Celebrating Bad: You Wanna Be a Man

Willa:  So Joie, last June we began talking about the Bad short film and video cut, but we didn’t really get a chance to look at them in depth. It seems like we’d just started chatting when we had to quit, and there’s so much more to talk about!

Joie:  I agree, Willa. It just never felt like we got into the video itself, did it?

Willa:  It really didn’t. We started talking about how there really wasn’t a forum for the full 16-minute version of Bad to be seen, which is an important issue.

Joie:  It is an important issue and I got sidetracked by my disdain for the “reality” format that killed my MTV, and I’m sorry about that. I’ll try to stay on topic this time.

Willa:  Well, sometimes those side trips can be pretty rewarding, but I would like for us to get a chance to burrow in to the film itself, so this week I was hoping we could pick up where we left off a couple months ago.

You know, it really does seem like every time I watch one of Michael Jackson’s short films I see something new, or feel echoes of something I hadn’t felt before, or see a connection I hadn’t really noticed before. And the last time I watched Bad I was really struck by the fact that his character in this film doesn’t have anyone he can truly depend on and trust. We hear the voice of his mother (spoken by Roberta Flack) and she sounds like a warm person and a loving parent, but she’s at work and unavailable. We never see her. He seems to interact and get along well with the other kids at his prep school, but there doesn’t seem to be any real depth of friendship there. He does seem to feel a connection with his friends back in his old neighborhood, but they’re pressuring him hard to prove he’s one of them, so he can’t depend on them either.

In fact, the only person he genuinely connects with in the entire film is the nameless fellow on the train. Like Daryl (and Michael Jackson himself) he’s positioned between two worlds – and this is portrayed literally, as they are riding a train from a rather unfamiliar new life back to the life they grew up in. So both of them are physically and symbolically between two worlds. This fellow on the train seems to understand what Daryl is going through – that patronizing show of acceptance from other students who don’t really accept him – because he’s experienced it himself. He asks Daryl, “How many guys proud of you?” Daryl counts in his head, then says, “Three.” “Shoot,” the other guy says, “Four guys proud of me.”

But that moment of connection lasts only a moment and then he’s gone. Interestingly, when we first see that other guy, he seems threatening. He’s watching Daryl through slitty eyes, and Daryl feels uncomfortable and turns away. So it’s a relief when we realize we can trust this guy … maybe. At least he seems like someone we can trust, but can we really? So in some ways it only heightens this feeling of doubt and alienation, and this sense that there’s no one he can really rely on.

Joie:  You are so right about that, Willa. In the beginning, it does seem like this guy on the train is someone very threatening and for a few minutes we don’t really know which way this is going to go. There is a heightened sense of anxiety because of it. Then, by the time he gets off the train, the two have clearly made a connection – as you say – even though it is fleeting. And what I find interesting is that, as he exits, he tells Daryl to “be the man.” It’s like he’s encouraging him to stand up for himself and what he believes in and not be swayed by peer pressure. It’s sort of foreboding in a way, like he’s preparing him for what’s to come.

Willa:  Joie, that is so interesting! I never looked at it that way. I always saw that line as a response to the prep school experience they’ve both had, and this idea that they’re being groomed to enter a life of privilege and “be the man.” But you’re right – it also foreshadows the test he’s about to face in his old neighborhood, which in many ways is set up as a test of his manhood. And that reminds me of the lyrics to “Beat It,” which in many ways serves as a prologue to Bad:

Don’t wanna be a boy, you wanna be a man
You wanna stay alive, better do what you can

Here too he’s talking about being “a man,” but in this context he’s obviously talking about dealing with gangs. But it’s complicated – does being a man mean you have to hurt people, or be hurt yourself?  He raises that question pretty directly in Beat It:

You better run, you better do what you can
Don’t wanna see no blood, don’t be a macho man
You wanna be tough, better do what you can
So beat it, but you wanna be bad

So while he understands “you wanna be a man,” he advises “don’t be a macho man” – though he then ends this verse by acknowledging “you wanna be bad.” So in both of these short films, he seems to be questioning what it means to be bad and be a man – and developing his own unique answers.

Joie:  And in doing so, he’s forcing others to think about those questions as well.

Willa:  Exactly.

Joie:  What does it mean to be bad? To be a man? By bringing those questions up, he’s attempting to educate us through his art – something he does so well. And when thinking about the lyrics to “Bad,” it’s almost like he’s telling young men everywhere that their ideas of what it means to be a man are all wrong, as he sings:

Your talk is cheap
You’re not a man
You’re throwing stones
To hide your hands

You know, it’s like the old expression your grandmother would sometimes say when you misbehaved – “don’t throw stones and then hide your hands!” Of course, as a kid, you never really understood what that meant; at least, I didn’t. It wasn’t until this song came out that I bothered to look it up and find out. Basically, it means to start some kind of trouble or mischief and then not take responsibility for it when the consequences start rolling in. And unfortunately, there is quite a lot of that going on in our society – it’s always someone else’s fault. So Michael Jackson was addressing that in “Bad” and saying, that’s not what a real man would do.

Willa:  You know, Joie, I always get so much out of our conversations. I’d never heard that expression before. I thought the “throwing stones” line was a reference to the Bible story where a crowd is gathering to stone a woman for committing adultery, but Jesus stops them and says, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” In other words, we shouldn’t “throw stones” – we should focus on improving our own behavior instead of criticizing the behavior of others. But then I didn’t understand what the “hide your hands” part meant. But what you’re saying about “don’t throw stones and then hide your hands” makes a lot of sense. That is so interesting.

Joie:  It is interesting, isn’t it? One of those old expressions that don’t make a whole lot of sense until you really stop and think about them. Of course, some of them, I never figure out. Like “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” What the heck does that mean, anyway? It drives me crazy!  But, I’m not getting sidetracked this time; I promise!

Willa:  OK, I’ll be good too and not ask what on earth “naked as a jaybird” means. Birds aren’t naked….

But anyway, it really does seem to me that he’s proposing a new definition of “bad” in this film, and through that a new definition of manhood. At first he tells his friends, “You wanna see who’s bad?” and agrees to help with the robbery. He’s going along with their definition of “bad.” But then he changes his mind and gives them (and us) a different definition – and presents us with two examples of this new definition.

One is very subtle – so subtle it’s easy to miss. It’s in the Wanted poster in the subway station. Big letters at the bottom of the poster tell us this man is “BAD” – and the man in the mugshot is Martin Scorsese, the director of Bad. The poster goes on to tell us he’s “Guilty of Sacrilege.” Scorsese was working on his film The Last Temptation of Christ at about that time, and he would come under intense criticism for it, for being sacrilegious. So he seems to be telling us that Martin Scorsese is “bad” because he’s an artist who challenges social norms.

