They Thought They Really Had Control of Me, Part 1

Joie:  Two weeks ago, we began the new year by examining Michael Jackson’s incredible sex appeal and the discussion got a little heated at times. Or maybe I should I say Willa and I got a little over-heated at times but really, who could blame us? I mean, come on. We were talking about some pretty … artistic … short films and how truly … artistic … Michael looked in those films. Actually, it was a very educational conversation about Michael’s pants. I mean ART! Art … appreciation, right Willa?

Willa:  Heavens, Joie, you and those gold pants! It’s a good thing they didn’t have those pants at Fan Fest or you’d still be there.

Joie:  Actually, the gold pants were at Fan Fest but you know what? They just don’t seem as magical when he’s not in them.

Willa:  I can believe that….

Joie:  Well anyway, we followed up that conversation with a discussion of In the Closet and all the different ways that song and short film can be interpreted. It just seemed fitting somehow since we got so distracted by it in the sex symbol post. But this week, we want to get back on track and go back to that original conversation about race and sex and our goal is to place Michael Jackson within an historical context and talk about why that was such an important cultural phenomenon, and why there was such a strong backlash against him because of it. But in order to understand why the idea of a Black sex symbol was so radical, we need to take a step back in time and look at our nation’s horrifying, shameful history of slavery and sexuality.

Willa and I know that this is very painful, very ugly territory. And while it’s not easy to read about – or to write about for that matter – we feel strongly that this discussion would be pointless and incomplete without this small history lesson. It’s necessary in order to understand Michael Jackson’s tremendous significance, not just as an artist but as a cultural figure.

Willa:  That’s really true, Joie, and as you said two weeks ago, history repeats itself. A lot of what happened in 1993 when he was falsely accused of a sex crime was simply a continuation of racial/sexual patterns that were established early in our nation’s history, way back when slavery was introduced to North America in the 1600s. So we can gain a better understanding of what happened in 1993, and why the police acted the way they did, and why Michael Jackson responded the way he did, by looking back and seeing how that entire episode fits within those larger patterns.

Our attitudes about race, gender, and sexuality are so interconnected in the United States it’s almost impossible to untangle them. I think there’s a reason Michael Jackson crossed boundaries of gender and sexuality as well as race:  it’s because they are so intertwined you can’t really shift attitudes about any one of them at the deep psychological levels he was operating at without addressing all three.

Racism in the United States has been an ongoing struggle between White oppression and Black resistance for centuries, and those battles have focused on real human bodies and who controls those bodies – particularly women’s bodies. In a very real sense, women’s bodies have been the battlefields on which this ongoing power struggle between the races has been fought.

Traditionally, White men have had access to Black women’s bodies. Before the Civil War, White slave owners literally owned Black women’s bodies, and many of those men claimed the right to do what they wanted, by force or coercion if necessary. There’s a reason most Black Americans are mixed race and not “pure” Black – it’s because most Black Americans have at least one White rapist in their family tree, as Malcolm X phrased it. Even Thomas Jefferson probably fathered children by one of his wife’s slaves, Sally Hemings.

Joie:  I think you can drop the “probably” out of that sentence, Willa.

Willa:  I think you’re “probably” right, Joie. DNA evidence has shown that he was most likely the father of at least one of her children, and possibly all six. So even the author of the Declaration of Independence – the man who wrote the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – apparently even he felt he had a right to a Black woman’s body, and while this belief was generally unspoken, it was also tacitly accepted.

And traditionally, Black men have been prohibited from White women’s bodies by both laws and social customs, as we discussed a little bit two weeks ago. White women who associated with Black men were seen as traitors to their race, and were despised. Black men who associated with White women, or in some cases even gazed at a White woman, were seen as infringing on a territory they had no right to claim, and many of those men were tortured and killed. The clear message was that a White woman’s body was off-limits to a Black man – even if he had her consent and even if it were her idea.

So women’s bodies became the symbolic landscape on which racial oppression was written, with White men claiming dominance over Black women’s bodies, and violently enforcing prohibitions against Black men transgressing on White women’s bodies.

