BLOOD ON THE DANCEFLOOR Michael Jackson: The Hidden Injuries of American Entertainment by Didi Cheeka

430132_3086563300347_969088759_nWhile I am completing Part 2 of my series on Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” here is a wonderful bridging article by Didi Cheeka that touches on many of the very points raised in Part 1 of my own article, and which I will be exploring in more depth in Part 2.  Some of you may recall a popular article I published here back in 2013,  just after the occasion of Michael’s 4th death anniversary, by the Nigerian writer Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, titled “Michael Jackson, 4 Years Later.”

http://www.allforloveblog.com/?p=8362

Recently, I received an email from Oris asking if I would be interested in reprinting this article from his friend Didi Cheeka. Cheeka is also a Nigerian writer who has written quite a bit on Michael but I don’t think his work has had much exposure in the U.S. and Europe.

This is an article I would have gladly reprinted anyway, but the particular timing couldn’t have been  more opportune.  Since my series on the Langston Hughes essay is dealing specifically with Michael’s role as a black artist, receiving Cheeka’s piece in my email was quite a timely coincidence, to say the least.

BLOOD ON THE DANCEFLOOR 

Michael Jackson: The Hidden Injuries of American Entertainment  by Didi Cheeka

Marx characterized the profit system as dripping from head to toe, from every pore with blood and death. The American entertainment industry drips with the blood of countless talented individuals. In the wake of Michael Jackson’s death, the mainstream bourgeois media fell over themselves in a frenzied feasting over his life without a single attempt at offering serious analysis of the processes that produced the persona.

Born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana – a working-class suburb of Chicago – Jackson, one of nine children of Joseph Jackson, a crane operator in a steel mill, began his musical career at the age of five as the lead singer of the Jackson 5. Michael’s dancing ability as well as his singing skills quickly made him the group’s leader. Jackson would later state that for many years, the stage was his real “home,” the one place he was “most comfortable.”

Of his father, Jackson told Oprah Winfrey in a 1993 interview, “I don’t know if I was his golden child or whatever, but he was very strict, very hard, very stern. … There’s been times when he’d come to see me, I’d get sick, I’d start to regurgitate.” The singer asserted that his father was demanding, and controlling, and regularly beat him. This much was confirmed by his brothers.

"Steel Mills At Night," A Greeting Card Image Of Gary's Steel Mills Circa 1950.
“Steel Mills At Night,” A Greeting Card Image Of Gary’s Steel Mills Circa 1950.

Gary, at one time, was one of the largest steel-producing centers in the world. With the end of World War II in 1945, Chicago experienced an increase in its black and Hispanic populations. Blacks and Hispanics moved into formerly white residential areas as whites moved to the rapidly growing suburbs. World War Two marked a new stage for the black struggle in America. Over 3 million blacks registered for the armed services and at least half a million served in racially segregated units in the Pacific, Europe, and Africa.

Back home the war economy drew Blacks into the northern factories, accelerating a migratory process began in the first world war, as a million Blacks left the south for the north between 1941 and 1946. This migration turned major American cities black, as whites fled to the suburbs before this black flood.

With the end of the war black America, now organized in unions, was gripped by the determination not to return to the old conditions. To stem black revolt, which was on the rise, the US administration had encouraged the growth of a small black middle class; this policy would receive further boost in the late sixties and early seventies.

But conditions in the black ghettos rapidly deteriorated, giving rise to despair, hopelessness, and rage. All these culminated in the great urban riots of 1965-8. To white America, the blacks were burning the cities, trying to turn them into the same kind of jungles their forefathers came from.

But while Watts, Newark, Detroit, and others burned, inside Motown’s music factory, insulated from the cities’ nightly flames, the henchmen of a music mogul were working round the clock hammering out what Berry Gordy himself called “bubblegum-soul.” In the words of former US Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, it was “… A time of war, a time of political turmoil, a time of the counter-culture and domestic unrest,” and yet Motown’s product “made us smile with their freshness and their cute ‘fros. We tapped our feet, felt good watching them, and our cares left for a few minutes.” (TIME July ’09)

The group, the Jackson 5, was signed by Motown in 1968. Motown, owned by Berry Gordy, a fervent believer in “Black Capitalism”, was a beneficiary of Affirmative Action. Disguised as reform, as progress, Affirmative Action was an attempt by the American ruling class to promote a layer of blacks who having a stake in the system would promote the ideas of that system. That is to say that, Affirmative Action was an attempt by the American ruling class to cut off the black rebellion.

If Michael Owed Much Of His Success To Berry Gordy, Does This Mean He Also Owed Much Of It To Affirmative Action?
If Michael Owed Much Of His Success To Berry Gordy, Does This Mean He Also Owed Much Of It To Affirmative Action?

 

Thus, in 1971, Gordy and Marvin Gaye would clash over Gaye’s desire to record an anti-Vietnam song, “What’s Going On.” Marvin Gaye, whose cousin died in Vietnam, and whose brother had done three tours, said at the time, “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” Indeed, the black rebellion, civil rights, anti-war movements gave birth to an explosion of radical music. Curtis Mayfield recorded “Power To The People,” James Brown did “Say It Loud, I’m Black And Proud,” etc. In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry published her play A Raisin in the Sun, which was made into a motion picture in 1961, about a Black family’s challenge of Chicago’s segregation laws by moving to an all-white neighborhood. After Hansberry’s death from cancer, her husband, songwriter and music publisher Robert Nemiroff, adapted her letters, plays, and papers into the production To Be Young, Gifted and Black (1969). This compilation was published in book form that same year.

For the growing numbers of the black middle class moving ever closer towards the outlook of the American ruling class the Jackson 5 couldn’t have arrived at a more propitious time. “All record companies,” said Nina Simone, “prefer third-rate talents to true genius because they can push them around more easily, make them change their clothes or politics just to sell more records.” Of course, Jackson possessed real dancing and singing talents. But, all too often, talent is not enough.

The opening shots of the movement that would indirectly shape the trajectory of Michael Jackson’s musical and personal life was fired at least three years before his birth. The shot was fired on a day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. On that day, Mrs Rosa Parks, a black widow in her early 50’s, refused an order to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was dragged off the bus and fined $10.

segregation

According to the city’s segregation laws, blacks paid at the front and then board at the back. Behind the first four rows stood the sign “WHITES ONLY.” If all these seats were taken, a white person had the right to demand that blacks in the next row gave up their seat. Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat. A boycott of the buses by blacks ensued which led to a desegregation of the buses. This victory triggered a protest movement that shook the very foundations of white supremacy in the southern states of America, as blacks rose up to challenge racist laws.

1963 was a watershed year in the black struggle. A march on Washington by 250,000 protesters forced important concessions from the state and led to the passing of a new Civil Rights Act, far wider in scope than hitherto. There were widespread arrests, beatings, injuries, death. But the rebellion continued to spread across states in the US, given an added impetus by the anti-colonial struggle sweeping across the African continent.

That same year, in June, Medgar Evans, NAACP’s moderate leader in Mississippi was murdered in front of his home. The summer of “64 was to prove a long hot one. Six blacks were murdered and 1,000 arrested, following the launching of a voter registration campaign. 30 buildings were bombed and 36 black churches burnt, and, in August of the same summer, the bodies of three freedom riders – a non-racial bus rides launched by the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) – were found in Mississipi, the two white men shot, and the black man chain-whipped and mutilated.

All across the south racist attacks was on the rise. In Granville, Louisiana, the sheriff presided over the savage beating, by racists, of the leader of the NAACP youth council. In Selma Jimmy Lee Jackson was beaten to death by policemen while trying to protect his mother. A non-violent demonstration of 2,000 protesters marched against this killing. The protesters were mercilessly beaten by state troopers.

The Violence Of Michael's "Panther Dance," As Has Now Been Well Documented, Was A Symbolic Representation Of The 1960's Race Riots
The Violence Of Michael’s “Panther Dance,” As Has Now Been Well Documented, Was A Symbolic Representation Of The 1960’s Race Riots

Out of the growing radicalization of the black struggle, was raised the slogan of “Black Power,” which, by 1967, was to become the dominant ideology within the radical wing of the civil rights movement. Blacks were rediscovering themselves and affirming pride in their culture, their Blackness. Thus, in one of the most dramatic moments in Olympics history, at the award ceremony for the men’s 200 metres at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, American track-and-field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute as the American national anthem was being played, to protest racism in the U.S. For this Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S and expelled from the Olympic village.

It was really a time to be Black and proud – after hundreds of years of humiliation and indignity. In the words of Mckissick, one of the leaders of Core, “…we left our imposed status of Negroes and became Black men.” Blacks “…realized their full weight in society, their dignity, their beauty and power.” But, according to black historian Manning Marable, “Black Power quickly became the cornerstone of conservative forces.”

And so Richard Nixon was happy to endorse Black Power saying, in 1968 that, “ Much of the Black militant talk these days is actually in terms far closer to the doctrines of free enterprise,” and that his policies would gravitate towards “Black ownership…Black opportunity and yes, Black Power.”

In August 1965, the Watts district of Los Angeles exploded into a race riot lasting five days. The riot left 35 people – 28 of them black – dead and over 1,000 injured. Detroit followed in “67, with 47 people killed, 2,000 injured and 2,700 businesses destroyed. Across America, between 1964 and 1972, 250 people were killed in riots and 10,000 seriously injured. Even Washington was not left out. No doubt, in the eyes of racist America, the blacks were burning the cities, “the violent, lawless, savage Blacks…endlessly spawned by welfare mothers.” In 1968 protesters staged a demonstration against the Vietnam War in Chicago during the Democratic presidential convention. Daley ordered aggressive police action to quash the protest. The ensuing violence by police led to several days of rioting.

In what would be his last public speech, at a rally in Mason Temple in Memphis, King recounted that “the masses were rising up in South Africa, in Kenya and Ghana, in New York City, Atlanta, Jackson and Memphis and everywhere their cry was the same: ‘We want to be free.’ On April 4th 1968, King was shot dead on the balcony of his hotel in Memphis by a white man, James Earl Ray. As his death was announced, further rioting broke out in major U.S cities. About three years before, on Feb. 21, Malcolm X had also been assassinated.

Faced with the increasing radicalization of significant layers of the black population, the U.S. administration, alongside its strong arm tactics, stepped-up the expansion of the black middle class, creating new, relatively high paid jobs for some black workers. This thin layer quickly became integrated into the American system and broke, at critical moments, with the struggle. And so, there was a huge shift, particularly among the top layers of the movement, away from the radicalization of the civil rights movement.

By the early 70s, the earnings of the top 5% of the black labour force had increased by 32%. Between 1969 and 1977 the total number of black-owned business increased from 163,000 to 231,195 and between 1970 and 1975, twenty-four black-owned banks were established. Also, the number of blacks entering the universities increased from 75,000 in 1950 to 660,000 by 1976.

At this point, the civil rights movement was ebbing. The tiny layer of black petit-bourgeoisie, created through affirmative action and positive discrimination, having integrated itself into the American white middle class, occupied itself with making it within American capitalism and putting the radicalism of the civil rights days behind.

Writing in The Observer Review, Keith Richburg, New York bureau chief of the Washington Post said, “In the segregated America of the 1960s and early 70s, Michael Jackson was a true “crossover” artist… I started out in Catholic schools until eight grade, when my parents sent me to a private, almost all-white school in an all-white, wealthy suburb, Grosse Pointe. There were only a handful of black students at the school, and for me, in many ways, it was an alien environment. I listened to Motown and R’n’B; the kids I now went to school with were largely into hard rock. But Michael Jackson was like a bridge; everybody liked Michael. In 1972, the year we both turned 14, his song “Ben”, from the movie, became a No 1 hit.” This is a most telling statement.

From 1968 to 1971 the ranks of the antiwar movement had expanded greatly. But, by 1972, alongside the mainstream civil rights movement, organized protests against the war dwindled. Most mainstream antiwar activists had turned from demonstrations to working within the Democratic Party. The arrival of “bubble-gum soul” coincided with this moment. And the vehicle was the integrated black and white middle class. Michael was not the “bridge,” but rather a product of this integration.

As the civil rights and anti-war movements gained momentum, they triggered a cultural reflection in the works of cultural icons like The Watts Prophets, The Last Poets, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles, etc., who gradually transformed their art from infantile love songs into complex works about a world full of political and social upheaval. These artists correctly reflected the turmoil and change that gripped their society during the 1960s. But with the ebbing of the movement, with “bubblegum soul” and the rise of Disco, the cultural movement seemed to be in the opposite direction.

In January 1970, the Jackson 5 reached No. 1 with the single “I Want You Back;” in April, with “ABC;” In June, with “The Love You Save;” and in October, with “I’ll Be There.’ All in a single year.  “Because Michael I don’t think had ever dealt with an emotion that deep in just a regular normal romance,” said Jones, another product of Affirmative Action, “(And) he cried on every take. Every take we did, he cried. I left the tears on the record because it was real.” The song in question was “She’s Out Of My Life,” a song from Off The Wall about the very bad ending of a marriage, which Jones was saving for Frank Sinatra, but later did with Michael Jackson. The lyrics of the album’s first single were suggestive enough as to reportedly incur the disapproval of Michael’s mother Katherine.

But Katherine, wrote TIME’s David Von Drehle, quoting a family friend, “Knew the only way out of Gary was through Michael … One day she turned to me and said, ‘Michael is cute now, but he won’t stay that way forever. Then what do we do? They’ve got to get a record contract now.’” They did. But, “There was a park across the street from the Motown studio, and I can remember looking at those kids playing games,” Jackson wrote in his memoir, Moon Walk. “I’d just stare at them in wonder – I couldn’t imagine such freedom, such a carefree life – and I wish more than anything I had that kind of freedom, that I could walk away and be just like them.”

And what was it like inside Motown? “Wall-to-wall work,” wrote Drehle, “The house song-writers started cranking out ‘soul bubblegum,’ as Gordy called it. The arrangers and producers and sidemen pushed the boys in search of a Jackson 5 sound. There were endless hours with the Motown fashion crew, trying on wild clothes, and more hours with Gordy’s etiquette teachers. Inside the studio, there was a name for the group handling the Jacksons: ‘the Corporation.’”

"The Corporation" Would Have Been Responsible For Much Of Michael's Early Molding
“The Corporation” Would Have Been Responsible For Much Of Michael’s Early Molding

The economic crisis that hit American capitalism in the seventies, following the worldwide economic recession of 1974, triggered the movement of industries out of the big cities and devastated the living conditions of black workers. Black neighborhoods in the big cities of the most advanced capitalist country began to resemble third-world ghettos – areas of unemployment, bad schooling, drugs and crime, as “crack” (a cheap by-product from cocaine) began to overflow the streets.

But insulated as they were from the wretched conditions of these ghetto inhabitants, the creators of “bubblegum soul” pretended this horror did not exist and closed their eyes to it, serving for American capitalism a safety valve. This, I think, is the beginning of Michael Jackson’s flight from reality. “I… used to always cry from loneliness,” he told Oprah. “Beginning at what age?” Oprah asked?” Oh, very little, 8,9,” the singer replied.

Cut off from reality, the stage, its falseness and unreality, became ‘reality,’ became “home.” The “Vultures of culture,” as Public Enemy called them in one of their songs, “They like to… Profit off the soul of black folks.” Jackson was effectively transformed into a bland, desexualized money-making machine. For quite a section of the public, left without a clear leadership, politically and intellectually adrift, Jackson became the focus of popular adulation. No doubt, the combination of these – the emotional demands and financial requirements of the public and music industry, respectively – must have been very exacting. “They think they own you, they think they made you,” Jackson said of his fans in a 1982 interview to Gerri Hirshey, author of Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music.

In suburbia, where white America fled following the great urban riots that racked America, they felt their values threatened by a strange new counterculture – hippiespunks, radicals, drugs, and all that. Added to these were the burning cities of Watts, Rochester, Newark, Detroit, and even Washington. And the burning cities were black. Blacks! Violent and sexually threatening. “… I think that Honorable Members who have experience will agree that the attitude of the African towards women and sexual matters,” said B Craddock at the British House of Commons in May 1953, “is entirely different from the attitude of the general run of Europeans…”

James Brown, the godfather of soul, with his overtly sexual gyrations and lyrics must have lent credence to these – from the point of view of white America. And yet Brown, was a fervent believer in self-improvement, and the need for minority-owned businesses within American capitalism, and owned a variety of enterprises, including recording studios, radio stations, and a real estate company. Clearly, from the point of view of the American music industry, for a “crossover” artist, one that is black, to successfully crossover, s/he must be non-violent, non-radical, non-sexually threatening – and non-black. Michael Jackson will follow this to its logical conclusion.

“But Michael also had changed,” wrote Richburg, “… His hair was no longer the tight curls from Thriller – it now looked downright straight. His nose was appreciably thinner. The thick lips he had as a child were thinner, too. The round face was more gaunt. And his skin tone had become several shades lighter, to almost a ghostly pale. Jackson later explained that his color change was the result of a rare skin disease known as vitiligo… And even if the skin disease was legitimate, it didn’t explain the nose, the hair, the lips.”

In Black or White, as if in a cry of protest, the child rappers defiantly sang: “I’m not going to spend my life being a color!” And Jackson answered, “If you’re thinking of being my brother, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.” But it must have mattered to somebody. Actually, it became really noticeable with Thriller. In the videos Michael’s Afro had gone, in its place a straightened hair, a kind of relaxed perm. Physically, he had started to change, too.

Didi Cheeka is a Marxist critic, writer and filmmaker

My Follow-Up Commentary:

In regards to the quote from Richburg, and Cheeka’s own commentary, I wish to interject some of my own rebuttal here. Although I understand perfectly the point that is being made (it is one we cannot entirely escape or dodge if this topic is to be discussed with any degree of honesty) some of  these points bear further scrutiny. I do not, for example, agree that Michael was trying to present a “less black” image simply because his curls became more relaxed.  Michael maintained a curly look throughout most of his career (only occasionally in the 90’s opting for a more wavy look) but it was not until the 2000’s-his last decade-that he started to go with a predominantly straight look. However, these are cosmetic choices that I think are pretty much irrelevant as far as racial identity.

 

If Fan Polls Are Any Indication, This Was By Far Michael's Most Popular "Look"-The Long Curls Of The Bad And Dangerous Eras.
If Fan Polls Are Any Indication, This Was By Far Michael’s Most Popular “Look”-The Long Curls Of The Bad And Dangerous Eras.

 

I work with African-American students every day. It is not at all unusual for a student-male or female-to change hairstyles two to three times within a single week, especially what with all the options available today-wigs, hairpieces, weaves, extensions, etc-to make such instant changes possible. A student might easily have dreadlocks for a week, and the next week a trim flat top. A girl who had smooth, short hair a few days ago might suddenly appear in class with long, luscious curls cascading down her back. Many of the students are quite fashion conscious, and the desire to change and experiment with many different looks seems to be something they highly value.  To some extent, it is also very much a “youth thing,” of course, but even among teens and young adults, I do not see this sort of thing nearly as much with my white students. The girls may be very fashion conscious, for example, but they will usually stick with one chosen hairstyle and color for at least a semester. So, if anything, it would seem that Michael’s embracing of his ability to change looks at a whim would only serve to affirm his black identity, if anything. And, as an entertainer, it was even more critical that his look and image continue to evolve. According to Quincy Jones, the decision to “toughen up” his image for the Bad album was a very calculated one, and with every subsequent album thereafter, we see Michael re-molding his image and look to suit the new album’s concept. Today, this sort of “chameleon effect” is not only standard for most major artists, but even expected. Michael may have simply been ahead of his time in somewhat pioneering this trend (just as Madonna did for white female performers).  Many critics often point to Michael’s ditching of the Afro as the critical moment when his “black identity” began to shift, but that, too, is an absurd notion. The Afro was no longer in vogue in the 80’s. What did Michael have to gain by holding onto a look that was no longer current? (However, it is not at all unusual today to see many Afros popping up on college campuses; as with all fashion trends, everything that goes around, comes around eventually). Perhaps this sentiment has everything to do with the political statement that was initially behind the Afro’s rise in popularity in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Afros’s association with the Black Power Movement. But by the 80’s I don’t know of too many black performers, if any, who were continuing to wear them. Michael’s jheri curl was a logical step in his evolving transition, as he sought a more mature look and to create a new, adult entity that was separate from his childhood stardom and identity with The Jackson 5/Jacksons era.

I am also not entirely sure how having a more gaunt face equates to loss of racial identity. Aren’t blacks free to gain and lose weight just like everyone else? Michael explained over and over that these changes had everything to do with his change in diet. As he developed a leaner physique, his face naturally followed suit. I suppose the assumption is that even the change in his facial shape must have somehow been equated with a desire to look “more white.” I don’t get the logic of it, but such is the perplexity of the riddle we are dealing with.

But, nevertheless, small points of disagreement aside, it can’t be denied that Michael’s physical appearance did change drastically over the course of the 80’s, leaving an entire generation of his black fanbase in a bit of confusion.  Keep in mind that the official explanation of vitiligo did not come about until after several years of speculation as to the cause and reasons for his lightening skin. And even if we say it’s ludicrous, many did believe that his cosmetic choices reflected a desire to look more Caucasion. It didn’t seem to matter how much or how vehemently he denied it. Humans are terribly skeptical by nature, and the media has only served to intensify that skepticism.

But it also brings up another interesting argument. Shouldn’t these kinds of aesthetic and cosmetic decisions be a matter of personal and individual choice? At what point-what arbitrary line- do they cease to be merely cosmetic or vanity decisions, and become, instead, justifiable reasons to question one’s racial identity and loyalty? And who, exactly, draws that line? And by what right?

However, shifting gears from the issue of appearance, Cheeka does establish quite clearly both Michael’s importance as a “product of integration”  between blacks and whites at a crucial time in history-when the world was ripe for a black star of Michael’s magnitude.  But the cost for Michael, in personal terms, meant a certain adherence to the music industry code for black performers (even if it was a subconscious adherence)-to be “non violent, non radical, [and] non sexually threatening.” Over time, of course, Michael would break and redefine all of these tenets, but again, not without some measure of cost.

The Asian comedian Margaret Cho has a very funny routine where she talks about her experience on the short-lived TV sitcom “The All American Girl.” She was routinely criticized for being both “too Asian” and “not Asian enough.” How is that even possible? At one point, they even brought in a coach to teach her how to be “more Asian.” And, of course, she was constantly being reminded that executives didn’t know how much longer they could play “the Asian thing.” Behind the humor, it is a very telling-and scathing-expose’ on a conundrum that remains unique for the minority artist, especially the minority artist in America.

These are all issues I will be continuing to explore in the coming weeks. Thanks again to Didi Cheeka for permission to reprint this piece, and to Oris Aigbokhaevbolo for bringing it to my attention.

222 thoughts on “BLOOD ON THE DANCEFLOOR Michael Jackson: The Hidden Injuries of American Entertainment by Didi Cheeka”

  1. With all due respect, and consideration of the sincerity of the writer, Didi Cheeka’s description of the history of race relations in the US is so wrong on the facts, it overshadows any commentary he may make on Michael Jackson. In particular, the notion that the rise of the black middle class was because of a government policy of “creating” high-paying jobs for black Americans is simply not true, by any stretch of imagination. I suspect that he has not actually spent much time in the US. (Just as an aside, affirmative action, as a named policy, didn’t exist until well into the 1970s. Then as now, the greatest beneficiaries of it were middle class white women.)

    BTW, Michael did not have “thick lips” as a child. He never changed his lips. Or his eyes, or his cheekbones.

    1. My apologies to Didi Cheeka. For some mysterious reason, my spell check arbitrarily changed the spelling of his name and I did not catch it.

    2. I suppose the notion of Michael having thinner lips as an adult could be in the eye of the beholder, depending on which comparison photos they are looking at. The particular photos that many publications use when they want to emphasize the “Before” and “After” of Michael’s appearance are always purposely selected to highlight/emphasize those differences. However, I went back and did some comparisons myself, looking at four different photos from different stages of Michael’s life-child era, young adult era, adult (Bad era) and a 2000’s era photo. If you study those pics closely, you can clearly see that there is no sizeable difference either in the shape or thickness of his lips. If anything, his lips actually look a bit FULLER in some of his adult photos, especially the Bad era one (though this could have been due to make-up). As we age, there is naturally some degree of lip thinning. Of course, if Michael did have lip work done he would hardly be the first or last celebrity to do so. These days, everyone is having Botox and fillers and what-not done to their face. For me, it’s no huge deal either way but if you study his pics from all eras of life closely, it seems his lips and mouth remained little changed.

      I am going to go out on a limb here and venture the same explanation that I believe leads people to blindly ignore, for example, the physical resemblance between Michael and his son Blanket. They will look at a youthful photo of Michael and see a black face. They look at Blanket and see a white or Latino looking face. And for many, that’s where it begins and ends. They cannot see past the broad strokes to actually notice any other details, such as the amazing resemblance of the eyes or mouth.

      I believe the same trick to the brain is often played when people compare younger, “black” photos of Michael to later, “white” photos (of course I am putting both terms in quotes here, for obvious reasons; we know he was always black). They look at those pics and they see a black face and a white face. Their eyes then see what their brain tells them they should see, rather than what is actually in front of them. (And again, this trick is made easier if the comparison photos have been carefully selected to play up those differences). I have been studying Michael’s face closely for five years. I have no problem seeing that little boy from Motown in photos that are made of him in his forties. “Little Michael” is still very much there, just with paler skin and a thinner face-and a smaller nose, of course. But his eyes never changed. That is the one constant if you study photos of him across the decades. Cosmetic applications such as make-up, brow tweezing, tattoing, etc could make them appear bigger or wider, etc but they were always the SAME eyes. Likewise, I have never noticed a substantial difference in the shape or size of his mouth, lips, etc. Again, these can be tricks of the eye and brain. When one looks at a more mature photo of Michael, the face is more gaunt; therefore, the lips have a flatter appearance, and he is usually going to be wearing lipstick or a tattooed on color, which also draws attention to his lips in a way that the eye is not drawn to them in his child photos, where the lips simply blend in naturally with the rest of his face.

      I once did a post that compared young and mature photos of Michael to prove that “Little Michael” was always there. He did not, as the oft-repeated cliche’ so often goes, become “unrecognizable.” I wish I could link to that post, but unfortunately, it is part of the pre-2011 archives which I can no longer access. That isn’t to say his looks didn’t change drastically. Of course they did, and it would be naive to insist otherwise. The change in skin color alone was dramatic enough to justifiably send an entire generation tripping-which it did. But this is about looking at the obvious but more subtle details that are usually missed by those who see only the broad brush strokes. Not only his eyes, but his smile, and the way his cheeks would puff out slightly like a little chipmunk when he smiled big-he still had that even as a 40 year old adult, albeit the cheeks were less round. There are so many, many little traits like that; traits that are so uniquely Michael, and one can still observe them at any age; at any stage of his life.

  2. As Simba said, with all due respect, I agree that there are factual mistakes in Mr. Cheeka’s article, but I want to comment more on the issue of Michael’s skin tone changes over the years. I’ve gathered from reading various articles by reputable sources that Michael, genius that he was, used his Vitiligo as a tool to make a monumental statement to the world about color differences and bias. He wanted people to ask questions about being black or white, to have discussions about why the difference is so important and hopefully to come to the conclusion that “It don’t matter if you’re black or white!” One of his primary concerns was how we treat each other because of the color of our skin, and in using his vitiligo, by way of treatments to lighten and even out his skin tone, he was making a phenomenal statement about acceptance, tolerance, even celebration of our differences. Unfortunately, it seems the only people who “get it” are his closest associates, his fans, and anyone open-minded and intelligent enough to learn what Michael was really all about. Granted, social and political forces certainly shaped his development as a person and an artist, but equal if not more credit should go to his genius ability to incorporate those influences into his repertoire in order to get his messages out to the world, including his frustrations over the darker side of humanity, as well as faith in humanity’s ability to make the world a better place. Nearly everything Michael did contained layers and layers of purposeful meaning, most of which we might never be able to fully comprehend.

    1. Anna, I had a very lengthy comment I had written in response but before I could finish, a power surge knocked our power out and the comment was completely deleted! I don’t have time now to go back and try to re-type it all. I will try to re-gather my thoughts and re-address your comment (as well as the energy it will take to type all of that out again, lol)a bit later today I am so sorry.

    2. “I’ve gathered from reading various articles by reputable sources that Michael, genius that he was, used his Vitiligo as a tool to make a monumental statement to the world about color differences and bias. He wanted people to ask questions about being black or white, to have discussions about why the difference is so important and hopefully to come to the conclusion that “It don’t matter if you’re black or white!” One of his primary concerns was how we treat each other because of the color of our skin, and in using his vitiligo, by way of treatments to lighten and even out his skin tone, he was making a phenomenal statement about acceptance, tolerance, even celebration of our differences.”

      I’ve never seen any evidence that Michael wanted to use his vitiligo for any grand purpose. On the contrary, he appeared to find it immensely painful and avoided any discussion of it. His interview with Oprah is the only instance I’m aware of where he explained his changed skin color, and it’s clear that he found talking about it very stressful. Can you cite any articles or quotes where Michael states that he wanted to use vitiligo to bring people together, or to make a statement about bias?

    3. Okay (deep breath) I’m going to take a stab at redoing the comment I lost yesterday, lol.

      This is a topic that has been often (and heatedly) debated here, as elsewhere. I think the danger is that we can’t assume or assign intentions to Michael that he may never have had. Vitiligo was an unfortunate hand that he was dealt. But the question here is, having been dealt that hand, did he then use his “transformation” to his advantage to make an artistic statement? This is the sort of thing academics love to analyze, but many will passionately say that, no, he was just a musician with a skin disease who continued his work forward in spite of it, entertaining millions and doing what he had always done. Did he ever consciously think, “Oh, well now that I no longer have skin pigment, I can make a social statement about race and prejudice?” I highly doubt it. BUT…

      We do know, from his own manifestos and notes, that he did consider his appearance very consciously as a part of his art. In his 1979 manifesto, which was revealed on CBS 60 Minutes, he stated, among many other proposed changes, that he would become a whole new character with a whole new look. Many may take a statement like that and run with it, assuming that even then he might have been entertaining the idea of the physical changes that we started to see most drastically about mid decade. However, I don’t believe he was looking ahead that far (although this would have been about the time that he was first seeing signs of vitiligo; however, I believe at this stage he still believed it was something he would be able to manage). I believe he was looking ahead to the Thriller era, which in/of itself was quite a drastic change and quite a drastic break from his past, both in terms of his look and his music.

      It is very possible, knowing how Michael loved to create these artistic manifestos for himself, that at some point when he realized he was not going to be able to fight vitiligo, that he would embrace it as a way to overhaul his image once again. For sure, he really only had two choices: Either to live with it and make it work for him (the ONLY choice if he was to continue performing) or hide out in seclusion for the rest of his life.

      We know that Michael very deliberately transformed his look and image to suit the concept of every new album. That is why even now we speak of him and his looks in terms of “eras”-Thriller era, Bad era, Dangerous era, and so on. It wasn’t lost on many that we first see him emerge completely pigment-less just in time for “Black or White.” And it is also during the Dangerous era that he begins to cultivate a more ethereal, angelic-like image (most dramatically in his performance of Will You Be There) and which reaches its apex with You Are Not Alone. Somehow, I could never imagine the Michael Jackson of Billie Jean or Beat It allowing himself to be shown in the buff with angel wings. But this was part of his new aesthetic (even if, albeit, the flip side was that this was also his most militant era). But by HIStory, especially, he seems to be embracing the idea of multiple personas, from the purposely androgynous being of the Scream video, the whimsical and Chaplinesque character he recreates for Childhood, to the military anarchist of They Don’t Care About Us.

      Black and white, as colors that represent such polar opposites on the spectrum, have been used symbolically throughout history. But the irony is that neither is actually a color. Black is devoid of light; white is devoid of molecules. According to most color theories, it takes having at least some of both to create a true “color.” Human beings are neither white nor black. We have many varying shades of pigment that make us what we are-complex human beings.

      But when Michael lost his pigment due to vitiligo, this was essentially what happened to him. He became devoid of pigment; in effect, “color-less.” His friend David Nordahl told me that looking at Michael was like looking at someone whose skin was the shade of a white sheet of typing paper. Oprah Winfrey said that he appeared as “translucent” and you could see right through him to the blue veins. Although Michael certainly still identified himself as an African-American, physically he had become a person devoid of all color.

      If we look at what happened to him merely from an artistic standpoint, it turned him into a being capable of reflecting most anything that was projected onto him. It also essentially made him a kind of blank slate. To what extent he used that to his artistic advantage is conjecture, of course because Michael never openly proclaimed any kind of intent to “transcend” race. He never openly proclaimed himself as some kind of walking statement about race because of his change in color-or lack thereof. It is left, instead, for theorists and cultural analysts to look for those clues in his lyrics, videos, and performances.

      In fact, Michael never said much openly at all about his disease. It was never something he liked to call attention to. If he had gone on some talk show and said, “Now that I have this disease and it has taken away all of my pigment, I can now see if people treat me the same or differently” we might have said, “Mystery solved.” However, Michael had learned that any statement he gave to the press was apt to be twisted and misconstrued (and even the above statement would have just fueled more rumors that he had purposely “turned himself white” as an artistic statement or experiment).

      I have often heard the argument that if only Michael had come forward sooner; if he had only been more open about having the disease, maybe the public would have been more sympathetic. Maybe, but I even have my doubts about that. We know, for example, that Christopher Reeve couldn’t help having that horrible accident that left him a paraplegic. Michael J. Fox couldn’t help that he was struck with Parkinson’s disease. But still, I have heard some of the most crude and tasteless jokes made about them by late night comedians and such. We are, as a rule, a very insensitive society when it comes to others’ misfortunes, especially celebrities who, as public figures, are often considered fair game.

      Michael was very sensitive about having this medical condition. He seemed to see it, not as an unfortunate disease that could strike anyone, but as something disfiguring that would cause people to recoil in horror. “They will think I’m a monster,” he was reported to have said, upon learning the diagnosis. Sure, he could have helped to educate a lot of people if he had been more open and honest. But his brain wasn’t wired that way. He was always thinking as a performer; i.e, how will this affect my art, and my ability to carry forth as an artist in the public eye? And there was, in turn, a very simple explanation for this mindset. He wanted the focus to be ON his art, and not on himself.

      Kids, as we know, are always very blunt and honest. While adults were busy speculating about Michael’s change in color, and coming up with all kinds of outlandish theories, kids would simply say, “Michael is magic.” I have heard this many times, both from kids at the time and many who have spoken out now as adults, when they are questioned about how they first reacted to seeing “white” Michael. In a way, it makes sense given that morphing and transformation was used as a theme so often in his short films. After all, in Black or White, he changed into a panther (and back again). In Speed Demon, he and Spike morphed into one being. In Thriller, he became both a werewolf and a zombie. In Moonwalker, he morphs into a sports car. In Remember The Time, he transforms from a pile of gold dust to a man, and then to a cat. In Ghosts, he dies and then is instantaneously resurrected.

      Knowing how Michael’s mind worked, it is probably not surprising that he would have much preferred to be viewed as children viewed him-as someone who was magic-rather than as someone with a skin disease. Michael never sought to be the poster boy for vitiligo. While I do wish he had been more open, I can understand where he was coming from. After all, being thought of as “magic” would invite comments of “Wow” whereas having a skin disease would (in his mind) evoke reactions of “Ewww, gross.” I am not making a judgment, but I believe that is how he saw it.

      Again, whether he made conscious choices and artistic decisions as a direct result of having vitiligo is conjecture, but it makes sense that as an artist who certainly understood the importance of the visual aspect that he would have done whatever was necessary to make the new look work “for” him rather than against him.

      Really, it was the only choice he had.

      1. Hello my dear Raven and all of you,
        I hurry read the article (I’ve been out for a vacation with the kids, nor the various comments, I do not know if you’ve talked about the work of Willa Stillwater, MPoetica, where she really has some ideas about this topic , very original.

        I personally believe that both possibilities are true, in the sense that Michael had already started to “improve” his appearance already Thriller era, but I think that once he has lost almost black pigment, he could not see himself with the features of a black person.

        I think then the various diseases such as lupus, have contributed to the damage rather than improve the post-plastic surgery, like a dog chasing its tail.

