Category Archives: The Fandom

Michael Jackson’s Halloween: Scary Enough?

“Are You Scared Yet?”

On July 11, after much fanfare and teasing, a new project from the Michael Jackson estate was officially announced.

 

by Denise Petski

Michael Jackson’s Halloween, a new, hourlong animated special, featuring the King of Pop’s music as its soundtrack, will premiere this fall on CBS.

Created and produced by Optimum Productions, the Michael Jackson company now owned by his estate, the special will feature the voices of actors Christine Baranski, Kiersey Clemons, Alan Cumming, George Eads, Brad Garrett, Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Lucas Till.

The special follows millennials Vincent (Till) and Victoria (Clemons), who meet “accidentally” on Halloween night and find themselves, along with Ichabod the dog, at a mysterious hotel located at 777 Jackson Street called This Place Hotel. Once inside, Vincent and Victoria are sent on an unexpected, magical adventure of personal discovery, culminating in a spectacular dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson.

John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson, serve as executive producers. Daniel Chuba is the producer and Mark A.Z. Dippé is the director.

Many, including myself, presumed we were finally building up for the official announcement of the long promised Thriller 3D film project. Alas, although that was not to be for this go-round, we still have a project that is centered around a Halloween theme. (Update: Thriller 3D has been scheduled to premiere at the Vienna Film Festival August 30-September 9).  However, the announcement had no sooner been made than a barrage of negative reactions swiftly engulfed social media. That’s really no surprise. These days, the announcement of any major MJ-related project is usually a polarizing affair, but this project, in particular, seems to have elicited a lot of strongly negative reactions-somewhat inexplicable, I think, given the overall benign nature of this project. Sure, it’s not Thriller 3D or Dangerous25 (a project that many were hoping to see come to light) but what could possibly be so wrong with an hour long animated special on a major network, featuring Michael Jackson’s best known dark themed works?

Well, the answer to that question is quite complex, and to fully understand it, one must take into account how deeply divided the fan base has become over the estate executors and how deeply that issue of trust vs. mistrust has become, especially when it comes to A: Projects that profit off of his legacy, and B: How that legacy is being handled.  As I have emphasized many times, I have always been and remain neutral when it comes to the politics surrounding the fandom and estate. Overall, I believe the estate has made some smart moves when it comes to preserving Michael Jackson’s legacy (This Is It,  the Cirque du Soleil Immortal show and One) but also some major missteps. The controversy over the Michael album has forever tainted any posthumous music releases, and the insistence on “contemporizing” Michael’s music (rather than simply allowing the tracks to stand on their own merit) has not helped matters. True, they did manage to wrangle a Top Ten hit with the updated “Love Never Felt So Good” but, for the most part, there have been far more misses than hits with the estate’s attempts to ignite interest in a posthumous musical career for Michael Jackson. In a recent article, in fact, it was stated that there were no future plans to release anymore music from the vaults. That is a downright shame, as they are still sitting on a ton of unreleased gems that many fans want to hear. There is certainly still a market for unreleased MJ tracks; it’s just that fans want these tracks, for the most part, in their raw but pristine state, not over produced by a Timbaland or L.A. Reid to try to mimic everything else on the radio these days.

I think it may be safe to assume, then, that the estate has not had a very good track record for its management of Michael Jackson’s posthumous musical output. I’ve said many times, if they had simply combined the best of the unreleased tracks on Michael (minus the controversial Cascio tracks) and the best of the demos that made it onto Xscape, they could have had a great posthumous MJ album. The tragedy is that, between the insistence on including debatable tracks (which weren’t exactly great tracks to begin with) and the insistence that every MJ track must somehow be “updated” to compete in today’s market, the estate has pretty much blown any confidence that fans may have once had in their ability to successfully market a musical career for Michael Jackson beyond the grave. And here we can certainly add that this shaky confidence has not been helped by the loss of the Sony/ATV catalog, nor the little matter of that 750 million dollar debt with Uncle Sam (which I will still be addressing in due time).

However, when it comes to the musical legacy that Michael created in his lifetime-those seven adult solo albums and the many classic tracks they yielded-the outlook has been much brighter. Clearly, public demand for those songs isn’t apt to disappear any time soon, and it is in the continued public demand for those songs-as well as the continued popularity of Michael’s brand and image-that largely keeps the estate’s bread buttered. The estate’s marketing of Michael Jackson’s known works has been for the most part successful, though still occasionally marred by some questionable choices (for example, licensing the use of “Bad” for Angry Birds, a move that many felt reduced the track’s powerful political message to a silly rumble between cartoon birds). Indeed, these are the kinds of arguments and debates that continue to drive the polarization of the fandom over most estate decisions. Inevitably, some are going to argue that these decisions cheapen the message of his songs and will ultimately water down the impact of his legacy, while others argue-just as vehemently-that this is exactly the kind of exposure that will keep his music, image, and memory alive for future generations.  Both arguments have their validity, and this brings me to today’s topic. Michael Jackson himself was an artist who constantly balanced the often polarizing extremes of artistic purity on the one hand, and commercialism on the other (Michael did love sales, and anyone who would wish to argue that sales did not matter to him is sadly deluded). This fact is partly what makes the posthumous marketing of Michael Jackson product a particularly challenging affair. The balance between “what Michael would have wanted,” “how Michael would have done it” and what is going to keep fans and consumers happy is a constant challenge. Even this aspect raises another interesting question: With the wealth of material and projects left behind by Michael Jackson that were completed-but have yet to receive their due-do we really need new projects that have nothing to do with him other than the lending of his name?  Here in particular (especially since we are talking a Halloween special) I am referring to the short film Ghosts,  a film whose re-release fans, including myself, have spent years clamoring for. As far as the general public is concerned, many are still unaware of this 1997 closet classic, which given the right promotional push and a little updated HD magic, could certainly still captivate a modern audience. Personally, I would love, love love to see Ghosts re-released as a major broadcast special.

However, I do think that in all fairness, we have to consider the uphill battle that the estate is against. There are some factions simply waiting to tear down and rip to shreds anything the estate does, regardless of rhyme or reason. As soon as the announcement hit, many of the reactions across social media were viscerally over the top. Granted, I think much of the negative reaction has stemmed from a long series of gradually building disappointments over estate projects, but I’m just not sure that there is anything in the idea of a Halloween cartoon special to warrant so many hostile reactions, even if, granted, the announcement of the project may not have warranted such a major buildup. This post is not intended as an outright defense of the project-which, granted, could still turn out to be a disaster-but I would like to directly address some of the criticisms that the project has raised, and why I don’t necessarily agree with all of them. For starters, a point to consider is that this is going to be a major network broadcast, which in itself speaks volumes about the renewed faith in the Michael Jackson brand. Obviously, its target audience is going to be kids, and the plan seems to be that this might develop into one of those perennial seasonal projects that returns year after year. That will depend, of course, on ratings and the overall quality of the program, all things that have yet to be proven, but the fact that CBS is willing to take its chances and broadcast a Michael Jackson themed special geared towards children speaks volumes about how far the healing process has come in the re-branding of Michael Jackson.

A recent Inquisitir article by journalist Jonathan Brown summed it up perfectly:

WHY I’M ‘THRILLED’ THAT A MICHAEL JACKSON ANIMATED SPECIAL IS HAPPENING THIS YEAR [OPINION]

Michael Jackson was pretty special to a lot of people.

Special enough, in fact, that a little more than eight years after the sudden, saddening loss of the Grammy-winning music genius, a Halloween-themed animated special centered on the beats, pops, and vocal effects that the 50-year-old left to the planet in the wake of his death, will air later this year, just in time for the annual boo-fest.

