I really felt compelled to write something on the advent of Michael Jackson’s passing. Which really hit me. In my life, when I think about Michael — I think about my big brother and the two are inextricably connected for me in a multitude of ways. He is one of the biggest MJ fans I know. While everything I learnt about American and British 80s pop culture, its music and icons — I learnt from my big sis, hearing her play the music when I was little and watching her dress in the fashions of the day.
Everything I learnt about Michael Jackson, his music and that of others from the 90s, before and beyond in pop, rock, rap, conscious, dancehall, calyso, soca and soul — as well as show business and how to recognize the consummate performer — I learnt from my brother. From listening to the “Bad” or “We are the World” LP to watching marathon sessions of “Moonwalker” and “Thriller” on vhs. Or “Michael Jackson Live in Bucharest” from the Dangerous tour. Before it fell apart in tatters, the poster of Michael Jackson on the door of the bedroom that I grew up in — I’d received from my brother.
I had forgotten all about video tapes until a friend of mine from undergrad, who grew up in Ghana, posted his own memory on facebook of seeing “Thriller” for the first time there on video, “through a mosquito net” and I laughed and was reminded of my own childhood. I’ve read “Moonwalk” and probably seen “Smooth Criminal” too many times to count. I had to eat my words as I watched my brother moonwalk across the carpet of our house in Trinidad after doubting that he could. In socks! On carpet! Guess all that practice and attention to detail paid off after all.
I used to cringe when my friends were educated in the artistry of Michael by my brother sometimes, when they came over but I grew to love Michael Jackson because, I grew up with him, about as much as I grew up with my brother. My friends in turn, learnt a lot about Michael, whether they wanted to or not. So, Michael Jackson reminds me of childhood and the reach and span of American pop culture around the world. He and other symbols of American music and culture embody so much of what I love about pop culture and reminds me why I like to write about it, read about it and learn about it so much. Both the good and the bad aspects of it.
Any one who knows my brother can attest that he is one of the biggest Michael fans in Trinidad. Also a serious movie and music buff. One of the coolest people I know, a sometimes quiet, thoughtful fella — who always looks out for those he loves. No one brought my brother out of his shell growing-up, like Michael Jackson’s music and talking about the talent that he was. As a lover of great music across genres, I was (and still am) a little sister, basking in the recommendation of anything by my big brother. I am as big a Michael fan that I am today, largely due to him. So I was contemplating various angles to undertake when I thought about writing this.
Obviously I’ve been contesting with all the MJ naysayers in the facebook world and I wanted to talk about that, what that means, if anything. Secretly pleased to see how many people I know are as touched by his passing as I was. Legitimized that I am not an anomaly. Legitimized that some of the most negative people I know of, [NOT friends of mine but acquaintances] have the worst things to say about someone, on the eve of their death, via online communities, as though they know nothing about speaking ill of the dead. These are the kinds of people who wear negative vibes like a shroud around them, so much so, that Michael Jackson is the least of their concern — not that much outside their realm is. Who you are sensitive toward in your life that you know personally, doesn’t impress me much (that’s okay though), it’s who you are compassionate toward that you don’t know, now that’s most telling.
Thanks to many branches of American media, to be part of a community of persons who love and appreciate Michael’s art was equated with some kind of freakishness. The man and his genius became nothing more than a caricature to some people. Some people from a certain generation — their only understanding of the man’s legacy? Through a Katt Williams routine. If I never hear “wacko jacko” again, it’ll be one of the things making me happy. So will a certain someone’s spirit, resting easily now, rejoice too with happiness in this knowing, I am sure.
Now, on to the naysayers who probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway. About the extortion-plots, the child abuse charges — I’ve been a one-woman rallying cry amongst some of the people that I know personally, pointing them toward articles, encouraging them to get more information and alternate insight into the story. Before anyone starts, no I was not there — neither were you. But I do know that the media bias, the cultural witch-hunt and the mob rampaging after Michael Jackson, never went to any great lengths to paint an accurate portrayal of the extortion angle in the Michael Jackson case, the dubious characteristics of the accuser/s and their parents and their shady past — even though evidence for all this exists.
