symbol for the activist of black progression it embodied such a fierce standard for fighting for what is right and just, as well as not tolerating the oppression anymore. As the snippet of M.J.’s short film reflects, the panther shows its ferocity when it sees that it is a necessity to do so.
Michael Jackson grew up in a time in which the color of his skin impaired him greatly even considering his exceptional talents. “You may recall hearing that MTV refused to play Michael Jackson’s music video short films, simply because he was African American.”(Kaufmann) After so many years of their counterparts treating them as if they were second class not only citizens but also second-class human beings. Artists like Stevie Wonder even wrote about a desire for a time of racial harmony. His song “Ebony and Ivory” could be considered to some the equivalent to Mr. Jackson’s “Black or White” (Kaufmann) The author of “Black and White and Proud” can attest to what it feels like to feel like “less of a citizen” in the country of her birth just because of her ethnic background. Civil rights were a big deal and therefore heavily reflected in the music of those who decided to fight for the cause.
Harmony is something most wish for when they have fought the fight their entire lives because the fight is always there. It is persistent, frustrating, and just plain tiring. The short film that is associated with “Black or White” starts out with a message about parental prejudices and children with new outlooks on life and then brings in other ethnic groups from around the world to show just how broad and beautiful all the diversity is. It is extremely likely that the conclusion of the video in which the panther is used is a claim stating that the dormant feline, with fire and justice in her eyes, is awakened and ready to take a stand or at least let its voice be heard. The question is why did the song and video take such a dark twist at the end and to that, the answer is simply an arising. The dark twist signifies that enough is enough! Racism in America had been such a blunt weapon upon the heads of minorities. Even though there were alterations occurring throughout the government and the minds of some people but it was still an ongoing occurrence for those who had to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.
That illustrates the facts of being black in America—you were a target for violence at the hands of those who wanted you to “know your place” in the social hierarchy.” (Kaufmann).
Knowing that just because someone had a prejudice toward you they could do as they please on a whim even if that resulted in physical or mental harm being inflicted upon you with little or no accountability or apprehension placed on them.
The panther dance is a direct reference to racism according to an excerpt from Ms. Kaufmann’s article. It was direct disrespect from the white tap dancers who painted their faces black and danced around in such a manner as to mock the slaves. Michael Jackson’s video for “Black or White” may have taken a “dark” twist but then again American is not new to “dark” twists.
Symbols in “Black or White” by Jake Jones
Michael Jackson was a very inspirational artist. He had a way with his words that some wished they could have. His songs ranged from racism to the earth itself. May things Michael Jackson dealt with in his life influenced his songs. The song “Black and White” was written in 1991. This was still a time of race, not like it ever ended. Michael Jackson makes references to the KKK, race of a person, and war in the world.
The KKK is an organization that is special in its own way. They do not accept any race other than their own. They were primarily racist against African Americans. In Michael Jackson’s song “Black and White” a reference is made towards the KKK. The line in the song goes, “I ain’t scared of no sheets” (Stanza 7 Line 6). This starts to raise questions as to why he mentions them. This song is talking about the concept of whites, and blacks in the world. The next line in the stanza states, “I ain’t scared of nobody” this can also reference to the KKK because of some of the things they did to African Americans. They did such things as burn crosses in the front yards of African Americans to even murdering entire families. We know now why Michael was so passionate about the issue. The race of a person shouldn’t be an excuse for the kind of torture they received.
Secondly, the race of a person has nothing to do with who they are on the inside. We are all human. The last line of many stanzas in Michael Jackson’s song “Black and White” states, “It don’t matter if you’re black or white” (Black or White). In the article Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the Politics of #BlackLivesMatter written by D. B. Anderson it states, “I think something other than apathy is really at work here: fear and trepidation. Artists fear that taking a political stand may jeopardize their reputations and careers” (par. 4). This goes to show that there is still racism in the world we live in today. It isn’t to the same extreme, but it is still evident that there is some.
Continuing with the race of a person we see later in the song “Black and White”, “See, it’s not about races, just places, faces, where your blood comes from is where your space is…” (Stanzas 8-9). This is Michael saying, the world isn’t a better place with race thrown into the equation. The world has enough problems of its own to need to deal with race. Michael Jackson was a very influential person. Reverting back to my earlier statement about the article, Michael did not care about what other people though, and he conveyed his message to many people without them knowing. If more artists were like this the world would have more influence to stop the racism towards African American’s as well as other races. Some of the issues dealing with race can even start a war on a certain race or country.
Next on the board is war. War can be a nasty thing to deal with, and can leave “scars” meaning it can leave lasting impressions as to why the war was started. The war on race was a major one. Though it might not be a significantly large as a world war, it is still in our home country. Michael Jackson states in his song in stanza eight, “for gangs, clubs, and nations causing grief in human relations, it’s turf war on a global scale…” (Black and White). The war Michael Jackson is talking about is a global war because it is not just African Americans who are discriminated against, it is also Jewish people and Arabs. Michael Jackson was able to show people through his lyrics that what we are doing in the world isn’t working. We need to put the skin color and ethnic background aside and become one.
All in all, Michael’s words or wisdom could be useful to American now. With everything that is going on in the United States of America from the race riots to the shooting of officers in New York City. The most recent was this Friday on Fox News where a Caucasian officer was shot in the head by and African American man. The madness Jackson spoke of in this song need to stop. From the KKK in Jacksons time, to the race of you as a person, and the war that it causes. The KKK thankfully is nothing like what it was in the times of Jackson. The race of a person is the main topic of discussion now days because of everything that is going on in this corrupt world. The war it is causing between races is uncalled for. Michael Jackson was very careful in putting this song together, the fact that he sang it and put it into the lives of many Americans shows that he has the courage to stand up to racism.
Symbolism in Michael Jackson’s “Black or White Video” by Solomon Ortega
In many of his works, Michael Jackson uses veiled imagery to represent social and cultural problems of the time. This trend is most prominent in his music video, “Black or White” in which he uses wordplay and allusions to describe racial tensions. In addition to the surface meaning of the video, which is the past and current injustices associated with race, there is also a good deal of symbolism that brings the problems of society to light. The end of the video is also important as it has a darker tone and reflects more on the deeper problems of the time. When considered with the initial reaction to the work, the two parts come together to show the problems and difficulties of a culture undergoing change.
The first part of the music video is, for the most part straight forward and literal. However, the lyrics of the song hardly match the video’s message of acceptance and cooperation. Phrases such as, “I aint scared of your brother, I aint scared of no sheets” (Jackson) and, “It’s a turf war on a global scale” (Jackson) represent the beatings and killings done by people and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan as well as the attitude that it’s every group of people for themselves. Despite the grim tone of the lyrics, the video itself has a different tone with multicultural dancers, and babies of different race sitting on a slowly revolving globe. This contrast is itself a symbol for how people will say they act one way, but will actually, when not observed, act another. This idea is furthered by the line in which Jackson says, “Don’t tell me you agree with me when I saw you kicking dirt in my eye” (Jackson). The conflicting duality of the video serves to represent the confusion that surrounded the subject of race at a time when the errors of the past were not spoken of or forgotten. In a way, Jackson uses this video to unearth racial tensions and current wrongdoings of the time.
In the second part of the video, Jackson follows up on the song with a dance filled with racial symbolism. While the symbols are obscure to many of the white viewers they resonated deeply with many of the African American viewers who had different experiences. The first prominent symbol of the dance is the way in which he dances. Tap dancing originated as a form of comedy ridiculing black people and was not often seen at the time. Another symbol incorporated into the dance can be found in the use of eroticism that is prominent in the work.As Barbara Kaufmann wrote in her paper “Black White and Proud”, “Whites wanted blacks to be quiet and not propagate while they used many methods of population control” (Kaufmann). During the entire video, Jackson wears a white bandage on his right arm referencing the case in which he was reportedly beaten by a police officer resulting in extensive bruising on his arm. One of the more obvious symbols of the dance is the panther that transforms into Jackson. Representing the Black Panther organization, which primarily focused on black pride, the panther associated Jackson with racial pride.
Between its message and the confusing second part of the video, there was a large controversy over its release. Upon seeing the video, MTV initially refused to play “Black or White because it was made by an African American artist. However, the public outcry following this announcement caused the them to add the video to rotation under the condition that they could remove the last dance as it contained too many references to slavery and inequality, and was too confusing for many people to follow. The delay and censorship of the work further served to validate the points that the song makes as it shows that both racism and corruption were prominent in the society of the day. As Kaufmann wrote in “Black White and Proud”, “The white community was aghast at Michael Jackson’s “antics” They completely missed the message because it wasn’t intended for them.” (Kaufmann). It wasn’t until years after the release of the video, people began to understand What Jackson was saying. Today, Jackson is hailed as a visionary who broke the barrier for African American artists and began the process of cultural change in American society.
Without the extensive symbolism found in “Black or White”, much of the meaning of the video would been lost. Ranging from the open and obvious symbolism of the first part, to the more discrete and subdued nature of the second part, The message of “Black or White” was interpreted and has changed how a generation of people view both themselves and others. With the contribution of this song, Jackson changed the public view on race and began to pave the way to real equality. In all, Jackson’s performance has had a lasting effect on people and has made a lasting change in the world.
Black, White, and Something In-between by Will Murrey
Michael Jackson’s song, Black or White, he tries to show people how no matter your color, religion, or background, we are all still human. It seems like something simple to understand and support but at the time, and even now, it was and is controversial. The song was not just about race it also had a smaller “secret” meaning about family and how they should be together.
The opening scene in Black or White is of a young boy listening to his rock and roll in his room, just a little too loud. The boy’s father finally has enough and marches upstairs to force him to turn the music off, slamming the door behind him causing the picture of MJ to fall to the floor and shatter. In response the boy carries his electric guitar downstairs and plugs it into two giant speakers. With one big “rock star” strum he sends his dad through the roof and high into the sky. After this the main song starts and the boy is not seen again until later in the video.
There were other songs that were “rebellious” telling people to push against authority, but this song was almost the exact opposite. Instead, even though many did not see it at first, it was telling families to be together. Instead of going off and doing your own thing, turn off the TV or the music or whatever else and get together and spend quality time with one another. It is not too hard to imagine why MJ might have slipped this into his song. One reason being, as Raven Woods put in her summary of the song:
All one has to do is look back a few short years to 1985 and the popular success of Twisted Sister’s I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take it videos to see what was, in all likelihood, the seeds of what would later evolve as the Macauley Culkin/George Wendt showdown in Black or White.
However there may be another reason for MJ to put this in his song. His own home life could have influenced the decision to put such a spin to his work. Michael’s father is known to be a very stern and feared man, Michael himself was afraid of him and this could be another added factor of why this scene was added to the music video.
Around the middle of the video the boy from the beginning appears again surrounded by other kids of different genders and races. “Michael is the lone adult figure in this group, but he is not seen as an authority figure” (Woods). This seems to further enforce the idea of everyone being equal and being friends. Children lack the discretion that adults have especially when it comes to things like racism, the adults are the ones that enforce these things causing the children to believe in the wrong morals. The deeper meaning comes at the very end of the video with a scene from the Simpson’s TV show where Homer turns off the TV. This may point again to the fact that Michael wants not only people but families as well to put aside their differences and spend time together.
In an interview Michael said that he never meant for the video to be so controversial, but many disagree. It is easy to tell that he meant for this to make people “wake up” to the world that they have become blind to. That was the real meaning behind the song, no matter how you took it, it was meant to change how you thought about the world we live in, or at least the home.