This racial/sexual dynamic existed for over 300 years, and to some degree those attitudes persist even today. But suddenly in the 1980s something radical happened:  Michael Jackson became a teen idol – our first Black teen idol – and an entirely new phenomenon in our nation’s history. White girls were fainting at his concerts, and hanging his posters in their bedrooms, and openly expressing how sexy he was, and that was truly revolutionary.

Joie:  Willa … I agree with everything you’re saying. But, I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute and point out that Michael’s position as the first Black teen idol might not have been quite as revolutionary as you think. Or maybe it’s better to say that, what I’m about to say will explain how his ascension to that position was even possible. And it may shed some light on where our culture was at the time as well. I just feel it’s important to point out that Michael wasn’t the first. There was someone who blazed that trail ahead of him and possibly even paved the way for him. As you say, in the 1980s something radical happened. But just a few short years earlier, in 1977, something even more radical happened:  his name was Teddy Pendergrass.

Teddy Pendergrass was an African American soulful R&B artist who had risen to success as the lead singer of the group Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in the early 1970s. But in ’77 he went solo and his career skyrocketed. He became the first Black male singer to record five consecutive multi-platinum albums and his success was due in no small measure to his sensual hits like “Close the Door,” “Turn off the Lights” and “Come Go With Me.” All of which he delivered with a very healthy dose of sex appeal. His lyrics were not crass, like in a lot of today’s R&B, but when coupled with his sexy baritone voice they were seen as sensual and romantic and even bordered on the erotic. Combine that with the fact that he was very easy on the eyes – tall, dark and handsome – and you had “an entirely new phenomenon in our nation’s history,” as you said earlier. Women LOVED him. All women. Black, White – it didn’t matter. Women packed his sold-out performances and they would swoon and faint all over themselves as he stood onstage crooning to them.

And he definitely played it up. In fact, his live shows were famous for their blatant sexiness and he would wear these tight little outfits on stage (precursors of the gold pants) and he would even announce to the men in the audience that he was “getting their women ready for later tonight.” Things got so hot that they began billing his shows as “For Ladies Only,” something a few of today’s male music stars are attempting to copy, and by the end of each show, the stage would infamously be completely littered with women’s panties – many of them with phone numbers written on them. And we’re talking just a sea of women – White, Black and every color in between.

By the end of 1978, Teddy Pendergrass was a major sex symbol; many in the media had even begun to call him ‘the Black Elvis,’ and by early 1982 – the same year Michael Jackson exploded – Teddy Bear, as the ladies liked to call him, had already set the sexual imaginations of many White women on fire. Perhaps the very same White women who had teenaged daughters who would later swoon and faint in frenzied adulation over Michael Jackson. So, just as young White girls were going nuts over Michael Jackson in the early 1980s, many of their mothers had gone just as nuts over Teddy Pendergrass in the late 1970s. In fact, if it hadn’t been for his tragic and life-altering car crash in 1982 that left him paralyzed from the waist down at age 31, Teddy Pendergrass might have become a heated musical rival for Michael in terms of capturing the hearts and sexual imaginations of young women everywhere. So, as early as the late 1970s, those deep taboos and the racial/sexual power structure were already being challenged by TP before Michael took over that role.

Willa:  Joie, that is so interesting. I knew Teddy Pendergrass was a big name and a wonderful singer. (If you’re a college basketball fan, he sings the classic version of “One Shining Moment,” the theme song of the NCAA championships.) And I knew there were handsome Black entertainers with crossover appeal before Michael Jackson – artists like Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Al Green – but they were fairly subtle. They definitely had sex appeal, but it was understated, not overt. I just can’t picture Sidney Poitier ripping his shirt open. I didn’t realize the Teddy Pendergrass phenomenon had that whole other element to it. That’s pretty amazing.

Joie:  You know, I didn’t realize it at the time either. I was a teenager and I was very aware of him because my mother and my aunts were going nuts over him, but it wasn’t until after Teddy Pendergrass passed away and I was watching one of those ‘behind the music’ type shows about his career that I came to fully understand his impact. And of course, as I always do when thinking about any musical artist or group, I couldn’t help but think about how that related to Michael and to his career. So those boundaries set by racial/cultural taboos were being boldly crossed right and left by Teddy Pendergrass. But then he hit a wall – quite literally – and his career took a different path. But the very same year he was forced to stop pushing those boundaries, Michael Jackson suddenly rises to the surface and takes over, although he went about it in a completely different way. But I just think that’s really significant and not at all coincidental.

