Susan Fast's "Dangerous": A Review (Part 3-"Desire")

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen: “Tell her to stop.”

Michael: “She won’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

earth song11

earth song13

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

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

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

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

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

they don't care about us2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

133 thoughts on “Susan Fast's "Dangerous": A Review (Part 3-"Desire")”

    1. Thanks gertrude, I’m just glad to finally have it up! It was starting to look like the post I was never going to finish!

  1. Thank you very much for that great review, very interesting to read!
    I’ve just got an idea to this part:

    >>I have told the story before of a male friend of mine who was convinced that Michael Jackson wore womens’ clothes. I asked him where he got such a ridiculous notion-if anything, Michael’s public style, including his vast array of military jackets, were the epitome of “masculine.”<<

    Your friend may have been not completely wrong, because at least during the time of This Is It, he wore (not a blouse..but) jackets from the Balmain collection – for women. I remember reading that story from Rushka Bergman, who was his stylist since 2007. She told, that these jackets fitted perfect to his slim body. I don't know how to post a photo here, but we all know one of those pics of Michael wearing this red leather jacket with the ankh on one shoulder, or an other black military style jacket during some This Is It footage. They came from that Balmain women collection. So those jackets were still military style, as we are used to see on him, but they were designed for women. (The interesting thing is, that he wore this Balmain collection first, and after his passing you could see many „famous“ women wearing such jackets.)

    And there's an other very interessting article by Susan Fast, where she touches on Michael's vitiligo a little bit more. It's called 'DIFFERENCE THAT EXCEEDED UNDERSTANDING: REMEMBERING MICHAEL JACKSON (1958-2009) by Susan Fast (Popular Music and Society, Vol. 33 No. 2, May 2010)
    In case you haven't read this, there's a link to an amazon customer review and someone put that whole article in there. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/forum/michael%20jackson?cdForum=Fx11O5ZOFFEMUQ4&cdThread=Tx1RROR6PFJXBLG

    And there's perhaps an interesting statement to the theory that Michael was going for „an intentionally “ethereal” and “luminous” appearance“, made by Nick Brandt (director of the short films for Childhood, Earth Song, Stranger in Moscow, Cry, One More Chance). In an interview with the last issue of Black And White Magazine (Le Numéro Ultime, 2009), he talked about the lightning in those videos (especially Earth Song, Childhood, SIM), and that he sometimes didn't like it. He said, 'Michael always wanted to be overexposed, he wanted strong headlights on his face, to conceal some details of his face.' Michael insisted on that kind of lightning, even if Brandt didn't like it, because he thought it didn't always go with the concept, the set or the mood of the short film. (Black And White – Le Numéro Ultime, 2009) So Michael really went for an intentionally “ethereal” and “luminous” appearance during that time, even in his short films.

    1. I think that, based on her previous piece, while she may believe that Michael had vitiligo, as confirmed by the autopsy, deep down, Susan Fast thinks he induced it deliberately. That he wanted white skin, and vitiligo made a convenient excuse. I also think that she believes that, if he was sexual at all, he wasn’t really an ordinary heterosexual man. I disagree strongly with her basic view of Michael, which makes it difficult for me to seriously entertain some of her opinions. Ms. Fast, with the best will in the world, seems very detached from African American life and culture.

      For example, the idea of the “Pinkster King”. I’ve been black a long time, with a deep interest in African American history and customs, and I’ve never heard of this. A Google search revealed that it’s a regional custom, confined to one small area of New York state. While this is interesting info – you learn a little something every day – it really has no connection to Michael Jackson, and little influence on black dandyism in general. (I asked a few friends and none of them had heard of it either.) Black men tend to enjoy looking sharp and au courant, and white elected officials, who are seldom fashion icons, don’t figure in the equation.

      I could go on, but right now, I’m interested in what others have to say.

      1. I was glad to see her at least acknowledge it, because this was one of the few things that really troubled me about the book. I do agree with her that his explanation during the Oprah interview was vague (obviously, even then, he didn’t really want to discuss it; it was Oprah who pushed the issue) but, for me, seeing the photos, the autopsy report, combined with his own testimony and what I know from personal conversations with people who knew him, have been more than enough to convince me. Like you, I still don’t get a firm sense of what her own, personal position is-perhaps, in her view, that is irrelevant. Her expertise is as a music scholar, and most of her analysis of Michael is more about looking at the broader picture of how he was viewed/perceived culturally, which, of course, requires the ability to encompass many views-some of which she may or may not personally agree with. But in passages like this, it becomes quite clear that she embraces the theory of Michael using his face as “art”:

        “While the world has mostly looked at Jackson’s facial transformations as pathological, a combination of deep-seated hatred of his appearance with a desire to remain forever impossibly young, it is interesting to note that, after his death, his dermatologist commented that Jackson thought of his face as a work of art. Perhaps this was a feeble attempt to cast a more positive light on the matter, but perhaps we should contemplate this idea further: if Jackson’s plastic surgery were re-contextualized as a form of performance art, such as that by Orlan (whose 1990s “The Reincarnation of Saint- Orlan” involved a series of plastic surgeries) would we be celebrating him as “avant- garde” instead of “troubled”? A few scholars-Kobena Mercer, Michael Awkward, David Yuan-have offered readings of Jackson’s facial transformations that move in the direction of this kind of analysis, not quite calling it “art,” but suggesting that his face became a constantly changing mask, a surface on which he wrote his celebrity that went far beyond what would have been necessary to understand him as white. Scholars barely scratched the surface of these issues and they stopped writing about them long before Jackson’s death; the last decade or so of his life has not been considered at all.”

        I think there is some truth to this (Lisa Marie also said in the Diane Sawyer interview that Michael saw his face as a work of art, when Sawyer was grilling them about plastic surgery, which seems to partially, at least confirm the theory that it wasn’t “all” just about being insecure with his looks). She is right, of course, in stating that this adds a new layer of complexity to the narrative: It takes away the stigma of “victimhood” and places him more squarely within the realm of avant-garde.

        I wouldn’t argue that she probably IS detached from African American life and culture, for just as anyone who isn’t born into a culture, she can only study it from an outsider’s perspective. To her credit, she acknowledges when she is speaking of areas for which she has no real authority. I think what she is trying to do is to analyze, and in some cases, deconstruct a lot of the prevailing myths and narratives about Michael while, at the same time, acknowledging how and why those (often) erroneous narratives took root. Those are not easy waters to traipse without getting into controversial territories, but I don’t think she is trying to draw any foregone conclusions one way or another; only to encourage those who have held to these narratives to take a closer look and reexamine them. I don’t know what are her personal views on Michael’s sexuality. She states in the book that Michael insisted he was straight and that there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. I thought that was a pretty effective way to frame the discussion; after all, any diehard fanatic protestations of “He was straight; he was a “normal, red blooded guy, and that’s that” etc” are not going to carry much weight with serious scholars, critics, and neutral readers who may be interested in Michael’s music and cultural legacy, but very little invested interest in whether he was straight, gay, or something else. What I appreciate more is the fact that she does seriously acknowledge him as a sexual being and performer, and rips into a lot of the “asexual” nonsense that has prevailed for so long-too long. We can’t deny that the fact that women all over the globe were swooning for him while the media continued to sell the narrative of a “beast” and a “disfigured freak.” Those things do bear the question of “Why?” and I think where Fast excels best is in analyzing those answers, which seems to be the approach of much of her discussion on Michael and sexuality: What the fans perceived vs. the cultural narrative, and getting to the heart of those complex issues. Her position, stated firmly, is that it is time for these critics, scholars, and cultural analysts to take a serious look at what Michael’s fans have been saying for decades. Between the lines, it seems to me that she DOES find Michael quite sexual and physically attractive (indeed, there are times when she can’t quite keep her “fan girl” side from bubbling over) but is aware that the attraction is not one based on normative concepts of masculinity or what has traditionally defined masculinity, at least in our society. That, to me, seems to be the heart of her arguments.

        As per the discussion of the “Pinkster King” that derives from Monica Miller, whom Fast quotes as a source on black dandyism (most of that passage is simply quoting and paraphrasing the Miller source). To be fair, the passage is far more detailed than what I was able to do justice to here, but I don’t think it is implying that Michael was directly or consciously influenced by the “Pinkster kings.” (And you’re right, a festival relegated to a small area of New York State during the 1800’s would have had little bearing on Michael, a boy growing up in the midwest in mid twentieth century). I think that passage has more to do with attempting to create a historical context for Michael’s over the top, syncretic style that evolved. But his own, personal style was probably a mixture of many influences.

        1. I have seen fans become uncomfortable about Fast’s discussion of the queer theory thinking she’s trying to suggest something about Michael’s sexuality with that, but that’s not what it is when you read it in context and when you read a little bit about what queer theory means for scholars.

          1. Here is a rather humorous piece on “queer theory: and what it means:

            http://www.critical-theory.com/what-the-fuck-is-queer-theory/

            This passage was quite funny, but accurate:

            “The ideas we have in our head about what constitutes male-ness, female-ness, and what constitutes “normal” are all socially constructed. As Hennessy Youngman reminds us, it’s like your father who tells you all these stories when you’re young. What’s good, what’s evil, etc. And then queer theory comes along and is like “fuck your father, fuck his narratives, and fuck his essential structures“…in bed. Queer theory explains that we are constantly performing these narratives and structures of male-ness, female-ness, straight-ness, normal-ness, etc. When you get up in the morning, put on a skirt, and desperately try to find a husband before your overbearing mother considers you a failure, you’re taking part in a production of power in which we’re all implicated.”

          2. “When you get up in the morning, put on a skirt, and desperately try to find a husband before your overbearing mother considers you a failure, ”

            LOL, queerness be damned , I think this is the MO of 99% of girls and women , not because of mom , but by their own choice.
            There are people who are very comfortabe in those social constructs.

          3. Queerness has its roots in the LGBT movement and though it has evolved into an umbrella term for anyone who does not want to be confined to any cathegory (political, gender, race etc) it is still very much associated with gender and sexuality . Hence the reference of Fast and others to Michaels so called gender ‘fluidity” , ambiguity , transcendence etc for conduct and use of attributes that are considered feminine .
            Imo anyone can label themself queer, but its not up to others to label someone else queer.( a contradictio in terminus )

        2. “He was straight; he was a “normal, red blooded guy, and that’s that” etc” are not going to carry much weight with serious scholars, critics, and neutral readers who may be interested in Michael’s music and cultural legacy, but very little invested interest in whether he was straight, gay, or something else.”

          But most of the scholars who write about Michael are downright obsessed with his body and his sexuality, with his music almost an afterthought. Many of them exhibit no interest in his performing career whatsoever, and in their writings, there’s no evidence that they ever saw him perform. They appear enthralled with the tabloid image, and use it to validate their fields of interest, especially queer theory. I don’t put Fast in that category as she is a musician and pop music scholar, but many of those compelled to write about Michael are neither.

          I don’t find the Panther Dance shocking; maybe I just don’t know enough about self-gratification. Practically speaking, wouldn’t it be hard to mime jerking off through clothing? Perhaps Michael rubbed because of that, and not because he wanted to be provocatively female. Because of the image of black men as hypersexual, maybe white viewers found the sight of MJ touching himself disconcerting, and perhaps disturbingly arousing. Baseball players routinely grab their crotches more than Michael ever did. At any rate, his ‘reaction’ to the Crazy Fan in Munich pretty much shows you all you need to know about his sexuality.

          Like many others, Fast doesn’t separate the onstage Michael from offstage Michael. There was nothing dandyish about him offstage. He usually wore black tailored pants and a red or black longsleeved shirt. What he wore onstage was costume. (During This Is It rehearsals, he was playing around with the Balmain jackets – and Rushka Bergman, too, I suspect! – and he apparently had no intentions of wearing Zaldy’s impractical outfits.)

          Like many women, I really enjoy experimenting with makeup. I can watch Youtube makeup gurus for hours, and I also consider my made up face a work of art. But avant garde? Not in the least. Michael’s skin condition required him to develop cosmetic strategies to deal with it. But the guy was a great singer, not a performance artist. His makeup and hairdos were elements of his art, not the art itself.

          That Billy Squier video is as tragic as it is funny. It doesn’t work because it’s obvious that, besides the bad staging and his lack of dancing talent, he doesn’t believe in what he’s doing. He gave up his agency as an artist to put over somebody else’s vision, and ended up looking foolish. Michael always believed in what he was doing, even when other people didn’t, like insisting on Billie Jean on Thriller.

          1. “Practically speaking, wouldn’t it be hard to mime jerking off through clothing? Perhaps Michael rubbed because of that, and not because he wanted to be provocatively female.”

            This may be a big part of it, in the sense that he wanted it to be something sensual (implied) rather than something disgustingly graphic. It may very well have not been “consciously” feminine, and again, I think that is where we have to be careful about trying to reach foregone conclusions about Michael’s “intentions.” Just because we might surmise that it LOOKED more like female auto erotic play doesn’t mean, of course, that this was his intent. But I think what may have been somewhat shocking to some is, again, the fact that he just seemed so darn comfortable and natural doing it. There was absolutely none of the awkwardness that made the Billy Squirer video so pathetic and thus, hilarious. Maybe this goes back to exactly why so many seemed to view Michael’s brand of eroticism as a threat.

          2. ..and maybe one more reason why it all looks so so darn comfortable and natural, is because he simple had a very good physical feeling… as a dancer he just knew how to move his body elegant and sensual… or in any other way, depending on what he wanted to express with his dance.

          3. Do you think that using an auto in the auto erotic scene was a visual pun?

            I am never going to look at sexy women selling cars the same way again.

    2. I did not know that about the Balmain collection. I will have to go back and re-read those interviews from Rushka! (Let’s not let my friend see this; he still thinks I won the bet, lol!). A lot of military looks in womens’ fashions have actually been inspired BY Michael.

      Thanks for the link. I will read it and get back with you regarding my thoughts on it.

      ETA: Please refer to my reply to Simba. I posted my reactions to the article there.

    3. Martina, the “Difference that Exceeded Understanding” article by Susan Fast can be found here:

      http://z3.ifrm.com/432/80/0/p314858/Exceed_Understanding.pdf

      I was the one who posted the article on the amazon.com MJ discussion forum (where I’ve been involved in altogether too many debates about Michael’s sexuality, etc. ).

      Do you have access to an English translation of the Nick Brandt interview? I think the “Black and White” magazine is published in French, isn’t it?

  2. Great review, Raven! Lots of ground for discussion here. It’s been a while since I read Fast’s book so glad that you go into such depth. I wonder if that story from Karen Faye is true–if so, wow, that Naomi was pretty brazen! Not that I blame her!! Maybe she was trying to get him in the mood but it seems it had the opposite effect–I can actually see him being uncomfortable with her ‘less than subtle’ invitation.
    Thanks to Martina for the info from the Brandt interview. Re MJ wanting his face overexposed to hide flaws in his face–he had acne scars so that could have been part of it.
    Re Simba’s comments–I recently came across this video discussing his commitment to African and African-American culture in his work and life. It puts the various questions about race into context:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LN7yxYcUgHk

    1. I think the story is most likely true, although it may have been embellished somewhat. Karen Faye is a polarizing figure among the fan community but regardless, she was there on the scene and was as close to Michael as anyone. I’m just not sure I buy the idea of Michael acting like some petulant kid who couldn’t fend off advances for himself, but who knows, maybe it is true. However, I think KF always had a “thing” for Michael (that she often seemed jealous of other women around him is not exactly secret) and sometimes he was known to use that to his advantage to “play” her against other women (like he did with her and Lisa Marie) so I could also very well see him telling her that stuff about Naomi just to get a rise out of her.

      Thanks for the video link! This is a relatively recent posting, so it doesn’t have a lot of views yet. I will also share it on FB and Twitter. More fans need to see it!

      As per this discussion, I was also thinking of a recent conversation I overheard between two black colleagues at work. The topic was apparently black celebrities who had “turned their backs” on the black community or who didn’t want to be black. I wasn’t part of the conversation; merely an eavesdropper because I was working at my desk while they were talking, but I couldn’t help growing hot under the collar when I heard one of them bring up the name “Michael Jackson.” It was the usual dribble; how Michael didn’t want to be black, etc etc. One of the women went on to say he was not someone she would ever care to have met. Naturally, I listened without butting in for as long as I could stand it, but I couldn’t abide by that conversation without interjecting my own thoughts. One of the two women was far more obstinate in her views than the other. I challenged her and asked on what grounds did she base those notions? All she could say was, “Black people just know.” That wasn’t a very convincing argument, especially coming from a scholar. We debated back and forth for awhile. I brought up just about every point I could think of, including many of the facts discussed in this video. We discussed Michael and vitiligo (like many, she isn’t sure she believes he had it). We discussed the Harlem speech (she said she would look it up and listen to it; I don’t know if she ever followed through). But her opinion was basically that Michael was just someone who turned to the black community when his chips were down and he needed their support. There is only so much you can do to persuade an individual that their long-held beliefs might be wrong, especially when every counter point you bring up is stonewalled by “Black people just know.” (Apparently, in her opinion she speaks for the entire race!). As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t mean he will drink. However, that conversation was a prime example to me that there are, to this day, many African-Americans who, just as much as whites, have been misinformed and brainwashed by the media distortions. There remains a prevailing myth of Michael as a race traitor, or at the very least, as someone who wasn’t happy in his skin. Furthermore, some, like this woman, are so steeped in those long held beliefs that there is no challenging them. Or, perhaps, it is a distrust of those challenges coming from people who are not African-American, which could be part of it, as well (as her oft repeated comeback phrase, “Black people just know” was clearly meant to infer and affirm my “outsider” status; in her view, apparently, I was arguing against something I wasn’t qualified to argue). But at any rate, all of the evidence to the contrary is out there, if one wants to bother to search it out. Michael’s own words and speeches, his lyrics; the many, extensive and profound articles that have been written by African-American scholars and prominent writers on Michael’s cultural importance to African-Americans and how much he gave back to the black community; videos like this, etc and so on, are all out there. There HAS been a definite paradigm shift in the view of Michael as a “race traitor” but it has not come overnight and there are still some, as evidenced by this conversation, who still hold strongly to that view. Sometimes I think people just continue to believe what they want to believe because it’s easier than having their ideas challenged. I can only hope that she will follow through on the resources I gave her and maybe come to her own conclusions, but sadly, some people’s minds are already closed and I have a feeling she is one of them.

      1. Glad you watched and liked that video, Raven–I thought it was so convincing and really put the evidence out there. I liked the intro where Geraldine Hughes says the tabloid media tried to separate MJ from the African-American and African community. When I watched the video and the evidence of his close ties to Africa and African-American culture just kept mounting, I thought to myself–how did this belief that he had rejected his race ever become such a big issue ?? Boggles the mind. Michael often said he didn’t like labels but it seemed that people were uncomfortable looking at someone without labels, so they just stuck them on him regardless. They just couldn’t conceive that he could have a white face and still be part of black culture–skin color was a defining characteristic. No doubt racism was large part of this effort to strip him of his roots (as well as selling papers), and there was a racist appeal in the ‘he wanted to be white’ subtext. If people still believe this, it is sad and contrary to the evidence.

