When You Wish upon a Star

Joie:  So, Willa, I was cruising through YouTube, as I sometimes do, and I came across some video footage that I hadn’t seen in a while. And it was so completely adorable it just made me smile. Then it made me laugh. And before I knew it, it actually had me in tears. But, while they were tears of sorrow for the amazing man that we lost, they were also tears of joy and wonder that we even had him at all. Tears of gratitude that he walked this earth and we were allowed to witness the simple love and happiness he brought with him.

The video that brought on these feelings is an old clip of a Disney special, televised for Disneyland’s 25th Anniversary:

In the clip, a very young Michael Jackson sings a Disney medley that includes “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Ease On Down the Road.” The special was filmed in 1980, at a time when Michael had the world on a string, so to speak. He had just made his feature film debut in The Wiz, he and his brothers were enjoying success with the Triumph album, and he himself was riding the crest of solo superstardom with Off the Wall. So to see him slow down and take part in a celebration for the happiest place on earth was really a special treat. And I think it says a lot about how much Disney meant to him that he would take the time to celebrate with them.

Willa:  It is fun to watch this clip and see him so young and exuberant. But I’m surprised that he’s singing “Ease on Down the Road” during a Disney celebration. The Wiz wasn’t a Disney film, was it? It reminds me of when he sang “Billie Jean,” a song he recorded for Epic, during a Motown celebration. I get the impression he didn’t like being told what he could and couldn’t sing!  But regardless of who owns the rights to what, I love hearing him sing those songs.

Joie:  Well, like I said, it was a time when the name Michael Jackson carried a whole lot of weight in the music and entertainment industries. He could really do no wrong in the early 1980s so, if he said he wanted to sing a certain song, I don’t think there were going to be too many people who were going to try to tell him no.

But getting back to the clip itself, you know I just think there’s something so innocent and sweet about it. When I watch it, I get extremely nostalgic for a time that will never come again. It takes me back to my childhood in a way. Back to a time when there were no problems and the world made sense. Everything in life was easy, and Michael Jackson was your friend. Not the enemy. It’s a period of history (my history anyway) that I will always cherish and look back on with great fondness.

You know, Willa … I can vividly remember sitting down in front of the television set with my family and watching that entire special when it originally aired back in 1980.

Willa:  That’s funny, Joie. I keep forgetting you’re a lot younger than I am!  I was in college in 1980 with no television set, so I didn’t see that special and I’ve never seen this clip before.

Joie:  Oh, my gosh!  Really?  You’ve never seen it before now?  Oh, well now I’m really curious … what do you think of it?  Does it evoke any certain feelings for you?

Willa:  It does, a lot of feelings. Even though I don’t have the specific memories you have of watching it when it first came out, it still takes me back in time – but more back to his past than mine. Like you I love seeing him so young and happy, and it just fills me with dread to think about what lies ahead. It’s very bittersweet watching this knowing what he was going to have to face in the years to come. It’s kind of like seeing a snapshot of a happy family taken before a tragedy strikes. You look at those smiling faces and wish you could just go back in time somehow and change a few little incidents so things turned out differently. Like if Michael Jackson’s van hadn’t broken down that day, he wouldn’t have met Jordan Chandler or Evan Chandler.

Joie:  Oh, I know what you mean. And it’s odd to think about, isn’t it? You know, we have all watched some movie or TV show where the premise is that the hero goes back in time – maybe for a few days, or maybe even for an hour – and attempts to change the past in order to change the future. It makes for great entertainment. But it really does make you think. What if we really could go back and change just one thing? Just one moment in time. That one incident – his van breaking down on Wilshire Blvd. that day – changed the trajectory of his entire life. And unfortunately, not for the better.

Willa:  That’s true, though in some ways those terrible experiences pushed him to develop some of his greatest, most important art. So I wonder sometimes – if he had a chance to go back and change that one little thing, so his van didn’t break down that day and the allegations never happened, would he? Or did he learn some things through those horrible experiences that he needed to know? I wonder about that a lot, actually….

Another thing that strikes me watching this Disney clip is that he seems kind of self-conscious in a way we don’t usually see in him, except in interviews. Usually when he’s performing, he’s so absorbed in the moment he doesn’t seem embarrassed or self-conscious at all. But then he’s usually performing on stage for a big audience that’s feeding him a lot of energy, or he’s in a studio interacting with other actors, or he’s singing quietly to himself, like in Stranger in Moscow. But in this clip, he’s performing for a big audience, but they’re all out in TV land. They aren’t there with him. The only people there watching, presumably, are the camera crew, and they’re busy filming and doing their jobs – they aren’t giving him the energy he needs to get in the zone. So part of me wishes this had been set up a little differently, like with a live audience or something, so he felt more comfortable.

Joie:  That’s an interesting observation, Willa. I hadn’t thought of that before. But you’re right, he does seem very self-conscious and inhibited here. Plus he’s dancing and interacting with a bunch of heavily costumed Disney characters, and that had to be at least a tiny bit awkward I would think.

Willa:  That’s true! I hadn’t thought about that.

Joie:  But it’s still a really sweet clip.

Willa:  It is. You know, his performance is also in a very different style or genre than usual. He’s not in “rock star” mode, like in Dirty Diana or Give In to Me or Come Together. And he’s not doing James Brown soul moves, which were like second nature to him – he’d been doing James Brown’s spins and shuffles since he was 5 years old. And for the most part he’s not doing the Motown moves he perfected with the Jackson 5 either, through he does break into a few at the end of the clip.

Instead, this performance refers back to a much earlier time in musical theater – to the days of Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, and Jimmy Durante, when performers belted out songs with big, dramatic, very stylized hand gestures. Actually, you know what this performance reminds me of? The birthday tribute he did for Sammy Davis, Jr. Here’s a link:

Do you see what I’m saying about the style of his performance? To me, it feels kind of old fashioned in a way, just like the Disney clip. In both of these performances, he’s evoking a much earlier time in the history of musical performance – back to the 1930s. But then he ends the Sammy Davis, Jr., tribute with a crotch grab – a very stylized crotch grab. I don’t think Al Jolson ever did that!

Joie:  No! I don’t think he ever did, Willa. I swear, you are too funny! But I agree with you about the style of this performance. It does harken back to a much earlier and simpler time. And I think that adds to the sense of innocence that I feel when I watch it. It’s also a very appropriate style of performance for Disney.

Willa:  That’s true. It is.

Joie:  And that may ultimately be why he chose to perform this number the way he did. After all, Disney is the happiest place on earth. A place for children of all ages, and one of Michael Jackson’s all time favorite things.

Willa:  That’s true too – he spent a lot of time at Disneyland. And actually, it’s interesting to think about all the Disney connections – like, the very first song on the Jackson 5′s very first album is “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” the theme song to Disney’s Song of the South, which was later adopted as the theme song for the Wonderful World of Disney. I didn’t see the Disney special that has such happy memories for you, Joie, but I do remember watching the Wonderful World of Disney almost every Sunday night for years, and seeing the bluebird land on Uncle Remus’ shoulder as he sang that song. And then there’s Captain EO. I took my younger brother to see Captain EO at Walt Disney World not too long after it opened at Epcot Center. Did you get a chance to see it, Joie?