And for the record, I couldn’t be prouder, happier, and just about moved to tears to learn of this news. And also, no, I am not ashamed to own or publicize my tears. In fact, the world probably could do better with owning their feelings, kind of like Michael tried to teach all of us through his music.

But, I digress.

The reason why the news of CBS’ plan to air the one-hour long cartoon special, Michael Jackson’s Halloween, themed around the only album that could go with it, Jackson’s seminal Thriller; an album that still charts at least once a year on the Billboard Top 200 (along with a mix of MJ compilations that always include some, if not all, of the seven singles released from the nine-song long 1982 recording), is wonderful to yours truly is for one reason and one reason only.

It means that despite everything that most of us have heard about him, the thing that made Michael Jackson special; his gift of music, has finally found a way to outwit, outrun, and outlast the gossip.

And you know of the gossip, I’m sure. The many whispers. The ones that, just this week, began to hit the headlines again for the umpteenth time since the special Michael Jackson departed this Earth. Whether you believe those rumors or not is up to you, but what I believe at this moment is that for the first time since they’ve been uttered, they’re not the only focus of Michael Jackson being in the headlines.

michael jackson special
A new animated special themed around Michael Jackson’s legendary ‘Thriller’ album will air on CBS this fall. [Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Right now, it’s also about his music. Right now, there’s also talk about whether the album is too dated for present times for a television show in 2017, or whether anyone wants to actually see a Michael Jackson Halloweenanimated special in 2017, some fans included — and no, there’s not actually wrong with having a third, for the record (following the short films for Thriller and Ghosts, of course).

But with that said, with the storm finally starting to lift on the life of someone who was far too special than anyone ever could’ve imagined, perhaps now, we can finally begin to get back to Michael Jackson’s ultimate dream of making the world a better place through his forever-amazing music.

michael jackson special
[Image by Getty Images]

Perhaps now, the young kids who this Michael Jackson animated special in geared toward, won’t grow up only knowing of him as the “joke” their parents made him out to be.

Perhaps they can be the ones to carry his music and magic over to the next generation without the shame and/or judgment that came along for us with standing by the belief that the King of Pop, Michael Joseph Jackson, the blessed son of Katherine and Joe Jackson, brother of Janet, Tito, Marlon, Randy, Rebbie, Jackie, Jermaine, LaToya, and the late Brandon, father of “Prince” Michael Jr., Paris-Katherine and Prince Michael Jackson II, whom he affectionately relayed to as Blanket for the “blanket” of love that he felt for his children, was actually a good guy.

Maybe now, in 2017, we can start reminding the world just how loving, wonderful, magical, powerful, inspirational, and special Michael Jackson truly was.

And it can all begin, ironically and finally, with a Michael Jackson animated special in 2017.

[Featured Image by Junko Kimura/Getty Images]

To add my own after thoughts to this, being “moved to tears” over this project may be a bit hyperbolic but Brown does bring up an interesting point that cannot be emphasized enough. The news of this special hit the same week that the Jimmy Safechuck case was officially dismissed, resulting in yet another round of media attacks by a desperate Vince Finaldi in order to salvage whatever chance the Robson case may have.  In the wake of Finaldi’s revenge, the fact that CBS would be broadcasting a Michael Jackson Halloween special was still considered by mainstream media as the bigger story. This is a positive no matter how you slice it, but I would still like to move beyond this (to some extent it is a given that Michael’s art will always trump the tabloid trash) to, rather, addressing some of the direct concerns about the artistic merits–or lack thereof–of this project.

By far one of the biggest criticisms the project has raised is the fact that it is a cartoon. Many of the harshest criticisms I saw could basically be summarized as the estate reducing Michael Jackson’s legacy to an animated cartoon, and how insulting this is for a serious artist. Considering Michael’s own love for animation (heck, we are talking the guy whose dream was to purchase Marvel comics!) I find these kinds of criticisms particularly baffling. Certainly Michael had always loved incorporating these kinds of fantastical, often animated, elements into his work. We know he was a huge fan of Walt Disney, that he loved comics, that he loved the idea of casting himself as these kind of comic, “Superhero” characters. In fact, a very good discussion on a recent MJ Cast episode addressed this very issue, as various points were raised both pro and con regarding the upcoming special and the entire Thriller 35 promotional campaign (of which, supposedly, this project is just one of several planned–we hope, anyway). We also know that a plan for a television Halloween special, to be broadcast on CBS,  was already being proposed as part of Michael’s planned “comeback” following the This Is It residency. However, this would have shaped up (according to Michael’s plan, at least) as something very different from the current project (though that isn’t to say that the current project bears at least some similarity in spirit). The plan that Michael drafted with Randy Phillips would have been a reworking of his “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment from the This Is It shows. Michael very much wanted to reintroduce the world to Ghosts, and the plan had been to include footage from the classic 1997 film.

The Halloween Special Jackson Was Planning For CBS Would Have Recreated Elements From His This Is It “Thriller/Ghosts/Threatened” Sequence

So the argument that this was something Michael had already planned before his death does have validity, but then becomes one of those pesky “yes, but…” kind of questions that will drive you bonkers if you find yourself drawn into a debate over it. Yes, a Halloween special was in the cards and on the drawing room table, but the actual product that Michael envisioned making would have been very different from the project that it now looks as though will actually materialize.

But in all fairness, we still have to come down to the obvious. Michael Jackson didn’t live to do his planned spectacular “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment on tour, let alone to oversee the production of this proposed Halloween special, which I’m sure would have been something quite wondrous to behold. And it goes without saying that he is not here to actually host the program as he had intended. So what to do? Well, either the idea could die with him and wither away in the vault, or the estate could try to find a way to at least partially realize this vision. Again, some will call it exploitation and others will see it as keeping his brand alive, and these days there isn’t much room for middle ground in these debates. The real challenge-and ultimate test-will be in how well the project is actually pulled off.

To that end, I have no crystal ball and certainly can’t predict how this project will play out. As it gets closer to the broadcast date, I’m sure we may start to see some trailers and other teasers that may give us a better idea of what to expect. But in the meantime, here are some points of concern that have been raised and some possible points of refutation to consider (as Michael would say, all for love, of course).

Point #1: The estate is treating Michael like a joke by reducing him to a “cartoon”:

I saw a deluge of social media outrage over the idea of portraying Michael as a cartoon. I think for many, the idea conjures up recent associations such as the hologram fiasco. However, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with giving us either an animated Michael Jackson special, or for that matter, an animated Michael. We already know that Michael was a huge fan of animation. What’s more, a lot of younger fans (particularly those only born in the 80’s and 90’s) seem to have forgotten that many of us who grew up with The Jackson 5 also grew up with seeing Michael as a weekly, Saturday morning cartoon. The Jackson 5 cartoon was a huge favorite of fans in the early 70’s.

True, we might argue that Michael himself didn’t exactly  have much say or control over his career and image at that time (he was only a kid) but in one of his taped conversations with Rabbi Schmuley Boteach (which made it into Boteach’s 2009 The Michael Jackson Tapes) the adult Michael gave us some interesting insight on how he felt about being a Saturday morning cartoon figure:

It is very interesting here that Michael states being a part of that cartoon series was something he felt “more special about” than all of the “hit records and concerts.” He stressed the importance of the connection to children around the world, who were still watching The Jackson 5 cartoon a generation later (and no doubt are still watching it today).  Michael’s own words certainly leave little doubt how he felt about being a “cartoon figure.” He certainly didn’t view it as something demeaning or as something that belittled his image, but said, in fact, he thought it was one of the coolest experiences of his life.