        Although MJ did not open up about his vitiligo til the 93 Oprah interview, he had already made major statements on race artistically, as the video discusses. But I guess it was too indirect for some and so when he did say “I have vitiligo,” he wasn’t believed–it was–“Oh, yeah, sure.”

        1. African Americans see people with vitiligo often enough to know that Michael’s skin condition was real. I think it was his marriage that made black people question his racial allegiance. His marriage to Debbie Rowe. LMP had her own name and millions of dollars, and was very attractive. The King of Pop marrying Elvis’ daughter sort of made sense. But Debbie didn’t appear to bring much to the table – we didn’t know their history. We couldn’t understand why he would marry a plain office assistant, when he could have almost any beautiful woman in Hollywood, especially a black woman. He could have had Madonna, for heaven’s sake, if he just had to have a white woman. Because that’s what it looked like – Michael wanted a white woman, and any old white woman would do. We thought he was laying his hard-earned fortune, much of it from loyal black fans, at the feet of a woman just because she was white. That turned off a lot of black folks, and called his loyalty and common sense into question.

          1. That actually was a point that was brought up in our discussion, and I think it is a valid point (and, we might add, one that could also include quite a few prominent and successful black celebrities, not just Michael!). He did have some affairs/romances with black women, from what I have gathered, but most of these, with perhaps the exception of Stephanie Mills and Diana Ross (whom he WAS smitten with, undeniably, whether there was ever actually anything physical between them or not) were very lowkey. Most of the women he was publicly associated with throughout his career-Brooke Shields, Tatum O’Neal, Lisa Marie, Debbie, etc-were all white. That led to us having a whole, subtopic discussion about the concept of black men and the “white trophy” wife/girlfriend thing (which, as already stressed, was certainly not unique to Michael). I can certainly understand where a lot of the questions of his loyalty arose from, especially if one is not well versed in their MJ knowledge beyond what they hear in the media. After all, many people STILL, to this day, don’t realize he had a skin disease. I still hear references to “he bleached his skin,” etc. Then there is the whole question of the surgeries; the wives; the kids who “look white” and so on.

          2. I recall reading that DR was initially a surrogate…that she was ‘outed’ by a friend and that his mother was instrumental in the marriage…the original intent was privacy and not for public knowledge.

          3. I tend to believe that. I don’t think it was ever a “real” marriage, that is, in the sense that he fell in love with her and wanted to have a union with her. They were good friends, obviously. But I think he mostly used her to make Lisa jealous.

          4. Well, Debbie agreed to give him a child, something LMP didn’t want to do, or at least at that time. I think he and LMP could have sustained their marriage had the subject of children not been so very important to Michael. He wanted his own children. His friend Debbie agreed to carry a child for him, but I don’t think he would have married her if his mother hadn’t pressured him into doing so. Always, oftentimes to his detriment, the dutiful son.

          5. Michael was never publically associated with Debbie Rowe before the leak of her pregnancy and I dont think by any stretch of the word she was ever considered a trophee. The ‘using’ was Mutual . DR said herself that she nagged Michael to have his kids while Michael was still married and there was nothing charitable or unconditional about the’ gift’. She just took advantage of the situation and so did Michael.

          6. So he could marry a famous, wealthy, beautiful white woman like LMP or Madonna and not arouse any suspicions that he was losing his race allegiance but not Debbie b/c she was not a celeb and not beautiful. She was a plain Jane and not rich, talented, etc. You know, I never heard that expressed before. I can see where people were saying, ‘Debbie who?’

            Debbie was quite pretty when he married her and they had known each other for many years, but I can see where people were confused about this 2nd marriage.

            Do you think it was his prominence and fame that made people expect he would marry someone like Madionna or LMP and not just a more average but cute woman?

          7. “Do you think it was his prominence and fame that made people expect he would marry someone like Madonna or LMP and not just a more average but cute woman?”

            Absolutely. On the rare occasions when big stars marry ‘civilians’ , they’re usually spectacularly beautiful, with amazing bodies, great “arm candy” for the red carpet. Kanye West with Kim Kardashian makes sense. Despite her notoriety, she’s very pretty, and very, very rich. If he left her and immediately married a plain – faced white waitress, everybody, not just black people, would find that hard to understand.

  3. Re the Sawyer interview when she asks ‘are you doing anything, etc to change the color of your skin” etc, it’s true LMP says, “he resculpted himself. He’s an artist,” but MJ himself says something very different. He says, “It creates itself–nature,” and when Sawyer continues with, “Do you wish you were the color you were?” he gets a bit challenging with her. He folds his arms across his chest and repeats ‘do I wish I was the color I was before?’ and answers, “You have to ask nature that.” The section starts around 4:30.

    I can see where the ‘he created his face as an artistic statement’ comes from, but when he refers to ‘nature’ as the one who made the decision, he obviously is referring to the vitiligo he did not choose. He pretty much had to start using make-up or look like a washed out ghost.

    Maybe LMP was referring to the chin cleft he added to his face, which is something he never hid, as well as changing his nose with the 2 rhinoplasties he acknowledged.

    1. Their very different reactions/responses to the question are interesting. Very soon I want to do an in-depth analysis of that interview, because there are a lot of interesting things that came out of it both from him AND her.

      With a lot of Michael’s answers in that interview, I got the sense that he wanted (or needed) to say more, but Diane Sawyer was continuously cutting him off, or steering the conversation in another direction. I hate when interviewers do that. Sometimes it is understandably due to time constraints, but more often, it seems a way of controlling the subjects so that the interviewer’s agenda is met.

      It is very possible that Michael and Lisa were both telling different versions of the truth. While the vitiligo was an act of nature, the surgeries on the other hand were by choice. I think the point that Fast was making is that, if we buy into the narrative so long hyped by Taraborelli and the tabloids (that Michael hated his looks; wanted to eradicate his father’s features, and so forth) that is playing up the “victim” mentality, whereas the (admittedly revolutionary) idea that, just maybe, it was conscious design because he was using his body and face as a work of art, it puts Michael squarely back in control, not as an insecure victim but as an avant-garde artist who was in control and knew exactly what he was doing. I am not sure if either version is the complete truth. That Michael WAS insecure about his looks has been confirmed for me by several people who knew him. But as we can see from looking at examples like those pics from the ’95 Earth Song photo shoot, he was also someone who did have a very clear vision, at all times, of how he wanted to look and how he wanted to present himself.

      It’s true that, without makeup, he did look very washed out. A long time ago I did a post featuring all of the photos I could find of him without makeup (as an adult, post vitiligo). There aren’t many, but in the few that exist, his features are most definitely “washed out.” His lips had no color, and without eye makeup to define them, his eyes (so startlingly dark against that pale skin) did give him a rather ghostly look. So the makeup, for sure, did become a necessity. However, I believe that over time, as KF said, he also learned to like it, and to like playing with it. In his mature years, I thought he looked much more handsome without it-or at least when it wasn’t so heavy handed.

      1. “Very soon I want to do an in-depth analysis of that interview, because there are a lot of interesting things that came out of it both from him AND her.”

        I agree–and would love to see you do a post on it with an in-depth analysis! I too hate the way Sawyer controls and dominates the interview and keeps cutting off both MJ and LMP. So rude. Also why did she keep asking questions re the settlement etc when she knew he was under a legally binding agreement not to talk about the terms of the settlement?

        1. Journalists are always looking for that juicy tidbit-that golden nugget sound byte, if you will-that is going to boost their ratings and score them a coup. That’s why people like Oprah always bring up the molestation accusations with every interview she does, even when it’s family and close friends (the ones who pretty much give the same response every time). They’re always hoping for a chink in the armor; that they might catch someone with their guard down. I think that is exactly why they do this.

  4. A little bit a side issue but talking about women’s attraction to the feminine. I read not long ago a statistic by PornHub about what is the most watched kind of porn by women and by men. What do you think women watched the most? Lesbian porn. It makes it even more interesting that the second most watched genre by women was male gay porn. I thought that was interesting. I don’t know if psychologists will analyze this data and make some conclusion about whether it means something about the female psyche and sexuality.

    1. That is actually not surprising. Straight porn’s target audience is (and always has been) men, and there is usually nothing sensual about it whatsoever. Firstly, because they assume that the women are the real objects of attraction, most of the guys they put in those films are butt ugly (God forbid they should put an attractive man in there; that might be too threatening for the average, male Joe watching!). Guys generally get selected for those films for one reason and one reason only-the size of their member. But really ugly, unattractive men can be hung like a horse, lol. There is no real attraction for women in that. Additionally, the sex acts in those films are all about getting to base as quickly as possible, and usually in the crudest way possible (I personally don’t know any woman who finds the idea of pile-driving sexy).

      The turn to lesbian and gay porn is often because the straight porn industry has given us few alternatives. In gay porn, the men are the objects of desire-and tend to be far more attractive than the hairy beasts (ugh!) of straight porn. Women, same as men, like being able to see attractive men, and often it is only gay porn that provides them. Lesbian porn, likewise, often features very attractive women engaging in very sensual sex acts-the kind that actually turn most women on. Even for a straight woman, it can be more arousing to watch two, beautiful women loving each other sensually than to watch a man pile driving a girl while she hangs upside down and he grabs her hair like a caveman.

      Men and women, as we’ve known since time immemorial, are simply wired differently, but the straight porn industry has always been one that has catered to the tastes of the average straight male. I think this is why women have looked for other alternatives-and, not surprisingly, have tended to find it more often in gay erotica.

  5. Thanks Raven for this fantastic blog. I loved Susan’s book, and I am very much enjoying your review blogs and all the comments on them. It is just great that at last we are getting away from all the tabloid drivel, and delving into Michael’s music and art in all it forms – his face and body included – the way I believe he intended us to do.

    Thanks also for the fantastic photos which I always add to my growing collection of this beautiful man. Like you, I very much like his more ‘mature’ looks, but that is partly because I came to him after his death and worked my way backwards so to speak. It is often hard for me to think of Michael as a ‘black’ man because he was ‘white’ when I first saw him, and for me he is truly neither black or white, and really in the long run neither of them matters so much, because he is just gorgeous Michael whenever whatever.

    1. Michael Jackson was never ‘white’. He was never “neither black or white”. Whatever his skin color, he was forever a black American, as he stated unequivocally. If one truly wants to understand his art, and his treatment by the justice system, it’s important to remember that he was a proud black man, beset by those who resented his pride, hated his blackness, and were threatened by his manhood. Context is everything.

    2. Thanks, Caro! I’m glad you enjoy the pics I choose. I “save” every MJ photo I run across, so over the years I’ve amassed quite a collection.

      As per the “black” or “white” issue and, also, in response to Simba’s comment, I have found over the years that many fans often do refer to Michael in terms of “black Michael” and “white” Michael. I think most people do so unthinkingly because it’s not like anyone is trying to say he stopped being African-American and turned to being a white guy. I think for many it’s just a convenient way to label him in terms of eras, since his outward appearance DID change so drastically. But I can certainly understand why referring to “white” Michael would be offensive to African-Americans. Probably the more accurate and appropriate term would be to refer to it as Michael’s post-vitiligo era, which I often do. And, of course, often we simply refer to Michael in terms of eras-“Bad” era, “Dangerous” era, “HIStory” era, and so on. Because his look is so distinct to each of those eras, most fans instantly know what “look” is being referred to. I suppose it is one way to circumvent the problematic and offensive tendency to use race as a descriptor.

      But interestingly enough, there was an interview conducted with a young African-American girl at a memorial for Michael shortly after he died. (I wish I could find that interview again; I’ve looked everywhere for it!). The girl was probably about ten years old. The reporter asked her which of Michael’s many looks she preferred, and her answer (with all a child’s innocence) was, “I liked him when he was white, and his hair was long.” Then she added, “My mother liked him when he was black.”

      I thought that it was very sweet, and showed how innocent and non-judgmental children can be when it comes to race-an issue that adults have made so very complex.

      1. The girl was probably about ten years old. The reporter asked her which of Michael’s many looks she preferred, and her answer (with all a child’s innocence) was, “I liked him when he was white, and his hair was long.” Then she added, “My mother liked him when he was black.”

        Strange question from a reporter, and disrespectful to boot. If that little girl really was as old as ten, she couldn’t have been very bright. If she were my kid, I’d have been embarrassed.

        1. I’m not sure if his intent was disrespectful. He didn’t ask her if she preferred “black” or “white” Michael. The way he basically worded it, if memory serves me, was which time period of Michael’s looks did she like the best. Granted, that may well have been his underlying motivation for the question. But it was the child who volunteered the “when he was ‘white’ answer. I think it was just because it was the easiest way she probably knew to differentiate early era Michael from latter era Michael. If the child’s family had never discussed the issue of his vitiligo with her (which is quite likely) it was probably the only way she knew to articulate that he looked different at different times in his life. Many young kids have only grown up with Michael from the Dangerous era onward, unlike the kids of my generation who grew up with the Jackson 5 all the way up through Off The Wall and Thriller. I’ve heard many fans say that they tend to have an attachment to the Michael era they grew up with. There is probably some truth to that.

          1. If Jennifer Grey had just died, and some reporter asked a kid if they preferred her ‘look’ before or after her nose job, that would be disrespectful. It’s got nothing to do race. For a black kid as old as ten to say something as stupid as the girl in your story is shameful. But then TV reporters always try to find unpresentable, inarticulate black people for sound bites. That reporter might have talked to a hundred smart kids before he got the dumb ass reply he or she was looking for.

      2. Yes Raven – you have worded it perfectly. Of course Michael was an African-American and very proud of it, I certainly am not saying that he wasn’t, but there was so much more to him than that. He went way beyond his own culture and roots. He travelled the world extensively and explored its peoples and cultures throughout his whole life. He has millions of fans, probably in every country of all colours and cultures who loved/love him because he was/is Michael.

        From his songs and other writings I get the impression that he felt himself to be a citizen of the world, where as he wrote early on in his life, “the blood inside of me is the blood inside of you”. I saw him for the very first time in This Is It in 2010 – hard to believe I know, but I just wasn’t into pop music. There I saw this ‘white’ man who knocked my socks off. Only after 5 years of extensive research have I discovered so much more about this complex, and yet simple, man. Just highlights for me his ambiguity, which I don’t think can be denied, and which I do believe Michael in many ways cultivated once his skin tone started to change, and he could use his fame to get across his ideas and philosophy, which many obviously thought just as threatening as his skin colour!! I believe he did see this as an opportunity to explore deeper levels of being and did use his body as a ‘sculpture’ to express that, as well as in his writings. Michael Beardon on This Is It says that he “didn’t embrace colour”, and for a while I wondered what he meant by that remark, but now, knowing Michael better, I understand it.

        I understand this ambiguity, because as I get older, I feel deep inside myself that I don’t have a skin colour, or a race, or a gender, and as a white woman living in South Africa I know something about those things. I too like to think of myself as a citizen of the world, and as Michael advocates, we are indeed all one. What a more peaceful world we would live in, if we all embraced that philosophy.

        I truly believe that this was a large part of his message to us all, and why he is so popular all around the world. Yes of course he was a proud black man, but he was Michael who teaches us that there is so much more to a person than what shows up on the outside.

        Just to go back to In The Closet, I loved the part where you write Raven about Naomi Campbell coming up his body not having admired his shoes lol. There is another highly suggestive part where he is standing alone and licks his finger and heads it “down there” – nothing ambiguous about that I have to say!!!

  6. Yes indeed: context is everything.

    So when you read statements by some scholars, “he was neither black nor white; neither male nor female,” or, “he was both black and white, both male and female,” you should be able to glean—by the context—that the writer is referring to the way Michael Jackson was *perceived* by many of his spectators, or by other commentators.

    Greg Tate—whose writings elsewhere I’ve enjoyed—is an example of one black journalist who came forward with a rather harsh take on Michael’s changed appearance when the short film for “Bad” was first broadcast. Writing in the Village Voice (“I’m White!”), in the September 22, 1987 issue, Tate says:

    “There are other ways to read Michael Jackson’s blanched skin and disfigured African features than as signs of black self-hatred become self-mutilation. Waxing fanciful, we can imagine the-boy-who-would-be-white a William Gibson-ish work of science fiction: harbinger of a transracial tomorrow where genetic deconstruction has become the norm and Narcissism wears the face of all human Desire. Musing empathetic, we may put the question, whom does Mikey want to be today? The Pied Piper, Peter Pan, Christopher Reeve, Skeletor, or Miss Diana Ross? Our Howard Hughes? Digging into our black nationalist bag, Jackson emerges a casualty of America’s ongoing race war–another Negro gone mad because his mirror reports that his face does not conform to the Nordic ideal.

    “To fully appreciate the sickness of Jackson’s savaging of his African physiognomy you have to recall that back when he wore the face he was born with, black folk thought he was the prettiest thing since sliced sushi. (My own mother called Michael pretty so many time s I almost got a complex.) Jackson and I are the same age, damn near 30, and I’ve always had a love-hate thing going with the brother. When we were both moppets I envied him, the better dancer, for being able to arouse the virginal desires of my female schoolmates, shameless oglers of his (and Jermaine’s) tenderoni beefcake in 16 magazine. Even so, no way in those say-it-loud-I’m-black-and-I’m-proud days could you not dig Jackson heir to the James Brown dance throne. At age 10, Jackson’s footwork and vocal machismo seemed to scream volumes about the role of genetics in the cult of soul and the black sexuality of myth….

    “[….] Slavery, minstrelsy, and black bourgeoisie aspirations are responsible for three of the more pejorative notions about blacks in this country–blacks as property, as ethnographic commodities, and as imitation rich white people. Given this history, there’s a fine line between a black entertainer who appeals to white people and one who sells out the race in pursuit of white appeal [….] Needless to say, Michael Jackson has crossed so way far over the line that there ain’t no coming back–assuming through surgical transmutation of his face a singular infamy in the annals of tomming.”

    Read here:
    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2009/06/from_the_voice_2.php

    1. “So when you read statements by some scholars, “he was neither black nor white; neither male nor female,” or, “he was both black and white, both male and female,” you should be able to glean—by the context—that the writer is referring to the way Michael Jackson was *perceived* by many of his spectators, or by other commentators.”

      So in essence, they’re saying Michael wasn’t human, because no actual human being is black and/or white, male and/or female. (Honestly, has anyone, anywhere looked at Michael Jackson and thought he was female?)

      I think Greg Tate has Issues. His issues don’t interest me. But for those who may not know, every major black figure in culture and letters has been called an Uncle Tom, a coon, a race traitor, etc, at some time in their life and career, by some (jealous) black scholar or intellectual. Every last one, from the likes of Booker T. Washington, to MLK, to Ralph Ellison, to Oprah, to Barack Obama. And Michael Jackson. Crabs in a barrel syndrome, nothing more.

      1. Well, Simba, the crabs in a barrel syndrome applies across the board. So, while MLK, Booker T. Washington, Ralph Ellison, and Barack Obama may have been called “coons, Toms, race traitors” and whatnot by “scholars and intellectuals,” we need to remember that these people themselves (though I don’t know about Oprah) are scholars and intellectuals.