Ironically, the other example is easy to miss for the exact opposite reason, because it’s so pervasive – it’s Michael Jackson himself. He repeatedly sings, “I’m bad,” and he is, but not because he’s tough or violent. Instead, he’s bad because he’s an artist, and an artist of a certain type – an artist who forces us to see ourselves and our world in a different way. In other words, he’s bad in the same way Martin Scorsese is.

Michael Jackson seems to be saying in this film that acting mean, carrying a gun, selling drugs, robbing an old man, hurting people – those things don’t make you “bad.” Instead, it’s developing your talents, specifically artistic talents, and then using those talents to effect important change in the world, in people’s perceptions and emotions. Michael Jackson and Martin Scorsese are respected around the world because they’re artists, with the unique courage of artists. They’re incredibly talented and creative, and in Michael Jackson’s case especially, they have the courage to present an alternate vision of how life can be lived.

And that reminds me of what you were just saying about throwing stones and then hiding your hands, and how that means to stir things up and then pretend you didn’t do it. You know, artists and gang members do have something very important in common:  they’re both transgressive, meaning they both challenge the established social order. But while gang members do it in a negative way and then “hide their hands,” artists do it in a positive way and take responsibility and even pride in their “transgressions.” They show their hands.

Joie:  That’s a very interesting analogy, Willa. I would never have thought those two things – artists and gang members – are alike in any way but, you make a great point.

Willa:  They do seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, don’t they? But they both push the limits of what’s socially acceptable, and sometimes motivate change. But while gang members tend to bring about negative change – more violence, more police, more repression, more jails – artists can sometimes bring about positive change. And I think the difference is that violence makes people fearful and reactionary, so they close their minds, while art can help open people’s minds to new ways of seeing and experiencing the world.

Joie:  Really interesting comparison. But, you know, speaking of gang members … there is something about this video that I have always found fascinating, and that’s the fact that the entire film is shot in black and white while the dance sequence with the gang members is in vibrant technicolor.

Maybe I should pause here and say that you and I talked a bit last spring about exactly who are the “gang members” in this particular short film, and I stated that I didn’t look upon Daryl’s three so-called friends as gang members but as wanna-be thugs. So, when I say “gang members,” I am referring to the dancers, not the friends.

Willa:  Though they’re a very different kind of gang – a “gang” of dancers, of artists, which circles back to that connection between artists and outlaws we were just talking about. I hadn’t thought of the dancers in Bad quite that way until just now , but they’re kind of embodying the conflation of those two categories. They are a “gang” of artists – they’re outlaw artists – so doubly transgressive.

Joie:  Oh, you’re right. Hadn’t thought of that. But I just love the way that portion of the short film is set apart from the rest of the video by the vibrant color and I always wonder, what was Michael (or Scorsese) trying to convey with that distinction? What message is hidden in that artistic decision? Could it be perhaps that the misery of the lives of the three wanna-be thugs is reflected in the bleak, dismal black and white, and that Michael is showing them through the dance sequence how vibrant and alive they could be if they left their world of violence and misery behind? Or perhaps that’s too simplistic and I’m reading too much into it.

Willa:  Oh no, I don’t think you’re reading too much into it, Joie – not at all. It must be important because he repeats that same shift in Ghosts.

Joie:  Oh, that’s right; he does make that transition in Ghosts as well!

Willa:  He does. We see the fearful villagers and the vengeful mayor creeping toward the Maestro’s castle in black and white, and then a door opens and they see a room suffused with color, and that’s the space of the Maestro. And I think your interpretation of this shift in Bad works equally well for both films. As you said, “the misery of the lives of the three wanna-be thugs,” and the villagers in Ghosts, as well, “is reflected in the bleak, dismal black and white.” And as you say, “Michael is showing them through the dance sequence how vibrant and alive they could be if they left their world of violence and misery behind.” I think that’s a beautiful way to interpret both films.

Another way to approach this is to look back at the most famous example of a film that shifts between color and black and white: The Wizard of Oz. The scenes in Kansas are all shot in black and white, and the scenes in Oz are in color. Michael Jackson was well aware of that shift, and talked about it with Rabbi Boteach when describing how he designed the drive up to Neverland, beginning with the very plain and simple gates:

I was gonna have people swing them open and really kind of have them funky and tattered, just so psychologically you really feel like you’re coming to a ranch, so that when you go around the bend I want it to change to Technicolor, like The Wizard of Oz does.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s “real” world of Kansas is black and white, but the world of her imagination – the world of Oz – is in color. And the same is true of Bad as well: the black and white scenes are “real,” and the color scenes are Daryl’s imagination.

Joie:  Willa, that’s fascinating. I hadn’t thought of that before. The color scenes are happening in Daryl’s imagination, so they are in Technicolor! That makes so much sense now.

Willa:  Yeah, but it doesn’t work for Ghosts, where all the scenes – both the color and the black and white – are “real.” There the shift seems to mean something different. The color scenes are “real,” but it’s a reality heightened and made vibrant by the creativity of a powerful artist – which is closer to your interpretation, Joie. And I wonder if that isn’t closer to what Michael Jackson had in mind for Bad as well. As in Ghosts, when we’re in the color scenes, we know we’re in the presence of an amazing artist.

So as with a lot of his work, Bad seems to be another example of meta-art – of art talking about art, including the importance of art and the role of the artist. And he seems to be saying that art can bring personal fulfillment as well as social change – that through art we too can shift from a dull, grey, monotonous world of black and white to a world of glorious color.

Joie:  That’s a nice thought, Willa.

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 September 5, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 52 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the details about the wanted poster, didn’t know that before. The black & white beginning really showed MJ’s acting skills – he was trying so hard to fit back in, but there was such tension between him and his old friends. They felt anger, resentment, betrayal.

  2. Talking about celebrating Bad. A teaser just released from the upcoming Wembley DVD:

  3. Hi Willa and Joie,
    So glad to “hear” your voices again. I have always thought about Michael’s lyrics regarding throwing stones too. It made sense to me, but really what I wanted to say was that I remember watching an interview with Joseph Jackson in which he quotes that line in reference to the media and its treatment of Michael. I can’t remember which interview, but I am sure it can be found and possibly someone else recalls and can site that source. Perhaps Michael grew up with this in his family too as one of you mentioned that being an old saying.

    Also, I just remember vividly that right after Thriller there was an after glow, or more of a transition of Michael’s persona (I was little, really). For my whole life he was so squeaky clean and wholesome. After Thriller he seemed to gain this much more closed in way that he presented himself. It was such an extreme shy. I remember seeing him smile so much less. Then when BAD came out he started dressing differently and he became BAD. In my mind he changed. I just wonder if all that you both say about what it means to be a man and Michael’s questioning of it is mostly what was going on, but I also feel he wanted to let out this other side of himself (he does have a smoldering side; we all agree). But not for a mere p.r. thing. Instead, because he needed to reveal himself (which made him vulnerable) and to do so in a way that was still “safe”. Specifically, I mean when you look at the word BAD it can be kind of a shield. I won’t get side tracked by the irony of protecting Michael in the future as he knew it, though. On a side not, he is a Virgo and most of them have this “side” (more mysterious/less appeasing) to them, I find in my own experience.