Joie:  I did. That was an experience, actually seeing it at Disney, wasn’t it?

Willa:  It was. In fact, I think that was the first 3D movie I’d ever seen because I can remember being blown away by the 3D effects. How about you? What do you remember?

Joie:  Well, I saw it at Disney World, and I just remember being really caught up in all the excitement. You could feel it even as you were standing in that long, winding line waiting to get in. Everyone was just so excited and eager to see it. And I remember coming out of the venue and getting right back in line to wait almost an hour to see it again. And we weren’t the only ones doing that!

Willa:  Did you really? That’s funny!  My reactions were a little more mixed, actually. To be honest, I didn’t like the ending, and while I see it a little differently now, I still have reservations about it. I was an ardent young feminist in 1986 – still am, actually, though a bit grayer now – and it really bothered me that there’s this powerful, creative, active woman who’s portrayed as evil, and at the end she’s transformed into a completely silent, completely passive, statue of a woman who’s seen as good.

We see that same narrative structure so many times, especially in Disney movies. Like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there’s this powerful stepmother using all sorts of wildly creative magic, and we’re told she’s vain and evil – the prototypical Evil Stepmother. And of course, at the end of the story she’s displaced as queen and replaced by passive, helpless, domestic Snow White, and we’re told she’s good. And she is good – I like Snow White – but why does the powerful queen have to be evil? We see that same structure in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid – even 101 Dalmations, with vain and evil Cruela deVil trying to kill the puppies to make herself a fur coat.

But what’s most interesting to me now is that, in Captain EO, the “evil” characters – the queen and her henchmen – aren’t destroyed, as evil characters generally are. Instead, they’re transformed, and what brings about that transformation is art – specifically, music and dance. And that’s an idea we see over and over again in Michael Jackson’s work, from Beat It and Can You Feel It in his early years all the way through to probably its fullest expression in Ghosts. Over and over again, we see him telling us that art can lead us to see ourselves differently and bring about spiritual awakening and deep social change. And we see that to some degree in Captain EO as well. As Captain EO tells the queen, she’s “very beautiful within, but without the key to unlock it.” Music and dance provide that key, and transform the queen as well as her guards, changing them from soldiers into dancers.

Joie:  Wow, Willa! I knew that you had strong opinions on feminism, but I didn’t know that you felt so strongly about those fairy tales. I tend to straddle the fence on that particular argument. I can clearly see the feminist side of it, and it does concern me that those are the stories we’re expected to teach our little girls. But at the same time, I have always been a staunch and hopeless romantic. I love those fairy tales, and part of me truly loves the idea that “someday my prince will come,” and that happily ever afters are really out there.

Willa:  Joie!  You can be a feminist and still be a romantic!  Why can’t there be a powerful queen in a Disney movie who’s portrayed as good? as powerfully, actively, creatively good?  And why can’t a special someone fall in love with her because she’s so powerfully, actively good?  What’s wrong with that story?  And why doesn’t that story ever get told?

Joie:  Because it’s a Disney movie that’s been dumbed down for small children, and whoever makes those decisions obviously believes that children wouldn’t understand good vs. evil unless you have those very clear lines drawn. But children are really smart – smarter than most adults give them credit for – and I think they could understand a powerful queen who’s portrayed as good.

But you also have to remember that most of those stories like Snow White and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, they were all made at a time when the woman was expected to stay at home and be passive and domestic. That was good. Back then, a woman in a position of power and not being very domestic or maternal was seen as very, very bad. So they also reflect the time period they were created in.

But getting to what you said about the evil queen and her henchmen not being destroyed … this is very interesting to me. I never thought about it before but, you’re absolutely right. We do normally see the evil doers completely destroyed at the end of the story – whether it’s a fairy tale or an action movie we’re watching. But here, that’s not the case at all. The bad guys are instead transformed into good, caring people.

Willa:  And that’s really important, I think. Sometimes those “evil” characters are killed in terrible ways. For example, in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales story of “Snow White” – one of the first published versions, if not the first – the evil queen is given a pair of glowing red iron shoes that have been heated in a fire, and she’s forced to dance in them until she dies. Isn’t that a horrible image – of someone forced to dance in red hot shoes until she dies?  It kind of reminds me of “Slave to the Rhythm,” a little bit.

But the story ends very differently in Captain EO. Instead of the queen being killed and having Snow White take her place, she’s transformed into Snow White, meaning a Snow White sort of character.

Joie:  Hmm. Interesting observation, Willa. I would never of thought of it in that way.

Willa:  Well, it gets back to the idea of cultural narratives that we’ve talked about before. There are certain stories – like the story of the evil stepmother, a powerful evil woman – that get told over and over again. For example, there are more than 700 different versions of “Cinderella” from around the world, and they’ve been passed down from one generation to the next for centuries. And that’s not even counting all the other witches and mean queens and evil stepmothers in thousands of other stories, from Chinese folktales to Shakespeare to Cruela deVil. But they all share the same feature of a powerful, even magical, evil woman, and together those stories form a cultural narrative.

And then there are other stories that rarely if ever get told at all, like the story of the powerful, creative, magical good woman. That story is not part of our cultural heritage. In fact, it’s almost nonexistent. And that’s important because our cultural narratives hardwire our brains. They create our collective memory and cultural psychology, they shape our perceptions, and they form our beliefs. How we feel about women – motherly women, powerful women, intelligent women – reflects our cultural narratives.

Joie:  Cultural narratives are a fascinating topic, Willa, and they play a very important role in all of our lives. As you said, they hardwire our brains. And the truly interesting thing to me is that most people have no clue that it’s even happening. We often hear the phrase, “well that’s just the way things are.” But most people don’t understand that things are the way they are because of those old cultural narratives. Very interesting.

Willa:  It is very interesting, and very important too because we tend to believe things that fit our cultural narratives. For example, in 1993 a white man (Evan Chandler) falsely accused a black man (Michael Jackson) of committing a sex crime against a vulnerable white person (Jordan Chandler). And despite all the evidence, the police, the press, and the public tended to believe the white man and not believe the black man. There are a lot of reasons for why that happened, but I think the main reason is that it aligns with our cultural narratives – to the stories we as a culture have told ourselves for centuries.

And I believe Michael Jackson was engaged in a project to rewrite our cultural narratives, especially as they influence how we perceive race and gender and other differences between us. We see that again and again in his work – this insistence on telling stories from a very different perspective, often the perspective of those whose voices have been excluded. And we even see that happening a little bit in Captain EO, in how he transforms the powerful queen and her guards instead of destroying them.

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About Willa and Joie

Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old. Joie Collins is one of the founding Team Members of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she has conducted several interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directs correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to have been a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old.

Posted on October 10, 2013, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 57 Comments.

  1. Joie, thanks so much for the Disney clip. Just what I needed! But, you know, I didn’t think his performance was self-conscious so much as I thought we were getting a glimpse of Michael with the mask off — or before he learned to put it on. So, maybe it is a consciousness that he is revealing too much of himself that drove him to put on a mask — but maybe the mask lets him actually reveal himself in a way that sidesteps the self-consciousness.

