A Touch, a Kiss, a Whisper of Love…

You’ll never make me stay
So take your weight off of me
I know your every move
So won’t you just let me be
I’ve been here times before
But I was too blind to see
That you seduce every man
This time you won’t seduce me

Joie:  With these words begin the game of seduction that is “Dirty Diana.” And it’s apparently one they’ve been playing for some time. He knows her “every move,” he’s “been here times before.” But this time it’s different. This time he’s finally opened his eyes and he sees her now for what she really is, and he doesn’t want to go through it again.

She’s saying that’s ok
Hey baby do what you please
I have the stuff that you want
I am the thing that you need
She looked me deep in the eyes
She’s touchin’ me so to start
She says there’s no turnin’ back
She trapped me in her heart

She wants him and she’s not willing to take no for an answer. So she taunts him, telling him that she knows exactly what he wants and what he needs. Then she touches him suggestively and says, “there’s no turnin’ back.” He’s been trapped by this beautiful, ruthless seductress and he’s torn. On one side there’s My Baby, the woman he loves and has waiting for him at home. But standing right in front of him is this wicked temptress, telling him that she’s ready and willing. He wants to be faithful. But he’s also strangely drawn to this other woman. She’s wild and exciting and unpredictable and he likes that. But he also likes the fact that My Baby is in his life, someone who knows him and loves him and cares about him. He feels this same dilemma in “Dangerous”:

She came at me in sections
With the eyes of desire
I fell trapped into her
Web of sin
A touch, a kiss
A whisper of love
I was at the point
Of no return

Once again, he feels trapped. But this time, it’s a little darker. The first time, he sings, “She trapped me in her heart.” The second time, he is “trapped into her web of sin.” The Bad album was released in 1988 when Michael was still a relatively young, inexperienced man but Dangerous is released a few years later in 1991, and few years can make a whole lot of difference. So in 1988, he was a little bit naive and then caught completely by surprise when Diana grabs the phone out of his hand and tells My Baby that he’s not coming home “because he’s sleeping with me.” But in 1991, he’s not so naive anymore and he knows exactly what he’s getting into.

Her mouth was
Smoother than oil
But her inner spirit
Is as sharp as
A two-edged sword
But I loved it
‘Cause it’s dangerous

He knows it’s wrong. He knows he shouldn’t. But he can’t help himself; he’s inexplicably drawn to her. But who is she really? And if we continue to see My Baby as representing a part of his psyche or his inner self, then who exactly are these other women who constantly threaten her and try to come between them? Could these women possibly represent another side of his own psyche? Perhaps the part of him that courted fame, the side of him that was drawn to entertaining and creating and being on stage. That part of him that loved being in front of a camera or onstage performing in front of 80,000 people. Is it possible that these “dangerous” women represent fame itself and that Michael Jackson often felt seduced by it? Compelled to go off with her instead of going home to My Baby. Compelled to pursue his career instead of nurturing that secret part of himself that he tried to keep safely hidden away from the limelight.

Fame is the dream of many,  the hope of millions. But it always comes at a price and often, those who find it end up wishing that it was different. Fame is wild and exciting and unpredictable – just like the temptress in both “Dirty Diana” and “Dangerous.” But fame can also be brutal and unkind and hurtful to those who get in its way. Just ask My Baby.

Willa:  Wow, Joie. You’ve officially blown me away. I had never considered the possibility that these seductive, threatening women were fame itself, or that part of himself that was drawn to fame. But now that you say that, it makes perfect sense. I’ve never understood why he would be attracted to a cruel person, to someone whose “inner spirit is as sharp as a two-edged sword.” But fame is cruel, and he knows it, but still he’s drawn to it. That makes perfect sense. It also explains why he can’t escape it – why these seductive women reappear again and again, album after album, threatening My Baby. He can’t escape it because it’s also a part of him, just as My Baby is – the part of himself that’s drawn to fame.

