The Trilogy: No, I Mean I’m Different

Joie:  So Willa, last week we began a discussion about something you call The Trilogy, and it has to do with the way you relate to three of Michael Jackson’s works – “Ben,” Thriller, and Ghosts – and how you feel that they all fit together in some way and sort of form Michael Jackson’s aesthetic. Last week we concentrated on the song “Ben” and what a powerful message of acceptance that song carries. This week, I was hoping we could take a look at the Thriller short film and talk about how it fits into this idea of The Trilogy for you.

Willa:  Well, as we’ve talked about before, I see challenging the differences that divide us as a primary focus of Michael Jackson’s art and life. He was driven by a vision of all of us united as one people, despite divisions of race, gender, nationality, sexuality, age, religion, disability, or any other differences used to segregate people into separate camps. We see this in song after song, video after video, as well as in interviews and speeches and the charities he supported. However, for me, there are three works in particular that shine like beacons and really challenge the artificial boundaries that divide us, and those three are “Ben,” Thriller, and Ghosts.

Joie:  That’s really interesting, Willa, because as I said last week, I have never looked at the Thriller short film as addressing ‘the artificial boundaries,’ as you put it or the differences between us all. I’m really interested to hear how you see this.

Willa:  Well, it’s subtly handled – in fact, it’s almost like he’s transmitting his message in a preconscious way – but all three of these works breach the boundaries between us in new and compelling ways, and I especially see that in Thriller.

As we all know, both Thriller and Ghosts play off of the horror movie genre. But interestingly, when Alex Colletti asked Michael Jackson, “Were you a fan of horror movies?” in a 1999 MTV interview, he replied,

Believe it or not, I’m afraid to watch scary movies. Honestly, I don’t quite like to watch them very much. I never thought I’d be involved in making that sort of thing.

And evoking horror doesn’t seem to be his objective in these two short films. There seems to be something else going on.

If we look carefully at Thriller, we discover that it’s a very specific type of horror movie. It isn’t about mutant spiders or snakes, or an enormous ape climbing the Empire State building, or dinosaurs brought back to life through their DNA. It’s not about an especially lethal tornado or tidal wave or an asteroid about to hit the Earth. It’s not about extra-terrestrial aliens intent on world domination, or a mysterious infection sweeping the population. It’s not about a homicidal maniac with a chain saw or a rifle or an unquenchable taste for his fellow humans. It’s not about an ancient prediction that the world will end in two weeks, or the start of World War III, or nuclear holocaust, or environmental collapse. It’s not even a monster movie in the same way as Godzilla or Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Joie:  Well, you make a really good point here but, now I’m afraid you have me wanting to curl up on the couch with some DVDs and a big bowl of popcorn!

Willa:  That’s funny! We should have a movie night sometime, though I’m warning you – I’m a wimp when it comes to scary movies. But if we look closely at Thriller, we discover it’s a very specific kind of horror movie: it’s the story of a cute teenage boy who crosses boundaries. First he crosses the boundary between wolf and man, but he doesn’t cross that boundary completely. He doesn’t become a wolf. Instead, he stops midway and comes to inhabit this intermediate space where he is both wolf and man. He becomes a wolfman, a werewolf. Later he confuses the boundary between the living and the dead, and again comes to inhabit this weird in-between space where he is both living and dead. He becomes one of the undead, a zombie.

Joie:  Ok. I think I see where you’re going with this. Basically, what you’re saying is that you feel Michael Jackson’s character in Thriller is sort of symbolic of embracing the differences between us that we talked about last week when looking at the song “Ben.” In the Thriller video, his character is inhabiting those differences and purposely crossing those boundaries.

Willa:  Exactly. That’s exactly where I was heading, and you’re right – it ties in beautifully with “Ben” and expands the ideas he was singing about in that song. But I think there’s a lot more going on as well.

Julia Kristeva is a literary theorist who’s also a psychoanalyst, and she believes that humans feel a deep psychological threat when certain kinds of boundaries are blurred or challenged or transgressed in some way. As she describes in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, we create our identity and define who we are by creating boundaries between what is us and what is not us, so anything that threatens to break down those boundaries also threatens us with dissolution – it threatens our identity at the most fundamental psychological level. For example, she says that’s why we feel such disgust toward human waste, because it has crossed the boundary between inside the body and outside the body, between us and not-us, and forced us to realize that those boundaries are more permeable than we’d like them to be, and that threatens us at a deep, primal level.