Point #2: They would not do this to someone considered a “serious” musician or artist. This is proof of the estate’s ongoing refusal to take Michael Jackson seriously:

But really? I could point to at least half a dozen examples that outright refute this argument.  The most obvious, of course, would be The Beatles, who not only got the cartoon treatment in their 1968 classic Yellow Submarine but also, like The Jackson 5, as a Saturday morning cartoon. (The Osmonds, likewise, had a stint as a Saturday morning cartoon, though I suppose there could be room for debate as to whether The Osmonds count as “serious” musicians!).

But certainly being made into cartoon figures didn’t reduce the artistic status of John Lennon or Paul McCartney, so again, there is no reason to jump to the knee jerk assumption that such a project is somehow cheapening his legacy. (However, with that being said, we can still argue, Yes, but…The Beatles did maintain some degree of creative control over projects like Yellow Submarine and therein lies all the difference in the world. To that, I would say it is definitely a valid point, but The Beatles’ actual input into the finished project was actually quite minimal, as they considered the vehicle more as a convenient and quick way to wrap up their three picture commitment to United Artists).

Point #3 This project doesn’t even feature Michael Jackson until the very end. His image is nowhere to be seen in the promo. Is the estate trying to “erase” Michael Jackson from his own brand?

Where IS Michael Here? That’s The Question Some Are Asking.

Again, this was an interesting question raised on the MJ Cast webisode I linked to earlier. We are being promised that an “animated Michael Jackson” will make his appearance at the end of the special, but it seems that until then, we will simply be making do with Vincent, Victoria and “Ichabod the dog” having various spooky adventures in a haunted house (albeit, presumably, to a Michael Jackson soundtrack) for nearly an hour. This could go either way, I suppose. On the one hand, it could be a very satisfying and climactic buildup to the big moment when “MJ” actually makes his grand appearance. OR it could have the opposite effect of simply reducing his grande finale performance to a footnote at the end. Again, much is going to depend on how well the project is ultimately put together, and will the big payoff at the end be worth it? If it becomes just an hour of two animated teens having silly, lame adventures and the finale falls flat, the project will be sunk. So obviously a lot is riding on how well that finale comes off.

The premise can work IF (But Only IF) the grande finale pays off.

On the other hand, it does appear that Michael’s “presence” as such will certainly be a factor throughout the program, not only the music, of course, but in all of the various allusions to his song titles and films. It seems that at least part of the idea is that these two “millenials” will not immediately make the connections, but of course they will be very obvious winks and nods to those of us old enough to remember.

As to whether the promotional ad is a deliberate attempt to erase Michael’s image from the project, or simply to preserve the element of surprise at the end, I can’t say. I would certainly hope that it is the latter. A mystery still remaining, however, is which “era” Michael we will get when he finally does appear at the end. Is it going to be “Thriller” era Michael? Or the “Ghost” era Maestro? Or something else altogether? The one argument I would buy is that it seems the estate has continued to push “Thriller” era Michael as its brand of choice, while ignoring or downplaying much of his later, more controversial work. And it may explain in part why Dangerous 25 has been all but trumped by Thriller 35. Clearly, we know there is a very large percentage of Michael Jackson fans who remain nostalgic for 80’s era Michael, pre-vitiligo, pre-political, and pre-controversial. Is the estate catering to that faction? It would not surprise me, although we also have to remember that Bad25 was largely a commercial flop because it did not receive sufficient fan support (again, we had about roughly half the fan base actively boycotting it as an estate project) so there is that argument to be considered, and again, may have a lot to do with why no Dangerous 25 project has materialized.

For now, I am willing to give Michael Jackson’s Halloween the benefit of the doubt. My initial gut reaction to the announcement was, “It seems like a cute idea, but I’m not blown away.” As I have continued to emphasize, everything is going to depend on how well the idea is actually executed. But I would say that certainly at this point, the estate cannot afford another disappointing output. The likelihood that this is going to be something brilliant is pretty slim, but at the very least, if done right, it may turn out decently enjoyable. The sad irony here, of course, is that Michael Jackson, as we all know, was the master of perfection who never settled for mediocrity.

On the positive side, I do have much higher hopes for Thriller 3D which may possibly see a theatrical release in conjunction with the TV special. In any event, Halloween 2017 is shaping up as the season of Michael. It will be interesting to see how these projects play out. Duds or classics, the proof will be in the pudding-the pumpkin pudding, that is.

Neverland’s Sacred Spot: Recent Tour Provides An Interesting Glimpse Into How Neverland Is Being Marketed

Recently, a new video surfaced on Youtube that features a rare, inside look at what a person visiting Neverland Ranch (i.e, prospective buyers) might expect to see in 2017. The video was filmed by Coldwell Banker realtor Brad Pearson. As fans are all too aware, we got the devastating news in 2014 that Colony Capital had decided to put Neverland Ranch (re-renamed Sycamore Valley Ranch) on the market.  Compounded with the sale of the Sony/ATV catalog, the action stands as a sad reminder that much of the empire that Michael built has been slowly siphoned off. But despite the fact that Neverland has sat dormant for over a decade, ever since Michael himself abandoned the property in 2005, it is encouraging to see that the magical imprint he left there is still very much intact.

While there have been many fan videos posted from the gates of Neverland, we have had precious few glimpses-that is, recent glimpses-of what has transpired with the property since going on the market in 2014. These days, only prospective buyers and realtors are offered access to the house and grounds. It is not open for public or private tours. But for prospective buyers who just happen to be fans, it is an added bonus. At any rate, the video does offer an interesting glimpse into the manner in which Neverland is being marketed to potential buyers, and it is an encouraging sign.

The worst fear of most fans is the idea of some millionaire buyer scrubbing the property of all reminders of Michael Jackson’s residency, and turning Michael’s magical creation into just another sterile, faceless California ranch. Indeed, that could well still happen (I had shudders reading here about the proposal of Golf Digest to turn it into a golf course). But it does seem obvious that Coldwell Banker, the company currently listing the Neverland property, has made no concentrated effort to scrub the property clean of Michael Jackson’s memory, and in fact, seems to be using it as a selling point.

Neverland currently is being touted to prospective buyers pretty much exactly as Michael left it. From the first few seconds of the video to the final frame, every square inch of the property is instantly familiar, evoking the same magical feeling as it always has. True, as the articles are always quick to point out, the rides and animals are long gone, but there was always so much more to Neverland than just its mini amusement park and zoo. The main house has not been refurbished or remodeled in any way. Although the echoes of the hardwood floors are a stark reminder of the home’s emptiness, its exterior and interior are still instantly recognizable from countless photographs and TV interviews. It still reflects the tastes of the man who called it home for nearly seventeen years.

A tour of the property reveals that not much has changed since 2008. The petting zoo looks to be in very good repair, as is the train station and other amenities added by Michael during his time spent at the ranch. Visitors can still experience the tranquility of The Giving Tree; they can still observe the same diving board where Macaulay Culkin  pushed Michael into the pool in “Private Home Movies.”

But easily the most emotional-and perhaps biggest selling point of the home-is a small, square spot in the center of the studio dance floor, eternally lit by a single spotlight. It marks the scuff spots left by endless hours of diligent practice. On the wall, a video of Michael practicing to “Stranger in Moscow” in that very spot is kept on a loop. This is a spot that all potential buyers are brought to, as a reminder of what they would be purchasing; a reminder that the house does carry with it a legacy, and that the inheritance of that legacy will come along with its purchase. Of course, once the property is sold, all remnants of that legacy may remain or may be eradicated completely, depending on the whims of the new owners, but at the very least, I think it is an encouraging sign that Michael’s ownership and presence is being built up as a selling point for the property, rather than downplayed or dismissed. I think it increases the likelihood that the property could end up being purchased by a fan who respects the property as Michael Jackson’s former home. I can’t expect that a new owner would not wish to put their own stamp on the place, but I would be happy so long as I knew that Michael’s original vision for the property was still respected and maintained in some way, however great or small. That would indeed be the “best case” scenario (rumors of Prince, Paris and Blanket perhaps purchasing the property notwithstanding).

