Wandering in the Rain
Willa: So Joie, whenever I’m talking to someone about Michael Jackson’s videos, eventually I know they’re going to ask me the dreaded question – which one is my favorite? And that’s so hard for me to answer. It’s kind of like asking a grandmother which grandchild is her favorite. As any grandma will tell you, you love them all! And if you don’t feel as connected to some as others, maybe it’s because you simply don’t know them as well.
For example, You Rock My World made me very uncomfortable for a long time – it was a difficult child for me to warm up to. But after we talked about it a couple of times – in November and December 2011 – I came to see so many fascinating things in it that I hadn’t seen before, and came to understand it much better, and now I truly love it and enjoy watching it.
All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that I don’t have a favorite Michael Jackson video – I really do love them all – but I have to admit that Stranger in Moscow holds a very special place for me. For one thing, it’s so beautiful: the ideas, the images, his amazing voice. I love everything about it.
Joie: I love this video too. To me, it is just visually stunning. I love to sit and really watch the special effects in this one; I always sit sort of mesmerized whenever it’s on. It’s very hypnotic in a way. You know, my cousin once said to me, ‘don’t watch that video, it’s so depressing!’ And I understand where she’s coming from, but I just couldn’t believe she said that because, to me, this video is just beautiful. A real feast for the eyes.
Willa: It really is, though I can see what your cousin was saying too. It seems to me he’s trying to convey his emotional state at that time, in the months immediately following the 1993 allegations, and that was a horrible time for him. As he tells us in the lyrics, he was “feeling insane,” like he’d had an “Armageddon of the brain.” It seems to me he’s encouraging us to imaginatively experience what he’s been going through to try to understand what that situation would be like – to sympathize with the Other, as he does in so much of his work. So the chorus is primarily the line “How does it feel” repeated over and over again:
How does it feel?
(How does it feel?)
How does it feel?
How does it feel?
How does it feel?
How does it feel?
(How does it feel now?)
How does it feel?
How does it feel
When you’re alone and cold inside,
Like a stranger in Moscow?
It seems pretty clear that he’s urging us to put ourselves in his position – as someone falsely accused of a terrible crime, and condemned for it around the world so there’s no escape from it. How would that feel? What would that situation be like?
Frank Cascio talks about this in his book, My Friend Michael: An Ordinary Friendship with an Extraordinary Man, and he quotes him as saying:
“I don’t think you realize … I have the whole world thinking I’m a child molester. You don’t know what it feels like to be falsely accused, to be called ‘Wacko Jacko.’ Day in and day out, I have to get up on that stage and perform, pretending everything is perfect. I give everything I have, I give the performance that everyone wants to see. Meanwhile, my character and reputation are under constant attack. When I step off that stage, people look at me as if I were a criminal.”
I don’t think we can even begin to comprehend what that was like for him, day after day, year after year, without let-up. We can try to understand it, but I don’t think we ever really can. But in Stranger in Moscow, he’s trying to give us a glimpse of what that experience was like for him.
And that’s important on a personal level – just as one human trying to understand another human – but it’s also important on a cultural level because over his career he became the human embodiment of Difference, of Otherness. So in a way, this video is asking the exact same question “Ben” asked 40 years ago: do we have the emotional capacity to sympathize with someone excluded and ridiculed and feared because he is marked as different? Can we see this situation from the outsider’s point of view? And “how does it feel” when we do that?
Joie: That’s a really compelling question, Willa. Can we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and look at their world from their perspective? We can certainly try, if our hearts and minds are in the right place, but you know, it’s not always an easy thing for some people to do. But it was almost like Michael understood that this was a difficult task for most people and so, he kept trying over and over to show us, through different songs, what that experience was like for him. In fact, you and I talked about it in depth back in the fall of 2011 when we discussed “Is It Scary.” And I said at the end of that post that I felt he had to be one of the bravest people ever to have the courage to hold his head up day after day in that situation and still be able to create the most beautiful, profound art and present it to a world that had turned on him. It’s just incredible to me.
Willa: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. It took tremendous courage and self-reliance – and self-knowledge as well. He knew who he was, and he had the inner strength to believe in himself even after the world had turned against him. But it still must have been tremendously painful, and I think he’s exploring that in the opening scenes of Stranger in Moscow.
Joie: You know, Willa, I agree with you. This short film really does set a particular mood, right from the opening shots. But the song itself sets a certain mood as well, and I believe this is one of the rare videos where the images on the screen portray the song perfectly. Like “Dirty Diana.”
Willa: That’s an interesting point, Joie. Some of his videos really do go off in a different direction – like, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the Leave Me Alone video from listening to the song. But some are much closer, and with “Stranger in Moscow” there really are some direct correlations between what’s being said in the song and what’s happening on screen. For example, he sings “a beggar boy called my name” and suddenly the scene shifts to some street kids playing baseball. Then at the next interlude we hear a boy shout “Michael!” and see some kids running by. So in many ways the video enacts the lyrics of the song.
But I think this video also clarifies the song in important ways. For example, a number of critics called this song “paranoid” because he mentions the Kremlin and Stalin and says the “KGB was doggin’ me.” But as the video makes clear, he’s speaking in a metaphorical way. He feels like a “stranger in Moscow,” but the video is clearly set in the United States: the cars, the coffeeshop, the street signs, the phone booth are all American, and when the passerby flips a quarter to the homeless man on the street, it’s an American quarter. So he’s in the United States, his native country, but it’s become so alien to him that, emotionally, he feels like he’s living in a foreign country. That’s what it means to me when he says, “I’m living lonely, baby / Like a stranger in Moscow.” It reminds me of that line in “They Don’t Care about Us” where he says, “I can’t believe this is the land from which I came.” His home country has become so alien and unrecognizable to him, it no longer feels like home.
And it’s very important to realize that he isn’t the only person “living lonely” in this video. We also see other people in pain and somehow removed from the flow of life. This is visually represented by showing some of the suffering people behind glass – like the sad woman in the coffeeshop, seen through a glass wall, and the lonely man in his apartment, seen through his apartment window. It’s therefore significant, symbolically, when the glass breaks, and it’s significant that it’s children at play that break it.
To me, children are a subtle but crucially important presence in this video, in part because they bring about a shift in what’s happening. In fact, I see the street kids playing baseball and breaking the window as the climax of the film. You know, there’s this common misconception that the climax of a movie or novel is the most exciting part, but technically that isn’t what the word “climax” means when you’re analyzing literature or film. Instead, the climax is the turning point, the moment that determines the outcome of the story. Sometimes it’s exciting, but often it’s not – often it’s a quiet moment when the hero or heroine makes a fateful decision that determines which path he or she will follow, and how the story will ultimately end. For example, the climax of Star Wars isn’t the big battle scene at the end when Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star. It’s the sad scene much earlier when he discovers his aunt and uncle have been killed, and he decides to go with Ben and fight the Dark Side. That’s the turning point of Star Wars. And to me, the turning point, or climax, of Stranger in Moscow is when the street kids break the glass.
Joie: That’s very interesting, Willa. And I like what you said about the climax of a story or a film often being a quiet moment when a decision is made.
But I want to talk about what you just said about the people in pain in this video. You said that they are all somehow removed from the flow of life, and that’s really true. But I think all those shots of them seen through the glass walls or the windows are also meant to evoke a feeling of isolation and despair. That’s really the feeling that Michael Jackson is trying to get at in the song, I think.
How does it feel? (How does it feel now?) How does it feel? How does it feel When you’re alone and cold inside
Each of the people – the lonely man in his apartment, the sad woman in the coffeeshop, even the homeless man lying on the street and the teenaged boy watching the other kids play ball – they’re all very isolated and in some form of despair. And each time I watch this video, I always want to know more of the story, you know? Why isn’t the teenage boy playing ball with the other kids? What has that woman in the coffeeshop so upset? Why is that man shut up in his apartment all alone, and what’s the homeless man’s story? We know why Michael is feeling like a stranger in Moscow, but what about the rest of them?
Willa: That’s a really good point, Joie, and I think our inability to truly know what they’re going through, how they’re feeling and why they’re responding that way, just adds to the sense of isolation. We don’t know what they’re experiencing, we don’t know their pain, and that inability to truly understand the suffering of others is an important element of this video, I think. They’re “living lonely” too, just like he is, and that isolation adds to the pain. So once again we’re back to the central question: “How does it feel?”
Joie: And that is such an important point, Willa. They are “living lonely,” just like he is. And that makes us think about ourselves in a way. Unless we actively reach out to others and share our burdens, we’re all living just as lonely as those people in this short film. And that sense of isolation does add to the pain and the emotional suffering. And even sometimes when we’re surrounded by people who care about us, it’s still possible to feel as though you’re “living lonely.”
Willa: That’s true, Joie, and an important point as well. And sometimes when we’re hurting, we isolate ourselves. It’s like we need some alone time to recover and get our equilibrium back, but removing ourselves like that can cause problems as well.
Joie: You know, Willa, the end of this video sort of puzzles me. It never has before but, now that you and I are talking about it, I’m beginning to think about it in ways I never have. At the end of this one, all of those lonely, anguished people see the rain coming down and they go out and embrace it. They let go of their feelings of isolation for a brief moment and stand beneath the flow and let the rain wash over them. Nothing is resolved. But yet, they each seem to be soothed in some way by the action.
That’s not exactly how I would have expected this one to end. You would think that with the subject matter of this film, in the ending we would see all those isolated people finding one another and coming together. Or maybe joining family and friends so that they’re not so isolated any longer. But that’s not what happens here. What do you make of that?