It also explains why this complicated love triangle that has entangled him for years suddenly disappears after the false accusations came out in 1993, and he discovered just how cruel fame could be. That was such a searing experience for him that fame no longer attracts him. The spell has been broken, and now he sees fame for what it truly is. He still recognizes and respects its power – maybe more so than before – but he’s no longer naively drawn to it, and he doesn’t let it threaten My Baby.

Joie:  No, he doesn’t let it threaten My Baby anymore. It’s like from that point (1993) on, he goes to much greater efforts to keep the two apart, and he makes a conscious decision to focus on My Baby – or his private life. He gets married and tries to start a family. It doesn’t work the first time but, he keeps trying. He becomes a father. He takes active steps to build a happy private life, to nurture My Baby a little bit.

And I never thought about it before either! For years, I always thought that the threatening women were referring to the media, the tabloids, the paparazzi, etc. It wasn’t until writing this blog and focusing on “Dirty Diana” and “Dangerous” that it hit me like a lightning bolt. Fame is the bold, threatening presence in this threesome. I think it all makes so much sense now.

Willa:  I agree, and I’m so intrigued by this idea. I really want to go back and listen to those earlier songs again with this interpretation in mind, and see if it sheds new light on that ongoing conflict between the protagonist, My Baby, and the women who threaten her. But this conflict abruptly disappears after 1993. After the horror of that experience, he no longer lets the allure of fame threaten My Baby. She’s still somewhat fragile and in need of protection, but the threats are different now.

We’re introduced to one of those threats in “Ghosts,” the first song to reference My Baby after the 1993 scandal erupted. As the video makes clear, he’s addressing a threatening figure – a figure many critics saw as representing District Attorney Tom Sneddon, the man who led the investigation against Jackson. The protagonist is standing up to this figure and demanding answers, repeatedly asking him,

And who gave you the right to shake my family?
And who gave you the right to shake My Baby?
She needs me
And who gave you the right to shake my family tree?

So once again My Baby is at risk, but this time it isn’t a seductress who hurts her. It’s the police. And this time the protagonist isn’t torn by conflicting impulses. He knows whose side he’s on, and he’s doing everything he can to defend and protect her. He’s clearly addressing an authority figure in this scene, and importantly, he’s challenging the very basis of his authority. As he repeatedly asks this man, “who gave you the right . . . ?” Why do you have this authority, this power to “shake” another person’s life? Where does this authority come from? What gives you the right to treat other people this way?

This line of questioning is repeated three times over the course of “Ghosts,” but the third time it’s extended and a new question is subtly added in the midst of the other questions:

And who gave you the right to shake my family?
And who gave you the right to shake My Baby?
She needs me
And who gave you the right to shake my family tree?
And who gave you the right to take intrusion,
To see me?
And who gave you the right to shake my family?
And who gave you the right to shake My Baby?
She needs me
And who gave you the right to shake my family tree?

This new question is “Who gave you the right to take intrusion / To see me?” I think this is clearly a reference to the strip search that was conducted on December 20, 1993 – a procedure ordered by Tom Sneddon – where the most intimate parts of Michael Jackson’s body were photographed and videotaped by the police.

My sense is that he experienced that strip search as a rape – a police-authorized rape – and I don’t use that word lightly. For example, in “They Don’t Care about Us,” he says, “I am the victim of police brutality. . . . You’re raping me of my pride.” And in “Privacy” he references “that cold winter night” when “my pride was snatched away.” The immediate context suggests he’s talking about the death of Princess Diana while being chased by paparazzi, but she died in August. The strip search occurred in December. And if we look at the wider context of those lyrics, we see that he repeatedly juxtaposes his experiences and hers.

I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate how deeply the events of 1993 impacted Michael Jackson. His world view shifts in profound ways after that time, and one of those shifts is in the way he viewed institutions of power, such as the police or the press. He was always very concerned about injustice and discrimination, but before 1993 his focus was on occasional injustices that occurred within those institutions. After 1993, his focus is on the institutions themselves, and what gives them the right to invade the most intimate aspects of a person’s life – the place where My Baby dwells.