Of course, it stands to reason that it could well be more than just sentimentality that is prompting Coldwell Banker to retain as much of Michael Jackson’s presence as possible. There is also a very practical reason, as well. The additional amenities that Michael added to the property-including the  50 seat movie theater, dance studio, train station, stables, and guest cottages-have added substantially to the property’s total value.  This is confirmed by the description given on Joyce Rey’s website, the Coldwell Banker realtor who is currently handling the property. The following paragraphs all allude directly to amenities only added to the property after Michael Jackson became owner:

Adjacent to the main home is a separate staff annex above the five-bay garage, with a ground-level estate manager’s office, which has a gas fireplace and bathroom. The property also includes separate staff facilities, a movie theater and dance studio, barns, and corrals.

The primary guest house, about 150 feet from the main house, consists of four units, each with a separate entrance, HVAC, and full bath. The hill house, with sweeping views, was used by William Bone during the construction and could now be used as guest or staff quarters.

In a separate building of approximately 5,500 square feet, there is a movie theater and dance studio. The spacious, 50-seat inclined cinema has theatre-grade projection and sound system, private viewing balcony, and a stage with trap doors.

A Disney-style train station has a kitchenette, loft, and two fireplaces. There is also an approximately 1,900 square foot private fire station and administration building with three restrooms and a shower.-Joyce Rey

Click here for full article.

I also find it interesting that the tag “formerly known as Neverland Ranch” is being used prominently in the property’s promotion. What this says is that they are still very much aware that the property’s former history remains its greatest selling asset.

As encouraging as these signs are, however, it still remains the greatest hope of most fans that the property could be converted into a Michael Jackson museum. I highly encourage everyone to read this excellent new piece from Annemarie Latour, “7 Reasons Why Michael Jackson’s Neverland Should Be A Museum.”   This is not just another fan fantasy piece or sentimental fluff; it is a very enlightening piece that delves into the very realistic pros and cons of such a venture. But it is also a very poignant reminder of why such a place is so sorely needed. The absence of any true mecca is a void that Michael Jackson fans have felt keenly for the past eight years. True, we still have Hayvenhurst and we still have Michael’s childhood home in Gary, Indiana, and both have their respective place in Michael’s history. But neither of these homes were ever exclusively his (rather, they were the domain of the entire Jackson clan) and they do not represent the vision that was exclusively his. Only Neverland can provide that experience.

Latour’s article makes a good point (actually, several but this one stood out to me): After three years on the market, the property still remains unsold. That doesn’t mean it won’t sell eventually, of course. But it does say there must be something that is holding potential buyers back. Aside from the obvious fact that most people don’t just have 67 million dollars lying around to burn on real estate, perhaps there is a deeper reason. Stepping onto the grounds of Neverland now, even after twelve years, still feels like trespassing. Any potential owner has to know that, regardless of any changes or renovations made, they will be living with the ghost of Michael Jackson (and what’s more, all superstition aside, will inherit the legacy of the property as a fan gathering spot, something that won’t be easy to eradicate). I can almost imagine the ghost of Michael, mischievously interfering with every potential deal that “almost” goes through. Clearly, no matter who eventually buys Sycamore Valley Ranch, they will have only two options: Embrace its legacy as Neverland, or have a miserable life trying in vain to eradicate that legacy.  I think by now, even its sellers have had to come to terms with the fact that what they are selling isn’t just another California ranch property. What they are selling is the home and soul of Michael Jackson, and any buyer-fan or not-will have to have some measure of peace with that idea.

The sad reality is that, ultimately, once the property is sold, its new owners can do with it whatever they want. They can tear down the train station; chop down The Giving Tree; demolish the dance studio to make room for an extra golf course, and there won’t be anything that fans can do other than to accept it and move on. However, that is only the most extreme end of the scale and it seems far more encouragingly likely that Neverland’s chances of being sold to a buyer who will at least respect its heritage is extremely good, given that its former owner and his contributions to the property’s value remains its biggest selling feature. The best case scenario is that it might be purchased by a very rich fan who will not only respect what the home meant to Michael Jackson and his original vision for the property, but would even be willing to open it up for occasional private or public tours-or, better yet, someone who would find a way to finally give us that museum! But, really, I have to say from a personal standpoint that it does not matter to me as long as whoever buys it is respectful to the property, takes care of it and cherishes it as did Michael. The ideal future owner of Neverland, as I see it, is a steward who will continue to respect the unique stamp that Michael Jackson left on this property, even as they convert it into a home that will invariably reflect their own lifestyle and values.

Most importantly, they must recognize the futility of competing against a ghost. Obviously, some things due to their sacred nature should remain untouched at Neverland. The Giving Tree should be left undisturbed, and only a complete and utter fool would wish to erase those scuff marks from the dance studio floor. But true stewardship of the property must extend beyond just Michael Jackson’s memory. We must also remember that hundreds of years before Michael Jackson called Neverland home, this was also the sacred ceremonial grounds of the Chumash Indians. This was already sanctified land centuries before Jackson purchased it. Therefore, respect for the land itself and conservation of the property’s natural resources should remain the top priority of any true steward.

It is probably the wisest approach that the realtors have chosen to embrace Michael Jackson’s seventeen year residency. After all, any attempt to downplay it would only be doomed to failure. Realtor tours of the property are conducted almost as guided tours inside a superstar’s home (indeed, that seems to be the reaction of many even if that is not the actual intent of the tours; I would imagine-unless there is a stringent vetting process- they get their fair share of the simply curious who just want to see the inside of Michael Jackson’s home). Prospective buyers know what they are getting, as well as all of the history-both famous and infamous-that comes with ownership of the property. I think it is, at the very least, an encouraging sign that if Michael Jackson’s stamp on the property is used as a selling point, it is a selling point that will likely continue to hold value for its future buyer.

Three years and counting, we are still waiting anxiously to see what this next chapter reveals.

From “Searching For Neverland” To “Life After Neverland”

paris-jackson-rolling-stone-cover-b499cf9c-3bdb-44d2-bb11-2ea90e8b4d2eIn the time since I was last able to post, two controversial issues have rocked the MJ fandom and have ensured that the name Michael Jackson remains a hot commodity in the headlines. I am referring to the outrage that erupted over SkyArt’s “Urban Myths” and the casting of the very white Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson, the resultant cancellation of that project (only to be replaced within 24 hours by news of another MJ film project–the Lifetime project entitled “Searching For Neverland”) and, finally, Paris Jackson’s explosive Rolling Stone interview which was released January 24. The title of that interview, fittingly enough, was “Life After Neverland.” Both events have also ushered in their share of controversy, with race being a common thread that linked much of the controversy over both.

Look, I KNOW this is what they were going for…but that didn’t make this ridiculous casting disaster anymore palatable!