    Anyway, the clenching of his fists and the raising of his shoulders are moves that he makes when recording with his brothers — when he is not even aware that a camera is around. I’ll try to find the clip I am thinking of when I get a minute. But, got to run.

    Thanks, as usual.

    • This is not the clip I was thinking of, but another which I think also shows “young and innocent” Michael with some of the same moves —

      • Actually, this is a string of videos, and the one I thought I was posting is part of this. But, they are all great! Enjoy.

      • To be specific, its the video of “One Day In Your Life.” To see it, just keep pressing the forward arrow until it comes up.

  2. Thanks ladies!

  3. I wonder if Disney will ever make an animated film with a strong female character? In my mind I think Beauty and the Beast filled that role. Anyway, thanks for another thought provoking blog!

    • Here are some strong female characters from the Disney’s Animated films

      Pocahontas
      Mulan
      Merida from Brave
      Lilo from Lilo and Stitch
      Bianca from The Rescuers

      They all take the reigns and drive the narrative and aren’t waiting for a man to save them.

      • Thanks for the list, yensid98. I need to check these out. I guess I’m showing my age – I’ve seen almost all of the older Disney movies, especially the ones that were popular when I was a kid, but I’ve missed a lot of the newer ones. My son’s high school put on Mulan as a school play and I was impressed by it, but I haven’t seen the Disney version.

  4. ”if Michael Jackson’s van hadn’t broken down that day, he wouldn’t have met Jordan Chandler or Evan Chandler.”

    I really don’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about all the ”ugly stuff”, but I can’t help thinking about that car breaking down. Cars breaking down (or running out of petrol) is a common element in many movie plots. MJ even used it in ”Thriller”, and it is a bit scary to think that MJ’s own life in some ways resembled a horror movie script…

    I’m sure Jung – who among many other things also wrote about dead objects cooperating with the subconscious, like a watch that stops when its owner dies – would have seen something here. :-o

    • Hi Bjorn,

      I think you are on to something. I’m enough of a Jungian to believe that the car breaking down at precisely that place and time was no accident.

      i’ve been rereading James Gleick’s book Chaos and It also fits in with chaos theory — that there is nothing random in nature — and human lives are part of nature. And that “tiny deviations in input can result in enormous changes in output.”

  5. peacelovermoonshadow

    Thank you Willa and Joie for this stimulating conversation. I sure miss MJFC. Its great to hear you two again. I am drawn so many times back to M Poetica, Willa. It is filled with so many brilliant, deep interpretations of Michael’s music that I had never considered before.It really opened my mind.

    Regarding the first clip of Michael at the 25th anniversary celebration, I have watched this so many times. Like you I want to jump through the screen and freeze time. He is so shy and innocent then, which he always was, yet this was a time before the world seemed to turn on him.

    Our cultural narratives is an interesting subject, and I agree, Michael seemed to be a gift to this world to shatter these roles so we can evolve to a higher consciousness. When you speak about the Jordie Chandler tale, it reminded me that Michael’s friend, Gregory Peck wrote him at the time, or was it during the 2005 trial, telling him that he was living “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.

    I agree when you say, “And I believe Michael Jackson was engaged in a project to rewrite our cultural narratives, especially as they influence how we perceive race and gender and other differences between us.” He came to show us there is another way of thinking, not just black/white, good/evil, right/wrong. We are more than the roles we play or the archtypes that have shaped our collective thinking. I do believe that is reflected in Michael transforming the queen and her henchmen in Captain EO instead of destroying them.

    Willa, in M Poetica, I was blown away by your interpretation of Smooth Criminal. I had to go read it again. In this analysis, you brilliantly explain Michael’s ability to transform cultural perspectives through art. He actually changes the callous perspective of cold blooded murder by making us see ourselves as both the killer and the victim. He brilliantly brings a compassionate perspective that forces us to change. I really wish everyone could read that. Most people reduce, “Annie, are you ok?” to the CPR dummy. Michael didnt preach, he just planted his messages in his art, and waited for people to find them, when they were ready.

    He really was a prophet, a messenger of the transforming power of Love. I have been researching archetypes, and found this website that shows the 12 major archetypes. It is amazing to me that Michael personifies all 12, Whether he did this consciously or unconsciously, it tells me he was here to speak to our deepest psyches to change us from within. http://www.soulcraft.co/essays/the_12_common_archetypes.html

    I also see Michael as a model for the integration of the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine which our world so desperately needs, to evolve to our higher selves lest we destroy ourselves. I believe this is why he was misunderstood, and not accepted. He was a wayshower before his time.

    Gary Stamper wrote a book, “Awakening the New Masculine:The Path of the Integral Warrior”
    In it he writes:

    “With later stage consciousness comes new awareness about the changing role of the masculine. The new masculine, this Divine Masculine, Eros, considers all other aspects, integrating and calling as many perspectives into his BE-ing as he can with fierce awareness, stretching the boundaries of what is possible. Bravely holding space for the feminine, nature, body, spirit, integrity, authenticity, wisdom and heart. The new masculine moves forward, aligning with his true purpose and the full embodiment of presence for the highest good of all beings.” – Gary Stamper

    Doesn’t that sound like Michael?

    As Michael said in his Ebony 2002 interview,

    “I´m committed to my art. I believe that all art has as its ultimate goal the union between the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine. And I believe that that is the very reason for the existence of art and what I do. And I feel fortunate in being that instrument through which music flows…And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance. It’s like, my purpose, it’s what I’m here for.”

    Sorry if I got carried away, but this was a marvelous, thought provoking post! Thank you So much!

    • Hi peacelovermoonshadow. Thank you for sharing the link summarizing Jung’s 12 archetypes. It is really interesting to see how Michael Jackson evoked elements of so many of them, if not all of them, as you pointed out. Though they may seem like opposites, he was both an Innocent (who wants “to do things right”) and a Hero (who aims for “expert mastery in a way that improves the world”); an Explorer (who needs “the freedom to find out who you are through exploring the world”) and a Creator (whose “core desire” is “to create things of enduring value”); a Jester (who wants “to live in the moment with full enjoyment”), a Sage (who searches for the truth), and a Magician (whose goal is “to make dreams come true”). And as you say, he was also “a model for the integration of the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine which our world so desperately needs.”

  6. Hi there – wonderful blog as usual and I have to agree with Eleanor, that clip was just what I needed also. I had never seen it before either and I think Michael is just enchanting, but then he is always enchanting on so many levels!!

    The idea, Willa, of Al Jolson grabbing his crotch made me laugh out loud!

    Have to run now, but more anon when I have had time to read all this wonderful info again and think about what you have said. I always marvel how you two start off with Michael, and then go, heaven knows where with it – evil fairytale women and all! What about Eveline in The Wiz – she didn’t get too much mercy there, but then she really didn’t deserve it hey. I have often thought that fairytales are some of the most scary stories out there, and as a child I hated most of them, but never quite understood why – I have something to work on now thanks to you.