Willa: That’s such a hard question. This is a really ambiguous video – one of his most ambiguous, I think. (That might be another reason I like it so much!) So it’s possible to interpret the ending many different ways, but he does offer some important clues. For example, before those suffering people step out into the rain, we see and hear children running in the rain. The man in his apartment hears their excited shouts, looks down through his window, and sees them and others running across the street. Then he reaches up, touches his window, and ultimately leaves his apartment and stands in the rain. The way this sequence is structured suggests it’s the children who inspired him to do that.
We see Michael Jackson inspired by the children as well. He’s sheltering himself under an awning when the children run past him, splashing through the puddles, and then he steps out into the rain. This is a really long sequence, with scenes of the children running in the rain repeatedly interspliced with scenes of Michael Jackson watching them run by, and of the other sad adults as well. There’s a distant shot of the children in the rain, then Michael Jackson watching them and singing “How does it feel?,” then a long clip of the children closer up, a quick shot of Michael Jackson again singing “How does it feel?,” another long slow-motion clip of the children closer still, the man in his apartment running his hand along the glass of his window as we hear “How does it feel?,” the homeless man reaching his hand out into the rain, Michael Jackson in the background with the children running by in front of him, the homeless man drenched with rain and his face uplifted, Michael Jackson and the children all on screen together, a back view of the children splashing through the rain, the businessman in the rain, a back view of Michael Jackson stepping into the rain, the homeless man, the business man, Michael Jackson, around and around and around.
I love this sequence and the way these images are interwoven. It’s very skillfully done, and again it reinforces the idea that children are a subtle but crucially important part of the story. And Joie, you’ll like this – in the final shot of the children, they’re holding hands.
But this raises another complicated question: what does the rain represent?
Joie: Now that is a really interesting question, Willa! What does the rain represent? You know, there are actually many, many possible answers to that question. Rain is a vital resource; it’s extremely important for life. It nurtures humans, animals and crops. Without it, we couldn’t survive. And in regions where not much rain falls, it can be symbolic of life and rebirth.
Rain can also be representative of blessings pouring down from heaven, and also of curses. In fact, according to the Bible, Noah built that ark for a reason, right? And it had never rained on the Earth before that time so, no wonder all the people thought Noah was completely crazy. Water fall from the sky? Yeah, right!
But I think in today’s modern world, rain often symbolizes tears and sadness and depression. But it also, a lot of times, is symbolic of an emotional cleansing or healing. And sometimes it even connotes an air of romance! So the possibilities are truly endless, Willa.
Willa: Wow, that’s a wonderful list, Joie! And you’re right, the rain can mean many different things. In fact, I think the meaning of the rain shifts over the course of the video, which is perhaps the main reason this video is so powerful to me. At the beginning, the rain seems to represent “tears and sadness and depression,” as you mentioned, Joie. As he sings in the opening verse,
I was wandering in the rain Mask of life, feelin’ insane Swift and sudden fall from grace Sunny days seem far away Kremlin’s shadow belittlin’ me Stalin’s tomb won’t let me be On and on and on it came Wish the rain would just let me
So he clearly seems to be equating sunshine with happiness (“Sunny days seem far away”) and rain with the emotional torment he’s been going through (“On and on and on it came / Wish the rain would just let me be.”)
But then he sees the children running through the rain, and he begins to think differently about it. Those children inspire him to step out from under the awning and stop avoiding the rain, and he actually immerses himself in it – in fully experiencing the rain. He holds his arms out, throws his head back, and stands with his mouth open, drinking it in. That final scene with his face upturned and his mouth open, catching raindrops, always reminds me of someone taking communion. But the rain is also pouring down on his entire body, like a baptism, and he seems to experience it that way. So it feels to me at the end that the rain has become something physically and spiritually nurturing for him, “an emotional cleansing or healing,” as you put it so beautifully, Joie.
Joie: I agree with you, Willa; I think the meaning of the rain does change throughout the course of the short film, and we see that not only in Michael Jackson’s behavior but in the behavior of the others as well. The woman in the coffee shop, the old man in his apartment, the teenaged boy watching the other kids play ball. Even the homeless man on the street. They all decide to stand beneath the flow of the rain and allow that emotional cleansing or healing to wash over them.
Willa: That’s true, the meaning of the rain has changed for all of them – they all seem to gain spiritual renewal from the rain – and that’s a crucially important point. I’m so glad you brought that up, Joie. They all experience and benefit from that shift in the meaning of the rain, and that’s so moving for me, emotionally, and so fascinating, thematically.
You know, rain is just water droplets from the sky. It doesn’t “mean” anything, intrinsically, but we humans have invested it with tremendous meaning, and we have for centuries. Just like the color of our skin doesn’t mean anything, of itself, or the shape of our eyes, or a river between two regions designated as separate countries, or a multi-colored cloth waving on a flagpole, or a black piece of cloth worn on the head, or the length of our hair, or the style of our clothes, or the accent of our speech, or thousands of other signifiers. But we have imposed meaning on those arbitrary signs and made them carry meanings – including meanings that can be very harmful to us.
Importantly, we have the power to change those meanings – and Michael Jackson knew how to do it. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. I think that, throughout his career, Michael Jackson was very focused on questioning and altering the connotative meaning, often negative meaning, carried by certain signifiers – just as he shifts the meaning of the rain in this video.
In fact, for me, Stranger in Moscow enacts in microcosm the central project of his entire career: to alter how we interpret and emotionally respond to arbitrary physical signs, just as he alters how the suffering people in Stranger in Moscow interpret and emotionally respond to the rain – from something negative that further isolates and oppresses them, to something positive that nourishes and revitalizes them. So to me, Stranger in Moscow has become a metaphor of his life’s work. This is what Michael Jackson’s work means to me, and this is why it’s so important and so powerful to me.
Actually, I’m going to push this even further. This isn’t just a metaphor for how I see Michael Jackson’s art, but how I have come to see art in general. Art has the power to significantly alter how we perceive and experience and make sense of our world – for example, to shift the meaning of the rain, or the meaning of our skin color, or our gender, or our nationality, or the accent of our voices, or a multitude of other signs – and I now see this as art’s highest purpose. And Joie, I came to that idea through Michael Jackson. He has revolutionized my ideas, not only about art, but how we as individuals experience our world. Those ideas are all represented for me by Stranger in Moscow and how he shifts the meaning of the rain.
Joie: That’s a very interesting idea, Willa. It certainly gives us a lot to think about. But whatever the meaning of the rain, or the significance of all those signifiers you just mentioned … Stranger in Moscow is one of Michael Jackson’s most profound short films. I think we can both agree on that point.
Posted on January 23, 2013, in Michael Jackson and tagged Frank Cascio, Michael Jackson, My Friend Michael: An Ordinary Friendship with an Extraordinary Man, Star Wars, Stranger in Moscow, You Rock My World. Bookmark the permalink. 180 Comments.
Stranger in Moscow is one of my all time favorite MJ songs too! It NEVER got the recognition it deserved!
Have you guys ever heard the demo? Here’s a snippet; its amazing how the song progressed from this rough demo to the masterpiece it was, and still is!
Thank you so much for posting this sanemjfan. I have never heard it before, and it is also stunning and as you say it is amazing how it progressed from this to the song we know and love. I wonder if that is MJ playing, cos we all know now that he could?!
I agree. Thank you, Sanemjfan. It’s fascinating. It isn’t Michael Jackson on piano though, Caro – I went out to YouTube and looked at the comments, and one of them said, “The piano music is a score for the movie The Sheltering Sky. The music is composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto.” So what we’re hearing is a fan-made mix that layers Michael Jackson’s demo vocals over piano “accompaniment” from a completely different song with a totally different melody. Wild! The effect is haunting, isn’t it? It would be interesting to hear just his vocals, though, or the demo he made. I wonder if those are available somewhere?
Joining in to thank you, I never heard it either. Its so beautiful.
Just FYI this is a remix, not a demo. That being said, it is a beautiful remix.
Joe, do you know where the vocal was taken from for the remix? It is not the same as in the original SIM.
They must have used melodyne (or something similar) for the remix to change the vocal. It’s a cool effect, but the demos definitely don’t sound like that.
Wow, something I haven’t heard before. Thanks!
Beautiful and thank you! I love this discussion of one of the most important and truly lovely songs, coming at a time when Michael is expressing, as was noted, the first allegations and the whole shock to his life as a result–“swift and sudden fall from grace.”
I need to go back and look at the film again. One thing I notice is the reference back to the Billie Jean video in the figure of a homeless man lying in the street. In the Billie Jean film, Michael flips him a gold coin and the man is transformed from a bum into a dapper gentleman on a date. So he starts out alone and deteriorated but rises up in a relationship with someone, happy, wealthy, having fun. In this video, the man is not transformed, although he is highly aware and sensitive to everything around him in a much deeper way than the other homeless man. This man seems to be watching everything, observing everyone attentively, even the flying insect that passes in front of him in slow motion. The coin tossed to him is not gold and does not transform him in a Hollywood manner–this film is more realistic yet deeper, more analytical andd contemplative. In a way, it is a meditation.
At the end when Michael sings the lyrics, he adlibs the lines “Lord, Have Mercy” a number of times. This to me is significant b/c he is calling to God, calling on God to help him, and I see the answer coming from God in the form of the rain. This means accepting God’s will. Letting the rain fall on you, as it fell on Job and on the earth in Noah’s flood, letting it cleanse, and annoint (as in baptism, etc), and nourish. We experienced severe drought this summer in USA, livestock and wild animals died, crops died, wildfires consumed thousands of acres. Without rain, we can’t survive on earth. Rain is necessary for trees, rivers, and crops and life to flourish. The huge Mississippi River is at a very low level so that ships have trouble navigating it now b/c of the drought.