        1. Willa Stillwater has indeed written a lot of brilliant articles on this topic, as well as many others.

          However, again, I am not so sure I would completely buy this theory because Michael began having cosmetic surgeries long before a major loss of skin pigment. As I said before, just because a black person may want a smaller or thinner nose shouldn’t necessarily equate to a desire to “look more white”-and if that were true, what could be said about the millions of white people every day who have nose jobs done to “fix” something they find unattractive about it? I do believe that a lot of what he was trying to accomplish was to have a perfectly symmetrical face. It could be very possible that as one feature became more defined for him, it made him even more conscious of perceived imperfections elsewhere. This is often very common with those who undergo cosmetic surgery-and, of course, unscrupulous doctors bank on it. I don’t believe that all of his choices were completely due to vitiligo and lupus (though I want to stress I believe that was the largest aspect of it). I believe he did have a “vision” of the face he wanted to present to the world, and went to some means to achieve it. However, when the discoid lupus interfered with the healing process, this required additional reconstructive surgeries.

          I have always believed that, overall, Michael was satisfied with the changes he had made by the time of Thriller and Bad. “That” was the face he wanted, and despite all the tabloid claims, there was no discernible difference between his look in the mid 80’s and later, except for that period I mentioned in the early 2000’s. Some of the perceived changes that the media focused on actually had more to do with factors like weight fluctuations and even makeup and hairstyle (which could play a huge part, for example, in making his lips look fuller or thinner, or his eyes wider, or the cheekbones more or less pronounced). I know that he continued to have minor procedures done-collagen injections, etc-but that is normal for celebrities. He “may” have had a face lift sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s (I do not claim to know for certain, however). But even if he did, the purpose of a face lift is not to alter facial features but simply to tighten and firm them. I don’t believe he had anything, really, that could be considered a major alteration past 1985.

          I have never been shy about stating that I believed Michael improved his looks with surgery-for sure, his first nose job. For that opinion, I have gotten involved in some pretty heated discussions with those who believe that Michael should NEVER have had surgery, period, and should have never been encouraged to alter his appearance at all; that he should have embraced himself just the way God made him. And don’t get me wrong, I do believe Michael was a gorgeous child and teenager, but by the time of Thriller-oh my god, that was perfection incarnate! But that was all part of a total package that went far beyond just a nose job, of course; it was a combination of many things-bolder makeup; a new hairstyle (the more relaxed jheri curl, which gave him new sass) and the attitude, too! He wanted us to know that this was “The New, Cool Michael.”

  3. Oh Raven! I’m so sorry that happened to you! It’s frustrating isn’t it? I look forward to reading your comment. I also want to say I completely agree with you about Michael’s looks, in youth and in adulthood. AND, the other day I saw a photo of PMII (he’s getting grown now so don’t want to call him Blanket), and his resemblance to little Michael was stark! I’ve seen the resemblance before, but this particular photo stood out so much more than any others. But then, I suppose we are also somewhat biased in MJ’s and his kids’ direction, aren’t we? lol

  4. It was fairly recently, I will try to find those articles. I didn’t mean to imply that Michael ever SAID he used it as a tool. Perhaps I should have worded my statements more carefully. In Dancing With the Elephant blog, there have been discussions about Michael’s changing appearance as an “art form”, which he might have used as a way to get a message out. I didn’t mean to say he used the disease itself, but since he underwent treatments to even out his skin tone, he might’ve found his light skin color could be a “statement” about stereotyping, etc. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this correctly. I will see if I can find those remarks and cite them to you.

  5. Anna Wirt, I believe you have explained this idea clearly. Michael himself may have been very circumspect about what he felt the condition enabled (or disenabled) him to do; but on Dancing With the Elephant and elsewhere, Willa Stillwater (as well as other scholars publishing in other venues) have ventured to say Michael’s changing appearance really dovetailed with his message of racial transcendence and unity.

    Did he *intend* to have this happen, in order to make the best of a bad situation? Who knows. It seems clear, however, that when we consider the *entirety* of his changes to his appearance (not just skin hue), there’s more going on than just vitiligo. There IS some intentionality here, I think.

    And even if he did CHOOSE to change his nose and other features, or his skin color to some extent? What then? I don’t subscribe to the view (on the part of fans OR detractors) that such choices would necessarily make him a “self-hating black man.” There are may be *many* other, complex interpretations.

    1. “Willa Stillwater (as well as other scholars publishing in other venues) have ventured to say Michael’s changing appearance really dovetailed with his message of racial transcendence and unity.”

      Ms. Stillwater and others may believe that this true, or may wish that it is true, but I haven’t found anything from Michael Jackson himself that indicates that he wanted to use vitiligo for any social purpose. If there is a statement from him on the matter I’d like to read it. He had treatments to even out his skin because he had no choice. There is no way he could appear in public with an untreated face. It is inhumane to expect him to expose himself in such a fashion for any purpose, even the worthy cause of racial harmony. Not that it would work – it would just have subjected him to even more vicious ridicule. In general, Americans are not interested in discussions about what it means to be black or white.

    2. “It seems clear, however, that when we consider the *entirety* of his changes to his appearance (not just skin hue), there’s more going on than just vitiligo.” Yes. I agree–and it is discoid lupus, another autoimmune disease that MJ is confirmed as having and that affect him greatly, including his skin, his liability to skin cancer, and the ability of the skin to heal at sites of surgeries. Often people discuss the vitiligo and skin bleaching that they associate with vitiligo, but just as often fail to mention the discoid lupus and how that played into changes. This is a complex disease and I once read up on it quite a bit. However, from what I recall off the top of my head, lupus was responsible for ‘reconstructive surgeries’ around the site of the 2 rhinoplasties that MJ admitted to having relatively early –before Thriller. These were needed because the skin around the surgeries was not healing, as with lupus that would happen and in fact, elective surgery is not recommended for that reason. (I don’t think MJ knew when he had those surgeries about the lupus.) These reconstructive surgeries are mentioned by Dr. Strick–the dermatologist brought in by Sneddon as an expert consultant in the first accusations. Strick looked at all MJ’s medical records to that point in time. The combination of lupus and vitiligo made it imperative for MJ to avoid sunlight as that would cause skin cancer–not only threatening his life if it was a melanoma but also causing the need for more surgeries.

      1. Discoid lupus and its impact on healing is one of the theories I had planned to discuss when I get back to my “Michael From Head To Toe” series. That series got stalled right at Michael’s nose (lol) because I realized I needed to do a lot more research. His hair, eyes, and ears were fairly easy, but the nose-oh, boy. That’s where it gets a little more complicated. So I ended up putting the entire series on back burner so I could more thoroughly investigate all of the theories, compare photos, etc. It is still coming, but I want to make sure I really get all my t’s crossed and i’s dotted on this one, lol.

        I do believe that the discoid lupus is a very viable possibility, based on some of the photographic evidence I have seen.

        1. Great! I will look forward to your post on discoid lupus, Raven. I think it’s important and rarely investigated/considered. I wonder too if using make-up was a way to block the sun as well as hide the vitiligo patches? He definitely needed to protect his skin from sunlight.

  6. The writer who is not only steeped in a different culture but has his own set of political beliefs took the facts of Michael’s life and nudged them to fit his theme. It shows in many ways throughout the article. Michael’s mother never had anything done to her face, and I can see his features as a reflection of hers, particularly the cheekbones and lips. Can’t a boy want to be more like the mother he loves without having to apologize to the world for “selling out” his roots? She IS his roots. And I consider affirmative action a very important equalizer that has brought much relief and needs to continue. No one should have to apologize for using it and/or having benefited from it. It’s not a sell-out but a leg up. Not only did the likes of Michelle Obama and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor use it for their schooling, but they recognize the importance of the program and appreciate that it has helped them become the women they are. Why would anyone belittle their achievements–or Michael’s, who was so much more than a “product” of his time.

    1. I always believed Michael looked more like Katherine anyway. When I saw her in Gary in 2012 at the banquet reception, I kept thinking how much she reminded me of Michael at times. That being said, Michael did have some of Joe’s features and I think, over time, as he would have aged naturally without surgery, he might have started to look more like him. There is a digitally enhanced “aged” photo that shows how Michael might have looked at fifty if he’d never had surgery or vitiligo. I’m sure you’ve seen it; it’s been posted a lot around the internet. In that pic, he does look a lot like Joe (but Joe was actually not a bad looking young man; when he would actually smile-rather than wearing his customary bulldog scowl-he was quite handsome).

      I have always seen a strong resemblance between the younger Jackson kids-LaToya, Marlon, Michael, Randy and Janet (Michael and Randy favored quite a bit when both were younger). There are times when Janet is almost Michael’s spitting image to me. And LaToya has Michael’s eyes. This actually spooked me quite a bit when I saw LaToya up close. At one point she was standing directly in front of me, so that I was looking her eye to eye (she’s very tiny; even in platform heeled boots, we were barely eye level) and it was like looking into Michael’s eyes. That’s when the power of genetics really hits you, lol. I was thinking, yeah, I know this is only Michael’s sister-it’s not him-but those are HIS eyes I’m looking into. Lol. Maybe a creepy thought, but I think it’s what goes through most minds when you meet a sibling or a parent or a child of someone famous. A part of you is always thinking, This person is their flesh and blood, and you will look for those little things that remind you of that genetic connection.

      Really, none of the Jackson siblings could ever deny each other, that’s for sure.

      As for Affirmative Action, I believe its existence was very necessary in order to right the social injustices that had led to the necessity of it in the first place. I do believe that Michael was a “product of his time” in the sense that he was born and came of age at just the right time in history when the world was ripe for a black performer of his magnitude. As for The Jackson 5, they were talented and might have been as huge in any era, but the fact that they broke onto the national scene at the height of the Black Power Movement is what really gave them the edge in terms of mass appeal and sales. In any era before (let’s just say if they had broken through as singing sensations in the 1950’s) they still might have sold a lot of records, but they would have been a novelty act, and most likely, rather than being marketed to a cross over audience, record execs would have instead modeled some kid white group after them, who would have stolen their act, basically, and made it their own. (In a way, they attempted this even in the 70’s with The Osmonds but I don’t think this was so much appropriation as simply due to the fact that anytime there is a successful breakthrough group or artist, it will inspire copycat imitators).

      Had the Jackson 5 came along later, they might have been just as successful as far as selling records, but they would not have the unique historical distinction as a pioneering group. I don’t know if technically they could be called the first black boy band (that distinction might have go to The Ink Spots, a group that was popular in the 1930’s) but, certainly, they were the first of the rock and roll era and the first to achieve mass crossover success.

      I am hoping that Cheeka might drop in at some point to respond to some of the comments and issues that have been raised by the piece.

      1. I think it’s important to inform those who are not American – and remind those who are – that “affirmative action” is a policy, not a strict set of laws. It was used to encourage access to certain jobs and educational opportunities to QUALIFIED women and minorities who were arbitrarily shut out because of white male power structures. As I posted before, study after study shows that middle class white women have benefited from it the most. It definitely did not have any impact on the entertainment industry – I’m certain that Quincy Jones would be gravely insulted by Didi Cheeka’s assertion that his career owes anything to affirmative action! Recently there’s been a major shuffle in late night television hosts in the US. The only question was which white male would end up with which show. No one seriously believed that a minority male or a woman had a shot at those positions.

        Raven, there were other minority by bands trying to make it around the time of the Jackson 5 and even before – Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, who were black and Hispanic, the Sylvers, DeBarge, the Jets, who were Pacific Islanders, and even a family of very light-skinned black kids also named Jackson who had some local success in the Midwest. (The Jacksons and DeBarge were like the Hatfields and McCoys of pop music, bridging their rivalry in a similar fashion when Janet Jackson eloped with James DeBarge.) The Jackson 5 and the Jacksons owe their success to their superior talent and preparation, not affirmative action.

        1. That wasn’t to imply that they owed their success to Affirmative Action (I hope it doesn’t sound as though it’s what I was implying!). I simply meant they came along at just the right time in history and, especially, at exactly the right time in the history of black-white relations in the U.S. to make the social impact that they did.

          Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers may be a good exception to my statement. I didn’t think about them. I believe, though, if I am not mistaken, the Sylvers and the Jets came along later in the 70’s, after The Jackson 5 had already blazed the trail, but I could be wrong (I’ll have to put my google skills to work, lol).

          1. Raven I was responding to Didi Cheeka’s claim that Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones moved ahead in their careers because of affirmative action.

            As for boy bands, there was a mixed group of two white and two black singers who appeared regularly on TV in the 1950s, which is extraordinary when you think about it. (Their name escapes me, but I know it started with the letter M.)

          2. The name of the group was the Mariners:

            “This four-piece gospel group comprised two white and two black singers and was formed in 1942 at the Coast Guard in Manhattan Beach in New York, USA. The group comprised Thomas Lockard, James O. Lewis, Nathaniel Dickerson and Martin Karl (who had previously performed with the Chicago Opera). The group toured the New York State area and visited several Pacific force bases during 1945. Radio broadcasts brought them to the attention of Arthur Godfrey, and they were regulars on his radio show for several years after the war. They recorded ‘On The Island Of Oahu’ for Columbia Records in 1949, but their first hit was ‘Sometime’ in 1950. The run of successes continued with ‘They Call The Wind Maria’ and ‘I See The Moon’, their last and biggest hit, at number 14 in 1952.”

            http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-mariners-mn0000040195/biography

      2. I know the facial construct you’ve mentioned, Raven. There is nothing of Michael in it–because what formed Michael’s actual face, no matter what year or phase, was the spirit within. In contrast, the construct is a flat two-dimensional soulless thing that could never have contained that bright, beautiful, shining spirit.

        1. Are you referring to the digitally enhanced age photo? I agree. Every article I have seen that has shown that pic (except for the fan forums) always takes the angle of, “Look what might have been” with the obvious insinuation being that this face was somehow “better” or an improvement over the reality.

          As a CURIO ITEM (and nothing more) I think it is interesting, and perhaps an accurate representation of how he might have aged naturally, although it looks as though they used a Thriller era photo as a basis and as we all know, Michael had definitely already had surgery by then. So it is probably not quite accurate to claim this is how Michael would have looked without surgery. And I don’t know about the Tom Selleck-like mustache, either, lol. Michael never struck me as being much on facial hair.

          I suppose by most peoples’ standards, the face in that photo looks like a very attractive middle aged black man but the reaction I had seeing it was, “That man is a stranger to me. He’s not Michael.” I really think most fans would agree, for we love Michael just as he was.

          1. Exactly. He inhabited his face fully. You could not mistake him for anyone else. Even when he was wearing a disguise, he had to hide his eyes lest they give him away.

  7. Absolutely, Nina. Last night I revisited his interview with Oprah, with mixed feelings toward Oprah, where he passionately claimed to be very proud to be a “Black American”, and I believe him wholeheartedly. His numerous contributions of time and money to NAACP and other organizations supporting people of color is a strong testament to that.

    Regarding other changes, i.e., nose thinning. Lisa Marie said it best. “He’s an artist! (paraphrasing the rest) If he wants to change something, why not? Artists do it all the time!”

  8. Max, I agree with you to an extent and also agree with the writer you refer to. It’s a double-edged sword. Surely you don’t think people who make the laws do so purely for the benefit of the people. Call me cynical, but I truly believe, in general, that politicians never do anything that doesn’t somehow benefit them, in the short- or long-term.

  9. Simba, again, I will try to find the info I read recently. I’ve been reading so many books, blogs, etc. in the last few weeks, it’s going to be a bit difficult, but I think it’s important to show what I was referring to. I would NEVER want to “put words in Michael’s mouth” so to speak; my comments, as I said, were based on information I read over the last few weeks. Thank you all for a lively discussion, it’s always fascinating to read others’ takes on the significance of Michael’s art.

  10. Its interesting that it seems Michaels looks always generates more interest than his cultural importance.. Much of what is said about Michaels intentions with his looks sounds like speculation to me and stating that he trandscended race for being devoid of colour due to a disease imo is borderline cynicism.
    I would think that his music, dance and the person he was ( including how he looked) are the qualities that together attributed to his worldwide appeal.
    Michael himself was not consistent in explaining the changes.
    In the Glenda tapes when she asks him if he is content now with how he looks he halfheartedly confirms and exlains that he doesnt want to look like Joe, that Joe used to tell him that his nose was too big and that he was ‘too black’. This was shocking to hear, whether Michael made it up or Joe really said it and Michael took that as a reason or excuse to have plastic surgery.
    In the O interview when she asks him if he will have more surgery( or something to that effect), he says I dont know, because Im never satisfied. In the Schmuley tapes he also complains about looking like a lizard and I think it was Teddy Riley or someone else who he worked with said that Michael once told him that he regretted the surgery and if he could go back in time he would not have done it.
    So we only have Michaels own words,though not meant for the public to hear . and that does not include any of the statements made here. I personally think that he was insecure about his looks, since in the Glenda tapes he also talks about being anorexic. In combination with his perfectionism, never satisfied with his music it was probably the same with how he looked. From the AEG case and from Klein we learned that he even took botox injections on his scalp to prevent sweating because of the hairpiece and fillers in his face. It is an awkward subject because it is so private, but Id rather have facts.

    As for Didi Chika’s article, it is always a challenge when you only have so many words to write an article about a subject that needs volumes to explain. Shortcuts most of the time do not do justice to such complex themes. Despite its shortcomings the article also touches on some subjects that your and Simbas comments give more background and more factual information to understand.

    I like the article ( part one) you wrote about L Hughes putting Michael in a historical/cultural perspective against other historical figures and so writing bits and pieces of his biography and history that go beyond the usual stuff we hear over and over again. It is a very American story and it asks for some research. I ddnt know Langston Hughes and his connection to ZN Husrston. And though I have read some works of ZN Hurston I didn’t know of the accusations against her. So your article also triggered me to take a deeper look at both of their work.
    Im looking forward to part 2

    1. I hate to use the word binary again (it seems such an overused word when discussing Michael) but with him, things were never as simple as they appeared. Always, there seems to be contradictions. Michael would say that he did not want people focusing on his appearance, but all of the various looks and image overhauls he did were carefully thought out concepts to do just that-to draw attention to his appearance. A performer cannot entirely escape the issue of appearance because even the performance itself is based as much on the visual aspect as the auditory aspect of it. Michael knew that what the audience was “seeing” was an important part of the process. Granted, Michael was probably taking a lot of advice from different factions, but ultimately, some of those decisions must have been his own. I mean, this was the guy who said he couldn’t stand to think of what women were thinking of him when he went onstage-who said he was so embarrassed to know that women were thinking about him naked-and yet wore those gold pants that left little to imagination, not to mention some of the most suggestive moves this side of creation. It’s rather like the girl who says she doesn’t want attention from men but then wears a spandex mini skirt and spike heels and struts down the street in them. Well, if you do that, then men are going to notice. Likewise, women (and men, too) are going to notice if you come onstage in tight, gold pants with no underwear beneath (lol). However, that was ONSTAGE when he went into “King of Pop” mode (as Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard put it). Most people who knew him have said that he was very different offstage, and Michael has said so as well. But the problem was that once offstage, he still had to deal with the repercussions of all that excitement he stirred onstage. It wasn’t like it was a switch that could be automatically turned on and off, just because now he might wish to retreat into his safe shell. I think Michael wished to some extent to be able to do that, to be able to compartmentalize it like he did so many aspects of his life, but it usually doesn’t work that way, and especially not for pop performers.

      There has always been a clear distinction between artists who are considered “serious musicians” and those who rely on performance and image;i.e, showmanship. When an artist like Stevie Wonder or Billy Joel performs, no one is going to focus on their appearance, which is irrelevant. Fans come simply to hear the music. But when it’s someone like Michael or Prince or Madonna, it’s always going to be as much about what he/she was wearing, and how they look, as about the performance. While image and showmanship had always been a part of Michael’s act since the very beginning with The Jackson 5, there was a brief window, right about the time of Off The Wall, when he might have remained classed as “serious musician” had he chosen to do so. But then came Thriller and the video age (which he helped usher in) and there was no turning back. From then on, the world was going to be focused as much on Michael’s appearance as his dance and music. When someone is good looking, they are even easier to sell. And Michael definitely knew how to “sell” himself. He was definitely conscious of the importance of image and appearance, even as he downplayed it and even bemoaned it in interviews and private conversations. Perhaps a part of him simply recognized it as an “evil necessity” of the business, sort of like the way I think it’s stupid that I can’t have a visible tattoo and wear jeans every day, but I suck it up and do what I have to do to have a job. I think that very possibly Michael was sometimes overwhelmed with the very thing he had helped create/set in motion. In fact, I’m sure he was OFTEN overwhelmed with it. Onstage, he invited and welcomed the scrutiny; the faints, the hysteria. Offstage, he usually wanted to distance himself from it and retreat into his shell, but it was not always possible.

      There is another segment of the Glenda tapes where she asks him if he’s happy with his face. He says, “Yeah, I’m happy with my face and stuff” though he doesn’t sound very convincing. As usual, in fact, he sounds like he just wants to dodge the whole discussion. I used to wonder if the whole body dysmorphic disorder thing was overblown, but various people who did know him have told me that Michael really did have a severe complex about his looks. This was probably part of the damage of a lifetime spent in the public eye and always having to look “just right” for the cameras-and, no doubt, being judged by the world. It made him extremely conscious of being in the skin that he was in, and how that skin was perceived by others.

      But again, because Michael was never exactly forthright on these matters, people have and will continue to speculate on the changes he made (here referring more to the cosmetic surgery than the vitiligo, which couldn’t be helped, although sadly many ignorant people will also continue to include his change of skin color as part of the debate as well). The theory of body dysmorphic disorder probably casts him in a more sympathetic light but then the idea that at least some of it may have been purposeful decisions to advance an artistic statement, while more calculated, is also an attractive alternative theory because it puts him back as someone who was squarely in control. Unfortunately (and this is probably straying a bit off topic) there are only two broad narratives of Michael that the media and general public seems to recognize-Michael as either the tragic, fallen figure, scarred by a lifetime of psychological issues wrought by a life in show business, or else the Machiavellian evil genius who enjoyed knowing he had “pulled a good one” over on all of us. Neither does justice to the truly complex and multi dimensional man and artist that he was. But too often, all of the views expressed about his appearance, and why he made some of the choices that he did, come strictly from one camp or the other.

      The only thing we can say with any degree of certainty is that, yes, he had insecurities and issues with his appearance. Yes, he was acutely aware of the importance of image and appearance as an artist. These two things alone made for a heady brew when combined. Beyond that, anything else as far as his intentions-conscious, subconscious or otherwise-is purely speculation.

      1. “I think that very possibly Michael was sometimes overwhelmed with the very thing he had helped create/set in motion. In fact, I’m sure he was OFTEN overwhelmed with it. Onstage, he invited and welcomed the scrutiny; the faints, the hysteria. Offstage, he usually wanted to distance himself from it and retreat into his shell, but it was not always possible.”

        Very well-stated, Raven. I completely agree with what you have said here.

  11. “Disguised as reform, as progress, Affirmative Action was an attempt by the American ruling class to promote a layer of blacks who having a stake in the system would promote the ideas of that system. That is to say that, Affirmative Action was an attempt by the American ruling class to cut off the black rebellion.”

    I agree with the writer’s view that Affirmative Action has not been effective in addressing major, underlying problems and that it can be criticized as merely a means to improve appearances without getting at the roots of social inequalities. For example, while incarceration and unemployment levels among blacks and Hispanics are way more than for whites, this reality can be more easily ignored or glossed over by the presence of prominent blacks or Hispanics in powerful positions. In other words, Affirmative Action may promote individuals in the hope of raising the entire group that the individual is a part of, yet it does not work that way, and ends up just promoting a prominent individual who may of course provide an excellent role model for some but leaves the group he/he represents essentially at the status quo. Women may occupy positions of power on the individual level, yet the salaries of women are statistically well below that of men and this disparity has shown little improvement for decades. In other words, Affirmative Action is not an effective tool to address systemic racism and sexism IMO and can in fact obscure the realities of such with window dressing.

    About Michael’s skin tone and looks, I was watching the Feb 93 Grammy Legend Award, where he wore the pearl-embossed jacket that Michael Bush said was his favorite of all and that he was buried in, and it was interesting to see how ‘white’ his skin was at this point in time. Yes, I agree with what Raven said in her excellent response to that question, that his skin tone due to the vitiligo was devoid of pigment entirely, and that is why he had color tatooed on his lips and eyebrows. He had essentially become in many ways an albino–someone without those many shades of colors in the skin that we usually have. Even though we use words like white or black etc to describe our skin tone, it is really much more complex in terms of color. Yet in MJ’s case he had lost these other color tones as the vitiligo progressed–he was white like a refrigerator, as one friend of his put it.

    I don’t see that this is something he would have chosen–but did he proceed to ‘work it’ to achieve racial equality or to change people’s perceptions? It’s possible, certainly, but he did nothing that I can see beyond what he had to do, practically speaking–which was to add color by tatoos or make-up so he wouldn’t look like a ghost (even though he did look very abnormally pale to some, such as Oprah’s comment about the translucent skin). I wonder if he accepted it as God’s will that he had vitiligo? Interesting in any case that his favorite jacket was one that also was white w/o the other color tones–the one the Bush replicated for his burial. As far as his comments about racial equality and harmony, I don’t see that they changed any to reflect his skin color or lack thereof, as he always spoke about loving people, especially kids, of all colors. I found this quote in Moonwalk: “I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing?’ (230).

    1. Yes, and this is also why I think we-whether fans, scholars, journalists or critics-have to be careful about assigning to him intentions and motivations that he never directly expressed. We can only safely say that, yes, he certainly understood the importance of image and appearance (I will go out on a limb and even say he understood this despite his own words quoted here from Moonwalk). We can see that even post-vitiligo, his makeup and wardrobe choices on any given occasion-whether a public appearance or photo shoot-were obviously designed to do more than just give him color. Everything was always very carefully coordinated to put together “a look.” (Of course, he had lots of help in that department).

      I think he had always enjoyed playing with make-up and experimenting with all of the different looks that make-up could give him, but after losing all pigment, it literally made his face a kind of “blank canvas” where the possibilities became limitless. I suppose an analogy would be the way that fashion designers love models who are skinny as racks because you can hang most any design on them and it is going to look fabulous. Michael didn’t choose his condition, but I think this is one obvious example where we see him doing what he has to do to make the new look work FOR him, rather than against him.

      Michael essentially had three choices when he got that diagnosis. He could have:

      Retired from performing and the public eye (after all, he’d made enough money by then that he could have probably lived quite comfortably for the rest of his life)

      Gone public with the disease, without the makeup (which would have exposed him to much ridicule)

      OR

      Make it work for him and wear it like the new swag.

      The third option was in many crucial ways the bravest of all (I daresay perhaps even moreso than Option 2) and it was the path he took, rather than saying, “Poor, poor pitiful me.”

      1. “after losing all pigment, it literally made his face a kind of “blank canvas” where the possibilities became limitless.” I agree he liked to look good, he spent hours (apparently) getting ready for an important public appearance, and he had his costumers and make-uo artist and hair stylist–etc. But in terms of his face, I don’t see how the possibilities were limitless–I mean I can see what you mean in terms of the make-up in some videos–such as Thriller (obviously), and Ghosts (the maestro and the Mayor), but for the most part, in terms of his face (not the changing outfits he wore), he looked the same MJ to me!

        btw, that Moonwalk quote is about his switch to vegetarianism. Here is the full quote: “I’d like to set the record straight right now. I have never had my cheeks altered or my eyes altered. I have not had my lips thinned, nor have I had dermabrasion or a skin peel. All these charges are ridiculous. If they were true, I would say so, but they aren’t. I have had my nose altered twice and I recently added a cleft to my chin, but that is it. Period. I don’t care what anyone else says–it’s my face and I know.

        I’m a vegetarian now and I’m so much thinner. I’ve been on a strict diet for YEARS. I feel better than I ever have, healthier, and more energetic. I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing?” (229-230)

        So either he is a liar or refusing to tell us the truth (he repeated later to Bashir essentially the same info) or he is telling the truth. I believe him. I think we can go way overboard with statements that he erased his blackness deliberately, became raceless, etc and other conclusions on the basis of little to no evidence. Karen Faye has flat out said that they covered the depigmented white patches with dark make up until they became so extensive, they had to go in the other direction and use the whiter makeup on the few remaining dark patches to even out the skin–MJ says the same thing to Oprah in 93–I have to even out my skin.

        Michael : Okay, . . . this is the situation. I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It’s something that I cannot help. Okay. But when people make up stories that I don’t want to be who I am, it hurts me.
        Oprah : So it is…
        Michael : It’s a problem for me that I can’t control . . .
        Oprah : So when did this start, when did your … when did the color of your skin start to change?
        Michael : Oh boy, I don’t … sometime after Thriller, around Off the Wall, Thriller, around sometime then.
        Oprah : But what did you think?
        Michael : It’s in my family. My father said it’s on his side. I can’t control it. I don’t understand, I mean, it makes me very sad. I don’t want to go into my medical history because that is private, but that’s the situation here.
        Oprah : So okay, I just want to get this straight, you are not taking anything to change the color of your skin …
        Michael : Oh, God no. We tried to control it, and using make-up evens it out because it makes blotches on my skin. I have to even out my skin.”

        I have a hard time understanding the argument that MJ used his looks to promote racial equality–I mean why would he need to do that and would it be effective anyway? Would he really say to himself–“I know what I’ll do–I’ll look like I am white–no race–I’ll erase all racial markers from my face–that’ll promote racial equality for sure.” He used his music and dancing, his artistry–why did he also need this other vehicle?? I mean I can see where people who are so focused on skin color as a marker for race and culture (not black like Wesley Snipes!) grab hold of this idea, but really–when it gets to the point that we deny or ignore explicit statements made by MJ himself it is too much IMO.

        1. “I have a hard time understanding the argument that MJ used his looks to promote racial equality”

          But with all due respect, where in anything I’ve stated have I said that? I am saying that, in my estimation, he made his new look work for him in as attractive a way as he knew how. I said that he was acutely aware of the impact of his appearance and image at all times-which he was.

          As for the blank canvas statement, what that meant was that it opened up limitless possibilities that he could do with make-up. Yes, he always looked like MJ. But without pigment, he could experiment with many shades of make-up that were not an option for him when his skin was darker. I’m not saying it was a BETTER alternative. I am using it as an example of how he managed to make lemonade out of a terribly rotten lemon. That’s not the same thing as trying to say he purposely did it to advance some idea of racial equality. Obviously, many have projected that idea onto him, and frankly I don’t think he went out of his way particularly to dispel those ideas (maybe because he liked keeping a little mystery about himself as a showman) but nor did he ever confirm them; thus, I said all such ideas are speculation. From Michael’s point of view, we can only say with certainty that, having been dealt a bad hand, he did what he had to do to create a new “look” that worked for him. This is purely in a cosmetic sense; however; it is not to imply that the purpose was to make a racial statement. That, again, is where we get into the area of speculation. Those theories are out there and have to be acknowledged for any honest discussion or dialog of the topic of Michael and race to take place, but just because they are out there doesn’t make them true.

          1. Yes, I agree these theories are out there and need to be discussed and I was speaking generally when I wrote, “I have a hard time understanding the argument that MJ used his looks to promote racial equality”–and did not mean to refer specifically to anything you had said, Raven.

  12. “I’ve gathered from reading various articles by reputable sources that Michael, genius that he was, used his Vitiligo as a tool to make a monumental statement to the world about color differences and bias. He wanted people to ask questions about being black or white, to have discussions about why the difference is so important and hopefully to come to the conclusion that “It don’t matter if you’re black or white!” One of his primary concerns was how we treat each other because of the color of our skin, and in using his vitiligo…he was making a phenomenal statement about acceptance, tolerance, even celebration of our differences.”

    For me this has the ring of truth. Michael, as an artist, was a living breathing Andy Warhol–using every aspect of his being to make provocative artistic statements. He deliberately blurred gender boundaries with his makeup, mascara, etc. even in the face of the massive ridicule it brought him. He managed to be a militant, an outstanding defiant, without shred of hardened meanness about him. He is often not given credit for some of the more remarkable statements he made with his life because it would be too shocking to believe him that intelligent. It’s safer for the world to see him as a helpless, addled, naive crackpot instead.

    The ancient Greek philosophers were called Cynics because they rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, instead advocating the pursuit of virtue. This sounds a lot like Michael, though there was a sweet and astonishing innocence about him.

    Apropos the above, below are excerpts from two essays addressing the significant cultural impact Michael made with his radical choices in appearance.

    “What Did Michael Jackson Do?” Wil Forbis
    July 1st, 2009

    “This is a question that’s been bouncing around in my head since before Jackson died. I mean, I get it, he sang and he danced. But a lot of people sing and dance and they don’t turn into Michael Jackson. Okay… so he was a great dancer and a commendable singer… does that explain his pop superstar status?

    “I think not, my friends, I think not. Then what?

    “During a conversation I had last night with friends, we came up with a few insights to explain the marvel that was Michael Jackson. But before I get into them, I want to capture a thought I think is important for context. A couple days ago I was reading a post on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and a person being quoted, a Pakistani man, mentioned how much Michael Jackson was loved in his country, to the degree that there was a rumor going around that Jackson had converted to Islam. These people — Pakistani Moslems — wanted to believe Michael Jackson was one of them.

    “And what struck me last night is that Jackson could almost pass for a Pakistani…or an Indian… or an Arab… or an Asian, or Filipino etc. Even before he bleached his skin, his ethnicity was ethereal. He was black of course, but he wasn’t black the way Wesley Snipes is black. And I think that explains part of Jackson’s universal appeal — people of many different races could believe he was one of them.”

    And an excerpt from an essay by John Jeremiah Sullivan, titled “Back in the Day”

    “On the Internet, you can see a picture of Michael near the end of his life, juxtaposed with a digital projection of what he would have looked like at the same age without the surgeries and makeup. We are meant, of course, to feel a connection with this lost neverbeing, and pity for the strange, self-mutilated creature beside him. I can’t be alone, however, in feeling just the opposite, that there’s something metaphysically abhorrent about the mock-up. Michael chose his true face. What is, is natural.

    “His physical body is arguably, even inarguably, the single greatest piece of postmodern American sculpture. It must be carefully preserved. All the great cultural strains of American music came together in him. We have yet to accept that his very racial in-betweenness made him more and not less of an essential figure in our tradition. He grasped this and used it.

    “That he embraced his own destiny, knowing beforehand how fame would warp him, is precisely what frees us to revere him. We think that Michael changed his face out of self-loathing. He may have loved what he became.”

    Whether you agree with these authors or not, their perspectives are fascinating food for thought. And they resonate true for me.

    –Ara

    1. “Even before he bleached his skin, his ethnicity was ethereal. He was black of course, but he wasn’t black the way Wesley Snipes is black. And I think that explains part of Jackson’s universal appeal — people of many different races could believe he was one of them.”

      This doesn’t “ring true” to me. To me it comes across as an insulting racist fairy tale. But it’s definitely food for thought.

      1. I agree with you.
        I wonder if the author would say the same if Michael was the biggest crook or criminal on earth.

        I thought this kind of racial ignorance was extinct. But seeing the level of racism antisemitism and bigotry on social media among fans, I am not surprised this is not only written, but even quoted as a piece of great essayistique.
        Reminds me of a writer of one of the blogs that ‘analyse’ Michaels music who wrote that Michael thought his album Off the wall was ‘getthosized’ because it only won in the R&B section. Which not only shows a lack of factual knowledge that Michael never said or would say something like that , that his problem was that his album was good enough to be simply the best and not limited to any genre, but more than that it shows how she projects her own bias against the R&B genre on Michael.

        As ignorant as it sounds there might be some truth in what the author says, which is that everybody wants to own what is great. And for some the combination of Great AND Black is hard to fathom.
        By making a (pretty black, considering where he came from)black man not “as black as Wesley Snipes” even ‘before he bleached his skin”,he might become a bit white, Asian, Latin, Arab, easier to identify with and to claim as ones own.
        Susan Fast might have a point.

      2. As for this: “he wasn’t black the way Wesley Snipes is black”: such statements are the height of absurdity, but these are exactly some of the issues I want to raise in Pt 2 of the Langston Hughes series. I am mostly curious as to even WHY statements like that are made. What is the mindset behind them? We can chalk it up to ignorance, but that seems too simplistic. Going back to the Margaret Cho joke that I used as an example, how can one be “too this or that” (just fill in the blank with whatever race or ethnicity you choose) or “not enough this or that” and by whose standards?

        I somewhat “get” the logic of the other part of the statement, but this comes back to the whole idea of “transcending race” and what is really meant by that statement. I certainly never thought of Michael as “one of my own” in the sense of us being the same race, or anything close to such a notion. It could never escape my notice that, duh, he was black and I was white (although we have Native American genes in common). But as we all know, Michael did touch the world and united us in a way that went beyond race because regardless of race, we are all human beings and Michael touched all of us on a universal level. His love songs spoke to us because everyone knows how much love can bring joy or pain. His dance songs made us groove because everyone loves to dance and be happy. His message songs spoke to us because we all want to live in a better world. His darker and more political songs had something for everyone because we all have to deal with pain and injustice in our own way.