  7. I’d like to suggest an alternate reading of the fairy tales you mention here, Willa, for example, Snow White. This story can be traced back to the ‘Amor and Psyche” tale in the Roman novel Metamorphosis, or The Golden Ass, by Apuleius. Eric Neumann has a very interesting reading of Amor and Psyche (as a Jungian analyst). As you know, the Greek word ‘psyche’ means soul, breath, and butterfly (or moth) and the story of Amor (Love) and Psyche is a symbolic tale about the soul’s development and transformation through Amor/Love. In the tale of Apuleius, the ‘evil queen’ is Aphrodite/Venus, the mother of Amor/Cupid/Eros, who opposes him falling in love and seeking to marry Psyche, a mortal.

    As the adversary, or oppositional force, she is also the goad or impetus for growth and development. She sets a series of trials for Psyche (these trials or tests are found in many fairy tales, they are often impossible tasks, such as sorting a pile of seeds in a short time, or spinning hay into gold, etc.). The tasks are completed by the supposedly helpless Psyche when she receives the help of powerful energies–in Apuleius’ tale it is Pan, an Eagle, and a reed. There is a Russian tale where an orphan receives messages from her magical doll (here the antagonistic energy is Baba Yaga). These helpers are actually forces within Psyche and when they are awakened within her, she becomes more powerful. In Cinderella we can see this in the Fairy Godmother, in Snow White, the dwarves, and the forces of nature often cluster around the female character–in Apuleius, the Zephyr, the West Wind, carries Psyche to safety and to the palace of Amor. The palace of Amor is a magical place. In Apuleius it is situated beside a lake. This is where Amor and Psyche meet and fall in love. I always saw a resemblance here to Mr. Darcy’s wonderful mansion Pemberly in “Pride and Prejudice,” which has echoes of Amor and Psyche as a tale of transformation and growth.)

    The Queen then is an emblem or symbol for the opposing energy that needs to be encountered for the growth of the soul. In this context, she is a benign force necessary for the soul; although at first she seems to be a destroyer, she is actually much more complex in her role. I think here of Keats’ discussion of the world as “The Vale of Soul-Making,” where suffering and challenges lead to growth of the soul. In fact, this is not far removed from Plato’s discussion of the soul’s growth in the “Phaedrus” (he uses the metaphor of the growth of the wings of the soul, which at first are latent and then slowly become fullly grown–as the wings grow there are painful prickings and so on).

    This is a complex subject and one book I really enjoyed that talks about fairy tales in a symbolic, psychological context is “Women Who Run with the Wolves” by Pinkola Estes. She discusses at length several tales, and I enjoyed her reading of the Russian tale of Baba Yaga.

    To bring it back to MJ, lt me say, and I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I think MJ’s troubles–extreme challenges and suffering–did lead him into a fuller soul growth.

    • Wow, stephenson, that is so fascinating to think of Disney’s wild, creative, powerful (and therefore “evil”) queens in that way – as kind of an alter ego to the quiet, passive main characters, or as you said, “the opposing energy that needs to be encountered for the growth of the soul.”

      It reminds me of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic, their wonderful rereading of Jane Eyre and other works by 19th Century women writers. They interpret Bertha (the powerful, rebellious “madwoman in the attic”) as an expression of the parts of Jane’s character that have to be repressed or kept hidden. Nineteenth Century women weren’t supposed to feel (and certainly weren’t supposed to express) any trace of anger or defiance or cunning, and Jane doesn’t – but Bertha does. It’s really interesting to think about Disney’s evil queens in a similar way.

      • Hi, Willa, thanks for this reply and for bringing up Madwoman in the Attic.Yes, that was such a remarkable reading. It shows we can look at the different characters in a story as part of one psyche or psychology, rather than as representing different and discrete energies, or even people. These are ancient stories–the Amor and Psyche tale is almost 2,000 years old and it was considered an old story before Apuleius wrote it down in the 2nd century–and it is how stories are interpreted that makes a big difference. When they are told to children it would be good to ask children what they like, how they feel about the tale, and help them with understanding it and learn how they understand it on their own.

        Re the Queen/Wicked Stepmother/Venus etc., it is interesting that this is a female character or energy and that the character opposes, or seems to oppose, the protagonist character (Snow White, Psyche, etc). Isn’t it true that often the adversaries we encounter lead us to self-examination and growth? They can help us by challenging us to be more, dare more, learn more, get stronger. In Amor and Psyche, Venus is the one who sets the impossible tasks that Psyche must complete, and does.

        I like how at the end of the tale there is a wedding feast where all celebrate, including Venus, b/c it shows no one is excluded. The 2 female characters–protagonist and adversary– are reconciled. Usually, in a more simplistic ending, evil is defeated/killed and good is victorious. (It reminds me of Sleeping Beauty tale where one witch is not invited to the christening, and in revenge she gives the poisoned spinning wheel which causes the 100 year sleep of the whole court.) And I like how a third female character is introduced–Psyche’s daughter.

    • Hi stephenson –

      Really interesting stuff. I love the tale of Amor and Psyche — and I like your read on fairy tales as growing out of myths. I have always loved fairy tales — my two favorites are “The Snow Queen” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

      Venus and Cupid are the Roman rendition of the Great Mother Goddess and her Son/Lover which is the agricultural version of the hunter-gatherer Great Mother Nature (the Creatrix) and her Child, Creation.

      And, to bring it back to MJ, his troubles not only led him to “soul growth” but, through his suffering he is leading us to soul-growth — or in the direction of a more just society.

      I have always been interested (from childhood) in fairy tales, myths, and religions as keys to the collective unconscious or the unconsciousness of the collective, And MJ became a mythological figure in his lifetime — directly accessing the archetypes of our unconscious with a view to bringing about positive change.

      • Hi, Eleanor–wow–you are so right when you say that MJ helped us all with our “soul growth” and pointed us toward a “more just society”!! Amen to that!! I was listening to his beautiful song “For All Time” where he sings, “Someody once said it’s the soul that matters.” He talked a lot about soul and, especially, heart–and this is what Amor (Love) and Psyche (Soul) is referring to–the effort to create a union between love and the soul both within the individual and in the world–to help the soul grow through love.

        I think he too was very interested in myth and fairy tales–Peter Pan of course but all the Disney tales, he was so interested in myth, magic, transformations.

        I don’t know the Twelve Dancing Princesses–I’ll have to look that up!

  8. One more point I forgot to include, at the end of the tale of Amor and Psyche, Psyche becomes a goddess when she drinks ambrosia on Mount Olympus. Then there’s a big celebration and wedding and all the gods and goddesses celebrate the marriage–this is a typical ending for a romantic tale of course!! Venus/Aphrodite herself celebrates too and dances for everyone, so the adversary, rather than being defeated, is incorporated into the new social group as a friend. Psyche then gives birth to a daughter (I love this part) and her name is in Latin, Voluptas, and in English the best translation is Joy or Bliss. I love this ending!!!

  9. “this performance refers back to a much earlier time in musical theater – to the days of Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, and Jimmy Durante, when performers belted out songs with big, dramatic, very stylized hand gestures.”
    A favorite of mine, in the same vein, is MJ’s performance of “Elizabeth I Love You”; very stylized, like telling a story in musical theater.