    One more thing, regarding the black and white to color in the short films. When I first thought of this and saw it in Ghosts I remember thinking that in addition to what you both said, it was also indicative of Michael’s absolute draw to the Wizard of Oz and feeling absolutely compelled to create his visions in a similar way. I think sometimes he was just gushing with excitement to use these devices he admired from his youth and now had the means with which to utilize and revel in something he himself loved to watch. Lastly, it may also represent coming into the light (color) of truth (sort of like the Allegory of the Cave). After all, it is becoming more apparent to many people that “Michael Jackson’s world” is closer to the truth of reality than formerly recognized:)

    Thank you Willa and Joie for delving deeper and listening in return!

    • “I also feel he wanted to let out this other side of himself … because he needed to reveal himself (which made him vulnerable) and to do so in a way that was still ‘safe’.”

      Hi Monica. That’s so interesting because I’ve been arriving at a similar place but from a different starting point: the costume he’s wearing in the dance sequence. Like you, I feel that “he needed to reveal himself (which made him vulnerable)” and we definitely see that in the long dance sequence. And like you, I think he needed “to do so in a way that was still ‘safe,'” and we see evidence of that in his costume – all the leather and buckles. It’s like a modern day coat of armor. So there’s this very interesting double movement as you describe of both making himself very vulnerable, in one sense, and protecting himself in another.

      “I think sometimes he was just gushing with excitement to use these devices he admired from his youth.”

      This is a really good point as well. I remember in the 1999 MTV interview, Alex Coletti asked him about his favorite part of Thriller. He kind of ponders and then all of a sudden lights up and starts talking about the shot of the girlfriend when she realizes he’s become a zombie. As he says, “We do that famous pull-in and pull-out movement – the Hitchcock move – and I love that movement.”

      btw, he also talks about the Three Stooges in that interview, and how much he loved Curly especially.

  4. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, Monica, about your comment re the change in Michael after Thriller. During the Thriller time, he was accompanied by Jehovah Witness ‘handlers’ who watched him and ‘corrected’ anything they didn’t like. I mean, imagine having a church warden follow you around. When JW objected to the ‘occult’ type stuff in Thriller, Michael actually wanted to destroy the whole thing, but Branca hung on it to, thank goodness. He convinced Michael to add the disclaimer we see in the beginning re not supporting a belief in the occult. The conflict with JW accelerated after this, and Michael finally broke with them. So when we see Bad–that is after the break, and he felt free, for the first time, to do the famous ‘crotch grab.” Yeah, baby!!

  5. aldebaranredstar

    Forgot to add, interesting what you say about Virgo’s being ‘mysterious/less appeasing.’ What do you mean by ‘less appeasing.” I have moon in Virgo, so I relate to some of this. Michael had a very interesting astrological chart, including a Sun-Pluto conjunction. He also had a very interesting Mayan astrological reading.

    • Ja Michael was a Blue Cosmic Night in the Mayan moon calender, and for anyone who has read his story Dance of Life there can be no doubt how appropriate that was, and how much it was him.

    • Hi Aldebaran
      Well I just mean that sometimes Virgos tend to want to please people. But to contrast that they also have this other more wild side that desires to please the self. I only say this because I am a Virgo and see so many traits like these in Michael (I know, I know…always trying to see myself in Michael) and always have.I don’t want to offend any Virgos who see something completely different, though.
      I am intrigued very much about his sign and the astrological chart you mentioned. I heard something about his “number” in numerology but did not take it too much to heart because so many people want to put their spin on him.
      I would be very interested in any specific places you might provide to learn more.

      Thanks for your insight!

      Oh, and I think you’re right about the church accompanying him in those old days…rough to say the least. I just think it’s something else too. It’s always made me sad, as everyone probably feels this way.

  6. aldebaranredstar

    The story for Bad was apparently based on the real life story of an inner city youth who got accepted to a prestigious school, came back to his inner city friends on break, and, together with them, attacked a plainclothes cop and was actually killed by the cop (see Wikipedia). This is what comes close to happening, as far as engaging in an attempted robbery is concerned, in Bad. But Daryl backs down in the subway and tells his intended victim to ‘run!’ He then goes into the technicolor dance and the song itself. And he changes, his hair, his clothes. I see this section as similar to the dance sequence in Ghosts. It also reminds me a lot of Milton’s Comus (sorry but it does). Comus is a kind of magician and he has his retinue of revelers, dancers, who are his followers, his retinue. These people are magical, like Comus, and I see the same thing in Bad (and Ghosts). The dancers are amazing in their talent and their energy, and Michael is their leader. They appear as part of him; they’re ‘just another part of me’ (thanks, Jacksonaktak, I loved that video teaser).

    Yes, Michael is the Artist here, but he is more than that b/c he is so hot, so ‘bad,’ so cool, so sexy, so much the epitomy of alluring. He also convinces us that he is tough in so far as standing up to present an alternative concept to the macho idea of ‘bad’ that Wesley Snipes offers. I love when he sings acapella, ‘you’re dirty!! You’re doin wrong, you’re nasty). Wow. This is a real challenge–mano a mano. It ends peacefully but there is amazing tension too before Wesley Snipes backs down and walks away.

    Love the observation that Daryl doesn’t have anyone he can depend on or trust–sounds like someone else we know, doesn’t it?

    ok, I have to take a shot at those sayings–a bird in the hand (one that you caught) is worth 2 in the bush (that you haven’t caught), meaning what you actually have in your hands is better than what you might have but don’t have and may never have. Naked as a jaybird–jaybirds are in fact naked in that they are not wearing any clothes only their natural feathers.

  7. aldebaranredstar

    (I posted this in the July discussion)

    Hi, Just read in A. White and J. Vogel that the story of Daryl in ‘Bad’ was loosely based on the story of Edmund Perry, who was from Harlem, had gone to a prestigious prep school and had been accepted to a presitigious college, and was killed by a plainclothes policeman, who claimed he was attacked by Edmund Perry and his brother and shot in self-defense. There was a trial and the policeman was found not guilty as there were witnesses who supported his account.