        I can also say that, at some point during the mid 1980’s-with Michael’s music fully integrated into the mainstream and his skin appearing whiter and whiter-it probably made him more acceptable, “safer, more “palatable” for certain factions of the white fan base. That was racism at work, to be sure, and there is no denying or sugar coating it. But it was part of the reality of the times. I know because I saw this with my own eyes, from friends and family and people I was around every day. Remember, I grew up in the South during the 60’s and 70’s, and was still only a young adult by the 1980’s, so the vestiges of a lot of the old school racism was still very much there. This was still an era where a white teenager in Alabama couldn’t hang a poster of Michael Jackson on her bedroom wall without being teased and without risking the disapproval of Mama of Grandma. It was okay to “like” him but you couldn’t “like like” him without somebody calling you a “ni**er lover.” This was the world in which Michael Jackson rose to prominence and IN SPITE of, became a mass superstar. He would help to usher in (and in some cases singlehandedly ushered in) the very changes that brought this world crumbling down and eradicated a lot of those barriers, especially where you still had mothers who told their daughters, “I don’t want to see a poster of that colored boy on your wall.”

        But I think it is exactly at this juncture, where we start to see Michael become accepted in the mainstream, that others start to accuse him of “selling out” or “betraying” his race. So, for the very ground that he broke, he was often criticized and ridiculed. For sure, there were African-Americans who were quite vocal at the time in these criticisms. But even moreso, this was the time when a lot of white people started to view him as a threat. Both factions, of course, based a lot of these assumptions on the presumed notion that he was “bleaching” his skin and that it why it continues to be so vitally important to educate the public about the disease vitiligo.

        These are all issues I’ll be discussing in more depth in the next installment, but to get back to the original point, I do think it’s absurd for anyone to claim Michael as “our own” if they mean it in the sense of race, other than African-Americans. But if we’re talking on a human or universal level, that is different, of course. I could even say Michael is one of “my own” if the topic is Michael as an American artist, because being an American citizen is something I share with him. I think it really depends on intent. This kind of analytical scrutiny is invited and indulged in largely because, as we have said before, Michael was the first black American performer to really have that kind of global mass following, one that reached across all races, creeds, and nationalities. But that still does not-or should not-detract from his identity as a black American.

        BTW this statement I very much applaud: “He is often not given credit for some of the more remarkable statements he made with his life because it would be too shocking to believe him that intelligent. It’s safer for the world to see him as a helpless, addled, naive crackpot instead.”

        Amen.

    2. Ara, thanks for sharing. I have seen this article before and have already addressed various aspects of it in other comments here, so in the interest of not repeating myself, I’ll just say that I agree on some points, but others (such as “he was never black in the way Wesley Snipes was black) I would have to question. The statement that he was never black in the way that Wesley Snipes was black” definitely needs more context because it still leaves the HUGE, gaping question of “Why?” and, perhaps more appropriately, “What universe did that notion come from?” Lol.

      And again, as I was explaining in my comment to Simba below, I do somewhat understand where the author is coming from in the attempt to explain WHY Michael was so universally loved and embraced by every race, nationality, and creed all over the world. But I don’t think it’s as complex as some try to make it. Again, that was a “human thing” that had nothing to do with race or religion. Michael was a great man, loved all over the world, who also happened to be an African-American boy born in Gary, Indiana. It is really as simple as that. I can understand why African-Americans would become justifiably offended at any notion that suggests otherwise.

      BTW it is interesting that you include the excerpt from John Jeremiah Sullivan. This is in reference to the same digital projection photo that I had mentioned in previous comments. As I said, the man in that projection photo isn’t Michael; he is a stranger. This could well have been Michael’s face minus the changes wrought by vitiligo and surgery, but is no more “Michael” than we could say, standing over the empty shell of a corpse, that it is still the same person as when they lived and animated that body. Michael did, in essence, choose the face that we came to know, but whether he “loved what he became” is still a source for conjecture, as I was just discussing with Sina. If we take his comments to Schmuley Boteach at face value, he certainly seemed to have some regrets. Of course, he could have still had regrets for decisions he consciously made, and for sure, the cosmetic procedures were choices he consciously made. That being said, there was really only one brief period where I actually thought he looked bad, or “like a lizard” as he put it, and that was around 2000/2001 (about the time of You Rock My World). Whatever happened or was going on with his face at that time (of which there are several theories I’ve heard) it was apparently corrected later.

  13. “….but whether he “loved what he became” is still a source for conjecture…”

    Well, really so *much* of what we know (or think we know) about Michael is a source for conjecture, isn’t it?

    He may have “loved what he became” one day; and hated it the next. What’s more, the more deeply and thoroughly we go into it, the less we know (or so I’ve found). I’ve finally made peace with not knowing, and look forward to the day when we can redefine what “knowledge” is, and what counts as legitimate knowledge.

    I especially treasure the opening line of Maya Angelou’s poem, “We Had Him”:

    Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing.
    _______________________________
    I’m sure that a deep investment in “exonerating” Michael from the charge of self-hatred or racial shame will be discomfited by the idea that Michael “wasn’t black in the same way that Wesley Snipes was black.” Taken at face value,

    Viewed another way, we can say that Michael Jackson’s performance of black masculinity was, on the whole, very different from Wesley Snipes’s.

    Is that better? Will that do?

    I find there’s little to dispute in the notion that Michael changed his appearance in significant ways, *regardless* of the vitiligo and its treatment, etc. Undoubtedly there were a number of complex factors that might account for *why* he did so; and I don’t believe we’ll ever really “get to the bottom” of the matter.

    But what’s I’m more curious about are the many reasons and protestations racked up on both “sides” of this question, and the very deep investments—-anxieties, really—that lie at the heart of all the arguments, yea and nay.

    In the first place: if he did change his face, SO WHAT? Just because a million and one people did (in the ’80s) declare this a form of “black self-hatred” doesn’t mean that WE have to. Why need we respond, in unison, “it was vitiligo! He did not change his face!”

    After all… time was when Beyoncé and Rihanna, too, would have been castigated for straightening and coloring their hair—and on many of the same grounds, too. Now look. It’s not only acceptable, it’s *de rigeur* for black women (as well as white women) who perform to alter their appearance in any number of ways.

    So why is it assumed, by EVERYONE, that Michael’s plastic surgeries and skin coloration (to whatever extent he did or didn’t orchestrate these as a willful, creative act) NECESSARILY equates to racial “shame”?

    As always, there are many, many possible readings of the situation. We don’t need to hew to the agendas of the ignorant or the dogmatic by becoming similarly dogmatic ourselves.

    1. “So why is it assumed, by EVERYONE, that Michael’s plastic surgeries and skin coloration (to whatever extent he did or didn’t orchestrate these as a willful, creative act) NECESSARILY equates to racial “shame”?

      As always, there are many, many possible readings of the situation. We don’t need to hew to the agendas of the ignorant or the dogmatic by becoming similarly dogmatic ourselves”

      Well, I suppose this was somewhat where I was coming from when I said, for example, wanting a smaller or thinner nose doesn’t mean (or shouldn’t mean) that a person doesn’t want to be black. Regardless of vitiligo, Michael did make deliberate changes to his face (however few or many in number) that were most likely for purely cosmetic reasons, but which resoundingly drew ire from many as an example of “self hatred.” In show business (or these days, most anywhere) it certainly isn’t self-hatred to want a different nose, or even a cleft in one’s chin (and, yes, I’ve heard people even point to the chin cleft as evidence of him wanting to look white “like Kirk Douglas,” lol).

      I see black women every day wearing blonde hair. Blonde hair doesn’t occur naturally in African-Americans, but it never crosses my mind for an instant that these women are trying to be white. It is a fashion statement. Despite being half Native American (my natural hair color is very dark, though over 60% gray now) I wear my hair colored red, and have done so for many years, even when I was dancing on the powwow circuit. I do so because with my eye color and skin tone, I feel more attractive as a redhead than I did as a brunette. That’s a personal choice I made for myself, but it has nothing to do with my racial pride.

      So I think those ARE important distinctions to make, and too often, from what I see in the press and even among fan discussions, Michael isn’t given that courtesy. That is, the courtesy of freedom of choice. The freedom to have made certain cosmetic decisions and choices purely for himself, and not due to any hidden agenda, such as wanting to change his race, or because health options left him no alternative. (This may well have been true in regards to some of his changes, but not all). Again, both theories are only recognizing the two broadest accepted narratives of Michael-either as the Machiavellian genius or the victim, and I think both are too simplistic to do the man justice.

      I believe that some choices he made out of necessity. Some, he obviously made for purely aesthetic reasons (such as the chin cleft, for which there could have been no possible explanation except that he wanted one-and, of course, he never claimed otherwise; it was always one of the two cosmetic procedures that he admitted freely to). I do believe that he developed a new aesthetic around the idea of himself as a person without physical color-not in a racial sense, but in the overall “look” he adopted from that point forward, and in the aesthetics of some of his performances (but by no means all).

      1. I don’t recall where I read it, but apparently Arnie Klein worked on Michael for months, to convince him that his jaw was too wide and needed a cleft to ‘correct’ it. It was a revenue enhancement scheme. It’s telling that after Michael’s death, Klein went bankrupt.

        The comparison of Michael Jackson to Wesley Snipes reminded me of a story from years ago: Before the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, a journalist recalled being in a restaurant and overhearing someone say, “Look, there’s OJ Simpson and a bunch of n*****s!” Similarly, it’s all too common for white writers to venerate Michael, but ascribe all kinds of negativity to those ‘evil’ black Jacksons. Like the writer cited, they’re saying, we like Michael Jackson, he’s not really black like that scary dark-skinned Wesley Snipes. He’s “ethereal”. It’s blatant, naked racism.

        Because of centuries of ‘miscegenation’, nearly all black Americans are racially mixed, even someone as dark as Snipes. Blonde hair is rare, but interestingly, lots of black Americans have red hair. Malcolm X and Redd Foxx were redheads. Blue or green eyes are not unusual at all – Smokey Robinson, James Earl Jones, Michael Ealy, Terrence Howard, Vanessa Williams, and of course, Joe Jackson, all have light eyes. (Some genetics-challenged ‘experts’ claimed that Michael couldn’t possibly be the bio-father of his daughter Paris because of her eye color, completely ignoring the fact that her eyes are the exact same shade as her grandfather’s.)

        1. Excellent points. I never meet anyone these days who is “pure” anything, that is, if we start talking genetics and family history. Almost always, they are mixed with this or that. Humans have been mixing the gene pool for a long, long time.

          I, too, feel that there is a degree of racism especially in the way the Jackson family is often villified in the media. I wasn’t aware of the extent of this Jackson villification until after Michael died, probably because I just hadn’t really paid attention before. In the aftermath, I was by turns shocked, saddened and horrified at the way the media portrayed what was obviously a grieving family. There may be legitimate things to criticize but I was like, good grief, people, they just lost their family member. Show some respect. And I had yet to find out that this villification exists even among the fan community-that one was a real eye opener, but I think it was largely because Michael did distance himself from his family in later life. The fans took that as a cue. And then, of course, there were the very tacky public feuds and acts of betrayal-Jermaine and LaToya (cough cough) which did not exactly endear them to Michael’s fan base.

          I always try to respect that they are Michael’s family even though there have been actions I have not agreed with (“Grannygate” still comes to mind). I usually just roll my eyes and lol at some of Jermaine’s antics, etc. The family has dysfunction but what family doesn’t? I just sometimes feel that the dysfunction of this family is something the media loves to overplay. What has happened to the Jackson family is really just a microcosm of what was done to Michael as a solo artist. He was built up to be torn down. America loved The Jacksons in the early 70’s. Then it was apparently decided that they must be torn down. It is the reason why I can’t help resenting it when I see headlines like “Greedy Jacksons” or articles that insinuate that Prince, Paris and Blanket are better off away from them. To me, I see it as an extension of throwing off on Michael-after all, he was a Jackson, too. I can’t help but feel that such articles ARE somewhat racist in nature, insinuating that Michael’s “white” kids (for you know that’s the angle they are always playing) are better off “with their own kind.” They don’t even have to say it. The insinuation, to me, comes through loud and clear.

    2. “So why is it assumed, by EVERYONE, that Michael’s plastic surgeries and skin coloration (to whatever extent he did or didn’t orchestrate these as a willful, creative act) NECESSARILY equates to racial “shame”?

      Who is “everyone” here in this discourse who is assuming that.
      The problem is not about Michael changing his looks.
      It is clear that he did because he wanted to look different, why else go through the painfull procedures and recoverytime, and the risk of a botched job. And for people who didnt make a study of his face like most fans do, it worked because to them he looked completely different. If I have anything to say about his plastic surgery it is that it was not always an improvement and for a recovering addict to have cosmetic(medically unnecessary) procedures using demerol as a painkiller to me is pretty reckless of him but mostly the doctor who administered it. Yes he did go to great lengths to create and maintain that look. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and appreciation of art if you look at his face that way, is personal taste and heck that was his face, he could do whatever he wanted with it.
      The problem is with people who project their racial stereotyping on him.

      “Viewed another way, we can say that Michael Jackson’s performance of black masculinity was, on the whole, very different from Wesley Snipes’s. ”
      No matter how you view it, comparing Michael to Wesley Snipes to prove that he was not really black is ignorant and the same as saying that all jews look like Woody Allen, and that Kirk Douglas is not really jewish because his performance of ‘jewish masculinity’ on the whole is very different from Woody Allens ‘jewish masculinity’.

  14. Thank you for your insight, Ara, and for the essays. I’ve been away from the blog for a couple days, so am just now catching up on all the comments.

  15. Raven, regarding your July 20 comment, I don’t see only “two camps” when discussing MJs artistry/persona etc. He was a multi-layered, multi-dimensional artist, whom I believe his serious fans are fully aware of, but because of the complexity of who he was, and I speak for myself here, I’m not smart enough to delve into his deeper, more symbolic layers, so when I find more “surface” subject matter, that is what I comment on, and I imagine many fans are like me in that respect. I leave the deeper meanings to Joie and Willa to examine, and I can rarely comment on their discussions because they pretty much blow me away. Also, when we read books, articles, etc. by people who knew him well, over a period of years, are we not allowed to take their word regarding what Michael said to them, or do you think they were so subjective that they, too, misinterpreted what he said to them, even if it was “point blank”? I’m referring to Frank Cascio’s book wherein he quotes Michael often. If we have to be skeptical about a first-hand account from someone who was in MJs life probably longer than anyone outside his family, then I suppose EVERYTHING we can learn about him is only speculation.

    1. Again, I guess I am just a little confused because I feel like I’m being misconstrued. I am not sure what Frank Cascio’s quotes from his book have to do with anything. What quotes? Can you give me some specifics? I quote from people who knew Michael all the time, not only from books but things that have been told to me directly. I always trust the people who knew him if they are credible. Certainly their words-as well as Michael’s own-are valuable assets, the most valuable we have. But sometimes even the people who knew him best give contradictory statements. We all know that. We’ve seen it often enough. Yes, Michael WAS a very complex and multi dimensional human being and artist, which is precisely why he’s so impossible to pin down. There were things about Michael that were very cut and dried; things that we have no doubt where he stood. But what I said is in specific reference to the discussion of whether he purposely used his physical appearance post-vitiligo to make an artistic or political statement about race. When it comes to these discussions, we can only speculate based on the work itself. There are no manifestos or interviews where Michael lays it specifically on the line that this is or isn’t his intent. In fact, Michael’s only public statement on the issue was in 1993 when he told the world that he had vitiligo. There had been no public explanation before that; there was no public explanation afterward. He went forth, and kept creating. That was all. I don’t specifically recall anything he ever said to Frank Cascio or anyone else that clarified what kind of statement he wanted to make to the world about race now that he had vitiligo.

      As a subject of study, I think it is fascinating. But I am always careful to couch any theories as speculation because passing off any theory as fact is a bit of a dangerous game. In the realm of Michael, there are things that I know indisputably that are true; things that I believe most likely to be true; a lot that I dismiss as hogwash (lol) and then a lot of gray areas where I have to admit I simply don’t know. When it comes to second guessing some of his artistic decisions, that, I believe, is where we have to walk a fine line. Unless the lyrics spell out his meaning in black and white-and/or he went on record saying “This is what I meant” then we are theorizing at that point. I don’t think that’s a horribly bad word. It just means being open to interpretation, and Michael did leave much for us that was open to interpretation. Just like when I say that I believe Michael would prefer to be thought of as “magic” rather than as someone with a skin disease, that is not a certainty. That’s an educated guess based on what I understand of him and how he felt about having vitiligo and the world focusing on it. Maybe it is accurate; maybe it isn’t. Or like when I say I think it is “interesting” that the world first saw him completely devoid of pigment at the time that “Black or White” premiered, or that it appeared that he took advantage of vitiligo to create the ethereal image of Will You Be There and other performances. But no matter how interesting it may be to speculate on his intentions, we don’t know. I don’t wish to project some pet theory onto him that may or may not have been his intent, if that makes sense (I hope it does). But this is all that I mean when I caution that we can only speculate about these matters. Even the best and greatest academicians can only theorize about the intentions of any artist-again, unless that artist specifically spelled it out. In this case, it was simply something that Michael didn’t comment on and never wrote about, and I don’t have any recollection of anything he said privately to family or friends that directly addressed whether he wanted to make any statement to the world about race now that he was, to quote Lee Thomas’s book, “a black man turning white.” I wish that he had because it’s something I would love to know, and it would have been fascinating to have heard it straight from the man, but Michael always seemed to considered ANY discussion that focused on his appearance to be intrusive, and as a result, usually evaded the topic altogether.

      When you consider why volumes of books and zillions of blogs about him exist to this day, and why even academics are tripping over themselves trying to analyze his cultural impact, it makes sense. Most of us are, to some degree or another, seeking to understand that very complex man and artist who exists between those two narrowly defined camps which have been mostly a media construct.

  16. My comment is not really in response to anyone in particular, but just represents some thoughts that came to mind as I read through the many interesting and thoughtful comments on this post. As most everyone has said, these issues having to do with “skin problems” constantly arise and swirl around Michael Jackson —

    I really think it would be helpful in these discussions to separate the term race from culture. To me, race refers to physical stuff, while culture has to do with how we view the world, and the attitudes and behavioral patterns that arise from our worldview.

    Race and skin color are experienced co-extensively so often that one gets confused with the other. Michael’s skin was white, due to a genetic condition, but culturally he was black, so it really didn’t matter if he was black or white, he was still black, culturally — a proud black man. Is there a reason he would have wanted to use vitiligo to make this distinction? Maybe.

    Barack Obama has dark skin, but was brought up primarily in a family that was both genetically and culturally white. In reading about his life, I learned that when he was in college he confided to a friend that he didn’t have a black bone in his body. Although other people read his skin color to mean that he was culturally black, he didn’t feel black; black culture was completely foreign to him. it is interesting that apparently he married out of his culture, just as Michael did.

    Just as Obama, having been brought up “white, didn’t feel black just because that was the color of his skin, I can’t believe that, for even a single minute of his life, Michael Jackson didn’t feel black, regardless of what color his skin was.

    And, his art arose from his culture, not from the color of his skin. Perhaps he used his vitiligo to make that point?

    And, maybe he used his white skin as a Trojan horse, to penetrate the walls of white culture. Don’t know.

    1. Michael himself probably said it best in his Harlem speech: “I know my race, I just look in the mirror. I know I’m black.” That is a very interesting statement on many levels because at the time he made it, in 2002, we know that when he looked in the mirror, what he was seeing PHYSICALLY-the actual image looking back at him-was pale as a ghost. I usually play that clip for my students (it has a lot of relevance to our discussions of the Black or White video) and there is always a bit of an awkward moment where that remark draws a few titters, which is understandable (in fact, knowing Michael’s sense of humor, may have been partly intentional). But we know in that moment that what he means is his cultural identity. The man he “sees” when he looks in the mirror is, to him, the man he has always seen; the man he has always been. What he is telling us is that he is not looking at skin color when he sees himself. That statement, for me, is one of the most empowering statements I ever heard him utter-as it must have likewise been for him. To be able to publicly “own” his cultural identity after more than a decade of being mocked and having his loyalty to his race questioned, must have been tremendously empowering.

  17. Raven, I guess I’m the one who’s confused. I thought we were beyond the issue of the skin tone/racial issue. The Frank Cascio comment was in reply to someone else’s comment I think, so sorry for the confusion. Reagrding “two camps”, I was merely stating that from my point of view, having discussions with fans from around the world, I see more than two camps. But, as you said, it’s ALL speculation, opinion, conjecture, etc. The SUPPOSE the only person who truly knew Michael was Michael himself.

    1. The reference to two camps has more to do with the way he is portrayed in the media, although I guess part of my point is that some fans, likewise, can be quite close minded and will not entertain any theories that go against their own firmly held beliefs about Michael. A person can practically get run off of some of the fan forums if they don’t ascribe to the generally held community views, which is why I tend to gravitate towards the communities that encourage open dialogs and open minds. I think we’ve all had some of those negative experiences from time to time, but as a rule, I agree that the fans are by far the most well researched scholars when it comes to all things Michael. It was from fans that I received most of my crash course in MJ education (lol) and my mind was absolutely blown because THIS was how I began to learn about the amazing man and artist that he was. If I had stuck with the mainstream media, I would have never learned anything except that he was once a great performer whose life had “spiraled out of control and ended tragically.”

      I was actually in agreement with most of your comment, so I guess that was another reason why I was taken aback a little with the criticism. I wasn’t disagreeing with you at all. I was saying, in effect, that I think it is important to keep an open dialog regarding Michael’s art and the role that appearance may or may not have played in it, only cautioning that we should keep in mind that he never overtly stated what his intentions were or if he intentionally meant for his lack of skin color (or any of the other changes, whether willful or those he couldn’t help) to make a statement. I have heard many theories about him put forth, especially since I work in academia. Some are interesting; some are just plain absurd. I keep an open mind to all of them, but again, since Michael never overtly stated what we were supposed to make of his appearance once he had “turned white” other than that it happened to him, that is why I say, ultimately, all of the theories must come down to speculation.

      I am still waiting and hoping that one day that mysterious, magical manifesto where he spelled it all out will emerge. I’d be willing to bet it exists somewhere; Michael loved to write them too well, and always relied on the law of attraction of these notes once he had put a deliberate plan into place. I am sure he must have put a lot of deliberate thought into how the world would perceive him as a black man without color. I mean, it seems to me he would have had to. Again, there are people who like to portray him as an idiot, as someone who just went will-nilly forward with no explanations as if he thought the world wouldn’t notice his skin color. I don’t buy that, either. Just because he made no public statements doesn’t mean he wasn’t well aware of the criticisms and what people were saying, and wasn’t thinking all of this through in his mind. I am sure that he was.

      The scrap of verse that he wrote called “I’m Beautiful” dates to about this time, and I wonder if this, too, might have been part of the new aesthetic he was adopting for himself, giving him the courage to face the world in spite of the criticism he knew was about to rain down on him. It’s hard to say if Michael really wanted the world to say, “It doesn’t matter what he looks like” or if there was a part of him that said, even subconsciously, “Maybe I can use what happened to me to make something good come from it; a lesson about humanity that can be learned.”

      The latter certainly has its attraction for me but I think that either path is a profound and brave statement in its own way. Either way, we know it took a lot of courage for him to continue to do what he did, and to face the world after vitiligo, and after sexual allegations, and after all the mockery and criticism. I just wish I knew which was closer to the truth. Maybe for Michael, it was a little of both. Or a lot of both. Maybe there were days when he bravely and defiantly embraced the new skin he was in and days when he just wanted to hide from the world. And I’m sure there were days when he just wanted to walk in the sun and forget all of it, too.

      Anyway I am sorry for the confusion and I hope this has cleared the air a little bit.

      1. Raven, there’s a story floating around that Michael wrote a 600 page autobiography, and that it’s in the possession of some Arab prince. Supposedly he settles a lot of scores in this book. I hope it’s true, but if such a book were to emerge, it would immediately be attacked as ‘fake’, which of course it might be.

        (Speaking of black people with blonde hair, Spike Lee’s wife, To ya Lewis Lee, is a natural blonde. Their daughter also has sandy hair.)

        1. The autobiography was part of the deal Michael had with the Bahreini sheikh, the others were a stage play and albums. None of that came to fruition reason why he fell out wit the Sheikh. But it is speculated that there may be a manuscript somewhere. This was fueled because Tohme who mediated between Michael and the sheik to settle the case said (from Sulivans book )that he made many deals for Michael among which cirque, the AEG concerts and the autobiography. Then there was a story that Grace had secretly gone back to Bahrein to fetch items from a safe that Michael still had there, with or without Michaels knowledge and one of the items was speculated to be the manuscript. Though it is not impossible that there is something, for now it is all speculation. And if there is, the question remains if Michael would reveal what his intentions were with changing his looks if he had any. Remember those changes had happened 20 years earlier when he was in his 20s single and on top of the world. By the time of his death Michael was at a different stage in his life and had other priorities.

          1. I remember the talk of this manuscript when it first surfaced. It’s very exciting to think that maybe it exists. But I do believe that at this stage-even if we assume it exists at all-its authenticity would be so questioned that it would probably just become one more controversial thing for the fan base to fight over. With Michael no longer here to confirm or dispute the validity of it, everything in it would be held up for scrutiny. And that would not be an entirely unjustified reaction, for at this point, we would have to consider the possibility of tampering. So many have their own agendas and self interests when it comes to Michael, and the more hands that manuscript passes through, the more likely becomes the possibility of…well, let’s just say a little tweaking here and there.

            Celebs rarely actually “write” their own books. Usually there is a ghost writer that the celeb dictates to, or an editor who actually puts the whole thing together. I find it hard to imagine Michael committing to a 600 page manuscript, although maybe in Bahrain he had much more time on his hands. If he worked with a ghost writer, that person should be able to vouch for the manuscript’s authenticity. BTW this is one reason why I love Dancing The Dream so much, and find it an even more personal autobiography-of sorts-than Moonwalk. There was no “middleman”; this book was purely Michael’s own words, written by Michael himself.

            It would be fascinating to think of Michael sitting in some house in Bahrain, pen in hand, meditating on his epic life and determining that THIS TIME, he’s going to tell it straight, no holds barred and no names spared. That would be worth gold. But even then, I could envision the estate or some American editor saying, “Well, we can’t put this out until we bleep out this name” or “This is not the image of Michael we want to put out there now” or whatever, and I highly suspect by the time the product got down to us, it would be so watered down as to be useless. Maybe, maybe not, but either way, I can imagine that between accusations of fakery and accusations of tampering/editing, it would be bound to be a controversial book and probably still would not be accepted by many as Michael’s authentic words and ideas. The manuscript itself would first need to be authenticated. Then, we could only cross fingers and hope that the authentic deal is what we’re getting when it’s published.

            I would imagine at 600 pages (if that’s true) it would still need extensive editing, and here I’m not talking about censoring, but simply getting it into a workable book format. While I’m sure fans would happily devour all 600 pages-if it’s the real deal-most publishers aren’t going to touch a 600 page manuscript. But again, any editing process is probably going to cause controversy because people will be more curious about what was left out than what was put in (and I would probably count myself among that number, lol).

            Really, I can’t imagine by now that anyone who knows of this manuscript’s existence would have sat on it for this long without cashing in, unless it IS someone who truly cared about Michael the person and not just Michael the cash cow. It could be possible, I suppose, if this was part of Michael’s deal with the Sheikh, that there could still be legalities involved that would have to be wrangled out before any publication could take place.

          2. “BTW this is one reason why I love Dancing The Dream so much, and find it an even more personal autobiography-of sorts-than Moonwalk. There was no “middleman”; this book was purely Michael’s own words, written by Michael himself. ”

            Lol, yet Chopra sr AND jr claimed, after Michael died, that they had some input there. Oh, and they also wrote some of his songlyrics.

            An autobiography would be very very interesting, even if it is embellished, because lets face it, no one ever talks in depht about ones own vices and flaws. Most of the time they are sugarcoated egodocuments or payback a la mommie dearest or Paul Anka’s autobio. Sometimes biographies are more accurate, thats why most of the time they are not authorized.
            Despite its sensational bs, even Sullivans MJ biography has its merits and imo has more substantiated information than many books about Michael that I have read. Much of what he wrote turned out to be true during the AEG trial or at least not so clear as is often assumed.
            But even after reading hundreds of documents and many books and interviews, I still have many questions I would love to be answered by Michael himself.

            “Really, I can’t imagine by now that anyone who knows of this manuscript’s existence would have sat on it for this long without cashing in, unless it IS someone who truly cared about Michael the person and not just Michael the cash cow”

            I dont hold my breath on Michael writing a 600 page manuscript fit for release. It would be a lifetime work, I can picture him writing and scrapping, writing and more scrapping, polishing and painting it endlessly to perfection. But it could have been therapeutic for him to get over the damage of the trial.
            I hope that if there is a manuscript, it is with his mother and children. Im happy at least they have his last personal notes and that they didnt fall in the hands of businessmen. He was not dead 24 hours and there were already businessdeals made with AEG and Tohme popped up firing security left and right instead of saving security tapes. Thank God those notes were saved and they give an insight in Michaels state of mind in the weeks leading to his death. It seems like everything his life was about cumulated in his last months.
            I think Michaels biography writes itself in bits and pieces. I have a feeling with the coming cases(Tohme, WR,Cascio)as much as we hate them, we will get more pieces of the puzzle.

            Just now I was reading a story from Joe Jackson about Michael( he is writing little stories about all his familymember on his site) He tells how Michael at a young age saved his life by caling 911 when he got into a fight with members of a gang and was beaten unconcsious.
            I was thinking how it must feel to him that Michael managed to save his life and he did not manage to save Michael from murrays claws. At least he tried.

      2. “Either way, we know it took a lot of courage for him to continue to do what he did, and to face the world after vitiligo, and after sexual allegations, and after all the mockery and criticism….maybe there were days when he bravely and defiantly embraced the new skin he was in and days when he just wanted to hide from the world. And I’m sure there were days when he just wanted to walk in the sun and forget all of it, too.”

        Your statements above I AGREE with you wholeheartedly 100%! I never fully realized how much he had to deal with until I read (recently) Remember the Time and Frank Cascio’s book. The pressures he faced daily are painfully detailed in those two books and it amazes me how he could possibly continue to create in the midst of all the chaos. Perhaps for a genius, all that chaos somehow serves to fuel their imagination and creativity, in a paradoxical sort of way.

  18. I think perhaps we’d best move on. I apologize for confusing or confounding you. My reference to FC’s book IS in reply to your comment, I was thinking about another quote I made in reply to someone else. But I don’t have the time or space to list quotes from the book, I suppose it would be best for you to refer back to it if you want.

  19. If there were to be such a manuscript and IF it were to be published, my biggest interest would be in reading the parts where he settles some scores. My interpretation of that is not so much clearing the air about his motives for anything HE did, but perhaps speaking out to some of the people who wronged him the most. That’s just my interpretation of what “settling scores” might mean, I could be totally wrong.

  20. Raven my reply is in no way meant as a “debate”, I’m just expressing my thoughts based on your comments above. But, I AM curious why you say that “most publishers aren’t going to touch a 600 page manuscript”.

    As much as we LOVE Michael, cherish him, appreciate his genius talents and his heart of gold, can any of us say that we REALLY knew him, every aspect of his personality, his humanity? He grew up being trained by Motown how to behave (act?) in public AND in private social settings, yet he surely had thoughts of his own that may or may not have been contrary to what he was being told to do. And this probably applied throughout his life. He was adept at putting on different “faces”, no pun intended, depending on the circumstances, and imo, he was a great actor. I think he had fun keeping people guessing. SO, even if the autobiography came to us unblemished by others’ hands, could we assume that Michael’s words were 100% truthful? At that stage in his life, as you said, he had other priorities, so I tend to think so. At least, that’s what I want to believe.

    I also LOVE “Dancing the Dream”, it’s such an incredible collection of words that speak to the depth of Michael’s sensitivities.

    1. I fully agree, Anna. It’s no aspersion on Michael’s character to say that he may not have always been 100% candid.

      For one thing, he was mischievous enough to plant stories about the hyperbaric chamber and the Elephant Man’s bones. Plus, his earliest days at Motown taught him to say that Diana Ross had “discovered” the Jackson 5 (they didn’t); and that he was 8 years old (he was really 11).

    2. Shortly after Michael’s death, I read that Prince Jackson was an obsessive writer who was chronicling the “story of his life”, and everything that happened to his father in the last years. I don’t know if he’s still writing, but there are early photos of him carrying his Mac everywhere, even to karate practice. If Prince edited his father’s purported manuscript, I’d believe it was genuine. He wouldn’t need to do anything but authenticate it for my money.

    3. From personal experience in the publishing industry, I just know it’s highly unlikely that any publisher is going to touch a 600 page manuscript, lol. I would daresay not even one from Michael Jackson. They would probably at least want it edited down to about 300-350 pages, or standard length. That really has nothing to do with Michael. It’s just the economics of the business. The more pages, the more it costs to publish; thus, the higher the sticker price, and the higher the sticker price, the less likely it’s going to be to turn a profit-and publishing, like everything else these days, is based on profit. (However, I suppose putting it out as two volumes could be a possibility). As a rule, anything over 400 pages is always a very hard sell. With that being said, IF such a manuscript were to actually emerge and be authenticated, interest in it would be sky high and publishers MIGHT be willing to take the risk if they thought their money could be made back on it.

  21. He was an admirer of P.T. Barnum, whose “humbugs” (publicity stunts involving claims of dubious veracity) were well-known and admired by anyone in the business of PR. Why not say Michael was bringing back a dying art?

  22. I question the authenticity of the 2 tabloid stories that gained credence over the years, and were used as a hammer to beat MJ over the head and to justify the attacks on him as a weird person–namely, that he ‘planted’ the 2 stories re sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and wanting to buy the Elephant Man’s bones or that he actually did both of those things. He adamantly denied both stories in the Oprah interview. I have done research to try and find evidence of the so-called plants and what I came up with is that it goes back to an editor of the National Enquirer as the one making the claim. This is the same editor who had his wife, a free-lance journalist, pose as a watercolorist outside the home of Patty Ramsey, Jon Benet Ramsey’s mother, in order to get inside the house. Patty Ramsey was also a watercolorist and, after chatting with her, invited the women, not revealed as a journalist, into her home for a drink of water. What ensued was a full page splash story. Frankly, I prefer to accept MJ’s denial rather than the tabs–but everyone has to make their own choice on that score.

    As far as the lie re his age and who discovered him, he later revealed the truth of both these stories (I think as early as Moponwalk)–that it was Gladys Night (not Diana Ross) and that he was told to lie about his age.

    I think MJ was a very truthful person and, just my opinion, but I think we are going down the proverbial ‘slippery slope’ if we start thinking otherwise and therefore disregarding his explicit statements.

  23. iutd,

    I care little about what kind of “slope” we are going down; and neither should anyone who is as *genuinely* concerned about establishing “Truth,” “TRUTH,” “truth” as so many MJ fans claim to be. (It has always seemed to me that what many really yearn for is not truth at all, but a mythological portrait of a saint—-rather than a vivid picture of a living, breathing, flawed—yet luminously special—human being.)

    Initially, the information about the “planted” stories came from a variety of vaguely attributed sources. More recently, however, it has emerged (through Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s book “Michael Jackson, Inc.”, which I’m reading now) that a Los Angeles publicist named Michael Levine was asked by Frank Dileo to cook up these particular stories—-at Michael Jackson’s behest.

    It does a great disservice to Michael’s legacy, in my view, to “paper over” any aspect of these stories…. just as it does a huge disservice to insist that he NEVER changed his appearance (except on account of the exigencies of his vitiligo). Was it right for him to be tormented in perpetuity for these “transgressions”? Absolutely not.

    But until we can *comfortably* allow for some moments of poor judgment on his part, I don’t think we can TRUTHfully and honestly assess the extent of the media’s damage to him, and to other stars. It’s imperative, I think that we find the “hidden injuries” (as Didi Cheeka calls it) that the American entertainment industry as a whole inflicts on those who dutifully serve it.

    1. Nina, if there is new evidence to support this assertion, fine. But at the time I did the research into it, I got as far as Charles Mongomery, a National Enquirer writer and later editor, who was the ultimate source (his wife Kathleen Keane is the one who lied to Patsy Ramsey). If the MJ Inc. has uncovered new credible info–that is something else. However, until we have proof, IMO we have to be careful about what we believe or hold as true about MJ and proceed to build theories on it.