Willa:  That is so interesting, Joie, and you’re absolutely right – it does show that cultural attitudes were shifting and the time was right for someone like Michael Jackson. And wow, did he seize the moment. He was the biggest star of them all – the biggest star ever, of any race – and he was recognized around the planet as one of the sexiest men alive.

But then he did something that I believe was even more revolutionary. After proving he was tremendously attractive to millions of women of all races – and he definitely proved that – he refused to exploit that right. He kept his sexuality very private, and he refused to use sex as a display of male power and prowess.

As mentioned earlier, racial power (and male power in general) has traditionally been written on women’s bodies. In our nation’s history, in particular, White men have had access to Black women’s bodies, and Black men have not had access to White women’s bodies. If Michael Jackson had developed a reputation for sleeping with White supermodels and White groupies and singing songs that support that type of persona – in other words, if he had behaved like a stereotypical White rock star – he would have seriously challenged the traditional power structure and shifted the way the pieces were positioned on the chessboard.

But he did more than that. He didn’t just move the pieces around; he rejected the chessboard altogether. He crossed gender boundaries as well as racial boundaries and refused to write male power on women’s bodies.

Michael Jackson was very attractive to women, but he also identified with women and had strong friendships with women, and some of his most popular works have both a masculine and feminine sensibility. He was obviously a man, but he didn’t reject the feminine parts of his personality, and we see that in his work. “Dirty Diana” is a song about a groupie and a rock star, and it could have been really exploitative, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s written as much from her perspective as his, with the point of view shifting back and forth between the two. And The Way You Make Me Feel is one of the most feminist videos I personally have ever seen:  it directly critiques the way men use women to prove themselves to other men.

Joie:  That’s a really good point, Willa, and I agree with you. Even In The Closet, that we talked about last week is written from both his perspective and hers. He’s going on and on about how attracted he is to her and wondering what it is about her that attracts him so much, but she’s the one spouting all the wisdom about sex and relationships.

Willa:  I hadn’t thought about that, Joie, but you’re right – it’s structured like a conversation between the two of them, and it begins with her voice, not his.

So Michael Jackson didn’t just cross racial boundaries and challenge White authority. He also crossed gender boundaries and challenged patriarchal authority. It’s hard for me to express just how radical and important that is. It was truly transgressive, and dangerous as well. He was violating some of our deepest taboos and contradicting centuries of racial/patriarchal/sexual oppression. It was very dangerous – he received death threats – and he negotiated that minefield very carefully for more than a decade.

Joie:  That’s true, Willa; it was a dangerous position for him to be in. And next week, in the second half of this two-part series, we’re going to venture into some really murky water in order to take a look at why that was so dangerous and we’ll examine the events of ’93 and place that in an historical context to understand why it was so significant.

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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 January 18, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. dont forget jimi hendrix. he was very sexy on stage and off. but to change the subject. i would like for fans to discuss issues about his death. I would like to know why micheal was sending out all these messages about someone he knew was going to kill him, that was heard on tv [60 mins,verbally taped by a friend] but no one investigated it beyond conrad murry. i have my own thoughts about the entire thing [MURDER] but it is like an elephant in the room and no one is talking about who was really behind this and why? I think it was a shame that sony didnt back their artist during the trial. all they wanted was to make money,it was never, about the music. their idea was to do away with the big artist and promote all these small no talent people. cheeper by the dozen. and now look at the music industry now. artist are better off going out on their own. IN THE END……thanks

    • I think exactly same with you. All efforts sony is now doing is digging money on Michael’s name. What can we do for Michael’s Legacy and Justice? Do Michael’s family know about what’s going on in this dirty world?

  2. Very exciting discussion–you are so right that he transgressed boundaries that are deeply ingrained and that this was dangerous– this is why he got to be considered ‘sinister’ and ‘weird’–esp. in USA–because he challenged the status quo so much–all the binary concepts went out the window. (Except for the 2 MSQ Garden concerts in 2001, he did not perform in mainland USA after 89.) As a P.S.–I did not know Teddy P.–but I sure knew Marvin Gaye, who I think was an incredibly sexy man who appealed to white women. Thanks for this–looking forward to Part 2.