Joie:  Willa, I completely agree with you that he experienced the strip search as a rape and was deeply affected by it. It’s like after the events of 1993 and that whole battle, he is a different person in terms of his relationship with his fame. And I think you were right when you said that My Baby is still fragile and in need of protection but that the threats to her are different now. In fact, the threats to her seem to have turned a little bit sinister after the allegations. Just listening to the lyrics of “Ghosts” makes that clear. And the lyrics of “Heaven Can Wait” are somewhat sinister as well, and also slightly sad.

You’re beautiful
Each moment spent with you is simply wonderful
This love I have for you girl, it’s incredible
I don’t know what I’d do, if I can’t be with you
The world could not go on so every night I pray
If the Lord should come for me before I wake
I wouldn’t wanna go if I can’t see your face
Can’t hold you close
What good would Heaven be
If the angels came for me I’d tell them no

On the surface, it’s a beautiful song about how he loves this woman – My Baby – so much that he doesn’t want to leave her for anything. Not even for Heaven. But if My Baby represents his private life that he has worked so hard to build and maintain – a life that now includes his precious children who he adores – then this song suddenly takes on new meaning. And if we continue our theory that the threat to My Baby is fame itself, then these lyrics are like a foreshadowing. Almost as if he has resigned himself to the fact that, ultimately, his fame will be the reason for his demise and he feels powerless to overcome that. At the end of the song he begs, “Just leave us alone. Please leave us alone.” It’s a futile attempt and he knows it, but he has to try anyway. His babies – My Baby – are at stake now.

Willa:  Joie, I agree with you for the most part, except that I see him feeling much more empowered than you do. He’s been severely tested now. Really, he’s been to hell and back. And he survived, with his soul, his psyche, his inner being intact. It was horrible – no one should have to go through the years of misery he endured – but he survived. He knows nothing can separate him from My Baby without his permission. And now he’s challenging Death itself to divide him from that innermost part of himself. As he sings in the final stanza, he refuses to go without her:

Oh no, can’t be without My Baby
Won’t go, without her I’ll go crazy
Oh no, guess Heaven will be waiting

He knows his own strength now. He may lose everything else – he can’t control fate – but he won’t lose My Baby: his soul, his psyche, his self-knowledge, his creativity.

Joie:  No, don’t misunderstand me. What I’m saying is that his plea, “Just leave us alone,” is futile. He knows that, no matter how much he begs, fame (or death, or the media, or Sneddon) is never going to leave him alone. All of those threats to My Baby are never truly going away. But I agree with you that he is empowered. As I said, he is a much different person after the events of 1993, and in many ways he is much stronger and much wiser than he ever was before. And he’s also much more at peace. It’s like My Baby is his anchor and he finally realizes that and respects it and he’ll do anything to protect it.

About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member 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 conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. 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.

Posted on August 27, 2011, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. On this August 29th, I have been thinking so much about what you have written here. What has come to mind is the legacy each of us has, to merge what we consider dark and light, soft and hard, masculine and feminine, opposites in whatever forms they are presented such as with our parents. I have experienced when one’s parents are fairly polarized their also is the possibility of great divide within oneself… such as the divide between “my baby” and the ‘sirens’. If we take a moment to see what Joe typically represents to Michael and then what Kathryn does, couldn’t they also be analogous with the divide we are attempting to address. The part that is disciplined, managerial, fame focused, tyrannous and the other seen as nurturing, compassionate, pious, demure etc. Carl Jung speaks of the shadow aspects of man being those aspects disowned. The greater that avoidance the greater our pain and the possibility to never freely own our true gifts. Did Michael own himself in his totality? i think he did to an extent but not to the degree that he had no FEAR of it. Perhaps that is what the sleeplessness was about?

    • Hi Mare. That’s really interesting how you broadened the discussion to include the many different binary oppositions that could be represented by this ongoing conflict between My Baby and the “sirens,” as you call them. Joie and I tried to “dive deep” into exploring one of those oppositions (his private life v his public life) but there are many other interpretations that would be just as fun to explore. The conventional view by music critics is that Michael Jackson was “paranoid” or fearful of women because he repeatedly referenced these somewhat predatory women who hurt him and My Baby, but that’s a simplistic way of approaching these songs, I think. There’s a lot more going on than that, but we have to look a little deeper to see it.