  8. I just have to thank you ladies sooo much for sharing your awesome knowledge of, and insight into, Michael and his work. I gain something new with every single blog and am understanding more and more which is great.
    I have struggled a bit with the BAD short film cos I knew that I was missing quite a lot in my ignorance, and you have cleared up much for me in this blog. Of course I love the song and dance and all those buckles (who wouldn’t), and knew something about the background of the story of the short film, but never quite got it. For instance, I didn’t know that the poster was of Martin Scorsese, and that always bugged me cos I knew it was important. I also struggled with the idea of Bad being good, but you have put it so clearly in this blog, that now I totally get it. Bad can be respected, good and cleverly different and challenging. It is rather like the Brits calling good things ‘wicked’ and kids today calling something good ‘sick’ – go figure!!!
    I also loved the comparison with Ghosts in terms of the black and white to colour – how life can be very dull in black and white but in our technicolour imaginations we can see anything, be anything, go anywhere, as of course did Michael all the time – lucky man!! A new thought has come to me during the day since reading the blog before going to work along these lines, and thinking about BAD and Ghosts. We tend to think of life in terms of black or white as being right or wrong, this or that and all sorts of polarities, forgetting that there are many shades of colour inbetween, as Michael encouraged us to do. Not all white male mayors are good or right, any more than all black youths are wrong or bad, and we need to see those other colours to influence our thoughts, emotions, opinions about others. No one persons life is simply black or white as we are all products of the life around us that influences us, and I know one of Michaels’ most important messages was for us to look at others from their point of view as well with compassion and LOVE – “before you judge me, try to love me” he said for example.
    Counting the days until BAD 25 comes out and only hope that it is available here on the same day.

  9. I love everyone on this page – what a juicy discussion. My mind is thrilled with all that has been given here to explore in Bad. thanks W, J, et all!

  10. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, Monica, Here is a link to Michael’s Mayan reading–Blue Cosmic Night, as Caro said. This is a Mayan glyph based on your birth time (but the day begins at sunrise, so if you are born after midnight but before the sun comes up, your birth date will be the day before). I am no expert but got a Mayan reading while in Mexico and got intrigued. I am a Red Skywalker–I love the glyph names!


    • The Mayan moon calander is very interesting and as accurate as the astrology types we are more used to with our usual calander. I been into it for a couple years now. I am a Blue Magnetic Eagle and have a diary that gives me the energy for each day. Tomorrow is a Blue Cosmic Night/Blue Magetic Eagle day, and I always enjoy such days.
      Gosh, the things that Michael inspires us to explore and discuss hey!! just imagine sitting with him in his library at Neverland and discussing this and that with him – now that is a glorious technicolour dream if ever there was!

      • aldebaranredstar

        Oh, Caro, What a WONDERFUL dream–wow–I would so love that!! (I am Red Resonant Skywalker btw). I looked up some dates in Michael’s life for the heck of it–the Motown 25 performance of Billy Jean (5/16/83) was Blue Spectral Night, and June 25, 2009 was Red Crystal Skywalker. There are some very interesting parallels but maybe it’s too far off topic to go into. Glad we share this interest and I will dream of that library discussion!!

  11. Really interesting discussion. From the first time I watched the whole short film of Bad I thought there was a lot to discover about it and its message. MJ’s creations are so deep and sometimes the explanation it’s not so easy to find. It’s like having a lot of clues to decode to find the solution. I find this interesting and I get angry when his work is understimated because it hides a lot to discover. For instance I hate watching his short films in the cut version too often offered by tv: you can’t really understand anything if you watch one of that short films in an incomplete way!
    Thank for the detail of the wanted poster, because I’ve never noticed it before. And it’s very interesting the point about the transition from the black and white sequence from that in technicolor. I interpret that as a change, a passage in a new maturity, both for Michael and for Darryl but I don’t know if it could fit well also for Ghosts. Maybe this transition means a sort of revelation, I don’t know. I really appreciate the points about this issue made by monica, aldebaranredstar and Caro Attwell, and it’s also really good the interpretation made by Joie.
    Thank to Willa, Joie and everyone for these very interesting issues and opinions.

    • I was still reflecting about the use of technicolor. Willa, your interpretation may be good as well! Those scenes in technicolor could really represent Daryl’s imagination: if you think about it, the very last sequence, just after his friends leave, turns back again in black and white, showing use Daryl as he was at the beginning of the story.

  12. Very interesting observations re the use of colour in the Bad video!

    Dennis Yeo Kah Sin, in his paper ”The Curious Case of Michael Jackson as Gothic narrative” (http://www.zittaw.com/starticlesin.htm) has a different theory:

    “Martin Scorsese eschews the use of colour in the ‘Bad’ video (1987) to convey how Daryl, the character played by Michael, an African-American studying in a ‘white’ school, cannot fit in with either ‘whites’ or ‘blacks’.”

    (I have to say, though, that I find Willa’s interpretation more convincing!)

    • Wow, Bjørn, what a fascinating article. I disagree with many of Sin’s conclusions, but he makes some really interesting connections and observations. I need to read it again more carefully, I think. Thanks for sharing.

    • aldebaranredstar

      Bjorn, reading that article was like taking a trip through tabloid memory lane! This is what happens when you use unreliable sources heavily, such as Tarraborelli and Orth. There were plenty of factual errors made, and conclusions based on errors become invalid, of course. The only thing I found interesting and new was the suggestion that the invasion of Maestro’s mansion in ‘Ghosts’ was a replay of the invasion of the detectives in Neverland, and that Neverland had been ‘ruined’ as a result. However, Michael did continue to live there from the time of ‘Ghosts’ in 97 to 05, as we know. Also the book Defending a King, which used Mesereau as a source, says that Michael did NOT want to leave Neverland, even in 05, but Mesereau persuaded him to do so as he feared more problems from the Santa Barbara DA’s office. Yes, Michael played with the gothic at times but it does not define him, either personally or as an artist, in my opinion. However, the tabloids and their flock attempted with some success to paint him as that creepy curiousity, freak, and pedophile. They created and literally sold that gothic narrative to the public. Read ‘Dancing the Dream’ and tell me it fits the gothic. Bringing up Jarvis Cocker–oh, boy.

      • Well, I just wanted to quote the passage on the Bad video. There’s a lot in Sin’s article that I do not agree with! I do see what you mean regarding tabloids, aldebaranredstar! I think the idea of interpreting Michael (life and art) as a ”gothic narrative” is fascinating as such. But then again, it’s just an interpretation, and as you say, many of Sin’s conclusions are based on errors or lack of information. And BTW, I read ’Dancing the Dream’ ten years ago, and didn’t think about ”the gothic” at all! 🙂

        • aldebaranredstar

          Not to worry, Bjorn. There are some interesting idea there but IMO way too much tabloid in the mix. I appreciated that he reminded me that the name ‘Billy Jean’ is in the lyrics for Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’–which I forgot. Thanks for giving us the link.

          LoL re your Dancing the Dream comment!

    • thanks so much for this article link Bjorn – I found it very interesting indeed but have to agree that I too find Willa’s interpretation more convincing, and obviously kinder. Also nice to have links to other articles as I never know where to look to find such things.

  13. Although I don’t think Michael will necessarily “always remain a creepy Gothic character” as Dennis Yeo Kah Sin claims (and I don’t think any of us can say just what Michael will mean to most people in the future), I find many of his points fascinating and compelling. The “Ghosts” film, in particular, certainly references the Gothic genre in literature and film—even “Dracula” narratives—and many other elements of Michael’s metaphorical transformations seem to beg that kind of reading.