It was much, much easier to tie someone’s supposed eccentricities to alleged criminal behavior. Not that I think that Michael Jackson is any kind of weirdo at all, though pop cultural discourse loves to paint him that way. Some of the weirdest things — thoughts and habits, go on inside the heads and lives of all of us. All. People like you and me. What’s weird? Wanting to stay a child? I’ve felt that way sometimes. Loving the company of children? I have — at times. Ill-behaved brats, not so much. Not liking what you see in the mirror? Been there, done that. Wanting a cool pet chimp? Ok, maybe not. Monkeys kind of creep me out but I do want a baby pig! And what’s weird anyway? Think about that. Weird I say, not criminal. Not problematic. It’s not all the same thing either. People would police Michael Jackson’s behavior so much that the inane became “weird,” code in MJ-related speak for normal for him — but not us! Everything therefore, was always weird when it came to him. He became a spectacle for the media especially, as though any of the rest of us are fucking normal. Whatever that even means.
Like the boy who cried wolf! The ploy only worked because since actual wolves existed, the fear of a wolf existed and people knew that it was entirely possible for one to eventually appear one day — and it did. But people also lie about awful things all the time. People do. And people also forge all kinds of terrible allegations for money or in the hopes that money (gobs and gobs of it) will be forthcoming, all the time. Child abuse — not unlike wolf! is one of those cries where the fear of such a crime, manifests itself in the awfulness behind even just an implication and the implication alone becomes enough. The mere fact that it was even made in the first place.
We might need to see a wolf first but some things in life require just a hint, a whisper, a creepy consternation in the mind of one or two bad-minded persons. An imagination of the awful takes root in a masquerade of truth. Why was that even said to begin with? — some people say in retaliation. It must be true, they contest. I mean, why is anything ever said? Depends on who’s doing the saying and why. And about what. If we understand more about the boy who cried wolf! (that’s a metaphor folks!) then perhaps we’d understand more about why he said what he said in the first place. And for that story, you have to go look for it and really want to unearth it. That story will not be brought to you by the people who have drawn the “weirdo” line in the sand and are pointing and laughing at the person on the other side from theirs.
Some of the least informed people are the people holding these things to be true most vehemently. Likewise, they tend to be those people who least appreciate Michael Jackson — but love to think that they know more than his supporters who actually got informed about various aspects of the allegations. I started embarking on this piece by looking for an article that I read in Vibe magazine — one of the best articulations that I’d read at the time about Michael, through a lens of deconstructing race. Got me to thinking too — that piece, saying some of the things that people don’t want to hear. Or think about. Got me thinking about how some black people were upset that he became so-called “white” [not that it’s even possible] — like some of them never wanted to themselves and white people were upset that he had the gall to try.
What do black people really see when they look at him? Do you look past the external? Is the outside, in this case, at all relevant to your view? And what do you think about, if you’re white and you look — really look, at the face of Michael, through that kind of critical-thinking lens: that he’s trying to be you, look like you? That he just hated his nose? Or do you see “a freak?” Do you try to reconcile this with your sense of self — your people’s history of white dominant values and constructions of beauty? Or do you dare not tread there, just detach yourself and talk about how fucked up he must be? Just him. That man over there with the tweaked nose — The Fucked Up One?
What about you reading this? Have you thought about what you think about Michael Jackson? And why you think what you think?