        Likewise, every major figure of *any* race or description—in culture or letters—has been said to “have issues.”

        It takes an exercise in imagination to hold in one’s mind the very good possibility—indeed, the *probability*—that a person may be both male and female, both black and white, AND ALSO be uniquely and irreducibly human.

        About fluid gender identities, you have insensitively dismissed Janet Mock’s experience of reality, as I’m sure you would Laverne Cox’s. This means that you “have issues.” And while you may not be interested in Greg Tate’s “issues,” I think you’d be well advised to deal with your own.

        1.  “So, while MLK, Booker T. Washington, Ralph Ellison, and Barack Obama may have been called “coons, Toms, race traitors” and whatnot by “scholars and intellectuals,” we need to remember that these people themselves (though I don’t know about Oprah) are scholars and intellectuals.”

          Are you saying that “scholars and intellectuals” have the right to disparage black leaders on racial grounds , just because they are scholars and intellectuals? For example, Dr. Cornel West, whom I previously admired, who seems bound and determined to make himself a horse’s ass with his over-the-top attacks on President Obama.

          “About fluid gender identities, you have insensitively dismissed Janet Mock’s experience of reality, as I’m sure you would Laverne Cox’s. This means that you “have issues.”

          This means I’m not delusional just because they are. Janet Mock is very insensitive toward actual women, and espouses the virtues of prostitution as a career for underage transgender youth. Laverne Cox championed the rights of a convicted murderer, who raped and tortured his victim, a thirteen year old girl, before killing her and burning her body. ( She had a name – Ebony Nicole Williams.) I really don’t care if I hurt their feelings by pointing out that, with the best surgery, hair and makeup in the world, they are still men. If the truth is an “issue”, I have no problem owning it.

          1. Okay, Simba. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are “still men.” Then it doesn’t matter how people describe themselves, or what they have to say about their own identities.

            Therefore, why don’t we all just go by our own unexamined assumptions? We’ll form our attitudes about people by noting a handful of the most superficial characteristics that we *perceive* about them. Although these perceptions may differ somewhat from one person to another, we’ll all fashion them out a culture that adamantly refuses to see anything or anyone in life outside of a binary system of description.

            Out of this received wisdom, then, we’ll form our obdurate views of who and what people are, in blatant disregard of the ways they articulate their own history and sense of identity.

            So: acording to this principle, why not allow that Michael Jackson was decidedly black at a certain points in his life and career—and subsequently became decidedly white?

            If we are to ignore what people have to say about themselves, then *why not* say that Michael was “both black and white” and “both male and female”? (Or does Michael Jackson somehow warrant a special exemption that other people do not?)

            I’m sorry if saying this “hurts his feelings.”
            _____________________________________
            Raven says,
            “Sometimes I think people just continue to believe what they want to believe because it’s easier than having their ideas challenged…..sadly, some people’s minds are already closed.”

            This is undeniably true, Raven.

          2. Michael Jackson never “became white”, never claimed to represent some kind of intersection between black and white, or male and female. If Mock and Cox, no pun intended, are exemplars of “gender fluidity”, Michael does not match the description. Vitiligo didn’t make him white any more than John Boehner’s perma-tan, and Iggy Azalea’s hood girl act make them black.

          3. Okay, Simba. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are “still men.” Then it doesn’t matter how people describe themselves, or what they have to say about their own identities.

            Imo it does matter how people describe THEMSELVES and their OWN identity, not how people describe others or other peoples identity , ergo it is not up to anyone to describe Michael Jackson and his identity , it only matters how he decribed himself. I never heard Michael describe HIMSELF as black nor white, man nor woman or in anyway ambiguous,. Unless someone can provide me with evidence from the man himself that says otherwise, the only way I ever heard him describe himself (as far as race culture nationality, gender and sexual preference) is as black, American , male and not gay .

            It seems beyond imagination that someone can identify as a black man, and still be a global icon and ‘get across his ideas and philosophy’, These things are not mutually exclusive.
            It would be sad if he could only achieve this by becoming nondescript or colourless ( which would still not change his culture or race).
            Why could Mandela as an unambiguosly black man get his message across worldwide as well as Kennedy as a white man and Michael cannot unless he is something ‘in the middle’
            It is ironic that if Michael had not been a black man the vitiligo would have gone almost unnoticed.

  7. Sorry to get so far off topic here….

    I should point out, though, that Greg Tate changed his tune not long after Michael’s death, when he was a panelist at a symposium that took place in September 2010, at Columbia College in Chicago, at the Center for Black Music Research. There, he did an about-face on the issue of Michael’s physical transformation; instead of capitulation, he spoke of it as a way for MJ to assert his power and defeat white supremacy. Here’s the abstract of his talk:

    Greg Tate, “The Alchemist: Michael Jackson and His Magical Pursuit of White Power”

    “No words summarize Michael Jackson’s life and career more than Transformation, Transmutation, and Transubstantiation. As a child of five, he was witnessed to be such a dazzling impersonator of James Brown that he pole-vaulted over his older brother Jermaine to take position as The Jackson 5’s lead singer. He was also the only person at the height of Brown’s career even capable of impersonating the Master. His ability to sing soul music with as much professionalism, passion, and proficiency as any adult star of the era marked him as more mutant than moppet. As his control over his career advanced in his teens, Jackson demonstrated that he could write, arrange, and produce hit material with as much savvy, originality, and enduring quality as any of the master composers he had worked with at Motown—Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson notwithstanding. What became increasingly clear after the phenomenal market triumphs of his solo albums Off The Wall and Thriller was that Jackson was not only musically ambitious but entrepreneurially driven as well. These desires were racially and economically motivated—in fact, like James Brown and Berry Gordy, he refused to distinguish between racial and personal status. An astute reader of the differences between how African Americans and other folk were positioned, promoted, and paid in the business, Jackson systematically went about equalizing the situation by any means necessary—be it at the bargaining table (where his special royalty rate inverted the monumental amount the record label typically extracted per units sold versus their artists, in Jackson’s favor) or through spending his own money for extravagant promotional state of the art videos which ranked with the production values of the best Hollywood films of the era. Jackson also lived a public life that deliberately exploited his eccentricity for publicity value so that he was covered in a way that few black entertainers are, unless there’s a criminal charge afoot. All these gestures were a deliberate and programmatic response to racist disparity in American entertainment and evidence of what I call will-to-mogul-power moves on Jackson’s part—all based on his clear assessment of the industry’s various ceilings on black accomplishment and recognition. What Jackson’s cosmetic surgery and adoption of white children demonstrate was the degree to which he was in pursuit of privilege, power, and remuneration on a level that would assure he was seen as more than equal to his white friends at the top of the food chain in the American movie business. This paper will explore those drives and examine the ways Jackson used his alchemical skills as a visionary performing shape-shifter and soul man to combat white supremacy through his own career and life, both professional and private.”

    Here’s the link to the “Genius Without Borders” symposium:

    http://www.colum.edu/cbmr/what_we_do/conferences/past/2010michaeljackson.html

    1. From Greg Tate:

      ” What Jackson’s cosmetic surgery and adoption of white children demonstrate was the degree to which he was in pursuit of privilege, power, and remuneration on a level that would assure he was seen as more than equal to his white friends at the top of the food chain in the American movie business.”

      This is Tate being nice? Adoption has a specific legal definition. If GT is claiming that Michael’s children are not only “white” but “adopted”, he’s going to have to produce some “receipts” – statements from those in a position to know, like lawyers, judges, or the children themselves. He’s got to produce paperwork, like birth certificates indicating a different father and mother. He can’t just drop that little passive-aggressive bomb and expect people to accept it as fact.

      While black babies appear to be fashionable accessories in Hollywood – I could list twenty white stars with adopted black children – it is darn near impossible in this country for black people to adopt white children. (Seal adopted Heidi Klum’s daughter Leni, although technically speaking, he didn’t have to.) Michael couldn’t just scoop kids up and claim them as his own. Maybe GT can explain how adopting white children gives a black man power in the entertainment business. It makes no sense to me.

      1. I juxtaposed both these two statements by Greg Tate to illustrate how his view of Michael Jackson’s relationship to white supremacy had shifted over a twenty-two year period.

        But you’d have to read the entire paragraph-long abstract of Tate’s 2009 talk, and considered the overarching meaning of what he was saying (especially in contrast to his 1987 article), to get this.

  8. If I were Joe and Katherine Jackson I would ask myself who the hell are these people talking about. Michaels children will probably think the same. As they lost their father at such a young age I wonder how confusing it must be for them and which of the many projections of Michael Jaksons they should believe was their father. It must be surreal to hear all these opinions about your child and father from people who never ever met him . To quote James Baldwin

    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. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…”

  9. Sina says,
    “Imo it does matter how people describe THEMSELVES and their OWN identity, not how people describe others or other peoples identity , ergo it is not up to anyone to describe Michael Jackson and his identity , it only matters how he decribed himself.”

    Sina, that was my very point; I hope you understand that I was being *sardonic* here (in reply to Simba’s statement about Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, who she considers “delusional”).

    I firmly believe we are bound by human decency and courtesy to respect the way people—whether Michael Jackson or anyone else—identify themselves. I have no doubt, then, that Michael Jackson was a black man; first, last, and always. We know that’s how he understood his identity. So regardless of any “optic” he may have produced (intentionally or not), that’s how we are bound to understand him.

    Likewise, we’re bound by common decency to respect Laverne Cox’s and Janet Mock’s description of their identities. No, they are NOT men. They are women: specifically, trans women. If they have always felt, to the very marrow of their bones and the very core of their being, that they were girls and women—DESPITE what their genetic structure or birth anatomy might have indicated—then we are duty-bound to take them at their word and respect how they describe themselves.

    More and more, the world of popular culture and media has come to accept the reality that the entire world isn’t neatly divided into “male” and “female” (just as it isn’t neatly divided into “black” and “white”). From TIME magazine, which had a cover story on Laverne Cox to her forthcoming role on “The View” on TV, the American (and Western) media has increasingly come to accept this reality. And it’s a good thing transpeople are gaining greater visibility and are becoming vocal about who they are, since this group (especially transwomen of color) are disproportionately the victims of murder and assault.

    Those who cannot accept these realities are lagging behind, and will shortly find themselves on the wrong side of history.

    1. “Likewise, we’re bound by common decency to respect Laverne Cox’s and Janet Mock’s description of their identities. No, they are NOT men. They are women: specifically, trans women. If they have always felt, to the very marrow of their bones and the very core of their being, that they were girls and women—DESPITE what their genetic structure or birth anatomy might have indicated—then we are duty-bound to take them at their word and respect how they describe themselves.”

      No, we aren’t. The best they can expect is that we humor them. They are NOT women; they are trying to perform womanhood, and in Laverne’s case, not all that well. This guy articulates the reality of trans identity very well, from 3:50:

      “You should not expect other people to live in your false reality.”
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_4KBCcZsz8

      From Susan Fast:

      “Please be black, Michael, or white, or gay or straight, father or mother, father to children, not a child yourself, so we at least know how to direct our liberal (in)tolerance. And try not to confuse all the codes simultaneously.”

      I’ll be polite and just say that I find this passage both inexplicable and insulting to Michael Jackson. If Ms. Fast finds him all that confusing, she’s the one with the problem, not Michael.

      I really, really hate it when people write about Michael as if he had been the leader of some utopian cult. The man sang and danced better than anyone else in the world, and that’s more than enough for me. It was John Lennon who wrote Imagine, not Michael.

      1. Simba, it’s important to note here that Susan Fast is quoting OTHER people, and the general feeling about Michael.

        I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear. I didn’t think it would be necessary. Indeed, if you had actually *read* her article “Difference that Exceeded Understanding” (a link to it appears above)—and in fact if you had read *anything* by Susan Fast—you would have understood this.

        If you want to squeeze Michael Jackson into a box marked “excellent craftsmanship, singing and dancing”— if you don’t want to attribute any kind of larger significance to *anything* he did (and, against the entire history of pop music, reduce such significance to a “cult”)—then of course you are welcome to this viewpoint, as anyone is welcome to an infinite number of readings of Michael’s life’s work.

        From everything I’ve heard and read, however, it seems to me that he was not entirely a stranger to the idea of creating a better world.

        Please maintain as narrow a field of view as you need to, Simba, if you find the alternatives too inconvenient or too threatening. But please don’t expect others who may be more interested in a broader set of questions about Michael Jackson to live in your false reality.

      2. Perhaps it IS meant to be insulting because it is echoing practically what every tabloid/journalist/scholar/critic/fan has said at some point in an effort to “define” him. In the video series “The Story Behind Threatened” that quote is used around the 5:28 mark, and is echoed again around 11:28 when the scene from Moonwalker is shown where Michael finds himself cornered (he can only fight or flee) and looks very terrified as again, the enumeration of questions pop up…Male? Female? White? BlacK? Gay? Straight? and then, superimposed over all of them…Human? It’s an effective way of illustrating exactly what Michael was up against, with everyone trying to “label” him; trying to define, to pigeonhole, and to ultimately corner him as “this” or “that.” It is the idea that everyone has an “agenda” for Michael. Everyone has someone (or something) they need him to be. Every side feels some degree of threat because he defies what “they” need him to be. So in saying, “Please don’t confuse the codes” this is the collective voice of all of them-the media, the scholars, the critics, the reporters, the public-who feel threatened by having those normative, narrowly defined codes confused.

        No matter what we can say about who Michael definitively was, or what he definitively represented, there always were-and still are-people trying to paint him with a dozen different brushstrokes, trying to proclaim he was “this” or “that.” We have only to pick up a tabloid or google a few sites on the internet to find someone attempting to psychoanalyze him. There is no shortage of armchair psychologists ready to profile him. He has been labeled as everything from asexual to a pedophile to an (apparent) superstud who had multiple illegitimate children all over the globe (according to some stories) and everything in between, so if one steps back and looks at the entire mosaic that has been created-the entire composite, if you will-it really does beg the question, “Could this all be the same person we’re talking about?” Indeed, I would love to see some scholar, hundreds of years hence, trying to make heads or tails of it. It really would sound almost as if all of these conflicting stories must be about some mythological being!

        But I think the real question that cultural scholars keep coming back to is: DID Michael create this confusion as part of some grand master plan (to challenge norms, for example) or is this a case of everyone projecting their own agendas onto him? In Michael’s own words, he never claimed to be anything other than a straight, African-American male who loved to entertain and wanted to bring hope and happiness to the world. But also, in his own words (used to great effect in the video) he also said that he would become territorial “when they start to challenge me.” It was almost as if, you push Michael too hard, or label him too definitively as “this” or “that” and he will come back with a complete 180-degree punch to prove you wrong.

        I think the purpose of Susan Fast’s quote is to illustrate the kind of barrage that Michael was bombarded with on a daily basis, in some form or another. Everyone wanting him to be “this” for us, or to be “that”-and to please not blur the lines; don’t confuse us. That Michael apparently DID confuse many-regardless of intent-is the very reason all of these debates continue to be waged.

        1. Somehow I do not find him confusing at all. Maybe because I “grew up” with him, knew him before the cacophony started and can look through the masquerade. Knowing that behind that image is a human being with the same needs and wants that we all have. Not taking away that his life was unlike anyone elses in our lifetime.. Also looking at Michael in his later years, there was not much left of the myth. While he was obsessed with keeping his privacy , his whole life was put in the open during the Arvizo trial. I also think that in his last year his priorities had downsized to having a roof over his head for his family. That was very sobering , but unfortunately it also made him very vulnerable .

  10. So to return to what all this has to do with MJ.

    When some writers state that Michael Jackson was “both black and white, both male and female,” we might infer from the context of these articles that they don’t mean this literally. They’re talking about the many ways spectators and previous commentators have *perceived* Michael’s performances, or the kinds of *imaginative* possibilities these performances have brought to mind.

    The world we inhabit is very far from the embodiment of a “postracial” society, as some liked to see it following Obama’s election. (Nor is it “post gender.”) But it wouldn’t hurt us to try to *imagine* a world where concepts like “race” and “gender” have become obsolete. The imaginary world that Michael Jackson calls forth is a fundamentally UTOPIAN space where people can “just be people,” without the structural inequality and oppression that marks our daily world. He makes it possible to IMAGINE a future in which things like race, gender, age, nation, class, and so on, CEASE TO MATTER. That’s where many writers locate what’s distinctive and important in these questions about MJ’s life and work. It goes far beyond Michael himself; it’s about how *we ourselves* imagine our own present and future in relation to the social world.

    It’s precisely because of this, I think, that some people became very uncomfortable with Michael. He raised the specter of a possible future that left some people feeling unmoored in their fundamental conceptions of reality, and their own identities. Because he often seemed to abrogate boundaries that many still feel are hard and fast (boundaries like race and gender), he challenged many people’s deeply-held belief systems, rooted in binary worldviews.

    I mean, what would we DO if “black” and “white” ceased to matter? How would we COPE with our existence if we didn’t know who was male or who female, or if we couldn’t identify someone by race—-especially by their skin color, or other visual signifiers? How would we function? Most terrifying of all: who might WE become in such a world?

    In her essay “Difference that Exceeded Understanding,” Susan Fast summarizes these conundrums very well:

    “It was really his more substantive, underlying differences that were most troubling— racial, gendered, able-bodied/disabled, child/teenager/adult, adult man who loved children, father/mother. These differences were impenetrable, uncontainable, and they created enormous anxiety. Please be black, Michael, or white, or gay or straight, father or mother, father to children, not a child yourself, so we at least know how to direct our liberal (in)tolerance. And try not to confuse all the codes simultaneously.”

    Yes.

    1. ‘He makes it possible to IMAGINE a future in which things like race, gender, age, nation, class, and so on, CEASE TO MATTER.”

      Race, gender etc. will not cease to matter unless we acknowledge and ACCEPT our differences and that we do not need to be neutralized to be accepted , we can be white, transender, native american, jewish ,black and anything inbetween and without one dominant culture setting the standards.
      In Michaels black and white film there are no ‘blurred lines’ so to speak as far as the cultures and races portrayed. They were unambiguously African, Indian, Native American etc.

      “Because he often seemed to abrogate boundaries that many still feel are hard and fast (boundaries like race and gender), he challenged many people’s deeply-held belief systems, rooted in binary worldviews. ”

      Sometimes I think the opposite is true and that the purpose of neutralizing Michael Jackson is to make it easier for non blacks , queers etc to accept him and identify with him . It makes him less threatening than if he looked like the black man that he looked like up untill the end of the 80s. There are fans who are honest enough to say or imply it , but some out of politically correctness make him into a kind of uber human with a sauce of intellectualishm , which seems more acceptable to say .
      It is the flipside of the tabloids who also made him into an alien , but then to illustrate how different he was from them, so unhuman.

      1. Ah, that “sauce of intellectualism,” Sina! Which I admit I slather copiously, on everything!

        It’s a nice, tangy hot sauce…. especially when I talk about MJ!

      2. Sina, I agree that “Race, gender etc. will not cease to matter unless we acknowledge and ACCEPT our differences and that we do not need to be neutralized to be accepted ”

        And not only acknowledged and accepted, but valued for our differences.