    Many scholars have noted this about Michael, although their idea of the “creepy” or “grotesque” usually involves a very pointed critique of the society from which this (loathsome) character emerges, and the way the society’s representatives (like the Mayor or the Townspeople in “Ghosts”) are implicated in the tragic scenario. THEY are all the more tragic because they are clueless and lack the power to observe. In rejecting and expunging the monster from their “normal” midsts, they have unwittingly denied and repressed an essential part of themselves.

    So the continual narrative that surrounded Michael’s “weirdness,” much of it a reflection of those who generated it, also gave him a lot of artistic ammunition. So much material to work with—and across so many genres! I find it really fascinating to think about how the clichés and tropes of nearly every horror film and Gothic narrative actually DO get played out in real life, where they in turn get folded back into the production of art. In “Ghosts,” especially, Michael shows us how the polity’s misplaced social needs, involving blame and exclusion, generate a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The press created the monster they wanted/needed to see, no doubt of that! (And, just as tellingly, the public bought it!) Part of the brilliance of Michael’s work was the way he often resisted that narrative, showing us the social workings of the seemingly “normal” (but really, freakish) aspects of our culture. He does this by speaking on behalf of ostracized people —he embraces the idea of “grotesque,” describes how it works, and points out its ultimate inseparability from the “nice, normal people” of Normal Valley.

    I read this article awhile ago, and now I’m reminded that I need to return to it (thanks for posting, this Bjorn!) It also reminds me of Kobena Mercer’s essay, “Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” You can find it on Joe Vogel’s site:

    But…. I’d meant to say something about “Bad”! Because you’ve all brought up so many thought-provoking ideas about that film: its use of color, its idea of manhood, the Edmund Perry case…..

  14. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, Nina–Thanks for your comments. In reading them, I am reminded of Michael’s interest in E.A. Poe, and how he intended, supposedly, to do a film about Poe, with himself playing Poe. That would have been so great and taken our understanding of his intention that you discuss re “showing us the social workings of the seemingly ‘normal’ (but really freakish) aspects of our culture.” The fact that Michael is making a deliberate cultural critque does not emerge in the Sin article, which is instead embedded in tabloid claims (wearing a prosthetic nose, etc).

    E.A. Poe is interesting as an artist whose work was pretty saturated with the gothic/sublime and whose personhood (like Michael’s) gets colored by his writings, such that he becomes a character in one of his stories. Poe’s life was exeptionally difficult in that he witnessed his mother’s death from TB at an early age, and so experienced that horror and loss. Michael also had a difficult childhood and witnessed and experienced things that horrified and traumatized him. As he speaks to Bashir, I was impressed how he emphasized the word “scared”–how ‘scared’ he was as a child, and he repeats that word ‘scared’ three times. Such intense trauma is bound to play out in an artist’s work to some extent, but to say that they are the magic keys to unlock the work of Michael Jackson does not work for me. Look at other works we have discussed, such as Will You Be There, that are clearly not in the gothic Ghosts genre, not to mention ‘Earth Song.’ And I referrred to his book Dancing the Dream as well. This work definitely is a critique of our culture without being gothic at all. I also find it a stretch to consider ‘Smooth Criminal’ as gothic, as Sin does.

    I am interested in what you might say about ‘Bad.’

    • I feel very similiarly to you ABredstar – and additionally Spike Lee revealed in a press conference that the dance in Smooth Criminal was an homage by Michael to the dance number Girl Hunt in an old Vincent Minelli movie that I think was called something like Bandwagon and I THINK had Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dancing (someone please correct me if I am wrong) – 2 dancers its very well known that Michael revered.
      Michael himself also said he decided Smooth Criminal should be old Chicago Gangster instead of the Western idea he was toying with, and I see elements of juke joints and revival in SC too.
      I am also intrigued with Nina’s actual thoughts on Bad, particularly Edmund Perry because when I went to that link I found some of the commenting really judgemental.

  15. Hi gertrudegertrude. The sequence is called the “Girl Hunt Ballet,” and it is indeed from Vincente Minnelli’s film “The Bandwagon.” It stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, the female lead (Gene Kelly isn’t in this film, and his influence on Michael’s dancing can be harder to detect–though I believe it’s there.) The similarities between “Girl Hunt” and “Smooth Criminal” are striking, as this clip shows clearly:

    All of “The Bandwagon” is great, and there are many other remarkable numbers in it!

    • wow Nina – that was GREAT – thank-you!!
      Michael always “homaged” his influences and was so vocal in his love for them. Strictly from an “artist’s artist” point of view it would be fascinating to track how Michael wound what other artist’s did that he loved into his work – he must have really loved Band Wagon since he found a way to wind it into at least 3 of his own pieces, which was very exciting to discover in this beautifully put-together vid.
      It’s also instructive and fascinating to see how MJ took it higher – so much higher. As my education is in fine arts I am really struck when the “tip of the hat” is given by one artist to another in any work that pushes what has come before it, far beyond. It’s a fine line to walk and is best done by someone like Michael, whose genius can pull it off without ripping it off, so to speak.
      These analyses/deconstructions of Michael’s work leave me increasingly breathless at the depth and breadth of his genius. There is so much layered and woven into his work in terms of his references, metaphors, messages, meanings and aesthetics. One little film of his contains a multiplicity of meaning and reference, even in one as seemingly straightforward at first glance as In The Closet – as we have seen also discussed by Willa & Joie – and probably by a lot of commentors which I haven’t been able to view yet.
      Is it any wonder it takes a full length documentary (Spike) just to get through ONE of his short films? Not for nothing did Michael buy, read, view and listen to tens of thousands of books, films and music CD/albums. He really was the voracious self-educator I like to refer to him as and I believe his work was much more deliberate than so many catch onto.

    • aldebaranredstar

      Thanks, Nina–in the video there is a sequence where Fred Astair is dancing in a subway station–just as Michael does in Bad. Does anyone know where that particular clip comes from? It starts around 1:38.

      So interesting that Michael incorporates some of the same gestures and choreography as Fred, as well as the same words spoken.

      Yes, Gertrude, I agree so much with what you say about Michael’s ‘layered’ references, and his work is much more complex and brilliant than he is given credit for, as we know.

  16. I was thinking that too, aldebaranredstar, about the subway station. That’s also part of the Girl Hunt Ballet in “The Bandwagon.” The “bad, dangerous” girl is Cyd Charisse, who in this number continually in different costumes, different haircolors, different cinematic “types”—no doubt, as part of his fantasy.

    Wow, this really makes me want to “The Bandwagon” again! It’s been awhile, so it’s not fresh in my memory. It’s a great film, though… I recommend it!