      For example, the story that Maureen Orth spread on VF re MJ ordering a voodoo ceremony to kill off his enemies, including Speilberg, and bathing in sacrifical animal blood is argued by some as true (the story came from Myung Ho Lee who was suing MJ at the time). That is taking a completely biased source (Orth and Lee) known for extremely false statements (Orth) and giving them credence. IMO that is not something that I am in favor of–we need credible sources.

      If Greenburg has found that credible source in 2014, fine, but just buying what one unverifiable source says was the basis for the allegations–claims of molestation that had no corroborrating evidence and only unreliable witnesses to back them up.

  24. The hyperbaric chamber and the Elephant Man’s bones, really, is that the best that tabloid writers and haters in general have against Michael Jackson? They’re really very mild stories, especially when compared to what his contemporaries were up to. Prince (the musician) posed with a long feather stuck up his bare behind. Madonna was photographed stark naked in a public street for her book Sex. Lady Gaga wore a dress made out of meat. Mariah Carey has converted a bedroom in her New York apartment into a gigantic humidifier, but nobody uses that as an excuse to carry on – endlessly – about how ‘weird’ she is. It’s long past the time that Michael’s fans and foes alike should give the chamber and bones stories a rest. They weren’t that interesting to begin with. I wish that Michael had planted stories about traveling around the world sharing hotel suites with Lisa Marie Presley after their divorce. This is a man who managed to cheat on each of his two wives with the other. Very Jacksonesque. That story would have made much juicier reading!

    1. Actually, there WAS talk in the media about him cheating on Debbie with Lisa. I ran across such a video on YT some time ago. I can’t remember which one it was, and unfortunately don’t have time at the moment to look it up. but it was an interview with Debbie on one of those gossip entertainment shows (ET or something like that) and they were discussing the possibility that Michael was cheating on her with his ex-wife. Debbie, as I recall, said something to the effect, “I’m not worried about him cheating on me.” Maybe this was during a time that Michael and LMP had been spotted somewhere together, post divorce.

      Amazingly, when I go back in time and research a lot of the media gossip about Michael in the 90’s and earlier, it’s not unusual to find tabloid stories linking him to various women and “affairs” (even in the early 2000’s the gossip media didn’t seem to find the whole story of Joanna Thomae, “Michael’s 20 year old bride to be, as they dubbed her” especially shocking). It’s interesting because if you look at the history of how the media has covered him, and see that such stories were really not that unusual, then where on earth did all of the asexual and “virgin” myths come from? And look how quickly Debbie went from being portrayed as a normal, suffering wife (lol) to simply being a surrogate-and sometimes worse, simply the surrogate of another man’s sperm. Again, if you go back and look at how the media covered their relationship at the time, Michael’s paternity of his children was never questioned, although granted, I think people in general thought the marriage was rather strange-but they thought just about everything pertaining to Michael’s life was “strange.”

      This is also why I’m not too bent out of shape over the whole recent thing with Joanna Thomae on that French TV show. I know some people are VERY upset about it, but the way I look at it, maybe the woman is lying through her eyeteeth; maybe she isn’t. A few fake photos notwithstanding, she obviously did know Michael and worked her way through most of his associates and even his family. It personally wouldn’t shock me in the least if he had a fling-or, two, or three-with her. She was young, blonde, and cute (and still is stunningly attractive). We don’t really know what took place-or didn’t-behind closed doors. (Of course, that’s what unfortunately gives most anyone license to make up most anything, including his underage male accusers, and therein lies the danger). Other fans insist they “know” there was no affair between them, but how can they really be so sure? Were they around Michael and Joanna 24-7? I would register to guess probably not.

      My point, however, is that celebrities-especially male celebrities with a huge following-are always going to have individuals claiming an affair with them. There was a time when ANY hint of an extramarital scandal was enough to derail a celebrity’s career, but that time has long past. I can’t lose too much sleep one way or the other if Joanna is lying (or isn’t) because I know that, in the long run, a story about Michael carrying on with some young, French model is hardly going to damage his legacy (true or not). If he DID sleep with her, I doubt it was ever anything serious. Joanna, I’m sure, would want to think of it differently, and I don’t know that I would blame her, but I think it is more likely that if he slept with her at all, it was just a fling to him. My guess is that I think there might have possibly been something there, but it simply wasn’t as deep or as meaningful to him as it was for her.

      However, I guess my real point is that people like Joanna Thomae and their claims will come and go. Is it tacky of them to “sell” their stories? Yes, I would say so, and we can certainly debate the ethics of “kissing and telling.” But as I recall, fans were also indignantly outraged when R. Sullivan was making his publicity rounds claiming that Michael most likely died a virgin. The only way such myths can ever be put to rest is by at least giving “some” benefit of the doubt to the girls in his life without automatically labeling them liars and attention seekers. That isn’t to say I automatically believe every “groupie” story out there about him. Most, I am sure, are fictions, just as 90% of the “groupie” stories about most male celebs are fictions. I would lump into that category most of the outrageous paternity claims that have been made against Michael, including all of the variations of “Billie Jean” who keep popping up every few years. Those are laughable, but again, fairly harmless (though highly annoying, I am sure, for the estate executors who still have to deal with them, regardless).

      I guess my real take on it is that in a world where we have to pick our battles, there are much bigger battles to wage when it comes to Michael. Claims made by an attractive French model (whether true or false) can hardly compare to claims made by underage boys-or by 30 year old men who now claim they had underage sex with him. THOSE are the kinds of accusations that bear scrutiny. I really could care less whether or not he banged Joanna Thomae. If it happened, more power to them both. If not, the worst that can be said is that she’s an attention seeking liar and to be pitied, since her own life is apparently so unfulfilling that she must construct and hold on to such an elaborate fantasy. For the record, I haven’t actually seen any clips from that TV show (and even if I did, I would have to translate them since my French is very rudimentary) so I don’t know what she is actually claiming, whether it’s the same story she has been telling for the last decade or if it’s had more embellishment.

      Anyway did not mean to get off topic on JT but the discussion of Michael and women and tabloid rumors got my mind running in that direction.

      1. Raven, regarding Joanna Thomae and her relationship with Michael, a fansite reposted a Facebook page from a woman named Danielle, another European ‘follower fan’ who knew JT during that time. Danielle said that JT was no one special, just one of a number of young, attractive women who went to great pains to hang around Michael, who was very generous to them. Danielle wrote that she and others had similar ‘intimate’ photos taken with him, but unlike JT, they kept them private.

        However it’s Danielle’s story of a wild sex party at Neverland, instigated by Frank Cascio, that really caught my attention. She describes Frank and his buddies having sex with multiple fans, in and around the hot tub, and even in Michael’s bedroom IN HIS BED. She also says that Frank and the others ridiculed Michael, as they helped themselves to his hospitality.

        Danielle felt guilty about participating in the goings on although she states that she did not engage in the wild behavior herself. She called Michael and informed him about Frank’s behavior. (She also claimed that Frank put Joanna up to selling her story to the tabs, and that they split the money.) Shortly after, Michael cut ties with Frank.

        I never really bought into the idea that Michael was so close to the Cascios that they were his “secret family”, as Oprah called them. I think they discerned his emotional weakness and exploited it to their advantage – I read that Michael gave Aldo Cascio hundreds of thousands of dollars to open his restaurant. Frank is busy selling off items Michael gave him. It wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to get money from the estate a la Wade and Jimmy.

        1. The issue I have with Danielle’s story is that its credibility can just as easily be brought into question as Joanna’s. There is just too much he said, she said with the whole thing for me, personally. Joanna claims this; this fan who was also around claims that, etc. Who knows what really went down? I don’t doubt the party probably happened; in fact, it wouldn’t shock me in the least how often such shenanigans probably happened at Neverland when Michael wasn’t there. IF Michael ever had any kind of relationship or romantic feelings about that girl at all, I’m sure that incident was enough to pretty much effectively squelch them.

          I like to think that Michael had at least a few decent friends in his life who would never sell him out. The wild party might be “somewhat” excusable, given that Frank was a young man full of sap with access to a very big, rich man’s house (as the old saying goes, boys will be boys) but I would really hate to think that he could possibly pull a stunt like Wade and Jimmy. That would be the ultimate straw breaking the camel’s back.

          1. Tom Mesereau introduced a line of questioning at the 2005 trial that went into Frank Cascio’s behavior at Neverland, but the prosecution objected. This was significant because there were multiple sperm samples recovered from Michael’s bedding. Haters have used that as evidence of Michael’s guilt. I have the opposite reaction from you regarding the “she said, she said” nature of the story. I feel that whether or not MJ had sex with Joanna is insignificant compared to Cascio’s shenanigans. Not for one second do I believe that Michael told this guy any details of his intimate relations or the conception of his children. Like everyone else who had the slightest contact with him, I think Frank greatly overestimates his importance to Michael.

    2. Despite libelous, snarky articles about Michael, Vanity Fair is one of my favorite magazines. In February 2011, Patti Smith’s interview with Johnny Depp was the cover story. I was struck at the time by the many similarities in interests Johnny and Michael shared–including a fascination with the Elephant Man. Regarding Depp’s fascination with the Elephant Man, it was a treated as an interesting “cool aspect” of him. Unlike with Michael for whom it was a source of ridicule.

      Double Standards. . .

      Vanity Fair, February 2011
      COVER STORY
      “The Crowded Mind of Johnny Depp”
      By Patti Smith

      SMITH: Yesterday you read me a poem written by the Elephant Man. I didn’t know he wrote poetry. The poem you recited was heartbreaking. How did you come to find it?

      DEPP: I made an appointment at the hospital where they had his remains. His skeleton is there, a plaster mask is there, and his hat and veil and all this other stuff is there. And right on the wall next to him is this gorgeous poem that he wrote about himself and about his life: “Dragging this vile body / Round the years / I am not what first appears / A senseless freak / Devoid of hope or tears.” This guy was deep, and so, so gifted.

      1. Oh, and other similarities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and Charlie Chaplin. From the same Vanity Fair interview:

        SMITH: Do you have any actors that you studied from the past, actors from any era, who were helpful either in a specific role or just in general?

        DEPP: The guys I always adored were mostly the silent-film actors, Buster Keaton first, Lon Chaney Sr., and Chaplin, of course.

        SMITH: You mention these three greats, the silent-film greats. You’re a master of language, voice, script, words. And yet you chose three silent-film actors.

        DEPP: The amazing thing about those guys is that they didn’t have the luxury of language. So what they were doing, what they were feeling, what they were trying to express, had to come out through being, had to be alive, had to be in there behind the eyes. Their body had to express it, their very being had to express it.

        AND ABOUT HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH ELIZABETH TAYLOR: “I’ve had the honor and the pleasure and gift of having known Elizabeth Taylor for a number of years. Who’s a real broad. You know, you sit down with her, she slings hash, she sits there and cusses like a sailor, and she’s hilarious.”

        Yet the press had a field day mocking the Michael-Elizabeth relationship. Why? Why such disrespect for Michael?

        1. There are a lot of similarities between Michael and Johnny Depp. I wish I could access the post I did from March 2010 that compared them! I think it’s because they share a lot of the same influences and have a similar aesthetic that they share in their art, which seems versed in the pathos and sometimes child-like personas of those silent screen legends.

  25. Depends what you mean “cheating,” Simba. (It’s quite possible he never did anything with either of them… or, as I suspect, not Debbie anyway.)

    At any rate, artists and pop stars are not only allowed, but even *expected* to transgress the boundaries of ordinary behavior and often good taste. It’s true they sometimes engage in conduct that appeals to us by “shocking” a more firm entrenched (or uptight) view of “morality.” They’re permitted. They are gods—and are therefore permitted to do what we ordinary mortals cannot.

    Why don’t we just admit it? Michael got more s **t than the others, because he was more fabulous than they were! Fabulous in ambition, in talent, in natural outrageousness; and in certain kinds of daring. It stands to reason that he was treated to more criticism than others were. They didn’t appear to disturb the status quo in the ways he did.

  26. Why take these stories as such an insult, anyway?

    I say: it’s long time for fans to quit playing the eternally *injured* acolyte when it comes to these reports. Michael was “weird” for a number of reasons. First of all, he was better! If he upset many people’s sacred cows and shibboleths, more power to him!

    Maybe it’s me. I like my heroes to be interesting and unusual, not run-of-the-mill and normal. I’ve learned, through my experience with Michael, that in order to enjoy an outsized reputation one must on occasion do some outrageous things…. and that that very outrageousness may be subject to misinterpretation.

    He needn’t have acted (so often) as the wounded, injured party. And sometimes he didn’t. He had already—nearly INEVITABLY—-beaten the odds of someone from his circumstances of class and race by the time he was heading toward his solo career, and he could afford a bit more defiant in his attitude toward those who represented the status quo.

    Also, Simba: you have absolutely NO call to take (presumably on MJ’s behalf) the stance of an injured party when thoughtful critics’ discussions of Michael’s art turn to matters of his gender performances. (Critics have pursued similar lines of inquiry when they write about Prince, David Bowie, and any number of other figures…. so you needn’t feel that Michael Jackson has somehow been singled out for special “insult.”)

    What “insult,” anyway? You once spluttered that these critics were forever turning their attention and gaze “crotchward.” Of course, Michael NEVER directed his fans and spectators’ attention to his crotch, did he? Nope…. never did! Riiiiiiiiight.

    1. Nina Y F, I don’t think the hyperbaric chamber and Elephant Man’s bones stories are insulting. I think they’re boring. They were never that exciting in the first place.

      Are you sure you’re responding to me? I can’t comment on “gender performance” because I’m not sure what that means. And I don’t believe I’ve ever “spluttered” anything on this blog. But to seriously entertain the idea that a woman who enjoys sex, in this case Lisa Marie Presley, would follow an ex-husband around the world, but not be doing “anything” with him, requires one to buy into the media-created image of Michael Jackson as asexual, “pre-sexual”, homosexual, emasculated, etc. It also requires believing that Lisa Marie has a screw loose. (No pun intended!)

      1. Pardon me, Simba. I AM responding to you… from an exchange we had some weeks back. You may not remember it; but, to my peril, I have a long memory.

        (I should mention, though, that It’s also true that you thoughts often bear an uncanny resemblance to those posted by one or two other people I’ve encountered on other MJ sites. So much so, in fact, that I sometimes believe you might be this other person.)

        Our contretemps from a few months ago (I think) concerned a certain book—I believe it was Harriet J. Manning’s “Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask”). Upon skimming a three-page introduction (with the “Look Inside” feature on amazon.com), you concluded that the author was among those “academics” who are constantly directing their attention to Michael Jackson’s crotch, since they mention that his performances *sometimes* blurred the boundaries of race and gender).

        Without any further reading, or thought, or inquiry, you hastily concluded that Manning must be *insulting* him, like the rest of her academic ilk. Well, as they say: “you’re entitled to your opinion.”

        1. Nina Y F, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect me to be responding to months-old posts in the middle of a current discussion, but I went back to the Student Essays on “Black or White” thread to refresh my memory. I actually said little about Harriet Manning’s book, but it unleashed a torrent of invective from you regarding Michael’s fans. (To paraphrase Sally Field, “You hate us, you really hate us!”.) Whenever I see “transgender” or “transvestism” in a sentence about Michael Jackson, it turns me off. It’s my opinion that writers who try to push Michael Jackson into those categories are trying to make him fit their personal agendas, about him and black sexuality, which seems to scare the bejeesus out of them. I actually did find Ms. Manning’s book in the library and I found it astonishing, but not in a good way. I’ll leave it at that.

          My opinions, and the manner in which I express myself are not unique to me or one or two others. There are dozens like me. We tend to be old enough to have followed Michael Jackson his entire career, and most important, we tend to be African American. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong, but I believe I’m the only black fan who posts here with any regularity. But on a black website like Lipstick Alley, you can find post after post in the Jackson forums that echo my opinions, expressed in a similar fashion. In so many fan forums, the African American point of view is discounted or missing altogether, as if the fact that Michael Jackson lived his life as a black man born in the US was just incidental. That’s why it’s possible to entertain the notion that Michael “transgressed the boundaries of race”, which black people find laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But there’s nothing funny about the constant efforts of writers, mostly white, mostly women, academic to tabloid, to disrespect Michael by de-sexing him. Any chance I get, I call them on their crap, and I make no apology for it.

          1. Simba: I, for one, ask you for no apology; I merely wish to contribute some observations of my own.

            While I haven’t visited Lipstick Alley, you may well be correct that you are the only black fan who posts on this (and other) blogs on a regular basis. I, for one, lament this fact. I wish that black fans (and other fans of color generally) would participate more on these online fora, because I think diversity—of background, of opinion—is essential.

            But your status as the “only” black person confers upon you an a priori position of a kind of authority—therefore, you have a certain kind of power that white participants could be reluctant to challenge. You get to say what you believe “black people” (all? most? some?) find “laugh-out-loud” ridiculous. You can talk about the “the African American point of view” as if it were a monolith (which it is not). So it might be more accurate to state that the perspective you’ve been reading on Lipstick Alley is your African American point of view, which you share with some other black fans who frequent online sites.

            Harriet Manning is among those (white, women) scholars who have thoroughly—in good faith, and with diligence and sensitivity—researched racism that has been enacted on black male bodies in the 19th century to the present, in ALL KINDS of ways. If you wish to argue that white women cannot possibly know what it’s like to be a black man (an obvious point), and that they therefore can’t write adequately or persuasively about Michael Jackson (a falsehood), you could make such an argument. You certainly wouldn’t be the first to do so. This stance has been a staple of collective American conversation, academic and otherwise, for at least fifty years now.

            But actually, Manning’s book (which you have not read) is EXPLICITLY about Jackson’s having “lived his life as a black man born in the US.” And by no means does she treat this fact as “incidental.” If you’ve so much as read the cover of the book and noted its title (“Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask”), you’ve undoubtedly understood that this book is specifically concerned with the analysis of racialized discourses in American entertainment going back at least two hundred years. Whether or not you agree with her approach to the subject or her conclusions, to say that she has elided this issue is not a fair criticism of her work.

            You give yourself away in this matter, Simba, by saying, “any chance I get, I call them [white women academics] on their crap.”

            “Any chance you get”? In other words… all this academic “crap” is all the same anyway, one book or one essay is indistinguishable from another…. right? So you “call out” crap somewhere between the book cover, the title page, and the first page of the Foreword or Introduction. In other words: you’ve been around the block for so long, and you’ve seen so much nonsense in your time, you feel you can rightly “judge a book by it’s cover”–literally. You know all about it already; you’re positive there’s nothing new here. You don’t even need to TRY to “get it right” by exploring what’s inside. (It’s high time, isn’t it, for other people to “get it right.” Not you.) Nothing will change this, because this is—literally—your *mindset.*

            For most people who participate on blogs, your say-so as a self-identified African American might *in itself* suffice as a sort of critique. But I maintain that intelligent, inquiring, critical people like yourself—of any gender, and any race—ought to rise to the occasion, if they’re genuinely interested in (and serious about) change. It’s exhausting work… but there you have it.

            By all means, Simba, you SHOULD “call [us white women academics] out on our crap.” Please do… this would be an invaluable service. I mean it: everyone needs to be challenged. But doing this in an effective and persuasive way would take some work. You’d have to provide specific instances: citations in which writers like Manning, Susan Fast, etc., are indeed emasculating Jackson, and show us HOW this is the same old, same old (i.e., the castration of black men), rather than something else. You might not be interested in going to all this trouble (and I don’t in the least blame you!) But without this sort of evidence, I’m afraid you’re offering nothing but bluster, and untested assumptions that neither make any attempt to understand the author’s points, not advance the dialogue in any way.

          2. You say you are old enough, Simba, to have followed Michael Jackson his entire career. And at the risk of being ageist and obnoxious in a million ways, my guess is that you represent a kind of old-school, socially conservative streak that, by all evidence, is becoming increasingly marginalized within the black community itself, as queer identities are more and more recognized and celebrated. This has been going on in the academy (for a long time), but now even it’s taking place even in such venues of black opinion as Ebony magazine:

            There have been a lot of changes going on. This is borne out by the many, many black writers I’ve read (and who have discussed some ideas in private conversation). These African Americans’ work—which has been published on blogs, at academic conferences, and in anthologies of essays where, far from “laughing-out-loud” with disdain for such ideas, they’ve actually been at the very FOREFRONT of exploring how Michael’s performances have challenged the traditional precepts of of gender, sexuality, and race. (It’s the truth. I don’t misrepresent what I’ve learned.) And, having compiled what is probably one of the most extensive collections of “literature” on Michael Jackson published in English, I think I’ve a pretty fair idea of who has written what.

            This is what I’ve found. For as many white scholars who have advanced such “laughable” ideas, I can find AT LEAST the same number of African American writers—in and out of the academy—who have explored similar terrain. So in the interests of calling you on your own crap, I’ll list some of them below.

          3. Nina, can you please cut the personal attacks? It really doesn’t help either your argument or the tone of the discussion.

          4. iutd,

            My posts are addressed to Simba, because my disagreement (or quarrel, or argument, if you want to call it that) grows directly out of some statements she made. Though perhaps sharply worded, this shouldn’t (I hope) make my posts a “personal attack.”

          5. “And at the risk of being ageist and obnoxious in a million ways, my guess is that you represent a kind of old-school, socially conservative streak that, by all evidence, is becoming increasingly marginalized within the black community itself, as queer identities are more and more recognized and celebrated.”

            IMO these remarks constitute a personal attack.

          6. Nina Y F, you lament the paucity of black participants on Michael Jackson forums, and then provide ample reasons why that is so. I’ll let you in on a racial secret – and I feel quite safe in asserting it – black people find dealing with white people, in school, on the job, while shopping, very stressful. And it’s not even the threat of violence, although that’s very real – seeking help after an accident can get you shot, not being sufficiently submissive to some self-important jerk cop can get you choked to death. It’s more because we get tired of constantly having to explain ourselves, to people who feel no need to explain themselves to us.

            I participate on this forum because I am a knowledgeable, life-long fan of Michael Jackson, and I enjoy Raven’s writing and research. I’m not here to be called to account because I express an opinion that does not align exactly with yours. It’s telling that you had nothing to say when I disagreed with Didi Cheeka’s assessment of African American history, but you go bananas when I dare to question the authority on the subject of a white woman who also lives in another culture, in a foreign country.

            It’s not enough for you to inform me of the error of my ways. I must be ‘corrected’ and ‘educated’. I must notate my objections to superior (white) knowledge, about MY history, MY culture, and EXPLAIN myself.

            Nothing doing, Toots. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Was that black enough for you?) Meanwhile, I’m sure that Raven would appreciate it if you would stop derailing her post.

          7. Well, just to say, I don’t mind any discussions that don’t derail TOO much from the topic at hand. I am not a moderator and try hard not to censor opinions, trusting that my readers can handle their battles. Discussions can often get heated when people disagree, and part of running a site like this is understanding that people WILL disagree-with me and with each other. Sometimes quite passionately.

          8. There have been other black fans who have posted here with some regularity. I used to have a very regular poster who went by the name “Nora” whom I believe was Jamaican. I recall that she was very anti-estate, and I believe there was another black poster who was very pro-estate, so they were always engaging each other in battles. There have been many others through the years, but over time, a lot of regular posters have come and gone. Some still drop in occasionally. I haven’t heard from Nora since the site went down in 2011; a lot of those people I had no way to keep contact with to let them know when the site was back up, so they disappeared (though they may still be lurking, just not commenting). And I’ve had some regular readers whom I only knew were black after I had met them, lol. Most posters simply don’t identify their race unless there is a good reason to do so-however,I would say when race becomes the central topic of discussion, that is a VERY good reason to do so, lol.

            I love Lipstick Alley. I didn’t know it was considered a “black” fan site; I guess I never paid that much attention to the identities of the posters. I just know I enjoy reading it. The opinions are very diverse and you will find things discussed there that you definitely won’t find anywhere else-and links to some good sources, too.

          9. Simba, you say:

            “Nina Y F, you lament the paucity of black participants on Michael Jackson forums, and then provide ample reasons why that is so. I’ll let you in on a racial secret – and I feel quite safe in asserting it – black people find dealing with white people, in school, on the job, while shopping, very stressful. ……more because we get tired of constantly having to explain ourselves, to people who feel no need to explain themselves to us.”
            ________________________________________________

            You’re right, Simba. It must be exhausting, and beyond stressful, to have to “explain yourself” all the time, your entire life. (That I’ve had no small amount of experience explaining my *position*—in my art, my teaching, my conversation, etc. etc.—can’t even compare.) Therefore, I don’t know what to say that won’t exacerbate the very real inequalities between us; so and I’m inclined, simply, to STFU. Just to say this: the tiredness and stress you speak of is no secret to me. Conversations, reading blogs, books, articles, etc., and my own observation, persuades me that what you say is true.

            It’s also through conversation (with African American colleagues, friends, and students), from a long while of reading those sources (authored by African Amerians—mostly women), I get a distinct impression that the black community is not the monolith you sometimes paint it to be, but really a varied and diverse place.

            I regularly teach courses in the appreciation of films that are made outside of mainstream Hollywood social locales. Filmmaker Marlon Riggs’s “Black Is…. Black Ain’t” begins with a central metaphor: his grandmother’s gumbo, to stand for a variety of black life and identity he finds in the U.S. that he explores as he elicits stories from diverse black men and women: gay and straight,; affluent and poor (or working-class), urban and rural. In my classes, I also showhis1989 film “Tongues Untied” *any chance I get.* I consider it one of the most influential pieces of American cinema in the latter part of the twentieth century.

            From the film’s opening call, “brother to brother; brother to brother, to the final spoken-word chant (“black men loving black men is the revolutionary act), Riggs deftly incorporates a multiplicity of voices, all of whom articulate the experience of being “caught” between the demands of two communities—-the black community and the gay community—-whose members frequently enact oppression and exclusion upon each other. He describes the pain he and others black gay men have gone through as a result of these overlapping sites of ostracism and rejection, and of being forced—impossibly— to “choose” between one identity (or allegiance) and another. According to Wikipedia, Riggs’s intent was to “…shatter the nation’s brutalizing silence on matters of sexual and racial difference”—and I ask students to read a number of interviews with Riggs and articles that have been published on the film.

            Sadly, Riggs died of AIDS in 1994; but not before he got to complete these foundational nonfiction works that, to this day, so helpfully express what are now called *intersectional* identities. The conflicts within the black community—and without and around it—-are still being worked out. But these days, I doubt if “Tongues Untied” would provoke the same degree of controversity it did upon its initial release.

            Simba, I’ll never “get it” as you do, or as I continually try to do. What I do understand, however, is this: in the past several decades, there have been a lot of cultural and social shifts—- including those taking place in the black community. When black transgender actress Laverne Cox appears as a cover story in a recent issue of TIME, when the July 14 issue of EBONY publishes articles like the following one, I consider evidence of this shift rather strong. And this convinces me even more that the black community is by no means a monolith.

            http://www.ebony.com/news-views/10-black-lgbt-trailblazers-on-the-rise-042#axzz38mY55Xvd

            “10 Black LGBT Trailblazers On the Rise”
            “FROM ACTIVISM, TO SPORTS AND BEYOND, THESE GAME CHANGERS ARE REVOLUTIONIZING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLACK AND QUEER”

            Blurb:
            “The Black queer community certainly has a lot to be proud of these days. From sports to television, from music to advocacy, there’s a growing number of Black queers who are making moves in their respective fields, while courageously living out loud. Here, we salute a few of the LGBT trailblazers who are doing the work of creating and redefining culture.”

      2. In regards to the Elephant Man story, I do believe it was total BS but if Michael ever did consider it, even briefly, there still could be very justifiably good reasons for doing so. In many museums across the country today, it is still-shockingly enough-not at all unusual to find Native American remains on display. In the name of “protection” and “preservation” human remains are routinely displayed for curiosity seekers to gawk at. Our ancestors are treated this way on a daily basis, and as hard as it may be to believe in the 21st century, the black market that consists of trafficking in Native American remains is still a huge business. Those remains end up in laboratories in Washington, DC to be “studied;” they end up in museums to be gawked at; worse yet, they can end up on someone’s desk as a curio decoration. Thus, many groups and individuals do work tirelessly to repatriate these remains so that they can be turned over to people who will treat them respectfully and give them the proper ceremonies and internment to ensure their spiritual journey.

        We know that Michael had great empathy for John Merrick, and as sensitive as he was, I believe it hurt him terribly to think of this poor soul, who had been stripped of so much dignity in life, being kept on display. IF Michael had the notion that he could somehow rescue Merrick from this fate and give his remains a proper internment, that would have been quite a noble gesture, actually. However, I know the media and public at large couldn’t see past the “weirdness” of it to consider anything other than its being…well, weird.

        I believe that over time, even IF Michael had ever entertained such an idea, even if only out of the goodness of his heart, he would never have been able to own up to it after the tabloids turned it into such a circus story.

  27. iutd, have you read “My Friend Michael” by Frank Cascio? I believe it’s that book that talks about MJ (and his publicist of course) deciding to plant those two stories in the media. It was relatively early in his career, so at that point it probably didn’t seem like such a bad idea. And yes, he did deny this on “Oprah”, but it’s ok. He was the world’s biggest entertainer and he could say what he wanted to say. I don’t think his devoted fans would fault him in any way for being a little bit contriving or for telling “half-truths” if he thought it would somehow be of benefit to him OR if he had been strongly advised to say a certain thing. By the time he was on Oprah, there were all kinds of made up stories in the press about him, so he might’ve been advised to say they were made up lies.

    1. It was relatively early in his career, so at that point it probably didn’t seem like such a bad idea.”

      You do realize that early in Michaels career Frank Cascio was still in diapers?

    2. No, I have not read that book. I have doubts about its reliability from reading about it, studying the circumstances around the trial, and the general effect of FC’s residency at NL. I also have seen a DVD film where FC talks very disparagingly about Elizabeth Taylor, which seemed totally out of place and crude. MJ cut FC out of his life and they did not reconcile til he returned to USA and I just wonder if the reconciliation was enough to overcome whatever led to the break in the first place. IMO FC did not understand MJ–I don’t think he had malicious intent, but I think he hurt MJ–and the account of Danielle (see above) re the sex party and the mocking of MJ could be true and would explain the unknown sperm samples on MJ’s bed, which did not help his repuation when the second accusations were raging 2003-05.

      Re the stories re elephant man’s bones and hyperbaric chamber–I read somewhere that MJ said that someone at the company that developed the photos of him in the chamber leaked the story. The sad thing is that the hyperbaric chamber is an important medical tool for healing and it became famous for something completely ridiculous rather than for the healing of burn victims and people with pulmonary problems.

  28. Nina Y, you are right, I may have mis-referenced Frank Cascio’s book. I need to go back and get my authors’ words in order. Also, I AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY with your assessment of Michael’s being outside the box in terms of his music, his appearance, his performances, and his personal life. I believe that only his TRUE fans do accept him as he was; outrageously talented, yet flawed in some ways as a human being is. I will make one remark from R. Taraborelli’s book that I agreed with. Imagine growing up the way Michael did. How in the world could he have been any other way than he was? His genius aside, his personality will always be somewhat of a mystery because we have no way of knowing how much of what he showed to the world off-stage was his true self, or the persona that he created for himself. And that’s ALL ok with me. I still love him for his music and his heart of gold.

    1. I agree, Anna; but I think it’s important to avoid using “True Fans,” since I it only perpetuates a kind of tribalism that is unhelpful.

      It’s true that we have no way of knowing the entirety of Michael’s thoughts and feelings by what he showed to the public…. or even by his most private moments with those he spent time with, and who have vouchsafed their experiences to us, like Cascio or the bodyguards—Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard—in their recent book).

      This is one thing that I think people have trouble getting their minds around: we will NEVER have the complete truth. The same thing could be said of any of us—at the very least, we all change over time! So how much more true, when applied to someone who is the-most-famous-person-in-the-world, who has carried out his entire existence in the limelight (and learned to manipulate and take charge of his story), and who, early on, has become a past master at public relations.

      Look to his “note to self,” written at the age of 21 and on the brink of his solo career! This was revealed to us by his archivist Karen Langford, on an ABC program (if I remember correctly) that showed viewers some of the contents of a warehouse he kept:

      “MJ will be my new name. No more Michael Jackson. I want a whole new character, a whole new look. I should be a tottally [sic] different person. People should never think of me as the kid who sang “ABC,” [or] “I Want You Back.” I should be a new, incredible actor/singer/dancer that will shock the world. I will do no interviews. I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist, a researcher, a trainer, a masterer [sic]. I will be better than every great actor roped into one.”

      _______________________

      There is also this (it may be from “Moonwalk,” but I’d have to verify). In her book “Michael Jackson Style,” by Stacey Appel. A pull-quote from her book gives us Michael’s words (I paraphrase here): “I learned early on that when people lie about you, it’s not OK; but when people lie about your image, it’s OK.” Something like that.

      Why is it so hard to understand that Michael learned, while very young (and at the knee of Joe Jackson, Berry Gordy, Diana Ross, and so many others both in and out of Motown) to become a master at manipulating and *controlling* his image?

      But maybe part of his hubris was that he thought he could exert this control in an absolute and complete sense, in perpetuity. When this failed to happen (as it would for anyone, as we can never entirely control what happens to us), it was devastating for him.

      1. Speaking of which, it was Frank Cascio who said in his book that Michael never had sex with Debbie and that the children were conceived in vitro (which essentially, would mean he is still their biological father, of course; just that he didn’t have sex with Debbie). I noticed Frank was always very careful with his phrasing, though. He would say “another pregnancy was arranged” which could be interpreted a number of ways.

        However, the point is that in saying this, Cascio himself directly contradicted Michael, who had insisted to Bashir that he’d had sex with Debbie and that the children were conceived naturally(albeit you could tell he was very embarrassed and wanted the discussion over with asap). So again, we have these contradictions which makes it extremely difficult to ascertain exactly what is true, or what variation of it is truth. Then, it comes down to an issue of how we choose to filter that information. If, say, Frank Cascio said something about Michael in his book that I want to believe is true (because it suits my narrative) do I then reject the other things he may say that don’t suit what I want to believe? (Just using Cascio as an example, of course; this could apply to anyone who has written about Michael).

        And therein lies the problem. I do feel sometimes that I end up “cherry picking” a lot because there is always something interesting and worthwhile to take from these accounts, and yet by the same token always things to question. Even when the person may have the best of intentions, memories can get fuzzy, or maybe they only saw a certain. compartmentalized aspect of Michael’s life, or maybe in some cases they are giving only half the story because in some way they are still trying to protect him (or themselves) so all of these questions have to come into play with every account we read. Like I’ve said before, I usually just simply approach every book about Michael with an open mind and a healthy dash of salt nearby because i know, ultimately, there will be the bits that I find useful and the bits I will question.

        1. Raven, everyone is cherry picking. We pick what supports our beliefs and ignore or criticize what doesnt, academics not excluded. Michael has an extensive archive yet from the millions of documents he possibly owns and wrote, someone like Karen Langford will pick what she thinks will speak to peoples imagination, something Michael said ages ago and maybe when confronted with it again would have a completely different view.

          I find it interesting that things that Michael did or said decades before he died are now given all kinds of meaning, as if it happened yesterday. As if we ourselves didnt evolve and are exactly like we were 30 years ago.
          Neverland was Michaels dream, yet he was able to let it go and never looked back. Who would have thought that at the time of the Ophra interview when he proudly hosted her around.

  29. Sina, just one comment regarding the 911 call when Joe was beaten up; that’s in the movie “The Jacksons: An American Dream” lol.
    I’m also wondering why you included Frank Cascio in the “hated” category?

    1. “I’m also wondering why you included Frank Cascio in the “hated” category?

      Anna Wirt ,I dont know who or what you are you talking about?
      ‘hated’ category or a word like ‘haters’ is not in my vocabulary.

    2. Jermaine Jackson talks about the mugging incident in You Are Not Alone. Joe Jackson was hurt quite badly, but he insisted that the kids play their engagement, even though they were understandably upset. Jermaine wrote that this taught him the true meaning of “the show must go on”.

  30. Are you referring strictly to biographies, autobiographies, non-fiction, etc? My sister and I just completed a 780 page novel and is being published. Also, how do you explain all the “epic” novels out there being published and bought by many readers? Just curious.