        The underlying agenda, possibly unconscious, of those who seek to neutralize MJ (neuter him? depotentiate him? ) is to absorb him into white culture and claim him for their/our own. As you point out, he is far less threatening that way.

        Liberal whites graciously put their hands out to MJ, saying you are one of us, which means we accept you into our culture; it does not mean that they identify with black culture. And, when you call them on it, they get very upset. In the case of women, liberal males have grudgingly admitted them into the male world, with the caveat that they become ersatz males, and never let their female reproductive duties interfere with their professional ones. Which has put women into a terrible bind. I’m sure we all know some woman, perhaps a single mom, who is stuggling to hold down a full time job and be a good mother at the same time. The less you make, the harder it is., a situation MJ was sensitive to.

        Both blacks and women are only appreciated and accepted within the white male world for their ability to pass, but in their world, as long as we, ourselves put up with this nonsense, we will always be looked on by them as second class. We don’t have to accept their white male standards to succeed. I think MJ was showing us that – showing us how to be true to ourselves, regardless of sex or race.

        The sauce of intellectualism (which is white and male) that you refer to covers a multitude of sins.

  11. So I don’t know exactly what Michael Jackson may have *intended* through his performances of what some call “fluid” racial and gender signifiers. I don’t know that anyone will ever be able to ascertain exactly what he intended, and I’m not sure it matters. Of course, we yearn to know: that’s why we’re still here talking about it.

    But what’s really important, I believe, are the many MEANINGS people have made—and continue to make—of these performances, because art is always a dialogue between the artist and his/her audience. An artist produces an object out of many elements that are intentional and (inevitably) unintentional, and it’s then up to the audience to complete the meaning of the work, according to his or her own experiences, their fears, and their deepest desires. And, just as these meanings won’t remain stable over the years and decades to come, it’s doubtful that any explanations that can be furnished about Michael’s likely intentions will remain stable, either.

    And this, I think, is the basis of the “cacophony” James Baldwin was talking about, which Sina quoted above. It’s a cacophony we’re ALL complicit in perpetuating, unavoidably and eternally. None of us can claim to be above the fray or to have the final say or to be in possession of the “truth,” because all these dialogues and debates will go on for as long as these perplexing questions continue to shape the ways we perceive reality.

    If we need a warrant for describing Michael Jackson’s performances as ambiguously gendered (though he *didn’t* wear women’s clothes, as Raven’s friend insisted), we can find something about it in his autobiography:

    “Later, when we did the Apollo Theater in New York, I saw something that really blew me away because I didn’t know things like that existed. I had seen quite a few strippers, but that night this one girl with gorgeous eyelashes and long hair came out and did her routine. She put on a GREAT performance. All of a sudden, at the end, she took off her wig, pulled a pair of big oranges out of her bra, and revealed that she was a hard-faced guy under all that makeup. That blew me away. I was only a child and couldn’t even conceive of anything like that. But I looked out at the theater audience and they were going for it, applauding wildly and cheering. I’m just a little kid, standing in the wings, watching this crazy stuff.

    “I was blown away.”

    —–Michael Jackson, Moonwalk (pp. 38-39)

    We know that he thoroughly absorbed early lessons by watching other performers. I wouldn’t doubt that he incorporated some valuable information from this drag performance and its reception later on, when he developed his own style and his aural/visual vocabulary as a performer.
    ___________________________________
    Simba says:

    “But most of the scholars who write about Michael are downright obsessed with his body and his sexuality, with his music almost an afterthought. Many of them exhibit no interest in his performing career whatsoever, and in their writings, there’s no evidence that they ever saw him perform.”

    Then, a later post:

    “I don’t find the Panther Dance shocking; maybe I just don’t know enough about self-gratification. Practically speaking, wouldn’t it be hard to mime jerking off through clothing? Perhaps Michael rubbed because of that, and not because he wanted to be provocatively female. Because of the image of black men as hypersexual, maybe white viewers found the sight of MJ touching himself disconcerting, and perhaps disturbingly arousing.”

    And Raven responds:

    “This may be a big part of it, in the sense that he wanted it to be something sensual (implied) rather than something disgustingly graphic. It may very well have not been “consciously” feminine, and again, I think that is where we have to be careful about trying to reach foregone conclusions about Michael’s “intentions.” Just because we might surmise that it LOOKED more like female auto erotic play doesn’t mean, of course, that this was his intent.”

    So, you see, we all seem to be “obsessed” with his body and his sexuality (but the same might be said of Elvis, and indeed any pop/rock star to come along since—embodiment and sexuality are major themes in popular music, after all!)

    What’s more, some writers (not all), in addition to discussing in some depth aspects of his music, his videos, and his performances, are also interested in keeping their finger on the pulse of what people are saying: the press, the fans, other critics. If they are indeed “fascinated” with Michael’s body and sexuality, they share that fascination with fans, while also looking to develop a broader narrative about it—with references to artist of the recent and more distant past, for example, or by trying to articulate what it is that has made MJ so fascinating, brilliant, ingenious, sexy, monstrous, beautiful, uncomfortable, unique, unfamiliar, resplendent, disdained, contradictory, praiseworthy, and all the rest of it.

  12. Yes Simba John Lennon did write Imagine but Michael took it one step further (as he often did) and left us in his work a blueprint of HOW TO IMAGINE.

    I have been reading the comments going back and forth between you and Nina, and you both have given me a huge ‘a ha’ moment this morning.

    I have wondered for years why Michael was persecuted and so misunderstood, and now I at last it has all come together and I see it. If he had just been a singer/dancer as you suggest Simba, then he would have fitted in, and by now probably forgotten as many of his contemporaries are. But he was sooooo much more. By extensive reading about him including the excellent blog Dancing With The Elephant by Willa and Joie, and Willa’s superb book MJ Poetica, to name a few, and by listening to his own songs and reading his essays and poems, I can now see just ‘Dangerous’ he was. He challenged everyone’s ideas of what was normal by his whole Being – absolutely everything about him was ‘different’, and that was dangerous. That is what made him so misunderstood. He was not ‘normal’ and so had to be brought down so to speak.

    IMO he was a prophet, and like so many before him, prophets are not recognised in their own lands – let’s face it, it was America (with a bit of help from the British, shame on them) that ultimately almost destroyed him through lack of understanding. Everywhere else in the world he is appreciated and revered.

    Thank you both and Raven for this blog and for giving me this clarity. With all due respect Simba, Michael can never be only a singer/dancer to his millions of fans, and it seems to many others also who perceived, and still perceive, him as Dangerous. He is certainly much more than that to me He did want a “better world” and he showed us the way if only we can see it. I have seen it and he inspires me every single day to make a world as he ‘imagine-d’ it.

    1. I’m sorry, where did I write that Michael Jackson was ‘only’ a singer and dancer? It’s really annoying when one’s words are distorted and deliberately misunderstood, in furtherance of someone else’s agenda.

  13. Hi Simba

    I do not want this discussion to become a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction on my side, so have taken time and thought before responding as I did when I wrote my previous comment. Too many people shoot the messenger and miss the message, and that happened so much to Michael that I am very sensitive to it.

    It seems to me that very few people really really understood his message at the time, and there is no doubting that he had a message. It is only now that people are looking at his body of work, and I mean that on every level not just singing and dancing, and coming to other conclusions. There was a lot of knee-jerk reaction at the time because his work affected many people, albeit that they often didn’t understand how or why!! The Black or White short film panther section, and the History teaser are great examples of that. Many people loved him, and many people tried to destroy him because of his great influence and power on, and very importantly, off the stage. He didn’t only sing and dance.

    You wrote and I quote – “The man sang and danced better than anyone else in the world, and that’s more than enough for me”

    That implies for me, and I apologise if I have misinterpreted, that for you Michael’s singing and dancing was it – that was all, that was just it, that was only it. Granted that he did do it better than anyone else in the world, and that will continue to be so for eons to come. However, for me, and I am sure millions of other fans, there was much more to Michael than that, great as it is, and I took a lot of time and thought to express that in my earlier comment.

    If it is “enough” for you to have Michael dance and sing, then great, enjoy that, but I believe we can get so much more from Michael, and fortunately so do a lot of other people who are now ‘listening’ to Michael and getting what he tried to say in his art, in his work.

    ‘Cult’ may be too strong a word, but if that is what Michael’s philosophy becomes as people understand him, then I will be proud to be a cult member!! There are many worse things in life than wanting to Heal The World and “make it a better place”.

    1. Caro says, “That implies for me, and I apologise if I have misinterpreted, that for you Michael’s singing and dancing was it – that was all, that was just it, that was only it.”

      You have misinterpreted. And as someone who lives in South Africa, with its centuries long history of racial inequality, exploitation, and strife, it’s amazing to me that you ignore the reality that the relentless attacks on Michael Jackson by the American and UK media, and his persecution by the justice system are racist at the core, and not because of his views on ecology and world peace.

      Perhaps I am misinterpreting you, but you seem to have a need to racially ‘universalize’ Michael: You love and admire Michael Jackson. Apparently in your world, black people are not to be exalted and admired. Therefore Michael isn’t really black. He’s “white”, he has no color, he is a citizen of the world.

      He was black when the police stripped him naked and put him on a box.

      I don’t believe that anyone here can “out fan” me when it comes to Michael. Nothing I have posted implies that I think he was “just” or “only”. I don’t care if people disagree with my views – obviously – but I prefer that they disagree with what I actually say.

    2. ‘It seems to me that very few people really really understood his message at the time, and there is no doubting that he had a message’

      Caro you should speak for yourself . You had the good luck to discover Michael Jackson , but only so recently that you find it hard to see him as a black man. That tells me enough of how much you do not know about this man . There are people who have known AND understood him long before it became fashion , when he was still alive. And long before all the blogs that saw the light AFTER he died , start to write about him. We are the world – USA for Africa was written in 1985, Heal the world was founded in 1991 . The Jackson 5 even when they still lived in Gary Indiana in the 60s and were not the stars they became , were already ‘giving back ‘ doing shows for charity . It all didnt start after he died.

      I quoted James Baldwin who wrote his article in 1985 when Michael was already a megastar. He predicted perfectly what would happen to him . As a black man he could relate to MJ who, like him did not fit in the stereotyping of black men by society , he for being a gay writer , Michael for being powerful, rich, influential , beautiful and adored worldwide, which he already was in 1985 !! Sadly Michael could not prevent himself from being hijacked because of his fame. Unlike James Baldwin and some others who wrote REAL TIME about him , writing about him after he died is all HINDSIGHT. And unfortunately many lack or are not interested in basic knowledge of the history and culture where Michael Jackson came from . And they think it doesnt matter.
      Btw what you understand about MJ is not neccesarily what others understand about him or what is undisputed who he really was , it is your understanding.

      1. I don’t know, but perhaps I can apply some middle ground here. I think what Caro is referring to, if I understood correctly, is the fact that it has been mostly since his death that we have seen a shift in the paradigm where, finally, we have a body of scholarship that is starting to honestly assess the value of his work, especially his long under rated post-Bad work. That isn’t to say there weren’t exceptions, but it has only been relatively recently that he has been elevated to the same cultural status as artists like The Beatles, Dylan, etc as an artist who DID have significant cultural impact (not just selling a bunch of records) and whose work IS now considered culturally significant and worthy of serious academic study.

        To some degree, we probably all tend to filter our view of Michael through our own cultural lens. I once read a very snide comment about this blog from (presumably) a reader in France who didn’t like how I was always going on about the media persecution against Michael. Apparently, according to her, this is a very US and UK-centric view that is not necessarily true in all parts of the world. In other words, the so-called “media conspiracy” is not worldwide. But my immediate knee jerk response to that assertion (aside from, hey, if you don’t like it here, you’re free to switch the channel, lol) is the fact that I am a lifelong resident of the United States; this is a blog written by an American, and therefore, my views are naturally shaped by what I know. And here, as we know too well, there was and has been a media conspiracy to destroy Michael Jackson since at least the mid 80’s, if not earlier-and much of it, yes, racially motivated. So I can only say it’s great if they’re not tearing him down in France or Germany or Japan, etc but the sad history of his US and UK relations has been built on the media creation of “Wacko Jacko.” With over two decades’ worth of that damage done, it has been a long, slow, and sometimes painful healing process-even if, albeit, some healing has occurred.

        I hope I’m not rambling off topic here; just throwing in a few cents’ worth.

        1. Raven says,
          “And here, as we know too well, there was and has been a media conspiracy to destroy Michael Jackson since at least the mid 80’s, if not earlier-and much of it, yes, racially motivated. So I can only say it’s great if they’re not tearing him down in France or Germany or Japan, etc but the sad history of his US and UK relations has been built on the media creation of “Wacko Jacko.” ”

          I don’t know about this, Raven. I hesitate to call it a conspiracy: I think it’s just how the media operates when it comes to celebrity coverage (it seems nearly everywhere I go online these days, stories appear about stars’ disastrous plastic surgeries.). And much of the way they operate, too, of course includes a naturalized version of white supremacy, which of course is part and parcel of the historical fabric of American society.

          If the European, Asian, African, and Latin American news outlets reported differently on Michael Jackson over the years, I’d be *very* interested in hearing what they had to say: how they valued Michael, and how (if at all) they criticized him.

          Though I’m American too, I find I’m often at odds with what I see as an *overwhelming* emphasis on Michael’s suffering and persecution on the part of fans in U.S. and the U.K. I’m much more inclined to agree with Harry Belafonte, Joe Vogel, Spike Lee, and even Jamie King (who directed the Cirque du Soleil shows, “Immortal” and “One”). They have all spoken of the need to “leave [all that stuff] behind” and to move forward with films, shows, texts, analyses that tell us more about who Michael was as an artist and a cultural mover and shaker.

          Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent most of my adult life (and many years professionally) studying and critiquing mainstream and independent media. I’ve noted, in detail, how racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and a host of other ills reside in the deep structures of Hollywood cinema—and how these problems extend to mainstream news outlets as well.

          So, whereas some may be shocked and indignant by the lies and distortions that have surrounded Michael Jackson in he media over the years, I feel that I’m simply encountering a *modus operandi* that is, sadly, all too familiar. It’s kind of old hat to me; so from my standpoint it isn’t news, and fans tend to enter a space where the same ground is trod over and over again without being able to move forward, and little new knowledge can be produced. These discussions of Michael’s endless persecution and suffering tend not to provide what it is I really yearn for: fresh insights about his creative work and his cultural significance all over the world.

          Studying the histories of art and entertainment has informed me that artistic reputations are built and rebuilt not because an army of informed fans attack an artist’s detractors head-on, but because one trope—perhaps a negative one—is gradually, over time, replaced by another.

          Since Michael’s death, I think we have seen this happening. The “Wacko Jacko” meme is steadily going away, replaced by the meme of “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” Stories of his “weirdness” have given way to reports and shows that extoll his genius. And when it comes to all those charges and allegations, no amount of facts thrown at people will convince them to change their thinking (the truth is, most folks simply don’t care all that much one way or the other)! So I’m convinced that the most effective strategy for enhancing Michael’s reputation is—quite simply—to tell a very *different* story about him, leaving “all that other stuff” behind.

          So maybe, Raven, I should switch the channel too! I’m very curious about Michael’s reception in other countries besides the U.S.—because I think it’s very *definitely* true—as you said—that we filter our view of Michael (and indeed of everything!) through our own cultural lens.

          1. Well, I somewhat half suspect that this person was a troll. For starters, I believe that a genuine fan from Europe would be aware of the many tropes about Michael that exist all over the world. Considering I have many loyal and appreciative readers from all over the world, I must be doing something right. It just seemed to me that a genuine fan would want to at least attempt to build a dialog first, not go running off to some other board to vent (especially one they happen to know I frequent). Like Michael, I sometimes find that I can’t please everyone. And with the fan base being one that is so divided, you damn sure can’t please everyone. Someone is always going to be ready to criticize, so I learned a long time ago that I just have to be true to myself and what my vision for this site is, and that is a place for all things Michael-whatever is on my mind to discuss. I don’t think it is necessarily about the “victim mentality,” either. I do believe there was a deliberate attempt to tear Michael down, but I also know he was hardly the only celebrity to be targeted thus. Especially in America, we are a society that loves the spectacle of a trainwreck. The media both creates, encourages, and feeds off that morbid fascination, but it could not exist if the public did not continue to feed it. When a celebrity is undergoing some type of scandal or has been accused of a heinous crime (such as Michael was) the feeding frenzy really kicks into high gear.

            Some fans do seem to have the attitude that Michael was/is somehow singled out for persecution, and that simply isn’t true. That is what really bothered me, for example, with the protests against the most recent autopsy show. That was part of a series and they were going to be discussing the explicit details of many celebrity autopsies, not just Michael’s. Anna Nicole Smith’s autopsy was featured as part of the series and no one seemed to care about that. I’m not saying we have the responsibility of taking on other fan bases’ battles, but if the idea is to protest against invasion of privacy and presenting distorted facts, that is a concern that has to be equal for everyone it affects, not just Michael. I remember that when I tried to point out that Michael wasn’t the only subject of that series, there were fans who got mad about THAT, as if “How DARE I insinuate that Michael Jackson hasn’t been singled out for victimhood!”. Yet we see examples everyday of how celebrities are built up one day, and torn down the next. Speaking of Anna Nicole, I recently watched an old episode from her reality show back in the early 2000’s. In this episode, she had agreed to a radio show interview. The whole thing was an ambush. She thought it was going to be a positive interview, and when she got on the air, they immediatly started attacking her about her weight, her drug use, etc. She called it “abuse” and walked out of the interview. Obviously, she was in denial (she obviously WAS overweight; obviously WAS sedated) but this plays right into how the media beast operates. They expected people to laugh at the segment and the spectacle of the “trainwreck,” rather than being outraged by seeing someone set up.

            However, with that being said, I DO believe there is a double standard, perhaps not so much directed at Michael but towards successful black entertainers in general. As I have said before, black entertainers who find themselves accused or a victim of scandal are almost always going to be subjected to twice as much media scrutiny and twice as much backlash. The entertainment industry tends to “protect” and circle the wagons around white entertainers. It disturbs me particularly what has happened in the case of Stephen Collins, who by his own admission molested a child, yet the media has kept this story fairly low key and he has not been subjected to even a quarter of the castigation that we have seen with Michael, Bill Cosby, etc (of course, we also have to consider both the status of the performer and the particular nature of the accusations) but, yes, these kinds of topics do interest me, not just as a fan of Michael Jackson, but from a cultural perspective, I am interested in the “why’s” of it. I don’t believe Michael was singled out, and I am also not blind to the ways in which he fed into it (the surgeries; the deafening almost seven-year-silence regarding vitiligo, etc) but nevertheless, it did grow into an undeniable witch hunt mentality. It was cruel and it was definitely over the top.

            Nevertheless, though it is a subject that interests me, it certainly isn’t my sole topic of concern. But as we see, even with this series which is intended to focus on the musical legacy of his Dangerous album and Susan Fast’s book, these topics are always, inevitably, unavoidable elements of the discussion. Even from the perspective of cultural analysis, the topic of Michael Jackson as a “misunderstood, societal scapegoat” cannot be entirely avoided, for it is part of the mythos. According to Fast, Michael invited much of his martyrdom (if we wish to call it that) by challenging societal norms. Others will come back and say, no, it was simply a racially motivated conspiracy, pure and simple. Either way, it seems that even discussions of his music and art cannot entirely avoid dipping into those troubled waters.