    Michael had a brilliant way of absorbing these influences and making their styles his own. If you look on YouTube, you can find a clip of Bob Fosse’s dance style (and hat) in “The Little Prince”—also very reminiscent of some of Michael’s iconic poses.

    • Thanks for the video clip, Nina. I hadn’t seen that before. And I agree – The Band Wagon is fascinating, both on its own and as it influenced Michael Jackson’s films – and that influence started early on, apparently. (There’s a scene in The Band Wagon where Fred Astaire, playing the role of a detective, picks up a tiger-striped piece of fabric, just like the reporter in Billie Jean.)

      And you can see its influence throughout Moonwalker – not just in costumes and set design and choreography and lyrics, but also structure and themes/ideas. I’ve been thinking that while The Band Wagon has an overarching narrative, it’s also a series of song and dance numbers that could easily be released as separate videos … just like Moonwalker. It begins by looking at the complicated issue of celebrity … just like Moonwalker. It also has an ongoing conflict running throughout of high art v entertainment, which is an issue Michael Jackson addressed repeatedly also – and it’s so interesting to me that The Band Wagon ultimately comes down very clearly on the side of entertainment, while Michael Jackson’s position is much more complicated, I think. As with so many other boundaries, he repeatedly crossed and complicated and blurred that division between high art and entertainment.

      Thanks again for the clip and the interesting discussion. It would be fun to do a series of posts just on The Band Wagon and Moonwalker!

  17. aldebaranredstar

    Yes, Willa, it WOULD be fun to do a series of posts on Moonwalker and The Band Wagon. But, remember, Fred Astair never wore tight black leather pants, ripped his shirt open, and blew our minds with his sexiness, as Michael did in Come Together! But I digress . . .

  18. Well, that’s very true, aldebaranredstar! But I guess we can forgive Fred Astaire for his shortcomings in this area. He wasn’t a young man in the post-sexual revolution 1980s! And besides, of course…. he wasn’t Michael!

    I think a “Band Wagon”/“Moonwalker” discussion would be great, Willa. And I think you’re quite right that “The Band Wagon” comes down on the side of popular entertainment, while Moonwalker is—for so many reasons—much more complicated.

    Film scholar Rick Altman, who wrote a very helpful book (“The American Film Musical”) might provide some insight here. He writes that one of the social functions of musicals is to articulate some ways by which millions of Americans, many of whom were European immigrants in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s—when the genre was in its heyday—could know themselves AS Americans, and establish a sense of national identity and solidarity. So a number of binary oppositions are set up in the narrative, in order to achieve this. In the “show musical” (a major subgenre), the opposition between “high” and “low” culture is often key to the whole story. Films like “The Band Wagon” set up a contrast— and competition—-between forms that emanate from the European classical tradition (like ballet, modern “art” dance, symphony orchestra, string quartet, etc.) vs. things like American popular forms like swing, jazz, pop, and show tunes themselves! In this way, The “Band Wagon” (and even more, “Singin’ in the Rain”) become a kind of advertisement for Hollywood and American show business itself. Of course, good ol’ American knowhow wins out at the end…. (One strong example of this theme is 1937’s “Shall We Dance,” with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers).

    By the 1960s and certainly by the ‘80s, there was no longer any need for Hollywood to speak to the vexing issue of “uniquely” American (as opposed to European) art forms. This is true, in part, because a generation had passed, and cultural assimilation (for European immigrants, anyway) was largely a fait accompli. Plus, American idioms were by that time well-established, and now enjoyed a new prestige on an international scale—American rock n’ roll, movies, fashion, etc. dominated the world, so the U.S. no longer needed to suffer an “inferiority complex” in the fact of (highbrow) European cultural achievement.

    Therefore, it remained for artists of Michael’s generation to do…. something else. One thing he did was to look back to the past (especially the entertainment industry’s past) for source material, à la “Smooth Criminal.” (But this would take me into some digression about the “postmodern” aesthetic!) There were still deep divisions in this country, of course, but they’d shifted, and were no longer of the kind that could be readily adapted to the kinds of binary oppositions you find in mid-century films.

    I’ve always been disappointed, of course, that Michael wasn’t in more feature films, and especially musicals! Who else would there have been? (And I also wonder: who might’ve been a Ginger to his Fred? I mean, someone who he wouldn’t have blown off the stage!) But in addition, I think ‘60s counterculture as well as a lot of other factors dealt the whole musical genre a blow from which it never really recovered, and viable, relevant stories were in short supply. So I think it’s fascinating to think about “Moonwalker” from this perspective.

    • “I also wonder: who might’ve been a Ginger to his Fred? I mean, someone who he wouldn’t have blown off the stage!”

      Well, you know, Fred Astaire always said his favorite dance partner was his sister. Just a thought …

      So many interesting ideas, Nina! I was especially struck by Altman’s ideas about the social/cultural function of musicals, and your summary of the central conflict in many of those musicals:

      In the “show musical” (a major subgenre), the opposition between “high” and “low” culture is often key to the whole story. Films like “The Band Wagon” set up a contrast—and competition—between forms that emanate from the European classical tradition (like ballet, modern “art” dance, symphony orchestra, string quartet, etc.) vs. things like American popular forms like swing, jazz, pop, and show tunes themselves!

      That is so interesting, and boy, we really see it in The Band Wagon. This stuffy actor/director/producer (his previous hit was an over-wrought production of Oedipus Rex) sets out turning The Band Wagon, a romping Broadway musical, into a modern reinterpretation of Faust. It’s a flop – everyone hates it, including the financial backers – and even the director admits he’s made a mistake. Fred Astaire’s character sells his collection of Degas paintings to raise money to back the show himself (literally exchanging high art for popular art), turns the show back into a collection of high-spirited song and dance numbers, and it’s a hit.

      It’s really interesting thinking about Michael Jackson in this context too – reminds me of Bjørn’s question a couple weeks ago about the Music Matrix, and where to situate Michael Jackson in terms of avant garde v mainstream art.

      Wow, lots to think about …

      • no you’ve got it Willa. I really can’t think of anyone other than Janet who could defend herself – as they say in Cuba – in a dance number with him. I mean come on, Scream and her Scream tribute to her beloved bro’ was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen.

  19. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, Nina–well, I guess West Side Story was a musical popular in the 60’s and Michael, as we know appropriated it in ‘Beat It’ and even used real gang menbers from L.A. as dancers. In light of your comments, I agree he would have been great in full-length musicals, but Hollywood rejected him and didn’t give him entry the way it did to other singers, like Barbra Streisand, for example. Even John Travolta did a lot with musicals like Saturday Night Fever and Grease. So I think Michael started to do his own musicals–like Moonwalker and Ghosts. As far as who would be his Ginger or Cyd–good question. He didn’t have a dance partners much, only in Blood on the Dance Floor and what else?? He didn’t really ‘dance with’ Naomi in In the Closet, did he?