    1. My personal experience was mostly with the fiction market. But even with celebrity memoirs and biographies, most of them on average run about 300-350 pages. Unless the market has changed drastically since the mid 2000’s most of the major New York publishers will balk on anything over about 400 pages unless the author has a proven track record (Stephen King, for example, could get away with it; JK Rowling could probably get away with it). There are exceptions, but not many. That is, in the major markets, which of course doesn’t include mid list publishers or self publishing, where the standards may be more flexible. It’s the same thing as trying to sell a movie script over 120 pages. We all know that scripts longer than 120 pages get made every day (otherwise, how to explain all of those two and a half to three hour movies we are seeing today!) but it’s usually only movie makers who are very well known and already established who can get away with it, which is why literary agents will still advise their clients to not go over 120 pages. With books, they are simply more reluctant to take that risk, and a 600 page manuscript is usually going to be a hard sell, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, of course. I just know that in the mid 2000’s, I was dealing with literary agents every day and this was the reality of the market at that time. I had a novel that was over 800 pages. Laurie Liss of Sterling Lord Literistic, the agency that sold The Bridges of Madison County, took it on but couldn’t sell it. It ended up from there with PMA, where I was told over and over it was brilliant but publisher after publisher rejected it on the basis of its length. Peter Miller, the head agent, was in fact constantly at odds with my agent over the fact that she had taken on the manuscript without demanding that I edit it down to 500 pages or less. Eighteen publishers in 2005 all said the same thing. “It’s brilliant but…we can’t publish an 800 page novel.” Viking Penguin came closest to taking it. My book was wrangled over in their boardroom for months, while my agent and I waited with wringing hands, lol. Finally, the decision was no.

      But as with everything else, book publishing is directly affected by the economy, and the economy has recovered quite a bit since then, so it’s possible that the major publishers may be taking more risks again. I would like to think so, as we need publishers willing to take risks. A lot of great books like Gone With the Wind and War and Peace would never have seen light of day otherwise. Most of the agents I knew would tell any client with a 600+ page book that it had to be edited down, and that was just to even get a foothold in the door. But, like I said, that was ten years ago.

      The market is really saturated right now as far as MJ books, but of course, a book that is purported to be his own “no holds barred” autobiography-picking up where Moonwalk left off, on the opposite side of marriage, divorce, fatherhood, two false allegations and surviving the trial of the century-would probably be pretty well guaranteed to be a hot seller, provided there aren’t fans boycotting it for some reason or other (which always seems to be the case these days, for one reason or another). I know I would definitely be reading it!

      BTW congratulations on the publication!

  31. Nicoletta, I am going to purchase Willa’s book soon and am very anxious to read it. Her and Joie’s blog is absolutely wonderful! I love reading it. It’s SO insightful and they are very, very careful to differentiate the parts of their discussion that are speculation/theory from those that are fact-based.

  32. Partly in response to Simba’s notion that most academics who write about MJ’s performances of race and gender are white women, i submit the following reading list. [Raven, I don’t remember whether I have mailed you the set of discs that contain these and thousands of other items. If not, I’d be happy to send you one.] If anyone’s interested in constructions of race and gender as they pertain to MJ, these items are among those in my archive that were written by black writers and criics:

    Jason King: a recently-published piece, “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough: Presence, Spectacle, and Good Feeling in ‘Michael Jackson’s This is It,’ ” in two anthologies of essays about race and performance.

    In June 2010, the Schomburg Center for Black Culture (New York Public Library) held a two-day conference called “After the Dance: Conversations on Michael Jackson’s Black America”

    Here’s the description for one of the sessions:

    “Keep it in the Closet: The Historic Speculation Around Michael Jackson’s Gender Bending Persona” 
Moderator: Steven Fullwood, Founder of the Black Gay/Lesbian Archive at the Schomburg Center.

    Panelists: Mark Anthony Neal, Associate Professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University, and Author.

    Asadullah Muhammad, Educator, Father, Poet, Writer.

    DJ Reborn, Music Consultant and Teaching Artist.

    and DJ Selly

    http://www.nypl.org/audiovideo/keep-it-closet-historic-speculation-around-michael-jackson’s-gender-bending-persona

    * Also, Mark Anthony Neal. Taught a course in Fall 2012, “Michael Jackson and the Black Performance Tradition” at Duke University. Check out the syllabus and course description:
    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-syllabus-michael-jackson-black.html

    “The central premise of ‘Michael Jackson and Black Performance Tradition’ is the question, “Where did Michael Jackson come from?” While there are facts—he was born on August 29, 1958 in a Rust Belt city named Gary, Indiana—what the course aims to answer are the broader questions of Jackson’s cultural, social, political and even philosophical origins. The course will specifically examine the Black Performance context(s) that produced Jackson’s singular creative genius within the realms of music, movement and politics, including the influence of Black vernacular practices like signifying and sampling, the network of Black social spaces known as the Chitlin’ Circuit, the impact of Black migration patterns to urban spaces in the Midwest (like Gary, Chicago and Detroit—all critical to Jackson’s artistic development) and Black performance traditions including Blackface minstrelsy. In addition the course will examine the social constructions of Blackness and gender (Black masculinity) through the prism of Michael Jackson’s performance, highlighting his role as a trickster figure with the context of African-American vernacular practices.”
    (note Neal’s statement about examining social constructions of Blackness and gender… and MJ as “trickster.”)

    * Check out the lineup for this conference, “Genius Without Borders,” which took place in Chicago in 2010. Numerous black and African American scholars participated, and Greg Phillinganes and Siedah Garret were there, too!
    http://www.colum.edu/cbmr/What_We_Do/Conferences/Past_Conferences/2010michaeljackson/
    Genius without Borders: A Symposium in Honor of the Genius of Michael Jackson

    * Michael Awkward, University of Michigan. Look for his book: Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality. Note his Chapter 7:
    “ ‘A Slave to the Rhythm’: Essential(ist) transmutations; or, the Curious Case of Michael Jackson.” Check it out.

    Nicole R. Fleetwood, book: “Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness.” Coda: “The Icon Is Dead: Mourning Michael Jackson”

    Alisha Gaines, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” from National Sexuality Resource Center
    nsrc.sfsu.edu

    *Philip Brian Harper. Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature; Professor of Social and Cultural analysis, NYU. His book:
    “Are We Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity.”
    Note Chapter 4: “The ‘Street,” Popular Music, and Black-Cultural Crossover.” (All about the Jackson 5.)

    Journal of Pan African Studies, (Special MJ issue), March 2010, Vol. 3 No. 7:Metaphor of Hybridity: The Body of Michael Jackson.” Juilan Vigo
    Konrad Sidney Bayer, “The Semiosis of Soul”
    Many others.

    Here’s an interesting one, relevant to the earlier conversation:
    ● Michael Jackson & The Psycho/Biology of Race 
by Darryl Scriven
    “Affirming that race in America functions largely as a fictive political narrative with psychological and sociological implications, this work argues that this phenomena surfaced in Michael Jackson’s pathology of appearance and in America’s bipolar obsession with his racially ambiguous expression. “

    [By the way, you can find the entire issue of JPAS (Journal of Pan-African Studies) online, free of charge.

    Then there’s also:
    Journal of Popular Music Studies (special MJ issue), Vol 23, Issue 1, 2012

    • Regina Arnold: Profit Without Honor: Michael Jackson in and out of America, 1983-2009

    Jakeya Caruthers and Alisa Bierria
    Stay with Me: Reflections on Michael Jackson, Sound, Sex, and (Racial) Solidarity

    Andreana Clay
    San Francisco State University
    Working Day and Night: Black Masculinity and the King of Pop

    Tavia Nyong’o
    New York University
    Have You Seen His Childhood? Song, Screen, and the Queer Culture of the Child in Michael Jackson’s Music

    Tamara Roberts
    University of California, Berkeley
    Michael Jackson’s Kingdom: Music, Race, and the Sound of the Mainstream

    • Charles D. Martin’s book. “The White African American Body: A Cultural and Literary Exloration.” His Chapter 5, all about Michael. Check out his Chapter 5: “White Negroes, Leopard Boys, and the King of Pop.”

    • Kobena Mercer, “Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller.” Reprinted in many anthologies, this is perhaps the first serious scholarly exploration (1986) of Michael’s transmogrifications of race and gender. Mercer is a black, British scholar. Screen, Volume 27 No. 1. See also Mercer’s 1990 essay, “Black Hair/Style Politics”

    • African American scholar Francesca Royster (DePaul University, Chicago): See her essay: Hee Hee Hee: Michael Jackson and the Transgendered Erotics of Voice. (National Sexuality Resource Center, July 28, ).

    Also by Royster, online:
    VIEWPOINTS Michael Jackson: Talking about gender fluidity
    by Francesca Royster
    2013-01-16
    http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/VIEWPOINTS-Michael-Jackson-Talking-about-gender-fluidity/41187.html

    See Royster’s recently-published book, “Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in he Post-Soul Era”; Especially note Chapter Four: “Michael Jackson, Queer World Making, and the Trans Erotics of Voice, Gender, and Age”
    Royster is also interviewed on Mark Anthony Neal’s webcast, “Left of Black.” Check it out.

    Vol 1 Number 3 November 2004
BODILY (Trans)Formations
edited by Daniel Nourry & Nikki Sullivan
    ‘It’s as plain as the nose on his face’: Michael Jackson, modificatory practices, and the question of ethics, Nikki Sullivan
    _____________________

    This is a partial list. There are many more.

    1. Nina, sorry. The multiple links caused it to hold the comment in que. I did not get a chance to check and release it earlier. I will respond to your question and other comments soon.

    2. Thanks for this list of sources, Nina. I think we (meaning students/scholars/researchers/fans) need to realize that yes, we are carving out of the plethora of materials an MJ that we identify with–that we think is who he is as an artist, and was as a person, but there is no one, definitive MJ. In other words, there are many MJ’s that have been constructed and personally, while I don’t find some or even a lot of them, convincing, I can just say–there they are and accept that as a reality. Some writing that involves MJ I find extremely helpful, such as Charles D. Martin’s book on the White African American Body, which IMO is a superb piece of research, others, I do not find helpful. This is the same with any other artist in which there are many critical ‘takes’ on the person’s work and life.

    3. I believe the discs you sent me contain these articles, or at least most of them. I am wading through a lot of these and other, related articles now, which is partly why the next post is taking so long to materialize.

      As far as academia goes-regardless of whether the authors are black, white, or purple- it is really the same as all aspects of MJ scholarship (as I jokingly call it). It is really just all food for thought, which readers are perfectly free to accept or reject. As an offshoot to this topic, there is another piece I have been wanting to write regrading Michael’s sex symbol status and why there seemed such a concerted effort to undermine it. Some of these may suit that topic better, although they all overlap to some extent. I think at least “some” of these “gender issues” relate back to what Farrakhan and others of his ilk were referring to when they spoke, in somewhat more cloaked terms, of Michael as being “too sissified” to be a black male role model, although it probably had more to do with the perceived belief (at the time) that Michael was a sell out and too “non threatening” (i.e, as someone without a strong political stance who was simply selling lots of records). In time, Farrakhan modified some of these views as he got to know Michael more personally.

      1. Raven, regarding Farrakhan’s attack on Michael, it’s important to put it into context. Rev Farrakhan was just doing what revs do. Whenever a cute young boy singer emerges who gets pubescent girls screaming in ecstasy, his sexuality is called into question by the stuffy moralists. It’s comedians leading the charge these days, and it’s less acceptable to dub them “sissies”, so other means are used to cast aspersions on their masculinity. In the case of Justin Bieber, they call him a “lesbian”, and he’s usually portrayed by a woman in sketches on SNL. It’s ironic – while the Nation of Islam strikes terror in the psyche of many whites, with their neatly combed, side-parted hair, and their natty bow ties, in the black community, Farrakhan’s followers present a very “sissified” image.

    4. Thank you for these links, Nina. Ive watced the NYPL series, which brings up many of the issues you and Simba sre discussing at length here. It’s fascinating stuff to hear such a variety of opinions by cultural scholars, art critics, etc. about Michael.

      You have collected a valuable bibliography–which I’d love to have for my studies. Is there some way you could share this–as an attachment, possibly?

      I’m sure it’s many, many pages long.

      Just wondering . . .

  33. I have a reply to the idea of what might be considered “aspersiv” or not—and what is not—in what context, spoken by whom, and TO whom—which I hope to get into at a later time.

    For the moment, though, I’d like to suggest the following: If you wish to “defend” Michael in regard to his sexuality and his sexual appeal, please try to do so without implying that homosexuality—or “femininity” in a man—is NECESSARILY and ALWAYS an “insult.”

    1. You are right. The problem, however, even when discussing these issues from a scholarly perspective, is that they are sometimes difficult to separate from their cultural context. When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s-and I’m sure anyone else from my generation can attest to this as well-people always used the word “gay” as a slur, to imply that someone was sissy “less than a man.” Not surprisingly, popular male celebs were often targeted and most people would say it was jealousy. Guys would say this about any popular actor or singer who didn’t adhere to the muscled up “he man” stereotype-especially if this was a guy who STILL managed to be popular with women (to this day, I think most average Joe guys still do not “get” the appeal of this type of man to women).

      And then, it didn’t help that all you ever saw of gay people in the media back then were those awful, negative stereotypes in the movies and on TV, where gay men were always the butt of jokes (no pun intended) and usually portrayed in a manner that was overly caricatured (it was never just enough for a male character to be gay; he had to be flaming gay). Even to this day, that negativity still persists. I hear it every day from my male students. They will call a song a “gay song” with the implication that it’s a “sissy” song or something that only a girl would listen to. And usually, that is the context in which they are using it. Being “gay” to them means being “like a girl.” Although I make a point of calling them on such politically incorrect language it is really a fruitless battle, as it is one borne out of decades’ worth of ingrained prejudice and ignorance that can’t be easily overcome. Simba’s example with Justin Bieber is a good one. Many people don’t like him, and just as history has borne out time and again, he’s the type of popular young male that irks the male status quo. So what do they do to “get back?” Taking potshots at his sexuality-calling him a lesbian on late night TV, etc-is how they do it. Certainly, it is not advancing the cause of gay rights and acceptance when we still see it being used as a slur and with obvious intent to “cut someone down”-especially someone who may or may not actually be gay. They are certainly not using it in the sense of being complimentary, and the problem is that historically in our culture, being gay HAS been used to equate to a put down and an insult and, especially as a way of “emasculating” a popular male figure who may be too threatening for their fragile psyches to deal with otherwise. That is damaging in another way, also, because it is reinforcing a stereotype (that all gay men speak in an exaggerated, high pitched voice, talk with a limp hand extended, etc). It is also reinforcing the idea that being gay somehow equates to being “not normal” and “less than” (something to be ridiculed).

      It is not advancing anything in the way of acceptance and understanding when society continues to equate being gay or transgender with something that is ridiculed, yet that’s exactly what is still happening when we have Justin Bieber being called a woman, a lesbian, and so forth.

      Thus, there can be no discussion of Michael in this context, even on an intellectual level, that doesn’t to some degree tap into those nerves. It is because we KNOW that when Michael was coming up in the 70’s and 80’s and people were calling him gay, it was intended as a put down-for sure, it wasn’t intended as a compliment. Unfortunately, it will take a long, long time to overcome the damage of the long standing injustice against gay people, and it’s something that may never happen completely, just as anyone can tell you that racism has never been eradicated. It’s just a lot less overt these days.

      Of course “femininity” in a man and homosexuality should NOT be considered insults. The problem, however, is that it is almost always going to be difficult to discuss Michael in those terms without separating him from this negative societal construct that has built such a wall of defense around this topic. If we are to understand Michael’s work, legacy and cultural impact, we cannot do so without fully acknowledging the persecution Michael endured as a performer who dared to be outside the box. Do I personally feel that a man being called gay is an insult? Absolutely not. However, that does not mean that I cannot acknowledge the fact that, historically speaking in our culture, it HAS been used as a put down.

      Therefore, any discussion of Michael and his sexuality (especially the whole problematic issue of how his sexuality has been treated in the media) has to take into account all these factors. But I would absolutely agree that in doing so, we have to move forward and move past the automatic, knee jerk equation of homosexuality with something that is “bad,” “wrong, “weird” or “less than.”

      1. Isn’t it interesting that while it’s acceptable for comics to call into question the heterosexuality of someone like Justin Bieber or Michael Jackson, it’s a big no-no to make fun of the sexuality of actual homosexuals. Whether it’s a handsome heartthrob like Matt Bomer, or quirky Jim Parsons (who cleverly utilizes a “sissified” image in his portrayal of a hetero nerd on The Big Bang Theory), out gay performers are strictly off-limits, although the closeted ones are apparently fair game.

        1. I don’t know, Simba. That’s a very good point. And these days, especially, it seems to hold very true. I would suspect that any attempts to “explain” it would have to involve a very advanced psychological and sociological degree to do it justice, lol. But it seems to be that once a public figure has come out of the closet, they are protected by the shield of political correctness. Our culture seems to be much more tolerant of honesty than perceived deception or hypocrisy, and public figures who are suspected of being in the closet are subject sometimes to even harsher criticism because they have a platform, and yet are perceived as doing nothing to advance the mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians. Being a straight woman, it is probably more difficult for me to assess fairly, but I would imagine there is a lot of resentment towards those perceived as too chickenshit to be honest about their sexuality (however, just as you were stating previously about the stresses that black people face every day dealing with whites, gay people have likewise had to deal with the persecution of an intolerant society. For many celebrities, especially Hollywood leading men, it is still perceived as the kiss of death to their careers if they “come out”). Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two in particular who have been ragged on for years.

          However, that still doesn’t quite explain why it still seems to be “okay” to use the terms “gay” and “lesbian” as terms of mockery for certain celebrities, while those who are out of the closet, as you say, seem to be generally immune. I guess at least a part of it is that, in having already come out, they’ve already beaten them to the punch. There is perceivably nothing left to “tear down.” Admittedly, this mentality says far more about our culture than anything. They do it as a means of public humiliation, knowing that there is still very much a deeply ingrained societal stigma against homosexuality in this country (and that isn’t to say it is right; simply that it’s a reality). We still live in a society that thrives on the ability to build people up and tear them down. The shame is that, for whatever reason, they still feel that using gay people for this purpose is perfectly acceptable. THAT is the whole source for what is essentially a very deeply ingrained problem woven into the fabric of American society, and as I’ve said before it comes from decades’-even centuries’-worth of persecution, prjudice, and ignornace.

          The main issue I have with this-which I’ve stated emphatically before-is that no one should have the right to “out” anyone. Only the individual themselves have that right. It also becomes problematic when these kinds of assumptions are based on perceived stereotypes of gays, which I believe was often the case with Michael. (Oh, he speaks in a soft, high voice; he hangs out with older women like Elizabeth Taylor; he wears makeup, etc). That, to me, is both sexism and homophobism at its worst. Of course, in the case of many Hollywood celebs it is usually a little more complex than that. Neither Cruise nor Travolta, for example, fit those stereotypes; a lot of it has simply grown organically out of many years’ worth of gossip and innuendo about them.

          I just feel that sexuality should be a private thing, and every individual should have the right of choice. And if their choice is to keep it private, that should be their business, too. I don’t think it’s fair to put pressure on a celebrity, -or anyone, for that matter, to “come out” just to advance the cause or to make life easier and more acceptable for other gays. No one should have to feel forced or bullied into being a “poster boy or girl” for anything. That HAS to be a personal choice. An individual may have any number of legit reasons to not be ready or comfortable coming out. Heck, they may still be confused and working out their own feelings. It is not for us, on either side, to judge. I just have a real problem with it when being gay becomes something that is okay to mock or to hold up for national amusement, which is exactly what those “lesbian” jokes about JB are doing. That should NEVER be acceptable, and as I’ve said, does nothing to advance acceptance, tolerance or understanding.

  34. What it is, I think, is that the press is only too eager to get a whiff of a celebrity whom they think (or whom they can persuade their readers to think) is “hiding” something—-be it an illness, a pregnancy, a significant (or even insignificant) gain or loss of weight—or being gay.

    Once a narrative of “shame” can be built up around any or all these things vis-à-vis a particular celebrity, the press can go to town with the “story,” whether or not it has any basis in reality.

    The key is what’s *hidden* (or perceived to be hidden) from public view. Those who work in the sensationalist press are professional “outers” of all things—but the “outing” has to be attached to some kind of narrative of shame, so that the public can get on board with the shaming process.

    When it comes to gayness/queerness in particular —whether real, unsubstantiated, imagined, wished-for, dreaded, etc.—the queer figure is probably a reflection of society’s deepest dreams and desires, as well as their most dreaded nightmares. To the extent that these powerful emotions can’t be admitted, we get statements like Farrakhan’s in 1984. This is what I’ve been able to glean from several sources:
    _______________________________________________
    New York Times
    April 17, 1984, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition

    Farrakhan on Race, Politics and the News Media
    SECTION: Section A; Page 16, Column 1; National Desk
    LENGTH: 907 words

    On the Record
    From remarks made March 11 by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim sect, in a radio broadcast. The references to Milton Coleman and Hitler stirred controversies that are still plaguing the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom Mr. Farrakhan supports.

    “Our leaders are maligned and falsely accused by those in this society who hate to see strong black men exercising a leadership over our poor people. So we have today a Michael Jackson who is winning all kinds of awards because he is a great and marvelous performer, but the image he projects to young black men is an image that we all should reject. But, of course, men like this will live to die of old age because they threaten nothing.”

    and this:

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1320&dat=19840412&id=8DxWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=j-kDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4227,3553955

    Gainesville Sun, April 12, 1984
    ASSOCIATED PRESS—

    “CHICAGO—Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Black Muslim sect, has called on black youths to reject the “fermale-acting, sissified” image of award-winning entertainer Michael Jackson.

    “Farrakhan blamed the 25-year-old Jackson, recent winner of eight Grammy awards, for his style that “actually ruins your young men and makes your young women have nothing to as a real man for their own lives.”

    “Farrakhan’s criticism of Jackson was made in the same March 11 radio broadcast in which he allegedly issued a threat against Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman. Farrakhan denied on Wednesday that he ever threatened Coleman for reporting that the presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson used ethnic slurs in referring to Jews.

    “The Chicago Tribune recently obtained a copy of the Farrakhan broadcast and published details about the Michael Jackson statement Wednesday.

    “The U.S. attorney’s office is investigating whether the alleged threat by Farrakhan against Coleman violated federal law, an unnamed Justice Department source told the Tribune.

    “In the broadcast, Farrakhan said: “….we have today a Michael Jackson who is winning all kinds of awards because he is a great and marvelous performer. But the image that he projects to young black men is an image that we should all reject.”

    “Farrakhan said, “This …. female-acting, sissified acting expression, it is not wholesome for our young boys nor our young girls. Certainly, the man is a great singer, certainly, he’s a powerful entertainer. We cannot and we would never try to take anything away from our brother.”

    “He went on to contend that Michael Jackson is setting a poor example for black youth. “This is a shame. But, of course, men like this will live to die of old age, because they threaten nothing.”

    “A spokesman for Michael Jackson, whose latest album, “Thriller,” has sold more than 25 million copies, said the singer would have no comment. The spokesman in Los Angeles described Jackson as very religious and added, “I just don’t think he would subscribe to any way of life other than a very deeply religious lifestyle.”

    _______________________________________

    What I take from this is *not* just that Rev. Farrakhan was criticizing a cute boy singer who was leading girls “astray” in some traditional, heteronormative sense. It seems, rather, that he was *specifically* speaking to the “sissy” aspects of Michael’s presentation, and declaring him a poor role model for this reason…. as opposed to the kind of “real man” girls should idealize.

  35. I think we can distinguish between those publications (online, print, TV), a large chunk of whose content is devoted to shaming, and the publications that want to construct OUT LGBT identities (especially around men and women of color) as success stories. I think we started seeing this happening a couple of years ago, when hip-hop artist Frank Ocean came out in his blog—in very subtle terms—and received a lot of support for his courage. Then, there were Jason Collins, Michael Sam, etc.

    It seems these *out* people are very much welcomed if they come from fields where heteronormativity is especially pervasive, or where there’s traditional been a very negative focus on queer identity: the words of hip hop and sports are notable examples. Since hip-hop and sports are areas that have been predominantly non-white, it enables white people (sadly, and wrongly) to claim that whites are more “liberal,” and that the black community is more homophobic.

    Recently, black transgender actress Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. And Ebony published this article:

    http://www.ebony.com/news-views/10-black-lgbt-trailblazers-on-the-rise-042#axzz38mY55Xvd

    10 Black LGBT Trailblazers On the Rise
    FROM ACTIVISM, TO SPORTS AND BEYOND, THESE GAME CHANGERS ARE REVOLUTIONIZING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLACK AND QUEER

    [It’s significant that Ebony is now using the word “queer,” and it’s a nuance that, in a lot of people’s view, is more helpfully inclusive than simply “gay.”]

  36. Raven, my experience (as I may have described before) was very different from yours. In the 1980s, I was living mostly in New York City, in the “last days of disco.” When the AIDS crisis hit, gay men and women were at the forefront of the “ACT UP” movement, staging civil disobedience actions, writing in popular weekly newspapers like the Village Voice, having conversations and debates at all kinds of cultural/social events. Gay people were becoming ever more visible in this context: a living, thriving (albeit besieged), vital presence in the urban community. Far from being scoffed at (in the places I frequented), they were coolest people on the block.

    I was in my 20s then; living, in the ‘80s, in urban centers like New York and San Francisco. But this hadn’t anything to do with “academia” per se—it was simply a cultural nexus that combined the worlds of experimental, “underground” film, literature, music, theater, etc.

    It wasn’t until 1992 that I began to get wind of something (through articles in the Village Voice) going on in the academy that was coming to be known as “Queer Studies.” This expanded upon what was already taking place “on the street,” so to speak.

    Clearly, there’s a vast difference between a man in the rural south in, say, 1952 (or even more recently) telling his neighbor that so-and-so is a “queer” fellow, and someone like Lady Gaga using the term in a positive manner 2012—or, Susan Fast writing in a laudatory way about “Michael Jackson’s Queer Belongings” in a journal published that same year. Language doesn’t remain static, and the connotations of some words don’t retain their

    But to me, this is very basic stuff, and—to be quite honest—I find my jaw aching from having continually dropped whenever I statements appear like “Michael wasn’t gay! He was a normal, heterosexual man!” (put–leeze)! Or “Michael wasn’t transgender!” …. as if these designations are the most VILE things in the world that one might call another person.

    While “gay” or “effeminate” have been used as put-downs, their uses in these ways has lessened in recent years. If there’s now a backlash where young kids are doing this “that’s so gay” thing, then they should be instructed better.
    _______________________

    My point is this: we have a CHOICE as to how we use the language and what we can make it mean (while ALSO being mindful of its history, of course…. we shouldn’t be so clueless as to deny what has been). AND we have some power. We, ourselves, are users of language just as surely as any tabloid journalist, aren’t we? Or anyone else who is in the business of practicing racist, bigoted, homophobic speech. What law says we have to GO ALONG with these narratives, with the negative connotations of people’s narrow prejudices?

    We don’t. And there’s ALREADY been a significant history of re-visitation and reinvention. For twenty-five years now, a move has been underway (and NOT just in the academy) to redeem the word “queer.” That’s already a quarter century. Now the word is being used in a celebratory way in iEbony magazine, and its acceptance has already been inducted into history.

    Sometimes it’s serious, and sometimes its playful. Today on Facebook, I saw a meme: “Calling Justin Bieber gay is an insult to Freddie Mercury!”

    1. Nina Y F, this is a blog about Michael Jackson – how the hell did we get here from there? While I am sure that “reclaiming” terms like queer, and Ebony Magazine doing features on transgender heroines like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, are of vital importance to you and others, they have nothing to do with Michael Jackson. (Speaking of Janet Mock and Lipstick Alley, there was an open letter to her re-posted there excoriating her and other transgenders for referring to actual women as “fish”. Respect is a two way street.)

      Pointing out that “Michael wasn’t gay” and “Michael wasn’t transgender” is no more insulting than pointing out that Michael wasn’t white. You seem determined to find insult where none is intended. At the same time, you are oblivious to your own somewhat patronizing attitudes. Yes, I’m quite aware that African Americans are not monolithic in their views. You’ve already noted how old and uncool I must be. Well, in my decrepitude, I don’t need you to hip me to articles in Ebony, a magazine I’ve read for decades. (It is somewhat suspect that in all of American professional sports, the ONLY out gay players happen to be black. I guess all of the white guys are straight – not!) Considering that the majority of well-educated, gainfully employed young black women will not find a comparably-situated black man to marry, and will likely not marry at all, even you should understand African American reluctance to ‘celebrate’ high-profile homosexuals.

      I won’t call them “queer”. Calling someone queer is an insult, no matter how you protest otherwise. There are so many out musicians in the word. Has Susan Fast or anyone else published academic papers calling them queer, or is that reserved for non-queer Michael Jackson? This is an honest question – what other straight guys have been ‘honored’ in this fashion?

      Another honest question – why are you so fixated on something Louis Farrakhan said thirty years ago? (Most of that is the fault of the reporter. Farrakhan typically speaks for three and four hours at a time, yet a slam against Michael Jackson is the only subject that makes the AP.) Farrakhan changed his mind. Check out his sermon on The Crucifixion of Michael Jackson on Youtube.

      1. Actually, Susan Fast points out that Prince had the distinction of being called “queer”; and that Michael should be “credited” with same. I guess she is among many who consider it a credit. Your view may differ. (You won’t be convinced, I’m sure; but I’d like to say that I could, given the time, source after source after source in which “queer” is understood, these days, as something that’s *hardly* negative.)

        I HAVE checked out the sermon on the “Crucifixion of Michael Jackson” by Louis Farrakhan—-just as I’ve checked out just about every other source ever published or broadcast or posted in English. Farrakhan had a change of heart on MJ after he died (like a lot of people), and even before. (I think I’ve

        But my aim (perhaps unlike yours) is not to cast aspersions on or tear down any particular individual for saying a “bad thing” about MJ. My concern, rather, it’s to trace the persistence and decline of certain societal *attitudes*, as they are upheld and perpetuated by our social and cultural institutions and the people who inhabit them…. Louis Farrakhan included.

        That’s why I mention these all these things that are—to YOU—irrelevant. “No man is an island,” and MJ certainly wasn’t—as you yourself know very well.

        I don’t believe these reflections are irrelevant to Michael Jackson in the slightest. As long as we are having a conversation about the many ways Michael was perceived by the press and the public, we are NECESSARILY talking about the larger historical world of which he was inextricably a part. Therefore, I believe It’s really essential to look at the entire context in which these things were said, re-said, or un-said about Michael, and the ways that the world that placed these constructions on him both *has* and *hasn’t* changed since the 1980s. Only then can we begin to understand the full scope of MJ’s huge cultural significance as someone who was, in so many ways BOTH a man *of his time* AND ALSO ahead of it.

        Janet Mock is an *actual woman*, SIMBA. (What I think you mean to say is that she has called cisgender women “fish.”) I didn’t know that. Thanks for the tip–I’ll check it out. But until I understand the CONTEXT in which Mock said it, I can’t comment one way or another. (Nor do I find putting down Janet Mock—apparently, for no reason OTHER than for the sake of “discrediting* her—-relevant to this discussion.) People may say unfortunate things sometimes. I’ve done it, and (probably) so have you. Michael Jackson certainly did. It didn’t *define* him, and it won’t define us—or Janet Mock.

        1. Nina Y F, wow, Prince also has the distinction of being black like Michael. Ms. Fast, a white woman, has called the two premier male HETERO BLACK musicians of our time “queer”. Not Elton John, or Freddy Mercury, or George Michael, or Rufus Wainwright, or Adam Lambert, or Melissa Etheridge, or k d lang. No matter how you parse it, it’s not a good look. Like the athletes, are we to believe that there are no white musicians in the whole wide world that she could have ‘credited’? This is BS, prima facie evidence of the emasculating ways of white female academics.

          I’m sorry, I said what I meant. Janet Mock is NOT an actual woman. ‘She’ is a man who has had his penis sliced and inverted, his testicles removed, his body augmented with silicone, his beard lasered away. She is an attractive simulation of a woman, not the real thing. I’m not colluding with her delusion. I’m just not. Fabulous hair, though.

          1. Simba: You’ve hit rock-bottom here. I was really trying to avoid this sort of thing.

            Ara is right. Let’s stop now.

    2. I agree that sometimes the terminology used when people “defend” Michael on these grounds can be unintentionally homophobic and/or sexist. I don’t think that is the intent. I just think that, too often, people don’t really “think” about what they’re saying or how it is worded. To say he wasn’t gay and then to tack on the “He was a NORMAL man” comes, again, out of the knee jerk response that has been conditioned in fans by decades’ worth of being all too aware of how the media has used this construct-not to build him up, but to tear him down, and to equate any idea of being gay with being “not normal.” Again, that is the fault of our (still) very Puritanical culture that is unfortunately all too deeply embedded in us.

      All we can say with any certainty is that whether Michael was/wasn’t gay or bisexual “behind closed doors” he did not proclaim/identify himself as such. I know that we can veer off into the whole, other argument as to just how upfront Michael was about many things in his life, and how much he may have held back for the sake of his image and fame, but that, I suppose, is a whole other bowl of fruit for another day. Michael himself always came across to me as a bit old school homophobic, but I believe that was a product of his early-and quite thorough-Jehovah’s Witness indoctrination. However, it is difficult to say. Certainly after forty years in show business, he would have had to learn to put those prejudices aside, as there is no doubt that many of the people he worked with day in/day out as well as those he counted among his closest friends were gay. I think this is at least some of what he meant when he said in his poem “Once We Were There” when he spoke of breaking free of those “judgements that cluttered my brain.” He doesn’t say “thoughts” but, rather, very specifically chooses the word “judgements” to indicate the embracing of a new, more enlightened creed.

      I, for one, certainly know that academia is not a monolith. However, I have noted at least one trend among many African-American scholars who have written on Michael in the last five years that concerns/disturbs me somewhat. I will not get much into it now because that will all be in the next post and I would prefer to save it for then so that its context can be better understood. (For the record, what I’m refrring to has nothing to do with gender or sexuality issues, but again, I will explain more in Pt 2).

      But I do agree with you about the power of language and the word choices we make. I know that I, personally, have become much more sensitive to the impact of words and to say that Michael wasn’t gay but to then follow on the heels of that with “He was a NORMAL” man is indeed insensitive as the implication is that being a gay man makes one “abnormal.” But these are things that will probably never be completely overcome, as I’ve said before, any more than racism has ever been completely overcome. But over time, yes, minorities gained civil rights by chipping away bit by bit, and refusing to accept “less than” status, from equal seating on buses to equal service in establishments, to political power to the intolerance of racist jokes, language, and stereotypes.

      I agree with those who say that identifying Michael as straight should not be perceived as an insult. If that’s who the man was, that’s who he was. But conversely, what I am hearing from you is that it should not be considered an insult if he was gay or if someone refers to him as gay. I “get” that and certainly think it is fair enough. So is it, then, more of an issue with how these “defenses” are often cloaked-the choice of words and language used (the whole idea of what is/isn’t “normal”) or in the argument itself of his being straight as opposed to gay? (Personally, I don’t think of any these labels really take into account the full complexity of human sexuality-of anyone’s sexuality, not just Michael’s).

      I think one important fact we have to keep in mind is that, while I suspect most of the readership here is comprised of very intelligent and educated people, the average MJ fan is most likely not a product of academia. They are ordinary, blue collar people who have, perhaps, all their lives only equated hearing the words “gay” or “transgender” as put downs and insults-thus, the knee jerk tendency to “put down” in return, often, as I said, without even really thinking through what they’re saying. That doesn’t excuse it. As my grandmother used to say, “That’s just how things are” but to be content with accepting “how things are” will never bring about change.

      I will be the first to say I agree wholeheartedly that any discussion of Michael and sexuality in the same breath needs to be approached in a way that does not demean anyone. I certainly don’t believe it is necessary to castigate or cast aspersion on gay men in order to “prove” Michael as heterosexual, or vice versa. That should never be the point.

      I recently attended my sister’s wedding in Rhode Island. She is from Alabama, as all of our family are, but after serving in the military for many years, she will never live here again. She has made a life for herself where she is able to be legally wed to her partner. I was the only member of our family who showed to support her; in fact, I signed their marriage certificate as my sister’s witness. It was a beautiful wedding. I am sad that none of our family witnessed it but me, and I know, although my sister keeps up a brave face, she was very hurt by it as well. She said, “It would have been nice to have had a phone call from my mother.” Then, there are family members who grudgingly tolerate her choice but that is all it will ever be-tolerance. Still, I suppose it is a step in the right direction. So you could say I have seen first hand how this kind of prejudice has torn our family asunder. It is a constant reminder that, as with so many struggles for equality and acceptance, we have come a long way but hardly long enough.