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When rightful public and social media protests led to the cancellation of the “Urban Myths” episode, there was an immediate backlash from those who decried “censorship” and were incensed that politically correct protests over casting a white actor to play a black icon could lead to the cancellation of a project-especially a project that, presumably, had already been filmed and was set to air. The funny thing is that, as I read through many of the comments, I got the distinct feeling that most of these people probably didn’t even really care that much about this silly TV episode, and that probably most of the ones raising the biggest hoot over it wouldn’t have even tuned in to watch it, anyway. But as usual, everyone has an opinion if the subject happens to involve the name Michael Jackson. I also got the distinct feeling that their protests and supposed “outrage” wouldn’t have been half so vehement had the focus been any other famous black entertainer besides Michael Jackson. In fact, they probably would have sided with the protesters. But apparently, because Michael Jackson’s physical appearance did become “white” (actually devoid of pigment) in his last two decades, many apparently felt that made it “okay” to cast a white man to play him. To be fair, the entire “Urban Myths” series is intended as a comedic parody of the celebrities it portrays, and Michael Jackson is not the only celebrity being held up for spoofing in the series. Many well respected icons such as Bob Dylan are also getting the treatment in this series, and there does not seem to be any campaigns afoot to halt their episodes. Moreover, there is a pretty clear disclaimer that these tales are, in fact, urban myths that are not supposed to be taken as factual (hence the show’s subtitle of “True-ISH stories”). However, there are much more complex issues at stake that made the Jackson themed episode especially tasteless. If fans and family had been angry before at the knowledge of Joseph Fiennes’s casting, it was as nothing compared to the outrage that hit when the promotional trailer for the episode was released. The clip featured what promised to be a buffoonish parody of Michael Jackson as some sort of real life mix between The Mad Hatter and Willie Wonka who, while on a fictional trip to escape 9/11, apparently makes random stops to romp through the woods exploring nature.

The questionable casting decision of Fiennes aside, I don’t think the portrayal was intended to be disrespectful so much as it was simply doing what parodies do-that is, exaggerating certain characteristics of the subject for comedic effect. During this era, Michael often did come across as a kind of whimsical, sprite-like figure who espoused the wonders of nature and the importance of maintaining childlike innocence. At the same time, however, this was only one facet of what we know was a very complex artist and individual, and to reduce his entire persona to such a one note portrayal is both insulting and misleading (indeed, such portrayals largely remain the reason Jackson remains so misunderstood by the public at large). One only has to look at that atrocious Man in the Mirror TV movie from 2004 to realize how damaging such portrayals have been. At best, these portrayals give the impression of an innocent man/child. But they also reduce him to seemingly nothing more than a deluded-even mentally ill- individual out of touch with reality. I once had a conversation about Michael Jackson with a bus driver who said she had always loved his music but was convinced “that boy needed some therapy or something.” I asked what had led her to that conclusion. He “needed therapy” based on what criteria, exactly? I asked her if she had even read that much about him. “No,” she answered honestly, “but I saw that movie where he was just running and jumping around with that bunch of kids. It was bizarre.” Of course, she couldn’t remember what film she was referring to, but I knew instantly. She was talking about Man in the Mirror.

Well, here’s the thing: That movie, too, had some good intentions. If anything, the writers seemed convinced they were presenting a balanced portrayal of Michael that might lead to some casting of public doubt on his guilt as the Arvizo trial approached. At the same time, they seemed to think that the only way Michael could possibly be acquitted in the court of public opinion was by portraying him as a delusional and regressed man/child-the Peter Pan myth incarnate.

One day the right project may come along that perfectly captures Michael's quirky, sprite-like charm. But that project hasn't come along yet.
One day the right project may come along that perfectly captures Michael’s quirky, sprite-like charm. But that project hasn’t come along yet.

If a project ever got it right, they could certainly do much with the idea of an idealistic man who truly believed in the power of childlike innocence–one who nevertheless became crushed and ultimately destroyed  by the realities of the corrupt adult world-but that project has yet to surface, and would certainly take a far better and more sensitive writer than any who have thus far turned their hand to a screenplay on Michael Jackson’s life. If such a project were ever to emerge, I would certainly be the first to applaud the courage of bringing it forth. But so far, the biggest challenge that has marred these otherwise well-intentioned projects is that it is difficult, at best, to offer a portrayal that balances that fine line between whimsy, childlike idealism and lunacy. Most films make the mistake of tipping that balance on the side of lunacy, rather than by taking a much needed cue from films like Finding Neverland.

But the truth of the matter is that no Michael Jackson film project is ever going to be totally free from controversy. From casting decisions, to the portrayal itself, to what elements of his life are explored and which are ignored, all will be decisions that are not going to please every critic and certainly not every fan. Even This Is It-a movie that starred the man himself-was not immune to controversy, but instead became one of the first truly polarizing projects to tear apart the fan community.

However, there are reasons why the kinds of portrayals such as what “Urban Myths” was planning are especially dangerous. I know that some will scoff and say, “Lighten up; it’s just a comedy” and I might agree-if this was some occasional, one-off deal or if it was anybody but Michael Jackson, an artist whose reputation has only begun to rehabilitate itself after decades of being dragged through the mud, an artist whose very humanity continues to be fogged by a public narrative forged on tabloid myths and comedy skits. As an artist myself, I appreciate the concept of parody and fully support the freedom of artistic expression. At the same time, as someone who admires Michael Jackson in all of his three dimensional complexity, I understandably have issues with the insistence on constantly casting him into the same cliched and worn-out mold, which only serve to reinforce misconceptions that many already hold (as Michael himself once said, if you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes the truth).

I applaud SkyArt’s decision to cancel the airing of the episode (although I suspect it will still surface in some form). But the upshot of the matter was that the decision to cancel the show led to a predictably severe backlash in which ill informed commenters, bloggers, and journalists felt compelled to put in their two cents’ worth of opinions about Michael Jackson and race. Out came the usual parade of cliches’: “He wasn’t black by 2001; he was white”; “Well, he wanted to be white, anyway” and on and on. Inevitably, such typical comments would often be framed by the even more typical question of white privilege: “What’s the big deal?” I remember getting so heated with one particular poster on SkyTV’s Twitter that I wrote, “Sure, and let’s bring back the days of minstrel shows, black face comedy and Italians in bad wigs playing Native Americans. I mean, what’s the big deal?”

However, I was quickly brought to an even more unsettling revelation. There was a time when such a response might have provoked a genuine, “Gee, I never thought about it like that.” But this is the era of Trump’s America, where all notions of what have been perceived as politically correct progress seem to be regressing. I am no longer convinced that I am dealing with individuals who are even remotely capable of feeling shamed by such statements.

Similarly, Paris’s statement in her Rolling Stone interview that she identifies herself as a black woman (let’s keep in mind she had a black father and was raised as a Jackson) unleashed another round of furor from this same faction. Within 24 hours of the interview going public, BET and Wendy Williams both made headlines with statements like, “Not everyone is on board with Paris identifying as black” as if it is really supposed to matter who is “on board” with it or not.

One would certainly think that someone like Wendy Williams-who herself has had to endure much controversy, gossip, and speculation about whether or not she is, in fact, trans gender-would be more sympathetic to Paris. And, look, I get what Williams was saying, that someone like Paris will never have to worry about the stigmas of racial profiling, but the same argument could be made for any biracial person who just happens to look more like their “light complexioned” side of the family. To single Paris out for this kind of treatment is not only unfair to her, it is a slap in the face to every person of mixed race ethnicity, especially those who choose to identify with the side they least physically resemble. I am mixed Native American and Irish ancestry. For all outward appearances, I look “white” but am proud to identify myself as Native American. Among my relatives, I have many dark skinned, black haired and brown eyed siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews who do show this lineage. But just because my genes determined that I would look more like my European ancestors does not change the fact that, on the inside, my blood is still more than half Cherokee. Yet I know how racial snobbery works. I have seen it and have myself been a target for it. For people like me, full blooded Natives will often point fingers and make the same argument: “Look at you. You can be Indian by choice. You have no idea what it’s like to have grown up on a reservation, to get the dirty looks and to be spit on when you go into town,” etc etc.” Part of me acknowledges they are right, of course. I don’t have to worry that I’m going to be pulled over and harassed by police because I fit some dark skinned profile or stereotype that they have of a person with brown or black skin. By the same token, however, it makes me resentful when I feel that my right to identify as I choose is being infringed upon by people who know nothing of my family history or my genetic makeup. Always, the first defensive thought that snaps into my mind (and which I often have to bite my tongue to refrain from saying) is that “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if I had olive skin, black hair and brown eyes.”