  3. Wow! I just loved it…being an Asian I am not privy to under the surface issues… There has been some interesting discussions on vindicatemj about the race factor.

    Btw, I have read news reports of Beyonce “going white”…same stuff…she is back stabbing her race…some light photo of her that is the eye of storm. But what baffles me is the same thing that MJ questioned in 1993 with Oprah, why are white people esp. women who tan not called traitors to their race? Really…whats going on?

  4. This piece is really great. One cannot look at Michael’s significance as an artist without examining it in the context of history. Terrific observations!

  5. Amazing post, as always, Willa and Joie! I believe it is essential to address the topics of race, gender, and power as related to Michael as it explains or at least illuminates so much that happened to him- as well as his fears in relation to being harmed.

    There are several phrases you used in this post that hit it out of the ballpark.
    “So women’s bodies became the symbolic landscape on which racial oppression was written, with White men claiming dominance over Black women’s bodies, and violently enforcing prohibitions against Black men transgressing on White women’s bodies.”

    ABSOLUTELY! As I said in one of your previous posts- look at the Story or Emmett Till- and he was just a boy!
    Sadly, the tendency to have war purported on the symbolic landscape of women is not new to the US, or in history. Every genocide involved the rape and enslavement of women- as a sign of ultimate dominance and a way to “erase” the genetic traits of the oppressed. You can kill a man or take his house or livestock- but if you take his woman and daughters, you shame him to death (or beyond death).

    Another long time way to shame the opponent and to establish and signify power was to feminize the enemy. Now, if you take that into relations of the cultural war involving Michael- the parallels jump out at you. Once his social, cultural, and economic power became undeniable, he started to be ridiculed, and his sexuality was minimized.

    You point out the ultimate irony, though- the fact that Michael was not threatened by his feminine side. Symbols of water are all over his work- the ultimate symbol for femininity. He was in touch with both sides of his being- and was labelled a freak for it. Go figure.

    The other phrase that stuck out was “But he did more than that. He didn’t just move the pieces around; he rejected the chessboard altogether. He crossed gender boundaries as well as racial boundaries and refused to write male power on women’s bodies.”

    Again, YES! And this refusal, this absolute rejection made him a threat. How do you fight an enemy who rejects the rules you know? Well, you use the very traits you don’t understand. In effect, Michael’s sensitivity and his ability to be in touch with male and female parts of his self, as well as his adult and his child parts, were used against him.

    Again, thanks, guys, and I cannot wait to read the next installment!

    • Hi Birgit. You raised so many important issues here.

      I was especially struck by your point that one way “to establish and signify power was to feminize the enemy.” Absolutely, and we see this especially when there are cultural or racial differences. I immediately thought of David Henry Hwang’s play, M Butterfly, which explores this process amazingly. Specifically, it looks at how non-White men – in this case, Asian men – are feminized. And we can see so many examples of this – one of the more obvious being the 1982 film, The Year of Living Dangerously, in which an Asian male character is played by a White actress. But there are more subtle examples all around us.

      Of course, one response to this feminization is to try to prove yourself by being macho and misogynistic, as we see in the Eddie Murphy clip Jacksonaktak posted (thank you very much for posting that, btw). However, Michael Jackson completely rejected that kind of hyper-masculine posturing and embraced his “feminine” side, and was comfortable expressing those parts of his personality that are frequently labeled as feminine. And that’s a really bold and brave thing to do – and dangerous as well.

      I honestly believe that the events of 1993 would have been handled very differently if Michael Jackson hadn’t crossed gender boundaries the way he did. If he had been a typical swaggering rock star who slept with a lot of groupies and behaved in more traditionally masculine ways, I believe the police would have identified with him more and been less likely to assume he was guilty, and they would have been more skeptical of Evan Chandler’s story. After all, Chandler’s story is full of contradictions and outright lies, and it’s not hard to see that if you’re looking for it – but the police didn’t look for it because they leaped to judgment before investigating the case.