      1. “I agree with those who say that identifying Michael as straight should not be perceived as an insult. If that’s who the man was, that’s who he was. But conversely, what I am hearing from you is that it should not be considered an insult if he was gay or if someone refers to him as gay.”

        You’re saying two very different things here. Of course it would not be an insult if Michael had been gay, and proclaimed it openly, to refer to him as gay. It would have been akin to acknowledging him saying, like James Brown, “Say it loud – I’m black and I’m proud!” (He did say that, yet so many writers still try to turn him into some kind of post-racial, non-racial icon.)

        But by his own words, Michael was not gay. Clearly he wasn’t homophobic either, as he was able to work with gay men like Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins for years. So what really is the motive behind labeling straight Michael Jackson gay or “queer”? Not for one second do I believe that those writers who do intend it as a compliment. If it was so “normal”, with no negative connotations, they wouldn’t mention it at all. At the least, they wouldn’t make “queerness” the center of their entire thesis. I don’t trust the motives of a writer who reaches to dub Michael and Prince “queer” while ignoring somebody like Boy George, who practically jumps up and down, waving his arms, screaming me, me, me!

        When writers have an agenda, Michael Jackson will be made fit for purpose, the facts be damned. Honestly, how many people would read an academic paper on the Transgendered Erotics of Voice, or an entire book on the history of American Minstrelsy, if Michael Jackson’s name were not attached? If someone wrote a book titled Michael Jackson and Zen Buddhism, or Michael Jackson and Real Estate Selling Tips, we’d be talking about it here, too.

        1. As far as being homophobic, let me clarify: Yes, he worked with men like Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins every day, for years, and that was exactly my point. But Michael was also a baptized and devout Jehovah’s Witness for much of his early years, “devout” being the key word. Well, being a baptized and devout Jehovah’s Witness and having a tolerance for homosexuality-or believing it isn’t a sin-simply don’t go hand in hand. That isn’t to say he believed the JW doctrines were necessarily right about all things, but until he was nearly thirty, he had nothing else with which to replace them. He found himself more and more conflicted and torn over his religion as he matured. This excerpt is from Joe Vogel’s book Earth Song:

          “For much of his life, Jackson tried to believe these doctrines. He pored over the Bible and felt deep anxiety about his eternal salvation. He frequently asked questions of church elders about doctrines he found confusing or unfair. Yet, by 1987, he had learned and experienced enough to decide to officially resign from the faith.”

          Again, I believe this is what Michael meant when he wrote of finally having his brain free from the “clutter” of judgments. Perhaps not just against homosexuality, but of many things.

          Conversely, just as having a tolerance for homosexuality doesn’t go hand in hand with being a JW, a life in show business simply can’t exist without learning to be tolerant of many lifestyles. Yes, Michael had MANY friends and close associates who were gay, and no, I certainly don’t think he had any issues with them-and if he had, I’m certain they wouldn’t have remained loyal to him throughout so many years. However, I think it did take the break from the JW and working through a lot of those issues.

          However, Michael’s own words provide some interesting clues. For example, in his Harlem speech with Rev Al Sharpton he makes a specific point, when addressing the media conspiracy against him, to say: “Overnight, they called me a freak, they called me a homosexual, they called me a child molestor, they said I tried to bleach my skin…” so clearly, in that speech, Michael made it very clear how HE felt about being called “a homosexual.” As far as he was concerned, he lumps it right in there with being called “a freak” and “a child molestor.” So on the one hand, while he may have been very tolerant and enlightened in some aspects, this is the sort of thing I meant when I spoke of “old school homophobia” because I have always believed his word choice in that speech was very telling. Did he mean it as a put down of all gay people in general? I don’t think so (even if we can argue that equating gays to “freaks” and “child molestors” is hardly the most PC thing to say). But those words came out of years of frustration; that is, years’ worth of tiredness and frustration with having this label or that label pinned on him.

          People who knew Michael well have also attested that he really did NOT like when other men made advances on him; that it made him very uncomfortable, and sometimes even angry, especially if the guy was persistent. I do not know, of course. I never met Michael, but this is what I have heard from very reliable sources. But then, unsolicited sexual advances from anyone-male OR female-can certainly be enough to make anyone uncomfortable.

          At the end of the Wembley concert during the Bad tour, there is a bit of fun homoerotic play between Michael and Greg Phillinganes. I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about (we’ve all watched the Wembley show like a million times, right?). Anyway, there is this little exchange at the end, when Michael is introducing the band, where Phillinganes grabs at Michael’s crotch and they just have a good laugh about it. They were just kidding around and having fun, of course, but when my husband saw that, he said only a straight man who’s very confident in his own sexuality would have ever permitted such a thing onstage. And he may be right (as the old saying goes, men know men-certainly better than we women do, lol!).

          1. “As far as being homophobic, let me clarify: Yes, he worked with men like Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins every day, for years, and that was exactly my point. But Michael was also a baptized and devout Jehovah’s Witness for much of his early years, “devout” being the key word. Well, being a baptized and devout Jehovah’s Witness and having a tolerance for homosexuality-or believing it isn’t a sin-simply don’t go hand in hand.”

            Michael could work with gay men and even socialize with them to a degree, but might still have been slightly homophobic, and being raised JW might not have had anything to do with it. (By all evidence he was indulging in premarital sex even though the JWs forbid it.) In his speech, by lumping being called “homosexual” in with “freak”, “child molestor”, and “skin bleacher”, he was reacting to the intent of those doing the name calling. It’s disingenuous to pretend that it isn’t a calculated insult to call a straight man gay, even in our so-called enlightened times.

            Michael was just so darn cute, even men identified as straight couldn’t keep their hands off of him. The first couple of times John Landis lifted him off the ground, or Quincy Jones locked him in an embrace, might have been amusing, but I bet that got old fast. Not liking his personal space invaded is a natural human reaction.

          2. Yes, I would agree that he was reacting to the name calling itself. I am also sure if someone had called him out on what he said, he would have no doubt been very apologetic as I am sure he did not mean or intend it as a slur against gays in general. Again, going back to what I said in previous comments, these kinds of reactions are almost always a knee jerk response to the perceived insult of being called gay. As you say, it is still perceived in our culture as the worst insult that can be said to a straight man. Michael intended that statement to effectively shoot down, in one sentence, all of the false perceptions of him. And again, it may say more about him AND us that he found being called “a homosexual” (which he was probably using as a polite euphemism for the actual word he had so often been called) a point worth contending. But I don’t think it would be fair to completely take Michael out of the context of his time and upbringing. There was a time when all straight men considered it a kind of unspoken code of honor that they would naturally “defend their manhood” if anyone referred to them as gay. I would imagine it is still true, although I do not personally witness that sort of thing as much as when I was younger. But we always knew that, usually, the quickest way you could cut a guy to the quick was to call him “gay.” Those were literally fighting words, and once it was said, you knew to duck cause the fists would soon be flying!

            Of course, there have been many, many theories put forth to try to explain this behavior. Some will say that any man who is overly sensitive and who overly reacts to being called gay is simply a closeted person in denial who can’t/won’t accept who he is. There is probably some truth to that, but the simpler truth is that we have lived for so long with the idea that calling someone “gay” or “faggot” equates to an insult-an aspersion cast upon one’s manhood-that the reaction in most cases is simply the most visceral kind of knee jerk response.

            I believe Michael’s comments were born out of this mindset, for sure. But we have to understand that it is still a mindset that is seeded from homophobia. It didn’t begin and end with Michael, of course. He was merely a product of it like so many of us are, and probably like many of us, may have said a lot of things from time to time without really consciously thinking through their implications.

          3. Again, Raven and Simba, I’d like to point out that this attitude toward gay men in particular is highly variable, and depends very much on WHERE, this is happening, as well as WHEN. Michael may have been brought up a strict Jehovah’s Witness; but he was also an urbanite, a modern person who livedin Hollywood and who at one time frequented Studio 54, and numbered all kinds of people among his friends, gay and straight.

            (None of which, of course, means that he couldn’t be homophobic too.)

          4. “Of course, there have been many, many theories put forth to try to explain this behavior. Some will say that any man who is overly sensitive and who overly reacts to being called gay is simply a closeted person in denial who can’t/won’t accept who he is. There is probably some truth to that, but the simpler truth is that we have lived for so long with the idea that calling someone “gay” or “faggot” equates to an insult-an aspersion cast upon one’s manhood-that the reaction in most cases is simply the most visceral kind of knee jerk response’- Raven

            I think Michael was just debunking all the lies told about him.
            It is not ‘vile’ or anything negative to say that one is gay transgender or queer and heterosexuality is not more and not less normal than homosexuality. It only makes no sense to insist that he could be gay if he repeatedly stated that he is not AND there is no evidence to it
            Sexual orientation especially in Michaels situation was a sensitive subject. He defended himself against accusation of pedophilia because it was a lie. Why didnt he have the right to debunk lies of being gay without being called homophobic. A lie is a lie and somewhere you have to draw a line. The other way round gays usually do not see it as a compliment to be ‘mistaken’ for heterosexual. There is also something called gay pride, noone will have a problem with that.In my experience- recently had a great vacation with friends including a gay friend- most gays are more relaxed about these things and its usually heteros who out of political correctness feel the need to defend.
            Not everyone who doesnt embrace homosexuality is homophobic.

            btw I believe that Michael and even KJ were not that strict JWs. The majority of the family is not JW and strict JWs do not live under one roof with non JW. I think they were very pragmatic ( some wll say hypocrite ), the children were free to choose and Ive seen videos of them celebrating KJs birthday.
            I wonder why Prince Nelson(and many other musicians/ entertainers)after converting to JW more or less kept his lifestyle except for the drugs but never had the problems Michael had. Come to think of it, its interesting that Michael and Prince evolved in opposite direction.

          5. Just to clarify, I was speaking in general with the above quote, not referring to Michael in particular.

            Yes, it’s interesting that Michael, who was raised in the faith, broke away from it in adulthood, and Prince, who was not raised in it, converted as an adult. Also interesting that just as Michael, who had freshly broken away from the JW in the late 80’s, was finally giving himself permission to be more of a “bad boy,”Prince, on the other hand, was growing out of some of his earlier raunchiness and evolving to a more spiritual phase starting with Sign o’ the Times (not that he couldn’t still be raunchy, lol).

            I think that KJ probably accepted early on that being a JW and having a family raised in show business was not always going to gel (heck, they even recorded a Christmas album!). Michael, from all I have heard, tried to follow the doctrines very faithfully but he was also a young man living in a VERY secular world (called show business) where temptation was constantly around. I think it is to his credit that he was able to remain as faithful as he did for so long, but probably inevitable that he would make the break.

            I think that Rebbie is the only sibling who has remained a JW.

  37. I’d meant to say that Farrakhan had a speech or talk, dating from 1989, where he had some complimentary things to say about Michael Jackson. (There was no trace of his idea of Michael’s “sissydom.”) Maybe you know of it, Raven? I could’ve sworn it was in my files, but I can’t seem to find it now.

    1. I am mostly familiar with his 1984 speech and his “The Crucifixion of Michael Jackson” which, of course, came after Michael’s passing. I will see what I can find on this 1989 speech.

      1. Michael was the largest single contributor to Farrakhan’s Million Man March, which would have likely had a negative impact on his life and career had it been generally known at the time.

  38. Simba, I wish to apologize. I’m truly sorry for going on and on about these sensitive topics. I ought to know better.

    Ara: I’m glad that you watched those four sessions from the Schomburg Center event in 2010. I found them so engaging that I even transcribed each of them, from the video (I wanted to have a document to refer to, as I write.)

    I have thousands of files, in .doc and .pdf format, that I’ve been collecting for the past few years. These include print sources (scanned to .pdf) as well as plenty of articles that I’ve found online. One day I hope to do a complete bibliography (of these articles and also the books I’ve collected).

    Meanwhile, I can send you a set of discs (probably 3 discs) that include everything, in labelled folders. (I’ve already sent this collection to Raven and a number of other folks). You might get my email address from Raven, if you’re interested.

    1. Hi Nina —

      I have found your discussion with Simba very troubling, but before I get into that, I want to again thank you for all the work you have done in collecting this vast amount of material and making it available to anyone who asks for it. It is very generous of you.

      Which makes me wonder why such a generous-hearted person would react the way you do to people who believe Michael Jackson was straight. From your discussion with Simba, I gather that the very fact of fans holding the opinion that Michael Jackson was straight opens them to charges of being homophobic, old, or ignorant of the latest scholarly research.

      But Michael Jackson, himself, said he was straight and he also made it clear in Tabloid Junkie that it hurt him to be called a homosexual. Both because, at the time, it was meant to be a slur, and it was a lie — a vicious lie, given cultural attitudes toward gays —

      It’s slander
      You say it’s not a sword
      But with your pen you torture men
      You’d crucify the Lord
      And you don’t have to read it, read it
      And you don’t have to eat it, eat it
      To buy it is to feed it, feed it
      So why do we keep foolin’ ourselves

      Just because you read it in a magazine
      Or see it on the TV screen
      Don’t make it factual
      Though everybody wants to read all about it
      Just because you read it in a magazine
      Or see it on the TV screen
      Don’t make it factual, actual
      They say he’s homosexual

      http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/michaeljackson/tabloidjunkie.html

      Nothing in his complete body of work leads me to think that he was lying. Nothing in his interviews leads me to think he was lying. I sincerely believe he was straight. I think he offered a wonderfully refreshing and sexy alternative to the tired old white macho male version of straight masculinity. I think that is why so many women were and are drawn to him, couldn’t get enough, will never stop…., because they will never get enough.

      Clearly, it was not a pleasant experience for Michael Jackson to have to read false stories about himself in magazines and see them on tv screens. For you to imply that fans themselves are homophobic or out of touch when they recognize, correctly, that the world outside the groves of academe is homophobic seems a bit disingenuous.

      Case in point. A young friend riding the subway in NYC was recently spat upon and called a faggot by a fellow commuter. Not a pleasant experience. And this was in the last year or so and in a sophisticated urban environment. Change is on the way, but it is not here yet. I think gays are even executed in Uganda.

      If “the academy” is taking the position that MJ was gay, when he said clearly that he was not (not being in it, I don’t know), then it seems that they are taking up where the tabloids left off. I really just don’t get it.

      I prefer to seek the truth about MJ from MJ.

      1. Eleanor,

        Firstly, “the academy” is NOT taking any such position. Although there are certainly intellectual trends, and often unspoken taboos going on in “the groves of academe” (as you put it), the academy is, as yet, not a monolith; and all scholars do NOT speak with one voice.

        Some elements of your argument are troubling to me, too, Eleanor—but as my response isn’t likely to be brief, I don’t know if it’s fair to subject everyone here to what we might better take up in private discussion.

        I have your email address. May I contact you there? Thanks.

      2. Eleanor says,
        “Case in point. A young friend riding the subway in NYC was recently spat upon and called a faggot by a fellow commuter. Not a pleasant experience. And this was in the last year or so and in a sophisticated urban environment. Change is on the way, but it is not here yet. I think gays are even executed in Uganda.

        “[….] “If “the academy” is taking the position that MJ was gay, when he said clearly that he was not (not being in it, I don’t know), then it seems that they are taking up where the tabloids left off. I really just don’t get it.”
        I prefer to seek the truth about MJ from MJ.”
        _____________________________________________
        Eleanor, I’ve had friends in New York who were attacked in the way you describe. One of them, a straight man I know, was beaten up by some youths who thought he was gay. I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re driving at here; nor am I sure I know your purpose in mentioning the execution of gays in Uganda….. though it may well be true.

        You know, I’ve read probably hundreds and hundreds of academic articles (including book chapters and essays published in journals) with MJ as their subject—in whole, or in part. Many of them have indeed dealt with the ways he disrupted codes of conventional gender, sexuality, and race—by appearance. How many of these articles ventured to say, or imply, that Michael was gay?

        NOT ONE. Not one of these articles has set out to demonstrate, prove, or reveal anything about what Michael Jackson’s sexuality “REALLY” was. Academic work—in the arts and humanities, at any rate—isn’t about establishing “fixed truths” “eternal verities.” At its best (and certainly not all of it is good), it undertakes a completely different kind of investigation into the connection between embodied experience (of the artist, the spectator) and the social and cultural structures that surround those people and that relationship. I venture to say, then, that the best scholarship is a more *expansive* way to illuminate an artist’s work and his or her world, one where (say) MJ is connected—brought into conversation with—the surrounding culture, including the many ways he touched upon his spectators and audiences, creating a generative relationship, and being, in fact CONSTITUTED BY his audiences in some significant ways. In short: in this body of work, Michael appears IN CONTEXT. Not separated off from the larger world.

        So when you imply that the academics may be “taking up where the tabloids left off,” I’d like to pose this question: isn’t this what fans are doing? The tabloids have long ceased their speculation on Michael’s skin, hair, vitiligo, the (biological) parentage of his children, and other physical changes he went through. It’s the fans, it would seem, who—in true tabloid fashion—persist in these speculations, and remain obsessed with asking these questions ad infinitum, without even posing what looks to me like the most obvious question: WHY DOES IT MATTER?

        Why, indeed, does it matter whether or not we can establish beyond the shadow of a doubt that Michael did (or did not, or sometimes did) bleach his skin? Whether he had sex with men or women, or both…. or neither? Whether or not he had six or five or a hundred nose jobs? What he did to his skin? The fans, it seems, are doing an excellent job of keeping the home fires burning in the offices of our favorite tabloids. Meanwhile, the scholars—academic and otherwise—are busy doing something else.

        So if you want to know

        1. You know, I’ve read probably hundreds and hundreds of academic articles (including book chapters and essays published in journals) with MJ as their subject—in whole, or in part. Many of them have indeed dealt with the ways he disrupted codes of conventional gender, sexuality, and race—by appearance. How many of these articles ventured to say, or imply, that Michael was gay?…NOT ONE.”

          Evidently there’s some kind of cognitive dissonance at work here – I’ve read my share of academic articles on Michael Jackson, and EVERY one of them implied or claimed outright that he was gay, asexual, and/or sexually perverted. You have defended Harriet Manning’s book passionately here. If you have actually read it, did you not notice that she “implies” (wink, wink) that he was gay, afraid of heterosexual relationships, obsessed with young boys, not the biological father of his children, and a cross-dresser to boot? This, in a book ostensibly about blackface minstrelsy. Susan Fast is more subtle, but the message is similar – they believe there was something seriously off-kilter with Michael Jackson’s sexuality.

          You ask why does it matter? Well, you’re the one who keeps bringing up sexuality, so it appears to matter to you. Very passive-aggressive to frame it that way. The tabloid media has most definitely no abandoned their attacks on Michael. Fans are not keeping it alive. For the most part, are simply reacting to attacks.

        2. WHY DOES IT MATTER???

          Well, clearly, it does, as a great deal of space is taken up with these discussions.

          And for some very good reasons.

          In our culture, masculinity is probably the most valuable characteristic there is.

          Michael Jackson’s immense popularity was immensely threatening to the establishment. To take him down, they went for his most valuable cultural characteristic — his balls, which is what white males did to black males in the past when they were getting uppity.

          Questioning his masculinity was a way of devaluing and discrediting him. So, in recognition of the fact that these attacks had nothing to do with his actual sexuality and everything to do with destroying him, and given the fact that over time they took a terrible toll on him, I think it is almost criminal to continue this line of inquiry.

          As Al Sharpton said at the memorial service, there was nothing weird about Michael, but something was really weird about the way he was treated. And that is where I think the serious cultural analysis should be — to try to get to the bottom of exactly why we, as a society, did everything known to man to destroy a man who was doing everything he knew how to do to bring joy and happiness to people’s lives.

          That’s why it matters.
          .

          1. Well said, Eleanor–I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I myself had kind of absorbed over time the endlessly reiterated media innuendo he wasn’t really a male–you know, how the tabs and tab writers referred to him as a woman, claimed he took female hormones, etc, and there was even a theory he was a castrati (OMG). And so after his death, when I saw all the videos that were replayed over and over on MTV in tribute, including a lot I hadn’t seen and songs I hadn’t heard, I was amazed/blown away by how male and sexy he was! I particularly remember the Dirty Diana video–wow!!

          2. Ladies, ladies. Eleanor, Simba, iutd.

            I really think we ought to take this up at some kind of symposium or gathering, eh? Since the topic seems to be a never-ending affair.

            WHY IT MATTERS. It matters because, first and foremost, it affects US—and everyone on the planet. Perhaps not everyone on the planet has a gender or sex that can be called strictly “male” or “female”—but everyone on the planet has a gender of some sort. (Ditto with sexuality.)

            But to be very clear, WHAT DOESN’T MATTER, to me, is this seemingly endless need to determine, once for all, beyond the shadow of a doubt, and without any ambiguity, definitively, absolutely, indubitably, yea, and verily…. *Who Michael Jackson Had Sex With Or Didn’t Have Sex With*—and thereby, be able to place some kind of well-known, convenient label upon him from a range of readily-available choices (homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, etc.) THAT, to my way of thinking, is what doesn’t matter: the need to *prove.* Anything.
            _______________________________________________

            It’s not surprising, though, that questions of all kinds about gender and sexuality continue to be a matter of fascination: ironicaly, since many fans have decried the incessant tabloid and media focus on Michael’s sexuality, to the exclusion of other possible discussions!!!)

            The need to continually “defend” Michael (there are many other ways of approaching discussions of him, of course) seems to bring out everyone’s *unconscious* prejudices against that which is considered “off kilter” (Simba) or, in some way, “abnormal.” We were born, lived, and will die within a society where various forms of racism, sexism, homophobia—and a host of other isms and phobias—are lodged, at a very deep level, in the minds of all of us, as ideology. It makes no sense to deny that these prejudices exist, and at the same time we may recognize that working through them—trying to understand our deep investments in these prejudices so that we may do better in the future—may take a lifetime of soul-searching and *conscious* effort.

            At any rate. I continually return to that oft-quoted statement by James Baldwin, published in Playboy Magazine (of all places!) in 1985. “Freaks and the Ideal of American Manhood.” This, to my way of thinking, is always a useful starting point (and generally an ending point, too) for these kinds of discussions:
            __________________________

            “The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael.”

            “Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are—in the main, abominably—because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.”
            __________________________

        3. WHAT DOES IT MATTER?? TAKE 2

          Much of the freaky critique of MJ comes from people who are basing their opinions in theories of cultural construction, theories which attempt to show that cultural views and values associated with certain categories like race and sex are not essential, but constructed. Which is a worthy endeavor. But it seems that in their critique of Michael Jackson’s masculinity, they are proceeding from the culturally-constructed modernist assumption that normal masculinity is macho, etc. instead of recognizing that he is way ahead of them and providing us with a new version of masculinity. It seems important to me that post modern critics should turn their criticism on themselves and recognize that they are falling victim to the old modernist worldview and value system. And, in doing so, are continuing the work of the tabloids, which were obviously basing their critique on the macho model.

          Michael Jackson literally blew my mind and continues to do so, so that my old worldview and value system have been completely shattered in a good way — and then he reconfigured it, in a good way.

          WHY DOES IT MATTER?? TAKE 3

          Michael Jackson sincerely wanted to heal the world, make it a better place. This was not just a silly sentimental idea, but a mission, and he knew he had the tools to do it. I think he correctly identified the fact that the traditional, modernist view of masculinity — all wrapped up with macho-ness, dominance, belligerence, contempt for the feminine, etc. — was not healthy. So, just as in Bad and Beat It, where he was providing a healthier model for black youth, I think in his entire body of work, he was providing a healthier model for masculinity in our culture. And I think claims to the contrary that are based on the sweet care he gave to his children (providing a model to men that looking after your kids is a good thing), having female friends (valuing women, rather than using them) are sort of silly. Because the current white male model is taking us down the path to death and destruction. It is anti-female and anti-nature and anti-“other.” Time to make a change.

          IT REALLY REALLY REALLY MATTERS.

        4. WHY IT MATTERS, TAKE 4

          In my own critique of modernist culture, I have often thought how odd it is that our western model for what it means to be masculine implies a contempt for the feminine. I would have thought that it would make more sense for heterosexual men to love women and value the feminine. I don’t find that heterosexual women have such a contempt for the masculine. Women generally value it. In providing a model for straight males that specifically embraced and valued the feminine, I think MJ was trying to restore some balance. And, in reference to something I think Raven said, I think the fact that MJ was so absolutely secure in his masculinity allowed him the freedom to offer a new model.

        5. Nina said —

          “Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are—in the main, abominably—because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.”

          But that’s just it, Nina, I really don’t think MJ was a freak.

          Fans around the world do not react to Michael Jackson as if they thought he was a freak. They do not recoil from him. They love him. And so do I. He had something wonderful and magnificent — and most of all, supremely HEALTHY to share with us. And we all wanted a piece of his magic. Disparaging him with all this freak talk is counter productive to the powerful social message and cultural vision he offered us– in LOVE.

          Although his nose was not one of his best features, his inner beauty and the power of his love overcame what I view as a disfigurement that was never intended, but the result of some really bad doctoring coupled with disease. And when you think about it, rhinoplasty was usually done to reduce a high bridge, not to narrow a nose. Think of the problems of having to move nostril placement. My guess is that the surgeon who did the surgery had never dealt with that particular situation. And also remember that the shape of the nose affects the sound of the voice — and the full significance of that was probably not understood until after the fact.

          I really think the fans get MJ in ways that the scholars don’t. Scholars/academics see some frozen image of him or hear some soundbite about him and go off in a frenzy of analysis shoehorning him into the latest theory. They read each other to bolster their arguments, agreeing and disagreeing. But do they ever really listen to his music? Really really listen to it? Of course, some people will always have eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear.

          You keep coming back to this idea that fans react negatively to ideas scholars come up with about his sexuality as revealing deep seated homophobias, etc. But let me posit another reason why female fans reject the idea that he was gay, because I have really “interrogated” my own feelings on this topic, and this is what I have come up with, which I will tell through an anecdote —

          I have a good friend who was married for 30 years to a man who was to all outward appearances hetero, In fact, extremely hetero. Football player physique with the looks of Sean Connery. Anyway, as it turns out, he was really gay, not even bi-. And by that I mean, having sex with a woman was really not his idea of a good time, although he performed his husbandly duties. His marriage was a cover up. She was, as they say, his beard. So, when she found out, she was devastated and walked out and has never forgiven him. Why? Not because she is homophobic. But because he made her feel like a fool, like she had lived a lie, like the value she thought he had placed in her was never even there. It broke her heart. I think it is this feeling that is at the heart of the resistance straight women have to MJ’s being gay. think we would feel betrayed. And so, it is just another way to discredit and destroy him.

          1. Eleanor says,

            “Fans around the world do not react to Michael Jackson as if they thought he was a freak. They do not recoil from him. They love him. And so do I. He had something wonderful and magnificent — and most of all, supremely HEALTHY to share with us. And we all wanted a piece of his magic.”

            Precisely, Eleanor—I totally agree! And that’s one very good reason *why* he was, in my opinion, a “freak.”

            I’m old enough (and was hippie enough) to remember the days me and my (white, middle class) friends—-tired of the appellation “hippie”—would refer to our teenage selves as “freaks.” In the song “Almost Cut My Hair” (not one of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s better efforts, imo), they sing:

            “Almost cut my hair
            It happened just the other day
            It’s getting kinda long
            I could have said it wasn’t in my way
            But I didn’t and I wonder why
            I feel like letting my freak flag fly
            ‘Cause I feel like I owe it to someone”

            Then, there’s Rick James’s song, “Superfreak”:

            “That girl is pretty wild now
            The girl’s a super freak
            The kind of girl you read about
            In new-wave magazines
            That girl is pretty kinky
            The girl’s a super freak
            I really love to taste her
            Every time we meet
            She’s all right, she’s all right
            That girl’s all right with me, yeah
            She’s a super freak, super freak
            She’s super-freaky, yow”

            (I think he likes her.)

            Another example: I heard someone say that Lisa Marie Presley (where did she read this? Taraborrelli?) had stated that Michael was “a freak in bed.” I think we get her meaning. (No objection there, presumably?)

            My point is: language isn’t a static entity. Language is a living, breathing force; It changes over time; something that’s pejorative today, may easily become tomorrow’s high compliment. The meanings of any given word are also quite variable among the community of speakers—as we’ve seen with the use of the “N” word, for example.

          2. [I’ll admit that my views have been abrasive to many who are Michael’s Jackson’s fans and followers. If I am to express them at all–in any way that authentically reflects the *BEST* of my thinking—I don’t know how I might contrive to soften what I have to say. I probably cannot. I’m thinking it’s best that I limit my participation in these venues to the briefest of comments, and leave it at that.]

            Eleanor, you want to make it known that fans are not homophobic when they press for Michael’s (hetero)sexuality. Maybe so. You and I are both feminists, of completely different “stripes.” I know that you have written a lot about women, and men, and masculinity and femininity, and I hope to speak to those ideas soon.

            Meanwhile, however, I want to point out something you say, above, as it may go to your larger argument.

            You say,
            “Fans around the world do not react to Michael Jackson as if they thought he was a freak. They do not recoil from him. They love him. And so do I. He had something wonderful and magnificent — and most of all, supremely HEALTHY to share with us. And we all wanted a piece of his magic. Disparaging him with all this freak talk is counter productive to the powerful social message and cultural vision he offered us– in LOVE.”

            I agree. It troubles me, however, that you emphasize the word “HEALTHY” in this way, in such close proximity to a discussion of the various ways MJ’s sexuality has been constructed. It seems to veer toward the pathologizing move of Louis Farrakhan’s 1984 speech:

            Farrakhan said,
            “This …. female-acting, sissified acting expression, it is not wholesome for our young boys nor our young girls. Certainly, the man is a great singer, certainly, he’s a powerful entertainer. We cannot and we would never try to take anything away from our brother. […..] Our leaders are maligned and falsely accused by those in this society who hate to see strong black men exercising a leadership over our poor people. So we have today a Michael Jackson who is winning all kinds of awards because he is a great and marvelous performer, but the image he projects to young black men is an image that we all should reject. But, of course, men like this will live to die of old age because they threaten nothing.”

          3. To respond to what you say here:

            But let me posit another reason why female fans reject the idea that he was gay, because I have really “interrogated” my own feelings on this topic, and this is what I have come up with, which I will tell through an anecdote –
            I have a good friend who was married for 30 years to a man who was to all outward appearances hetero, In fact, extremely hetero. Football player physique with the looks of Sean Connery. Anyway, as it turns out, he was really gay, not even bi-. And by that I mean, having sex with a woman was really not his idea of a good time, although he performed his husbandly duties. His marriage was a cover up. She was, as they say, his beard. So, when she found out, she was devastated and walked out and has never forgiven him. Why? Not because she is homophobic. But because he made her feel like a fool, like she had lived a lie, like the value she thought he had placed in her was never even there. It broke her heart. I think it is this feeling that is at the heart of the resistance straight women have to MJ’s being gay. think we would feel betrayed. And so, it is just another way to discredit and destroy him.”

            Now you are getting down to brass tacks, so to speak.

            Firstly, please don’t imagine that I’m “all brain, no brawn,” . I do have a body, you know. I would describe the current state of it as (cisgender) female, white (Euro-American), 57 years old, Jewish, and fat.

            And this body has put itself and its “owner” through a mountain of interrogation over the years. Above all, I have has interrogated herself and her sexual desires—with all its splendors and disppointments, its agonies and its ecstasies.

            I know what you are saying about the sense of betrayal in the anecdote you’ve shared. It’s enormously painful. I’m not sure exactly what we can extrapolate about Michael, or about ourselves. For some reason, though, I seem able to “let go” of him as a full-time erotic fantasy.

            Since I have a body, and a brain that’s connected with it, I should say firstly that I think Michael Jackson is (in some photos and videos, anyway) the most sexually alluring human being to have ever walked the planet. I’ll say more along those lines.

            But what I do reject is the notion, held by some fans (not yourself) that the overwhelming sexual ecstasy he produces in his women fans PROVES, or is testament to, an absolutely stable masculine presentation. The story goes: Michael *cannot* be considered in any way androgynous or appearing to dislodge a traditional masculine affect, because there were so many (straight) women who desired him. Nothing can be further from the truth. People’s erotic tastes are HUGELY variable, and straight women have desired men of quite varied presentations, from the Marlboro Man (as you say), to (even) Liberace, or Boy George.

            For my part, I see certain images of Michael (from photoshoots), and I feel somewhat woozy with some unnameable (or unspeakable) erotic draw. Sometimes this draw occurs on an “elevated” plane. But when I look at some photographs or video clips, I gaze at him—his handsome face, and lissome body—and wish to lick his chest. I turn to the next photo in the series, and I think: “I want to jump your bones.” Then the next one: “I want to f*** your brains out.”
            _____________________________________________________________

          4. I don’t mean to be vulgar here. I know we’re here to discuss various aspects of Michael Jackson’s life and work: not our sexual fantasies. I simply wanted to point out what feels to me as a deeply felt truth: I know I cannot “have” Michael in any way, shape, or form, sexually or otherwise. So I have to value him somewhat differently, and consider what his value might possibly be to other people—including heterosexual women.

            However I may describe my sexual orientation, then, I don’t consider my world view heteronormative in any way. The truth is, many’s the time that I’ve desired gay men—sometimes I knew they were gay, sometimes not. I’ve flirted with men who (unbeknownst to me) were gay, and they’ve flirted with me—in a very “innocent” way, of course. I’ve desired (and fallen in love with) a transgender woman (born genetically male), and we remain close friends to this day. Through my friendship with her, I’ve met other trans women and trans men who I am friendly with. In my own life, then, the seemingly-ironclad categories of “male” and “female,” “masculine” and “feminine,” have long been thrown to the four winds and to all corners of the earth.

            So, as to Simba’s idea that I feel no need to “explain myself,” I hope that’s at least a step in some direction. But now you know mor about me than you ever wanted to. As Walt Whitman wrote: I contain multitudes.

            Despite this (or maybe because of it), I find no great difficulty in actively desiring Michael, while *at the same time* being able to imagine him as a gay man (and certainly a bisexual one). This is another reason why I don’t experience talk of Michael’s “queer” belongings as an outrage, an insult, or a betrayal. I can compartmentalize the self that feels as I do when I see his image, for instance, and the need for a kind of social justice that, by my lights, calls for—DEMANDS—a more open-ended and all-embracing understanding of Michael’s many meanings (sexual and otherwise) for the huge diversity of people, the world over, who are his fans and who love him.

            For black women, especially those who grew up loving Michael, I can imagine a different scenario entirely. He MEANT something to many black women that he could not possibly have meant to someone like me, and I know that. Plus, I know why it’s absolutely essential to be aware of the histories where black men have been emasculated, and sensitive to the ways those histories reverberate into the present day. To me, that’s just basic, common knowledge—or it should be. It forms the basis of what we are dealing with today.

            Still, we are dealing with ALL these things—histories and discourses that are both old and new–when we talk about Michael. We have a lot to juggle, indeed. And my need to support diverse perspectives about MJ—including the very real possibility that he’s a man from outer space—speaks to my vision of a possible future that is more humane than the one we have now. So in that, at least, we have something in common Eleanor—-though our ways of arriving at it may be very different.

  39. Re shaming/bullying in the press, Nick Davies–who broke the phone-hacking story leading to the closing of News of the World and the trial of editors of the Sun and News of the World has a book coming out called “Hack Attack.” I think this expose of the Murdock empire will be a great source for understanding the ‘power struggle’ (as Armond White calls it) between MJ and what he called the “filthy press.”

  40. Well, here’s one thing to consider, at any rate:

    “I Have A Cultural Studies Degree” Is the New “I Have Black Friends”
    “White academics pretend that studying racism is the same as living it. It’s not”:

    https://medium.com/the-archipelago/2be4d371cbcb

    I’m still left wondering why it is that white *women* academics (and not men) are singled out for particular opprobrium when it comes to writing on MJ.

    1. Because it seems to be primarily women who are engaged in these conversations on blogs like this one and Dancing. I haven’t seen very many men participating. Maybe just haven’t found the blogs where the male academics who are interested in MJ hang out.

      1. Interestingly enough, when I stated earlier that I had noted a disturbing “trend” among much post-2009 African-American scholarship of Michael Jackson, it is a perception that has been mostly based on the works of male writers. As I said previously, that in particular is a topic I would prefer to address in more depth when I do the post. Others may disagree with me, or may be able to point the way to exceptions that will prove me wrong. It is never good to “generalize” anything too much, but when essay after essay seems to bear it out, then it would seem to be a point of general consensus that may well be worth looking into.