          2. Raven, you touched a nerve with comments on the autopsy series, fortunately airing only on a rather obscure cable channel. IMO, this series is an equal opportunity offender without regard to race or gender. Michael, Whitney, ANS, and recently (coinciding with his 80th birthday) Elvis Presley. I found Shepherd’s interpretation of the causes of Elvis’ demise particularly offensive and completely unnecessary nearly 40 years after his death. Also of note, the cable channel running this series is again coincidentally running Whitney’s “autopsy” starting January 17th, the premiere date of the Angela Bassett-directed tv biopic. Aside from blatant exploitation, based upon what I have read and researched over the years, many of Shepherd’s conclusions with respect to ALL his subjects are just plain factually inaccurate. (On a lighter note, the actors portraying the subjects are on a par with Alexander’s portrayal of MJ in 2004!)

  14. Hi Raven

    I know you sometimes contribute to Dancing With The Elephant, so I sincerely hope that you won’t mind me giving it a plug here, as the latest posting is relevant to what is being said here.

    Willa Stillwater has written a brilliant article Monsters, Witches and Michael Jackson’s Ghosts for Popular Musicology Online, which has been posted on the Dancing blog.

    I am sorry I don’t know how to post a link to either site, but both are easily accessed.

    I urge everyone to please read it. If anyone gets Michael’s message, then IMO Willa is in the forefront.

  15. Yes Raven. That is part of it, and also the labelling that you mentioned in an earlier post. I agree that labelling is often projection, but that is Human Nature, if you will pardon the pun!
    Michael performed and lived outside of the box in almost everything he did, and thereby, I believe, challenged all our notions of labels, as well a great deal more. He won countless awards for being first in so many fields; he started the ‘crossover’ musical trend to take R & B to other races: that music was heard on so-called ‘white’ tv and radio stations; he worked with all sorts of people of different colours and creeds (Steven Spielberg’s ridiculous anti-Semitic accusations notwithstanding); he married two white women; he had multiracial children; he also had North American Indian blood in his own veins for goodness sake. How can he not challenge us on these issues, when it seems to me that he challenged himself all the time.
    I do feel you are right when you say that people outside of USA and UK view him differently, because the rest of the world hasn’t been so exposed to the media crap written about him in both those countries. That is what I meant about a ‘prophet in his own land’ and how so often they are seen as a threat and persecuted accordingly. Some of his songs weren’t even released in the US and if they were, they were quickly banned, whereas they soured to the top of the charts elsewhere. After 2005 he left America saying that the country didn’t ‘deserve’ him, and I can see why. I am only grateful that now so many Americans and Brits who were so anti, are coming to appreciate him more, as I feel that people from other nations have done for years and years. Of course he always had his loyal fan support base of millions in both countries, media persecution or not.
    And FOR ME Michael is not only an academic pursuit, though I have done much academic research in the last five years, he is also a very personal and deeply spiritual experience. He has changed the way I look at and even be in the world, as I am sure he has done for millions of his fans worldwide.

    PS Thanks for giving the link to Willa’s fabulous article – I really must learn how to put in links myself!!

    1. Caro says, “Michael performed and lived outside of the box in almost everything he did, and thereby, I believe, challenged all our notions of labels, as well a great deal more. He won countless awards for being first in so many fields; he started the ‘crossover’ musical trend to take R & B to other races: that music was heard on so-called ‘white’ tv and radio stations; he worked with all sorts of people of different colours and creeds (Steven Spielberg’s ridiculous anti-Semitic accusations notwithstanding); he married two white women; he had multiracial children; he also had North American Indian blood in his own veins for goodness sake. How can he not challenge us on these issues, when it seems to me that he challenged himself all the time.”

      While you may sincerely believe all of this, you should know it’s not true. Michael was not a rhythm and blues artist, plenty of black acts “crossed over” before he did, lots of black musicians worked with non-blacks, going back a hundred years, etc. Quincy Jones married more than two white women, had six or seven “multiracial” children, and has Native American blood to boot. None of that is unusual or particularly laudable. It just is.

  16. I should say that for me too, Caro, Michael isn’t purely an “academic” pursuit. If he were, I doubt if I’d still be here. I do think something happened to some of us after he died, and that it was substantial and meaningful…. although I’m at a loss to describe or explain exactly what it was that “happened.”

    Actually, despite the way many people hear the word “academic” (believing it must mean be that’s cold, clinical, and detached), academic pursuits are often driven by people’s deepest and most heartfelt passions. I know that for me, emotion and intellect are *not* as separate as some claim they are.

    I agree, Raven, that Michael’s treatment in the media is a large part of the entire story, and it was rather over-the-top compared to other stars—including other black stars. The reasons for this certainly have a LOT to do with racism—with many other complex factors playing a part, as you and Susan Fast have described. But I’m not entirely sure (in view of what’s happened to Britney Spears and many others who have become whipping-boys and -girls) that white entertainers are entirely shielded from the viciousness of the press. To get a better historical overview, we could look back even further in time—to the 30s and 40s—and find out more about the fates of Fatty Arbuckle, Frances Farmer, Paul Robeson (to nanme a few) who were skewered by a vicious publicity machine that wrecked their careers, and sometimes their lives.

    So I’ve been looking at the many dimensions of what “carnivorous fame” (in Baldwin’s words) meant in MJ’s case. This investigation has led me to read up in areas like Celebrity Studies (yes, believe it or not, it’s an academic sub-discipline), and Fan Studies (ditto). There’s even been some discussion among scholars about what it means to be a fan *and* a researcher/scholar at the same time, and I’ve followed these conversations with much interest. As always, I’m happy to share these articles with anyone who’d be interested in reading them.

    But for some, Michael’s persecution seems to be the *entire* story, or at least the bulk of it—and correcting public perceptions about him from this standpoint seems, by default, to have become the major *task* (or mission), of the fan community, as its participants see it. I wouldn’t know for sure, because I’ve never been part of any other fandom; but somehow I doubt that mounting a *defense* has been so much a part of the conversation of, say, fans of Bob Dylan or the Beatles. (But I’d like to find out.)

    Of course, people will talk about whatever they wish, and pluralism is all to the good. But I think there are some distinct disadvantages to this *defensive* approach, which I should probably leave for another discussion, another time.

  17. Forgive me for being so blunt, but maybe it will be helpful in the long run – you can’t handle the truth. (Thank you, Aaron Sorkin.) MJ’s life and career were shaped totally by racism. You cannot tell his story if you take racism and persecution away. You cannot “move on” without it, no matter what Belafonte, or Spike Lee, or Jamie King might say. (For that matter, I don’t believe these guys are saying we should just forget about MJ’s singularly heinous maltreatment. They are reacting to the jerkwad interviewers who won’t allow them to talk about MJ’s art without dredging up the allegations.)

    Are we just going to pretend that the media doesn’t have it in for Michael, even five years after his death? It’s not over, not by a long shot. Not while the likes of Wade and Jimmy are still in court spewing their lies in hopes of a easy payday. So Joe Vogel and Susan Fast write books that are actually about Michael’s music. That makes two. Not exactly a movement just yet.

    Of course other celebrities have been skewered by the media. Not many have had their lives and liberty threatened by lousy journalism. I’ve never heard of anyone, not even suspected serial killers, who have been forced to allow their bodies to be examined and photographed under the most humiliating circumstances, in clear violation of the Constitutional prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. I can’t think of anyone, celebrity or not, whose naked dead body has been displayed on television for the entertainment of the masses. They didn’t do it to Anna Nicole Smith. They just don’t do those kinds of things to white people. Ever. It’s America’s way of bringing that uppitty n***** down – King of Pop, we’ll show you!

    You can’t teach Billie Jean without dealing with racism, or do you actually believe MTV wouldn’t play the video because Michael’s music wasn’t good enough for their lame ass channel?

    Conversely, it was Michael’s concern for starving black Africans that drove We Are the World, and his sense of racial responsibility that led him to give millions to black colleges. You cannot turn him into a race free, ‘universal’ figure who is all things to all people. He was specifically, in his words, “a proud black American”, and he was persecuted because a lot of people didn’t like him having all that talent, all that land, all that money, and the Beatles catalog. What difference does it make? Life and death. Racism stunted his artistic output and ultimately killed him. Deal with it.

  18. I agree, Simba. You cannot teach, write about, or talk about Michael Jackson without talking about racism. It’s essential. And I don’t know about anyone else; but I’d be the last to insist he was a “universal” figure in this regard. (And I never claimed he was.)

    What’s more: without racism, I don’t believe there would be any such thing as race. The very concept of “race” would likely disappear.

    But if you are going to talk about racism as the EXCLUSIVE factor in determining Michael Jackson’s treatment, then I think it really behooves you to include—-for the sake of comparison—a few more examples of prominent black men in show business (and possibly in sports, and politics, and other high-profile professions) who were similarly (and differently) treated, for the sake of comparison.

    For example: what of Prince, Michael’s contemporary? Sammy Davis, Jr.? Chuck Berry?

    The particulars may differ, but the media loves to skewer celebrities: granted, celebrities of color endure more severe treatment than famous people who are white. No doubt about that. (Of course, the same can be said for those millions of people who are NOT famous.) So you’re right: racism IS a matter of life and death (as we have just witnessed in the wake of Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s deaths at the hands of the police).

    I don’t know what you find so troublesome, though, about a more inclusive and “intersectional” understanding of the way institutional violence works. Women of all races and ethnicities, for example, are routinely subjected to media representations that incite violence against their bodies. The ridicule that older women in show business receive in the media is extremely vicious. Deeply misogynist standards of youth, beauty, and slenderness have cut short the careers of too many supremely talented female performers, of ANY race—much more than their male counterparts.

    Daily, LGBT people—who are not necessarily famous—are subjected to violence and aggression. The way transgender people, for example, are talked about can also be a life-and-death matter, beginning with the ways many folks—like yourself—misgender them. As I mentioned earlier in this thread, transwomen of color are disproportionately targeted and become victims of murder and violent assault, at a much greater rate than any other group.

    So–yes, it IS a matter of life and death, for many.

    What exactly do you gain from all your anger on behalf of Michael Jackson? From your lack of generosity, in not allowing that other people suffer the violent consequences of racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia—sometimes all at the same time?

    How, Simba, do you benefit from this insistence that Michael was UNIQUELY singled out for persecution and early death, on account of being a black man alone? That his performance of (perhaps) ambiguous gender and sexuality had nothing to do with it? That in refusing to fit in to any normative box in at least the visual aspects of his performances (including the box marked “African American”), he upset many people who wished he would “remain in his place”?

    And here you are, stuffing him back into that very set of boxes that, as his performances AND his interviews amply demonstrate, couldn’t easily contain him?

    What do you get out of doing this? How are you using Michael Jackson as a proxy, and a means of closing down your world, rather than expanding it? What kind of work are you asking Michael to do here?

    Nobody gets to “own” him. Deal with it.

    1. “What exactly do you gain from all your anger on behalf of Michael Jackson? From your lack of generosity, in not allowing that other people suffer the violent consequences of racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia—sometimes all at the same time?”

      Ah, the old favorite, the “angry black woman” meme! I’ll whip out one of my own, “the clueless white guy (or gal)”. Anger is a perfectly legitimate response to injustice. I really don’t see how my caring for Michael and his reputation translates into a lack of regard for others. In fact I have many diverse interests, but I’m here to talk about Michael Jackson. Unfortunately it’s hard to convey tone in an internet post. I’m really more exasperated than angry. I wonder how you and others here can so obstinately refuse to acknowledge that Michael’s troubles were engendered by racism, not his makeup, wardobe, or Bubbles the chimp.

      As far as comparing the treatment accorded Michael, as regards other black celebrities, it might be more instructive to look at what’s happening now to Bill Cosby, and compare him to Stephen Collins. Cosby has never been arrested for rape, never tried and found guilty. But until more pressing matters took over, there was a Cosby item in the news every day, with Gloria Allred trotting out team after team of weeping accusers. It is now received wisdom that Cosby is guilty. He has lost deals with Netflix and NBC, and his last appearance was disrupted by hecklers.

      Stephen Collins ADMITTED that he sexually molested three young girls, yet he actually scored a softball interview with Katie Couric, trying to present himself as a sympathetic figure, a ‘victim’ of his impulses. But then Collins, like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, is white. Cosby is getting the powerful black man treatment.

      Sammy Davis Jr. and Chuck Berry were never that rich or powerful, so it was comparatively easy to mess with them. Sammy was beaten up a number of times, and ordered to end his romance with Kim Novak and marry “a colored girl”, which he did. Chuck Berry was sent to prison for having sex with young white groupies, a practice enjoyed with impunity by white rockers. For all his flamboyance, Prince keeps a very low profile. He’s also lightskinned, which matters big time, and has fooled the public into believing he’s half white. He’s also physically so small, just over five feet tall, that he just doesn’t seem threatening.

      Prince still gets the black man treatment – in his recent appearance on SNL, ‘somehow’ the TV crew failed to connect his microphone when he moved from the keyboard to his guitar. They have never been that sloppy with a white act. It may have been an accident, but it came over as blatant disrespect.

      As far as transgender people of color are concerned, perhaps you are unaware that Laverne Cox’s nauseating support of a trans inmate who brutally murdered a young black girl is a hot button issue on black blogs, proof positive that he’s no woman. Cox is being used by powerful white trans interests to widen trans acceptance. Face it, if he didn’t wear dresses and wigs, an actor with his limited background would not be on the cover of Time, or co-hosting The View. He gets nominated for an Emmy and the media goes wild. Meanwhile the black woman on his show who was nominated and actually won the Emmy has been ignored. Cox may not like being “misgendered”, but if it’s not like being called “he” instead of “she” will cause him to fall down dead. Refusing to live in his fantasy is NOT a matter of life or death.

      All of this which you perceive is anger is nothing but truth to me. It gains me nothing. But in the bizarro world of the white reinvention if black life and history, it keeps me from losing my mind. (I may be a little touchy. I just saw Selma, a great film about a black hero, with an actual black woman directing. Everyone acknowledges it’s brilliance, but there’s been one complaint – it doesn’t give LBJ enough credit for supposedly masterminding the whole march thing. You can’t make this up. Oh wait, yes you can.)

      1. “As far as comparing the treatment accorded Michael, as regards other black celebrities, it might be more instructive to look at what’s happening now to Bill Cosby, and compare him to Stephen Collins. Cosby has never been arrested for rape, never tried and found guilty. But until more pressing matters took over, there was a Cosby item in the news every day, with Gloria Allred trotting out team after team of weeping accusers. It is now received wisdom that Cosby is guilty. He has lost deals with Netflix and NBC, and his last appearance was disrupted by hecklers.

        Stephen Collins ADMITTED that he sexually molested three young girls, yet he actually scored a softball interview with Katie Couric, trying to present himself as a sympathetic figure, a ‘victim’ of his impulses. But then Collins, like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, is white. Cosby is getting the powerful black man treatment”

        This goes back exactly to what I said about the double standards regarding black celebs vs. white celebs. How exactly does one use being a “victim of his impulses” as a defense to win sympathetic favor? We could excuse practically every crime by that excuse!!! If Bill Cosby is guilty of raping women (though I have not drawn any conclusions as to what I believe) would he not, too, be a victim of his impulses? Michael was strung up by a media and a public that had already made up their minds he was guilty. There was no “he’s just a victim of his impulses” pass given out.

        When Woody Allen was accused by his stepdaughter, the public was actually outraged and rallied around him, calling both Mia and her daughter liars. There wasn’t even the slightest sympathy or benefit of the doubt given them. They were portrayed as vindictive people out to ruin him (that being said, I think most of Hollywood recognizes that Allen is, at very best, a perv and a creep) but he’s one of their own.

        What makes the Cosby case so unprecedented is the sheer number of women coming forward, but what I’m still trying to wrap my head around is…Why now? At this particular time? Is it the old adage of “safety in numbers?” Or is someone masterminding this?

        I don’t know much about Laverne Cox, probably because I don’t watch that much reality TV (have never even seen an episode of “Orange Is The New Black”; I just know it’s a very popular, highly acclaimed show) but the situation you describe is disturbing. This is where we have to draw the lines between personal agendas and political correctness vs. actual, human justice. People who have been victimized by intolerance, bigotry, and hatred are still capable of doing heinous acts; in some cases, these may be reactions borne out of injustice and rage but we can’t allow that as an excuse.

        Make no mistake, gays, lesbians, and trans gender people are victims of some of the most brutal hate crimes that have been committed. There was recently a case of a gay man in the UK who was doused in gasoline and set on fire. Gay teens are committing suicide in record numbers-much of it stems from the bullying they receive. I frequent quite a few boards that discuss Michael Jackson, and not all are necessarily fan boards. Some are just general discussion boards, which means they invite a lot of commentary not just from the diehard fans, but also from haters, critics, and people who are simply neutral. There are a lot of hateful comments from people who genuinely believe he was a gay man, and based on that belief, have made him the object of their homophobia. I don’t believe this hatred is racially motivated. It really does seem to stem from their belief that he was gay. Why these beliefs are so deeply ingrained for some goes right back to the topic of Michael as someone who did make a lot of people uncomfortable because he was not conforming to societal codes. Not surprisingly, I recently discovered that one of Michael’s biggest and most persistent bashers on one of those boards is a gay man who has apparently felt traumatized from a life of being forced to hide his true self. His resentment of Michael is rooted in the fact that he perceives him as a gay man who wouldn’t “come out.” This seems to be quite common, in fact (I suppose you could say I have some interest in psychoanalyzing the mindset of MJ haters and where all that rage is coming from, lol).

        I really see it as a very complex and tangled web. Would people have been more forgiving if he’d been, say, a white artist who wore makeup and spoke softly? I honestly think so. Would he had been given more of a pass if he had suddenly given those people what they wanted, and openly declared himself a gay man? I think so. From what I see, so much of the resentment towards Michael stems from those who have projected their proclivities onto him, from the NAMBLA faction and Victor Gutierrez (who sought to brand him a pedophile to further their own agenda), to people who GENUINELY believe he was gay (and genuinely resent him as a result) to people who were simply threatened by a black man who had become too powerful. The reasons why so much hatred has been heaped on Michael (the polar opposite of all the adulation he received) have to do with many complex issues, it seems. But in one way or another, we can trace all of it back to peoples’ basic fears and hatred of what he represented for them. As I said in my earlier response to Nina, I don’t agree that he was singled out or targeted anymore than many other celebrities have been, but I do think he was definitely a victim of the double standard that has so often seen powerful black celebrities-especially powerful black men-taken down. When you add to that recipe all of the other complex factors that were unique to Michael, from the controversies and accusations of being a “race traitor” to accusations of child molestation to even those who project their homophobic proclivities onto him, it made for the perfect storm.