I was originally tempted to do a retrospective about what his transformation — said about race and identity [topics that concern me]. Then I thought, that maybe now wasn’t the best time to do so. But when is ever a good time really? Seems like never. So here I am, just going with the flow instead, doing a kind of retrospective on the man, his music, race, color, what it means for me in my life — however the heck it flows. And it’s flowing. Here I had been, hopefully waiting for the announcement of US tour dates after Europe [I knew they HAD to be coming] and had told my brother that we would be going, no matter where in the States they were — I’d get us tickets. He’d fly up and we’d go. Might be his last tour. The man’s no spring chicken I thought, never ever expecting this. Thought he’d just kick back in Neverland, enjoying watching his kids grow up. So much for that. *Inward sad sigh*
Earlier today, I got a call from a dear primary school friend in Trinidad and we talked about the news, the music, the memories, the sadness. She also reminded me that some people under a certain age just will NOT get any of this at all. Plus we both understand that some people in the world, just feel like they have to loathe Michael Jackson for whatever reason — any reason or no reason. So we’ll just ignore them and all the folks like them. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the man, the music, the legend, humanitarian, father, brother, son, the memories, the innovator — the icon.
Disclaimer: So as not to field any comments (emails) and feedback from people getting all defensive and shit. Of course, child-abuse is a serious charge and crime; whenever, wherever it occurs. And whomever commits it. I am not contesting that. If you think I am, then you’ve clearly missed the whole point entirely.
Things to check out:
Please read Mary Fischer’s “Was Michael Jackson Framed: The Untold Story” below, for added perspective that you probably don’t have. You don’t have to be Nancy Drew to connect the dots between the first extortion case and the 2003 charges leading up to the 2005 trial.
The article I referenced above in my blog was “Black Skin, White Mask” by Karen R. Good from the March 2002 issue of Vibe Magazine. Read the article here at The Michael Jackson fanclub. Short but lovely piece taking on the intricacies of skin color, race and identity—and Michael.
One of the best blogs I’ve surfed onto about Michael Jackson and race, performativity, identity, pop culture, prescribed gender roles, the media–among other things. Do check it out below:
Pan on the Net Radio does a stellar show dedicated to Michael’s memory through sweet pan! Click above link to take a listen.
I also liked these celebrity responses found at yahoo! in response to Michael Jackson’s death.
John Mayer: “A major strand of our cultural DNA has left us.”
And ?uestlove from The Roots, whose original tweet/post [whatever it was] this morning, when I read it said: “I just hope that he will get due justice in all the press memorials and whatnot. I know he was mired in controversy the last decade of his life but I think it’s time we let him rest in peace and learn to separate the ART and the ARTIST. That is the MJ I will forever remember. Elvis got revisionist media treatment. I expect the friggin same for my hero.” The version on yahoo! now has the Elvis bit edited out. Interesting.
Poignant and telling MJ quotes from the interview on Oprah in 1993:
About the press: “The press has made up so much…God…awful, horrifying stories…it has made me realize the more often you hear a lie, I mean, you begin to believe it.”
On performing: “Well, on stage for me was home. I was most comfortable on stage but once I got off stage, I was like, very sad.”
On his physical appearance: “No, I’m never pleased with myself. No, I try not to look in the mirror.”
Elizabeth Taylor on the misunderstanding of Michael Jackson: “He is the least weird man I have ever known. He is highly intelligent, shrewd, intuitive, understanding, sympathetic, generous – to almost a fault, of himself.”
Click to read the rest.
The 2005, inteview with Jesse Jackson: “…But what I like to do is help other children who are less fortunate than I am. You know kids who are terminally ill, kids who have diseases, poor children from the inner cities, you know the ghettos, to let them see the mountains, or to let see or go on the rides, or to watch a movie or to have some ice cream or something.”
From the 1999 interview in Britain’s Daily Mirror: “I’d slit my wrists rather than hurt a child. I could never do that.”
Lyrics from “Childhood,” written and composed by Michael Jackson, from the HIStory album, [disk 2] 1995:–
“Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for the world that I
‘Cause I’ve been looking around
In the lost and found of my heart
No one understands me
They view it as such strange eccentricities
‘Cause I keep kidding around
Like a child, but pardon me
People say I’m not okay
‘Cause I love such elementary things.
It’s been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood
I’ve never known
Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne
Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
Look within your heart then ask,
Have you seen my Childhood?”
John Mayer (el douche) pays tribute.
Retrospective clip from Moonwalker.
Man in the Mirror.
Montage of Michael to the fabulous sounds of Phase II Pan Groove doing “Billy Jean.”