Joie:  Now that is really interesting! I’ve never heard of her before but, I’d like to read that book. It sounds fascinating.

Willa:  Oh, it is fascinating, and it’s really led me to see this issue of crossing boundaries in a very different way – not just as a social/political issue, but as a powerful psychological issue. She also talks about corpses, and why they are so horrifying to us:

If dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be, the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything. It is no longer I who expel, “I” is expelled. The border has become an object. How can I be without border?

So Kristeva sees our revulsion for corpses as the most extreme example of the primal fear that threatens to overwhelm us when the boundaries between us and not-us fail. As she says, “How can I be without border?” It threatens our very existence, psychologically. It threatens who we are, the “I” that I establish as myself. And I think this explains why corpses figure so prominently in two of Michael Jackson’s most important works, even though he didn’t like horror movies. It’s because he’s directly confronting our deepest fears of the dissolution of those boundaries at their most primal level.

Aldebaran provided a fascinating example of this deep-seated fear of transgressing boundaries in a comment a couple of weeks ago, when she talked about an article in The Guardian. As Aldebaran described it, the article is

about a bi-racial family and they had twins – one twin was born Black and the other White. Interestingly, it was the White twin who got bullied in school, so much that his parents took him out. It is a very interesting article about the racial barriers in place. The kids bullied the White twin b/c they thought he was really Black yet appeared White – sort of like MJ and the dancer Arthur Wright. In school the teachers wanted the White twin to draw himself as Black – it was unreal.

If we look at this situation through the lens of Kristeva’s ideas, the actions of the school bullies make perfect sense. They didn’t bully the “Black” twin because he looked Black, he stayed within his proper category, and therefore didn’t threaten their identity. He was “safely” Black. But the other twin had the same parents and the same genetic background and therefore was signified as “Black” by the other kids and even the teachers, but he looked White. Apparently, blurring this boundary between Black and White presented a deep psychological threat to those school kids because he looked like he was one of them but they felt he was not one of them. They reacted to that threat by reinforcing the boundary between them and him – in other words, they bullied him to state very clearly to him (and themselves) that he was not-them.

And of course, as Aldebaran points out, this is “sort of like MJ.” He challenged racial boundaries even before he developed vitiligo, and he blurred many other boundaries as well. And that provoked a violent backlash, just like the backlash against the White-Black twin.

Joie:  Well, that is very true; he did. And, I guess we could make the argument that Kristeva’s theories could apply to racism in all its forms – that “us vs. them” mentality or thought process that always gets us into trouble.

Willa:  That’s true, or to anti-Semitism, or misogyny, or homophobia, or xenophobia, or any of the prejudices that divide us. And how do we as a culture break out of that? There is no logical reason why those boundaries have been drawn the way they have – there’s nothing real or true or natural about those boundaries – but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and don’t pack a lot of psychological power. I think that is the problem Thriller is tackling. We could spend months exploring this more fully, but I think Thriller functions at a deep psychological level by directly confronting the fear and horror we feel toward anything – or anyone – who transgresses the boundaries we use to define ourselves.

For example, at the time Thriller was made, Michael Jackson was becoming recognized as a sex symbol of the same magnitude as Elvis or the Beatles or Frank Sinatra. It was unheard of for a Black man to be in that position, in part because the United States is a deeply racist country with strong prohibitions against sexual attraction between Black men and White women. One element of that racism is a centuries-old cultural narrative that Black men are oversexed, that they can’t control their animal urges, that they are in fact rapists. Statistically, a White woman is much more likely to be raped by her (White) boyfriend than by a (Black) stranger on the street, and that message is being conveyed more accurately now. But in the early 1980s, when Thriller was released, it was still very common for young White women to be warned not to walk alone, especially in unfamiliar places, because they could be attacked by a (Black) assailant.

So what does it mean to be a Black male sex symbol in a country that signifies Black men as unable to control their sexual urges? That’s a incredibly complicated situation to be in, and that’s one of the issues Michael Jackson confronts in Thriller. The film begins with a teenage boy and girl out on a date. Importantly, the boy’s name is Michael, so there’s an identification between the character on screen and Michael Jackson himself, and that’s significant. It wouldn’t work quite the same way if his name were William or Gregory.