I am stating this , of course, because it has direct correlation to what I see happening now. No one would be making those hateful comments to Paris if she had come out looking, I suppose, more like a Jackson and perhaps less like her white mother Debbie. But it goes even deeper than that. The real source of the outrage stems from something much deeper, uglier, and more psychologically complex, which is the deeply and culturally ingrained belief that Michael Jackson wanted to be white (not just that he had a skin disease) and that he somehow went out of his way to “purchase” white children that are not biologically his. This belief is now so persistent that no amount of evidence to the contrary, no statements from Michael Jackson or from his children themselves, can persuade them to any other view. I doubt at this point that even a confirmed DNA test would do much to change this view. I am firmly convinced now that people are going to continue to believe whatever they choose to believe about Michael Jackson or his children regardless of any evidence that might stand in direct contradiction to those beliefs.

In other words, there seems to be a deeply ingrained sense of justification on the public’s part that both Michael and his children are lying (or in denial or some extreme case of delusion) and therefore it is perfectly justifiable to hurl insults and to attempt a kind of “calling out” with every interview and every public statement uttered. One truly has to wonder why so many feel the need to be so seriously invested in this topic, and why race continues to be the public’s most ongoing concern when it comes to Michael Jackson’s children.

The resentment stems from a deeply ingrained public belief that Michael lied-and that his children are continuing to perpetuate that lie. But such excuses are really nothing but a pretext to justify media bullying.
The resentment stems from a deeply ingrained public belief that Michael lied-and that his children are continuing to perpetuate that lie. But such excuses are really nothing but a pretext to justify media bullying.

Nevertheless, I didn’t really start out here to make this a commentary on Michael, his children and race. It’s just that all of these recent events-and the public’s reactions to them-have served as eye openers in reminding me of just how hateful human nature can be, but I am referring to much more than just the usual barrage of hateful comments that pepper any article relating to Michael Jackson or his race or his children. What has struck me even more deeply this time is the absolute and delusional sense of entitlement that the media, the public-and yes, even some fans-have displayed in regard to the Jackson family, their race and even their genetics. The simple fact is that people somehow feel entitled to bully Michael’s children-and to continue to bully their father from the grave-out of some enraged sense of entitled belief that it is okay because “they aren’t really his biological children,” or “they aren’t really black” and because it has become all too easy now to pick apart anything they say as either a result of outright lying, or as a by product of some delusional upbringing. Sadly, if this only came from the media or the usual faction of MJ hater internet trolls, it would be easy enough to excuse. But now it seems to have even trickled down to the fandom, and over the last few years, I have seen an alarming and polarizing divisiveness growing over Michael’s children. It started back in 2012 when Paris first sounded the alarm on social media about her grandmother Katherine’s “kidnapping” by relatives, and since then has escalated as the children have matured and come into their own, all of which has included their fair share of controversial tweets and sometimes polarizing stances on controversial issues. For example, when Prince Jackson spoke out publicly in support of “All Lives Matter,” he was immediately attacked on social media by fans who called him “white” and said that he was not Michael’s son. I was aghast and appalled to see such hurtful comments being hurled at Michael’s son by his own supposed “fans.” It’s not that I think we have to agree with everything they say. What he said was certainly controversial, coming from the son of the man who gave us “They Don’t Care About Us” (but, also, let’s not forget his father was the same man who gave us “Heal the World”). I understand why “All Lives Matter” is an affront to “Black Lives Matter” but my point is that there are ways to disagree without resorting to personal attacks. Those fans who tweeted to Prince that he was “not his father’s son” bespoke of something truly evil that I fear lies simmering just beneath the surface of the fandom, and this is a genuine distrust/hatred of his children by some factions (due to nothing more than their light skinned appearance)which has only intensified since they have come of age, old enough to forage their own identities beyond their father’s and to state their own opinions. It reminds me of some of the uglier aspects that I see happening right now in our country, where certain segments feel they have squirmed too long under the yoke of political correctness, and now suddenly feel liberated to say exactly what they really felt all along. But to tell this young man that he is not his father’s biological son-something that at best remains only media speculation and has never been confirmed-is crossing a line that no journalist, hater, or fan has the right to cross.

But none of Michael’s children it seems, has both invited and been targeted by this polarization quite like Michael’s strong willed and often outspoken daughter Paris.

Ever since the moment when she took the microphone at her father's memorial, the media and the public have had a fascination with Michael Jackson's beautiful and strong-willed, outspoken daughter Paris.
Ever since the moment when she took the microphone at her father’s memorial, the media and the public have had a fascination with Michael Jackson’s beautiful and strong-willed, outspoken daughter Paris.

Paris’s interview with Rolling Stone was a brutal, no-holds-barred, painfully honest reflection of her life. It had the right title-“Leaving Neverland,” the perfect metaphor for growing up and leaving behind the life of innocence that she had there, with her father. Even though I have my own issues with Rolling Stone‘s refusal to truly give Michael Jackson his due as an artist (as well as their own generally white rock elitist attitude) this piece reminded me of why I have always loved Rolling Stone‘s interviews, from the time when I was a teenager and first set my sights on pop music journalism as one of my life’s callings. Like the best classic Rolling Stone interviews, it is not a piece confined by tight boundaries or restrictive content. It freely rambles at a leisurely pace, thoroughly pulling the reader into Paris’s world and the surreal life-part halcyon; part chaos-that has come with being a child of arguably the most famous icon in the world.

To those like Wendy Williams who questioned, what has Paris done to deserve a Rolling Stone cover and feature, I think it is a fair question to raise. I’m sure there are a million talented music artists who probably deserve that kind of recognition, and here is Paris Jackson whose only claim to fame is a famous name. But let’s face it, ever since that heartbreaking moment when she took the microphone at her father’s memorial and said, “Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine” both the media and the public have been fascinated by her. That fascination has never abated, and as we have watched her grow from that shy and geeky little girl to a beautiful and brazenly outspoken woman, it has only intensified. Among her father’s fans, she is often both applauded for her strong stances and, by turns, referred to as a “spoiled brat” and “poor example” when she refuses to tow a certain, expected line (which has ran the gamut of everything from her fashion choices to her public outspokenness on addiction, race, and other controversial issues).

As for why Paris chose to do the Rolling Stone issue, it’s obvious that she is looking to launch her own show business career. That should be no shocker. It’s what she has wanted ever since she was a small child. Even in an early home video, she can be heard telling her father, “I want to do what you do.”

Paris had set her sights on becoming an actress long before her father’s passing, and although her goals were disrupted in her early teens due to depression and-as we know now, addiction issues-she now seems to be back on track.

paris-and-michael-paris-and-michael-jackson-11020598-500-466Okay, so that might explain the motivation behind doing the interview, but the next question is: Why is this even a polarizing issue? I don’t get the resentment over it. I could see if it had been a negative review full of trash talk about her father, but it isn’t that at all. In fact, she speaks of him as glowingly and lovingly as she always has. And yet, as I read many of the reactions to her interview on social media and fan sites, I was struck by the especial venom that many of these comments dripped with. There were fans who said she was lying (again, this is false entitlement) but lying about what, exactly? Again, the reason I found the comments so puzzling is because I had to wonder if, indeed, we had read the same interview. There were some who said that she cast doubt on Michael’s parenting. Again, I had to ask: Did we read the same interview? I went back over the entire thing with a fine-tooted comb, wondering what I must have possibly missed. And out of all of it, the only thing that could be construed as “bad parenting”-if we really want to split hairs over something like this-is that she says he “had kind of a potty mouth” and could curse “like a sailor.”