        But, yes, I am always very interested in what male critics and scholars, or even male fans in general, have to say about Michael. I think their views offer a much needed “yang” to all of our “yin” (lol). I am pleased to find that more and more blogs from male writers are popping up all the time, and I hope it is a trend that will continue. As far as why more male fans do not routinely have much presence on blogs and fan forums, I once read a very hilarious comment from a male fan that pretty much summed it up. He said to the effect (and I am paraphrasing since it has been too long ago to remember his exact words, but this was the gist of it): “I would like to hang out here more, but all of the discussions about Michael’s penis are just a little uncomfortable for me. I want to talk about his music, not his penis.”

        Lol! There is probably much truth to that. So many of the fan forums can become like a “hen house party” that I guess most guys may end up feeling a little awkward and out of place. They may want to talk about his music, but having to compete with discussions of “The Gold Pants” and “The Cobra” is probably quite intimidating!

        Fortunately, we now have a wealth of “serious” MJ sites where male fans can feel much more comfortable hanging out. There is still a dearth of academic discussion from the male perspective, when weighed against the balance of female writers, but that is changing and I think we will continue to see more male writers joining the throng.

        1. I dunno, Raven… you’ll probably find a lot of Yanginess in me (lol)….

          “There is still a dearth of academic discussion from the male perspective, when weighed against the balance of female writers, but that is changing and I think we will continue to see more male writers joining the throng.”

          Well, going back to Kobena Mercer’s article from 1985, I think (“Monster Metaphors,” on Thriller), I’ve noted quite a number of male academic critics writing on Michael Jackson. But on fan sites, I’ve seen that the vast majority of the people who participate (who are women) are mostly interested in talking about extra-artistic matters.

          Male fans, it seems, want to delve into the minutiae of record collecting, concerts, a mass of detail that pertains mostly to his artistic life.

  41. Raven,(or anyone) have you read Margo Jefferson’s book “On Michael Jackson”?

    If so, any thoughts to share? Would you recommend it? Or not? Any cautions to share?

    I’m up for intelligent/informed/nuanced assessments, but I’m emphatically not interested in reading personal-biased disparagements of Michael.

    1. I think it’s interesting in/of itself that she took him on as a source of study long before 2009, when it became the “fashionable” thing to do. I will also say her work is “interesting” as far as my current purposes because I am looking, specifically, at Michael from the African-American viewpoint, and certainly with Jefferson being an African-American writer she has some viewpoints I am interested in, but for me, that is where it kind of begins and ends. I don’t think she had any in-depth understanding of Michael as an artist or as a human being BUT if the objective is to learn more about the cultural perception of Michael Jackson-especially in tracing how it arrived at the point that it was in 2006- then, yes, I think her book has merit. We have to keep in mind that in 2006 there was not a large body of extensive, serious scholarship on Michael Jackson, of either his life, cultural impact OR music. For that, Jefferson did a pretty good job of working with what she had. But I would seriously caution that it is the kind of book that can only be approached with a very open mind and a kind of willingness to cast aside, for the moment, one’s own beliefs about Michael in the interest of being able to objectively assess how he was viewed culturally. In other words, if you can resist the urge to fling the book across the room as soon as she says something about Michael that you know is BS, you might find that you can still take something from it of value, even if the lesson has more to do with US than Michael. While book reviews on Goodread are hardly substantive, here is part of one that may pretty much say it all:

      “…The book was written three years before Jackson’s death, but it pretty much summarizes what anyone with half a brain was already thinking – that Michael Jackson ceased to exist as a human after Thriller.”

      Like so many books of its kind, it is an attempt to “psychoanalyze” its subject, coming from someone, of course, who never knew said subject and is only piecing together a narrative based on information at hand in the public domain. Those kinds of books always irritate me to some extent, but as Nina said above, every writer has an agenda and will bring their own biases to anything they write. I am certainly not immune, and could not expect anyone else to be, either. I agree that I do not think her intent is to judge or disparage, but rather, to understand where Michael was coming from within the context of his time and personal history. But some of it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, mostly because it is still, in many ways, feeding into the “he became a freak” narrative-the very thing that so many of us have been working so hard to dispel. (And again, even if that is not her intent, it’s what many readers take from the book, as per the review above).

      However, just as Oscar Wilde once said, “Books are well written or badly written; that is all.” He was making the argument that no book should be judged on the grounds of whether it is “moral” or “immoral”-all books may have value if they are “well written.” In keeping with that idea, I am of the school of thought that ALL serious study of Michael Jackson’s art, life, work and times has value. When future historians attempt to piece together his story, they will be looking at all of the writing that has survived in order to create the arch of his story. Anything written before 2009 is bound to not be very PC by the standards most of us have come to expect since his passing, but I think we would be doing ourselves a terrible injustice by ignoring the historical value of those writings, all of which helped shape and define the public perception of Michael Jackson-for better or worse.

      To sum up my most honest review: The fan in me hates it, but the scholar in me can at least appreciate it.

    2. Ara, you can go to Amazon and read some of the book as a sample, and also check out the 29 comments from others. That should help you make a decision.

    3. I read Margo Jefferson’s book some years ago. Full disclosure – a close member of her family is an acquaintance of mine. I felt obligated to read the book, did not find it particular interesting, and soon forgot about it – a minor effort from a major writer.

      Margo Jefferson, Bob Herbert, Don Lemon and other prominent black journalists have to walk a tightrope if they want to continue to flourish. They owe their entire careers to white male power structures. They are house slaves, required to reinforce the company line. They’re not allowed to write any meaningful critiques of powerful white people but they’re often required to participate in takedowns of black people, rich or poor. That’s why you get abominations like Bob Herbert’s piece on Michael’s death, and Don Lemon blaming the problems of the ghetto on saggy pants. 60 Minutes is notable for dragging out some hapless black reporter, otherwise not seen, whenever they
      go after a black personality.

      With the rise of social media, especially Black Twitter, black journalists get called out immediately when they pull these stunts. But everybody knows it’s all a big game. I don’t know why Margo Jefferson wrote her book, but I suspect she was on assignment.

      1. That is an interesting point, Simba, and definitely provides another facet to consider when critiquing these books/articles. It may explain why so many black male scholars, in particular, insist on pushing the trope of Michael as a self-hating black man, which was essentially the trend I was referring to. Articles by many black writers seem to almost universally ignore Michael’s vitiligo diagnosis, referring only the fact that he “lightened” his skin (and, yes, these articles and essays are ALL post-2009, post fully-published-and-available-to-the-public autopsy report). The essays are often critical; sometimes sympathetic (as in, we understand why Michael made the decisions he did; he was taught it was a white man’s world, etc) but seldom seem to acknowledge Michael’s very real medical diagnosis, or his own history of racial consciousness or even his own words. There was a time when I thought it was only white people who were pushing the “he didn’t want to be black” agenda but wading through many of these articles it has cast a new light for me on those assumptions. There is a part of me that wants to scoff at this and yet a part of me that says, “Maybe they know something you don’t.” After all, they share with Michael a history and a culture that I, even at my most perceptive and empathetic, simply cannot share. Even as a member of a minority culture that has been similarly oppressed and persecuted, it is still a different history, with its own unique set of circumstances. But the fact that so many of these black academics refuse to even ACKNOWLEDGE that the man had a skin disease-who never even so much as MENTION it when they are putting forth their theories of why Michael “wanted to be white” is the part I find troublesome. This is exactly the kind of thing that, I fear, breeds so much distrust of academia and the belief that they are simply furthering the tabloid agenda.

        But I think what you are telling me could also shed some interesting clues as to why this is happening.

        As I have mentioned before, I work at a historically black university. The student body is still 97-98% African American, with a small (roughly about 2%) percentage of “other.” However, the faculty has become increasingly diverse, with many white, Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern deans and teachers. There is still a high percentage of black professors and faculty, but sometimes, despite all of the warm greetings, friendly smiles, and cozy camaraderie, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some resentment that something that was once 100% theirs’-an institution founded by a black slave expressively for the purpose of educating black people-has now been so thoroughly infiltrated. I certainly have never witnessed first hand any pressure put upon a black colleague to “tear down” a black icon, but as colleagues, we all know how competitive the market for publication is-and in many cases, even to keep your job these days (let alone acquiring tenure) one HAS to publish, and publish consistently. It’s not enough in most universities to simply teach anymore. The increasing pressure for publication credentials, in turn, I think creates a kind of uniformity and compliance, where many writers (especially minority writers) may feel pressured to write what it takes to get a publication credit. I don’t know if that could explain, at least in part, some of the modus operandi behind this. Academia is not a monolith, but it sometimes seems that a lot of the African American penned scholarship about Michael Jackson that has been written post 2009, is to some extent.

        I will stress that in my next post of the series I do not want to dwell on this to the exclusion of everything else, but I think it is definitely worth acknowledging-and even moreso, to look into the possible reasons behind it.

        1. Yes, Raven…. the possible reasons behind it, which are *many* and complicated, I believe. In looking at Michael Jackson, it seems, we are all, inevitably, looking at ourselves.

      2. If she were writing on assignment, Simba, she would probably have written her book as a series of essays in “The New Yorker,” or the New York Times, or some other such publication that comes out regularly. That she wrote her essay and eventually sought out a publisher (Vintage), is a fair indication that she was not on assignment from anyone, but motivated by a genuine interest in exploring her subject.

  42. Ara, I’ve read it. Indeed, it’s one of the first things I read about Michael Jackson—probably very shortly after he died, and I became (inexplicably) “hooked” on

    I’d be happy to share with you my thoughts and opinions on the book, but first I mean to make it clear what I believe to be true of writing IN GENERAL.

    Nobody is “unbiased.” Nobody is “objective.” Nobody is “untainted” by vested interests of one kind or another, and we cannot expect Margo Jefferson or any other writer to assume a godlike objectivity. In fact, whenever I hear people accuse a writer of having an “agenda” about MJ, I can be fairly sure they have a pretty big agenda themselves. (And it’s not a dirty word, as far as I’m concerned.)

    That said, I can say that I enjoyed and liked the book; and I believe it should be read in conjunction with Julian Vigo’s essay, which is partly a rebuttal to Jefferson’s premise (and there’s a link to Vigo’s piece online, as I posted above—from the Journal of Pan African Studies).

    Jefferson is a cultural historian. While I disagree with some of her statements, it was in “On Michael Jackson” that I first learned, for instance, of his interest in showman P.T. Barnum, and the history of Barnum’s exhibitions. It was through her writing that I heard of a different use of “Jim Crow” than the one most Americans have heard, a dance called “Jump Jim Crow” (named after a man of the same name) that was a staple of blackface minstrelsy in the nineteenth century (Harriet J. Manning has written more extensively about this in her book, “Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask.”)

    Jefferson’s method is associative and questioning. It IS personal, as it must be; but in my opinion, her aim is not to “disparage” Michael but to try to understand him, in the context of his family, the history of Gary, Indiana, and American entertainment traditions.

    I’ve found that most fans have tended to think her writing is “disparaging.” I don’t see it, because I tend to look at the broader context of what she’s doing…. but there you have it. You’ll likely be told something else by another reader.

  43. “More recently, however, it has emerged (through Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s book “Michael Jackson, Inc.”, which I’m reading now) that a Los Angeles publicist named Michael Levine was asked by Frank Dileo to cook up these particular stories—-at Michael Jackson’s behest.”

    Nina, I don’t think Michael Levine is a credible source to prove MJ was the source for stories re sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and trying to buy the Elephant Man’s bones–at least from what I am reading so far. (M. Levine is not impressive, except for writing 19 books such as How to Charm your Way to the Top and How Anyone can get in touch with Anyone, titles like that.) DiLeo is deceased but as far as I know never verified this. MJ denied thart he ever wanted to actually sleep in this chamber or did so, or that he wanted to buy the bones, so the account rests on the tabloids (Charles Montgomery of the National Enquierer) and this publicist. This is Levine’s statement printed in TMZ 6/25/09: “As someone who served as Michael Jackson’s publicist during the 1st child molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today’s tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply can not withstand this level of prolonged stress.”

    Read more: http://www.tmz.com/2009/06/25/jackos-ex-publicist-goes-off-on-michael/#ixzz391Gx8q8k

    Leaving aside the classlessness of issuing this staement the day after MJ’s death, I note he says he was his publicist during the 1st allegations, which is much later than these stories. Also there is an interesting comment made that questions the extent of his involvement even then: “He was hired BRIEFLY by members of Jackson’s team and not by Jackson himself. He performed poorly and was terminated. If you’ve followed Levine’s career (or lack thereof) you’ll notice that he hasn’t had much of a career in nearly 20 years. Even then, it was his partner and hired publicists that were contributing to the entertainment PR community, not Levine.”

    It’s so important to use good sources. Michael Levine does not meet that criteria IMO.

  44. Raven says,
    “When future historians attempt to piece together his story, they will be looking at all of the writing that has survived in order to create the arch of his story. Anything written before 2009 is bound to not be very PC by the standards most of us have come to expect since his passing, but I think we would be doing ourselves a terrible injustice by ignoring the historical value of those writings, all of which helped shape and define the public perception of Michael Jackson-for better or worse.”

    Thank you for this balanced account, Raven. From what I’ve been able to glean, there *had* already been quite a lot of critical writing about Michael (academic scholarship and more popular essays). The “became a freak” trope, though, is not unique to Jefferson… it’s sort of *de rigeur* hip criticism. Sometime, I should send along the introduction to Greil Marcus’s book “Dead Elvis”—published in 1992, fifteen years after Elvis’s death. We note a kind of mythologizing going on, with a good amount of playfulness, self-irony (which some may read as ‘snark’), and an idea that enormous cultural icons are bound—sooner or later, and unavoidably—to become freaks.

    So maybe Michael’s fans shouldn’t take it so personally when Jefferson writes as she does. I agree with what you said about Oscar Wilde, and in the case of literary essays (which is “On Michael Jackson” is a good example of , in my view) we expect a very personal voice. She did situate Michael and his family in the context of the urban midwest of the 1950s and the Chitlin’ Circuit, as well as P.T. Barnum and his whole story. It’s a lot to put together.

    1. Nina said –The “became a freak” trope, though, is not unique to Jefferson… it’s sort of *de rigeur* hip criticism.

      That’s interesting. Why is that do you think?

  45. I am just reading that Colony Capital will put Neverland up for sale. It will be a shame really if this place that represents everything that was good and bad in Michaels life will be lost.
    Michael probably never wanted to live there again but he definetely wanted to keep the property. He would have been better of if it was sold when it was threatened with foreclosure. He chose not to sell, took colony capitals loan and died trying to keep it. You cannot put a price on historical value.
    Janet Jackson is the only one connected to Michael who could have the resources to buy and maintain it. I hope she does.

    1. Yes, it’s very disturbing news. I will be posting more on this tomorrow (or Sat, if I am not able to get it up by tomorrow) so I’m going to ask that everyone please hold further comments on this topic until that post is made.

      But I do agree 100% with your statement that a price cannot be put on historical value.

  46. I don’t know exactly how the “freak” trope became into existence, Eleanor; I’m trying to understand why it is. But I know it’s very much with us, and by no means peculiar to MIchael Jackson. Here’s part of the introduction by Greil Marcus, to his book “Dead Elvis” (1992):

    “As we form or accept the idea of Elvis that America will live with, or live without, whether it is an idea of beauty or an idea of squalor, we are moving farther and farther away from the source of that idea: Elvis Presley’s music. But even the story, the life, is losing its shape: it’s being reshaped to fit into old boxes. The scandal books and the loving memoirs tell the same story in the end, an old story that is not, in any particular sense, Elvis’s story: he got what he wanted but he lost what he had. He was cut off from his roots; he fell from grace. See what happens to American heroes; see what we do to them. We’ve always loved this story: the artist or the leader dies for our sins, after permitting us to enjoy them.

    “Such mythologizing predated Elvis’s death, but it’s gathered irresistible force since. A dead person is vulnerable in ways a living person is not, and it’s not simply that you can’t libel the dead. When the subject of a book is living, he or she can always make that book into a lie by acting in a new way. A dead person can be summed up and dismissed. And Elvis is especially vulnerable, because for much of American he has always been a freak.”

    Sound familiar?

    1. Not really. I have never lost friendships over Elvis. I have never had anyone tell me that I could not even bring up his name around them. I have never had anyone respond with the epithet “pervert” — when I mentioned Elvis’s name. All of those things have happened to me when I have just mentioned MJ’s name.

      But then, Elvis was no MJ. And although he challenged a few social conventions, he remained firmly situated as white and male. I never thought he sounded black. I grew up in Memphis and was a teen when Elvis was just becoming popular. I have heard that Dewey Phillips who used to DJ Red Hot and Blue had to tell his audience that Elvis was white, but I was part of that audience and never doubted it.

      It has always amazed me how the very conservative people of Memphis didn’t bat an eye when he brought a 14-yr -old Priscilla home from Germany and moved her in with him and his parents, educated her at the local Catholic school, then married her when she graduated. Really strange. And then there was Jerry Lee Lewis who married his, maybe 12-yr-old cousin. Something like that. I saw them at a restaurant one night. Although there were a few comments about Jerry Lee, they were not serious — nothing like the serious opprobrium that still stalks MJ — that literally will make people turn away from you, lips curled in distaste — and disgust.

      1. Eleanor…. I’m sorry to have posted (above and below your post!) what may seem an ungainly or unmanageable amount of material from Greil Marcus’s book on Elvis’s posthumous reputation, and all the activities that have gone on in his memory. It’s a lot of stuff to digest.

        I wonder if you read any of the material I posted, Eleanor. Your anecdote may aptly reflect your experience in conversation with people about Elvis, and how that contrasts with people’s reaction when you mention MJ.

        But in terms of Greil’s writing—and this is why I often find it elucidating and helpful to read what other people have said, about Michael and other stars—here are a few points that especially resonate with what I’ve thought about MJ, and what he and Elvis may have in common as “supernovas”:
        ___________________________
        Marcus on Elvis:

        1. “The enormity of his impact on culture, on millions of people, was never really clear when he was alive; it was mostly hidden. When he died, the event was a kind of explosion that went off silently, in minds and hearts; out of that explosion came many fragments, edging slowly into the light, taking shape, changing shape again and again as the years went on.”
        ………………………….
        2. “As a surprised, then amazed, then confused, finally entranced chronicler of this tale—in other words, simply someone who has paid attention to it—I am anything but its narrator. I have written sometimes as a critic, sometimes as a collector. Many voices speak in this book, often in images for which I’ve provided only captions and a context, often in streams of plain quotation, other people’s words making cultural moments that need nothing from me.”

        Since I’m writing a book on MJ, this is an approach (or befuddling situation!) that I, too, find myself in. As a would-be MJ chronicler and writer, I find I’m faced with the same conundrums that Marcus is.

        ………………………….
        3. “As the story found its twists and turns, as it made a labyrinth, as it picked up speed, as it moved with the momentum of a flood in a museum, strange creatures appeared: Elvis Christ, Elvis Nixon, Elvis Hitler, Elvis Mishima, Elvis as godhead, Elvis inhabiting the bodies of serial killers, of saints, fiends. Each was a joke, of course; beneath each joke was bedrock, obsession, delight, fear.”

        We’ve seen a panoply of writing, poetry, fiction, and even (especially) visual art emerge in the years since Michael’s death. So much of this material refracts him through the lens of our contemporary time, and positions him as hero, saint, martyr, and god (though in the visual arts, at least, we rarely see him represented as a historical villain). Some of these works may be tongue-in-cheek, and some are dead serious. But what seems important to me is that this cornucopia of material *exists* in commemoration of the very hugeness and sweep of Michael Jackson’s cultural influence.
        ……………………………

        4. “This is a book about what Elvis Presley has been up to, in the last fourteen years: a small history of something much too big for one body, or one face. Elvis Presley made history; this is a book about how, when he died, many people found themselves caught up in the adventure of remaking his history, which is to say their own.”

        Likewise, as we discuss MJ, we are ACTIVELY engaged in making and remaking his history in a never-ending processs of deconstruction and revision. There will never be an “end point” to this process, either with Elvis or with Michael—perpetual reconstruction is simply the nature of the beast. From the eneration of some important figures in ancient Egypt up through our modern (and postmodern) era, this has been the case. (I find it especially instructive to read the histories of fame itself: a collection of celebrities, and what all these famous people have been “up to” since their deaths.)

        ………………………………

        5. “A dead person is vulnerable in ways a living person is not, and it’s not simply that you can’t libel the dead. When the subject of a book is living, he or she can always make that book into a lie by acting in a new way. A dead person can be summed up and dismissed. And Elvis is especially vulnerable, because for much of American he has always been a freak.”

        Some of Michael’s fans’ anxieties about this very difficulty—all the unanswered questions—has given rise to initiatives like the CADEFLAW, which has the aim of extending anti-libel and anti-defamation laws and such to encompass deceased people.

        Here, I’ll leave it for you to judge whether Greil Marcus is representing Michael’s (and Elvis’s) vulnerabilities as “freaks” in a perforative way, or more as a way to reflect on how they have become lodged in the popular imagination: for better or for worse.

  47. I’ve sometimes found that in order to read about Michael, I had to read *around* him (*nearby* him) as well.

    Greil Marcus’s opening remarks about Elvis apply so readily to the some ways we might understand Michael’s situation (with certain modifications, of course), that I thought the text worth quoting at more length:

    “Elvis Presley’s entry into public life came with such force his story was soon engraved into the cultural clichés that seemed to match it; the story became common coin because it already was. Birth in desperate rural poverty, a move to the city, a first record on a local label, unprecedented national and international fame, scandal, adulation; the transformation of a strange and threatening outside into a respectable citizen who served his country without complain, years spent dutifully making formulaic movies and unexciting music, marriage, fatherhood, a quiet life behind the walls of his mansion; then a stunning return, loud and vibrant; and the a slow, seemingly irresistible decline: divorce, endless tours as lifeless as his old films, news replaced by rumors of terrible things, and finally early death……”

    “But as Charles Wolfe, professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University, discovered in 1990 when he spoke to second and third graders at a mostly white, working-class public school in Jasper, Tennessee, there is another Elvis Presley, a figure made of echoes, not facts. “Do you know who Elvis Presley was?” Wolfe asked the children; though he found most of them confused as to whether the man was alive or dead, black or white, they did. “He was an old guy who was a king somewhere.” “He was a great big man and he invented rock ‘n’ roll.” “He lives in a big house in Memphis and he only comes out at nght.” “He’ this big black guy who invented the electric guitar.” “He was this guy who sang with his brothers Theodore and Simon”—a Chipmunk.”

    “Between those Elvises are the Elvises I have followed since Elvis Presley’s death. The enormity of his impact on culture, on millions of people, was never really clear when he was alive; it was mostly hidden. When he died, the event was a kind of explosion that went off silently, in minds and hearts; out of that explosion came many fragments, edging slowly into the light, taking shape, changing shape again and again as the years went on. No one, I think, could have predicted the ubiquity, the playfulness, the perversity, the terror, and the fun of this, of Elvis Presley’s second life: a great, common conversation, sometimes, a conversation between specters and fans, made out of songs, art works, books, movies, dreams; sometimes more than anything cultural noise, the glossolalia of money, advertisements, tabloid headlines, bestsellers, urban legends, nightclub japes. In either form it was—is—a story that needed no authoritative voice, no narrator, a story that flourishes precisely because it is free of any such thing, a story that told itself.”

  48. “Dead Elvis,” continued. Greil Marcus

    “As a surprised, then amazed, then confused, finally entranced chronicler of this tale—in other words, simply someone who has paid attention to it—-I am anything but its narrator. I have written sometimes as a critic, sometimes as a collector. Many voices speak in this book, often in images for which I’ve provided only captions and a context, often in streams of plain quotation, other people’s words making cultural moments that need nothing from me. There is a good deal in this book I cannot explain. It’s easy enough to understand a dead but evanescent Elvis Presley as a cultural symbol, but what if he—-it—-is nothing so limited, but a sort of cultural epistemology, a skeleton key to a lock we’ve yet to find? Certain questions occur again and again in these pages—in the conversation, in the noise, I’ve listened in on. Right from the start (or, if you like, the end), people asked, did Elvis go to heaven, or did he go to hell? Everybody asked, especially people who believed in neither, but who were having a great time fooling with the notion—and then the conundrum became a new language. As the story found its twists and turns, as it made a labyrinth, as it picked up speed, as it moved with the momentum of a flood in a museum, strange creatures appeared: Elvis Christ, Elvis Nixon, Elvis Hitler, Elvis Mishima, Elvis as godhead, Elvis inhabiting the bodies of serial killers, of saints, fiends. Each was a joke, of course; beneath each joke was bedrock, obsession, delight, fear. Even as Graceland Enterprises, Inc., the corporation Priscilla Presley formed to market the legacy, gained increasing legal control over the image of Elvis Presley, its meaning spun further and further out of control. They cannot be controlled, any more than, in the beginning, Elvis Presley’s body could stop moving; the shade of Elvis Presley is now an anarchy of possibilities, a strain of freedom less clear, but no less suggestive, than the man ever was.

    “In this book, then, the reader will not find commentary on whether Elvis Presley is, in the official sense, “still alive,” on the exact cause of his death, on Elvis impersonators. This is a book about what Elvis Presley has been up to, in the last fourteen years; a small history of something much too big for one body, or one face. Elvis Presley made history; this is a book about how, when he died, many people found themselves caught up in the adventure of remaking his history, which is to say their own.”

    This is especially resonant to me:
    “Even as Graceland Enterprises, Inc., the corporation Priscilla Presley formed to market the legacy, gained increasing legal control over the image of Elvis Presley, its meaning spun further and further out of control. They cannot be controlled, any more than, in the beginning, Elvis Presley’s body could stop moving; the shade of Elvis Presley is now an anarchy of possibilities…”

    The phrase “anarchy of possibilities” that Marcus uses seems very apropos here, as we find so many different permutations—of truth, fact, speculation—knowledge, experience, legend, inexperience, as we try to make sense or find some coherence in Michael’s story.

  49. Finally, this seems to speak so precisely to the ways we come to terms (or don’t) with Michael’s life and absence: After spending a few sentencing dissing Albert Goldman (Elvis’s biographer), Marcus writes:

    “What we want to know is why a certain person sang in a certain way, and why that touched us, why that simple confluence of circumstances changed the country, and the world—but since those are difficult questions, mysteries that will never be solved but also the only questions worth asking, we can be led to settle for every last quirk, rumor, failing, perversion, and we may be led to believe, finally, perhaps, that the real questions are not so important, or even real at all. A certain person, singing in a certain way—maybe it wasn’t quite what it seemed. Anyway it was a long time ago.”

  50. Raven says,

    “That is an interesting point, Simba, and definitely provides another facet to consider when critiquing these books/articles. It may explain why so many black male scholars, in particular, insist on pushing the trope of Michael as a self-hating black man, which was essentially the trend I was referring to….”

    Wait a minute, Raven. It seems a lot of us have been talking in broad, sweeping terms here: white women scholars tend to…. black male writers often….etc. More specificity about *who* we are talking about, and in *what* writings we’ve found these things would help, I think.
    ____________________________

    In my reading, the “self-hating black man” trope expressed most strongly by Greg Tate, in his 1987 Village Voice piece “I’m White!”, where he is very critical of Michael’s then recently-changed Tate is not an “academic,” but a cultural critic who has written for a variety of publications. (I’ve read parts of a book he *edited* called “Nothing But the Burden: What White People are Taking From Black Culture (2003).” It’s an interesting collection of essays by a number of noteworthy writers, on the perennially sensitive issue of cultural appropriation.

    There may have been other instances, Raven, where that sentiment (black “self hatred” in connection with MJ) has appeared; but off the top of my head, I don’t remember what these were.

    As we’ve said before, we all have our subjective lenses through which we view the world; and when passions run very high—-as they do when our feelings about MJ are involved—our ability to parse an argument, to look at a question from various sides, to stand in another person’s shoes and try to see their perspective, tends to fly out the window. So I especially appreciate your effort at balance, Raven.

    Our biases, our wishes, desires, hopes, and fears, and what some call our “agendas” (which would mean, I guess, a kind of map for the future) strongly influence not only what we say and write, but ALSO what we hear and read.

    In the reading we’ve done on MJ, the arguments that have “jumped out at us” from the texts and that we tend to remember the most vividly, are probably those passages that either a) corroborate and echo what we most wanted to say (and wish we could have said), or b) press our buttons by stirring up our indignation, and strike us as particular wrong, bad, reprehensible, etc.

  51. I should have said, what Tate wrote about Michael’s then recently-changed appearance in “Bad.” (Tate’s piece, “I’m White!” was published in the Village Voice shortly after Michael’s “Bad” film was seen publicly, in 198.).

    Shortly after Michael died, a number of Village Voice writers (including Tate) weighed in with their retrospective assessments and tributes. Tate had modified his views on Michael Jackson’s overall significance quite a lot. Later, in 2010 (I think), he participated in “Genius Without Borders: A Symposium in Honor of the Genius of Michael Jackson” that took place at Columbia College, Chicago. Most here are probably familiar with this event, but here’s the program and a list of some of its participants (imusicians and music industry people like Greg Phillinganes, Siedah Garrett, Rick Lawson and Harry Weingert were there, in addition to academic writers and other critics):

    http://www.colum.edu/cbmr/What_We_Do/Conferences/Past_Conferences/2010michaeljackson/

    In other words:
    What strikes one reader as an egregious, inexcusable error might strike someone else (like me) as a minor oversight, to be “worked around” in view of all the other insights the writer had to offer.

    What strikes one reader as a wholesale misrepresentation (and an insulting one, to boot) of Michael’s *actual* *factual* sexuality (as per his own statements), may strike another reader as a useful springboard to further exploration of the connections between (say), gender identity, the soul tradition, and the way we perceive styles and genres in popular music.

    Right now, I’m reading an unpublished talk by a Scandinavian musicologist (who recently presented it at a conference in Germany, as part of a panel called “20 Years After: Afrofuturism in Aural and Visual Cultures.” The title of this man’s paper is “The Egyptian Unconscious: Sun Ra, Michael Jackson, and History.” It’s a fascinating read, in my view…. but maybe that’s just the kind of geek I am.

    1. “What strikes one reader as a wholesale misrepresentation (and an insulting one, to boot) of Michael’s *actual* *factual* sexuality (as per his own statements), may strike another reader as a useful springboard to further exploration of the connections between (say), gender identity, the soul tradition, and the way we perceive styles and genres in popular music.”

      This what I meant when I said that Michael will be made “fit for purpose” – people who need a “springboard” to a discussion on say, gender identity exploit his name and fame for their swan dives. You want to talk about a book on Elvis, so you shoehorn him into a blog post about Michael Jackson, where I’m willing to bet, there is scant interest in him.

      “Some people have made claims about what (they believe) a writer has said or meant, but they haven’t pointed to a *specific* part of the text that they find troubling; and they haven’t shown the exact context in which the (word, phrase, sentence, paragraph) appears. Without getting down to specifics, how will we know whether someone has something (possibly) worthwhile to say to somebody, or whether they, in that moment, are simply “being an asshole”? In any dispute, I think it’s important to point to specifics.”

      I’m pretty certain you are referring to me, as you have demonstrated on multiple occasions that you simply don’t find me credible. It has been observed by many African Americans that even the most credentialed black people tend not to be believed, like Henry Louis Gates, who found himself handcuffed and manhandled by white cops who thought he was lying about being the actual occupant of HIS house.

      “Context” may be important, but it rarely changes the actual meaning of words. What context could dissipate the racism and misogyny of Don Imus calling a black women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes”? Read the last two chapters of Ms. Mannings book (I have no desire to re-visit it), and you tell me how any sane individual could fail to recognize it as a savage attack on Michael Jackson’s very being, without being the least bit illuminating about blackface minstrelsy. As Judge Judy puts it, don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

      1. Well…. it takes an engaged reader too, Simba… and at least a minimum of open-mindedness.

        You say,
        “You want to talk about a book on Elvis, so you shoehorn him into a blog post about Michael Jackson, where I’m willing to bet, there is scant interest in him.”

        As I said before, Simba: No man is an island. You know that. None of us, NOBODY—no matter how original, how much of a genius, how unique—is without historical precedents. Michael himself was the first to recognize this, and even (at times) compared his life with Elvis’s.

        But the major reason I posted this material on Elvis was to demonstrate that—-contrary to man fans’ proteststions—-Michael Jackson actually ISN’T the only star to have been called a “freak.”

        I guess the point of that got lost in the welter of information I posted. I’m sorry. But whatever the objection you raise, I point to an exception to your ironclad set of “rules.” Unable to respond, you quickly point out a NEW objection, which I then have to respond to.

        As you said: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

        1. Yes, many stars have been disparaged as “freaks”. But the subject is Michael Jackson. You can’t see the tree for the forest. If I wanted, or needed to read about how tough it was to be Elvis Presley, there are a lot of places I would go before landing here.

          You have yet to deal with my contention that Harriet Manning obviously despises Michael Jackson, yet apparently has no problem exploiting his name and fame to gin up interest in her otherwise unpopular subject. I really don’t believe that you’ve read the book, or at least, not all of it.

          1. Simba says,
            “…You can’t see the tree for the forest. If I wanted, or needed to read about how tough it was to be Elvis Presley, there are a lot of places I would go before landing here…..You have yet to deal with my contention that Harriet Manning obviously despises Michael Jackson, yet apparently has no problem exploiting his name and fame to gin up interest in her otherwise unpopular subject. I really don’t believe that you’ve read the book, or at least, not all of it.”

            ROTFLMAO!! Oh, my word. My, oh my. Did you really think I was going to fall for this? It’s beyond irrational.

            I’m very sorry, Simba; mainly sorry that you (and many other fans) have chosen to use what must be an overwhelming anger by engaging in these bad faith accusations and, indeed, outright lies.

            The fact is that I HAVE read Harriet Manning’s book, cover to cover. You can probably gather that I have. You have not read the book, by your own admission—it’s enough for you to skim two pages and conclude—out of your own pique—that she “obviously” despises Michael Jackson.

            That’s exactly why you can’t present any evidence to back up your “contention,” which is at base just a lot of bluster; unsubstantiated claims, ad hominem attacks galore. And you know it, too. So all you CAN do, really, is to lash out in raw anger and frustration, because a person who has actually BOTHERED to spend a some of years of her life researching and writing about Michael Jackson’s connection with cultural history, is not presenting YOUR version of what you believe that should be. And the result of her labor has been published, too—an additional slap in your face.

            You speak (without any substantive knowledge) of the “emasculating ways of white women academics.” (Let’s see… there’s Susan Fast, and Harriet Manning, and…….who else?) You jump to this conclusion not only about a Susan Fast’s or Harriet Manning’s work as a whole, but about an entire group of people—who have become your particular bugbear—-white women academics—-based on what? One or two examples where Fast proposed a “queer” analysis of some aspects of MJ’s work. (Fast has, before and since, written on Michael in other ways.)

            Plus: NO MATTER HOW MANY examples I put before you—and there are literally dozens—of African American scholars, male and female, younger and older, who have discussed MJ in these terms, you continue to pursue this canard about “white women academics,” based on an impressionistic prejudice. Then you turn around and accuse ME of “having an agenda.” What utter baloney.

            How helpful are your imperious dismissals, however loudly and frequently you may repeat them, Simba? How will your pronouncements in any way help us toward any deeper knowledge or understanding of Michael Jackson’s cultural significance? Raw anger alone, without some form of helpful expression, just won’t cut it. So, no. I won’t be “dealing with your contention” about anything. Your “contentions” don’t warrant another moment of my time.

            I say this to you, AND to other aggrieved MJ fans who insist that the story of Michael’s “crucifixion” and victimhood is the beginning and the end of our moral interest in or responsibility to him, to ourselves, and to the other people and world around us:

            Sorry, Toots. Histrionics aren’t enough anymore.

          2. Nina Y F, did I fail to inform you that I have read more than “two pages” of Manning’s book? If so, I apologize. Consider yourself informed. Did you miss the part where she writes that Michael Jackson tried to “entice” young boys into his bed? How about the part where she claims that he’s probably not the father of his children, because they don’t have any African American features (according to her)? Or when she repeats that canard about him flouncing about the south of France dressed like a woman, in wedgies and a big-brimmed hat? (It was some random woman.) She’s so hung up on black sexuality, she even takes a swipe at Josephine Baker, claiming that audiences thought she was a man when she wore a tux, full makeup, full hips, and spit curls notwithstanding.

            You’ve shared (perhaps overshared) your personal sexual tastes. Well just because you are attracted to Michael Jackson, it doesn’t mean he was automatically your special type. But as Hilton Als illustrates, this kind of projection is not rare. Just because a few black academics want to jump breathlessly onto the gay, queer, androgynous, “gender fluid” bandwagon when writing about Michael, it doesn’t mean they know s**t from Shinola. Nearly all of them are openly gender fluid themselves. They see what they want to see, what they need to see.