This teenage couple is in a car and they run out of gas – a familiar ploy for “parking” or making out, so we’re in a sexual situation – and suddenly we are confronted with our worst fears. This rather repressed young Black man loses control of himself, he can’t control his animal urges, he becomes unrecognizable, and he assaults his girlfriend. It’s like a rape scene: she’s lying on her back in fear, he’s looming over her, and he attacks her. We don’t see it but we hear it, and we see the reactions of the audience watching this scene, including the boyfriend and girlfriend, who are now positioned in the movie theater with the audience. She can’t take it and walks out, and he follows her and tells her, “It’s only a movie.”  

Joie:  Wow, Willa. You know, I had never looked at that scene as mirroring a rape scenario before but, you’re absolutely right; it does play out that way, doesn’t it? Now I feel silly for never picking up on that before!

Willa:  Well it’s very subtly handled, and we can interpret this intro section of Thriller many ways, but one way is to see it as directly challenging the racist cultural narrative that Black men cannot control their sexual urges. And it does so brilliantly through a two-phase process. First, it exaggerates this myth, inflating it until its huge and fills our minds, so we as a nation are forced to come face to face with our worst fears. And then it explodes that myth and shows us it’s just an illusion. Our fears are just a myth, a false cultural narrative – or as Michael tells us, “It’s only a movie.”

But I want to emphasize that this is merely one way to interpret Thriller, and to be honest, I don’t particularly like this interpretation. It’s too specific, and feels too restrictive to me. Those elements are definitely in there, so I think this is a valid interpretation, but to me Thriller is about much more than that. It’s addressing difference more generally, and it is functioning at a deep psychological, almost preconscious level. And what it’s saying – amazingly enough – is that crossing boundaries isn’t scary. It’s fun! That to me is the message of Thriller, and what an incredible message it is! It’s taking all those fears and flipping them upside down and inside out.

Thriller is an amazing work of art. Everything about it – the way the narrative is structured, the way the two central characters reappear again and again, the way it draws on and connects the legend of the werewolf and the zombie, the way it incorporates song and dance into the narrative – every detail is stunning and perfect. It’s truly a brilliant work of art, but it’s also a work of art that brought about profound cultural changes, and we’re just beginning to look at that in an in-depth way. And I think we’re far from understanding it.

Joie:  I think you’re right about that; we are very far from understanding most of what Michael was trying to teach us through his art. You know, according to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions of the word prophet is: one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially:  an inspired poet. I think that definition could easily be describing Michael Jackson.

Willa:  Oh, I love that!  “An inspired poet” – what a great description!

Joie:  It is nice, isn’t it? And as I’ve said before, I truly believe that each short film had a message or a lesson hidden in there somewhere and it was usually a lesson about how we should be treating one another with love and respect. I believe that was his mission and his purpose here on this Earth and he completed that mission to the very best of his ability. The rest is up to us now.

On a side note – Willa and I have come across a clip of the Adair Lion video, Ben. So, as promised, we have now updated last week’s post with the new link so, be sure to go back and check it out!

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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 May 24, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Brilliant. Michael was absolutely a poet, true artist and prophet. That realization has only just begun.

  2. ultravioletrae

    Wonderful! I’m always amazed by John Landis’ comments about the making of Thriller. He claims that the film is just about Michael wanting to wear the monster make-up. Even in more recent interviews he fails to see the concept of the film even though he directed it! Now that’s subtle. I feel like Michael was accustomed to not being understood by the people around him, so he quit explaining himself and just gently guided the process to get the best work he could from those around him. He really was ahead of his time and I love it Joie that you brought up the word prophet! Brilliant! I am right there with you on that.

    It is so interesting that the boundary between monster and man seems to be controlled by Ola Ray’s character. She experiences love or fear according to her perception of the situation she’s in. One minute she sees the handsome love of her life, the next she sees a monster. “It’s only a movie” seems to be reality itself. Perception trumps what is actually there in front of her. What she sees is a product of her own mind that she has projected outwards. We never get a grip on what is fantasy and what is reality, it keeps shifting, because that’s the nature of the mind.