To be honest, I, too, felt that the comment on Christopher Columbus-“he fucking slaughtered them”-sounded more like Paris than Michael talking, but I don’t doubt those were Michael’s sentiments and if he told the kids that, then so what? He told them the bloody truth. But this points to a bigger truth that seemed to color perceptions of the entire interview. Every time Paris is making a statement regarding a broader point of truth that she wanted to get across about her father’s values, or to exemplify the kind of person and parent he was, readers start splitting hairs over the way she expresses it, or the words with which the idea is framed, rather than the general truth about her father’s character that she is really trying to get across. Thus, there are readers who will overlook the fact that Michael was teaching his kids the true facts about history because-God forbid, we all know Michael didn’t curse like that! How dare she!

But it goes deeper. It turns out, the more I investigated, the more it seemed that a lot of people were jumping the gun about this interview based on-yes, poor reading comprehension skills, limited attention spans, and a willingness to start spreading rumors about the interview’s contents without even bothering to fact check what was actually said in the piece. First of all, we need to separate the truth of this interview’s contents vs. a lot of the bullshit that has been circulating around the internet.

To address one of the biggest false rumors to come out of this piece, Paris stated that she was “sexually assaulted” at age 14 by a “stranger.” I have since heard some circulating rumors that this individual may have, in fact, been someone known to the family but I cannot confirm that those reports are true. In any event, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that this was an awful, traumatic thing that this girl endured, and yet instead of having sympathy for her, I’ve seen many condemn her for speaking out about it. Why? Well, it seems that some ignorant reporter or someone skimming through the whole article too hurriedly to even be bothered with details-or perhaps simply as a result of willful malice- picked up on that detail and somehow twisted it into an accusation that Paris had stated her father had abused her. There was yet another variation on the bullshit twisting of this incident where some dim witted fan (yes, I said dim witted!) started an internet rumor that Paris claimed she was raped in front of her dad. Where that idea came from I have no earthly idea. From Mars, maybe?

First of all, anyone who has actually used two brain cells and invested fifteen minutes of time to actually read the article knows that is a piece of bullshit lie that is nowhere in the interview. Paris does state she was sexually assaulted, but at age fourteen, which would have placed the alleged incident as over three years after her father passed! Here is the actual passage, as quoted from the article. It is the only mention of sexual assault anywhere in the piece!

There was another trauma that she’s never mentioned in public. When she was 14, a much older “complete stranger” sexually assaulted her, she says. “I don’t wanna give too many details. But it was not a good experience at all, and it was really hard for me, and, at the time, I didn’t tell anybody.”

I saw some fans debating as to whether she may have been referring to the incident having taken place in front of her current boyfriend, Michael Snoddy. But again, this is a clearly a case of people jumping the gun about the interview’s contents without having actually read it, or apparently having read it so hurriedly that they couldn’t be bothered with details. Since she clearly states this happened when she was fourteen, it was long before Michael Snoddy was in her life. But more important to note, there is no mention of the name “Michael” anywhere in conjunction with the incident. I have pasted the passage verbatim exactly as it appeared in the article, and nowhere is the name “Michael” mentioned. She isn’t claiming she was assaulted by someone named “Michael,”; she isn’t claiming to have been assaulted in front of someone named “Michael” so why this has even been a topic for debate-either in the media or among the fandom- I frankly have no earthly idea.

Obviously, this confession, along with many others such as her issues with addiction, depression and mental illness, are not a reflection at all on Michael’s parenting, but rather, a brutally honest confession from his daughter about the traumas she has endured since his passing, mostly as a direct result of losing the only parent she knew and the only one who was able to give her any sense of stability or true guidance in her life. Anyone who chooses to read it otherwise is either seriously challenged in reading comprehension skills or choosing to be willfully selective about the bones they want to pick with Paris. Through it all, my impression between the lines was that of a lost child who is keenly aware that her path would have been much different if her father had lived, but it is the hand she was dealt and she has worked hard to overcome her demons.  That is no one’s fault-either hers or her father’s. It is simply the reality of what she has grown up with as Michael Jackson’s daughter and as a child who lost a parent much too early.

Another controversial passage from the interview that seemed to become the topic of hot debate was whether Paris had referred to her father as “homophobic.” That debate stemmed from this passage:

She says Michael emphasized tolerance. “My dad raised me in a very open-minded house,” she says. “I was eight years old, in love with this female on the cover of a magazine. Instead of yelling at me, like most homophobic parents, he was making fun of me, like, ‘Oh, you got yourself a girlfriend.’

This was more a case of simple bad phrasing, but the actual meaning should be obvious. What is clearly meant by the statement is “unlike many parents who are homophobic” but again, we are splitting hairs since the passage makes it abundantly clear that Michael wasn’t outraged about this incident, but took it in good natured stride. Certainly a topic that remains hotly debated among many factions is that of Michael’s own sexuality, and among fans (most of whom do not question that Michael was straight), there is also ongoing debate as to just how tolerant vs. conservative his own views were. Personally, I believe Michael grew up with very conservative views but, obviously, those views would have ultimately been shaped, challenged, and altered by a life spent in the very liberal world of show business. Either way, that Michael was comfortable enough in his own views to tease his daughter about “having a girlfriend” simply means he wasn’t a parent who was going to get bent out of shape over something like that. Of course, there are also those who will come from the opposite end of the spectrum and say, “Look, he was encouraging his daughter to like women. What kind of parent does that?” so either way, someone is going to get their feathers ruffled. But again, a close reading of the passage reveals neither approbation or condemnation-Paris, at best, was probably only four to seven years old at the time-but like she said, it simply shows him as a tolerant parent and individual.

homicide5Yet another controversial bomb dropped in the article was Paris’s statement that she and the family believe that Michael was murdered. Well, at least for some in the media, this seemed to be a “shocking revelation” although I have no idea why. Michael’s death was ruled a homicide in 2009; was the subject of two highly publicized death trials, and has been the subject of ongoing speculation and conspiracy theories for years. So I’m not exactly sure why now, all of a sudden, the media is all over Paris and acting as if she’s dropped some shocking bomb over her dad’s death or acting as if they think she is sitting on some deep, hidden secret information that no one else knows. I know exactly what Paris was referring to and it is the same beliefs that many of us have held to since 2009. It continues to be a source of futility and frustration because many of us, just like Paris, know that Conrad Murray’s measly two year sentence wasn’t even partial justice, but whatever the case, it definitely is neither “news” nor, at this point, “shocking.” I think Paris puts these statements out there because she is still bothered that more hasn’t been done to bring real closure and justice to this case, yet every time she does, she is setting herself up as a target-sadly, from those who will insist she is delusional “just like the rest of the family” to even those fans who will resent her for keeping that pot stirred. Let’s not forget, the media has already made up its own narrative of how Michael Jackson died. It’s the tragic story of one more superstar who couldn’t handle the pressures of fame, and self destructed as a result. Anything that deviates from that narrative is going to be met with skepticism and ridicule. But since it does make good copy, the tabloids will naturally be all over Paris’s statement as if it is news all over again. Already Radar Online has used it to hatch a phony story about Michael’s body being exhumed for another autopsy-an article so shoddy they even quote FBI specialist Ted Gunderson-deceased since 2011-as if he has just issued a statement regarding the need to exhume Michael’s body! Yet nowhere in that article do they actually bother to connect the dots. No one is disputing the coroner’s ruling that Michael Jackson died from a propofol overdose. That isn’t the point; this isn’t about disputing what killed Michael Jackson. The point that remains is-who did it, how, and why? And was it a slow, methodical poisoning, or a decision made that night to finish him off? These are the kinds of questions that have to be raised. But to resume my original point, it is absolutely ludicrous that the media has swarmed all over Paris for this one comment, to the near exclusion of everything else in her interview (which, let’s not forget, is mostly about all that she has had to overcome, from suicide attempts to being a rape victim).