Does It Matter If You’re Black or White? by Katherine Mott
Nowadays, everyone is trying to fit a mold set by society. Whether it is to be skinny, tall, tan, beautiful, or muscular, there are many different expectations set in place for everyone to meet. In Michael Jackson’s time, it was especially difficult for African Americans, as they were (and still are) discriminated against for not being able to meet society’s standards. In the video for Jackson’s song “Black or White”, the theme of transformation plays a large role. Not only does he criticize the racism in America, but also the media’s portrayal of how everyone should look and act. Scenes of people morphing into other people and Jackson turning into a black panther serve to show how everyone is expected to fit a perfect model created by society.
Towards the end of the first half of the music video, many different people are shown dancing and singing along to “Black or White” and then morphing into other people. Not only does this showcase the diversity of the human race, it also serves to symbolize the expectations set by our society. Everyone is forced to believe that in order to be beautiful, you must be a certain height, weight, color, and age. Instead of promoting individuality, our culture promotes a specific mold that everyone must fit into. Magazines and commercials advertising the newest weight loss program or the latest makeup bombard us. Models and celebrities are praised for their beauty and appearance. In his music video for “Black or White”, Jackson celebrates the individuality of each and every person, no matter his or her age, shape, or skin tone. The people in the video are shown happy and beautiful, just as they were created. They didn’t have to meet society’s standards to be worthy.
In the second half of the music video for “Black or White”, a black panther is seen roaming the video set and then an empty street. All of a sudden, the panther transforms into Michael Jackson. Jackson then begins tap dancing. Both the black panther and the dancing are important symbols. The panther symbolizes the Black Panther Party, a group of black nationalists and socialists. According the article “History of the Black Panther Party”, the group trained in self-defense and worked against police brutality. They used community programs and projects to initiate revolutionary socialism (Baggins). The Black Panthers were strong believes in equality for African Americans, even if it meant attaining it in violent ways. The tap dancing was also a symbol. The author of the article “Black and White and Proud” said that tap dancing “began as a mockery of slaves with ‘blackface comedy,’ in which white men painted their faces black and mimicked slave farmhands working in the fields; depicted them as clumsy, as buffoons, and attempting to run away in tap dance movements” (Kaufmann). Jackson’s imitation of this was a way of bringing light to the racism and discrimination in America. People who were different were mocked and ridiculed. Jackson wanted to expose this injustice and make people uncomfortable. He wanted them to see what society had done to his relatives in the past. Obviously, he succeeded in making people uncomfortable, because MTV banned the music video soon after its release. These symbols serve as part of the theme of transformation in this video. They make people think deeper into the song than just the lyrics.
One of the greatest music artists in American history is Michael Jackson. His songs are not only fun to listen to, but most of them share a deep message. “Black or White” is a perfect example of this. Behind the upbeat tune lie lyrics that cry out for change. Jackson wants people to realize the corrupt state of our society and the media. By trying to shape and mold everyone into this perfect ideal, we are slowly destroying the beauty and creativity inside everyone. Through the music video for this song, Jackson portrays a theme of transformation. He slyly mocks the media for its concentration on an ideal perfection. Jackson wants everyone to know that it does not matter if you are black or white. Be who you were created to be. That is what makes this music video great. That is what makes Michael Jackson great.
Michael Jackson’s Fight for His Beliefs by Sureena Monteiro-Pai
Michael Jackson is well known for his catchy pop songs and his everlasting impact on the world of music. He used “Black and White” to show his disapproval of white supremecy and his support of civil rights and equality for those of every heritage. Michael Jackson can be seen as a civil rights activist and one who fought for everything he believed is right in his song “Black and White”.
Jackson’s civil rights activism starts from his childhood. He grew up as one who was exposed to racism and segregation. With the other members of his family, he would sneak in and out past curfew to play in town. With the older population still being accustomed to racism and slavery, he was still not treated as a true human. This is why he believes that the youth can fix what the older population has done (Kaufmann). He added the ‘parenting authority’ to encourage kids to ignore their parent’s habits of racism and integrate the children of all nationalities and races.
Jackson stated several times that he believes the press and other celebrities twist and turn his words and actions to reflect only upon the bad he does or appears to do. He spent a lot of his life dedicating time, money, and cheer to hospitals and other places with those in need (Woods). Despite this, the press would not focus on his charity work. Even though laws prevented slavery, the white community still had a lingering sense pride and entitlement to the greater resources. Although his music was popular, MTV denied him the ability to play his music videos on their channel due to his race (Kaufmann). He took this as an opportunity to strike back stronger whenever he was denied with “Black and White” and other songs. Jackson truly believed that music has the power to unify people and he used it to try to bring together people of many cultures and religions (White).
The music video of “Black and White” shows the racism and segregation seen in the world around Jackson. The video is “full of history, anger, beauty, and faith in humanity’s potential” (White). He tries to portray not only the sorrows experienced by the black community, but that it is not a curse to be Black. His main point is that all humans, no matter what color, are deserving of respect and love. In the video, the fire represents all the riots and rage between the colored community and the white community. At the time, there were riots in Chicago, especially at a hotel that he includes in the video. He makes references to the Klu Klux Klan by showing burning crosses to show how they would use flaming crosses to strike fear into the black population. He said “I ain’t afraid of no sheets” to reference the Klu Klux Klan men who wore white sheets and lynched black men (Kaufmann).
He also incorporates eroticism and tap dances to represent the cruelty of the slave owners. When he grabs his crotch, he is referencing how white men impregnated colored in order to prevent more colored children. This would instead produce lighter colored children to eventually eradicate their black heritage. The white people often could not understand what this was referring to and misinterpreted it as him being overly sexual and having sexual themes to the video. He purposely does this for the sole reason that it is highlighting an injustice that the white population has created and cannot understand. He also did the tap dance to reference slavery. White men saw the slaves work as never good enough and believed that they were all goofy and incapable of doing the work. The tap dance shows how the white men mimicked black slaves in order to make them look like they are slackers and are clumsy. It can also mimic their attempts to escape slavery (Kaufmann).
The final panther dance is considered vulgar and many people are baffled by what it means. It is actually referring to the black pride shown by James Brown and the Black Panthers. The panther also represents the fierce fighting force and the rage of the black population about the segregation (Kaufmann). He rips off both his black and white clothing to show that everyone should have the rage from when the hotel incident happened. He strolls off into the night with passive rage, doing much less damage than he did as a man. It shows his rage on the inside without doing damage on the outside.
Michael Jackson not only left his footprint on the world of music, but also established his career as a civil rights activist. He used music to try to bring together people of different heritages and cultures. His childhood greatly influenced his future aspirations as a civil rights activist. He incorporated many techniques in the music video of “Black and White” such as tap dancing, eroticism, and animal symbolism. His music created a large impact at the time it was released, as well as also having a continuing impact on the lives of many in today’s and the future’s generations.
In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White” parental authority is used as a sub theme of the video. The music video starts off and ends with a scene of parental authority between a father and son. The role of parental authority can be observed by analyzing the opening conflict, the closing conflict and the role of childhood rebellion.
The opening scene of the music video starts with a young boy rocking out to a song a little to loud for his father’s liking. The father is watching baseball and yells for the boy to turn it down. The boy does not hear his demand so the father goes to the boy’s room to confront him. He tells the boy to turn it off, that he is wasting his time with that kind of music and to go to bed. On his way out, the father slams the boy’s door and a framed Michael Jackson poster falls and shatters. The boy decides to retaliate by setting up two incredibly large speakers and blasting the windows and his father out of the house. The father lands in a third world African country and Michael takes over with his song.
The second scene of a conflict of parental authority closes out the video and is of the television show “The Simpsons”. The camera pans out of the family’s television and shows Bart dancing on the couch to the ending of the music video, still playing on the television. Homer walks in the room and tells Bart to turn it off, to which Bart responds by telling him to chill out. Homer then takes the remote and turns the television off himself thus concluding the music video entirely.
The two instances both show a boy who is doing what he wants to do and the father telling him to stop. What the boys are doing apparently is not what the father wants them to be doing and we see the clash of interests take place. Both boys talk back against their father’s wishes and, even though the first scene never shows whether the father returns from the third world country it is implied that the son is disciplined later, the father puts a stop to what the boys are doing. The parental authority shown in these two scenes is depicted as a tyrannical form of authority. Nonetheless the boys rebel against their parents. These instances harp on childhood rebellion and Michael ties that with the real world issue of oppression and intolerance. Raven Woods touches on this topic in her post “The Seeds of Black or White and the Sub Theme of Parental Authority”. She says,
“The adults are simply being bullies, and the kids overcome the bullying by fighting for their right to express themselves. But in Black or White, Michael never strays too far from the moral compass. Parents can be bullies sometimes; they can be unreasonable, obnoxious, demanding, and annoying. But in the end, it’s only because they want what’s best for the child-and children must respect that.”
Michael ties this in with society in the instance of oppression and intolerance of blacks. Michael fought for equality and pushed for the oppressed to fight for their right to express themselves. So, this form of childhood rebellion depicted in this music video is a smaller picture to Michael’s bigger picture of society.
In “Black or White” parental authority is shown in two instances of the video, in the opening scene and the closing. The point of these instances is to show a form of childhood rebellion to the parents who seemed to be a little out of line. These scenes are Michael’s way of depicting society’s oppression and intolerance of blacks, and plays into his push for equality between all races not just blacks and whites.
Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video is the result of his hurt, anger and frustration from personal experiences as a victim of prejudice and racism. His feeling is expressed through his artistry of lyrics, dancing and humorous antics. It also reveals his thoughts of equality to anyone regardless of color or ethnicity. Michael Jackson, the social activist, raised his voice through his performance of fearless expressions against injustices during the video “Black or White”. His boldness simply relays the message that we are all one and the same.
Michael grew up in the sixties, during the era of the civil rights movement. He had to witness discrimination and segregation against blacks. The hatred was visible through many instances where treatment of violence and some inhumane actions towards them. As a child, his experiences and witnessing of injustices and inequalities is more than overwhelming and leaves lasting effects. Michael gains boldness to retaliate, but without violence, as the reaction to these horrible images. His retaliation is fought with the brilliance of his mind through his artistry. His sensitive nature and love for humanity leads him to become a civil rights activist.
As an adult in the height of his fame as a singer, dancer and performer, Jackson had the world’s attention. What better way for him to use the attention as a resource to voice his concerns and feelings regarding prejudice and racism. In 1991 released video, Black or White, is about bringing all types of races and cultures together. Some of his humorous antics within the video were misinterpreted. The erotic dancing had a hidden message to a particular audience. Punching through smoky cloud referred to the thematic rebellion against racial and cultural burning of crosses by the Klu Klux Klan. The lyrics relating to this scene is letting the white supremacy know that he is not afraid of them (Kaufmann.6).
He faced misunderstood criticism which caused controversy all over the world. This worldwide controversy leads to boycotting his videos by certain networks. One particular network, “MTV”, refused to play any of his short film videos (Kaufmann 4). Fortunately, it was not a hindrance to his success. Single-handedly with bravery and boldness, Michael broke that barrier by winning his second Grammy Award (Kaufmann 4). His ability to increase the meaning of his messages vocally, visually and physically earned his right to fame and recognition. His humbled mannerism only desired respect to go beyond boundaries.
As a global celebrity, he used every part of his being to make a difference (Anderson 1). Michael Jackson was not afraid to put himself out there for speaking the truth. Regardless of how it affected him as an artist or his integrity; it was his sacrifice for equality. He faced wrongful accusations from the media which tainted his image as a man. He was under attack by a white district attorney for many years charging him with scandalous crimes. These supposed crimes were never proven during trial (Anderson 2). He endured a great loss financially due to losing sponsorships following a protest against conspiracies of his record label as they were mocked in the press (Anderson 2). As a very vocal and influential wealthy black man, he stood to lose a lot; but all in the name of truth and standing for what is right (Anderson 2).