    After Michael Jackson passed, Juja D. collected internet comments and compiled them into this book, Michael Jackson: We are the Mirror http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jackson-Are-The-Mirror/dp/145676764X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337870535&sr=8-1 It’s amazing to see Thriller come to life in these comments. I think Michael Jackson knew that he was “exactly what you want to see.” Some see a monster, some see breathtaking beauty. What is seen says more about your perception than it does about Michael Jackson.

    • “It is so interesting that the boundary between monster and man seems to be controlled by Ola Ray’s character. She experiences love or fear according to her perception of the situation she’s in. One minute she sees the handsome love of her life, the next she sees a monster. “It’s only a movie” seems to be reality itself. Perception trumps what is actually there in front of her. What she sees is a product of her own mind that she has projected outwards. We never get a grip on what is fantasy and what is reality, it keeps shifting, because that’s the nature of the mind.”

      Hi Ultravioletrae. What a fascinating take on this! We could even push this a bit further and think of the girlfriend as representing us, his audience (as his love interest seems to do in so many of his works), so we are only seeing what we project onto him: cute asexual boy, steamy sex symbol, monster, dancer, zombie, dancing zombie. And of course, he describes this phenomenon pretty explicitly later in his career when he tells us, “I’m gonna be / exactly what you wanna see.”

      p.s. I agree with Destiny that you captured my feelings exactly when you said, “I feel like Michael was accustomed to not being understood by the people around him, so he quit explaining himself and just gently guided the process to get the best work he could from those around him.” It’s astonishing how often the directors he worked with betray a lack of awareness about the films they directed. John Landis not only says that Thriller is just Michael Jackson playing around with monster makeup. He also says all the barely contained sexuality in the panther dance of Black or White was just a publicity stunt to stir up controversy and therefore viewers, which completely ignores centuries of history about how black male sexuality has been both repressed (in fact) and over-represented (in myth) in this country – a history Michael Jackson is directly challenging in that video.

      In a similar vein, Bob Giraldi has said that Beat It has no connection to West Side Story. Well, Giraldi may not have been aware of WSS’s influence on both Beat It and Bad, but Michael Jackson certainly was – he announces it in the title. (Pretty much the only dialogue during the first 15 minutes of West Side Story are the words “Beat It!”)

      And the director of Smooth Criminal (can’t remember his name) tells a story of Michael Jackson showing up for filming one day with his fingers bandaged and an armband sewn to his sleeve. He said he didn’t know what it meant, but loved the fact that it added depth to Michael Jackson’s character by suggesting a backstory. So at least this director respected what Michael Jackson was doing, even if he didn’t understand it. (If we look, that backstory is spelled out to some degree in The Band Wagon, which Michael Jackson himself suggests by wearing the exact same costume Fred Astaire wears.)

      So I agree. Time and again Michael Jackson’s videos reflect the presence of a guiding intelligence behind the scenes, and if we look at the full body of his work, it’s pretty clear where that guiding intelligence came from. …

  3. Thanks as always ladies.

    Wanted to also comment on the ^^^^ comment from @ultravioletrae –
    “I feel like Michael was accustomed to not being understood by the people around him, so he quit explaining himself and just gently guided the process to get the best work he could from those around him.”

    I too was thinking about Landis and comments he has made about Thriller over the years. Nothing bad, just exactly what you are saying about Michael just wanting to be a monster. And I also thought about the the way the rap in Black or White came to be. What you said is perfect and I agree 100%. I think from a very young age Michael had to learn how to communicate in a different way because he was not being heard.

  4. Willa and Joie, As I say every week, thank you so much for this wonderful work you are doing.

    I had never seen it before (in fact, I really haven’t known what to make of Thriller), but I think you are exactly right when you say that “Thriller functions at a deep psychological level by directly confronting the fear and horror we feel toward anything – or anyone – who transgresses the boundaries we use to define ourselves.” Michael always seemed to be both recognizing the tendency to project our shadows on the other and wanting to embrace that shadow side. How could he not, knowing that he, himself was the personification of the shadow in a white racist society? He wanted us to take ownership of the negativity we project on the other — recognizing that it is part of us.

    As you point out with your discussion of Kristeva, people fear corpses. Corpses decay into the earth. Corpses have no boundaries. In front of our eyes, decaying vegetation or animal life transforms into something else — blowing away our carefully constructed perception of a boundaried reality that keeps death at bay.