      I also agree with you that the Emmett Till story is very powerful, and just heartbreaking. I believe I was about his age – 14 – when I first heard about it, and I believe it was the first time I learned about that aspect of racial prejudice: that a black boy could be hurt and even killed for being friendly with a white girl. I remember that was very confusing for me. Now my son is almost Emmett Till’s age, and it’s just painful to think about what his mother went through. And I really respect the fact that she was able to take that huge personal loss and turn it into an important cultural moment that forced people to really look at themselves and our country’s horrible legacy of racism.

  6. Hi Willa & Joie – You girls are amazing. Everything you post on your blog is phenomenal and M Poetica is brilliant. I love it ALL!! More!! More!! More!! Sending you my love and thanks..

  7. Thanks for these terrific discussions. it’s high time that people acknowledge and be thankful to mighty social warriors such as MJ. By defying the boxes of race, gender etc etc him and others help create more freedom for us all and help allow us to be closer to our truer selves. All these oppressive barriers which confine the human spirit and limit people should be challenged but it always takes very brave souls to do it. Brave, authentic and genuine.

    • I agree, Elsa, he was a “mighty social warrior.” In fact, I believe the very intensity of the backlash against him proves how crucially important his work truly was – and how deeply threatening it was to the status quo. And I love the way you put this: “All these oppressive barriers which confine the human spirit and limit people should be challenged but it always takes very brave souls to do it. Brave, authentic and genuine.” Amen.

  8. Again, wonderful discussion ladies and I look forward to Part Two.

    I would like to challenge the notion that the racial attitudes of the United States are some how far removed or different from other parts of the world. They are not. I personally have witnessed the same attitudes in France and Brazil. So I would be interested to hear some historical context from some of the readers from parts of the world outside of the US.

    @Birgit E “Sadly, the tendency to have war purported on the symbolic landscape of women is not new to the US, or in history”
    Excellent point!

    • Hi Destiny. You’re absolutely right that racism is not confined to the United States. However, other countries don’t have our exact same history, and since we’re trying to place Michael Jackson within a historical context, we focused just on the U.S. We’re trying to look at how historical patterns of racism – patterns established over decades of government-sanctioned slavery, and an economy built on slavery, and a judicial system and social customs designed to support slavery – affected public perceptions of Michael Jackson before and after 1993.

      So that’s why we focused this discussion on the U.S. But like you, I would be very interested to learn more about how these patterns or similar patterns express themselves in other countries.

    • Neither Brasil nor France is emulatable. The world, even England, looks up to the USA as national role model.
      I write from Nigeria.

  9. I don’t know why, but reading this post I got reminded of this skit by Eddie Murphy (the part about Michael and Brooke Shields):

  10. I watched the clip–so Eddie M. is a ‘real man’–and a ‘real man’ jumps on women whenever, wherever, and never passes up the opportunity. MJ then was not a ‘real man’ b/c, as Eddie M. says, he wouldn’t automatically be about sexual conquest. Eddie’s other point that MJ’s going out with white women was tolerated b/c he was not sexually predatory is interesting. However, when MJ invited Tatum O’Neil to the premier of The Wiz–she recounts in her book that her agent said there was ‘no way’ she was walking down the red carpet with ‘a nigger’ (she says these were the exact words). MJ was very hurt by her refusal.

    Lots going on here–the nexus of race, gender, sex is hard to unravel. MJ broke the male stereotypes in so many ways–and he paid a high price for it. Some of his divergences from the stereotype of sexual dimorphism: liked children, animals (not just to kill or hunt with), flowers, wore make-up, liked women’s perfume and wore it, long hair (which I loved), dressed in amazing outfits with sequins and vivid colors, liked to play games (not x-box but water fights), peaceful, nonviolent, showed emotion freely, including weeping, a friend of the environment, humanitarian,–I also think he was an intellectual–although that was not the way he was depicted–liked to read books, study. At the same time he loved the outdoors, rode horses, was strong and athletic–just not in the usual masculine way.

    It is interesting to me that many people who met him comment that he was ‘taller’ than they expected–I think that is b/c he was so diminished in the media that he was seen as weak, feminine, and a ‘little guy.’ Even physically, he was underestimated.

    • “It is interesting to me that many people who met him comment that he was ‘taller’ than they expected – I think that is b/c he was so diminished in the media that he was seen as weak, feminine, and a ‘little guy.’ Even physically, he was underestimated.”