Researching works of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, have given me a greater respect for him. His work reflects his belief that all men are created equal and should be treated as equal; no matter their color or cultural background. The ingenious artistry of how his message is conveyed has attracted the attention of many all over the world. He is letting the world know, that “he’s tired of this devil, he’s tired of this stuff” and “he ain’t scared of your brother, he ain’t scared of no sheets and he ain’t scared of nobody”. It don’t matter if you’re black or white” (Michael Jackson).
The legacy of the late Michael Jackson is one that will live forever. From a small child growing up in Gary Indiana, there was something special about him that the world had to experience. His musical talents are probably what he is most famous for however, Michael Jackson was also an activist for civil rights. In one of his most popular and controversial songs, “Black or White,” Michael Jackson displays his disgust of being a black man in America. The video conveys a number of symbolic representations. From the KKK symbols, to the ethnic dances, to the Black Panther, Michael Jackson unmasks a racially corrupt America.
Jackson makes a profound reference to the Klu Klux Klan in one of his verses. “I ain’t afraid of no sheets,” he is describing the white sheets shaped like cones draped over the heads of a very brutal white supremacy group. They are responsible for the lynching of many blacks in the 1960’s. Jackson also shows the burning of the crosses that symbolize the torture caused by the group. The KKK would often burn crosses in the yard of blacks to terrorize them. In her article, Barbra Kaufmann describes the group being known for “vigilante justice”.
In another segment of the video Michael Jackson raises awareness about global racism. He begins to dance with different ethnic groups of the world: Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and even Russians. Kaufmann describes it as “the dance of life that encircles all humans.” Jackson shows his viewers that racism is not just an American issue, it’s a world issue. The dance choreography promotes unity and world peace. He sings, “It’s not about races, just faces, where your blood comes from is where your space is.” He demonstrates the common problem between many ethnicities which is racism. Throughout this song he shows us that no matter where you are from, love and equality has no preference. The dance ultimately represents his personal transformation.
Last, Jackson uses the black cat at the end of the video to reference the poplar Black Panthers Party of the 1960’s. The militant group is often depicted as terrorists; however the group and its supporters raise awareness to the “Black Power” movement. Their revolutionary and socialist demonstrations were initially used to change the behaviors of police officers and investigate police brutality. Jackson expresses his support of the party by displaying the closed fist. At the end of the video he proceeds on with what is known as the “Panther Dance.” It was an impromptu routine that included no professional dancing. This is Michael’s interpretation of the panther’s wild and animalistic behavior: He sheds light on the mockery made of African Americans such as entertainers. The tap dancing was a reference to slavery. Many slaves were mimicked by white men that painted their faces pretending to be working slaves. Michael’s awareness of this issue is further explored by his symbolic imagery.
Although we know Michael as a musical genius, he is also a powerful voice of racial reform. He used his platform to raise awareness to racism throughout the entire world. “Black or White” is just one of the many works that Jackson uses to cleverly depict world corrupt with racism. Who would have known that the very issues that he sung about many years ago would still exist today? In the wake of recent racial killings, his words still hold true. Jackson sings, “See it’s not about races, where your blood comes from is where your space is”. Although he is not with us, the profound messages in his work speak to hearts of many generations.
If there was ever an artist who could stand up to the establishment and make a bold statement while making a ‘song and dance’ out of it to and mesmerize the world, it would have to be Michael Jackson. MJ has never been a conventional person and the boldness of his artistry was all too evident in the music video of the song ‘Black or White’ and a clear allusion to the black-panther symbol that stood for the trials and tribulations of the African American community in the US.
Black or White is full of vibrant symbolism that is a vocal expression of Michael Jackson’s defiance against a grossly unfair system and country that condoned discrimination along with blatant suppression of human rights against the majority black population. It was during the 1960’s time period of racial segregation and injustice that the US had gone through and which MJ and the Jackson Five had personally witnessed and experienced.
However, the beauty about art is that it can cleverly convey a message in a manner that is laced with such finesse that it comes across as a ‘blink and you would miss it’. MJ effortlessly makes his point while you are taken in by the sheer picturesque arrangement of the spectacularly shot video.
First, the study aims to examine the unique imagery and messaging occurring from the inclusion of the black-panther in the “Black and White” music video by Michael Jackson. There were skeptics who had completely opposed the black-panther addition in this video as being unnecessary, avoidable, self-indulgent and even offensive. The peculiar motivations for Michael Jackson to portray the black-panther in this widely acclaimed and globally watched video that had taken the world by storm on its release. One of MJ unique messaging code in when the panther approaches the statue of George Washington it growls.
Second, the Black or White music video was released on US television in November 1991 to a confused and mixed response with some sections pointing out that the video alluded to violence, racial disharmony and sexual controversy. The allusion that was found offensive revolved around the distinct imagery of the black-panther in the form of the ‘panther dance’ that came towards the very end of the music video of ‘Black or White’.
This video has three separate sections with the first section depicting a typical white family in suburbia, a picture of ‘normality’ and even luxury in the American context. The next section depicts folks of various genders and races morphing one into the other to show skin color-based diversity that exists around the world. The last few minutes of the video show consist of MJ doing the ‘black-panther;’ dance without music in a dark alley with some violent and even possibly sexually laced moves including grabbing his crotch and smashing of a car window, tossing a garbage can and lots of screaming. It is this dance portion that evoked huge controversy after the video was released.
Third, the ‘black-panther’ dance has obvious symbolic significance as it depicts the reality of race relations and the long history of discrimination and mistrust that were a reality concerning African Americans in the US (Chin). MJ first dance is not just any dance, it is a tap dance. Tap dance has a significant historical context to blacks. It is especially demeaning because it originated as “blackface comedy”.
Starting with slavery and exploitation to segregation and injustice, the African American has seen it all. The Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. espoused redemption and justice for the African American on a non-violent basis, much like the non-violent movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in India for freedom from British rule.
It was in this context that the Black Panthers Party was formed in California in 1966, as revolutionary movement to fight for the rights of blacks, using violence as a platform if need be (“The Black Panther”). The whole premise of this party was that the non-violent Civil Rights movement had failed in achieving its avowed goals; hence, there was a need to militantly fight for what was justly theirs. The Black Panthers had a 10 point charter that roughly translated to fighting for rights in education, employment, housing, and civil dignity for the African American. It is said that the FBI played a very active role in the collapse of the Black Panthers Party movement through various methods of sabotage.
Reverend Kaufman makes a reference to Michael Jackson and the Black Panther Dance in “Black and White and Proud” (Kaufman 2010) as “The past and Michael Jackson’s part in it, his contribution to the present and impact on the future, is not to be understated or dismissed.” This is a specific reference to the exact reason MJ wanted to include the Black Panther dance in the video of Black or White in terms of making a statement of the shared history of all African Americans. It was a kind of tribute to all the pain, insults and degradation that blacks in America had faced as part of their collective past, having been considered to be second or third class citizens of the USA.
Finally, MJ was quite aware of the past, but he wanted to make sure that his work in the present would represent a hope for a brighter future and in his own unique way he represented his sentiment through the Black Panther dance in the Black or White video. There were many who misunderstood Michael Jackson and his reasons for including the Black Panther dance.
I hope you have enjoyed these. There were actually a lot more essays on “Earth Song” this semester; so many, in fact, that I may have to split those over two posts. I will try to have the first batch up within a couple of days, and then will follow with the remainder a day or so after.
This is a Michael Jackson blog and usually all my topics are focused on MJ but, every so often, a death occurs in the music world so huge that I must take a step back long enough to acknowledge their accomplishments. Like Michael, B.B. King was a global icon whose music genuinely transcended time and genres. It doesn’t matter if one is into blues, rock, pop, jazz, or country, everyone knew the name B.B. King. Tonight, as the world mourns the loss of our great blues legend B.B. King I thought it only fitting to go back in time to 1985 and a very special concert that not only featured James Brown and B.B. King on the same stage, but also Michael in a very surprise guest appearance. Well, sort of. It turns out Michael had been secretly in the audience all along. I’m not sure if it was a genuine surprise for him when James Brown called him up-he seemed to take it all in very cool stride-but it sure made for some impromptu fun!
Luckily, I was able to find a clip of the entire performance. What a truly magical night-The King of Blues, The King of Soul and The King of Pop (albeit all too briefly) sharing the same stage!
Another great performance from the man who still had “it” well into his 80’s:
RIP B.B. King. You and the sweet notes of Lucille will be sorely missed by all of us who love great music.
This photo of a youthful Crystal Lee King-Jackson caused quite a sensation when it was first posted by Yashi Brown on her Twitter timeline. For those of you who, like me, have always thought that Michael never exactly looked like either Joseph or Katherine, and have wondered where did those dazzling eyes, cheekbones, and wide smile come from-look no further! Mystery solved. Michael may have inherited a lot of great characteristics from his mother, and may have borne a somewhat passing resemblance to his father (which I believe, without cosmetic surgery, would have become more pronounced as he aged) but it’s clear that from this youthful photo of Crystal Lee King -Jackson, Michael’s paternal grandmother, “that face” that we know and love so well obviously owes a huge debt to those Lee/King genetics. And it doesn’t even stop at the face. Check out the hands with those long, lovely fingers!
On Mother’s Day in past years, I have written many tributes to Katherine Jackson. But this year I thought it would be interesting to go a generation back, to the mother of Joe Jackson, and reflect on the life of the very beautiful but troubled young woman who turned many mens’ lives inside out-for better and worse.
Unfortunately, Crystal King’s own life is somewhat shrouded in mystery, and perhaps it is ironic that what little we do know has come down to us filtered through the eyes and memories of the man her actions affected most-her son Joe Jackson. Under such circumstances, it can be easy for a son’s bitterness to taint his memories of his mother, and ultimately to cloud her own story. We may ask: How fair is it, really, for a woman-especially a girl growing up in rural Arkansas at the turn of the century-to have her entire history and identity to be shaped and molded by the males in her life? It is an interesting paradox, especially when we look at this photo of what appears such a vibrant, sassy and confident young woman who looked ready to take on the world in the 1920’s.
Crystal was born in either 1900 or 1907 (accounts seem to vary between these two years and I have not been able to verify which is accurate, though 1907 would put her closer to the right age when she met and married Samuel Jackson). She was only sixteen and a mere schoolgirl-but quite wild by most accounts!-when she caught the eye of her handsome and distinguished teacher, Samuel Jackson, said to have been the first African-American teacher in the state of Arkansas. Theirs was a romance that would have been much frowned upon today, with the thirty-year-old Jackson, a man in a position of authority and power, courting his sixteen-year-old student. But it was a different time and era. Opportunities for women were scarce, and a man like Jackson would have been viewed as a “good catch.”
But what happened to Crystal is what often happens to young girls forced to grow up too soon; to marry and have babies and take on adult responsibilities long before they are either physically, emotionally, or mentally ready for such responsibilities. She broke, and ultimately rebelled.
After marrying Samuel, Crystal gave birth to five children in fairly quick succession, the oldest of those children a son named Joseph Walter Jackson. There was little understanding in those days of postpartum depression and its effects on young mothers, much less sympathy. Regardless of whatever shock their bodies and minds may have borne; regardless of whatever dreams they may have been forced to give up, young women were expected to smile graciously under their load, to bear the pain and to keep the husband and children happy.