    In Thriller, I think you are right that Michael digs very deep — as deep as the grave — in addressing this issue of differences. And he makes us want to sing, dance, and laugh, while he is doing it! What an artist! What a genius!

    You’ve given us a lot to think about.

    • “Michael always seemed to be both recognizing the tendency to project our shadows on the other and wanting to embrace that shadow side.”

      Hi Eleanor. That is so interesting! We tend to think of the “other” as excluded and powerless – and in some ways that’s true – but the “other” also has a powerful hold on our imagination, and as you suggest, he “embraces that shadow side” and taps into the hold it has on us. No wonder we were so transfixed by him – he was both embodying and reworking shadow figures from our own minds. Wow.

      This may also help explain why his videos, especially, are so wonderfully elusive. We can never be satisfied that any one explanation really captures it, because there’s always the suggestion of so much more. Perhaps this comes in part from our “tendency to project our shadows on the other,” as you say, and that he both evoked those shadows and allowed room for their free play within his work and within our imaginations. Fascinating!

  5. Eleanor, when I read what you wrote about corpses becoming part of the earth I was reminded of MJ’s dissolution in “Ghosts,” where he dies and decays in front of the eyes of the audience and even the dust blows away; he then reappears as a huge monster. It is interesting that he manifests your point of corpses having no boundaries.

    This is an exciting discussion regarding how MJ shows us our own horror at those who break boundaries, and yet the deeper lesson may be that he shows us how breaking boundaries is what it’s all about–it is what is truly creative and joyful and alive b/c life is about breaking boundaries. Life created those twins–one Black and one White. Putting a person or anything in a box freezes it, kills its life and meaning–like an animal in a cage as opposed to an animal in its own habitat.

    We compartmentalize b/c it helps us create order, but life is never compartmentalized. Even the terms we use like Black and White are to me useless and untrue. These are colors–as we find in a paint box–they have nothing to do with the actual color of people’s skin–these colors vary widely depending on the person. ‘White’ people are not white–they are pink, beige, off-white. Have you ever looked at paint colors in the ‘white’ category? There are so many with different tints. ‘Black” people are also not black, so many tints and variations. Yet we cling to these markers and even identify strongly with them.

    In ‘Thriller’ MJ starts out as a sexy guy, turns into a werewolf, goes back to a sexy guy, becomes a zombie, goes back to a sexy guy, goes back to a zombie, goes back to a sexy guy, and finally looks at the camera as a hybrid being–a sexy guy with cat-eyes. Is it scary for you, baby? Are you scared yet? This is a boundary-breaking celebration.

  6. Willa and Joie, thank you so much for your interpretations of ‘Ben’ and ‘Thriller.’ This discussion really opens our eyes to Michael’s work unraveling the ‘safe’ boundaries we are comfortable with. He led the way by showing us, as Willa said, “there’s nothing real or true or natural about those boundaries” and “crossing boundaries isn’t scary. It’s fun!”

    I am reminded of a conversation I had with a woman who drove through Mexico. I asked her if she was scared b/c Mexican drivers can be very challenging. She said she had no problem b/c she just “did what they expected.” As long as we conform to social, cultural codes and do what’s expected of us, we get by. When we challenge the boundaries and do something unexpected, all hell breaks loose. Michael showed the world what courage he had–what intelligence–it is breath-taking.

  7. Right, aldabaran. And speaking of animals — in cages or in their habitat — and thinking back to last week’s discussion of “Ben,” it seems to me that, in MJ’s life, his choice of pets was a “boundary-breaking celebration.”

    Years ago, white racist Americans would refer to black Americans as “monkeys.” And, they did not mean it as a compliment. So, what does MJ do? He “rubs their noses” in it. He takes Bubbles into his home and treats him like his best friend, like his brother. He seemed to be having great fun with Bubbles. I think he was saying, “Look, as humans, we ARE animals. I’m not ashamed to be associating with Bubbles. Nor should you be. Nor should you be ashamed to be associating with me or any black American. We are all related.” Quite a statement!

    And then there was Muscles….

    • @Eleanor

      That’s a really interesting comment.

      It made me think about another label occasionally used by Non-Black Americans in order to belittle adult Black males: boy.

      It is as if MJ was thinking: You call me monkey? I’ll give you a monkey! You call me a boy? I’ll be a boy!