        1. “What makes the Cosby case so unprecedented is the sheer number of women coming forward, but what I’m still trying to wrap my head around is…Why now? At this particular time? Is it the old adage of “safety in numbers?” Or is someone masterminding this?”

          Of course someone is masterminding this, just as the attacks on Michael were orchestrated. Phylicia Rashad has actually stated as much. As with Michael, most of Cosby’s accusers are easily debunked, so much so that it’s obvious that destroying his ability to operate is the end game, not seeking ‘justice’ for his so-called victims.

          (BTW Orange is the New Black is not a reality show. It’s a scripted drama about women in Federal prison, based on an autobiographical book by a young, attractive, well-off white woman who was a drug mule for her lesbian lover. Laverne Cox plays a post-op transgender “woman”, incarcerated for credit card fraud. Men who have had their genitalia removed are sometimes housed in female facilities. Men who just think they’re women are not. Cox has always been coy about his own physical state. More than likely, like 90% of male to female transgenders, he retains complete functioning male genitals under his skirts, like his buddy Carmen Carrera.)

        2. Raven, I can imagine that some gay men, convinced (correctly or not) that Michael was gay, might have been angry with him for declining to come out.

          But I’ve also encountered several gay men, black men among them, who adore him, *and* who believe he was gay. They attest that he gave them the courage to take pride in themselves, at a moment of tremendous confusion and suffering in their youth. (I believe I sent you a testimonial like this awhile back, who claimed that Michael literally saved his life.)

          I agree: tremendous violence has been enacted upon queer bodies of *all* races and colors—and especially, as I said before, on transwomen of color. This needs to be acknowledged: it bears upon Michael’s mistreatment, because of the deeply homophobic AND racist nature of the social world we inhabit.

          Many people have a very difficult time with uncertainty and ambiguity. It’s small wonder that they’ll resent a person who seems to occasion these states of mind (and this is what James Baldwin was talking about).

          How dare Michael Jackson disturb MY “nice, regular” world with its “nice, regular,” people, my neat and clean “Normal Valley”? How dare he cause ME to wonder who I am? The nerve of him, going around and destabilizing MY rock-solid concept of myself, MY race, gender, and sexuality? How dare he run roughshod over MY very sense of identity? He upsets the “natural” order of things in my world!

          That, I believe, is what most got him into trouble.

        3. “There are a lot of hateful comments from people who genuinely believe he was a gay man, and based on that belief, have made him the object of their homophobia.”

          I think if he had been clearly gay in these people’s eyes he would have had an easier time. Yes, there is still homophobia, but homosexuality is at least a nice, clear box that you can put people in and clearly categorize and label them if they fall into that category. I agree with Nina that in MJ’s case I think most people’s problem is this ambiguity in terms of race, gender and sexuality. I came to realize that such an inability to categorize something or someone is more upsetting to people than if someone is clearly this or that. (Of course, Michael identified himself clearly – as a straight black man -, there was nothing ambigious about that, but I am talking about how he is perceived, yes, often wrongly, but nevertheless he is commonly perceived in certain ways, ie. that he is someone racially, sexually and in terms of gender ambigious.)

          I also have to say that I have seen gay people behave against him just the same horrible way as straight people. I have seen gay websites mock him and dehumanize him just the same way as straight websites did. So IMO it is not some kind of perceived homosexuality why he was treated that way. It’s more the ambiguity and that he was so “unknowable” to many people which is a source of anger and anxiety regarding him. And it also attracts projections – when people have big gaps in their knowledge about someone they tend to fill in the gaps with their own projections and fears. And so MJ becomes some kind of straw man figure for these people on whom they can project their fears and own issues and thus can hate him (in reality with that they hate themselves).

          Also people tend to have a herd mentality (it’s just an evolutionary heritage that we want to belong to groups and want others to clearly belong to a group as well – that makes us feel safer), they stand up for their own (eg. gay people for other gay people) but you will have a hard time in this word if you are not perceived to belog to any group. I think if MJ had been gay he would have got a lot more support from the media and there would have been groups standing up for him.

          “Not surprisingly, I recently discovered that one of Michael’s biggest and most persistent bashers on one of those boards is a gay man who has apparently felt traumatized from a life of being forced to hide his true self. His resentment of Michael is rooted in the fact that he perceives him as a gay man who wouldn’t “come out.” This seems to be quite common, in fact (I suppose you could say I have some interest in psychoanalyzing the mindset of MJ haters and where all that rage is coming from, lol).”

          Yes, that may be a part of the gay hate against MJ – but to me it doesn’t make sense. Even if they think he was a gay man in the closet is that a reason to hate and dehumanize? Do they do that to everyone who they perceive to be in the closet or only to MJ? Do they set up hater groups about every celebrity who they assume to be in the closet? And shouldn’t gay people know to be better than that? Shouldn’t they of all people know how hard it could be for someone to come out, after all many of them were in those shoes – or still are (online posting is anonymous in many cases, so many who are “out” outline may not be out in their everyday life)? (I do not think MJ had anything to come out about because evidence points to him being straight like he said, I’m just talking from the perspective of “even if someone assumes he was gay”.)

          I also find it an interesting phenomenon that the most vile media against MJ during the trial was the liberal media (NBC, Vanity Fair etc.). Actually any slight support MJ got came from the conservative media (eg. Roger Friedman’s columns on Fox News). (Although here I have to add that CNN had a great legal analyst, Joana Spilbor, who was fair too.) I always found the hatered in the liberal media against MJ curious. Shouldn’t they of all people be more… well, liberal? More understanding of someone who is different and not necessarily assume the worst of him just because he is different? I came to realize that the liberal media is liberal only as long as you belong to one of the well defined groups they are supposed to support. If you are perceived to be outside of all of those groups then you are fair game to them and they can actually become worse in their attacks than the conservative media. It again goes back to that herd mentality/group think thing. MJ was neither this or that to many people from many aspects so he did not have any support web, supporting group behind him – other than his fans. Even politically (ie. in terms of “liberal” or “conservative”) MJ was very interesting – well, ambigous again. Many celebs openly join a political side, support a political cause, define themselves clearly politically. MJ was not like that. On the one hand the way he looked, his unconventional lifestyle etc. would make us think he was a liberal and that liberals would embrace that kind of braveness to be different, but they did not. And maybe that’s because despite of superficialities MJ could not really be boxed into the liberal category. I mean in many ways he was actually very conservative. Heck, he wrote an anti-abortion song. He wrote (quite preachy) songs against sexual promoscuity. He clearly had a love for family. Etc. On the other hand, he was hated by hard line conservatives like Sneddon and Co. for his difference.
          So there you have it, again you find MJ between two worlds and not fitting into any well defined boxes and not only not getting support from any group but being attacked by both.

          1. “I think if he had been clearly gay in these people’s eyes he would have had an easier time. Yes, there is still homophobia, but homosexuality is at least a nice, clear box that you can put people in and clearly categorize and label them if they fall into that category. I agree with Nina that in MJ’s case I think most people’s problem is this ambiguity in terms of race, gender and sexuality.”

            I agree absolutely. It s the inability to put Michael into any neatly categorized box that seems to bug the stew out of so many. Even in the hard rock world, that biggest bastion of good ol’ macho boy homophobia, they have no issues with embracing Freddie Mercury, which is interesting. This may stem partly from two reasons-firstly and most importantly, because they have the good sense to recognize that his talent far out-trumps their homophobia, but also because he wasn’t a flaming, effeminate gay man and therefore, it wasn’t “in your face” so I think, therefore, it was more palatable for Queen’s straight male fans to accept.

            If Michael had ever “come out” it would have then made it much easier because people could have then said, “Okay, so now we can put him in that box and everything makes sense to us now” and move on. But because they were never quite able to do that, I think a kind of (almost) resentment grew up around that inability.

        4. “Not surprisingly, I recently discovered that one of Michael’s biggest and most persistent bashers on one of those boards is a gay man who has apparently felt traumatized from a life of being forced to hide his true self. His resentment of Michael is rooted in the fact that he perceives him as a gay man who wouldn’t “come out.” ”

          Raven, you made me curious. Is that Mike Par? (A long time ago I have seen his FB page where he identified himself as a gay man. That’ why I’m asking.)

  19. Nina:
    “I agree, Simba. You cannot teach, write about, or talk about Michael Jackson without talking about racism. It’s essential. And I don’t know about anyone else; but I’d be the last to insist he was a “universal” figure in this regard. (And I never claimed he was.)”

    Simba:
    “I wonder how you and others here can so obstinately refuse to acknowledge that Michael’s troubles were engendered by racism, not his makeup, wardobe, or Bubbles the chimp.”

    Hmmm.

  20. Hi Raven

    Am ducking out of this ‘debate’!! now, but just wanted to thank you for a very interesting part 3 blog, and am very much looking forward to what you have to say in part 4.

    1. I will start drafting Part 4 this week. I never really know in advance how long a post may take-sometimes they come together rather quickly; other times, it seems to take forever. But hopefully it will be up soon. It’s so sad that Andrae Crouch has passed just as I am getting ready to revisit “Will You Be There.” That has always been an emotionally difficult track for me, anyway. Now it is going to be even moreso.

  21. Raven said
    “As I said in my earlier response to Nina, I don’t agree that he was singled out or targeted anymore than many other celebrities have been, but I do think he was definitely a victim of the double standard that has so often seen powerful black celebrities-especially powerful black men-taken down. When you add to that recipe all of the other ,,,”
    Sorry I don´t agree with you, but MJ has been treated worse then other celebreties. Have you ever heard that there was an autopsy show (I am talking about the first one on Discovery Channel, which was thankfully prevented) planned, that they discussed his private parts and other private matters on national tv, that he was falsely accused of a heinious crime and many people believe despite the evidence, that he is guilty, that they make an interview with the man, who is responsible for his death on the 5th anniversary of his demise (!?), how they treated him after his death ( remember the vile TV reports during the Murray trial,I don´t need to go depths), how he was falsely accused again by some money whores (yes, that´s what they are). But as more time goes by, the tabloid`s stories will decrease, thank god, I read a lot of comments about WR and JS and the majority thinks they are only after money.

    1. Yes, I know about the Discovery show and wrote a very vehement post in protest of it in Feb of 2010. But if anyone thinks Michael alone is singled out for such indignity, they are sorely mistaken. You only have to do a quick google search to find many celebrity autopsy photos, not to mention very graphic photos of many celebrity death scenes. There has been a graphic autopsy photo of Tupac Shakur, with the Y incision already slashed into his chest, that has been online for years. There are photos of JFK on an autopsy table with his head split open. Michael’s autopsy photo was shown in court for the purpose of convicting Conrad Murray. Unfortunately, as a result of having TV cameras allowed in the courtroom, those images were then picked up and exploited by the media. Until then, we hadn’t seen any post-mortem images of Michael and I was hoping we never would. However, there does seem to be a morbid fascination with the celebrity death cult. I think human nature just tends to be very morbid in general (the way we instinctively gawk when we pass an accident, instead of looking away, seems to be genetically encoded somehow) and with celebrities in particular, there seems to be a general consensus that they are still public figures, even in death. It is an injustice, for sure, but I think we have to recognize that it is an injustice for everyone it affects.

      I think that we, as fans, tend to find these things much harder to deal with because we care about Michael like family and he is not just another dead celebrity to us. But my point is that if I protest Michael’s autopsy images being shown, and yet still look up those of other celebs or condone the practice by being mum about it, that is creating a double standard that I’m not sure is fair.

      But absolutely, there was/is a kind of intensified morbid interest in Michael’s details because he was so often looked upon as a “freak” and there is a definite, dehumanizing element to it. Also, I remember that many media outlets, as well as the public in general, expressed outrage over the leak of the Whitney Houston casket photo, yet there was no similar “outrage” over splashing Michael’s autopsy photo all over tabloid covers. By comparison, Whitney’s casket photo was hardly shocking or scandalous-at least she was clothed, and in peaceful repose (not about to be sliced open). But one way they may “justify” it-if you can call it that-is in how the photos were obtained. Once the autopsy images of Michael were shown in court (and thus leaked to the media) they considered it fair game; whereas the Whitney photo was a result of paparazzi slipping into the funeral under false pretenses. Either way, both are exploitative and unforgivable. The media didn’t have to run with those photos, but of course we all knew they would.

      What concerns me more, however, is the fact that these types of shows are often spreading erroneous and falsified information. The actual autopsy report is freely available online for anyone who wants to read it, but most people aren’t going to bother. It’s much easier to have the info spoonfed to them and filtered through the biased agenda of some phony doctor or sensationalized TV show.

  22. re Caro, Michael was indeed unique and in a league of his own . However with the examples you gave, you are missing the point.

    ‘He won countless awards for being first in so many fields”; Yes he did and probably he won the most , but so did other artists in their fields. eg filmmakers, actors , opera and jazz singers etc .

    ‘He started the ‘crossover’ musical trend to take R & B to other races’:
    That is historically false. The most significant cross over of R&B was into R&R , long before Michael Jackson. Michaels cross over started with the Jackson 5, with what Motown fabricated as Bubble gum which was INTENDED to cross over and did. In the 70s the J5 performed in Europe in an almost 100% white audience and in other continents as well. Diana Ross and the Supremes were from the same school, before Michael; Most important, Michael did not cross over with R&B.

    “That music was heard on so-called ‘white’ tv and radio stations:”
    Again, please inform yourself . We recently had a discussion on this blog about who was the first black artist on MTV. . Recently I read an article about the MTV story that gives another insight in the whole MTV discussion. I will post it if I find it. Remember why Michael was so disappointed how his masterpiece Off the wall was received at the grammys and how it triggered hm to make Thriller.
    On Dancing with the elephants blog someone was ignorant enough to say that Michael thought his album OTW was “gethosized” because it was only successful on the R&B charts (which contradicts your assertion that he crossed over with R&B ) . Which is not only a blatant lie as Michaels never said or suggested such a thing, but it says a lot about this individuals view on R&B.

    “He worked with all sorts of people of different colours and creeds: “
    That is not unique to Michael Jackson. All Michaels predecessors did and even today most black artist do. Why ? Because the music industry is not ruled by blacks and being the biggest in his league, it was unavoidable that he would work with those who rule the business AND v.v. that they had to work with him.
    Artsts like Ella Fidzgerald , Sammy Davis, Jimi Hendrix also worked with people from all coulours and creeds. The sad thing is that despite their talent it was due to their association with whites that some were allowed to perform in white clubs. Marilyn Monroe was instrumental for EF to perform in white clubs..The New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote that in the Songbook series Fitzgerald “performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis’ contemporaneous integration of white and African American soul. Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians

    ” (Steven Spielberg’s ridiculous anti-Semitic accusations notwithstanding);” FYI Michael did make anti semitic remarks that were caught on tape by one of his so called friends . He may not have meant it , but he said it . He was human !

    “He married two white women”; Imo there is nothing groundbreaking in marrying white women. Being Michael Jackson ,at that time he could marry whoever he wanted even Elvis daughter,. It WAS groundbreaking when Sammy Davis , Quincy Jones and other blacks did at a time when it was a CRIME and you could go to jail for it in most of the USA, which did happen to some.! Yet still today some erroneusly think his marriage to LMP was a scam. On the other hand the whole world , including MJ fans know that if it was not for his mother he would never have married Debbie Rowe as she was never meant to be his wife and she never was.

    “He had multiracial children and he he also had North American Indian blood in his own veins for goodness sake”:
    Iam ‘for goodess sake’ multiracial because my parents HAPPENED to have met and love each other, but I fail to see how this is an accomplishment. Even in South Africa 10% of the population born during the heydays of apartheid was of mixed race. In the Americas the majority of the population is somehow mixed. Oprah and the Presleys are related, Spike Lee found out he has white (slave owners) ancestors and has a white cousin. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1270264/Acclaimed-black-film-director-Spike-Lee-discovers-white-cousin.html

    “How can he not challenge us on these issues, when it seems to me that he challenged himself all the time “
    Yes he challenged himself all the time. However , all the above may be challenging to you , but it happens every day and its been happening since ages, nothing challenging there especially not for Michael Jackson.
    By reducing his significance to these platitudes and making incorrect assertions you are not doing him justice.

    Despite the different opinions , I like this discussion as it gives us an insight ,not so much in Michael Jackson, but in all of our personal, social and cultural views . Something that on the other hand only Michael Jackson could bring about, which imo speaks more of who and what he was than all the above.

    1. “On the other hand the whole world , including MJ fans know that if it was not for his mother he would never have married Debbie Rowe as she was never meant to be his wife and she never was.”

      One of the raps against Katherine Jackson is that she always treated Michael as if he was the same as his brothers, not taking into account the extraordinary circumstances of his life. But Katherine never insisted that his brothers marry the women who carried their children out of wedlock, and all Jackson offspring have been recognized and accepted as family. Katherine even welcomed Joe’s “outside” daughter into her home. So what’s so special about Debbie?

      I think Michael, in a burst of perspicacity, realized that given the past charges against him, there might be future efforts to take his child away from him. Under the law, a baby born to a married woman is presumed to be the offspring of the husband. It would be a lot harder to wrest custody away from him. There are plenty of ugly stories in the news about custody and visitation battles between unmarried parents, most recently Jason Patric’s struggle to be recognized as his son’s father. Marriage to Debbie provided Michael an extra layer of protection.

  23. Raven: “Some fans do seem to have the attitude that Michael was/is somehow singled out for persecution, and that simply isn’t true.”

    I adamantly disagree. I do appreciate reasoned and evenhanded treatment of issues like this one, but that does not mean that facts and evidence should be ignored or sacrificed. Michael was persecuted by the media–the evidence is irrefutable and overwhelming–and many respected journalists, lawyers, academics, political publications, media pundits, editorialists, comedians, etc. have publicly addressed the tragedy of the irrational hatred directed against him. These include James Baldwin, Al Sharpton, Charles Thompson, Joe Vogel, Spike Lee, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Mesereau, Johnny Cochrane, Nelson Mandela, Susan Fast, and Susan Woodward, whose book “Otherness and Power: Michael Jackson and His Media Critics” you have covered. Susan Woodward’s study “Otherness and Power: Michael Jackson and His Media Critics” is–to quote it’s blurb– “an innovative study of the cultural impact of Michael Jackson. Jackson had millions of ardent fans around the world, but from the early days of his adult career many in the media mocked and reviled him. How did such divergent attitudes come about? This book examines the origins and psychological underpinnings of the media’s hostility by closely analyzing some of the most harshly critical writings about Jackson.”

    Spike Lee: “People . . .they were drinking hater-ade. They don’t call him by his name — ‘Wacko Jacko’ ??? It’s shameful…. Those people should be ashamed what they did to him.”

    As for “What really bothered me, for example, with the protests against the most recent autopsy show was [that it was] part of a series and they were going to be discussing the explicit details of many celebrity autopsies, not just Michael’s. Anna Nicole Smith’s autopsy was featured as part of the series and no one seemed to care about that.”

    It’s a bold leap to make that just because Michael’s fans didn’t mention other celebrities by name in their protests that they weren’t also appalled at the raping of all of them.

    Mocking a celebrity is one thing. Stalking is another. But what the media leveled at Michael Jackson was unprecedented irrational unrelenting pure hatred.