Something ultimately snapped in young Crystal, and her life took a downward spiral turn that never quite righted itself. Joe Jackson would grow up with memories of a mother who too often wasn’t there; who disappeared without word for long stretches, leaving him ultimately as the man of the household. Drug addiction and even rumored prostitution became Crystal’s reality (the prostitution, no doubt, a necessity to feed her addictions). Joe remembered his mother as someone who would re-enter his life again, from time to time. Samuel still had his “thing” for her and would always take her back, like the prodigal wife and mother,but these reunions were always short-lived. By the time Joe was twelve, they had separated for good.
I don’t know if Crystal ever completely conquered her demons and found some measure of peace and happiness, but after leaving Samuel permanently, she eventually settled in East Chicago, Indiana, where her son Joseph reunited with her in 1949. It was there that he met young Katherine Scruse, and the rest is history.
But even though Crystal Lee King Jackson lived to a fairly ripe old age (she died in 1992, having lived long enough to see many of her grandchildren become famous) her relationship with her eldest son remained a troubled one. Joe Jackson has stated that those early experiences, of being abandoned by his mother and left to take over as head of the family, scarred him and had much to do with forming his own hardened layers in order to survive. He learned not to show emotion. He learned not to cry. He had to learn how to be tough, and not to be perceived as weak.
Thus, a young man who became hard because he could never really love or understand his mother became, in turn, a hardened father who could never really allow his children to love or understand him. Such is the cycle of family pain and abuse.
Looking back at the photo of this vibrant young woman, one can’t help but wonder if Crystal’s life might have turned out very differently had been allowed to pursue the education that was duly disrupted when her own teacher fell in love and lust with her. Or would she have still been a doomed soul whose ability to drive men to distraction became her own undoing?
Whatever one may ponder about the life of this beautiful but ultimately tragic young woman, or how differently it might have played out had she been born in another era, one thing can’t be denied. Her genetics live on in the eyes and smiles of her famous grandchildren. I can see so much of her, especially in Rebbie, LaToya, Janet, Randy and, most especially, Michael. Genetics are funny that way. I still remember quite vividly that moment from a few years ago when I came face to face with LaToya and how it tripped me out for just a moment because it was “those” eyes; Michael’e eyes, just in a different face. There are some, certain things we can’t deny. Family and genes are right at the top of the list.
It is true that no woman shaped Michael’s life more than his mother Katherine Jackson. But let’s not forget that his family history and legacy-as is true of all of us-was shaped by the lives, sacrifices, heartaches and joys of many women and many mothers. Their blood and their tears are the rivers that flow in our veins.
As Michael might have said, they are the ones who create our HIStory.
Back in October and November, a very interesting multi-part discussion of Michael’s HIStory teaser film on the Dancing With the Elephant blog led to an equally interesting discussion of Michael’s 1995 Diane Sawyer interview in the comments section.
The relevance of the Sawyer interview to that discussion was because Sawyer had played the clip of the HIStory teaser film during the interview, referencing the current controversy of the teaser as a pro-Nazi film modeled after Triumph Of The Will. Of course, Michael denied that accusation, but the resulting debate might have been a fascinating discussion of how Michael viewed his art-had there been more time in the interview,perhaps, but also, if he had he not been so snidely cut off by Sawyer before getting a word in about his art edgewise.
The discussion led me to go back and re-watch the interview in its entirety. A few things have always interested me about this interview, and I decided this was a good time to go back and review it again. Sure, Diane Sawyer was needlessly smug and condescending through the whole thing, but what’s interesting to me are Michael’s responses-not just the content of what he says here, but how he says it. In analyzing both the responses Michael and Lisa Marie gave, as well as their combined body language, a lot is revealed and/or can be reasonably surmised-about their relationship, their responses to the questions about the allegations, about Michael’s appearance, and how he operated as an artist. Whether directly spoken or insinuated through their body language and reactions, much can be read between the lines in this interview. In recent weeks, I have gone back to this interview time and again. Amazingly, this one interview could satisfactorily answer most of the world’s burning questions about Michael Jackson-if they would but watch and listen. And that has nothing-zero, nada, nilch-to do with Diane Sawyer’s skills as an interviewer, but everything to do with simply how her subjects responded.
One reason I think this interview is possibly a little more candid than many that Michael gave solo is, perhaps, because of the fact that Lisa Marie was with him. Michael had done interviews with others before, of course. Throughout much of his youth, he had given interviews with his siblings. And he had given interviews alongside friends, such as when Elizabeth Taylor sat in briefly during his Oprah interview, but such interviews had become rare during the period of his adult superstardom-in fact, any interviews at all had become a rarity by the mid 90’s, and the few he did grant were always greeted with much pomp and circumstance, in which it was expected he would be the sole center of the event. This occasion, therefore, was historic in that it marked the first time he had conducted a full interview sitting alongside someone whose acquaintance with him went beyond either blood relation or mere friendship-in other words, the first time he had ever sat down for an interview alomgside someone with whom he would also be going home with once the cameras stopped rolling. Yes, I’m talking about sitting down to talk about himself along with a partner; someone who knows whether or not he puts the seat back down on the toilet. In other words, a wife. Thus, there is a much more intimate vibe to this conversation than in many of Michael’s past interviews. It is only natural that we tend to lower our guard and our defenses a bit when in the company of someone who knows us intimately. And we can also observe how Michael and Lisa tend to bounce and, at times, deflect off each other. In cases where Michael might have normally dodged the question a bit, or given his stock answers, Lisa comes swooping in with answers that, at times, knocks the interview slightly off center. In fact, there are times in the interview when she seems more determined than Michael to set certain things straight (perhaps stemming from a desire to mitigate some of the harsh criticism that had been directed at her since the marriage) but we also see here a very animated Michael who, for the first time, seems to really want to speak out, even if often held in check by Sawyer who obviously is attempting to maintain control of the interview , to manipulate it and to steer it where she wants it to go. Many times throughout the interview, it’s obvious that Michael is chomping at the bit. He doesn’t want to be directed; he is wanting to have his say-and, frankly, there are times when a very obviously frustrated Sawyer has her hands full keeping him in check.
From the get-go, of course, this is the kind of dynamic that is intended to put Michael at an instant disadvantage-place him between two women who are going to be talking about him. It was the same discomfiting triangle that Oprah Winfrey created in her ’93 interview when she had Liz Taylor come out. Craig Baxter, a noted body language expert, did a very fascinating video analyzing Michael’s body language during that segment of the interview. Even though everything Liz had to say was very positive, of course, it wasn’t necessarily about the words spoken. It was the intentionally discomfiting situation of someone having to stand (literally, as he gave up his seat for Elizabeth) in a room while he’s being talked about by others. What’s more, he knows he is on national TV at this moment. What does one do? Where does one put their hands? What kind of facial expression to maintain? Craig Baxter is right. When you watch the video, you can see what a very awkward, uncomfortable moment it is for him. Imagine how uncomfortable most guys would feel if they had to sit stuck in a room with their wife and their mother-in-law, listening while they talked about him! Well, just imagine that scenario and you can pretty well surmise what Michael was feeling. Even if the comments are well intended, it doesn’t alleviate the awkward embarrassment of the moment. As Baxter noted, it seemed almost like an intentional setup to purposely put him at that disadvantage. He was supposed to be the subject of the interview, after all, not Taylor. Perhaps it was just poor planning (Oprah apparently wanted to surprise Michael with Taylor’s appearance) but you don’t ask a big star like Michael Jackson to sit for an interview and then force him to stand on the sidelines while everyone around him gabs about him.
Now fast forward to 1995, and again, Michael has agreed to a situation that is going to place him squarely at somewhat of a disadvantage, as a man sitting between two women-his wife and a very aggressive interviewer. He has to know going in that he is going to be the subject of most of the questions. Diane Sawyer’s interest isn’t in Lisa Marie, other than indirectly as the partner in this marriage. Every question is going to be centered on aspects of his life-Did he or didn’t he molest a child? Does he or doesn’t he bleach his skin? Has he or hasn’t he slept with his own wife? He has to know already that very little of this is actually going to focus on what he really wants to discuss-his art and his new album. But with every interview is a fresh opportunity; a chance to say his piece; a chance to set some things straight. So he goes willingly into that lion’s den. Again.
The interview begins innocuously enough with Sawyer asking Michael and Lisa about the beginnings of the relationship. I would say that was a fair question because, for many of us, the relationship did seem to come suddenly, from out of nowhere (hence, much of the suspicion that also surrounded it). As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. In this segment, Michael is very animated and open, gushing about an attraction that, for him, had been ongoing for twenty years.
Lisa had made a lasting impression on him at the tender age of seven. He was seventeen when they first met, backstage in Las Vegas. His body language throughout this segment of the interview is open and direct, indicating that the feelings he is expressing are indeed genuine. His demeanor is every bit that of a man still on his honeymoon high. He is still thinking of himself as the luckiest guy in the world to have finally “won” her. The spontaneity of his gestures; his smiles as he recalls their beginnings are the earmark of honest emotion. In fact, he is so caught up and bubbling about his twenty-year-long attraction to her that he almost forgets, just for a moment, that it might seem a bit creepy to some that he was seventeen and she only seven when they first met, so he’s quick to add that he didn’t start asking Branca to contact her until she was eighteen. It’s actually a very cute moment in the interview when he realizes he had best clarify that there was no romantic interest until then. It is cute in the sense that he simply can’t hide his adoration of her, and for him, it’s hard to go back in time and imagine a time when he didn’t feel this way about her.
During this segment of the interview, he is much more open than Lisa, who remains fairly quiet and closed off, allowing him to take the lead here. I don’t think too much needs to be read into this. She is allowing him to take the lead because, after all, he was seventeen then; at seven, her memories of those times aren’t going to be nearly as sharp as his. Also, she is recognizing the importance of letting him have his opportunity to express his feelings for her on a world platform. At this stage, it was something the world needed to hear-how did Michael truly feel about Lisa Marie Presley? Thank goodness, he didn’t do anything so foolish as jumping up and down on a couch! He doesn’t even say “I love this woman” but he doesn’t have to. Again, his body language here has all the earmarks of genuine honesty, especially for anyone familiar with his base line expressions and gestures. When he says he was “torn up” seeing the announcement of her marriage to someone else on a magazine cover, it seems very much an honest statement.
There are times when both of their memories seem strangely fuzzy about details of their courtship. But these are the normal lapses that can come from such a whirlwind courtship as theirs. The relationship had not been an overnight one,but things had indeed moved at a tizzying pace when they became reacquainted as adults in late 1992. Some of the little lapses, such as one having to refresh the other’s memory about the details of their proposal, are perfectly normal and natural under the circumstances of which they became engaged. And being in an interview situation creates added pressure. The increased adrenalin levels that come with doing an interview are the same that propel the “fight or flee” instincts. You feel cornered; acutely aware that every word and gesture is going to be scrutinized. The fear of giving the “wrong” answer, even when there is nothing to hide, can create anxiety levels that will cause lapses in memory. The fact that Michael and Lisa have to occasionally jog each other’s recall is typical of many married couples, and it is amusing to watch the interplay between them. They sometimes become a bit like bickering kids-another surefire sign of real chemistry.
At this stage of the interview, they are both very much at ease. The questions aren’t producing tension. It’s an atmosphere that changes abruptly as soon as Sawyer begins to grill them about the allegations. Watch Michael’s and Lisa’s faces from about 3:18 when she steers the conversation to the idea of their marriage as being “too convenient.” You can visibly see them both steeling themselves for what’s about to come.