I also like this connection of rain and God’s mercy in the lines of Shakespeare’s Portia in The Merchant of Venice: she says, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It falleth as the gentle rain from heaven” on all of us, sinners and saints alike. Rain does not discriminate–it is not ‘strained’ or separated–it falls on everyone when it falls. Michael was asking for God’s mercy–in a so difficult time of his life. So much more to say about this wonderful song, which I did not discover until after Michael died. Peter Gabriel has a beautiful song about Mercy–I think it’s called Mercy Street.
Great discussion–many thanks.
Hi Aldebaranredstar. Thanks for pointing out the allusion to the coin toss scene in Billie Jean. I’m really intrigued by that as well, and by how the exact same act is represented so differently in the two films.
In Billie Jean, Michael Jackson’s character is the one who tosses the coin to the wino, so he is the one in the power position – and boy, does he have power! That casual gesture is enough to completely transform the wino’s life: he revives, his street clothes are magically replaced by a dazzling white tuxedo, and the last we see of him he has a bounce in his step and a beautiful woman hanging on his arm.
And you know, that was actually true of Michael Jackson in 1983. He really did have that power. Everything he touched turned to gold, and his slightest gesture could make or break someone’s career. If he happened to wear a certain kind of jacket, suddenly millions of kids wanted to buy that exact same jacket. Every time he sang a song, the ripple effect of that act for everyone involved was huge. I read an article about the song “Behind the Mask,” which he recorded in the early 80s and wanted to put on Thriller. But the songwriters’ manager put up some roadblocks that prevented its inclusion – and the implications of that were enormous for the songwriters. If “Behind the Mask” had been included on Thriller, it would have made their careers and opened up tremendous opportunities for them. Instead, it sat in a vault until Michael came out, and no one knows the songwriters’ names – at least, not the way we know Rod Temperton’s name. And Temperton went on to write songs for dozens of other major artists.
But the situation is completely different in Stranger in Moscow. A nameless executive flips a quarter to a homeless man, but he isn’t transformed. His life remains exactly the same. That suggests that maybe Michael Jackson is much more skeptical now about the power of money and recognition to truly improve your life. After all, he had tons of money, and that money made him a target and brought him a lot of trouble and hurt. Evan Chandler would never have made those allegations if Michael Jackson hadn’t had hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank.
Another important difference is that Michael Jackson’s character (and we as an audience as well) seems much more closely aligned with the homeless man than he does with the bustling executive. So he’s no longer in the power position, but instead positions himself with the one who is outcast. We see that in the camera angle – in Billie Jean we’re looking down at the wino and watching the coin fall toward him, in Stranger in Moscow we’re looking up at the businessman and watching the quarter fall toward us – and we see it in the way their stories parallel (they both are feeling outcast, they both immerse themselves in the rain, they both seem to gain spiritual renewal from that).
It’s another one of those places where we see Michael Jackson’s later work resonating with his earlier work, and that’s so fascinating to me.
Hi, Willa, Thanks for those astute observations about the homeless man in both films and the differences between them. I agree SIM gives a perspective from inside the perception of the homeless man and is much more sympathetic to his experience, since it parallels MJ’s, i.e. outcast, marginal, alienated.The homeless man’s observer status is echoed in the other ‘observer’ characters. I actually feel like an observer too–watching the world go into deeper madness every day and trying to stay somewhat sane while doing it (lol). The rain seems to be the only feature of the natural world, as opposed to the manmade world, in the film, and it is interesting, too, that it is MJ’s only complete film in black and white (as far as I am aware).
Michael loved the natural world and chose to buy 3,000 acres of land in a remote area away from the city. So the world of SIM, the manmade world of colorlessness and bleakness, is not his element where he feels comfortable.
I guess I don’t see that much uplift at the end. Yes, there are happier scenes at the end, but the people generally to me, except for the kids running through the rain, seem to be in shock, in a trance. The kids and Michael are the only ones that seem to significantly ACT or MOVE as opposed to react in very limited ways–a slight, almost imperceptible smile, etc.
I am very focused on the word ‘mercy’ in SIM–“lord have mercy.” And I think mercy, compassion, is what MJ is asking for, but instead the film and songs ends with the interrogation in Russian–why did you come to Russia? What are you doing here? The harsh questioning that we saw in the deposition. When he sings–‘We talking DANGER, baby”–I think he appreciated the real threats–jail, losing his reputation, his career, his good name (which happened), all these were terrifying. When he sings, “I’m living LONELY, baby” he is telling us that no one seems able to help him, not his lawyers, friends like Elizabeth Taylor, his doctors. No one can help him or ‘fix this problem.”
This word mercy is important IMO and has a history. It comes from a Latin word (merses) for payment, something you owe, but was re-interpreted by the early Christians of Rome to mean compassion or the forgiveness of that payment, or a spiritual reward for responding with kindness to an unkindness. The concept of misericordia, which is mercy, or pity from the heart (cor, coeur) that forgives wrongdoing comes in Medieval Latin. As I said before, Portia’s speech in the Merchant of Venice talks about the difference between justice without mercy, and justice with mercy (which is the justice of God–the kindness to us that forgives us our faults and sins).
There’s yet another coin flip: at the beginning of Smooth Criminal, Michael flips a quarter across the room which lands in the jukebox. That starts the music, and Michael begins to dance in an aggressive way – he knows he’s in for a fight – and his response response me of the way he dances in Bad (“West Side Story” approach).
Smooth Criminal was from the Bad album, so it was filmed before the allegations and Stranger in Moscow. In Smooth Criminal, Michael is still in the power position with the coin.
I recall a scene from Jacksons: The American Dream, where in the strip clubs they played as kids, the audiences would throw loose change at the boys in appreciation for their performance (this was in addition to the performance fee, which Joe Jackson kept). The boys would scramble for the loose change.
Michael would buy candy with his money.
Now I’m going to have to watch all the other videos for coin flips.
Good observation. I think a whole post could be done on the coin toss alone!
Here’s Peter Gabriel back in 1987 performing Mercy Street, and he uses some of the gestures of MJ in the SIM film, not kneeling on the floor (although MJ did this in performances) but the praying arms outstretched gestures. Gabriel’s song is a tribute to poet Anne Sexton and he sings about Anne and her father. BTW I looked up Portia’s speech and she says about mercy that ‘It is an attribute of God” and that without mercy none of us would reach salvation (beautiful speech). Here’s Peter:
P.S. The arms outretched with his face held up like MJ is at 6:02 on the video. I don’t know much about Anne Sexton but she committed suicide and wrote poems about her father. The lyrics in this song are bleak about streets, steam, cars, an urban scene–and ending with water and the sea. There is a mournful sound like SIM but MJ is more explosive when he sings “I’m living lonely” and “we’re talking danger, baby”
“Art has the power to significantly alter how we perceive and experience and make sense of our world – for example, to shift the meaning of the rain, or the meaning of our skin color, or our gender, or our nationality, or the accent of our voices, or a multitude of other signs – and I now see this as art’s highest purpose.”
Dear Willa, this is so fascinating to me to think about it!! If you haven’t read it yet, this might be an interesting book for you to read:
Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art.
“Art is necessary in order that man should be able to recognize and change the world. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it.”
Great conversation as always, I really love the two of you and this wonderful blog. Your analyses are as funny and beautiful as they are important. Thank you so much, ladies.
Hi Julie. I had a hard time tracking down a copy of The Necessity of Art, but finally found one. I just picked it up last night so haven’t had a chance to get very far, but it looks interesting – thanks for recommending it. (btw, I love the opening quotation by Jean Cocteau: “Poetry is indispensable – if I only knew what for.”)
I really appreciate your thoughtful discussion of this short film. It’s been one of my favorites for a long time because it’s so haunting and personal to MJ. It’s really a perfect expression of what he found in experience of being around children…a different way of looking at the rain that contains no cynicism, just a “be here now” mindset that allows him to find meaning in his pain.
I find that the Heal the World film also expresses the concept of being lifted from ugliness when viewing the world through innocent and trusting eyes.
Hi Dee. That’s interesting because I see a close connection between Stranger in Moscow and Heal the World, and I put Jam in that category as well. All three films explore the “experience of being around children … a different way of looking … that contains no cynicism, just a ‘be here now’ mindset,” as you expressed so well.
Willa and Joie. Thank you so much for this post. I love it. Pure genius. And before I comment on SIM, I just want to say, Willa, that, for me, too, MJ ” has revolutionized my ideas, not only about art, but how we as individuals experience our world..” The man, his music, his art brought about a revolution in my psyche.
I have not reviewed SIM, but will do so, but before I do that I just wanted to say a few things about children and rain and the powerful vision of Michael standing in the rain and opening his arms and mouth and soul to it —
As a child, and as an adult, too, as long as the day was warm, nothing was more fun to me than playing in the rain — it was so liberating to run out into the rain and splash around in it and not worry about getting wet — just have fun, drink it in. I felt like saying — “why are you people inside when you could be out here getting wet?!”
It was such a direct experience of nature — exhilarating.
Once, when I was about six, my family had recently moved and I didn’t know anyone and was pretty lonely. And my mother let me go out and play in the rain by myself and I had such a good time, especially splashing in big puddles. Your post today brought that memory back so clearly I even remember what I had on.
Hey Joie and Willa,
I’m so glad you took stranger in moscow for this essay. I have heard a lot of fans, those who really know Michael’s art to call SIM and earth song their favourites. These two sure have the best instrumental versions.