      Thanks for sharing these ideas on this special day.

    • Hi Mare, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I have to say that I am fascinated with your suggestion that the conflict between My Baby and the dangerous women could represent the polarizing divide of Joseph and Katherine. I think that is certainly a very valid interpretation of what is going on here in some of these songs. As Willa says, any interpretation can be valid as long as it can be supported by the evidence and you have definitely given us a new perspective here. Thanks!

  2. Love the analysis of these threatening women Michael knows so well and it seems right on the money to me, but I just want to add one thing. Was Michael seduced by fame? or more precisely was it artistic success on a global scale that was so appealing to him? For me it’s an important distinction. I don’t believe Michael Jackson thought about fame any more than a fish thinks about water. It was simply all he ever knew. He wowed his kindergarten class at age 5, starting working at age 7, had record contracts and regional success by age 10, finally at age 11 he conquered the entire recording industry with 4 consecutive number 1 hits. That is something that has never been done before or since, and Michael wasn’t yet out of grade school! Does someone like that even think about fame? I think Michael had tremendous ambition as an artist and as someone who thought he could make a difference in this world through his art, which he carefully aimed at a global audience. I don’t believe fame or money ever meant a thing to him. His focus was on his art, and fame and fortune just happened to follow. Fame was perhaps the unfortunate reality he had to live with if he wanted to achieve his artistic and commercial goals and he was willing to endure it if that’s what it took to get there, but I don’t think he liked it or was seduced by it. I do believe success was tremendously important to him though, that he would go to great lengths to achieve it, but fame was something different he would could do without. That’s why he created “Michael Jackson”, the fictional character, who appears in public, who is entirely seperate from the man who goes into the studio and makes the records and the films, that “man behind the curtain” is a closely guarded secret, and oh so endlessly fascinating.

    • Wow. Now you have officially blown me away (as Willa said to me in the blog)! Your observation that the ‘bad girls’ are not really fame but, in fact, global success is very intriguing. Thank you for pointing out the distinction here. And I think you are probably correct in saying that someone who acquires fame at such a remarkably early age really wouldn’t think about fame in the way that others do. However success was very important to him; by his own admission, Michael was an incredibly driven, ambitious man, completely devoted to his art. So, I think you make an excellent point here.

  3. just to clarify my reference to fame above… i was giving a thumbnail of what i see as Joe’s persona, not Michael’s. But that level of focus was present in Michael’s life as imposed by his father’s mere presence.

    Cool discussion…

    • Hi Mare and Ultravioletrae. You guys really have me thinking about Michael Jackson’s complicated relationship with his fame and his success – and his audience as well – and how he tried to negotiate all that. As he said in the Sylvia Chase interview we just posted, he really wanted to make people happy, and make his audience happy. Yet at the same time, he really challenged us sometimes and forced us to look at things we didn’t necessarily want to see. For example, his Earth Song video is lush and majestic, but we also see an elephant butchered for its tusks, and a dolphin caught in a net, and real human suffering from famine and war. hmmm . . . Thanks for the sharing your thoughts. You’ve given me a lot to think about!

  4. and the fear part…. accomplishment and success as perhaps associated with Joe’s more gluttonous focus on fame,even to look or feel similar may stir unresolved fear or disdain (an attraction and repulsion) in some accord like he had for his father, so although on one hand absolutely MJ didn’t give fame a second thought and perhaps on another we hear about the wicked alluring sirens… I thought about this idea as i thought about Michael’s personal and public persona’s vast differences .

  5. On the DVD “Michael Jackson – Dangerous – the short films”, the song “Dangerous” is accompanied by clips of MJ dealing with fame during the Dangerous tour. I had wondered why, and now it makes sense.

  6. To Willa and Joie I appreciate you and this blog so much! Thank you!

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