  10. I agree with the first comment from Eleanor. I also felt Michaels self consciousness in this video. It’s common knowledge of Michaels love of Disneyland. I think he could be himself there. This performance came from him. Not Fred Astaire, or James Brown or any of the greats that Michael studied and idolized to perfect his talent. He was showing his innermost self. I feel embarrassed to watch him, as if I were seeing him in a very vulnerable state. He made some familiar moves with his fists and arms, maybe trying to become the Michael he was on stage or in videos. Disneyland brought out the child in him, like it does in all of us. He could only perform as himself. A rare and endearing glimpse.

    • You captured what I felt, Pamela, when you said –

      “I feel embarrassed to watch him, as if I were seeing him in a very vulnerable state.”

      He was so vulnerable, so open in this performance. I wonder, did he also feel “embarrassed” and decide he had to protect himself behind a mask?

  11. Willa, you asked –

    “So I wonder sometimes – if he had a chance to go back and change that one little thing, so his van didn’t break down that day and the allegations never happened, would he? Or did he learn some things through those horrible experiences that he needed to know? I wonder about that a lot, actually….”

    I think, without a doubt, he would never have chosen to go through that horror. However, at another level, he was destined to go through something pretty terrible — if not Evan Chandler, it would have been someone else. Because, as you say Michael Jackson was rewriting our cultural narrative and no one goes unpunished for that.

    But, did he choose to rewrite the cultural narrative or was he chosen? Did he have a choice in the matter? I think, at a very deep level, he understood exactly what he was doing and also the consequences — and, like a knight in shining armor, he was willing to undergo the ordeal. He sacrificed himself for the well being of all — but he believed in himself enough to think that he could transform evil into good through his art — that he could make a significant contribution to our well being.

    • Eleanor, I think you are spot on here:

      “…but he believed in himself enough to think that he could transform evil into good through his art…”

      “But, did he choose to rewrite the cultural narrative or was he chosen? Did he have a choice in the matter?” Isn’t that the question we all ask ourselves? I think Michael felt he was chosen. And I also think that was a way for him to try to cope with what he was dealing with.

  12. Willa, you said: “And then there are other stories that rarely if ever get told at all, like the story of the powerful, creative, magical good woman. That story is not part of our cultural heritage.”

    What about the Virgin Mary? She definitely symbolizes a powerful, good woman. But she defines the sphere within which a woman can be powerful and good — the domestic sphere, the sphere of home and family.

    Scientists, archeologists, anthropologists, etc. are almost daily revising the history of homo sapiens. Up until about 5 years ago, they thought that homo sapiens — modern humans — had only been around for about 50,000 years or so. Now they have pushed our origins back to 200,000 years. And for about 190,000 years, we were hunter-gatherers as we did not begin to farm until about 12,000 years ago. So, during this long long dawn of human consciousness, we were dependent on nature and often thought of nature as maternal — and we saw the females of all species as nature’s avatars as females actually birthed new animal life into being — just as nature birthed new life into being from the earth. We were not even aware of the male role in reproduction or the importance of seeds to the production of plants. The sacred resided in a female nature. Can you even begin to imagine the backlash, the sense of betrayal men probably felt when they realized that seed-planting whether in woman or nature was an important precursor to life? I think that about 12,000 years ago in the Ancient Near East a new cultural narrative appeared on the scene that put a male humanity (man) and human males in the driver’s seat, displacing both nature and femaleness. The fairly tales you bring up are part of the psychological campaign to rewrite the old old old cultural narrative that real power resided in nature and femaleness — but clearly they went way too far.

    But the Virgin Mary is the expurgated version of the Great Mother, and as such she had a lot of power — at least up until the protestant reformation and the enlightenment — which taken together spelled the death of nature and the desacralization of motherhood.

    • “But the Virgin Mary is the expurgated version of the Great Mother, and as such she had a lot of power — at least up until the protestant reformation and the enlightenment …”

      Wow, Eleanor. I don’t see the Virgin Mary as a powerful figure, as you do, but I’m completely blown away by this perspective of looking at her as a diminished version of the Great Mother within the context of this cultural narrative we’ve been talking about. That really expands that narrative exponentially, doesn’t it?

      What I mean is, as you’ve explained before, early agrarian humans – before the rise of the Judeo-Christian tradition – believed in an all-powerful Great Mother who could bring prosperity or famine, sunshine or hurricanes, healthy children or plague. Like these magical, creative, “evil” women we’ve been talking about in the Disney films, she was both tremendously powerful and uncontrollable – to an extent that was intolerable. And so over time she was transformed into the Virgin Mary. That’s the exact same narrative as Captain Eo, isn’t it? Wow. So interesting …

      • Well, Willa, she is, after all the Mother of God.

        I have long suspected that the upsurge of interest in the Cult of the Virgin in 12th and 13th century Europe was directly related to the fact that the church there basically co-opted existing goddess worship just as the church in Mexico razed a temple to a mother goddess and replaced it with a church devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who the local peoples continued to worship as a Nahuatl goddess and address by the Nahuatl name.

        And the image of the virgin and child is a recapitulation of the ancient images of the Great Mother Nature, the Creatrix of all, and her Child, Creation, which she brought forth singlehandedly, without any help from male friends.

        The Great Mother of hunter gatherers evolved into the agricultural Goddess (Nature) who was both mother and sex partner of her Son/Lover, the re-incarnation of the Child, who represented both nature’s creation (the Son) and nature’s partner, agricultural man (the Lover).

        In urban imperial societies, the Goddess was split in half into two images — the Mother and the Sex Partner — the Virgin and the Whore, and the Son/Lover evolved into God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit — representing among other things testicular, phallic and seminal masculinity, an imperial humanity, and human mind rather than human body.

        And, to bring this back to Michael, while rambling around on Catholic sites, I ran across this prayer:

        Saint Michael Prayer

        Saint Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.
        Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
        May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
        and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
        by the power of God
        cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
        who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

        With a few tweaks, I think I may appropriate it:

        Saint Michael, you angel, defend us
        Be our protection against wickedness
        O King of Pop, cast into darkness the ghosts that haunt us
        Who prowl throughout the world and our collective unconscious seeking our ruin

        If Christianity can appropriate the Great Mother, why can’t we appropriate the Archangel? Just kidding….. sort of.

        • Hi, Eleanor–love your re-writing of the prayer to St. Michael, the Archangel!! This saint was of course the leader of God’s army against the angels who rebelled against God and his name means “one who is most like God.” In TII MJ talks to Michael Bearden about the name and what it means, so he was well aware of the implications and he often wore those military outfits and I think of the HIStory teaser where he is surrounded by an army (of LOVE?).

          Re Guadalupe, such an interesting and important story of how she appeared on a hillside to a local peasant/farmer and told him where to find roses in winter. I love the way Guadalupe is depicted also–her iconography. Supposedly the mantle that the farmer was wearing bore (in a miracle) this iconic imprint of her image (like the shroud of Turin) when he took the roses to the local priest, as she had told him to do. I saw bumper stickers in Mexico “In Guad we trust.”