    If we’re uncomfortable with the word “persecuted” because it calls up some image of a sainted martyr, too bad. It’s a descriptive word that word that should be used when it speaks the truth. Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years. Look at the evidence and tell me Michael wasn’t persecuted. He was.

    “When you are behind bars with no hope of release, you need to find strength wherever you can,” President Mandela said in an exclusive interview. “Personally I found strength in Michael Jackson.”

    Furthermore, in 2010, The Discovery Channel did air–in the UK at least– a sick, exploitative Michael Jackson “autopsy” feature. Which included no other celebrities. Below is responsive essay by Jeff Koopersmith. I’m going to post the whole thing even though it’s very long. I think he has a valid point.

    Friday, 31 December 2010: “The Lynching of Michael Jackson Continues” — Jeff Koopersmith on Discovery Channel’s ghoulish decision to protract the high-tech lynching of an iconic American entertainer.
    ________________________________________

    ‘Lugano, Switzerland — My email in-box was filled today with notes decrying and weeping over DISCOVERY CHANNEL’s plans to air the television special “Michael Jackson’s Autopsy…”, a horrifying example of monetizing the death of one of the world’s most thrilling and beloved entertainers.

    “It would sicken me to give you the time and date of this most American felony-on-taste, but suffice it to say DISCOVERY is launching this dark, cartoon-like freak show by “trying it on” in Europe — not, I suppose, to see if attacks on the channel will be fiercer, but to make last minute changes should European viewers see it as worse than anticipated — or not as disgusting as they had hoped.

    “It has to wow them in Missouri.

    “The lure? DISCOVERY has put together a slimy plastic replica of Michael Jackson’s corpse upon which some freak-show “coroner” will perform a phony, by all definition possible, “autopsy” on the Mattel-like “creature” supposedly to air some “new information” on the King of Pop’s tragic death — and I do add — life.

    “Why? We all know how he died: he died of a shattered heart.

    “In 2003, I wrote a op-ed titled “The Lynching of Michael Jackson”, which still holds true today and has been borrowed with our permission and re-posted on thousands of websites and in print around the world.

    It began thus:

    “Feb. 20, 2003 — NEW YORK (apj.us) — Bill O’Reilly, master hatemonger for Rupert Murdoch’s/Roger Ailes’ FOX News Channel, should be proud of himself this week.

    “His vicious, nonstop attacks on Michael Jackson have come to fruition in the massively frenzied media lynching of the once-innocent, now-trampled persona of the little boy who led the Jackson Five, and later lost himself to what I call “The American Nightmare”: reaching the pinnacle of success only to be gunned down from the envy of it…

    “That piece is now almost eight years old. It referenced the current trend to pile-on Jackson for his falsely reported, and untrue by judge and jury, “molestation of little boys.” I knew before that verdict that Jackson was incapable of such evil, but Roger Ailes, that impenitent pig — and his immigrant boss, Rupert Murdoch — never let up on Jackson. They tried and convicted him before his trumped-up inquisition began in California.

    “Of course Jackson was proved innocent.

    “Not once did Fox, or any other of the mass media jackals who ripped into Jackson apologize for latching on to every untruth spat out by undistinguished and corrupt police, prosecutors, and others as if they were the words of God.

    “Now David Zaslav, who took over as President and Chief Executive Officer of DISCOVERY, proves he too is a hateful vampire sucking on the last drops of chicken blood dripping from the plastic cadaver of a heartbroken soul who brought so much joy into our ever-more-horrific world.

    “It is ironic that DISCOVERY’s headquarters are only a heartbeat away from the White House in Silver Spring, Maryland and just a few miles from the ghettos of Washington. DC where Michael Jackson was the Emperor of music and dance for decades. One can only hope that President Obama will phone Mr. Zaslav as he recently did to cheer on Michael Vick.

    “It makes no difference whether DISCOVERY “implies” that Jackson was murdered or died from a broken heart, which, no matter what the earthly cause, was most certainly the final invitation.

    “Jackson was proven innocent of all the hoodwink charges made against him, but he was yet sentenced and trampled into a monstrous unrecoverable life by the forerunners of DISCOVERY and most certainly FOX.

    “Michael Jackson was simply too crushed and frail to rise again although he tried again and again. Those who loved his music and his gifts to us as I did, continued to love him — even more. But we were not enough, and for some reason he still died wretchedly young, and of course “mysteriously” — at least that was the staged ambiance most profitable for the media was it not?

    “It is not important how Michael Jackson died. Not really. It is far more important why he died.

    “If he was assassinated, over-drugged, suicidal, or tripped over a balustrade — whatever, in tragic fact, happened, it falls uninteresting to any person with heart. The physical cause remains insignificant.

    “What is of import with regard Michael Jackson, is the chronicle of how a king can be driven to lonely near-madness from sadness, and finally to death born from unremitting publicized hatred. That was the murder weapon, as it all-too-often is among those adored.

    “From the moment he was born Michael Jackson was a “marked man” celebrated by most and later beaten to death by those who envied or could profit from his celebrity.”

    This especially bears repeating: “What is of import with regard Michael Jackson, is the chronicle of how a king can be driven to lonely near-madness from sadness, and finally to death born from unremitting publicized hatred. That was the murder weapon.”

    I agree.

    1. I’ve never, ever said there was no media conspiracy against Michael Jackson. To the contrary, it was my comment that there undeniably WAS a media conspiracy against him that sparked this whole debate. But I stand by what I said that he has not been the only celebrity thus singled out. Was it extreme? Yes, it was, especially if we go back to the period from 2000-2006 or so. But again, what I said is that Michael was victim of the same system that has destroyed many powerful black icons. I am quite well aware of the long and sordid history of Michael’s media persecution, and never anywhere did I state that he wasn’t persecuted; I simply stated he wasn’t the only one (for sure, certainly not the only one whose autopsy and details of his death have been dissected for public entertainment). But persecuted? Yes. I have an entire category here that is devoted to the heading of “The Never Ending Media War.” That category wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a good reason for it!

  24. Persecute: Torment. Torture. Terrorize. Tyrannize.

    To treat with gross injustice–with intent to destroy.

    Irrational. Unrelenting.

    To treat with gross injustice.

    Gross injustice.

    Gross injustice.

    To terrorize with the intent to destroy.

  25. In my lifetime I have never seen anyone treated as badly by the press as Michael was. He was already complaining about that even before the first allegations broke (during the time of Bad and at the 93 Grammy award). It continued with increasing mean-spiritedness and prevalence for at least 30 years!! He certainly used his power on the world stage to protest about it on many occasions–in song and in direct statements, interviews, etc.–‘stop filthy press!’ I agree with Armond White when he calls it a ‘power struggle’ between the media and MJ and the fans have been caught up in it.

    Here’s a quote from White’s book:

    “Writing during the crux of Michael Jackson’s career gave me the chance to scrutinize a cultural phenomenon at the moment it reached a peak of popular attention and the depths of public censure. Post-Thriller, the mainstream media attempted to topple Jackson’s showbiz eminence which it had helped build–a circular process satisfying animal bloodlust and political resentment. It was a power struggle.

    The power struggle continues following Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009. Past arguments about Jackson’s significance were reignited, as if to finally grant or withhold respect and recognition. As Jackson painfully learned, his fans were also confronted with music, film, and TV industry machinations; complelled to recognize that there were forces of social approval and condemnation; obliged to understand in new ways the moral and social importance of art.”

    That’s in his intro–in the conclusion, he writes:

    “As the soulless media returns to its routine of hateful recrimination, this cultural fact remains: We all live, dance, and cry in Michael Jackson’s shadow.”

    IMO what the media did, how it affected him–changed his life and his art–is important to consider and document.

  26. Raven, I have no particularly “pugnacious” (!) or quarrelsome points to add here—just to say thank you for taking on the difficult challenge of parsing these issues, through Susan Fast’s excellent book!

    I haven’t googled it, but it’s no secret to me that many women, straight and otherwise, are attracted to men whose masculinity is —shall we say, *nuanced* or *atypical.* I count Michael Jackson among these men—and believe me, I mean NO affront by it!

    I look forward to reading your next insights on the issues Fast has brought forward in her book.

    1. Hi Nina –

      I agree, and I am among the many straight women who are attracted to MJ precisely because he represents a different take on the masculine. He challenges the conventional idea of masculinity and in so doing challenges what we believe to be “the natural order of things.” In fact, he challenges our understanding of the natural order of things in many areas.

      I do not see him as transgressing society’s rules, but as ignoring them altogether, and replacing them with his own set of values. In every way he seems to be saying “I am a man, but I don’t buy all these cultural projections of what manhood is supposed to be. I am going to express masculinity in my own way, in a way that feels right to me.” And, it worked!!!!

      Many straight women are sick to death of the macho man whose masculinity is proven by his ability to subdue and dominate “his” woman – and everything and everyone else in sight. Whenever I meet such a man, I am repelled not attracted. So, from an evolutionary standpoint, if women are becoming sexually attracted to men like MJ, who espouse a different approach to masculinity, then maybe all those macho types who want to make war on women and everyone else will slowly disappear from the landscape and the world will be a better place. I believe that many straight women are hungry for men who want to make love to them, who love and value them, not for men who want to f**k them and toss them aside – or keep them around to be on the receiving end of male dominance behavior, including regular beatings. Lamentably, rape still appears to be an erotic fantasy for some. Can I tell you how exhausted I am with male dominance behavior??? And, so many men who exhibit it are so weak on the inside! And boring.

      Whatever a man does is masculine. Michael Jackson was a man, an incredibly strong and courageous straight man, so he was providing a model for a new type of straight masculinity — a model that did not shrink in fear from those characteristics often culturally associated with women, who did not see them as in any way taking away from his masculinity. The enthusiastic, sexual, response of so many straight women to him I think proves his point.

      It is not the natural order of things that women wear make up and men don’t or that women ornament themselves and men don’t or that women wear flamboyant clothing and men don’t or that women are gentle and men aren’t — or that men should have contempt for the feminine….in fact it seems against the natural order of things that men should have contempt for and want to damage the feminine. It seems much more natural to me that men should love it and cherish women., as MJ did. To me, the macho man image is a symptom of corruption and sickness; it does not represent a healthy male psychology. MJ was providing a cultural correction.

      1. Hi Eleanor, women have been attrackted by Michaels physical appearance and image as long as I can remember , but I think that you are painting two very extreme pictures here: Michael as the perfect looking and behaving man vs the average man as some kind of savage Neanderthaler. This is 2015 and imo you are describing a stereotype that I doubt still exists or ever existed as the norm . Most of our spouses/partners will not particularly dress or look like Michael , no one does , but they are neither ‘the macho man whose masculinity is proven by his ability to subdue and dominate “his” woman – and everything and everyone else in sight. “or men who want to f**k us and toss us aside – or keep us around to be on the receiving end of male dominance behavior, including regular beatings “
        And if they do exist are there really women who fall for these men?
        The other extreme , Michael as the perfect man and partner is also an illusion. As far as ( intimate) relationships with women is concerned, the only credible reference we have is from Lisa Marie Presley. Going by her words- even considering she was exaggerating because of the failed marriage – he was not completely devoid of macho behavior( staying away for weeks without notice). He was as human as they come.

        1. Hi Sina –

          Sadly, these men exist and women still fall for them. Male dominance does not have to be physical; most of the time it is psychological. And it is so prevalent, that it often is just accepted as the natural order of things – and is invisible.

          You might be interested in this article in the NYT:
          http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/opinion/sunday/speaking-while-female.html?ref=opinion

          Generally, I am thinking at at the societal level, not the level of the individual, where there are many exceptions. But culturally, we are still patriarchal and warlike, and IMHO, that needs to change, and I think MJ’s artistic vision leads us in the right direction.

          And, I was referring to MJ’s style as a performer, his costuming and his attitudes toward women as exemplified in his music, relative to the misogynistic lyrics of many other performers.

          As far as I know, in his personal dress, he was pretty plain MJ – red shirt, black pants, loafers.

          1. MJ’s lyrics could be plenty misogynistic (“Dirty Diana” and “Give in To Me” come immediately to mind, and there are others.) But that’s just a trope, a well-known feature of most pop music. Most male pop stars have a number of songs like this in their repertoire.

            Is it a reflection on MJ’s general attitude toward women? I doubt it. But on the other hand, I find no reason to believe he wasn’t as misogynistic as the average run of men—-and even women.

            Misogynistic attitudes, as well as racist ones, are part and parcel of the ideological structure we were born into, and that envelops us as members of the culture. I don’t think anyone is specifically exempt from having these attitudes. The best anyone can do is to work on becoming more conscious of them in oneself.

          2. I really don’t think MJ was a misogynist, nor do I think those songs misogynistic. Interesting that you do.

            But I do agree that the average run of men and women are misogynistic, and misogyny is often expressed in male dominance behavior on the part of men and the acceptance of male dominance behavior on the part of women – and society in general – as the natural order of things. To me, MJ offered an antidote to these attitudes.

            .

          3. Ah, it’s interesting that I have come upon this comment after responding to Suzy. This may take things in a slightly different direction. I would agree that I don’t think Michael was a misogynist but he did sometimes seem very caught up in the whole madonna/whore complex (typical of many men, however). The fact that he seemed to have such an idealized vision of what “the perfect woman” should be like was one reason he had so much difficulty maintaining long-term relationships. His “femme fatale” songs grew out of a lifetime of experiencing the behaviors of the typical women encountered on the road (as well as the ones who would surround Hayvenhurst on a daily basis and even break into the house!) so there grew a mistrust for certain types of women; a belief that their motives are either to win you sexually like a trophy; to entrap you with a pregnancy, or to take your money (or all three). Something like “Liberian Girl,” on the other hand, represents that feminine ideal-but the “Liberian Girl” doesn’t actually do much. She’s kind of just there, meek and silent except to state to her man “I love you, too” which is pretty much literally what her chant translates to. The “femme fatale” songs were always part of his repertoire to some degree, but over time, they became balanced with songs that seemed to also represent a growing maturity in his views of women.

            However, whenever I read Michael’s views on women (the ones he expressed via private conversations, which are thus probably more open and honest) I am always struck by the fact that his expectations seemed exceedingly high. I “get” that he had ample reasons to mistrust women and would always have to wonder if a woman was after him or his money, but by the same token, he seemed genuinely threatened by strong women, especially women who were confident in expressing their sexuality. Hence, the reason he was so put-off by Madonna (but interesting that he still kept talking to her, and owned a copy of her book “Sex” even after claiming to have been so repulsed by her suggestion of looking at “spanky” books). When I hear him speak so glowingly of Princess Diana and how he would have loved to have hooked up with her because she was his “ideal” I have to wonder how long such a union would have lasted even if it could have happened. Eventually, he would have discovered that she, like all the others, was a real woman with real issues and real opinions, and at that point, I imagine the idealism would have started to diminish.

  27. I come from the standpoint that gender and race are social constructions; so I’m afraid I can’t speak for the “natural order of things.” And I believe “femininity” and “masculinity” are essentially fictions; made-up concepts that are extremely variable across cultures and historical periods. So I think we should really bear that in mind when we talk about Michael Jackson, or for that matter, Prince or David Bowie—who, along with Annie Lennox and Boy George, were also said to be representatives of “the New Androgyny” in pop music in the ’80s.

    That said, masculinity surely encompasses a wide range of traits; extreme machismo is only one of them, and (although I’ve seen some articles recently about a new development, the “lumbersexual”), the “he-man” type these days is relatively rarity in the straight world.

    1. Yes, I agree that gender is a social construct —

      “Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”
      http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/

      So, Michael Jackson, a biological male was offering a new version of masculinity.

      Race incorporates both the genetic and the cultural in a single word, which confuses the issue and leads people to mistakenly believe that collective behavioral characteristics that are co-extensive with culture-wide physical characteristics, are also genetic..

      Culturally constructed behaviors are culture wide and allow humans to function collectively. The human ability to culturally construct attitudes and behaviors allows human societies to respond to changing environments more quickly than dependence on natural selection would allow. Cultural constructs need to be changed when they no longer serve the common good. Many current constructs having to do with race and gender operate against the common good, and need to be changed.

      For example, the cultural construct that men should dominate women, often is still expressed in domestic abuse and sexual assaults, and in the wider culture with the fact that women are economically punished for having children, resulting in a large percentage of the people in poverty in the US being women, putting the lives of both women and children at risk. These same attitudes also affect how society treats transwomen. But if we could address the basic bad attitudes toward women, it would help others.

      Through his art, MJ was helping to bring about necessary change, and much of the hatred which he had to deal with arose from misogyny, as well as racism.

      1. “So, Michael Jackson, a biological male was offering a new version of masculinity.”

        In my opinion, that’s quite an exaggeration. He was , in the words of Eddie Murphy no less, “a good-looking guy”. His body was almost hyper-masculine, with his broad shoulders, narrow hips, well- endowed genitalia, which are not “new” masculine attributes.

        “Oh, but he wore makeup!” Yes – on stage and during personal appearances. Male performers usually wear makeup, and musicians, especially rock musicians, tend to have long hair, eyeliner, and lipstick. They’ve looked like that since the sixties; nothing “new” about it.

        “He was like a mother to his children.” It’s not like he gave birth to them. He took them with him everywhere, read to them, even cooked for them sometimes, but he had nannies for the day-to-day care.

        As noted before, he dressed conventionally offstage. He didn’t take on a feminine name, like Marilyn Manson. He didn’t wear skirts like Kanye. His speaking voice was high, but he wasn’t effeminate. So how was he emblematic of a “new masculinity”?

        Michael had a couple of ‘masculine traits’ that have attracted women from the beginning of time – power and money. They’re a sure thing. With enough power and enough money, it doesn’t really matter what else a man has or doesn’t have. I don’t think Georgina Chapman married Harvey Weinstein for his fashion sense or his sparkling conversation.

        I find Michael very appealing sexually, and I find feminine traits in men very off-putting. Yeah, gay men can be ‘hot’ to me, but only if they look like Matt Bomer!

  28. To me MJ did not come across as feminine. He might have been in touch with his female side, he might have put on make-up and a high voice etc., but on the other hand he had such a hot manly swagger, OMG. LOL. His mannerisms, the way he carried himself were actually pretty masculine IMO. He had a non-conventional masculinity, for sure, but that was not equal to femininity.

    I realized on myself that I tend to be attracted to non-conventional masculinity. I always found conventional, cliché masculinity somewhat boring. All those “sexiest man alive” lists in celeb mags were never of any interest to me because they always seem to feature the same type of men. For some reason the men on them look all the same to me. They always seem to represent one certain type of masculinity and a certain type of cliché taste in men.

    But I remember being a 10-year-old girl and seeing Michael for the first time on the cover of the Bad album and he was immediately attractive to me. And of course I was not alone with my crush. Yet, the media managed to ignore this elephant in the room for all these years (ie. MJ’s sex appeal to millions of women).

    1. In the 80s there were no Arnold Schwarzenegger looking types of artists. Most pop and rockstars looked androgynous, wore make up , -eyeliner was a must- big puffed or long curly hair , nail polish ,tight pants . That was the norm and we didnt think of it as feminine .