      So, besides the obvious links between ”childishness” and creativity (thoroughly discussed elsewhere on this blog), and MJ’s genuine love of children and their playfulness and ”pure hearts”, there just might be an element of symbol-shattering and turning the tables in all the water-balloon fights and giggling.

      The racist proposition ”a black man is like a child” clashed with the general proposition ”an adult man should not behave like a child”, causing yet another wave of psychological uneasiness to spread among sections of the non-fan public.

      Paul McCartney hit the nail when he, shortly after Michael’s death, described him as a ”massively talented boy-man”.

      • @ Musubana

        I had never seen the “boy” connection, but I bet you are exactly right. That is so interesting. In fact, brilliant! I also love the spider reference. There was also a big spider in the new Thriller performance for “This is It.”

        Over and over, MJ takes what are meant as slurs, accepts — even welcomes — them, not only defusing them, but transforming a negative to a positive — as in “bad” being good. And, in doing so, turns all the hate and negativity into a seemingly playful joke. But beneath the playfulness, there is such sadness on the one hand and compassion on the other. He sees us all as part of the problem whether we want to be or not – as in Earth Song’s terribly sad: What have WE done to the world? Look what we’ve done.” But then, he speaks with compassion for us, the victims of what we are doing, with “What about US?”

        This blog is so great. Thanks for your comment.

        • @Eleanor
          I like your way of describing us as ”the victims of what we are doing”.
          MJ really saw ”both sides of the tale”, and envisioned the paradoxes of the human condition in ways few other artists would dare. I guess that’s why so few people accept him as a serious artist – and not just a sing-and-dance man.

          Concerning spiders, I just remembered a photo of MJ that went ”viral” some years ago: His hand was red and swollen, and he was walking on crutches. He told the reporters he’d been ”bitten by a spider”. Despite the poor condition of his hand, I couldn’t help wondering if MJ was once again pulling the media’s legs…

          The fear of spiders is so widespread; sociologist/zoologist Desmond Morris once linked it with sexual complexes, arguing that this fear is especially strong among girls in the age when they get their first pubic hair. (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination! Of course, a lot of Morris’ claims are rather controversial.)

    • And oh, Muscles is interesting too; no animal is so feared as the Ssnake. Besides perhaps the spider, which MJ let crawl across his face on the original Bad cover shot…

  8. This whole trilogy is beyond fascinating. Thank you Willa and Joie for taking time to bring this to life. Quite frankly, all of us feel that as an entertainer and artist, Michael was beyond comparison. We’ll never see anyone like him again. But when thoughtful people like you take the time to look deep into his works we see him as a phenomenon. It all makes sense. He had a brilliant mind and the ability to challenge perception. It makes me smile. Most people think that Thriller was simply Michael’s attempt at a fun horror flick. Oh, if they only looked deeper! I could see the messages more easily in Ghosts. Your analysis of Thriller was a real eye-opener.

  9. Willa and Joie,

    Heartlfelt thanks for your very illuminating interpretations of Michael’s masterpieces, I believe these are more relevant than ever during these times of upheaval. However, one may discern an advantage concerning the fact that although Michael had a parallel career as an ardent humanitarian, his works of art should stand on their own, autonomous and self contained, to be freely interpreted, and in no need of their creator’s explanation.

  10. Is incredible, Joie and Willa, I had a chill run down my body and I want to share with you this emotion.
    I do not know if you know that for us that we are not Americans, we have often difficult to understand the words of lyrics. But for MJ’s songs I have never felt the need to try to understand, I have emotions that come from his art, maybe because it is such precisely universal, without need of language.
    Well, I really love the song Ben, but I did not know very well its contents. I read your post and I heard the song in the car, while I accompanied my children to school. And the largest that has 8 years, told me: “this song is a bit sad, because the child who sings is afraid to be alone.”
    I told my son that the child is MJ, the same fascination performer that he looks in the video Thriller, Black or white, Remember the time… and he tells me: “Oh, I know, I recognized him! He really is very cool, he’s a real extraterrestrial!”
    I believe that this adjective (I do not know if I am able to translate well in English), for my child is “I mean, he is different!” in a magical, spatial significance, and took the child spontaneously, just like to know the true and pure art.