        • Eleanor, your very studied on this subject and I’m curious about where Isis fits into all of this. Some people believe the Virgin Mary story is straight copied from Isis, but what little I know about other hunter gatherer symbols, Isis seems very similar to other stories. Thoughts????

          • Hi Destiny — My thoughts are that within a given historic tradition, like what we call the Western tradition, a symbology develops that evolves with the times; and that over time different deities arise, but they are variations on the same themes. And in different societies, things are added or subtracted to serve the interests of society, but if you look deeply enough you can discern a pattern.

            So the images of Isis and Osiris are precursors of Mary and Jesus, but they are all variations on the theme of the Great Mother Nature and her Child, Creation.

          • Thanks. I know it’s a little off topic, but was curious.

  13. Willa said –

    “And I believe Michael Jackson was engaged in a project to rewrite our cultural narratives, especially as they influence how we perceive race and gender and other differences between us. We see that again and again in his work – this insistence on telling stories from a very different perspective, often the perspective of those whose voices have been excluded.”

    I agree with you 100%!

    And, I think he succeeded and continues to succeed.

  14. Willa write – “That’s true, though in some ways those terrible experiences pushed him to develop some of his greatest, most important art. So I wonder sometimes – if he had a chance to go back and change that one little thing, so his van didn’t break down that day and the allegations never happened, would he? Or did he learn some things through those horrible experiences that he needed to know? I wonder about that a lot, actually….”

    Peacelovermoonshadow wrote – “He really was a prophet, a messenger of the transforming power of Love” and “ I believe this is why he was misunderstood, and not accepted…..”

    MJ himself -And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance. It’s like, my purpose, it’s what I’m here for.”

    Eleanor wrote – “ to bring it back to MJ, his troubles not only led him to “soul growth” but, through his suffering he is leading us to soul-growth — or in the direction of a more just society.

    Destiny wrote – “but, did he choose to rewrite the cultural narrative or was he chosen? Did he have a choice in the matter?” Isn’t that the question we all ask ourselves? I think Michael felt he was chosen. And I also think that was a way for him to try to cope with what he was dealing with.”

    Willa I have been pondering this type of question for 30 years, and you and Peacelovermoonshadow, Eleanor and Destiny have given me a lot to think about over the last few days with your comments above, and I would like to respond at length to do you all justice, and Michael also.

    I firmly believe in reincarnation, and agree with modern philosophers like Caroline Myss, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer and the like, that there are no such things as wrong decisions, accidents or coincidences.

    We know that Michael studied Hinduism and was great friends with Deepak Chopra and his son. As mentioned in previous posts many of Michael’s dance gestures were full of Hindu symbolism, as were many of the essays and poems in Dancing The Dream. I believe that spiritually Michael was also influenced, and would have taken reincarnation and it implications on board to a degree.

    I believe that prior to each life we participate in forming the blueprint of that life to come, and therefore have some ‘choice’ in what is going to happen to us, even if we forgot all that once we are incarnated.

    On one level Michael did have a ‘tragic’ life, and no-one feels the pain of it for him more than me, but many people also have such lives, and often worse. For me there is a huge paradox in the seeming injustice of it all. On one hand, I hate that he died at the hands of Conrad Murray, but on the other, if he had not, I would never have known about Michael and become such a huge fan, and have my whole life turned around by the inspiration of this wonderful genius. I am sure this is true for probably hundreds of thousands of fans who have come to Michael since his death.

    I agree totally with Peacelovermoonshadow that Michael was a prophet, and have been saying so for a long time that like most prophets he was totally misunderstood in his own land and time, and brought down because of ignorance.

    I think that Michael understood all this spiritually, and would not have wanted to have changed a thing. He told Oprah that he would not have wanted to change his childhood – rather that he was compensating for its lacks now. He spoke in various interviews about other artists who appeared to be ‘flops’ in their lifetimes who we now revere, and that he knew his legacy – his music and message – would be better understood in the future. In no way was Michael a ‘flop’ in his lifetime musically, but certainly much misunderstood on a personal level. He knew that life is not about what happens to us, but has to do with what we do about what happens to us. I am not saying that he didn’t feel all that injustice deeply, he did and it did affect him, but I believe that he knew he could not only transcend it, but that he could use it to help others – through it he could be “an instrument of nature” and I feel that is what he meant by that phrase. I think he used his ‘art’ marvellously well throughout his whole career, not only to transcend but to bring his message to humanity, and to be the instrument that he felt was his purpose to be. He inspires millions of fans now, and I know he will continue to do so for generation upon generation to come.

    • Caro said — “On one hand, I hate that he died at the hands of Conrad Murray, but on the other, if he had not, I would never have known about Michael and become such a huge fan, and have my whole life turned around by the inspiration of this wonderful genius. I am sure this is true for probably hundreds of thousands of fans who have come to Michael since his death.”

      Count me as one of those hundreds of thousands. So strange. There is clearly something going on with Michael. An Italian Franciscan friar, Alessandro, who has become famous as a singer said that he dreamed of Michael for four or five nights before his death. I dreamed of him the night after and a couple of times since then. The most recent a dream that alerted me to the fact that I had left out a very important piece of my theory of the Fall and Free will — which I am discussing in this neverending book I am working on.

      Here is some more interesting stuff Alessandro said about Michael which I will pass on even tho’ I am uncomfortable with “god talk.”

      Question: Who are the musicians who have most influenced and inspired you?

      Answer: Johann Sebastian Bach and Michael Jackson. I know that they seem totally divergent, but in reality, they’ve got a lot in common. They both recognize God as the source and inspiration of their music. In fact, Bach would write “Soli Deo Gloria” at the end of his compositions and Michael Jackson always explained that the origin of his music was from divine inspiration. That man had a deep spirituality. I had always heard this and I’ve felt it, too. It was like this that he created a deep connection…and also, there was a part of this type of rhythmic music that could be akin to Baroque, if you will. Because Michael Jackson has a bit of Baroque in his works, like in the universal elements that he added continuously to his work. There’s a line and a base and at the base he adds and adds and adds and adds — it references a Baroque technique. In fact, Bach did the same thing to the compositional structure. And then he extrapolated.

      http://operachic.typepad.com/opera_chic/2012/10/hey-brother-friar-alessandro-live-from-assisi.html

  15. These ideas and this clip move me on so many levels. Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Willa and Joie, and thanks for all your insights. I mean to engage these fascinating ideas about wicked queens, Disney, and other themes (thanks Stephenson and Eleanor, for your thought-provoking comments!). But first I wanted to mention these references.

    I’ve seen this Disney anniversary clip a number of times, and I’ve written some notes on it; though they mostly touch upon some personal observations.

    In the first place, the man who plays “Gramps,” the elderly grandfather of the young boy, Adam, is the actor and musical star Danny Kaye, who meant a great deal to my family, for some reason. (My father used to try to impersonate him sometimes.) One film that’s close to the sensibility of the Disney clip that stars Danny Kaye is the 1952 “Hans Christian Andersen,” about the eponymous fairy tale writer.

    Those who are more familiar with Michael’s later style may find his bearing very different here, but I see a continuity with much of what he was developing as his signature moves at the time—the clenched fists and raised shoulders speak to that era around the early 1980s.