I wanted to comment on what immersing in the rain means because it brought up some things MJ said at one point. If you read “honouring childs spirit”, Michael talks about how he was able to go through all these tough things in life and how it made him so much more sensitive to others, children, poor people, those without the voice. He talks about how he believe it was all meant to be in order for him to become their voice.
He blows me away sometimes with his understanding of how it can never be “sunny days” all the time. Human beings grow through pain and we could never understand the pain of others, unless we felt pain ourselves. So letting the rain fall on you freely, to me, is like letting life happen, with the good and the bad and believing you will come out as a better person on the other side of the rain. It is almost like a metaphor here, because this beautiful geniuos song was literally born out of his pain.
Dear Willa and Joie, thanks for that comment deep and amazing!
“I do not think we can even begin to comprehend what That was like for him, day after day, year after year, without let-up. We can try to understand it, but I do not think we ever really can. but in Stranger in Moscow, he’s trying to give us a glimpse of what That experience was like for him ”
And then Joie:
“And I said at the end of post That That I felt he had to be one of the bravest people ever to have the courage to hold his head up day after day fatto che situation and still be atto create the most beautiful, profound art and present it to a world That had turned on him. It’s just incredible to me. ”
I swear to myself, I have no judgment in what I say. No one can judge someone else and perhaps even themselves, but girls, I wanted to ask, perhaps somewhat brutal, but with deep sorrow, I ask: how do you reconcile this spiral of drugs for insomnia in which Michael is precipitated? How do interpret even the use of anesthetics?
I am convinced that Michael was an intelligent man, brave … Why take such a risk? How do you think things really are?
Forgive me if I offend the sensibilities of some.
I want to answer this one because I feel very strongly about it.
There is no doubt that Michael was indeed very strong, intelligent and brave. But he was also human. He wasn’t a superhero immune to all the pain he had to go through.
I think there was a price that came with his gift, his ability to touch us in the way he did. I think insomnia was a part of that price and it was of course also induced by all the terrible things that happened through the years.
He did what any person would do – he went to a doctor and asked for some help. He wasn’t chasing a high. He was using perscibed medicaditions, which is something a lot of people do. I really believe that Michael believed he wasn’t risking his life as long as he had a doctor to monitor him. People seem to ignore this basic fact – he had a doctor present to administer the drug and monitor him. He wasn’t reckless. He trusted this doctor. Maybe rather he truster in medical profession. I don’t think he knew more about propofol than what some doctor told him. Imagine its you – don’t you trust your doctor when it comes to choosing your medicine?
We could never know how things really were and what were the reasons. But i believe with all my heart that the drugs Michael used wasn’t something we need to reconcile. It was something Michael the human being needed to keep going the only way he knew how.
Gennie Hello, thank you so much for your reply, I really appreciate it very much.
When you say, “But he was also human. He was not a superhero immune to all the pain he had to go through.
I think there was a price that came with his gift, his ability to touch us in the way he did. I think insomnia was a part of that price and it was of course also induced by all the terrible things that happened through the years. ”
I understand this very well and deeply.
But I’m not fully convinced about the second part of your argument.
You know I often think about the preparation that had Michael, its culture, the fact that he was an expert in medicine.
Have you ever thought about the fact that Murray is a cardiologist? Do you know tell me why a cardiologist and not a medical expert for sleeping problems? Or at least a physician health and well-being in general?
Do you know that the only really real risk for abuse of drugs such as those used by Michael is cardiac arrest?
I am a nurse for children, I am of the camp and I belive that Michael was aware of the details about the type of medication he was taking. The doctors “feel good” are almost all cardiologists. The risk is high and I think that Michael was aware of.
This upsets me, makes me sorry, it’s as if he had sacrificed himself and his loved ones to return, to rehabilitate himself, to be a again Michael Jackson.
I’m not a medical anything so I only know what was explained during Murray trial. But what makes you think that Michael was “an expert in medicine”? I really don’t think he was. He was an artist, and though its true he studied a lot of things, It is not nearly enough knowledge to be considered an expert.
This is a complicated issue. It is not even about addiction per se, which is complicated enough, but real pain and real insomnia. Plus real obligations that he had to deliver with these shows.
I understand that you feel upset by this, so do I. But we could never know what it felt like to be Michael at any point of his life, which is why I won’t judge him. I think i posted this quote here before but i’ll post it again:
“People don’t know what it’s like for me. No one knows,really. No one should judge what I’ve done with my life. Not unless they’ve been in my shoes every horrible day and every sleepless night.”
We really don’t know. I believe he did the best he could, much more than I could for damn sure. I think we are better off focusing on his songs, short films and all the art he left for us than trying to make sense of his death. It won’t make sense. Ever.
you are so right – his death won’t ever make sense on so many levels, but if one believes in reincarnation and karma as I do, then there is a certain amount of sense to be made from it, and some confort for me at least.
I was thinking the other day as I read something about how they were carted around as children to work in clubs late at night from a very early age, it is no wonder that Michael couldn’t sleep for most of his life. Imagine from the age of 5 going to school, coming home and rehersing and then being taken out to perform until the early hours of the morning, when you then came home and slept for probably no more than 3 hours when you were awake again to go to school! Enough to make an insominiac of anyone I feel.
As he asked us “Before you judge me, try hard to love me, then ask yourself, have you seen my childhood?”
Gennie, I’m sorry, this is land full of misunderstandings because it is very emotional and tense.
I wanted to say that Michael was an expert in the sense that he was aware of everything, because he knew medicines and doctors for a long time.
But it is not my intention to judge, never, I assure you, I have no intention, in fact, I only regret and sadness for his death and, at times, I would like have in my hands a reason. He misses me and that is why I suffer and I often ask myself questions. I apologize to you and thank you, and also Willa and Joie.
Lorenzo, I understand your pain and confusion, and I think we can all relate to what you are saying. The song we are looking at–Stranger in Moscow–is showing us how much pain was caused by those false allegations of hurting children, the beings he valued so much, loved so much, and drew his inspiration from. Essentially, the media frenzy and the power of the media to distort the truth made everyone believe that the allegations were true. If a lie is repeated enough it becomes true (a lie becomes the truth). Even today and probably forever, there will be people who insist that the media was right. The mount of media attack can never be overestimated–it was ongoing, relentless, and all over the place 24/7. Today, the minute you say Michael’s name, all the usual nasty name-calling and false info comes up. I think Michael knew when he sang Stranger in Moscow, that he would never emerge from this cloud placed over him. And by 2009 those charges (even though he was acquited) had destroyed so much of his personal life and his career. To me it is understandable that he did what he did. He was alone. He was surrounded by people with high demands and little love, all wanting “a piece of Michael Jackson” to make themselves money. He was used his whole life to make people rich. I think Murray was an adept conman who told Michael he would be fine and who convinced Michael he was trustworthy. Michael was under a lot of stress and probably did not have the time/energy to do research into what equipment, etc was needed and just trusted Murray’s assurances all was fine.
Also chronic insomnia is a very diffuclt to cure. You need extensive sleep therapy that re-sets your inner clock. It takes months–months. It is not fixed by a pill b/c people become slowly addicted to the various sleep medicines as their body builds up tolerance and requires more drugs to put them to sleep. Addiction to prescription medicine is something millions of people have. Insomniacs are in a bind–they have to function but have little recourse other than extensive sleep therapy, so since they can’t put their lives on hold for months, they take a pill. When the pillks no longer work, what do they do? Michael tried with the nurse Cherylee (?) to do sleep therapy without pillks, but she was not an expert. Believe me, solving the problem of chronic sleep disturbance/insomnia is very difficult and requires a lot of therapy into the underlying causes and months of work.
Thank god he had his beautiful children to comfort him and his fans.
BTW, I saw an outstanding video called Witchhunt, made in 2009, and narrated by Sean Penn. You have to see this to believe it. In 1984 36 innocent people were put in jail for child molestation, molestation that did not happen in Bakersfield, CA. The police pressured six year olds for hours until they said what the ‘investigators’ wanted to hear. When the children grew up, they started to recant their stories. Some of the accused spent up to 20 years in jail before they were freed. I will post the link.
Thanks Aldebaran, what you say is very true and very humanly understandable.
It is clear that we can never fully understand, what remains is a great sorrow and a great sadness.
I know the loop dependence on drugs to treat insomnia alleged or real, I’m sorry that Michael could not get out alive from this.
“Thank god he had his beautiful children to comfort him and his fans.”
And just because he had his children, I still have it even more difficult to digest and accept as a man and father, and all this does not mean that I don’t understand and I want to judge.
Hey again Lorenzo, 🙂
I was trying to say that we don’t know how it was for him and what he knew and didn’t know, so it’s impossible to figure it out. Michael might have been around doctors and medications for a long time, that doesn’t mean he understood more than a patient would in this situation.
According to Frank Cascio, there are reasons to suggest that Michael was using propofol at least starting with dangerous tour, so it has been working for him safely for years. Also, his doctors seem to be as much yes-men as other people of his circle, so they probably just told him what he wanted to hear.
I totally understand the need for logic and reason, no appologies needed 🙂 but I believe we can’t reason about things like another person’s awareness and thoughts. It is clear for us that it was a terrible decision now because of what happened, we already know the consequences. Michael didn’t know at the time. That’s why I disagree when you say “he was aware of so and so”. 🙂
Thanks Gennie, you say:
1) According to Frank Cascio, there are reasons to suggest That Michael was using propofol at least starting with dangerous tour, I know it has been working for him safely for years. Also, his doctors seem to be as much as other people yes-men of his circle, so they probably just Told him what he wanted to hear.