            But you’re right – none of this matters. Now could you tell your academic colleagues to give it a rest?

          3. Well, what program did you use to ferret out those few words from a 124-page book, I wonder? Skimming a text in order to play “gotcha!” with the author isn’t the same as reading for comprehension and knowledge. Sorry. I see nothing here. I’m moving on.

  52. I found this interesting info that I wanted to share re some of our discussion of academic writing and some of the nastiness we have seen on the blog too:

    “In his best selling book ‘The No Asshole Rule’ Robert Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, has a lot to say on the topic of, well, assholes in the workplace. The book is erudite and amusing in equal measures and well worth reading especially for the final chapter where Sutton examines the advantages of being an asshole. He cites work by Teresa Amabile, who did a series of controlled experiments using fictitious book reviews. While the reviews themselves essentially made the same observations about the books, the tone in which the reviewers expressed their observations was tweaked to be either nice or nasty. What Amabile found was:

    … negative or unkind people were seen as less likeable but more intelligent, competent and expert than those who expressed the the same messages in gentler ways

    Huh.

    This sentence made me think about the nasty cleverness that some academics display when they comment on student work in front of their peers. Displaying cleverness during PhD seminars and during talks at conferences is a way academics show off their scholarly prowess to each other, sometimes at the expense of the student. Cleverness is a form of currency in academia; or ‘cultural capital’ if you like. If other academics think you are clever they will listen to you more; you will be invited to speak at other institutions, to sit on panels and join important committees and boards. Appearing clever is a route to power and promotion. If performing like an asshole in a public forum creates the perverse impression that you are more clever than others who do not, there is a clear incentive to behave this way.

    Sutton claims only a small percentage of people who act like assholes are actually sociopaths (he amusingly calls them ‘flaming assholes’) and talks about how asshole behaviour is contagious. He argues that it’s easy for asshole behaviour to become normalised in the workplace because, most of the time, the assholes are not called to account. So it’s possible that many academics are acting like assholes without even being aware of it.

    How does it happen? The budding asshole has learned, perhaps subconsciously, that other people interrupt them less if they use stronger language. They get attention: more air time in panel discussions and at conferences. Other budding assholes will watch strong language being used and then imitate the behaviour. No one publicly objects to the language being used, even if the student is clearly upset, and nasty behaviour gets reinforced. As time goes on the culture progressively becomes more poisonous and gets transmitted to the students. Students who are upset by the behaviour of academic assholes are often counselled, often by their peers, that “this is how things are done around here” . Those who refuse to accept the culture are made to feel abnormal because, in a literal sense, they are – if being normal is to be an asshole.

    Not all academic cultures are badly afflicted by assholery, but many are. I don’t know about you, but seen this way, some of the sicker academic cultures suddenly make much more sense. This theory might explain why senior academics are sometimes nicer and more generous to their colleagues than than those lower in the pecking order. If asshole behaviour is a route to power, those who already have positions of power in the hierarchy and are widely acknowledged to be clever, have less reason to use it.”

    http://thesiswhisperer.com/2013/02/13/academic-assholes/

    1. Now that I read this piece over, iutd (The Thesis Whisperer), I find it so laden with disinformation and tendentiousness that I have a hard time taking it seriously…. at all.

      Firstly, the writers offers no concrete example of “asshole” behavior, without which (as I’ve said before), we’re on too vague ground to talk earnestly about what’s really going on. When there’s a dispute or when someone is irritated, it’s not enough to speak in generalities; you must provide specific examples of behavior, words, actions, etc.

      To speak to just one (seemingly minor) detail: when it comes academic conferences, people’s presentations are precisely timed, and they are held to their allotted time by a moderator. I gave a conference paper this spring, and I was obliged to edit my writing and rehearse, so that it would run for no more than 15 minutes. The panel I participated in was composed of four people, all of whom had worthy things to say, and who were bound to respect one another’s time. It’s NOT a free-for-all, you know.

      As for “cleverness” and the like, there’s a whole conversation that can be had about the many ways people have of putting each other down, grandstanding, one-upmanship, etc.

      But first, I have a question for you, for Eleanor, for Simba, for Raven, and for anyone else who would care to address the matter. In all candor, what’s your perception/impression of “academia,” academics, academic life and institutions, and all the things that go on there?

      I wonder, on what experience do you base these impressions? (Raven, I already know that you teach at a small college.)

      Having posted fairly regularly on another MJ discussion site, I found many of these same critical and derogatory themes coming up time and again: the feeling that academics are “shoehorning” Michael into their “pet” theories or the “latest” theories. But many people have founded their criticisms on a handful of *stereotypes* that they have picked up. And I believe that *theorizing* is what we do when we discuss nearly anything (except possibly the weather—-and even the weather, innocuous as it seems, isn’t exempt)!

      I don’t know if anyone would care to speak to this. I’d like to know. I once started a list of reasons why people who do not work within colleges and universities (and even some who do), would distrust this locale we call “academia.”

      1. Nina, just to clarify, I do teach at more than just a “small” college. It’s not Princeton or Harvard, true (lol) but it IS one of the largest historically black universities in the Southeast. In addition to that load, I also teach part time at a local community college, so perhaps that is where the confusion over “small” comes from. But I am well versed in academia, which has comprised the last thirty years of my life. I was a “late bloomer” in the sense that I didn’t have the opportunities for college and education when I was younger (in fact, I dropped out of high school and married before I was twenty, only later going back for my GED). From there, I worked my way up, earning scholarships and admittance into grad programs based on my performance, as well as forming many close alliances with my mentors and professors. I fell in love with academic life because all my life I loved books; I loved the arts; I loved being surrounded by intellectual stimulation. I still love it, or I wouldn’t do it. Obviously, I sometimes wish I could be Stephen King or someone and just make millions of dollars from being a writer, but as a second choice, it’s not a bad gig. I get paid to teach the stuff I love, and I can’t think of any better way to make a living (except maybe for being a phenomenally commercial successful writer, lol).

        But over the years I’ve also developed a love/hate relationship with academia. I see a lot of its follies, as well as the things I love. I see the clashing of egos; the petty jealousies and back stabbing that goes on; the bitterness that sets in when promotions don’t come; when tenures are denied; when salaries are cut back; when class loads are increased; when committees fail to properly acknowledge someone for their hard work, when overworked and underpaid faculty sit in the office complaining endlessly about the dean, the department chair, the motivation of students, etc, etc. It can get very draining, and sometimes for my own sanity, I just have to distance myself from it. I think I am always a bit of the peripheral circle, anyway; a little bit of an outsider. I don’t have the patience to play a lot of the games I see, and frankly don’t care. But it’s like anything else in life. Maybe maintaining a relationship is a good analogy. You can marry someone you love, but staying together and making it work takes commitment. I love academia, but can’t say I do not have my quarrels with it from time to time.

        To get back to how this relates to MJ, I’ve had my share of interesting dialog on him from fellow colleagues. The opinions are as diverse as you will find anywhere else. After all, academics are just people-and people are all different. They bring with them their own personal tastes as well as biases. One only has to compare the syllabus of any two literature professors, for example-even if they are teaching the same course-to see how every professor brings their own flavor to any course. One person may love Hemingway and despise Fitzgerald, for example; their syllabus will reflect that bias. Another may be a Fitzgerald freak. Their syllabus, likewise, may reflect that bias. I love, when I can, being able to integrate Michael Jackson’s work into my curriculum. I have a colleague who loves James Brown, so if students sign up for his course, they may get a dose of James Brown rather than MJ. In other words, we are all individuals, with many varied backgrounds, ages, personal tastes and areas of expertise-all of which we bring to the table.

        I find, generally among academics that the attitudes toward Michael are certainly more open than you will find from the average person on the street. You will not be apt to find Michael Jackson haters in academia because most academics are intelligent enough and open minded enough to not be automatically persuaded by tabloids and media. But by the same token, a lot of them are not “fans” in the sense of being, I suppose, what some sarcastically call “fanbots.” It is almost always an interest vested in his cultural significance and the impact of his music. But my “James Brown” colleague and I have had some interesting go-rounds in the past. We have immense respect for each other and he is really a sweet old soul, but he is very steeped in the ideas about Michael Jackson that have come down from people like Randall Sullivan, and tends to be quite dismissive of sources I present to him which are far more accurate, but I suppose in his estimation are not “neutral” enough to be a balanced perspective. To be fair, his approach to his studies of James Brown and other music icons is quite similar. But this experience alone-as isolated as it is-raises for me a lot of issues regarding academics who are accepting questionable sources as the “bible” on Michael Jackson, and dismissing sources that may counter some of these views as either the works of “fantards” or people who obviously don’t have ph.d’s or serious journalist credentials.

        It was funny because when he heard I was going to do my symposium last year on MJ’s Dancing the Dream he suggested I review the Sullivan book instead. Well, I suppose that COULD have been a good opportunity to openly expose and lambast the book’s many inaccuracies (lol) but I had my heart set on wanting to let more people know about Michael’s OWN words and ideas. So then, in an effort to be “helpful” he rounded up for me all of these articles from academics and cultural critics-mostly ones I had already read a million times, lol!- and had no interest in utilizing, as they had no bearing on what I wished to present from Michael’s own work. I certainly did not feel that Michael’s words needed to be diffused or deflected by introducing what some cultural analyst had to say about him. It was kind of funny, though, because it was as if he didn’t trust me or my own knowledge of MJ-presenting on a book MJ had written-to be “educational” enough for the masses, I suppose.

        But he did admit afterwards that he learned a lot from my presentation. He and a few other colleagues were very interested afterwards in learning more about the lyrics to “Earth Song,” especially it’s call and response breakdown. This was an invigorating exchange of ideas that would not have been possible had I gone the route of delivering on the same old, ho-hum analyst jargon.

        So my personal experience has been that there is a lot of give and take, and certainly room for new ideas, but sometimes you do have to flex some muscle when going against the grain, so to speak.

        1. “But this experience alone-as isolated as it is-raises for me a lot of issues regarding academics who are accepting questionable sources as the “bible” on Michael Jackson, and dismissing sources that may counter some of these views as either the works of “fantards” or people who obviously don’t have ph.d’s or serious journalist credentials.”

          Yes, I agree and this is apparent when your colleague wants you to read Randall Sullivan. I have also noted that a disturbing number of supposedly ‘academic’ writers rely on shoddy and unreliable sources. In fact, this may be the core problem b/c an analysis that is based on unreliable sources soon falls apart.

          Scholarship should be based on the best possible sources and not on shoddy writers who have not done their research. Such sloppy writing has spread endless lies about MJ and demands a huge cleanup operation to correct. Lies have become the truth for the uninformed, even a scholar who studies James Brown is not immune.

          1. iutd, you say “lies have become truth for the uninformed.” While that may be true, do you think there’s any value for people to discuss their various (possibly different) readings and interpretations of things that have been done by artists? Or even different ways of interpreting the events of these artists’ lives?

            You rightly say that scholars should have “done their research.” By this, I assume you mean the they should have their “facts straight,” that they should draw from factual material, from the most reliable and accurate sources that are available. So far so good.

            So, once they have done this research, where do you believe they should go with it? What might they do with the accurate facts they now have at their disposal?

            Speaking of Michael Jackson alone (not to mention James Brown!), what areas of study do you think haven’t been adequately “covered” yet? Is there any particular aspect of Michael’s life and work—his music, his dance, his philanthropic endeavors, his style and role as a trendsetter, etc., that you would like to see more people write about, or that you believe is an important aspect of “Michael Jackson” that should be brought into view? For example: what histories of music, or other contemporary artists of his (or artists of the past) might we usefully compare him with? If any? And how might this comparison (if it should be done at all) help to illuminate some aspect of contemporary life that *wouldn’t have been the same* had Michael Jackson not entered the picture?

          2. To give the devil his due – Randall Sullivan is the only writer who has questioned the authenticity of Michael’s purported will, and John Branca’s version of the events in the last few days of Michael’s life. As the incompetence of Branca’s handling of the estate is being revealed with the impending loss of Neverland, perhaps Sullivan’s book merits closer attention.

      2. Well, as to my academic credentials, I have a BA in English, Rhodes College, Memphis (1963). In 1967, I enrolled in Georgetown’s grad program in English, then had to drop out and return south to attend to family problems; in 1971, I transferred my credits to Valdosta State, where I received an MA in English (1972). Years later, I received a Masters in Theological Studies, from Vanderbilt (1997-2000). I have also attended the Memphis Academy of Arts, where I studied painting and sculpture and the Memphis State School of Law, dropping out after one year to care for my newborn son, who almost arrived in the middle of my civil procedures exam. I also took a course on The Patriarchs in the Bible at the Memphis Theological Seminary. I think that covers that.

        Although I would not characterize myself as an academic by any means, I have taught at Shelby State Community College, Memphis State University, and Christian Brothers College, and, more recently, I taught a couple of classes on Christian Ethics and Feminism and Christian Ethics and the Environment at Valdosta State.

        In addition, for a few years in the mid 70’s, I was a faculty wife at Memphis State, where my, then, husband (BA from Dartmouth, MA and PhD from University of Chicago) was teaching. And, during that time was certainly privy to academic goings on.

        And, not surprisingly, given my intellectual interests, I have friends who are academics. Just had lunch last week with a philosophy prof from FSU, whose philosophical interests are tangential to mine.

        Otherwise, I echo, pretty much everything Raven said.

        1. Wow, Eleanor. You have some impressive credentials, and a wonderfully varied background.

          In truth, though, I didnt pose the question to elicit a a list of credentials or curriculum vitae (lol!!) I wanted some way to better understand how people’s experiences — in school and out of it—may have affected their views of nature of academic work and life. From there, I wanted to try to comprehend why there has been such hostility directed toward *intellectual* endeavors (“academic” or not) is so frequently directed at people who have written about Michael Jackson. (At least, that’s what I’ve observed on several of the MJ-related sites.)

  53. iutd,

    As Henry Kissinger once said (and he should know): Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small (!)

    Thanks for the link. On occasion I’ve read this blog (“The Thesis Whisperer) and I’ve enjoyed many of the posts. This particular entry, though, seems to make the error of painting “academic assholes” with a broad enough brush that the author him/herself risks becoming the very kind of “asshole” they disparage. (Through years of very mixed experiences in ‘academe”–the agony and the ecstasy, and everything in between!) I’ve seen this happen often enough. Also, it would help to recognize that one person’s asshole is another’s … I dunno… harmless twit, or engaged mentor.

    iutd, I know you didn’t mention me by name, but I am clearly who you mean here. And although you haven’t cited specific instances of academic writers who you feel may be guilty of this “assholery” when it comes to writings on Michael, I wish you would do so. (It may be hard to pry me away from the classroom, even though I myself would like a break from it!) But my real aim in participating in these spaces (AND in disseminating these texts that I hope future researchers will find helpful, and only a fraction of them are “academic” articles), is to help people, in all good faith, to better understand the contexts and passions that animate these authors’ ideas, and to make it apparent that there just MAY be more to these texts than, at first, meets the eye. The writers, admittedly, often use language and ways of theorizing that many readers might at first find unclear—or unkind.

    This is a process. And I think both (all) parties could come to this process with a more generous and open-minded demeanor. Very often, a reader will come to a text with a near-certain *expectation* of being outraged, and with an eye toward a kind of critique that doesn’t allow for the possibility of appreciating context, of careful consideration of the myriad possibilities of meaning, and of giving the writer the benefit of the doubt or—importantly—meeting them halfway. Meeting someone half way would involve taking a deep breath, stepping back as best we can from our own passionate positions, and trying (as best we can) to see things through another’s pov.

    [In fact, it’s what I’ve done, at this moment, in respond to your post, iutd.]

    What this blogger discusses is by no means uncommon within academic departments (and academic politics, as Henry Kissinger says, can be very vicious), it’s also worth considering that, very often, an author is *not* trying to be “clever,” or an asshole, but to engage in a good-faith dialogue with people for the mutual edification of everyone.

    So, I’m very sorry if you experience my posts as examples of this “assholery,” If I were hosting a blog (as Raven is doing here, or Willa and Joie on “Dance With the Elephant”) I’m sure I’d have to ‘tone down’ my comments quite a lot, and not be as *obstreperous* as some have perceived me. I deeply commend Raven, Willa, Joie, and others who are doing this in the MJ world, for their infinite patience, dedication, and persistence.

    It’s also true that in different professions (academia, corporations, government, medicine, etc.) the practitioners who form a part of these institutions will display a huge range of “bedside manners.” Some of this is down to individual personality; some of it comes form having spent years working within institutional cultures that, as this blogger and yourself say, impose their own set of demands. (So, maybe I’m genuinely “an asshole”—it’s quite possible!)
    _________________________________

    We’ve had some controversial issues here (pretty common where discussions of Michael Jackson are involved), where people (understandably) get angry, and show evidence their anger in a whole variety of ways. Some people have made claims about what (they believe) a writer has said or meant, but they haven’t pointed to a *specific* part of the text that they find troubling; and they haven’t shown the exact context in which the (word, phrase, sentence, paragraph) appears. Without getting down to specifics, how will we know whether someone has something (possibly) worthwhile to say to somebody, or whether they, in that moment, are simply “being an asshole”? In any dispute, I think it’s important to point to specifics.

    Of course, each of us has something that especially, and profoundly, pushes our buttons.I think the best we can do is to be as honest about it as we can—to ourselves and to others—about the specific buttons where we are being pushed or pressed, why we feel as we do, and how we might make our objections known to another person without taking on an *accusing* tone.

    I don’t know if you’ll read and take my comments into account here, iutd. But—and I don’t think I’m being paranoid here—since you have just about implied that I’ve been behaving like an “academic asshole,” I hope you do consider them.

  54. To anyone who is still reading — Here is a link to an article by Hilton Als that appeared on the front page of the New York Review of Books in August of 2009. Filled with unsubstantiated opinion, it transformed the NYRB instantly into a tabloid. And even tho’ I didn’t know a whole lot about MJ then, I knew enough to know that it was total BS, and cancelled my subscription.

    According to Als, gay men like his music and that makes him gay???????!!!!!! So, if I like MJ’s music, does that make him an old woman. The Chinese like Michael does that make him Chinese? The Croatians like Michael. Does that make him a Croat?? I mean, please.

    He wore a spangled jacket like Garland, and that makes him gay!!!!! I often wear my son’s hand-me-down shirts and that makes me gay.

    No evidence, no evidence, no evidence. Pure fiction.

    And this gets into print. In the NYRB and all the elitist white intellectuals can nod sagely, dismissing him as not only gay, but as freakily gay, or ashamedly gay. Poor Michael, not at home in his own skin or his own sex. Poor, poor tormented Michael. Clearly a nutcase. But THEY are doing the tormenting — even after he is gone. I mean, it is really embarrassing and sickening. The illogic apparent in this article and the irresponsibility displayed by the NYRB n publishing it and the unbridled snooty meanness is just stunning.

    But what is so interesting is that so much of what Als says has been repeated recently on this blog. So, if people just keep repeating this BS over and over finally it will make it so. Unfortunately, people put credence in articles published in places like NYRB. And, I would imagine the readership just rolled their eyes and were delighted to have their worst suspicions confirmed.

    If you want to lose your dinner, here is the link —

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/aug/13/michael/

    1. I might also say, Eleanor: I actually worked at the New York Review of Books for about twelve years of my sorry existence (!), mostly in the ’80s.

      I worked in the type production department, where manuscripts would come in from authors, in various states of need. The magazine’s editors (Robert Silvers and the late Barbara Epstein) would write their editorial corrections, in pencil, on the margins and between the lines of the manuscript; part of my job was to try to decipher their (often) illegible scarwlings, and incorporate those into the typescript that I input into the computer (in Quark Xpress, which is the software we were using at the time). The pieces were later sent, with further corrections, to its final destination as a printed publication.

      So, I kind of know their editorial style; moreover, I think Als was friends with the late Barbara Epsten. I’d bet that their readership won’t be fazed one way or another about Hilton Als’s piece. That said, I, too, was disappointed in that particular piece (although I don’t at all mind some *other* fantasmatic constructions of Michael!)

      But then, I’m not much for proselytizing, or declaring some immutable “truth” about MJ. My involvement in researching and writing about him has little to do with trying to convince the world at large that he was *my* version of a fantasy: or anyone else’s. Michael sparked the public imagination in ways that few other people could. We have, I believe, to live with the repercussions and let everyone tell their own story, notwithstanding what we may or may not think of as “the truth.”

  55. Um…. I have read that article, Eleanor.

    Firstly: Hilton Als is NOT an academic, but (if you can summarize who he is as a writer) a cultural critic, theater critic, and essayist.

    I didn’t like Als’s piece, and it bothered me for many of the reasons you mentioned. I think MJ may be a blind spot in his otherwise (it seems to me) fecund and generative mind. In this instance, Als was particularly ungenerous in his assessment of an artist. Otherwise, having read a smattering of his other work, and having heard and seen him speak in various YouTube clips at different venues, I consider him a really interesting writer and thinker.

    Als is a theater critic for The New Yorker, and I’ve liked his reviews there. I also very much enjoyed an article he published on Prince in Harper’s, which was similarly fictive, but perhaps in a more “positive” way… he’s clearly a Prince partisan. More recently, this very piece, “Michael,” was included in an anthology of his essays (published within the last year) called “White Girls”—-an identity in which he also includes Eminem, Louise Brooks, Truman Capote, Richard Pryor, Buddy Ebsen, and—most notably–HIMSELF, a black gay man. So, yes, I would say he’s doing something called “creative nonfiction,” where the very categories of “real” and “not real” and “fictive” and “imaginary” are called into question. In some very productive ways, as I see it.

    Never underestimate the power of the imagination, Eleanor.

    Or, as Walt Whitman wrote, in “Song of Myself”:
    “Do I contradict myself? I contradict myself. I contain multitudes.”

    Here;’s a review of Als’s book, “White Girls”:

    From Rich Benjamin’s New York Times review:

    “A gay black man, Als portrays gay black men’s longing to cherish what they cannot sexually love, the putative opposite of themselves, yet the emblem with which they deeply identify: white girls. Als admires and loathes white girls, mocks and mimics white girls, is ignored by white girls, is depended on by white girls, is perceived to be a white girl. “White girls,” he shows, is not just literal people. It’s a state of mind, an art of being.”

    And from David Ulin’s review in the L.A. Times:

    Hilton Als’ “White Girls” is as much about white girls as the author’s previous effort “The Women” was about femininity – which is to say quite a lot and not at all. Like its predecessor, “White Girls” is an inquiry into otherness, and by extension, commonality, what keeps us apart and also what brings us close.

    ” ‘I see how we are all the same, Als writes in ‘Tristes Tropiques,’ the book’s opening essay, ‘that none of us are white women or black men; rather, we’re a series of mouths, and … every mouth needs filling: with something wet or dry, like love, or unfamiliar and savory, like love.’ These are the contradictions that Als, as a gay African American writer, has woven into the very center of his work.”
    __________________________

    Speaking of Hilton Als: just the other day I was saying on another MJ site:

    “On occasion, I see posts by Hilton Als on my Facebook feed. Here, he writes about music critic Ellen Willis:

    “She was one of the strangest and most interesting women I barely knew. By the time I met her at the Village Voice she had left the New Yorker because of what she perceived as the then editor’s lack of social responsibility towards women and their bodies, and had returned to the Voice, where she wrote essays of such great intellectual distinction that it raised the bar on what the essay could achieve, if achieve is the word. Her specificity was daunting and inspiring and always there was the humor and truthfulness; in an early music piece she talked about black music from an unabashedly white perspective, sometimes chillingly so, and even then I didn’t agree but it was magic to read her; she made one feel free to respond and to move forward with one’s own thoughts based less on what she had said than on what you could say, for yourself. She was terribly near sighted, but one got the sense that she relished not seeing what didn’t need seeing and taking it from there.”

    “(You may remember that Als wrote a piece on Michael that we may not have liked, which was published in a book called “White Girls”).

    “I like Als’s sense of irony and incommensurability, his taste for paradox. He has an interesting mind, one that I like to follow. I think he’s a Prince partisan; he wrote a long, laudatory essay about Prince in Harper’s magazine—and he compared Michael (unfavorably) with Prince in his “Michael” piece.

    “Als is one of those people I’d love to have a conversation with about Michael. I wouldn’t approach such an exchange as an assault on Als’s “wrongness” or berate him for being “uninformed.” I don’t take umbrage at his observations about Michael Jackson; more, I’m curious as to *why* and how he arrived at them. I like his sensibility. In the paragraph above, for example, he notes that his experience of reading Ellen Willis—though her perspective was entirely different than his own—could nonetheless be “magic.” There’s a generosity here that one rarely sees.

    “Nor would I aim to *convince* Mr. Als of the “rightness” of my view of Michael Jackson, and I think I’d actually find that a crashing bore. Instead, I’d like to approach a discussion with him (or with another person) as an adventure where Michael Jackson might be a starting point…. but the dialogue would evolve as an exploration…. an experiment, if you like, leading who knows where.

    “I like those kinds of conversations best.”

  56. I stand corrected. Hilton Als is black and not an academic, but I would guess the readership of the NYRB is largely whiite, and the type ofwhite audience who would enjoy such an article about MJ. But, I guess that I am really referring to cultural critics and academics who have influence, and who, I think, have a responsibility to act, well, responsibly. But, I guess, as iutd points out, cleverness is all.

  57. Clearly, cleverness is all, Eleanor.

    But what about exploration and engagement, I wonder….. All of us have a lot of noise and arguments going on in our heads, all the time—especially when we feel passionately about something. How might we actually engage, attend to, and *respond* to what the other one is writing?

    How might any of us try to talk across our differences, I wonder? That, to me, is one thing that *responsibility* (and, literally RESPONSE-ability) might look like.

    Whether Als is writing for a white audience, a black audience, or mixed audiences, I believe he wants to explore those regions where such racial, sexual, gender differences—-though firmly inscribed on our historical memory, and not to be naively “wished” away—cease to matter, or at least cease to matter in the ways they currently do. That, I think, is one of the things his writing (on the whole) is about. And it makes it that much more painful for me to read his piece on Michael, where he seems to stick to some well-worn categories.

    In my opinion, the more difficult, transgressive, and ultimately utopian world I believe Als’ work sometimes calls up (whether he would agree or not) bears at least a passing resemblance to the world-making that Michael Jackson was doing: and which I continue to treasure.

    1. “Whether Als is writing for a white audience, a black audience, or mixed audiences, I believe he wants to explore those regions where such racial, sexual, gender differences—-though firmly inscribed on our historical memory, and not to be naively “wished” away—cease to matter, or at least cease to matter in the ways they currently do.”

      Or maybe Als is just what Alec Baldwin would call “a toxic little queen”, making a career and reputation by tearing down those with more talent, fame, and money.

    2. Yes, Simba, you could be right. Als may be a “toxic little queen” (although going by the photographs and video footage I see of him, he’s actually kind of a large man).

      At any rate, there are lots of “toxic queens” among us—of all sizes—-who enjoy tearing down people with more talent and public recognition (though I’m not sure about money) than we can boast of. Like Hilton Als.

  58. Nina provided us with this quote — ” ‘I see how we are all the same, Als writes in ‘Tristes Tropiques,’ the book’s opening essay, ‘that none of us are white women or black men; rather, we’re a series of mouths, and … every mouth needs filling: with something wet or dry, like love, or unfamiliar and savory, like love.’ These are the contradictions that Als, as a gay African American writer, has woven into the very center of his work.”

    I think this pretty much sums up the post modern point of view, which I think Nina is promoting. So, Nina, at the risk of being drawn and quartered as non-PC, I want to say that I am not post modern (PoMo), I am post PoMo. And, as a result, I don’t agree with this quote. I am embodied as and experience life as a woman not a man and I will never know what it is like to be a man. And, I am “ciswhite” (I think that is right) in that my genetically determined skin color and my culturally constructed attitudes and behaviors are co-extensive. And, although every mouth needs filling (images of fellatio come, unbidden, to my mind), different cultures arrive at different ways of filling mouths, and construct our realities accordingly. So we are not all the same, but profoundly different in many ways, ways that are both collective and individual, ways that are critical to our day to day survival as well as our survival from one generation to the next, and ways that should be celebrated, not erased. Because, through our differences we enrich each other’s lives.

    Problems of injustice arise when a culture values and privileges one category of human being over another, as ours does. In fact, I am pretty PO’d at our culture for privileging humans over all other non-humans to the extent that we engage in practices such as industrialized farming, etc. which not only harm the plants and animals involved, but us as consumers. A problem which I believe postmodernism exacerbates.

    In its focus on individual perception, PoMo runs the risk of denying material reality, and in denying material reality, it pretty much wipes out nature, and, in wiping out nature, it seems no different from the traditional transcendent system that has ruled western culture for a couple of thousand years, a system that tells us that humans are separate from nature and that our minds are separate from our bodies, and women are separate from humanity. As a result of this transcendent way of looking at things, we are experiencing an environmental crisis which will only get worse, and economic and social crises that have severely impacted women and their children, to the extent that they represent 80% of people in poverty.

    I can understand how PoMo has gotten to be so popular among well-heeled and often childless urbanites who actually live in constructed realities (cities) and who have the wherewithall to create the illusion that they are in control of their lives. But out here on the farm, as I look out my window, the reality I see (perceive) is constructed by nature; and, having produced two children, I have to say that nothing disabuses one of disembodiment any faster than pregnancy.

    So, I subscribe to an immanent worldview and value system that puts humanity back into nature and minds back in bodies and restores women to the human species and sacralizes rather than profanes the material world, which I have described at length in my book, The Algorithm of Desire.

    A second problem I have with PoMo is that it images a reality made up of millions of individualized, subjective realities/fictions while at the same time imposing its own hegemonic view through its infiltration of academic disciplines and “serious” and not-so-serious media– which is why I object to Als, et al, because he is using his position as a “serious person” — a serious writer who publishes in serious publications — to impose his PoMo point of view. Case in point: Als’ widely read, even anthologized, and very mean, but very well written, portrait of Michael Jackson.

    Whew!

    For a little comic relief, take a look at this Youtube clip on Po-Mo and the arts. Disclaimer, my son produced it.

    http://www.ovationtv.com/touching-the-art/

  59. Eleanor says,

    “I can understand how PoMo has gotten to be so popular among well-heeled and often childless urbanites who actually live in constructed realities (cities) and who have the wherewithall to create the illusion that they are in control of their lives. But out here on the farm, as I look out my window, the reality I see (perceive) is constructed by nature; and, having produced two children, I have to say that nothing disabuses one of disembodiment any faster than pregnancy.”

    Eleanor, I know that what you’ve posted here, and what you’ve written elsewhere, could be a very deep, wide-ranging discussion that encompasses moral philosophy, feminism, sociology, urban studies, biology, etc., Many rich areas for discussion here, which I cannot do justice to right now. To do justice to this conversation would require, I think, something in person… if either of us could bear it (lol!) But I’m afraid that my hugely EMBODIED state is undergoing a form Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that makes it difficult for me to DO very much, and makes what usable time I have a precious opportunity to turn other creative work—such as pursuing MY OWN writing project on Michael Jackson.

    A few points, however. In grad school, where I studied for my M.F.A., we were “schooled” in fifty or a hundred different forms or manifestations of something called “Postmodernism.” I’d like to caution you against flattening the whole postmodern “moment” (which I am NOT advocating, by the way), by painting all of it with the same brush. In the first place, you are reifying “postmodernism” into a solid THING. Making a solid, unified THING (a ‘bloc”) out of a complex, multi-tentacles phenomenon like “postmodernism” (which doesn’t really EXIST as such), better enables you to do battle with “it,” —an historical and social development that you think is fundamentally wrong, unhealthy, destructive.

    “I don’t know everything
    But there’s something I do know (I know, I know)
    I’ve read and heard a lot
    And now I’m ready to show….

    (Name that tune!)

    From everything I’ve heard and read, in an out of school, “it” (“postmodernism”) can best be described as an approach, a mode of thinking, an attitude, etc., and even at times a set of *styles* that encompass every cultural manifestation: all of the arts, all of pop culture, the media, architecture, music, fashion, etc. etc., as well as ways of thinking about humanity’s place in nature and culture. Your own “school of thought” has taken all of this, clearly, to a very different level, and you have arrived at a different set of conclusions based on an initial premise. And so, you’re theorizing a multitude of ways that we members of the human species have gotten ourselves into “a fine mess.” I agree so far. We are in a MESS (as MJ eloquently puts it in “Earth Song”), and I agree that some fundamental shift is needed in our culture to alter our course so that we don’t head for further destruction.

    But that’s about as far as I can go with you on your journey either to celebrate Michael Jackson, or to “heal the world,” Eleanor. Beyond the simple recognition that the world does indeed require healing (or repair), we DISTINCTLY part ways, to nobody’s surprise, and diverge by at least 180 degrees as thinkers. (I cannot elaborate on that right now; maybe another time.)

    I want to point out one thing, though. While I tend to shy away from “labeling” anybody as an embodiment of this or that philosophy, or school of thought, even (sometimes) artistic movement—and while I Michael Jackson DID transcend categories in many ways—-one might STILL look at him through a certain lens and understand him a definite postmodernist (or postmodern phenomenon)—as are Madonna, Prince, and many, many of his contemporaries in the pop world.
    ________________________________

    “Our Bodies, Our Selves”

    The reality is that NONE of us are disembodied, Eleanor; nor do most of us WANT to be so. It doesn’t take bearing children, or living “in nature” to convince us that we have bodies. Any illness, any state of physical pain (or pleasure, for that matter) will bring that home to us right away. No amount of thought (“postmodern” or otherwise) will take our bodies away from us. No amount of theorizing about a proposed “post-feminist,” “post-gender,” or “postracial” society will make the very issues that feminism and antiracism sets out to address, go away. (Some have even proposed a “posthuman” identity—something that I’d like to find out more about.) But we are, as yet, a LONG way from that, no matter what PoMo ideas or Science Fiction films may tell us. We DO have bodies, and these bodies vmake their claims upon us, and demand varying forms of justice from the world and from the kind of future we might want to imagine.

    As you pursue your line of thought, Eleanor, I urge you not to try to TAKE PEOPLE’S HUMANITY AWAY FROM THEM simply because they live differently from you (urban, childless), or because they think along different lines that you do. In our zeal to “change/save/heal the world,” we’d be well advised to tread carefully, lest we diss another person’s life experience and fail to consider—WITHOUT judgment, if possible—how that experience has formed them.

    I wish you well.

  60. Nina:

    Somewhere far above you said: “I’ll admit that my views have been abrasive to many who are Michael’s Jackson’s fans and followers. If I am to express them at all–in any way that authentically reflects the *BEST* of my thinking—I don’t know how I might contrive to soften what I have to say. I probably cannot. I’m thinking it’s best that I limit my participation in these venues to the briefest of comments, and leave it at that.”

    Again: “I’m thinking it’s best that I limit my participation in these venues to the briefest of comments, and leave it at that.”

    I meant no disparagement of you when I complemented Eleanor. Your insights are invaluable and I learn so much from every one of them. So please, please continue to discourse with any and all of the contributors here. Please don’t “soften what [you] have to say.” Please continue to instigate, incite, provoke, agitate, excite, stir up, whip up, encourage, and urge us with everything you’ve got. Please continue to point and counterpoint.

    Same goes for every passionate one of you here.

    1. Well said. I learn a lot from the debates here. And as my husband says, a forum without at least some controversy is a forum without life. Much of the current debate has helped me to rethink and refocus my direction for the next post on this topic.

  61. Hi Ara, Thanks for hanging in there to the bitter end and thanks for the individual and collective encouragement.

    I always learn a lot from these debates, especially from Nina (this time I picked up a new word, I think cisgender.

    And, your are right, passion is good.

  62. Nina Y F says, “Well, what program did you use to ferret out those few words from a 124-page book, I wonder? Skimming a text in order to play “gotcha!” with the author isn’t the same as reading for comprehension and knowledge. Sorry. I see nothing here. I’m moving on.”

    Wow, I’d better get that “program” to market and make a billion or two. It managed to “ferret out” phrases and subjects that were claimed not to exist.

    I wonder, do you defend Manning’s book because she’s a white female academic, a class that you clearly feel is unfairly maligned (especially by me)? Or do you believe she’s right about Michael Jackson? One thing programs can’t do just yet is discern the tone of a text. Contempt for Michael drips from Ms. Mannings’ slender volume. I’m astonished that any so-called fan of Michael’s would think that this book is an honest investigation of his art or life. If he were not dead, he would have grounds to sue.

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