    As far as USA not having an ‘inferiority complex’ re old world Europe, I do think that snobbery still exists and I have encountered snorts of derision from Europeans that there is even is such a thing as ‘American literature,’ for example. Ha Ha Ha. Little do they know, but the prejudice is still there IMO.

    • That’s true, aldebaran. There were some wonderful musicals in the ’60s, and beyond.

      “West Side Story” started out on Broadway in 1957, and the film version (which is very different!) was released in …1962, I think. Interesting that the theme is about ethnic conflict, which reflected the influx of Puerto Rican immigrants into New York city in the years immediately following WWII.

      But for the most part, in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, racial and ethnic conflict weren’t often overtly highlighted as themes in musicals (I can name some exceptions, though). Mainly they had to be referenced in an indirect way, if at all. So that may be why Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and Steven Sondheim—who collaborated on “West Side Story” in 1957—felt that they were doing something unique and unprecedented, by focusing on ethnic conflict in a contemporary setting.

      So musicals certainly persisted, but the theme of “high” vs. “low” culture, from the earlier decades, were not as prominent as they had been. It’s interesting, though, as you say, that a feeling of European cultural supremacy is still with us! In the mid-20th century the (mainly) American writers and directors took on the issue themselves, as if to present a challenge to that “snobbery”: American pop culture, in these stories, is always proclaimed the winner!

      Would you believe that Bob Giraldi, who directed “Beat It,” insisted that it had nothing to do with “West Side Story”? (Seems to me that “Beat It” has that “rumble” scene written all over it!)

      I don’t know, and would really like to find out, what happened with the acting career Michael so clearly wanted to develop, following his role in “The Wiz.” Was he turned down for parts? Did he not pursue certain opportunities aggressively enough? I don’t know what the story was, but I’m sure that the lack of appropriately romantic, leading man roles for black men was a large part of it.

  20. A few thoughts on “Bad,” inspired by the discussion here.

    The very first shot in the film poses an implicit question. Daryl, black-and-white and in closeup, raises his head and looks directly into the camera (our eyes), as if to pose a challenge or query…. ( to us? to the world at large)? The moment is loaded, and rife with possibilities; one thing that Michael may be implicitly asking, with his imploring eyes, is that existential question for all of us: “who am I?”

    But for Darryl, that moment and that question take on some additional weight. What we know about the Edmund Perry case makes the question of racial identity—especially for black youth—-all the more pressing. (Thanks, Jacksonaktak, for the link to a book about the case: “Best Intentions: the ducation and Killing of Edmund Perry,” by .Robert Sam Anson.} Whereas Anson’s account seems (from what I’ve read about it, though I haven’t read the book itself) to emphasize Perry’s and other black students’ experience in the predominantly white world of the prep school, “Bad,” by contrast, tells us about Darryl’s difficult (and perhaps impossible) readjustment to his old life and community in Harlem.

    Mark Anthony Neal has a blog post where he ponders Edmund Perry’s story, noting the severe challenges inner-city black students sometimes face when they go to places like Exeter Academy, (Perry’s school; which is the fictional Duxton School, in “Bad”). Neal is using his own essay for his Duke U. course on Michael Jackson:

    Still the ‘Best Intentions’?: Edmund Perry Case Resonates Years Later

    Neal writes:
    “Commentary on Edmund Perry’s life and death became a referendum on the continuance of poverty, racism and the failure of liberalism—a belief by some, that even given the opportunity to attend preps schools like Exeter or Westminster, a “culture of poverty,” doomed some Black students to failure.

    “[….] Though Anson was for the most part sympathetic to the broad and specific circumstances that led to Perry’s death, he was hamstrung by his inability—and much of White America for that matter—to wrap his head around why Black kids like Perry and so many others were not simply thankful and happy for the opportunities that prep schools afforded….

    “Apropos for an era noted for a crack-cocaine epidemic, some Black students experienced these ‘two worlds’ like a version W.E. B. Dubois theory of ‘double-consciousness’ on crack. Some elite prep schools were simply ill-equipped to address the trauma that some of these kids experienced. As one of Perry’s three Black teachers described that experience in Best Intentions, ‘They will never again be part of the world from which they came…Everyone who comes to Exeter loses their homes. It goes with the territory.’(154) ”

    Neal continues:

    “ [….] Part of this schizophrenia was derived by the inability of some Black kids to get a true reading of what their academic skill set was. Thus when Black students are lauded for their academic achievements, they are sometimes unsure whether such accolades are recognition of academic success in general or success simply for Black kid. In other words, ‘am I smart?’ or ‘smart for a Black kid.”
    * * * * * * * * * *

    This last point is strongly echoed in the first scene in “Bad,” where one of Darryl’s white schoolmates catches up with him and says, “You did a real good job this term, and I’m proud of you. You worked really hard.” Though it’s ambiguous, there’s an implication that there’s something patronizing in the classmate’s seeming compliment. They do a high-five, which is one of three significant handshakes in this film, each of which “belongs” to the different worlds Darryl inhabits.

    The second handshake occurs on the train into the New York neighborhood where Darryl and that other young man of color, perhaps Latino (was he also a schoolmate of Darryl’s) are eyeing each other suspiciously. As you say, it’s tense moment, because we are uncertain about what these closeups on narrowed eyes and significant are all about. When the other guy says to Darryl, “Shoot! Four guys proud of me,” then shakes Darryl’s hand, and says “Be the man” before exiting the train, it seems to me that “be the man” is a way of saying “be the best”—-the kind of guy the other guys can be proud of.

  21. Later in the film, the full resources of Scorcese’s and Michael’s collaboration are pointed up in the striking for the way they bear upon the whole story—this is something like what you said Willa, re “meta-art”—that is, art talking about art.

    Were it not for Darryl’s intervention in what might have been a violent attack (one of several near-violent episodes that are suggested in the film), an elderly man might have been mugged for a few cents’ change. Darryl wishes he could do more, but cannot. His only option (which was, in many ways, the only option for Michael himself) is to develop an elaborate fantasy, a scenario of wish-fulfillment In this way, Darryl and Michael are united. Plus, the sudden entry of this leather-clad, bad-ass character in the subway station (dropping down from the ceiling) is also marked also by a few startling, percussive notes in the music.

    The change from black and white to color , as you pointed out, might be seen as a way of describing two different (but intersecting) realities— I think that’s very true. (“Technicolor” is a technical term for a specific camera and cinematographic process that had been out of use in the American film industry for a while before 1987, when “Bad” was made, the term often connotes a vivid, saturated color palette.) The “Wizard of Oz” is an apt comparison: the bright colors of Dorothy’s imaginary/dream world contrast sharply with the sepia tones of her life in Kansas. Plus, “Bad” ‘s use of color would point to—in a way that I can only imagine delighted Michael—a whole movie tradition where, in musicals, the song-and-dance numbers are staged as extravagant, spectacular, and larger-than-life mini-dramas that often express the character’s dream or fantasy. In this way, “Bad,” might be another telling of the Superman/Clark Kent story, where Darryl, the mild-mannered student, is magically transformed into the “Bad Guy” he wishes he were.