2) It is clear for us That it was a terrible decision now Because of what happened, we already know the consequences. Michael did not know at the time. That’s why I disagree when you finish say “he was aware of so and so”.
Behold, I say this: the point then one must admit that Michael was dependent on drugs and that Murray has just picked up (in an unfortunate and unprofessional!), A psychic situation already very compromised, but it is not what transpired from the process.
Regarding the second point, I continue to believe strongly that Michael has wanted to trust, it is true, but that he knew everything very well: I know that he used to inquire about everything, and who knew the limits of his body and that he have deliberately took overcome.
I do not think I can express myself well in English, but I believe that he was in a hopeless situation, but with the larger, painful awareness.
Lorenzo, you say this : “he knew everything very well: I know that he used to inquire about everything.” First, this is not fair b/c you were not inside Michael’s head, so it is wrong to assume you KNOW what he KNEW. You don’t and can only speculate and guess, which is NOT the same as absolute certainty, which you seem to think you have. Second, we have the testimony of Nurse Cheryl Lyn, who said when she told Michael propofol was dangerous, he replied,’No. You don’t understand. My doctors told me it is safe. I will be monitored.’ If he had been monitored correctly, in fact, the propofol WOULD HAVE BEEN SAFE. There would have been NO loss of life. Please consider this.
I agree absolutely! We don’t know what he knew, thought or felt and we should be careful with our assumptions and speculations.
Yes it is very hard to pick a favourite of Michael’s short films, but for me this is the marginal winner. I have always loved this one for so many reasons, all of which you have mentioned. It, of course, became much more poingnant when I went to Russia last year, and for a while was myself a Stranger In Moscow looking at the Kremlin shadow and Stalins’ Tomb (now Lenins’ Mausoleum of course as Stalin has been taken out). There are a couple of things that really appeal to me that you haven’t mentioned Joie and Willa, and that is 1) that everything except Michael is in slow motion, and I just love the pigeon and insects’ flights, the coffee falling oh so slowly out of the cup, and the way we can see the glass shatter as the ball goes through it. 2) As much as I love the lyrics, I really love the music and the melody, and think it is the closest that Michael came to writing his own classical symphony – it is just so haunting and beautiful, especially at the end after he throws back his head, and using that little bit of Russian was just a stroke of his genius.. Of course he used excepts of other peoples’ classics in other songs, but for me this is his one.
I also think, that although he looked sad, he looks really beautiful, especially when he is flirting with the camera on the making of SIM as Willa points out and shows in M Poetica – i think those are some of the most stunning photos and shots of him. Therefore, although this could be seen as a sad short film, I don’t think that at all, and I certainly don’t think Michael overall intended it to be so. I think rather it is a film about faith, courage and facing the rain to overcome it.
As Joie said above, ” I felt he had to be one of the bravest people ever to have the courage to hold his head up day after day in that situation and still be able to create the most beautiful, profound art and present it to a world that had turned on him. It’s just incredible to me”. I wholeheartedly agree, and after just finishing Aphrodite Jones’ Conspiracy book where he went through it all again much worse, I agree even more. What an inspiration.
Hi,Caro–Thanks for drawing attention to the slow motions scenes. They are visually stunning and IMO are important in that when we are having great emotional shocks in our life–either of great joy or great sorrow–things do seem to slow down like that. I have had this experience where the world stands still (so to speak, or at least slows down from our usual perception of it) and you are looking at things in a new way as if you are detached and watching the world go by in slow motion. This has happened to me at times of great happines, for example, being in love, and in times of great trauma, for example, when someone I loved died. Some people even said the world stopped for them when Michael died. So this slowing down is shown in SIM.
Here is the link to Witch Hunt–it will blow your mind and help you to understand the forces against Michael–the unchecked power of prosecutors.
Thank you so much for posting the link to “Witch Hunt”. I have just watched all 7 episodes and it was absolutely heartbreaking. What struck me was the grace showed by those that were charged, convicted and served time – on their release from prison, they hold no bitterness or anger towards the boys that falsely accused them. Just like Michael. The arrogance and self-righteousness of DA Ed Jagel is disturbingly familiar to Sneddon. They withheld exculpatory evidence (medical reports), yet one of the officials claims that to think investigators, police, social workers and the DA conspired against these people is not possible is just totally unbelievable! And it was repeated again in 2005 with Michael. These poor souls suffered immensely as does anyone who is falsely accused. So the boys recanted when they were young men. I don’t think we will ever see the likes of Chandler or Arvizo admitting they lied. I wonder how they can live with themselves. I think some people will believe Michael was guilty whether they ever come clean or not. It is such a heinous stigma that can happen to anyone, and if it does, your life is ruined. DA Jagel is still the law in Kern County to this day, and still goes unpunished. Some things never change. Kudos to Sean Penn for making this documentary. Perhaps some day he could do an investigative piece on behalf of Michael. So ironic too that when Madonna (once Mrs. Sean Penn) gave her tribute to Michael at the MTV awards in September, 2009, those were the words she used …..”and then the witch hunt began”…..
Thank you for posting this, Aldebaranredstar. I finally had a chance to watch it, and it’s so sad and so moving, and really shows how complicated and difficult these cases are, and how important it is that they be handled with sensitivity.
Those long interrogations, where children were coached and even coerced into agreeing that they’d been abused, even after they had repeatedly said they were not abused, reminds me so much of how the Santa Barbara investigators investigated the charges against Michael Jackson. For example, here’s how Charles Thomson describes the interrogation of 12-year-old Jason Francia:
A similar abuse of power occurred in the Little Rascals Daycare case, which happened in North Carolina. I’m from North Carolina, and I can remember reading newspaper articles about it in the 1980s and 90s as it was going through the courts. So these are not isolated instances. In fact, as the California Attorney General who helped overturn these cases said in Witch Hunt, this is a known danger of these kinds of cases.
What was especially disturbing to me was hearing the stories of the people who had been forced to make those false claims as children, and what an impact it had had on their lives. Two of them said they had trouble being close with their own children. One girl, who had been coerced into testifying against her own father, felt such guilt she tried committing suicide twice. She also developed a drug problem that she believes directly resulted from her false testimony. Almost all of them said they had trouble trusting others, especially authority figures.
It’s so sad.
Thanks for connecting this with the Francia case, Willa. I wish Sean Penn would do a similar documentary on the Michael Jackson case. This would get the evidence out there for people to see what really happened–that it was another witch hunt. We need it.
The other thing about the Bakerfield case is that one of the fathers had a son who did not recant (Jed) b/c he was convinced he had been molested but had no recollection of anything that happened, no details, etc. There was a divorce and shared custody-type situation where the other parent may have convinced the child, who was about 6 at the time his father was charged, into believing he had been molested. In Francia’s case, he was put into therapy, and the police, including Sneddon, were in touch with the therapist and even attended at least one therapy session (!!!), so maybe the therapist as well as the police were influential in convincing him he was molested when he originally insisted he was not. In my view, the way the police intyerrogated Jason should have led to that whole case being thrown out, as his trstimony was contaminated. What is wrong with our justice system??? We can’t stop accusations, but the police need to investigate charges in an unbiased, professional manner. Which of course they did not do and in fact grossly violated Michael’s civil rights as well as the civil rights of others.
What a wonderful post. I love Starnger in Moscow, is one of my favorite songs and videos. (Joe Vogel promised to write a book about it and I’m waiting.)
Very interesting what you said about people being seen through the glass and when th children broke it they kinf of release them.
Rain always had great meaning to me. And it cause me dubious emotions. When the day is rainy, I feel melancholy, everything is so gray. Sometimes, I even cry for no apparent reason, but then when it goes, it is as if it had taken anything bad with it. As if it brings renewal, rebirth.
I think Mike is telling us that he is ready to be reborn, because the rain purified him. The rain revived him, wiping his soul from the terror of the nightmare he lived in 1993.
I really love this post, and I really love Stranger In Moscow.
Some isolated comments —
–When you mentioned Michael, watching the children go by, with the other sad adults, it reminded me of the image in Childhood, where he is watching the children sail by in their boats.
— the other night, I was watching James Taylor on Charlie Rose and he was talking about the direct impact of music on the emotions, and said that he thought that specific notes and chords evoked specific emotional responses. In SIM, the most powerful emotional moment for me is when he sings the word “now” in “How does it feel now?” I wait for that every time I hear the song. I listen to it over and over. It is so powerful and beautiful.
— As to the discussion of the rain and what it means, I think MJ is showing us how his perception of reality changes. At first, rain is something one wants to stay out of — just as, if you are MJ, going through all the media assaults, the normal thing is to avoid life and isolate yourself. Then, children show him the way out. Children don’t accept the adult and conventional and received wisdom that rain is something to avoid. They decide for themselves and have fun. Michael decides that although most people would probably say no to life given his situation, he does not have to accept that judgment. He can choose to enjoy his life — regardless of what people are saying. He and all the other lonely people have withdrawn from life to protect themselves, when happiness, etc, is not about protecting oneself, but in immersing oneself. He just has to figure out how to do it — and he does. Consider the choices he made in his personal life after this time.
I sooooo love this song. Anyway…
Also, thanks for pointing out that the video makes clear that he is in the US, but is feeling like he is an “etranger”, a foreigner in his own country. So interesting that his own country was so hard on him while other parts of the world just loved him. I think that is such an interesting avenue to explore. And he chose the city that during the cold war was the most hostile and scary for Americans.
Layers on layers…..