      I sense a double standard in the approach of male and female sexuality in the ongoing discussion about Michaels sex/sensuality/sexuality . If the same was said about a female artist, the same people would call it sexism .

      1. “I sense a double standard in the approach of male and female sexuality in the ongoing discussion about Michaels sex/sensuality/sexuality . If the same was said about a female artist, the same people would call it sexism .”

        Would you elaborate?

      2. This is somewhat the point I have been making about Michael for a long time. As an 80’s artist (for essentially, his solo career places him squarely as an 80’s artist) he was very much a product of his time in that regard, and I didn’t see anything about him or his look at that time that was substantially different from what many other male artists were doing. But the pop music and rock culture has always been about pushing those boundaries of male and female tropes. The 80’s was the decade when it was almost par for the course to have a little dash of androgynous appeal. The common joke among rockers back then was that all the guys were prettier than the chicks.

    2. I really believe that this is a position that Susan Fast shares, from my understanding of the book. I don’t get the sense that she thinks of Michael as being “feminine.” In fact, she refers to his masculine swagger several times, and as I have stated, actually debunks a lot of the nonsensical theories that purported either a sexless or effeminate Michael. I believe she is looking at it more from a cultural perspective. To many, Michael’s appearance, mannerisms, etc did represent a kind of gender ambiguity and we can’t deny that it struck a nerve for a lot of people, in both good and bad ways. As I was just responding to Sina, the 80’s was the height of the era in which many male performers wore heavy makeup and long hair, and many had been pushing that envelope long before that (Mick Jagger was wearing eyeliner and long hair in the 60’s). So there had to be a reason why these things, for whatever reason, struck a deeper nerve when Michael did them. That gets us back to the issue of racism again, which did seem to be a big part of it. For my part, as I stated, I don’t think it was so much that he was consciously incorporating what we might call “the feminine” into his art. As Karen Faye stated (which I believe is true), it seemed to be more about establishing a certain equality between male and female appeal, including the freedom to use makeup, and to express a sensual appreciation of the body (going back to the discussion of the auto-eroticism of the panther dance, for example). He seemed to be saying that those things are not the exclusive right of one sex or the other, so in that regard, I suppose he was challenging sexual norms even if he didn’t articulate it as such.

      If you look at a lot of the typical male rock stars from the 80’s, we might say, yes, their “look” was often androgynous-long, pouffy hair, lipstick, eyeliner, nail polish, etc-but once you got past the shallow surface of appearance, their public behavior was still the same old school of macho behavior. My favorite quote from Vince Neil back in the day was when he said, “Just because we wear lipstick doesn’t mean we can’t kick your ass.” It seemed to be a way of combining the sex appeal of a feminized appearance while maintaining the typical, macho status quo, so that even though they might look quite “pretty” there was no danger-God forbid!-that anyone would question their masculinity or sexuality. But although Michael adopted a lot of the “look” of the era, he did not adopt a lot of the overly exaggerated macho posturing that often went with it.

      1. One of my problems with Susan Fast is her describing Michael’s appearance in the Bucharest concert as “somewhat feminized”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? IMO, she’s insinuating that he was taking female hormones, or some other such nonsense. I own that DVD and have watched it many times, and the Michael Jackson I see is a conventionally masculine man, nothing feminine about him. I suspect Ms. Fast just finds the idea of a “feminized” Michael appealing.

        I still believe that you are not giving racism enough ‘credit’ for the way Michael was treated. I don’t believe it was because you couldn’t fit him into one box. (Actually you could – the black male box.) Nobody seems dismayed about the complex sexuality of Pete Wentz, Steven Tyler, or other rock stars who have openly discussed being bi-sexual.

        I don’t think you can draw any conclusions about Michael because he didn’t find Madonna particularly appealing. She’s not every guy’s cup of tea. (Of course that doesn’t mean he didn’t bang her at least once. She’s been coyly hinting lately that he did.) We don’t know what long term relationships he may have had. Liza Minnelli, Frank Cascio, and others may not be completely reliable, but they’ve talked about women not in the public eye he was involved with. They have no reason to lie. Contentious as it sometimes was, Michael’s relationship with LMP lasted for years, before and after their marriage. Clearly he was capable of long term love – he was in love with Diana Ross his entire life. Some celebrities desire to keep their private lives private, and they’re quite good at it. (Nobody has ever seen a photo of Kerry Washington’s baby.)

        1. “Nobody seems dismayed about the complex sexuality of Pete Wentz, Steven Tyler, or other rock stars who have openly discussed being bi-sexual.”

          Being bisexual IS a box! In MJ’s case IMO the source of discomfort is that he was somewhat unknowble – at least perceived as such. Many people just did not know in which box to put him.

          Yes, he was a black straight male – that’s how he identified himself and there is no reason to question any part of that. But we are talking about perception here. In many people’s eyes he was ambigious and unknowable in some or all of those areas (race, gender, sexuality) which caused discomfort in those people.

  29. To me what I found appealing about MJ as a man (as opposed to just looking at him as a musician and artist) was his emotional expressiveness–his sensitivity. That as a man he was able to express his emotions fully and not try to stuff them–to laugh, to cry, etc. And what he prioritized–his values–and his intelligence. I would hate to spend time with just a ‘pretty face’ and a hot bod–but Michael was deep, a person I feel I could have had a real conversation with. He feels to me like a fully developed and evolved person. I find that kind of intelligence very attractive.

    Re macho men–there are plenty where I live–they shoot deer, trap foxes to sell the fur, and wear T-shirts that say, “What part of ‘shall not be abridged’ don’t you understand?”

    I think sexism is alive and well in USA and elsewhere–just take a look at any government on the planet–it’s heavily male represented. Statistics tell us that globally women do a major part of the work, but own a tiny percent of the world’s wealth. I think MJ was sensitive to the plight of woman as well as children–Keep Your Head Up shows this.

  30. “She works so hard just to make her way for a man who just don’t appreciate” . . . “He says his food’s an hour late, she must be out her mind.” etc

  31. As F. Scott Fitzgerald says,
    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

    Not making any claims for myself here… but this is how we can account for his “somewhat feminized appearance,” AND ALSO many elements of hypermasculinity in his dance style.

    1. Nina Y F says, “Not making any claims for myself here… but this is how we can account for his “somewhat feminized appearance,” AND ALSO many elements of hypermasculinity in his dance style.”

      You assume that Fast’s opinion is actually a fact. There are no mental gymnastics required if you don’t accept the notion of a “feminized” Michael.

      “But he didn’t just make his singing and dancing the secret expression of Gay subculture. It was the precise mixture of male and female that made him appeal to everyone. ”

      Except he wasn’t gay, and he didn’t appeal to everyone. But your friend is entitled to his opinion and/or personal fantasy, just like the rest of us. Like many black Americans, I don’t have much tolerance for “tragic mulatto” narratives, but I recognize that the pain is real.

  32. A friend posted this on Facebook on June 29, 2009—a few days after Michael Jackson died. I think he expresses these conundrums better than I can.

    “My tribute to Michael Jackson”

    “Anyone who knows me real well knows that Michael Jackson was not only my favorite artist; he was the most important artist in my life. I wouldn’t care about music and dance and the luster of star power if it weren’t for Michael. I wouldn’t appreciate Fine Art or Pop Art if it weren’t for Michael. I wouldn’t be enamored of the power of Myth if I hadn’t experienced the living Myth that is Michael Jackson.



    “If I hadn’t been so profoundly affected by Michael Jackson first, I wouldn’t care about my other favorite artist, Prince who is constantly compared to Michael (It’s like comparing the tastiest apple in the world to the tastiest orange in the world).

Michael shined so beautifully, so brilliantly and so brightly that he made me want to find what was special inside of me and make it shine that beautifully, that brilliantly, that brightly. And he didn’t just have this effect on me. He did this to almost every other person who witnessed his greatness.



    “So, how can “just” one man affect half the planet so profoundly (and affect the other half of the planet by the sheer volume of his commercial exposure)? Before I answer the how, I’ll tell you what he did for me; what I know he did for many others like me; and what I see that Michael Jackson did for the world.

    “

Being an Artistic Mixed-Race Black, (and not-yet-out-of-the-closet) Gay teenager in the repressive Reagan Eighties, I can honestly say that Michael Jackson saved my life.



    “He was my voice. He spoke to the beauty and enigma of femininity in a masculine body that I was experiencing and fighting at the same time because society said it was wrong. Watching him throw his wrists and hands up in the air so gracefully; it’s clear to me now that he made femininity in a man beautiful. I couldn’t articulate that truth when I first saw it, but I could feel it, which was much more important.



    “And just when it seemed his graceful moves would turn “too” feminine, Michael would turn on that unmistakable BADNESS in his moves, like that SNAP in the line dances of “Beat It” and “Thriller” and “Remember The Time.” Michael’s moves, facial snarls and coos had all the masculine braggadocio of James Brown and Jackie Wilson combined with the wistful grace of Fred Astaire in ballet slippers. This crosscurrent of male and female grace made me feel the fierceness and beauty of my own dancing. Michael inspired me to take my dancing to another level.

 His voice did the same thing as his moves. He could deliver the grittiest vocals on par with James Brown, Ray Charles, or any of the best Gospel singers of the early 20th Century. And he could lay the sweetest, lilting singing in your ear, only to pierce it with the spur of his signature falsetto “wooo’s!” and “oooh’s” and “hoo’s.” It was also Michael’s panache with voicing styles –striding the line between boy and man; femme and butch that appealed to my closeted sensibilities and made me want to be a singer. 

But he didn’t just make his singing and dancing the secret expression of Gay subculture. It was the precise mixture of male and female that made him appeal to everyone. It was the precise beauty of his being that gave me a sense of self-esteem.



    “Again, I would feel to myself but not be able to say: “If everyone can simultaneously make fun of and be in awe of this man at the same time, maybe there’s hope for me.” Even when people made fun of Michael, they were enamored of his grace and talent. Enamored. I had never seen someone who expressed so many parts of me be so loved universally. What Michael did for my pride and self-esteem is no less than CPR. When I say he saved my life, I mean it.



    “As a Black American living in a society where my being black as a race and my Blackness (or “African American”-ness) as a (then) sub-culture were under constant attack, Michael Jackson was none other than our singular savior. The Reverend Al Sharpton said it best yesterday when he said that (and I paraphrase) before there was Obama, before there was Oprah, before there was Tiger Woods or even Michael Jordan, there was Michael Jackson.

”
    ______________________________
    He goes on for several pages more.

  33. A hallmark of the glam rock genre was “flamboyance”– as in flamboyant costumes, outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots, etc. A lot of it was parody and posturing, absurd and comically exaggerated. There was also an extensive use of theatrics. Much of it was played as burlesque and some of it strayed into vulgar. Prince, for instance, played the whole “female-fatale thing” to outrageous effect, with skimpy glitter-girl dresses, glitter-girl platform heels, even women’s kinky black lingerie, deliberately mocking the world–almost a “f–k you” to all the people married to man-woman stereotypes. This was entirely different from what and who Michael was. While glam rock stars were mocking, Michael beamed a radiant, respectful androgyny.

    “As an 80’s artist. . . I didn’t see anything about him or his look at that time that was substantially different from what many other male artists were doing. So there had to be a reason why these things, for whatever reason, struck a deeper nerve when Michael did them. That gets us back to the issue of racism again, which did seem to be a big part of it.” Raven

    Here’s a theory: I don’t think racism was the main culprit. I think what made Michael so threatening was his transcendent grace and gentleness. And genuine beauty (so much more disconcerting and threatening).

    Unlike other glam rock stars playing with androgeny there was no parody about him. He was ethereal and genuinely breathtakingly beautiful.

    1. Your comment made me recall a song by Katie Melua–a wonderful and touching song I first heard in a YouTube tribute to Michael. The first line is “You’re beautiful.” I am not sure if this is the one I saw before, but this is the one I found just now.

    2. Prince nor Michael belong to the glam rock era , they were 100% 80s artists . But flamboyance is of all time. Jimi Hendrix breathed flamboyance , Elvis wore gold suits , big belts ,and hats . Michael loved his hats and glittery military style ( Liberace goes to war as per Michael Bush). Prince was always bolder than Michael and at the start of his career went for the shock effect. But later on he developed a different style , as did Michael from preppie suits to gold pants. It was all a stage image , offstage he wore pijamas . I think Michael admired Prince’s boldness and got bolder himself. Reason why he wanted Prince to participate in a Bad duet . VV Prince also admired him and in all of his concerts pays tribute to him.
      Comparing Prince with Michael is comparing apples with oranges. What they do have in common aside from being black and the same age , is their admiration for artists like James Brown and Isley Brothers and their musical roots where a good voice and singingskills are mandatory. Reason why both of them stand out within their genre.
      There is no need to be dismissive of Prince , they are both great artists .

      It was not only race , but I do think that race was the defining factor in the witchhunt. There are many artists who ‘qualified’ to be scrutinized , repulsive ones like Ozzy Osborn who bit off a bats head on stage. other beautiful artistst ( Michael was not considered beautiful by the tabloids standards ), sexually ambiguous artists , some who slept with underaged girls, wife beaters , child molesters like Gary Glitter, junks like Bill Wyman, womanizers and dead beats like Mick Jagger who denied his first born( black) child and had to be sued to pay an allowance. Most of them are still seen as hero’s.
      What did Michael do worse to deserve the treatment he got ?

      That is why I do not like the ‘Otherness’ label. As positive as it may sound I cant help to see it as the flip side of the label of otherness as in alien/weird that he was plagued with most of his life. Both implying Not like us.
      Maybe if we had put more emphasis on his Sameness instead of his Otherness he could have felt more human and would not have felt the pressure to live up to peoples expectations Imagine keep telling people you are a black non gay American man and they keep telling you you are Other.

  34. I was thinking about this:

    “However, this may be an overly simplified approach. It would fall short, for example, in explaining why Prince-the perfect 80’s embodiment of “dandyism” if ever there was one-still did not raise as much controversy as Michael, but instead, was given pretty much the same artistic pass as Bowie and others. As has been discussed here before, much of it may have had more to do with the general acceptance of avant-garde artists as opposed to “pop” or mainstream artists.”

    Maybe. But I always felt about David Bowie (and about Prince too to a lesser extent) that in his case it’s all theatrics. That’s why he can put on a different persona for every album. He is Ziggy Stardust on one album, then Aladdin Sane on the next, then this, then that. IMO it’s just clear for his audience and critics alike that it’s basically an act in his case. In MJ’s case that’s not so clear. Some things may be an act, but I always felt he gave himself on all of his albums. His act was maybe to exaggerate some of his characteristics, but it was basically him. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why he was more unsettling to some than the theatrics of Bowie (or even Prince).

    1. Yes. Another theory that has been raised is if, indeed, one could say that it was an act and that these people were “in character” then Michael, it seemed, never appeared to be “out of character.”

      I was also thinking about this recently in regard to Johnny Depp. I have always seen a lot of similarities between Michael and a lot of the characters Depp plays (something I wrote about a long time ago in this piece: http://www.allforloveblog.com/old/index718.html) but the difference, again, is that the public realizes these are characters that Depp, the actor, is putting on and off. With Michael, that line was blurred and there was no real distinction between what was “real” vs what was illusion or make-believe.

  35. I know Micheal’s appearance has nothing to do with this post. But I feel I have to comment on something I’ve witnessed the other day. As you all know Michael said that his pale complexion was due to vitiligo, which was confirmed by his autopsy. A lot of the MJ haters still don’t believe that he had the disease even though his autopsy confirmed that he did. Even Stacy Brown himself doesn’t believe that Michael had vitiligo. I really doubt that the doctor performing the autopsy was a rabid MJ fan or a “floon” as some of those idiots like to call MJ fans. MJ haters constantly like to quote this troll who has a YouTube channel who is also African American when it comes to Micheal’s skin complexion. On Micheal’s appearance this black man said “No damn disease does that!” That seems to be the MJ haters’ motto when it comes to determining whether or not Michael had the disease.

    Now, I’m from Trinidad and I work at a supermarket. I’ve noticed this black lady who’s a traffic officer who also has vitiligo. I could tell because of the light patches on her rather caramel skin. A few years ago her condition was mostly on the back of her neck, on her hands, at the corners of her mouth and all over her arms. I saw her again the other day for the first time in a long while and her vitiligo seemed to have gotten worse. Her whole entire face had turned pale. Even though she had her face covered up with some brown makeup, I could still make out how pale her face got. A few years back her face was mostly caramel except for some tiny blotches. The fact that this woman’s face has turned pale is bullet proof evidence that vitiligo causes a person to turn pale. This lady, Darcel de Vlugt, who is also from Trinidad also confirms this: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/woman-magazine/Darcel-273268351.html I’ve seen with my own eyes the effects of vitiligo. I swear on my dead brother that it’s the truth. Seeing how bad this lady’s condition got just strengthens my belief that Michael did have vitiligo and that his skin complexion wasn’t due to bleaching or something as ridiculous as a surgery. If there was a surgery that turned black people white a lot of black people would have been doing it a long time ago. So don’t tell me “no damn disease” changes your skin complexion. I’ve seen with my own two eyes how devastating vitiligo is.

    1. Actually, that is not an off topic subject at all, since Susan Fast brings up many of these issues regarding his appearance in this chapter. I think that a lot of the doubters wonder how Michael went seemingly from one even skin tone to another, without the “splotched cow” phase that so many associate with the disease, where the person appears to have lost color in patches. Most of the people I have seen with vitiligo, as you say, have this appearance. I realized after I began learning more about vitiligo that I had seen quite a few people afflicted with it over the years, but I never even knew the condition had a name. I would think the person must have been scarred from burning or some other accident.

      I am sure that Michael went through the splotchy stage. Indeed, his skin remained splotched until his death, though what we have seen in photos is not the patchy “spotted cow” kind of splotching that most people associate with the disease. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have it or didn’t go through that stage; only that we, the public, never saw it. The disease is progressive and advances in stages, as you noted with the woman at the supermarket, so we know that Michael didn’t go from “black” to “white” overnight-even if it did seem that way at the time. We know now that he had been using makeup for years to even out his skin tone. Eventually, he opted for total depigmentation. So the totally colorless skin tone he eventually ended up with was partly a result of the disease progressing, but also a result of those treatments.

      Most vitiligo sufferers do prefer to be one even color, but the average person probably cannot afford those treatments which I would imagine are quite expensive (and I don’t know if insurance would cover them; usually medical insurance does not cover what they consider to be “cosmetic” procedures). So unfortunately, many people with vitiligo are probably stuck with the hand that has been dealt them. Lee Thomas, the anchorman who is probably the most well known public figure with vitiligo after Michael, stated in an interview that he is going to consider the procedure IF his condition continues to worsen. Right now he still feels he can control it with makeup. Michael, of course, having the money and means to afford the treatments, naturally opted for the opportunity to have an even skin tone-at least for those areas most apt to be exposed to the public eye. But the parts of his body that remained untreated were very splotchy. And sometimes, in very close up or high resolution photos, you can see some of the splotches beneath his make-up, so I don’t think he was ever able to have a completely even skin tone even though the treatments definitely helped.

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