However, one should note here that they certainly didn’t go blindly into this interview expecting that these questions wouldn’t arise. It’s easy to sometimes bash the reporter in these situations, but Michael and Lisa had apparently signed an agreement in advance that no questions would be off limits, so it’s not exactly as if they were being ambushed out of the blue. The best interpretation of their expressions at this point is that they are both gathering their mental guns for what they know is going to be the most unpleasant segment of the interview. They know already the questions are going to be invasive, personal, and emotionally difficult to navigate-and that, in Michael’s case, an answer not well thought out could result in more problems with the Chandlers due to the legalities of the settlement (which inevitably did happen as a direct result of this interview).
Interestingly, both Michael and Lisa Marie had been public figures long enough that their base line gestures for almost any emotion or circumstance have become quite well known. They both react to the coming questions in each of their typical styles of dealing with difficult interview questions. Lisa’s baseline gesture, for example, is the tendency to duck her head and glance upward at the interviewer, the drooped eyelids (that physical trait so reminiscent of her father) becoming more pronounced. Her blinking increases dramatically. The gesture looks a bit shifty, but can actually be read as an unconscious defense mechanism. Michael’s gaze is steely and straightforward, almost non blinking, and he visibly swallows hard. The typicalreaction of people who are not very well versed in body language would interpret that as a sign of nervousness or fear, equated to guilt. In reality, swallowing hard is a natural reflective reaction to a stressful situation, but not necessarily equated to guilt. It means, simply enough, that the subject is feeling stress. He clearly doesn’t welcome the prospect of having to address these issues publicly because the very subject is stressful and distasteful to him, and puts him beneath a glare of scrutiny that he would prefer not to be under. He knew the question was going to come up; he just didn’t necessarily like “going there.” But note that his gaze remains straightforward, open, steady, and firm. He isn’t dodging the question, but rather, steeling himself for it. In their own way, each of them are digesting the questions carefully and formulating their strategies for response. It is also interesting that they both adopt similar defensive poses here. If you pause the clip at 4:33, you can see that Lisa is sitting with her legs tightly crossed. Both she and Michael have clasped their hands in front of them. As any body language expert will tell you, this is a gesture intended (unconsciously, of course) to create a barrier between themselves and the other person.
Even though Sawyer tries hard to steer the interview, both Michael and Lisa Marie turn out to be difficult subjects to “steer.” I’ve rarely seen an interview where the reporter is interrupted as often as Sawyer becomes during this segment! But we have to remember the underlying motivation of both of these people. They have obviously been led to believe this is an attempt to go on record to set some misconceptions straight-about the charges; about the status of their marriage. For both Michael and Lisa, there seems to be a lot of frustration with being cut-off in mid thought or manipulated to go in a direction other than the course they are upon.
The first such interruption occurs when Sawyer asks Lisa whether she ever asked him if the charges were true. Lisa emphatically says no; she didn’t. With that being said, the unspoken assumption is that she has taken his innocence purely on faith. Remember, this was the very thing for which she was roundly criticized in her later Oprah interview where she said as far as she knew, she never saw any wrongdoing but that she couldn’t vouch for “what went on behind closed doors.” For that remark, she got a lot of heat from fans who felt that she should have unequivocally defended him, rather than leaving a small chink open for doubters. But here it is the opposite: She leaves the impression of a woman who never doubted him, even enough to question him. It is only after Sawyer starts to speak again that she must have had some second thoughts about that answer, and interrupts to say, “I didn’t have to.” Apparently, she didn’t have to ask because Michael was being very open in supplying all the information she needed to make a judgement. That’s what she means when she says on the phone it was all, “Ahhhhhh!” Michael was using her to vent about every aspect of the case, so there was no need to ever raise the question. She had heard every detail of it.
Sawyer next turns the spotlight back on Michael. His demeanor hasn’t changed. He remains as stoic as stone during this segment, yet we can see him inwardly steeling himself for what is about to feel like being grilled on a witness stand. Even if it had been agreed in advance that they would not be afraid to answer any questions, I have to say I think it was the height of absurdity for Diane Sawyer to ask him if he had ever sexually fondled a child. Likewise, I think it is an absurd question that interviewers even to this day continue to put to Michael’s family and closest friends when they agree to do these interviews (Oprah is notorious for it). I mean, really, what are the friends and relatives supposed to say in response to such a question? What was Michael supposed to say here? Even if Michael was guilty as sin, it’s not like he’s going to sit there on national TV and admit to it. So why do they do it? What is the MO behind the strategy of such questions? From the interviewer’s perspective, the question serves a number of functions. One, of course, is that they can justify that they are giving the subject an opportunity to “set the record straight.” But more often, what they’re really hoping for is, perhaps, to trip them up in some way-not so much with an outright confession (which they know they won’t get) but by forcing them into some kind of unintentional blunder, or in some cases, simply seeing if they squirm. This, in turn, plays into the sensationalism aspect of it; the “hook” that is guaranteed to draw ratings. The truth is that most journalists could really care less whether the crime took place or not. But in feigning interest, they can ask the questions that they know will wet viewer appetites by putting the subject in a vulnerable position. People will not only be judging their response, but how they respond. Do they seem forthright and honest, or shifty and dodgy? Viewers look not so much at what is said, but how it is said and, in some cases, what is not said. These questions are posed as an attempt to read “between the lines” of their responses. They may not be as intense as police interrogations, but they are somewhat designed with the same purpose in mind-that an innocent subject should have nothing to hide; however, a guilty one just might crumble under pressure. If a reporter can succeed in scoring such a blunder, they consider it a major coup. We can rest assured that Martin Bashir’s wet dream was when he got Michael to talk about bed sharing with children. But it was a response that Michael was very craftily coerced into, and this becomes obvious on repeated viewings of the footage. I’m not trying to argue that Bashir put words in Michael’s mouth, but it was the overall combatant and manipulative nature of the questioning, which was designed to put Michael on the defensive. A subject who is being made to feel on the defensive is a subject under duress-a situation that is sure to work out to the reporter’s advantage, and not to the subject’s. The more cornered and under duress a subject feels, the more the guard comes down. But this can be true regardless of the subject’s guilt or innocence. Just as most anyone will eventually break under an intense interrogation, regardless of whether they committed any crime, so, too, can a subject break and lash out if too many buttons are pushed during an interview. The sheer sensory overload of being put on the defense can drive one to become irritable and testy. Michael was often pushed to this brink in many interviews (we see it hear; we saw it in the Oprah interview, and we saw it in the Martin Bashir interview). I think his irritation arose from being asked what he perceived as invasive and irrelevant questions. Even when he agreed to these sort of “no holds barred” interviews (because he recognized their necessity and because people who had his ear were always telling him they were a good idea) he didn’t like doing them. As Lisa Marie would later say, the rebel in him often lashed out in surprising ways. And if he felt strongly about something, he wasn’t going to back down from it even if others perceived those beliefs as “odd” or “eccentric” at best. Again, if we look at the Bashir doc, it isn’t the line of questioning of whether he sexually abused children that puts him on edge; rather, it is when Bashir badgers him on how he feels about adults sharing their bed with children. In this sense, Bashir has adverted direct accusation by, instead, focusing on what might be construed as a philosophical question directly related to Michael’s personal values. Is this a practice that is morally right or wrong? The problem with this tactic is that it is adverting from the person’s actions to the much grayer and more subjective area of personal opinion, which can be rooted quite deeply in the individual’s belief system and the values of their culture or how they were raised For Michael, who had grown up in a tiny house sharing his bed with his brothers and many cousins, it was normal for people to share beds. It is an intimacy that has nothing to do with sex; thus, his genuine belief that the practice itself constituted no moral wrongdoing. In Michael’s eyes, it only became morally wrong if a certain line was crossed-i.e., if it became sexual. This might go far in explaining what seemed to many an apparent disconnect on Michael’s part between the idea of bed sharing and actual, sexual abuse of a child. In America today, and in many cultures around the world, the bed is automatically equated as a place where sex occurs, due to the assumed intimacy of two people sharing such a small space. The bedroom has become synonymous with sex; when we say a couple has problems “in the bedroom” it is automatically assumed we are talking about their sex life; we use the phrase “sleeping together” as a cultural euphemism for having sex. In Michael’s personal schema, however, he didn’t automatically equate the bed with sex, and didn’t particularly seem to care if society wished to scapegoat him for holding an eccentric view on the subject. In this respect, some might view him as incredibly foolish or incredibly brave. But however we feel about his responses, the oft-held belief that Michael was his own worst PR enemy in interviews is slowly beginning to give way to a new school of thought, as more and more body language experts like Craig Baxter have begun to analyze Michael’s interviews and to publicly acknowledge that, far from being the lying manipulator that detractors love to portray him as, he is actually an interview subject that is, more often than not, quite candid and brutal in his honesty. Perhaps, sometimes, too brutally honest for his own good. And this makes perfect sense when we consider his stubborn insistence on defending even behavior that he knows most would consider questionable, at best. Michael, in fact, is so honest that he can’t help being honest even when he knows his honesty is bound to be misconstrued; even detrimental. Indeed, this is not the hallmark of someone with something to hide, but rather, a metaphorical equivalent of someone bleeding his heart onto his sleeve. Instead of playing it safe with all the “safe” and “correct” answers, he literally lays it all out on the table for us, as if to say, “This is Michael Jackson. Take him or leave him.”
One really, then, must ponder the question: Would a guilty person do this? Or would they, in fact, be more apt to play safe and give all the “correct” answers, as if reading from a script? That Michael was all too “real” is, perhaps, one of the most endearing traits of his interviews.
But I realize this has been a rather long digression from the interview itself, so let’s rewind to where I left off. Anyway, Diane Sawyer had just listened to Lisa Marie’s response, and now had turned on Michael to get his take on the allegations. Despite what I said above, there is something positive to be said for Sawyer’s very specific and direct line of questioning here. Michael often said in interviews that he would never “harm a child” just as he does here. A problem with that response, however, and one that his detractors have always been quick to pounce on, is that pedophiles very seldom do believe they are “hurting” or “harming” a child when they commit sexual acts with them. The typical pedophile generally has a disconnect in which they genuinely believe that they are performing loving acts that are in no way harmful to the child. They equate the idea of “hurting” a child to physical abuse such as hitting and beating, or neglecting them. Both haters and doubters have raised this question in regard to Michael’s responses. Was this, in fact, just more of the typical pedophile disconnect? I can somewhat understand these concerns. But here, the line of questioning is very, very direct and specific, and perhaps there was, after all, a justifiable reason for it even though the questions may seem ludicrous on first listen. Sawyer asks him directly and specifically, “Did you EVER sexually engage, fondle, have sexual contact with this child or any other child?” Thus, there was absolutely no ambiguity in what was meant by “harming” the child, and no ambiguity as to whether Michael understood exactly what he was being asked. In the face of such specific and direct questioning, he still maintains, forthrightly and bluntly, that he has never committed such acts. Both his words and his gestures are forceful and emphatic here-the strong emphasis on the word “Not” when he says, ‘It’s NOT who I am,” the shaking of the head (which Baxter has noted as one of his base lines of honesty). His phrasing and gestures here are very similar to his 1993 telecast in which he first spoke out against the allegations-the same emphatic gestures; the same forceful emphasis on negating words such as “not” and “never.” As any body language expert will tell you, this is not how a person who is lying reacts. Rather, they are the words and actions of someone who is feeling a lot of outrage and frustration-exactly the kind of emotions that an unjustly accused person would be expected to have. People who are lying will unconsciously attempt to draw back as a way of deflection; there is usually very little animation or emphasis because their unconscious desire is to shift the subject and to draw as little attention to themselves and their responses as possible. Thus, instead of being very forceful and animated in their responses, as Michael was during his ’93 telecast and is here during the Diane Sawyer interview, they tend to be very flatlined in their responses. Notice, for example, the marked difference between Michael’s responses and those of Jerry Sandusky here, especially around 2:18. Sandusky’s voice is a monotone; he tends to glance away a lot, and he avoids any emphatic gestures. Compare that again to how Michael responds here.