  11. brilliant as ever thank you. I was away in Russia last week – found the famous lamppost in Red Square that MJ posed thoughtfully against – awesome and deeply moving for me – but I would like to comment on some of last weeks comments, if you permit me.
    Several people mentioned resistance when they spoke about Michael and that some even lost friends. That just blows my mind, and I must say that I would be happy to lose friends like that!!
    But what i rather want to say, is that Michael wanted us to resist prejudice and bigotry and ignorance in every form – for me that was one of his main messages. So if I run into resistance, which I have to say is rare here in South Africa, I am not put off by it and retreat. In fact just the opposite, I talk to that person about their misperceptions and I put them right as far as I am able.
    I resisted Michael for a long time myself, not because of him or the media (never been taken in by their rubbish!!), but because I just wasn’t into modern music, and look what I missed!! As a recent, and somewhat fanatical convert, I am not going to let any more bigotry stop people finding this wonderful man and his art in all of its many forms, philosophy and deep spirituality. The world needs his message, and I for one feel it a great priviledge and honour to stand up for him and enlighten everyone I can. We as fans must not only Keep The Faith with Michael, but spread it as he did – well not perhaps with the genius that he did, but certainly with equal sincerity.

  12. Hi, Caro–glad you got to see the lamppost in Moscow–so great! Just to say I agree that we need to spread MJ’s message, but when I encounter a completely closed mind, I do decide my energy is better spent in other ways. If the person is open to a discussion, I will try a few times to enlighten them, but if not, I don’t try. This is just my own choice. Many people here in USA have been brainwashed about MJ due to negative media coverage that went on for 30 years. What Willa and Joie are doing, for example, is spreading MJ’s message in what I think is a more productive way that one person arguing with another person. Yes, we can try, but there is that old saying: You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

    Francesca’s story about her son is beautiful–her son responded to MJ’s magic so well–yes, MJ was ‘otherworldly’–like E.T.–or as a fan commented–like a “hot angel.”

    “omg is he a human being? no way… maybe he’s a hot angel [ who] fell from the heaven cuz his beautiful wings broke.
    rip angel”

    I love the phrase a ‘hot angel’!

    • Aldebaran, you said “MJ was ‘otherworldly’–like E.T.” and I remember a saying of S. Spielberg reported in a beautiful book about the making of Thriller, and that roughly went like this: “If ET had not knocked on the door of Elliot, he would go to Michael,” I find it touching! Again two diversity, sadly, are recognized.

    • Hi Aldebaran, ah but what if you could convince the horse that he wasn’t about to drink water, but the most delicious wine that he has ever tasted in his life???!!!!! Isn’t everything about Michael the most delicious whatever you have ever come across?? just a thought ha ha.

  13. I just read an interesting article about how music affects the brain. Here is the link and some quotes:

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/26/health/mental-health/music-brain-science/

    “There also are studies showing that when people move together to a beat, they’re more likely to cooperate with each other in nonmusical tasks than if they’re not in synch.
    “Some people have theorized that that was the original function of this behavior in evolution: It was a way of bonding people emotionally together in groups, through shared movement and shared experience,” Patel said.”

    “Despite variation in any given person’s life experience, studies have shown that music listeners largely agree with one another when it comes to the emotions presented in a song. This may be independent of lyrics; musical sounds themselves may carry emotional meaning, writes Cornell University psychologist Carol Krumhansl in Current Directions in Psychological Science.”

    This last quotes reflects what some have said here about getting the emotional impact even though the listener does not understand the lyrics. This idea of synchronizing groups to a beat is also very intriguing. The article says that music preceded language (wow!). Bone flutes go back 40,000 to 80,000 years. Also it says that we are the only one of the primate family that can respond/dance to a beat (although some birds do).

    Food for thought about how Mj affected us and brought us together.

    Thanks, Francesca for the sweet link to Speilberg’s words. Also thanks Eleanor for your comment that MJ broke the boundary between humans and nonhumans by flaunting all his nonhuman companions. What a guy!

    • Aldebaran, poetry and literature were born with music.
      Researchers believe that works like the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, were born primarily in the form of sung stories. The great tradition of classic Italian poetry, that of Francesco Petrarca, has its roots in the Sicilian songs, then put them on paper (only one testimony is the poem “Pir meo cori allegrari ” that is to cheer my heart) and, ultimately, the metric is music, and what music!
      Thanks to you all.