    There’s more, so much more to say here about the song/dance number itself, how the lyrics often dovetail with specific moves “Bad Guy” and his posse perform. But one thing that really strikes me is the way the dance fantasy ends. In contrast to the suddenness in how it began, the return to “real life” on the subway platform is much more gradual. After the call-and-response part of the song, where Michael (in his “bad” persona) addresses “Mini Max” (Wesley Snipes’s character) and the two others, Max seems to lunge toward Michael, in a way that might imply an aggressive confrontation. Instead, the two shake hands—the third handshake, marking Michael/Darryl/Bad Guy’s seeming victory. We see a small smile on Michael’s face; and Mini Max says, “So that’s the way it goes down.”

    Then, as the three young men walk away from Michael and his “gang,” we see that the color is slowly being drained from the image, and from Darryl’s retreating friends and the subway station. By now, the question is no longer exclusively one of Darryl’s fitting into “their” world (which used to be, and in some sense always will be, his). We also ask: can the other youths fit into the world Darryl is in the process of creating for himself? The uses of black and white and color brilliantly (and also problematically, I think) articulate this question.

    At the same time that we see the “loss” of color, we also see the camera panning quickly until it finally settles on Darryl, in full black-and-white, pulling down the hood of his hoodie—it was all a dream. He becomes, once again, the mild mannered student who is not heroic, and whose future, and identity, remain uncertain. In this way, it kind of rhymes with the beginning of the film, where Darryl’s question (and ours)—drawn in a beautiful and mysterious closeup—are posed for the first time.

    • Wow, Nina, I can tell you’re a filmmaker! So many fascinating details and insights….

      I love your comparison of the gradual way he comes out of the heightened, full-color world with the abrupt way he entered it. I hadn’t noticed that before and it seems really significant to me, especially in terms of how we as an audience experience those transitions. The color sequence begins in a sudden, rather jarring way, as you point out. His friends are angry at him and turning against him, they’re accosting him, and he’s in this high-adrenaline, high-anxiety, fight-or-flight moment. And we as an audience experience an approximation of that through this jarring, almost panicky transition. We feel a bit of an adrenaline rush too. But then, as you point out, he comes out of it slowly, as you would after a close call like that. The adrenaline rushes in quickly but ebbs out slowly – just as the color does in this sequence. It’s like, as a filmmaker, he’s trying to put us in a position where we don’t just sympathize with Daryl, but actually experience the physical sensations Daryl’s experiencing.

      I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about the dance sequence itself – as you wrote, “how the lyrics often dovetail with specific moves ‘Bad Guy’ and his posse perform.” That’s very intriguing!

      I also love how you connect the close-ups of his face at the beginning and end of the movie with questions of identity – who is he? It’s a crucial question, for him and for us. How does he define himself? How do we perceive him? It strikes me that there’s a third “face” scene that ties in with these in interesting ways. It’s almost precisely halfway through the film when he’s standing behind the column of the subway station, waiting for a victim. And as you suggest with the other two, this is an important moment of identity. Who is he? Is he the kind a person who would participate in a robbery, or not? At the end of this scene he pulls up his hood, so kind of forms a bookend with the scene at the end when he lowers his hood.

      Thanks for the link and the quotations from Dr. Neal’s blog. Michael Jackson himself gave a brief description of the case in an interview not long after Bad came out – I think it was with Ebony, but not sure. A video of the interview is on youtube. I’ll try to find it.

  22. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, Nina–Thanks for your great insights into ‘Bad.’ I checked Armond White and he has some interesting observations. This is some of his take on it.

    “Darryl’s ‘normal’ life is preoccupied with winning friends and influencing people in the white world. ‘How many people you got proud of you?” a Latino schoolmate asks him, trading confidences. Both of them move through the white world strategically, deliberately.” (16)
    In his reading, Michael is acting out ‘his distance’ both from the white world and the Black urban world, and that he is ‘trapped between ghettoized straights and the indifferent white world,” as are other Blacks.

    So in this sense, the film ‘Bad’ shows Michael acting out his own dilemma, his own conflicts between the world he grew up in and the music industry world he conquered, and his own artistic solutions (what White calls his ‘song-and-dance championship’). White writes, “We fool ourselves to think Jackson could have gotten there [to the pinacle of fame] without heavy cost.”

    “And when Jackson reprises the line ‘The whole world has to answer right now,” his megolomania becomes a strange political challenge. Right or wrong, no one else could dare it.” (18)

    I think this challenge is not so strange. Michael is asking why Blacks and other socially marginalized groups, have to pay such a heavy price to enter and be accepted in the mainstream culture. That Michael really never was accepted is obvious from all the media attacks, the wacko jacko, the lies and false accusations so enthralling to the media and so lapped up by the public.

    Nice observations and discussion of the 3 handshakes and the use of color.

  23. Thanks, aldebaranredstar. I like what Armond White has to say here, and it’s very true—there was a huge price Michael (like Darryl) had to pay for what they had achieved.

    I think Michael helped, in so many ways, to define an unusual and unprecedented moment in history, and a contradictory one. Because Michael *was*, in one way, really accepted by a large swath of the world’s population. That’s why he was one of the biggest stars in history. His triumph certainly wasn’t negligible, but at the same time, we should probably be asking—forever, if need be—why it came at such a huge cost.

    Both Michael’s brilliance, and its cost (to him, and to us) seem as flip sides of a coin, one of so many contradictions, for which there are, it seems to me, no definitive answers.

  24. aldebaranredstar

    Yes, Nina, I agree with you that the ‘flip sides of a coin’ is an apt metaphor for the fame, the brilliance, and the heavy cost of it. Thanks, too, for your attention to the opening and closing of the ‘Bad’ film–Michael’s face staring out at us, as if confronting us with the enigma of the flip sides of that coin, the contradictions both of ‘Bad’ and his life story.

    In the opening black and white section, we see in Darryl’s mother’s apartment some interesting photographs and books, right before we see her note. I seem to see Stevie Wonder, and maybe Eldridge Cleaver’s photo, possibly Stokley Carmichael??? Can anyone identify the photos or the book title? There is a photo of a man reclining wearing a white jacket, and I wonder who that is.

    In terms of Michael’s dancing ‘posse,’ there is prominent use made of an Asian dancer who wears a white bandana with a red circle. He stands behind Michael during the acapella section rather conspicuously. Perhaps this, as well as white dancers in the posse, is a message to accept all racial categories.

    I just saw a very interesting Pepsi ad for China using “Bad’–the imagery is amazing.

  25. monicaluvmjsmile

    Thank you Aldebaran! Can’t wait to have a moment to check this out:)

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