Another interesting question was when Sawyer asks him what he thinks should be done with “someone who does that.” Since the line of questioning has been so specific, there is no doubt what is meant by “someone who does that.” You can tell the question takes Michael somewhat aback, simply because no one had ever put that question to him before. It seemed to come from out of left field and he wasn’t prepared in how to respond to it. His response here thus seems genuinely off the cuff, and we can see the wheels spinning here because he’s trying to think how to best respond to such an unexpected question. It’s obvious he hasn’t really given the matter much thought before, but his answer is very telling: “I think they need help, in some kind of way, you know.” It isn’t the stereotypical, over the top “they should be strung up” kind of remark, but rather, one that reveals some compassionate insight into the fact that a pedophile is a sick person who needs help. This is a small but important piece of commentary from Michael, and should eradicate any belief that he suffered from some delusional disconnect about the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, or of what differentiates “normal” from “abnormal.” He doesn’t say here that child molestors are monsters, necessarily, but he does make it very clear where he stands on the issue of people who perform sexual acts upon children. This, in his estimation, is not normal and certainly not condonable behavior. It is the actions of a sick person who needs psychiatric help. With all ambiguity removed, there is no doubt here exactly where he stands on the issue.
The line of questioning next turns to the police photographs. There is another emotion that crosses his face, briefly ( all easy to see since the camera maintained a tight close up on his face and reactions throughout much of the interview). That expression is pure, intense sadness and humiliation-and anger, too. It had been almost two years since the day he had stood naked with detectives and police photographers surrounding him, examining and photographing his genitalia, but all of those emotions wrought by the incident were still raw and fresh in his mind. This is a painful moment for him; Sawyer has tapped into a trigger. Compare this line of questioning to asking a rape victim to go back and recount what happened. It can’t be done without causing those PTS triggers to be ignited, and this is what we are seeing during this segment of the interview. There is a sense of underlying rage as Michael addresses this particular line of questioning. I don’t think it is rage directed at Sawyer personally, but with the overall frustration of the entire situation; of being forced to “go there” and relive that moment again. It is an anger that has no true, specific target other than the injustice of the entire situation, and at this point he is getting visibly shaken and really wants the matter to be dropped. He is being earnest when he keeps insisting there was “nothing” to connect him with those charges, but his repeated, “That’s why I’m sitting here talking to you now” can be read two ways: On the one hand, it’s true, of course. If there had been an identifiable smoking gun; a piece of evidence that actually linked him to the sexual molestation of Jordan Chandler, the criminal investigation would have proceeded (settlement or no settlement); he would have been convicted and thrown in jail. This was Michael’s way of saying, “Look, if there had been any evidence-if those photos had matched his description-I wouldn’t be a free man today and I wouldn’t be sitting here doing TV interviews.” Yet his repeated insistence on this response is also a way of deflecting; an unconscious (perhaps) way of saying, “That’s all that needs to be said about it, can we move on please?’ I don’t think it is fear of the line of questioning. I think it has more to do with the distress and distaste in general of the whole subject. The line of questioning has put him mentally and emotionally back to December of 1993 and all that transpired at that time, and now he just wants out of it. But again, this is very telling of how Michael dealt with stressful situations generally in his life (the settlement, for example, is a topic that is going to come up very shortly). At this point in the interview, he’s feeling very cornered and has become somewhat passive-aggressive in his responses. The fact that Michael did indeed suffer post traumatic stress from these events is very important and I, think, too often is something overlooked when people attempt to read into his interview responses. The natural human reaction to pain is to avoid it; the natural human reaction to trauma is to not wish to “go there” (precisely why therapy sessions are often so painful and can sometimes actually make a person feel worse rather than better, at least in the beginning). As Michael is responding to this particular line of questioning, it seems he is fighting two battles within himself: He wants to fight and he wants to flee. He has never dealt well with allowing himself to become too publicly vulnerable, and that is what he senses is happening here. Although his answers remain emphatic, forthright, and earnest, he seems to be emotionally drawing back. It is not avoidance. For example, his aggressive repetition of the word “Never” (to the point that he interrupts Sawyer with it several times) is an emphatic reinforcer. He wants very forcefully to get his point across. But also, the response is akin to the erecting of a wall, one intended to block all further questioning on the matter.
We also have to consider that Michael was legally gagged insofar as how much he was allowed to discuss. Both Michael and Lisa Marie have to remind Sawyer (who surely knew!) that the conditions of the settlement stipulated that details of the case could not be discussed. It was unfair, of course, because these were the very questions that every interviewer from this point forward, from Sawyer to Bashir, were going to ask. Imagine the frustration of being accused; of knowing that many people think you’re guilty, and yet being able to say nothing publicly in your own defense without risk of a lawsuit (and indeed, just based on the little information Michael gave here, he was slapped with a $60 million lawsuit from Evan Chandler!).
At the 5:55 mark Lisa interjects some much needed comic relief into the interview when she giggles and says, “You’re not going to ask me that, are you? About the markings?” The question seemed very naughtily spontaneous. Michael wasn’t the only one who could be a “rebel” in these interviews! Her playful remark both eases the tensions and also allows an opening for her to interject a vitally important piece of information-how the media downplayed the news that the photos did not match the description. This is a classic example of why two heads can often be better than one in interviews. Michael probably would not have thought on his own to interject that important piece of information, but thank goodness Lisa did! This was probably the first, official word that many viewers had that the photos had been officially declared a non-match, and if anyone was wondering why they hadn’t heard that until then, Lisa gave a very specific answer that detailed exactly why. Score one in her corner on this one!
From there, the conversation turns to the settlement and the big question so many wanted to know: If Michael didn’t do it, why did he pay out? I think Michael’s response here is very interesting, and is also corroborated by what he would say, again, eight years later in his Martin Bashir interview. I think it is interesting because there remains, to this day, so much confusion as to whether Michael willingly agreed to this settlement or if he was “forced” into it by his insurance company. Both here and in the later Bashir interview, Michael never denied his own part in this decision. He does state here that he was acting on what his advisors had told him, but is very, very emphatic when he states it was a hands on, “unanimous” decision because he could not be guaranteed that “justice would prevail” and that this was something that could drag on “for seven years.” This has also been somewhat confirmed by Thomas Mesereau who has said many times that Michael “regretted” his decision to settle the case-“decision” being the key word here. In other words, Michael never wavered on his stance that he made the decision to settle; it was all up front and nothing was done without his consent, nor was he forced into anything (though there could have definitely been a fine line between “forced” and “pressured” and I do think Michael was intensely pressured to settle, so perhaps in the end the terminology is really just splitting hairs). However, this interview really should have laid to rest the myth that poor, naive Michael was somehow hoodwinked into the settlement. From what I know, he was willing to go to court and fight it initially, but after hearing repeatedly how many years it could drag on; how much money could be lost; how much bad publicity would be generated (and the constant threat of the psychotic Evan Chandler ever on his back) and on and on, he finally agreed that settling seemed the best option. It was, in hindsight, a short-term solution to end the nightmare, but a short-term solution that would end up casting a very long shadow-one that his legacy is still struggling to come out from under. Perhaps the drawn out fight would have been the better alternative, but it seemed everyone in the game was thinking only of the short term. The settlement was essentially Michael’s way of saying, as he did with most of the major conflicts of his life, I don’t want to deal with this. “Let’s get it behind us,” he says, with an emphatic thumb gesture pointing over his shoulder.
It’s the same tactic that drives Michael at this point in the interview to fall back on the reminder that nothing was found to connect him to this crime, repeating aggressively, “Nothing was found…nothing, nothing, nothing.” If it comes across as if Michael is being a little irritating here, or intentionally trying to nettle Sawyer, I don’t think they would be too far off the mark. Michael wants to get his point across, and doesn’t seem to care if he has to be outright rude or annoying to do so. He cuts Sawyer off here in the same way that she often cuts both him and Lisa off, and his intent is very purposeful (we can sense Sawyer’s feathers ruffling; it’s a moment where she visibly fears losing control of the interview).
Sawyer goes on to grill him about alleged “evidence” found. Of course, there was no hardcore “smoking gun” evidence. All that had ever been found were a few photos and art books that prosecutors tried hard to enter as “evidence.” I have heard the argument from the hater camp over and over of how these art books are often the very kind of material kept by pedophiles, in order to somehow circumvent the legality issue of possessing actual child porn. However, while there no doubt may be some truth to those claims, the possession of legal art books can only at best be deemed the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. Those who wish to spread the propaganda of Michael’s guilt often highlight these books while downplaying and ignoring the much more telling fact that the raids of his home yielded thousands of pornographic images of women (one source has credited as many as 1,800 images found of nude women). Common sense would tell us that if we wish to judge someone’s sexual preference based on the bulwark of explicit material found in their home, that over a thousand images of nude women should outweigh the content of a few art books.
Michael’s explanation here-of how he is often bombarded with all kinds of gifts from fans-seems plausible enough, but it is nevertheless an explanation that doubters have tried to shoot down. Their best line of defense is that Michael obviously had people who screened his mail-gatekeepers who would have opened packages, read letters, and screened all content before he ever saw them. And that, obviously, only special “gifts” that they knew Michael would have an interest in would go beyond to the next level.
That, too, seems a plausible argument-until you consider we are talking about Michael Jackson here, who, let’s just say, never exactly did things in the typical celebrity way. An excerpt from Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard’s book Remember The Time confirms that Michael was always hands-on with both his fan mail-and his gifts:
Mr. Jackson would sit in the back, classical music playing, the curtain drawn. You could hear him opening envelopes, going letter by letter. Sometimes he’d say, ‘Hey, listen to this, guys. This is so sweet.’ And he’d read us something somebody had written. People would write about their children dying of illnesses and how much his music had meant to them. Some of it made him very emotional. You could hear him getting choked up. He’d say, ‘You guys may not understand, but this is where I get a lot of my inspiration to write my songs.’
By the time we got back to the house, he’d have two separate piles of letters. He’d keep one, hand us the other and say, ‘These you can get rid of.’
Bill: People would send gifts, too-teddy bears, balloons, flowers, photos, personal keepsakes. A lot of this stuff was handmade. He liked that. Sometimes he’d get a package and it seemed suspicious to him or he just didn’t feel right about it. He’d give it to us to check it first. There was never anything dangerous, no bombs or anything like that, but a lot of teddy bears and music boxes wound up drowning in the pool for us to find that out.
There was so much of it that one of the bedrooms had to be designated as the fan mail room. The walls in there were plastered with handmade cards and letters, and the floor was covered with big stacks. And that was just what accumulated in Las Vegas over a few months’ time.
Granted, one might argue that Michael’s staff had been considerably down sized by the time Whitfield and Beard entered the picture. Nevertheless, I know from many sources that this had always been Michael’s manner of dealing with fan mail and gifts. His policy, then, was directly opposite of most celebrities. Michael, it seemed, acted as his own gatekeeper, only resorting to handlers after the fact, to deal with mail he wished discarded or felt suspicious about. Gifts were never tossed out unless inadvertently due to suspicious packaging.
So…score another one for Michael in this department. He answers the question forthrightly with an honest answer that would make perfect sense to anyone who had spent time around him.