      Hi Aldebaran. I’ve noticed that too. Generally when people talk about meeting a celebrity, they say they were smaller than expected. It’s like their celebrity makes them larger than life, so it’s a shock to meet them in person and discover they’re actually normal human scale. But with Michael Jackson, it was the opposite – person after person has commented that he was taller than they expected: thin but tall. And I think you’re right, it has to do with the way he was portrayed in the media as feminine and vulnerable.

      Another factor may have been that the media covered him since he was a child, and in a lot of ways refused to let him grow up. For example, I’ve noticed that Rolling Stone magazine tends to refer to Bob Dylan as “Dylan,” and John Lennon as “Lennon,” and Jimi Hendrix as “Hendrix,” but Michael Jackson is “Michael.” In some ways, I think that intense familiarity people felt toward him is a good thing – it was part of his power as an artist – but it raises some troubling issues as well.

  11. I have to say that this whole topic was highlighted for me as i have watched Steven Tyler recently in the media, he was, and is, a pretty wild, masculine/feminine like guy in the music industry where many women have lusted after him. He was however, very explicit about sexuality, his non innocent habits lost him his family. There have been no massive assaults on him for his appearance or morality but the media’s negative discussions are still present about Michael. What is the major difference here? After Paris recently appeared on Ellen as a nice “normal” respectible young woman, the media couldn’t help offering yet more slanderous and demeaning comments in regard to her father… not as what we would see as evidence of his outstanding parenting, just more sensational crap, even now. So what is the differences here? We have had other black stars that illiciited attention from cross cultures such as Teddy, Marvin, Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Marley, just no one who was black and crossed ALL the boundaries as MJ did while remaining sexually vibrant as well as innocent and moralistic… crossing boundaries of race, gender and age specifics while being completely unable to be pinned down to any stereotypes at all. When any mold is being broken, first it is ridiculed and eventually, given enough attention and time, it is accepted. By us talking about this and being not only in acceptance but admiration, we can help concretize the changes Michael embodied. I, for one am raising a son who also admires crossing boundaries… he has many characteristics that would have at one time had him labeled as gay or asexual because he is at once both masculine and feminine, beautiful, attracting (a mother has a hard time even saying her grown son is sexy but he is) and innocent and moralistic… and i have encouraged him in these freedoms. Along with the ills a patriarchal world has on all of us, a white patriarchal world of power, particularly manifesting towards men to be a certain way or lose all rights (they have the most to potentially lose by not playing)… these ways are accepted by those men and women who hold these ‘truths’ who perpetuate hatred by fearing change and that which defies stereotyping. Creativity is associated with feminine power… and that which tries to control it, or rape it instead of cherish and love it is the extreme opposite…it is time for the pendulum to swing and Michael was a pioneer example for our time of what that might look like… what might be considered as holding an internal sacred marriage. Frankly, that pioneering example is what i expect of myself and want in all my relationships.

    Thanks for the intelligence and the L.O.V.E. represented here, it is good to know that we are not alone. I have to get back to work!!

  12. ‘an internal sacred marriage’–wonderful! In Reflections of the Dance, Michael talks about experiencing this over and over–while dancing, in nature, in art, in music. Thanks for this beautiful expression.

    Hi, Willa– about him being called ‘Michael,’ yes, you are right that this could be b/c he was still seen as a child–and he was certainly mocked for wanting to play and have fun, horse around–but many times, I think ‘Michael’ is a term of love–when he is performing, his fans call out ‘Michael’ with such love. What I hate is the ‘W— J—-‘ name-calling that the media came up with. This was real bullying. This leads back to the boundary busting that MJ did and how the media–called by Armond White ‘the superego of the status quo’– reacted.

    Love these discussions!

  13. I just have to make mention that two of the men named here (Eddie Murphy and Teddy Pendergrass) were both caught with transvestite prostitutes. Just sayin’!