      • Yes, this is a good point about poetry being sung in an oral tradition before it was written down (and I would love to hear Petrarca’s poem ‘to cheer my heart’ in Italian!). We have to go way back in time, it seems, to when the structure of the human mouth and larynx evolved to allow us to make the sounds that later evolved into language. Were we making visual gestures to communicate before we spoke words? Were we dancing to the beat before? Were we howling at the moon before words?

        One thing is for sure, music brings us together and so does dancing–this is what MJ tapped into. I checked out the radio interview that Kris refers to–MJ says he hates labels and wants to bring all races together through music–one race–so amazing!

    • Aldabaran — What an interesting link. Thanks for posting it. I have been thinking a lot about the way music programs the brain, because MJ certainly reprogrammed mine. And, it is interesting that the article about music and the brain began with a reference to MJ.

      Also, I have been thinking about the role of music in religion — the way communal hearing and singing bonds people together and to the ideas they are hearing/singing. MJ is a religious experience for me.

  14. At the end of this lovely radio interview, a very young Michael explains why he loves to perform and what keeps him going. There are some great ideas expressed in his sweet, bashful boyish voice. If only . . .

  15. Great! I love all this conversation about Mike’s work. Now, after all this discussion about the werewolf scene, I’m thinking: and what if the girl on Thriller short movie was a blond girl? It had been really provocative.

    • @Daniela, I’ve never thought about the what if’s had he choosen a white or non black girl, but I do laugh at the fact that he picked a girl who was only know for being a Playboy centerfold at the time.

  16. HAHA, when I read the title of this blog I completely read it in Michael’s voice. I don’t usually do that, but this time it just happened 🙂

  17. Hello–about the word “prophet,” yes, MJ was indeed a prophet, an inspired poet, and in that vein he also called himself ‘a visionary.’ I have been reading a bit about the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. He preached to the people of Israel for about 30 years, mainly calling on them to cease their moral corruption and warning them that if they did not, they would be conquered and taken captive. Part of his preaching involved ‘sign acts’ or performance art, where he would act out a concept. For example, he took to wearing a wooden yoke, such as oxen wore, to illustrate how the people would lose their freedom. He also took a large pot and broke it to show how the nation would be broken to pieces. He was hated for this, threatened with death, and imprisoned. When Jerusalem was taken by the Babylonians, King Nebuchanezzar (sp?) released Jeremiah from prison. Jeremiah also found being a voice for God’s words shattering–God said, “Are not my words like fire and my words like a hammer that shatters rock?” Jeremiah’s fiery sermons coined a word–a jeremiad–a sermon preached to turn people from sin (as was preached in New England by the Puritan ministers).

    Ok–so I see MJ as a prophet like Jeremiah when he gives us his earth-shaking messages, such as in Earth Song, They Don’t Care About Us, Scream, etc). and maybe this is why people (and critics) wanted him to stay with the 80’s music, which they (erroneously) saw as ‘pop’ tunes without a lot of meaning–kind of feel-good dance music (Blame it On the Boogie, Don’t Stop til you Get Enough, etc). When MJ was really in his jeremiad prophet mode, even they could not ignore his messages, so they chose to belittle him and claim he’d ‘lost it’ as an artist.

    I was intrigued by Musubana’s comment that MJ broke the boundary that ‘adults are not supposed to be like children,’ and that his water-balloon fights, tree-climbing, and giggling with children was another in-your-face sign act (not to mention his love of Disneyland and carnival-type rides). This is one of the most important ways MJ challenged our so serious, ‘adult’ culture. There is an sharp boundary here and when MJ wanted to play “children’s games’ with children, he really threatened the status quo and that brought on the culture police and then the actual police–all b/c of his child-like desire for play. He said that the world would be healed if we recognized ‘the playfulness of life.” But this is what is not present in our so-serious and self-important ‘work ethic’–which has resulted in death and destruction.

    I agree, Eleanor, group singing in religion brings people together and MJ is also a religious experience for me.

    Thanks for the link, Francesca–I think I was the one who misread your comment about classical poetry had roots in the Sicilian songs. This also reminds me of what MJ said in the press conference about Invincible and Tommy Motola–‘Where would we be without a song?”–so necessary to lift our spirits, inspire us, enrich our lives.

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