    Also, he was playing a role (and I don’t think Michael Jackson’s abilities as an actor, even a non-speaking actor, get nearly enough credit)—that of the awestruck spectator/visitor, agog with wonder at the magic that surrounds him. But he’s using a very stylized kind of movement here, and a familiar one: redolent of all the exaggeration of Big Show Business (as you pointed out, Willa and Joie). This calls to mind, say, Julie Andrews with outstretched arms, singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” Also, there’s a subtle skip he makes when as he’s walking across the bridge and takes the hand of Mickey Mouse on his left, the first Disney figure he encounters…..

    The use of “when you wish upon a star” and other Disney standards seems to lend itself to this kind of exaggeration of gesture. Other examples abound, having to do with the larger-than-life emotions that characters seem to be experiencing in musicals, and that elicit our participation and identification in a kind of melodrama of the everyday: the impossible admixture of joy and wistfulness that inevitably accompanies a longing for make-believe, for things that cannot possibly be:
    “makes no difference who you are
    anything your heart desires can come to you….”

    I remember listening to a record of the musical version of “Cinderella” endlessly when I was a kid (there was also a TV special) and having much the same feelings.

    In my notes, I remarked, with some wry affection, that the segment needed to burst into “Ease on Down the Road” to bring the old Disney scenario into some kind of contemporary context that could be seen as “hip” (at least to some degree)—-and to demonstrate that Michael wasn’t the complete “milquetoast” he seemed—he could “rock out,” too, with an up-tempo song from what (I think) must be the last all-black-cast musical (“The Wiz”) that Broadway or Hollywood has produced.

    • Really interesting observations Nina. I’ll also add to that that the Disney characters also seem to be moving to a more updated or hip version of themselves as they dance with Michael on follow him down the tracks. Actually I kind of laughed as I watched the characters dance. I think it was a way to say that Disney is 25, but they are still current.

  16. I’d also like to mention the moment when Michael, surrounded by his posse of Disney characters, begins to sing this line:

    “Follow the fellow
    Follow the fellow
    Follow the fellow
    Who follows…..”

    There’s a pause, and he finishes, “,,,,the yellow brick road…..” before breaking into “Ease on Down the Road.”

    I don’t know if anyone is familiar with Finian’s Rainbow, a musical that opened on Broadway in 1947; the song Michael begins to sing (and that I so wish he had finished!) is the chorus of “Look to the Rainbow,” from that show, another of many albums that my parents introduced me to as a child. The lyrics:

    LOOK TO THE RAINBOW

    On the day I was born, said my father, said he
    I’ve an elegant legacy waitin’ for ye,
    ‘Tis a rhyme for your lips and a song for your heart,
    To sing it whenever the world falls apart.

    (Chorus)
    Look, look look to the rainbow.
    Follow it over the hill and the stream.
    Look, look look to the rainbow.
    Follow the fellow
    Who follows a dream.

    ‘Twas a sumptuous gift to bequeath to a child.
    Oh the lure of that song kept his feet runnin’ wild.
    For you never grow old and you never stand still,
    With whippoorwills singin’ beyond the next hill.

    (Cover versions of the song have been done by Patti LaBelle and Dinah Washington, among others, and some have added verses; the song seems apropos of Michael, somehow.)

    The music of “Finian’s Rainbow” is by Burton Lane, and the lyrics are by E.Y. (Yip) Harburg, who also wrote the lyrics and book for “The Wizard of Oz” (hence, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”—a segue from one Harburg tune into another)! And there was a 1968 film adaptation of “Finian’s Rainbow” that starred Fred Astaire who, as we know, is a hero of Michael’s, and Petula Clark (it’s less well-known that he admired her, too). The film, incidentally, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola—-which brings us full circle to “Captain E.O.”!

    Here’s a clip:
    Look to the Rainbow (From Finian’s Rainbow

    On another note: I don’t know whether anyone has seen an earlier Disney Special (I believe it’s from 1975) that features a Jackson 5 performance. I became very familiar as a kid with a song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore” when I was a kid, as my father used to sing it frequently. Here, Michael is adorable playing a Navy Admiral and singing, with his brothers an altered version of that song, “Ruler of the Queen’s Navy”:


    Ruler of the Queen’s Navy

    • Nina, this is wonderful! Thanks for sharing. Michael is sooooo adorable…. and so perfect. Interesting that your parents exposed you to musicals. Mine, too. Taking me to the touring Oklahoma and getting me the records of South Pacific and Carousel. I used to know the words to every song, and can surprise friends even now by breaking into song — like “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid/Of people whose eyes are oddly made/Of people whose skin is a different shade/You’ve got to be carefully taught.

      Just think, back in 1949, Rodgers and Hammerstein already pointing out the existence — and evils of — cultural narratives.

  17. Oh Nina, this is great!!! I’ve never seen this clip before. Oh how I miss the days of TV musical specials and variety shows.

  18. This clip is so charming. With the benefit of hindsight, Michael’s obvious special qualities are so easy to see.. I live in England, so would not have been able to see this at the time.it was broadcast. I wonder if in the US he was still being viewed as a ” sweet talented kid” , or if people realised there was a certain magic about him even then.

    Referring to various comments from others..and it’s difficult to find the right words.. but I sometimes feel that Michael’s physical death , devastating as it is ( and he is still in my mind every day) was the pinnacle of his achievements.

    Many of those who weren’t listening when he was here , have now revised their perceptions of how life should be lived, by learning about his life and what he endured. It has been something of a phenomenon that since his death so many have felt an inexplicable need to learn more and more about his life, and have been positively inspired by what they have discovered, coming to a greater understanding of their own life’s journey.

    Michael taught us so much(because he had a deep spiritual understanding of his life’s purpose and spoke about it frequently ). He encouraged us to think, and to question, and he simultaneously informed and entertained us with his art like no other.. We could take it and enjoy it at face value, or look for the deeper meaning.

    He succeeded in breaking down so many barriers because of his genuine liking for people, and his natural effervescence, and he carried those of us with like minds along with him.

    So yes ..Eleanor..” I agree.. he succeeded and still does” I also believe that at some point in his life he understood that it would come at great personal cost to himself.

  19. Just came across this–Einstein on fairy tales:

    “Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

    Of course, MJ also stressed the importance of reading and of parents reading to their children and put “the right to be read a bedtime story” as one of the Universal Rights of the Child (Oxford Speech).

  20. I keep running into article on fairy tales–what’s going on? Here is one about the fairy tales written by Oscar Wilde:

    “Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows. When a child reads of a Nightingale who bleeds her song into a rose for love’s sake, or of a Selfish Giant who puts a wall round life, or of a Fisherman who wants to be rid of his Soul, or of a statue who feels the suffering of the world more keenly than the Mathematics Master who scoffs at his pupils for dreaming about Angels, the child knows at once both the mystery and truth of such stories. We have all at some point in our lives been the overlooked idiot who finds a way to kill the dragon, win the treasure, marry the princess.