    @aldebaran, your point about Eddie Murphy and ‘real men’ is well taken, but I do think there is something to what Eddie is saying. To me the point he is trying to make is that (at least in 1984) Michael was considered safe and non-threatening. There was never any conflict in the media that Michael was with Brooke – beautiful, white and virginal. Myabe that had to do with the fact that the talk was about the person on Michael’s other arm – Emanuel Lewis. Which confirms for me that Michael knew exactly what he was doing. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Tatum had turned him down, although I’m not so sure if I truly believe that story – there are pictures of them together at another red carpet event prior to The Wiz. Maybe he felt like what the public saw was part of his performance and art so that no one would question his private affairs. What LMP called his protection mechanism.

    Also, Eddie Murphy is not the only person to make such comments about Michael. Comedian Eddie Griffin made the comment (paraphrasing) “Instead of worrying about Michael and some kid, you need to be worried about Michael and your wife”.

  14. @ Destiny

    “To me the point he is trying to make is that (at least in 1984) Michael was considered safe and non-threatening.”

    That’s how I took it as well. Yes, Eddie is playing macho and kind of implying to be a “real man” means you have to go to bed with every woman you see, but on the other hand I thought it was also a good reference to how Michael was perceived at the time. Because he was deeply religious and was celibate at the time he was considered non-threatening by white people. And thus a good boy. As soon as he started to become more sexual on stage (from the Bad era on) things have changed. (Besides the fact he started to blur lots of boundaries.)

    • Hi Destiny and Jacksonaktak. I agree, and I also felt that Eddie Murphy’s ongoing patter about Michael Jackson was mostly an act – kind of like the “feud” between Michael Jackson and Prince. But I also think he was saying some interesting things as well.

      I can remember Eddie Murphy doing a skit on Saturday Night Live ages ago where he was conducting these scenes between Michael Jackson, Brooke Shields, and Mr. T using their action figure dolls. Basically, the Michael Jackson doll was very prim and proper (of course) and the Mr. T doll was hyper-macho (of course) and the Brooke Shields doll was this ditzy white girl between them – kind of attracted to both of them in different ways, and freaking out at the same time.

      My feeling is that Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson were both very aware of that specific type of racism that surrounds sex and romance, and they were both very smart and very skilled at getting the public thinking about that – through comedy and through art. And even though I didn’t always like the things Eddie Murphy said about Michael Jackson, I also think they had a good relationship and a lot of respect for each other. After all, Michael Jackson asked Eddie Murphy to be in Remember the Time, and Eddie Murphy asked him to join him in Whatzupwitu.

      Here are a couple more youtube clips. This is from another Eddie Murphy routine where he says, “that’s Michael’s hook, his sensitivity”:

      And here are the two of them together at an awards show. It’s pretty poor audio and video, but it’s funny.

  15. Remember what Michael told Ophrah, that he was a gentleman, what’s wrong with that? We really are in need of more Gentlemen these days to Support, Honor and Respect the women in their life. Michael Jackson was that and more and was one of the Greats of this world that crossed bounderies. He is so missed.

  16. Here is a short story about the panther scene in Black or White from John Landis, from a recently published book on MTV’s history (I Want My MTV):

    Then there was the famous scene where Michael morphs from a panther.
    He’s dancing on top of a car, and all of a sudden he grabs his crotch and starts rubbing himself. I yelled, “Cut!” I said, “Michael, what are you doing?”

    He said, “I’m expressing myself.” I said, “Michael, that’s weird, don’t do that. He said, “Madonna does it. Prince does it.” I said, “You’re not Madonna or Prince. You’re Mickey Mouse.”

    So we’re shooting again, and he actually unzips his fly and puts his hand in there. I went, “Cut!”

    I said, “Mike, I am really not comfortable with you touching your nuts and stroking your cock. I just don’t think it’s acceptable.” And Michael turns to our choreographer, Vince Patterson, and says, “Well, what do you think, Vince?” And Vince says, “I didn’t really like it either.”

    Michael says, “Well, let’s call Sandy.” At that time, Michael was managed by Sandy Gallin, who also represented Dolly Parton and Cher. Sandy was a screaming queen. A very flamboyant homosexual. Sandy Gallin comes to the set, looks at the playback, and he goes, “Do it, Michael! Do it! Do it!”

    Maybe this was part of Michael’s genius, because when “Black or White” aired, it created huge controversy. It premiered simultaneously in sixty-some countries. It had one of the largest viewing audiences in history. I know it had more audience than the moon landing.

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