And, to some extent, I feel anger towards those who will devote more time to worrying over how she makes her father look in an interview-or the impression she is giving of him-than any actual concern for her as a person in her own right. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know the reasons it bothers us every time one of Michael’s kids speaks out. What will he/she say, and will it make their father look bad or cast aspersion on him in some way? We have to somehow get past that. The usual claws are going to come out every time Michael’s kids are featured in any public light-positive or negative. We know the usual questions of, “Are those really his kids?” are going to come up; that stupid people are going to waste more time dissecting their skin tone and eye color than anything they have to say. I felt bad for Paris that she even had to feel the need to “go there” in her interview. She doesn’t owe the world an explanation for her genetic makeup; for her skin color or how she chooses to identify. As if I hadn’t been irked enough by so many of the rude and nonsensical comments I saw in the aftermath of this interview, it was even more appalling to see fans who were seriously discussing the question of why Michael’s kids didn’t just get a DNA test and publicly end all of the speculation?

First of all, Paris did claim at one point to have had a DNA test. She even posted it on her Twitter-“Where do you think my first haircut went?”-but for some reason (surprise, surprise!) the media chose to ignore it completely.Interesting, considering that we know the media is all over those kids’ twitter accounts like hawks! They sure didn’t waste any time pouncing on it when Prince made the statement about “the blood of the covenant” being “thicker than the water of the womb.” This was no surprise, since Prince’s comment appeared to confirm the media narrative, while Paris’s served as a direct contradiction. Apparently, however, Paris deleted the tweet soon afterward. I’m not sure why (perhaps on advice from the family or a publicist) but I do know she put it out there, however briefly. I had even screen capped her tweet (I still have it saved under the title “Paris DNA test”) but now if I try to upload it, I simply get an error message stating that the file cannot be opened. So I am sorry I can only state my word that I did see such a tweet from her, and I am sure there are some fans who will recall it because it was being discussed briefly on social media before it completely disappeared. But it is clear that her statements in the Rolling Stone interview continue to confirm that she apparently has every reason to believe she is a biological Jackson. Do I sometimes get weary with it all and wish the kids would just get a DNA test and put out an official statement? Yes. But as I stated previously, these days I am not so sure that even that would be enough to shut up the doubters. People would still insist on clinging to their own stubborn beliefs; they would say the tests are fake; the family is lying.  Nothing would change.

As for the impression she portrays of her father in the interview, it is the same one we have always been privy to-a devoted father who loved his kids, and was the center of their world. The interview isn’t so much about that as it is about what happened to this young woman when that world was pulled out from under her.  And yet, when incidents happen such as the inexcusable incident of Paris being jumped and cornered by paparazzi at at an airport only days after the interview hit, there were those who said “she brought it on herself” and “it’s not a good look” for Michael Jackson’s daughter to be running in an airport (yes, someone said that).

First of all, any viewing of that footage should be enough to make anyone who says she is “asking for it” to feel shame. Paris is clearly overwhelmed by this ambush (I agree with all those who asked: Where was security?) and cornered like an animal. Again, the media twisted the headlines to make it sound like she “freaked out” over being questioned about her father’s murder, when the reality of what the footage shows us is that she was CLEARLY “freaking out” over being ambushed and bombarded. By the point where she is running and crying is clearly when these reporters should have backed off. When I saw the footage, I immediately thought of Princess Diana and her own father, Michael. When Princess Diana died as a direct result of being chased by paparazzi, one media headline referred to her as a deer being hunted. Yet this is ample proof that the media never has, and never will, learn by its mistakes. When I saw this footage, the first thought that popped into my head was, “This is another suicide in the making.” I hope against hope that I am proven wrong, but in show business, I have seen these vicious cycles repeat themselves so often that nothing truly surprises me anymore. This is, in many ways, the culmination of the tragic cycle that began when Michael, a baby of five, was thrust into the spotlight far too young.

But there is another side of that tale that we must acknowledge, which is that Michael loved his life in the spotlight and, even if given a choice, probably wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I always believed that Michael had a definite love/hate relationship with fame, and to those who question why Paris continues to court this kind of attention even while knowing the consequences, I think this is at least part of the key that we must understand. Prince has said that she is more like Michael than either himself or his brother, and I think this is one of the biggest traits she shares with him-the craving for adulation that drives her to the spotlight on the one hand, coupled with the fragility that makes her easily overwhelmed when it gets to be too much. And it may indeed be a fair criticism to say that Paris has brought some of the negative attention she receives on herself. After all, no one is forcing her to be on social media; no one (at least we can presume!) is forcing her to do interviews. But to argue that Michael’s children should stay silent or somehow make themselves invisible isn’t addressing the true, underlying problem. It needs to start with the sense of entitled bullying that gives others the right to presume that they somehow have more knowledge about what is “right,” what is “correct,” and what is “fact from fiction” in a celebrity’s life than they know themselves.

No doubt, Paris is taking on the role of celebrity with full knowledge of what that life entails. She grew up with it; she saw what it did to and for her father. But she is also an adult now and old enough to make her decisions. She is, after all, the product of a show business family and has grown up immersed in that world. It shouldn’t come as any shocker that she has grown up knowing fully well the inherent risks of celebrity, but also its rewards. As to whether she possesses any actual talent, that remains to be seen. She may well fall flat on her face. Then again, she could usher in the new generation of Jackson family superstars. We just don’t know, and it is too early to tell. But whatever happens, both her mistakes and her triumphs are going to play out on the world’s stage. At some point, those of us who are more invested in her father’s legacy than in hers’ will nevertheless have to learn to let go and let her make her own mistakes. Without those mistakes, she will never be able to flex her wings and grow, either as a human being or as an artist in her own right.

The interview’s publication has no doubt raised a lot of the old arguments as to whether “this is what Michael would have wanted” for his kids. Well, first of all, Michael never explicitly stated that he did not want his children to be in show business. I’m not sure where that myth comes from. In his autobiography Moonwalk Michael stated:

“A lot of celebrities say they don’t want their children to go into show business. I can understand their feelings, but I don’t agree with them. If I had a son or daughter, I’d say, ‘By all means, be my guest. Step right in there. If you want to do it, do it.”-Michael Jackson, excerpted from Moonwalk p. 282.

Ten years later, even after the birth of his first child, his views had not changed. This is what he told Barbara Walters in 1997:

 

It is true that Michael kept his children’s faces masked to protect them from the paparazzi (and from the threat of kidnapping, which I have heard-and frankly believe-was a much bigger concern for him) but even he knew there was going to come a time when the masks would have to come off. He couldn’t keep them hidden forever, and frankly, that was never his intent.

And since Paris’s interview has been released, it has raised another old, often beaten about issue that I think, finally, needs to be laid to rest. Once again, I heard all of the old arguments that “this is not what Michael would have wanted.” These kinds of arguments may have had validity when the children were younger and were being exposed to some often questionable decisions and publicity stunts. But I am not so sure these arguments hold the same validity now that Prince and Paris, at least, are adults and old enough to make their own decisions. Paris will soon be turning nineteen. At some point, it has to cease being about what Michael would have wanted, and has to become about what she wants for her life.

And we must face the hard truth that inevitably would have confronted Michael had he lived-that is, at some point, we have to know when to let go. Prince, Paris and Blanket have indeed had to learn to life in a “life after Neverland.” It hasn’t always been pretty, or easy, but I am still confident that these young people will never do their father anything less than proud.

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