However, he follows this up by an immediate dodge. Nevertheless, it may be an understandable dodge-even a necessary one, as I am fairly certain that the other settlement Sawyer is alluding to here is the Francia settlement, in which Michael ended up paying 2.2 million to the Francia family over an alleged tickling incident. This was a case built on the flimsiest of circumstances-that Michael had supposedly (and most likely accidentally) brushed his hand against Jason Francia’s crotch during a roughhouse tickling game. This was a case that would never have happened had it not been for the Chandler settlement first, which had opened the doors for these kinds of trivial civil suits against Michael by practically everyone who came in contact with him. As trivial as this case was, however, we can’t deny that the settlement was paid. So how does that reflect upon Michael’s honesty here when he flat out tells Diane Sawyer that “no, that’s not true” and “I’ve heard that everything is fine and there are no others”? Unlike the rest of the interview, where his body language and responses have been very honest and forthright, here he seems to visibly draw back. His posture is not leaning toward Sawyer, as in his past responses; there is no emphatic gesturing. His tone and demeanor is one of deflection, an attempt to divert that particular line of questioning. However, there could be a number of very plausible reasons for this, all of which must be considered before jumping to conclusions. It is very possible, at the time, that what he was saying was true insofar as he knew (but judging by his body language here I don’t believe it). The more likely reason is that he was not in a position to discuss it, and any answer he gave-considering he would have had, at best, a few seconds in which to respond-would have only been to his detriment. To address the question in a way that would have made his position understandable would have involved going into far more detail, and far more history, than he knew he would have had either time or liberty to get into. It would have involved, for example, going into the entire history of Jason’s mother Blanca Francia; her history of stealing from him and subsequent firing. It was all more than he could have adequately explained in a five second sound bite, and thus, it was wisest to say nothing at all. Certainly it was a far preferable alternative to the risk of creating the wrong impression by not having time to adequately explain himself or the case.
The next part of the interview, conversely, is one of the most truthful and revealing. Sawyer attempts a line of questioning that is intended to put Michael on the defensive about the so-called practice of having sleepovers. It is always interesting to me when I go back to both this interview and the Bashir interview and look at how Michael actually answered these questions, as opposed to how the interviewers were trying to slant them and how much of the media chose to interpret them. Sawyer, as Bashir would also do later, tries desperately to make the line of questioning all about boys; thus Michael’s slight irritation when he comes back and says, “I never invited just boys to come into my bedroom, that’s ridiculous.” Likewise, in the Bashir interview, he makes the case that it was never just boys. And the “sleepovers” were not so much “sleepovers” as simply cases of large, mixed company (usually consisting of parents, siblings, cousins, etc) all crashing and falling asleep wherever sleep overtook them at Neverland.
Michael’s quick trigger defense against the accusations of “just boys” is also interesting because these are the hallmark protestations of someone who is not only angry about being unjustly accused, but also angry at the sheer ignorance and gullibility of the public in believing that this was where his attractions lay.
Interestingly, in both interviews Michael does not-contrary to the popular notion propagated by the media-“defend” the practice of sleeping with kids. He does state that, according to his values and beliefs, he does not equate the practice to something automatically perverted or evil. But in both interviews, he is not so much defending the practice as trying to explain how these misconceptions about him have arisen. Here, in fact, he states outright that he has never invited anyone into his bed-period. Interestingly, he had always maintained that he never invited kids to sleep with him, and often, in fact, slept on the floor while kids took the bed-or vice versa. In Frank Cascio’s book, Frank spoke of how he and his brother Eddie shared a sleeping bag on the floor in front of the fireplace-obviously, then, they were in Michael’s bedroom, but not in the bed. Big difference.
And, just when it may seem improbable to the average viewer that Michael is such a Pied Piper figure that kids would willingly follow him wherever he goes, score another one for Lisa Marie, whose statement that “I’ve seen these children…they don’t let him go to the bathroom without running in there; they won’t let him out of their sight, so when he jumps in the bed I’m even out…” remains for me one of the highlights of the interview.
However, this invites a couple of tense seconds when Sawyer starts to grill Lisa as to whether she would allow her own son to behave this way when he’s twelve years old. Lisa’s response is that if she didn’t know Michael and who he is, the answer would be no way but “I know who he is.” There is a brief moment, however, when the camera cuts to Michael’s reaction and it is an interesting expression, to say the least. It’s hard to tell if what he is feeling is anger or hurt, or a mixture of both. To understand Michael’s reaction, one has to appreciate what Sawyer is basically insinuating here. that he is someone that should not be trusted with his own stepson!Regardless of the intention of the question, that seems to be how he is taking it. This is a direct throwback to the discomfiture of his Oprah interview, when he was forced to stand by as two women discussed him as if he weren’t in the room. Now he is being forced to sit back in silence while two women debate his “trustworthiness.” One can only guess that, for Michael, who had spent most of his adult career totally in control of all interview situations, such scenarios were never easy.
This irritation raises its head again in the next line of questioning, when Sawyer asks if this is going to put an end to these situations “where people have to wonder.” Notice here his posture has changed. He is now on full alert; sitting on the edge of his seat and leaning forward. “Watch out for what?” he asks (with obvious, underlying anger at the question; remember, he has just sat there while she attacked his trustworthiness as a stepfather). His body language during this line of question is interesting. It suggests direct openness and honesty, as well as genuine puzzlement over the line of questioning. Regardless of how one wishes to interpret his remarks, one thing is clear and obvious: Michael sincerely feels here that he has nothing to hide, and is laying his honest feelings-for better or worse-on the table, Again, what is always most interesting about Michael’s answers is his outright refusal to give the “correct” or “stock” answers that one might normally expect under these circumstances, Most accused persons would be quick to say, “Absolutely not, I will never allow myself to be put in such a vulnerable position again” and one can clearly see here that this was the kind of answer Sawyer was expecting, so his refusal to “buckle under” so to speak, with all the correct responses, is somewhat baffling to her (and frustrating because, again, it steers the interview beyond her control).
But the real question one has to ask is this: Is giving all the “right” answers a sign of innocence, or merely a way of deflecting guilt? Interestingly, Michael seemed to realize that his best line of defense was not to play it safe in the most obvious kind of way-by going along with the song and dance-but, rather, by challenging both the interviewer’s and audience’s biases, judgments, and perceptions. Lisa has said that the rebel in Michael could never quite be controlled, and we certainly see that here. His rebel streak could, by turns, be both his greatest asset and his worst enemy. But here I think it works wonderfully to his advantage, giving him the last word over all Sawyer’s attempts to steer him into a corner.
Speaking of rebel behavior, the next segment of the interview shows the wedding footage. Isn’t it interesting that everyone, including the bride, dressed in black for this ceremony? And that Michael chewed gum throughout his wedding vows? (Interesting considering this was his first time at the altar, supposedly to the woman whom he’d had a crush on for over twenty years. Their body language, even here, seemed to be that of two people totally at ease in each other’s company, with no need for fancy pretenses).
Also, Michael’s moods during this interview seem to pass as fleetingly as clouds. He was angry and frustrated during the grilling over the allegations, but is instantly at ease once the topic has switched to happier subjects. Note how his face light up like a furnace blast and he grins spontaneously, ear to ear, when Sawyer asks Lisa what she loves about him. It’s still a bit of an awkward moment, but most guys love hearing themselves bragged about and Michael was no exception.
However, the questions about their intimacy are invasive, even if, granted, they were no doubt expecting these questions going in. In most cases, when two attractive people marry (and granted there is no extraordinary age gap ala’ Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall) it is naturally assumed that they have sex. I cringe every time I hear Sawyer’s self-deprecating remark, “I didn’t spend my life as a serious journalist to ask these kinds of questions…” Oh brother. As if she hadn’t been chomping at the bit to ask that very question throughout the entire interview! Nor do I buy their random sampling of “fans” putting forth the question. None of those people strike me, particularly, as Michael Jackson fans. Nevertheless, their responses are used as a kind of justification-this is the question everybody wants to know; therefore, we are justified in asking it. “Do we have sex?” Lisa asks, playfully beating Sawyer to the punch (I love how Michael and Lisa both, throughout the interview, keep Sawyer knocked just slightly left of center!). “Yes, yes, yes!” she states at one point, almost giving Meg Ryan’s character from “When Harry Met Sally” a good run for her money. Hers and Michael’s reactions seem to be a genuine, honest mixture of astonishment and indignation, yet they also handle the invasive questions with an easy sense of humor that lets us know they are certainly not strangers to these allegations of their marriage as being fake. They had learned to develop a sense of humor about it because, after all, what else could they do? Obviously, no amount of protestations were going to change doubting minds, so I think they both handled the questions here as well as they could be.
It’s interesting that the very same media and public who labeled this as a marriage of convenience-who refused to believe they even slept together-were, by the same token, so quick to believe the pregnancy rumors (geez, did they ever hear that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too?). The easy camaraderie of the “baby” questions ultimately leads, however, to another tense moment when Diane Sawyer asks a truly bonehead question: Was Michael planning to adopt Lisa’s kids?
Lisa finds the question totally absurd, and minces no words in saying so. “I never heard of that, someone adopting someone else’s children,” she says, meaning in a case like theirs where there was clearly a biological father who was still in the children’s lives. I have gone back over this particular segment of the interview several times. It is interesting that Lisa is far more irked over the question than Michael (perhaps for obvious reasons) but I also believe it may be because she has caught something here that Michael did not, or at least not right away: That Sawyer is intentionally trying to entrap him with a foolish question in order to make him look foolish, especially to Lisa Marie’sfans, many of whom already had formed their own opinions about Michael and about the marriage. There may be something to this. Note how Sawyer has strung him along with the subject of adopting children (a subject I’m sure she knew he was passionate about) and then, abruptly, brings up Lisa’s kids. Yet this was the same women who, just minutes before, was insinuating that Michael was someone Lisa should not trust with her son! My honest take here is that Lisa caught what she was doing right away, even if Michael didn’t. And interestingly, when Lisa calls her out on it as an absurd question, Sawyer backs off instantly and does not pursue the question further; however, nor does she bother to defend her reasons for asking it. Instead, she very conveniently decides it’s time for a break.
When the interview resumes, attention is next turned to Michael’s new film, the teaser for the HIStory album. This interview served as a kind of official promotion for the film, but Michael was given very little opportunity to actually discuss it. Instead, Sawyer launched immediately into the controversial aspect of it. The film itself and this particular aspect of the interview has already been quite well dissected in the multiple-part discussion on Dancing With the Elephant, so rather than focusing on the film and its merits here (which would necessitate an entire post unto itself) I will keep the discussion focused on the line of questioning and Michael’s reactions to them. I can’t watch this particular segment of the interview without feeling both enraged and short-changed. Here, again, was a perfect opportunity-on a wold platform-to allow one of the greatest artists of our time to discuss his art, and the moment was purely reduced to a trivial footnote of the interview in which the artist is pitiably reduced to a defensive “It’s art” stance, like a child backed into a corner who can only feebly protest his good intentions.
What is doubly frustrating here is that one senses, perhaps for the first time, Michael was really eager and anticipating the opportunity to discuss his art. I am sure he would have very much enjoyed being asked a few sensible, intelligent questions about the meaning behind the film; about its militant themes and symbolism and what that was really all about. In all likelihood, he would have gladly answered them. I know these kinds of interviews are all about ratings, and are not intended as serious platforms to discuss art, but it was clear from the beginning that, once again, Sawyer was merely creating a setup-a setup in which Michael was going to come out as second bested. From the beginning, Sawyer harps on nothing but the film’s controversy, making it very clear where her own biases lie. Rather than being able to engage in an intelligent discourse about his art, Michael is reduced to appearing like a begging child who-in the pitiable few seconds he is allowed to speak on the film in his behalf-can only protest that “it’s art.” After the film plays, Sawyer says rather snidely (in a way that is clearly intended to end the discussion of the matter) “Well, as we said, we’re going to clearly agree to disagree on maybe what this means to some people watching it.” Freeze the frame on Michael’s face at 3:07 as Sawyer speaks those words. That expression reads as an unspoken but pure, unadulterated “How dare you?” which can be interpreted on several layers-frustration at having his art misunderstood and its purpose distorted, without even giving him the courtesy of the last word on it; frustration at being so blithely brushed off. In fact, it’s almost a look of stunned disbelief. He doesn’t even bother jumping in with another line of defense. He seems to be thinking, What would be the point?