Hi, Eleanor, I watched the film again after reading this post and I noticed that Michael is walking in the rain when he first appears. While others have umbrellas, etc, he is just walking without any protection, so he actually starts out in the rain, not avoiding it or staying out of it.
Thanks for pointing that out — and he says it in the song, too, “I was walking in the rain…” So, maybe it’s just that his attitude toward the rain changes.
Wonder if this has anything to do with his love of supershooters? Just kidding.
layers upon layers indeed, and I just love this blog for the reason that it helps us to dig into and expose all those layers, cos I know without it I would never see so many of them. For a while I assumed of course that SIM was filmed in Russia, as I have no idea what an American coin looks like, but did begin to wonder. Then I found the Making Of and that answered so many questions also – I always enjoy the Making Of any film. Wouldn’t it be great if someone put together a dvd set like Vision of the Making Of all Michael’s short films – would be as equally entertaining and very enlightening to see him at work so to speak.
I too have often wondered about Michael being so loved all around the world and not in the US, but there is the true cliche about a prophet and his own land isn’t there?
This is a question directed to the editors of this blog (and them only):
What is this blog really about? What kind of responsibility do you take in your moderation of comments?
Every discussion, no matter where it starts from – lyrics, music, music videos, or whatever topic connected to Michael Jackson – it always progresses into propagandistic and highly disturbing comments and links on other topics. In this edition it is how people should view and interpret the very issue of child molestation and child abuse and ‘explanations’ on drug addiction. Often it is also common to read anti abortion propaganda, homophobic, religious and ultra right wing political propaganda. Every website and blog about Michael Jackson seems, in reality, to be devoted to totally different things than to discuss and analyze, in any substantial way,.the diversity of Michael Jacksons artistry. Instead, there are something similar to a crusade going on, against the very topic, the very truth, that child molestation and child abuse acctually occurs, and that this is one of societys worst and most disgraceful, problematic issues. Children and minors can not defend themselves in this discussion, they are highly vulnerable and are constantly silenced by people who try to direct the public debate about one of the worst crimes comitted, in the direction towards ignorance, doubt and silence. The same can also be said about hatred crimes comitted to others that do not share the same religious views, the same political views. the same sexual orientation, the same ethnicity etc. as the ‘mainstream’.
Connecting this kind of propaganda as described above to Michael Jackson is extremely questionable. What is the real purpose? To make him some sort of property? To say that child molestation and abuse, phaedophilia, does not exist in reality? That drug addiction is not okay, but with the exception for Michael Jackson?
Is this in line with with any seriously grounded ‘Michael Jackson studies’ ?
Most of the part, he seems to be used as a front figure to people with a self promotion agenda, with another kind of interests than to study the artistry of Michael Jackson.
Anyone that dares to rise questions on this could expect substantial abuse and despiccable flock behaviour from the so called fan community, that claim that they represent this artist.
I think you should give an explanation whether you endorse that comments on this blog progress into the direction that I have tried to highlight here. If you, like me, for instance believe that children that are exposed to crime should get all the help and support they could possibly need, then I also think that you need to make it clear that this blog should not be about discrediting victims of any sort, and imply that these should not be taken seriously.
Please explain, at the same time, the real purpose for this blog.
I am a musicologist myself. I think there is much to say about ‘Stranger in Moscow’, in the same terms that one could, for example, discuss the works of Philip Glass and film music.
But that kind of discussion demands that we leave out the personal lifes of both Michael Jackson and Philip Glass, and focus instead on their great talents and artistry, and how they both are highly able to communicate and combine both musical and visual art.
I hope that you appreciate a constructive critical standpoint. I would not bother to direct this kind of questions to you, if I did not take Michael Jackson and his music legacy seriously.
Dear Mia. I have a very dear friend whose birthday is the day before mine, and we have celebrated our birthdays together for more than 25 years now. My friend was sexually abused by her father, and it is impossible to overstate the effect that has had on her life. It has influenced her relationships, her career, her life choices, the way she sees herself and her body, and it is something she continues to struggle with every single day. I hope nothing in this blog has made you feel that we are trivializing the issue of child abuse, because that is not what we believe.
We also want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable participating in the conversations here, and we want to create an environment where everyone can openly share their thoughts and respectfully disagree with one another without fear of being attacked. Creating a safe place for sharing divergent opinions is one of our central goals, and we think that’s especially important for a figure like Michael Jackson since so many people passionately disagree about how to interpret his work, his life, and his function as a cultural icon.
I can understand your wish to focus exclusively on Michael Jackson’s work and ignore the allegations. However, those allegations had such a huge impact on his later work, it is almost impossible to discuss them in any sort of depth without acknowledging what happened, what he was going through, and what he was trying to say about his circumstances. Stranger in Moscow is a perfect example, but it seems to impact almost all of his later work in one way or another – and many of us who participate at this site feel that his later work is his best.
Finally, Michael Jackson was deeply committed to bringing about social change, and I strongly believe there are deep cultural reasons for why the 1993 allegations were handled the way they were – by the police, by the press, and by the public. My own opinion is that Jordan Chandler was abused, and I feel a lot of sympathy for him. But I believe he was psychologically abused by his father, not sexually abused by Michael Jackson, and I believe the evidence clearly shows that. However, for complex cultural and psychological reasons, the blame became fixed on Michael Jackson rather than Evan Chandler, and I think it’s very important to explore those reasons. I also believe that exploring those reasons is completely in line with Michael Jackson’s artistic vision, and his commitment to overcoming prejudice and social inequality.
I hope this clarifies where we are coming from, Mia, and why we feel a blog about “Michael Jackson, his art, and social change” also has to deal openly and honestly with the allegations against him and the public vilification that followed.
Dear Aldebaran and Gennie,
it is clear that my “I know” – like all of us who talk about public figures and celebrities who we have never met in person – comes from readings, interviews, videos, and so on.
I do not ever want to add more, I have the fear of being misunderstood. Thank you anyway, all of you.
Hi, Lorenzo, I am very sorry you feel misunderstood. Maybe there is a language issue that is confusing our communication? When you said ‘I know’ and ‘he knew,’ I took it at face value–that you were expressing certainty. Where would you get the impression from the sources you mention (that we all use and base opinions on) that Michael ‘knew’ the risks of propofol? Knew, that is, that he was endangering his life?
Aldebaran, thanks, yes I think I have problems expressing myself correctly in English.
And the only reason that I have fear of misunderstanding, not through your fault or defect.
But yes, the interpretation that I have – and it’s just a personal opinion – from the various sources “that we all use and base opinions on,” I received this impression, and that is that Michael Jackson was a very unfortunate in human relationships but very intelligent and, above all, much more aware of what is commonly believed.
Aware of itself and its physical limits; aware that This Is It was for him an extreme risk and that he “Knew That he was Endangering his life.” Conscious to the point of choosing a doctor specializing in cardiology, conscious to the point of being in great distress (this is also from the various stories and pieces that you know of that period), which increased his anxiety problems. Like a dog chasing its tail he found himself (again in my opinion) with no way out and he preferred (to me) to risk himself to go back to being himself.
I regret to have lost it, I love Michael, but do not see him as a victim of what happened, or at least, in part.
He is for me a victim for everything that has happened in life (abuse, accusations, indecent human relationships, illness, vitilligine), but he is responsible and aware of how all this he has faced.
Very conscious to the end. This is just a personal opinion, probably very far from reality, as often happens when you express opinion and do speculation and in such matters.
Thanks to all of you and
very gently and no offense, I would wear a simple question: why do you continue to read this blog?
Hi, Lorenzo, What do you mean:”he preferred (to me) to risk himself to go back to being himself.” Go back to being himself? Was he not always himself? How can we be other than ourselves? I don’t understand what you are saying. Maybe it’s the language issue again?
When people are under stress, physical, mental, financial, etc., they do not always make good decisions. Michael was facing 38 lawsuits at the time of his death, as well as other pressures. He gave 500 depositions in his life, and had 1,500 lawsuits filed. We can’t even imagine what his life was like. I choose not to judge him. I choose instead to have mercy, compassion.
Conrad Murray was not Board certified in cardiology. I don’t think the fact that he presented himself as such was a factor in Michael’s decision-making. Murray was introduced by a bodyguard when MJ’s kids were ill. Murray is a very tall, arrogant, commanding presence and I think he had authority enough to convince Michael he was a good guy who knew what he was doing. Neither were true.
I didn’t mean to gang up on you or offend you in any way. Seems like we all have our opinions when it comes to these events and feel strongly about them. There are so many topics around Michael’s life that a lot of people passionately disagree, its almost impossible to avoid these kinds of discussions when someone brings it up.
Anyway, I’m not sure i understand what you mean by your statements that he knew what he was doing and he prefered to go about it the way he did. To me, it sounds like either he was suicidal or didn’t care whether he lived or died. I don’t know ifthat is what you mean?
Hey Gennie, thank you for your kind words.
I meant to say that I think Michael has simply but consciously accepted the risk and to respond also to Aldebaran, he did it especially for his come back, to being Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, once again, the unique in the world capable of the most incredible show in the world.
This does not mean that he wanted to commit suicide.
Thanks again to all of you for the opportunity to express opinions and pardon for my poor language .
Hello Lorenzo and hello to all of you, I really appreciate it a lot this blog and I love your intelligent and profound debates, thanks to you all!
I am a psychiatrist enabled to psychotherapy and I work in a public hospital.