    As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/16/jeanette-winterson-fairytales-oscar-wilde

    • Thanks, Stephenson! I agree completely. Folktales, folk songs, myths, ancient poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and literary fiction like George Eliot’s novels or Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales – these are all so important for many reasons. First, they’re like the software that formats our brains, both individually and culturally, shaping how we see and make sense of the world. There’s a reason Freud borrowed so many of the psychological terms we use today from classic literature (like the Oedipus Complex).

      Also, they tell us truths – truths that are different than what we learn from nonfiction. In fact, in some ways they provide a deeper truth than “real life.” They give us access to a different way of knowing the world.

      And they also help us understand each other. A recent article in The New York Times cited several recent studies that proved it – reading literary fiction improved how well participants scored on social perception and empathy tests, even after just a few minutes of reading. (Oh, and here’s a funny quote from Louise Erdrich, whose The Round House was one of the novels used in the tests: “Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries.”)

      btw, I haven’t read Wilde’s fairy tales, but I’m very curious about them now. They’re in the public domain, so they’re available online at places like Project Gutenberg. Here’s a link.

      • That reminds me of the “myth vs logos” topic in cultural sciences as the two ways of explaining the world. During the Enlightment it was common opinion that myth was the ancient, uncivilised and (kind of) childish way to interpret and understand the world, which mankind was going to overcome through science. However, today both are regarded as equal opportunities to make sense of our world; even appears science as a modern kind of myth and myth as the basic human way of thinking.

        • That’s really interesting, Julie. And I think studying myths is especially important because it not only allows us “to make sense of our world,” as you say, but also gives us insights into how we make sense of the world – of how, in our attempt to make meaning and “make sense of our world,” we privilege some things and ignore others. So it allows us to not only think about the world but about ourselves, and our process for interpreting the world around us.

  21. Thanks for these articles on fairy tales, stephenson! It’s very helpful; apparently Oscar Wilde’s birthday was yesterday.

    I think the quote you posted is by Jeannette Winterson, not Wilde himself.

  22. Thanks, Willa and Nina, for your reply. Wilde’s fairy tales are beautiful, but poignant, too.

    I will check out the NYT article, Willa. Amazing that reading literary fiction can help us empathize with each other. I loved the quote from Erdrich, too. You’re right that these stories “shape how we see and make sense of the world” and good point about Freud and the Greek story of Oedipus.

    I think MJ wrote some fairy tales too (or wonder tales as some call them) in DTD, like the story of “the fish that was thirsty,” “the boy and the pillow.” There is a kind of fairy tale energy in that book.

  23. A deeply enlightening conversation, one that should be reread to fully appreciate the contents.

    I refer to the topic on the necessity of suffering in order to be more creative. My view is that this aspect of life allows for greater understanding of the human condition, deeper empathy with people, bringing to the surface the artist’s innate desire to express his interpretation of this experience, perhaps find beauty in the unpleasant aspect of life, or motivate a higher appeciation of beauty wherever this appears. Certainly the mind’s vistas widen, hidden cravings come to the fore, I’m talking from personal experience. A very large part of great art in any of its forms is not about life being a bed of roses.

  24. Speaking of fairy tales, how about Cinderella Stay Awhile? Here is a cute video featuring that song. http://dai.ly/x6pkhr

  25. Several of you have sent us a link to the OSU halftime show tribute to Michael Jackson. Thank you! Who knew a marching band could moonwalk? Here it is:

  26. How could I have forgotten… I read a few years ago about an adaptation of Cinderella that MJ was involved in called Sisterella. In keeping with the fairy tale theme, here is info from the website Sisterella.com

    WHAT IS SISTERELLA?

    Sisterella, is a Pop/R&B Musical, written & directed by Grammy Award winning Singer & Composer, Larry Hart which is loosely based on the world renowned Fairy Tale, “Cinderella”.

    Larry Hart’s Sisterella, is a critically acclaimed , award winning musical, which stands alone in musical history as the only musical project (and Larry Hart the only Composer/Author/Director ) that Michael Jackson ever financed, produced or presented.

    WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF SISTERELLA ?

    Sisterella made it’s debut in Los Angeles at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, in 1996, opening to rave reviews, multiple awards and accolades, breaking and holding the 85 year box office record as being the most successful show in the history of the Pasadena Playhouse. Two Multi-million dollar limited run tours were licensed in Germany/Europe and Australia. In it’s European Tour Sisterella was voted “Show of the Decade” by European Theater fans.

    Larry Hart:
    Composer/Author/Director
    Grammy Award winning Composer & Singer, 4 time Grammy Award nominee, 2010 Black Music Association Image Award Winner , 2009 BMA Gospel Jubilee Award winner for “Best Male singer”, 12 time N.A.A.C.P. Theater Award nominations and winner of 8 N.A.A.C.P. Theater Awards for his critically acclaimed musical, “Sisterella”. As a writer, other credits include working as one of thecomposers on the Broadway adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Color Purple”, The stage adaptation of Miramax Film’s Oscar winning Foreign film, “Cinema Paradiso” (Larry wrote book, music & lyrics),”Panjam!” (Larry’s retelling of Peter Pan, written and developed as a MIchael Jackson project), “Snowena White & the 7 Orphans”, Larry Hart’s “Praise” and numerous other projects for stage, music & film.

    Jerry Greenberg:
    Executive Producer
    Jerry Greenberg serves as the Executive Producer of Sisterella from 1993 to present, and looks forward to a groundbreaking theatrical future for Sisterella. Jerry Greenberg served as President of MJJ/Sony Music. Jerry Greenberg is the man that brought Larry Hart and Sisterella to Michael Jackson, and the man who signed Larry Hart to MJJ Music. Jerry previously served as President of WTG/Sony Music, Mirage Music, United Artists/MGM Records, and at age 30, was the youngest man ever to become President of Atlantic records, signing a diverse talent roster which included, The Rolling Stones, Bette MIdler, Abba, Phil Collins, Broadway’s “The Wiz” and the Muppets.

    Frank Dileo:
    Executive Producer
    For over 3 decades, Frank Dileo has managed and consulted some of the most successful performers and recording artists in the world including: Taylor Dayne, Jodeci, Laura Brannigan, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, Prince, and most notably, the most successful entertainer and largest selling recording artist in history, Michael Jackson. Frank Dileo managed Michael Jackson through the golden years of Michael’s success, during “Thriller”, “Off the Wall” and “Bad”, and also overseeing the “Bad” world tour, the Jackson’s Victory Tour, and served as Executive Producer for Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking musical short film, “Moonwalker”, and the Grammy Award winning music video Short Film “Leave me Alone”. Frank once again joined forces with Michael Jackson for what would be Michael’s final tour that became the global hit film, “This is it!”. Prior to his management relationship with Michael Jackson, Frank served as Vice President of Epic Records (A division of CBS Records that would later become Sony Music and the home of Michael Jackson). Frank was in charge of promoting the label’s top recording artists including Quiet Riot, REO Speedwagon, Ozzy Osbourne, Gloria Estefan, Luther Vandross, Meat Loaf, Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, and Michael Jackson, among others.

    • Sandra, I am completely astonished! I’ve never heard of “Sisterella.” I’m going to have to do some research now and learn more about it. I wonder if any of the performances were ever captured on film? I’d love to see it …

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