The conversation then turns to the controversy over “They Don’t Care About Us” and the line “Jew me, sue me.” Again, these were all recent, hotbed topics at the time this interview took place. I’m not sure that most viewers would have entirely bought Michael’s defense that he was speaking of himself as the victim with that line because the natural comeback would be “But Michael, you’re not Jewish.” However, what Michael is trying to explain here (for which, we must remember, he is only being given a very inadequate and small amount of time to state his case) is that the song is touching upon the broader strokes of racism; that he, in fact, is attempting to encompass many historical examples of racism throughout the song, all from the victim’s perspective-and there are many victims portrayed in this song. I have already written quite extensively on the topic of “They Don’t Care About Us” and appropriation in past posts:
Again, what is most sad and frustrating about this particular segment of the interview is that, instead of being allowed to discuss his art, Michael is instead backed into a defense position, one in which he is clearly at a disadvantage no matter what punches he gets in. He seems to realize, with mounting frustration, that he is in a situation where his artistic work is not respected, where there is little actual, serious interest in it, and where there is no “right” answer he can possibly give.
Sadly, looking back at the track record, this seemed to be the case with most high profile interviews he ever gave. Perhaps part of the problem came from poor advice and poor choices. Naturally, he gravitated towards the high profile journalists who could guarantee him the highest platforms, in both exposure and ratings. But the trade off was that this often resulted in one-way conversations with shallow journalists whose only interest was in sensationalism, not art.
True to form, Sawyer no sooner dispenses with all discussion of art then here comes the next question-inevitably, steering it to Michael’s appearance and the color of his skin.
Again, the close-ups on Michael’s face in response to these questions are priceless. I’m not sure if he’s just trying really hard to maintain a poker face (and not succeeding very well) or what the deal is, exactly, but again, we are seeing the building of anger, frustration, and “why do we have to go there” all within a matter of seconds. As before, we can clearly see when those triggers are being pressed; when his eyes become like daggers.
Admittedly I have never really understood Michael’s reluctance to speak out publicly about his disease vitiligo. He had a unique position and platform in which to educate the public about this little understood disease and to help raise awareness of it. His evasiveness on the issue is largely, in part, what led to the public’s skepticism-or, at any rate, let’s just say that it definitely didn’t help.
But in analyzing his response here, let’s go back to the exact trigger moment at 4:28; it occurs exactly when Sawyer says the words “the way you look.” Michael’s face winces; he literally draws back as if he’s been physically struck. I invite-urge-you to replay that mark of the video at least a couple of times. It is literally the physical reaction of someone who has been slapped in the face and is drawing back to deflect the blow. Once again he goes into passive-aggressive mode, giving a deliberately ambiguous and frustrating answer:
“I think it creates itself-nature.” -Michael Jackson to Diane Sawyer
On the one hand, this is Michael’s way of saying that the way he looks is out of his hands; it has all been an act of nature. On the other hand, he has to know here that he is being purposely vague by not giving an adequate answer. Obviously, some things like his skin color were beyond his control, but that was only part of the question. He purposely avoids addressing the other part of the question, which involved those choices he had obviously made on his own. Watch the way, at 4:35, he purses his lips and shakes his jaw in response to the question. That verbal cue is a brush-off; a deliberate response that says “I can’t be bothered with this.”
At this juncture, Lisa intervenes with a very telling statement. It falls in line with debates we have had on this very site, and some of the more controversial issues that have been raised by Susan Fast and other writers. She says that Michael is an artist who is constantly changing perceived imperfections and things he doesn’t like about himself.
“He’s resculpted himself; he’s an artist.”-Lisa Marie Presley to Diane Sawyer.
That is an interesting statement because, again, it goes back to the oft-debated controversy of whether Michael altered his appearance via cosmetic surgery due to insecurity about his looks, or was it, in fact, due to more purely deliberate and aesthetic choices that had more to do with being an artist, and less to do with these perceived insecurities? Lisa’s answer seems to hint at both, but it is interesting that when she makes the statement about him being an artist, Michael does not contradict her. In fact, not only does he not contradict her, he even chimes into the discussion,backing her up by adding, “I’m a performer.”
The theory that Michael did, perhaps, make a lot of conscious and deliberate choices about his appearance for artistic and aesthetic reasons-rather than simply because he saw himself as ugly or inferior (the popular body dysmorphic disorder theory that has so much become the accepted public narrative of Michael Jackson) is one that has been gaining a lot more serious attention among academic writers and other serious analysts of Michael’s work. In some ways, the theories are interesting in that, at the very least, they remove Michael from the often overhyped stigma of “victimhood” and recast him as someone who, to the contrary, was an artist very much in control of every aesthetic decision he made about himself, including the outer canvas that he presented to the world.
Michael tries to turn it into a joke by saying, “I might want to put a red dot right there one day” (points to his forehead), “put two eyes right here (touches both cheeks). But he’s not laughing inside. His words and expressions here are not particularly jovial because the tension elicited by the discussion is still quite palpable. It’s his way of communicating to Sawyer the ridiculous absurdity of this line of questioning. On the one hand, he’s trying to deflect the tensions with humor, but freeze the video at 4:55 and note the determined smirk on his face. It’s a look that dares; a look that challenges; a look that says “Try and follow up on that; I dare you.”
Well, she does. To further the boxing match analogy, it’s as if Michael has just delivered a left hook jab but now Sawyer is going to try to hone in for the knock out punch.
“Do you wish you were the color you were again?”
Again, this is the kind of question where Michael could have simply given the “scripted” and “correct” response and been done with it, but if we read Michael’s body language, he is very much perturbed by being asked such a ridiculous and invasive question. Think about it: The question is the equivalent of asking a cancer patient, “Do you wish you still had your hair?” or “Do you miss having your healthy cells?” Why not ask a leukemia patient if they miss their red blood cell count?
Note that the minute she asks the question, Michael sits up ramrod straight and crosses his arms. Crossed arms are, again, a barrier creating gesture. It’s only a fleeting moment, but the gesture speaks volumes about the feelings this question has evoked. He is subconsciously protecting himself from what he perceives as an invasive presence. “You’ll have to ask nature that,” he says, using “nature” again as a reference to indicate the situation is beyond his control. “I love black,” he says emphatically. “I envy her (points toward Lisa) because she can tan and I can’t.”
On a more subconscious level, if he could really say what he wanted to say here, he seems to be conveying an idea that would be worded thus: “I’m obviously white as a refrigerator, can you not see this? Do you think I prefer this? Do you think I wouldn’t prefer to be normal, like she is?”
Of course, this is followed by a photo of a very youthful, dark complexioned Michael with an Afro, a photo from almost twenty years previously. As always, the insinuation is that this was the “superior” version of Michael; the way we prefer to remember him, in his prime. Michael always hated those types of comparisons, resenting the inference that he was now somehow inferior; that he could not measure up to some nostalgic ideal of himself
But, in an interview that has seen more than its share of peaks and valleys, Sawyer tries to end things on an upbeat note by asking if they plan to sing together. Michael engages in a bit of cute but show-offey behavior (the kind that used to drive Lisa bananas), singing dramatically “I would love to sing with you/would you like to sing with me?” Ever alert to any excuse for a good publicity moment, Michael’s inner child and sense of spontaneous playfulness can’t resist the moment. Lisa is a little embarrassed, but can’t resist smiling. She seems genuine when she says, “That’s not why I married Michael.” Their body language here is very relaxed and casual; his right hand rests on her back shoulder; she grabs his left hand and holds it. Again, their gestures seem to be that of a couple who feels very much at ease in each other’s company. Michael, of course, can’t resist one more joke at Lisa’s expense, making “rabbit ears” over her head as she babbles on and on about how she doesn’t need a recording career. This was a playful, teasing gesture that Michael did a lot with some of his most intimate friends, but it was sometimes also Michael’s very playful way of calling out his friends when he thought they were full of BS. It could have also been an Illuminati joke. Michael was, after all, notorious for his infamous sense of humor. “He’s a nut,” Lisa jokes, as Michael “celebrates” having survived the interview with an emphatic “Yes!”
Whatever the case, it often did seem that Michael liked to steal the spotlight whenever they were together. Here, it was cute. Later, it would become a source of real contention between them. They were, when all was said and done, two celebrities with much in common, as Lisa said-perhaps a little too much in common for any kind of lasting union. Both stubborn, rebellious, strong-willed and determined; two show business kids spoiled on the one hand, yet damaged and victimized on the other, their union was passionate, volatile, and ultimately, doomed to burn out and fail.
This interview captured their union at an interesting halfway juncture. They had been married a little over a year at this point, when the passion was still hot but some of the problems that would eventually drive them apart had set in. Sawyer ends the interview by asking where they both hoped to be in five years. It is interesting that she puts the question to them separately, as individuals, rather than together as a couple. Within five years, of course, they would be divorced; Michael would have two children by another woman, and Lisa would be on a downward spiral of guilt and bitter anger that would drive her to lash out at Michael in unbelievably cruel ways. By 2000, I am sure this interview must have seemed like a distant and painful memory to both of them.
But, for all of Diane Sawyer’s smugness; her frustrating shallowness and the sometimes outright irrelevance of much of her questioning, it remains one of Michael’s most valuable interviews-again, perhaps as much for what is not said as what is said. Michael could be, by turns, a difficult interview subject, especially when he felt cornered or pinned down by invasive, personal, or just plain idiotic questions. On the flip side of that coin, he was also a very transparent interview subject whose emphatic honesty was too often brushed off as being…well, somehow, too honest to be true. People, it seemed, were always looking for ways to second guess his honesty; to twist it into something manipulative or insincere. Michael’s very human faults, such as his tendency to resort to passive-aggressive answers when he didn’t like the direction an interview was taking, have too often been used against him, rather than, perhaps, looking at the line of questioning that brought on those responses. Michael had too much class to ever walk out on an interview, or to give outright hostile responses, as I have seen many celebrities do in more recent times. Yet he had his ways of letting his displeasure be known.
First and foremost, however, we have to remember that Michael didn’t really hate giving interviews. He just hated giving dumb ones. Some of his most interesting interviews were very low profile ones such as this candid, off the cuff radio interview he gave to Steve Harvey, where there was no pressure to be “on” and where he could actually just relax and have fun.
But as I have discovered through the years, no interview he ever gave was totally without merit. Even the Bashir piece, for all its atrocities, had its moments. Each one presented an opportunity to learn something valuable about Michael even if, granted, it was not always the thing he most wanted us to take from it-that being, usually, his views on art or humanity (the two things closest to his heart, but which so seldom became the focal pieces of any of them). Nevertheless, they do provide interesting glimpses into the heart and soul of a man who had learned, early on, that few people were to be trusted and that no journalist was ever simply looking out for his best interests.
We can observe how he is almost always thinking 2-3 steps ahead of the interviewer (because he had learned he had to) and how he used the art of the interview as a means of challenging us to look beyond our preconceived notions, our biases, and our judgments. He did so, by turns both consciously and subconsciously, by challenging journalists, and us, both directly and indirectly. Like a flawless dance with a ballroom partner, he knew when to hold back and follow, and when to take the lead.
And here, for once, it was a dance he didn’t have to do alone.