I wanted to say that I recently studied an analysis of a woman who testified dependent diprivan verbatim as follows:” I can not die because I have six children, three of which are still of school age, but being in this condition dependence on the diprivan is like waiting, waiting to die, I did not want to sleep, I wanted to die for a while, even as long as possible and then to wake up, take care of my children, but Nevertheless have the security, later, to die a little for a while. ”
I do not want to be unpopular but perhaps Lorenzo has a point: maybe there is something to think about.
Hi, Mia, I am going to respond b/c you are posting on this blog rather than sending a private email to the blog writers Willa and Joie. In my opinion, Michael is singing about the effects on him, personally and as an artist, as a result of the allegations of child molestation made about him in 1993. He sings about a ‘swift and sudden fall from grace,’ an ‘Armageddon of the brain,” and “mask of life feeling insane.” He also says “feel abandoned in my fame.’ These are lyrics that refer to his terrible pain as a result of these false accusations. It is one thing to protect victims of child abuse as well as other victims of abuse, but in this case, Michael Jackson was the victim. The Witch Hunt video is a documentary about other victims, both adults and children, and shows the tactics the police used to coerce young children, who later recanted what they said, to falsely accuse others of heinous crimes.
We can’t leave out the personal life of Michael Jackson b/c he is singing about his life in this song. ‘KGB was stalking me.” He is singing about the prosecutors in 2 counties who were tearing his homes apart with search warrants, removing his property, interviewing his friends, including abusive interviewing of children, leaking private documents to the media, etc., how can we not discuss these things?
Exactly Aldebaran, so well said. I personally like Michael’s later music so much more, because it comes from that deep deep well of his experience (happy or sad), and I am not only grateful for his producing it, but also for the fact that it must have been so very cathartic for him to do, and I feel it behoves us all to do our best to understand him more, and thereby others of course.
There are many reasons to be part of this blog, and one of them is the diversity that it brings in terms of people from all over the world – so Lorenzo please keep joining in and let us all get past the language barriers ( I live in a country with 11 official languages for heavens sake!!). Another is the diversity of opinions and subjects that we discuss, all inspired by Michael, and I really think that he would love what is going on with this blog and just love to contribute and be part of it himself. So thanks Mia for your input although addressed to Joie and Willa ONLY – which highlights another joy in that we are all free to express what we feel and reply accordingly.
It would be a mistake to close our eyes to what happened to Michael or try to ignore it, since the impact it had on his career was so deep. Letters like Stranger in Moscow were not born from a place of joy, but of desperation and we must abort what led him to such despair.
Discuss this does not mean that we do not believe child sexual abuse occurs. But we shouldn’t pretend that false accusations of child abuse are made. There are several cases of false charges and such false accusations cause so much harm to people unjustly accused as the true abuse cause to the victims, if not more, after all, victims have the compassion and support of the people, while the falsely accused forever carry the cross of a crime they did not commit.
And I absolutely disagree that Jordan was psychologically abused by his father.Jordan Chandler was not an innocentfragil little boy , quite the contrary. If he had merely been forced by Evan, he would have come forward and told the truth later. The 2005 trial was a great opportunity to do it and he did not. While Michael was going through hell, he reveled in a ski chalet in Nevada with friends and girlfriend. I have no sympathy for him. He is like his father.In my opinio, he just understand – and like – the ideia of become a millionaire.
There is a supost interview of hom with Dr, Richard Gardner that was posted in a hater blog. if it was a true one, it shows he wasn’t a fragil boy at all. He faced his father when he want to. And it shows how it was easy to him talk about nasty thing never happened to him.
Sorry to take the discussion to such place, but I can’t help my self when I see someone saying Jordan was a victim. He wasn’t.
Yes, the interview with Dr. Richard Gardener is VERY interesting and revealing. Jordan shows no emotion, has a flat, matter-of-fact approach to the supposed abuse describing a series of events in which each item has the same value–(we did this, we did that, then we went to Disneyland), he gives no details, is very unclear about the timeline, the frequency, all while claiming this was the first sexual experience he ever had. I bought a copy of Gardener’s book which describes the criteria for True and False Accusations, and Jordan’s account does not meet any of the criteria for a true accusation, according to these criteria.
You make an excellent point that he could have attended the 05 trial, and was asked to do so repeatedly by prosecutors, but did not. There was no risk to him b/c the terms of the settlement did not preclude testifying in a criminal case. He would not have risked his settlement money. But if he told the truth that he was not molested, he would be forever known as a liar, although I think people would have appreciated his honesty and accepted him more than they do now. Maybe he refused to testify to shield his family?
Thank you for discussing Stranger in Moskou. Its one the few short films that the mood of the film is in completely sync with the song. everything oozes estrangement, detachment.feeling like you belong nowhere, hunted. Reminds me of Michaels handwritten notes /lyrics?
If I sail to Acapulco and Cancoon Mexico
there the law is waiting for me
and God knows that I’m innocent
If they wont take me in Cairo
then Lord where will I go
I’ll die a man without a Country
and only God knew I was innocent now
aldebaranredstar, I don’t think so. Shield a family which he didn’t handles anymore?
June Chandler told in the trial she had no seen him for almost eleven years. And I don’t know if they got along after the trial, probaly not.
Evan tried to kill him in 2005, august.
When Evan blowed his own head in 2009, no one went to say goodby. He lived alone, though he had three children. I think he had not lost a medical consult he would be find out just when the body was stinking.
I never heard about Jordan siblings, and I read all I can about it. I believe they don’t see each other.
No mother, no father, no siblings… What a family !
There is no family at all.
The book is called True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse, by Richard A. Gardener, MD, 1993. I think you can buy it anywhere, online or in a bookstore.
Jordan has 2 step-siblings from Evan’s second marriage, and step-sibling from June’s marriage to Dave Schwartz. Jordan went to live with Evan’s second wife Natalie after she separated from Evan. Jordan’s uncle Ray is a family member and there are other extended members of his family. Even though Evan was still alive in 05 maybe he didn’t want to go into a courtroom and hurt him openly? T. Mesereau would have asked very tough questions. It’s just a guess about maybe Jordan wanted to shield his family. I don’t know for sure why he chose not to testify.
I found the book easily, (in fact, I found two books by Gardner about child molestation), tanks for cite it.
About Jordan, I know who are the member of his family. I didn’t say he doesn’t have members in his family, what I meant is they are’nt REALLY a family. If you read Ray’s, book you will see how he talk about the case with sarcasm, as if the alleged abuse of his nephew was something funny. And he said he wrote the book will total support by Evan. So, they had no shame to expose him like that.
To me, the only reason to he do not say the truth is that he is a great coward.
I don’t think Evan forced him, althouh I believe in amital sodium incident. I think, in fact, that Evan convence him it would be very good get a lot of money, and make their damn scripts, became famous and rich. Maybe by say it would not go so far, ’cause MJ would pay to not be involved in a scandal, but they were wrong, as Mike fought for long time.
In my opinion, Jordan has no remorse. He don’t give a shit to Michael Jackson. If he was abused and forced by his father, he would have said the truth, at least, after Evan’s death.
Hi, Daniela, I have not much sympathy for Jordan and I hear what you are saying. At the time he went to Dr. Gardener Oct. 93 he was almost 14 (birthday was Jan 94), so it is hard to believe that he could not have put up more resistance to Evan’s manipulation. His claims were preposterous and what I have a very hard time with is the failure of law enforcement to investigate the claims properly (b/c there was no evidence to support the statements) and to defend Michael as an ‘innocent til proven’ guilty individual. I have not read Ray’s book. I have zero respect for that family and what they did or the lawyers (Rothman, Feldman) who enabled them.
Thanks for your earlier comment about the Sullivan mess.
Oh, can you say where you got the Doc. Gardner’s book, please?
Fantastic post! I think it’s so important to place this song in a historical context as you have done here, not only because it is part of an album titled, “HIStory,” but of because MIchael Jackson’s own description of the song as well.
Here is the VH1 interview of Michael Jackson describing Stranger in Moscow (it’s about 14″ in): http://youtu.be/N01SAleBijU
Question: Which songs of yours are autobiographical?
Michael: Stranger in Moscow, Heal the World, We Are The World, I’ll Be There. Those
type of songs.
Question: What inspired the song Stranger in Moscow?
Michael: I wrote that in Moscow. The lyrics are totally autobiographical. When you hear
lines like, “Here abandoned in my fame…Armageddon of the brain” – at the time, on the
last tour when we were in Moscow – that’s how I really felt. It kinda created itself. It fell
into my lap, because that’s how I was feeling at the time. Just alone in my hotel and it was
raining and I just started writing it.
Thank you for your reply.
However, as both a musicologist and a mother, with knowledge also from social work, I find it important to say that I disagree with you. It may very well be that many people do not have a calculated intent to trivialize crimes such as child abuse. But the very effect is that this is the everlasting impression one can easily get by reading comments and other material appearing on blogs and websites dedicated to Michael Jackson. And that poses a great risk for children that are abused and exposed to phaedophiles. That should be the main concern. These crimes happens in the dark, in the shadows. It is silenced down effectively by strong forces that have the power to suppress the weaker part, the child. Let us never forget about that. I have witnessed quite a few tragedies where a child had suffered for years in silence because they have not dared to tell anyone. These children notice every sign, every careless remark from adults, and interpret this all too easily that there is not a chance in the world that they will be believed. If, and when they tell, it often happens by accident, and they also often immediately try to reduce the impact of what they have just told others. Almost extraordinary skills and patience are needed from teachers, social workers and police investigators to make these children believe in that they are not to be punished for telling. By saying this, I remind of the very huge responsibility that we all have to discover and acknowledge these children, and make them believe in safety and justice.
Concerning blog material, if one study in deepth the various explanations for the allegations on Michael Jackson, it very rarely does have a valid connection to his artistry and reality. Instead, what is really appearing to be behind this is a sort of religious wish to portray a divinity, high above any human irregularity. “Innocence” is the key word, as if the very concept of this is defined by a person. By persistent indication of sanctity in relation to a person, the real person is lost, perhaps forever. The very consequences of this is the dehumanizing of a human being – not such a good and fair starting point to portray a great artist. To dwell upon these allegations, that none of us should discuss in the first place since we were not present in the intimate life of Michael Jackson and therefore cannot make a claim that something did happen, or did not happen, just diminish him into a sad figure lost to, and dependent of, people that only find a self confessional need to put him in a dusty and moldy old frame.
When I read all these material, I feel that there is actually a widespread uncertainty of the
outcome of his trial. And the obsessive and aggressive tone in the comments multiply this uncertainty. Critical views on this are not welcomed, they have to be battled down. Comments and remarks on how I should stop reading blog material that I find misrepresent the music legacy of a great artist is a cowardly way to deal with criticism. And, in relation to this, I do suspect that one of the reasons why Michael Jacksons former attorney,
Tom Meseareau have reacted in a very sound and salutary way to the abuse from Michael Jacksons fans going on at another forum, the Amazon website, is that he may feel that any credibility in connection to Michael Jacksons name is risking to be lost forever, for the benefit of hysterical obsession. His personal honourable action against the web abuse is a powerful message which should result in serious self criticism in the fan community. The abuse is not only directed to authors and opponents, it is also directed indirectly against Michael Jackson himself. Obsession is often a synonym for irregular fear: of race, of gender, of sexuality.
Sorry to say, this is also influencing research on the music legacy of Michael Jackson. It took me some considerable time to realize why so much of the academic work carried out on the subject Michael Jackson, was not, and is not taken seriously. At first, I thought that there must be some prejudices, some sort of ill will and ignorance involved. This, I do not believe in any more. It is not possible to carry out any research on any topic, Michael Jackson included, if researchers think that they have some sort of obsession and imaginary relationship, past and present, going on with the very study object itself. It shines through very easily, and it has a devastating effect on the conclusions made. Every researcher has to keep a distance, be grounded in reality and allow for criticism in order to be credible.
This is a balance act, and is not to be confused with ‘hate’, which is actually the very opposite standpoint. Hate has its origins in intolerance, fear and ignorance.
And that is why I react so strongly to the misconceptions of Michael Jackson.
Hi Mia. I believe you are motivated by a genuine concern for children and for those who have suffered from sexual abuse, and I applaud you for that. Childhood sexual abuse is a very real problem and can deeply traumatize victims for the rest of their lives. As you point out, victims can suffer from a crippling sense of shame and a fear that they will not be believed, or that people will simply not want to face such an ugly reality – and that sense of shame can further traumatize them. I agree that victims of abuse need our support and understanding.
However, I completely disagree that supporting victims means we should close our eyes to the evidence, or pretend that other types of abuse – including psychological abuse – doesn’t happen. Did you watch the Witch Hunt film that Aldebaranredstar posted above? Children in Bakersfield, California, were asked if they had been abused, and they said no. Shouldn’t they have been believed? Instead, they were interviewed for hours on end by overzealous detectives and social services workers, and were coerced into making false claims. They have since recanted those stories, and several of them now say they feel they were abused by a system bent on obtaining convictions. That is psychological abuse, and it has very real effects. One young woman who was coerced into making false claims against her father when she was just a young girl said she was so overwhelmed by guilt she tried committing suicide twice, and developed a drug addiction. Shouldn’t we feel sympathy for her, and believe her story as well? Psychological abuse does happen, and it can be just as devastating in its way as sexual abuse.
Jordan Chandler did not spontaneously accuse Michael Jackson. The idea originated with his father, Evan Chandler, and when Jordan was asked about it, by his father and by a private investigator, he said no. Shouldn’t he have been believed? But his father did not believe him, and hired a lawyer and began negotiating $20 million settlement, even though this son was saying he had not been abused.
Evan Chandler later wrote a detailed account of how he questioned his son, and it’s very disturbing. He took his son to his dental office, pulled out one of his teeth, and then began aggressively questioning him about whether Michael Jackson had abused him. That’s horrifying to me. As a mother, I can’t imagine such behavior. He then tells Jordan that he knows what happened, “I know about the kissing and the jerking off and the blow jobs,” and asks him to confirm it. He doesn’t ask what happened, he tells him what happened. And he then he threatens to destroy Michael Jackson if his son denies it, saying that if he contradicts him, “then I’m going to take him (Jackson) down.” Does this seem appropriate to you? As a mother, would you ever act this way?
Later, Evan Chandler told KCBS-TV that his son made the allegations while under sedation, which is troubling since it has been proven that certain types of drugs can make people extremely vulnerable to suggestion. So at this point, who knows what ideas are in Jordan Chandler’s mind, and where those ideas came from? As I said before, I believe Jordan Chandler was abused, terribly abused, but all the evidence suggests he was psychologically abused by his father, not sexually abused by Michael Jackson.
Mia, I have read your long comment and there are so many points raised that one can respond to but I just want to say that what you are writing about has no relevance to this blog at all. No one here is “trivializing child abuse.” Where do you get that idea? Innocence of the accusations against him: how does that equate to considering him a deity? While it is true no one possesses complete, total innocence–we have all commited various acts that can be called sins or wrongs–no one is saying Michael was entirely, completely innocent of all wrongs, just that he was innocent (not guilty) of the charges of child molestation. You say ‘none of us should discuss” the allegations b/c we weren’t there. There was a trial and all the accusations were brought forth and people gave testimony under oath, so we have their evidence to examine. There are other documents to related to the allegations.Your idea that we should not discuss this is unreasonable. Saying we should not discuss it b/c we were not there is absurd. Should we not discuss any and all historical events since we were not there?? Bringing in the recent Sullivan book issue is not helpful. We are not discussing that on this blog. As far as how academic research into MJ is, according to you, not taken seriously, well, if so, which I question, who cares? You can’t please everyone, as we see in your own case. People can always find fault with anything, so we can’t just live to placate those who criticize. The point is to see if the criticism is valid and adjust accordingly. If it is not valid, if it just irrational fault-finding, let it go and ignore it. Haters will always find a reason to hate.
I adressed my reply to Willa,
And yet you had to answer and discredit all I have to say. You seems to be very hostile and unfriendly towards others that do not share your views. Well, I hope it works fine to you to exclude and discredit people unknown to you. Perhaps you feel better.
That behavior say something important about this blog as well. You have no reason to discredit me, you do not know me as a person and none of my works. I feel warmly welcomed.Thank you. I will greet you in the same way if you ever should be my guest.
If you want to refer just to Willa, you should send an e-mail to her. When you leave a comment here, you tacitly allow us all to answer it, principally when you try to tell Joie and Willa what they should discuss on THEIR own blog. Come on! Create your own blog!
We can and should argue about the accusations, yes. Because if for you Michael was just a musician, to us he was a human being who was the victim of false accusations and yes, we can say that allegations were false, because although we were not there, there are numerous reasons to believe that it was all a frame to extort money from him, there are numerous evidences that and you would know if instead of attacking those who defend him, you do a serious research on the subject.
And our belief in his innocence has nothing to do with seeing him as a deity above human failings. Only there are numerous inconsistencies in the accusations and vile motives behind them. Mike made mistakes, of course, and the largest was allowing strangers to approach him. But that was his weakness; he trusted absolutely when the stranger was a child, ‘cause he couldn’t admit a child could be bad, but children are not always reliable, especially if there are scoundrel parents after money and fame behind them.
The fact that there are many true cases of child abuse, does not mean we should not pretend that there aren’t false ones because there are many and the damage that false accusations cause to who is unfairly accused are as terrible as the damage sustained by a real victim.
The scoundrels who make false accusations that cast some doubt on the credibility of the real victims when they decides to tell what happened, as people begin to doubt in general.
Do not is the search for truth that harms real victims, but the false allegations, because it make us more suspicious.
You should read the McMartin case, Little Rascal, Bakersfield, Wenatchee, Martensville, and others. And do a research about the Daniel Kappon to you see how we cannot believe so easy in the allegation about molestation. He accused Michael, though he never meet him.
About Mesereau … he just proves to be one more disappointment. He is attacking us just because we do not like the nonsense spoken in a book by a friend of him full of lies, a book full of lies, whose author did not bother to do serious research and interview people who actually were part of MJ’s life and work; an author who has spent rows and rows talking about MJ’s nose. For God sake!
Isn’t a contrary view that irritates us, but an opinion without ballast, speculation, lies and conjectures based on prejudice.
If Sullivan is not succeeding with his book, it is because his work is so poor that he could not even please those who do not like MJ, imagine the fans. Should we buy the book just because Mesereau is Sillivan’s friend?
I don’t like read negative things about Michael, ok, but I can take it, since it show me a valid argument. Sullivan denied that MJ had vitiligo when it is further proven, including the autopsy.
While there are people willing to defame Michael, there are lots fans to defend him and if you do not like it, patience, you will have to suck it up, because we cannot separate the man from the artist, because one influences the other, and we love both. They both form the man who we admire; his humanity, his soul – his innocent soul and heart – are as so important as his art to us.
Mia, this blog is an open forum for sharing ideas, and all view points are welcome as long as they are expressed in a respectful way. It is built on an old idea, developed in ancient Greece, that truth emerges through dialectic among divergent opinions. You know, we don’t really learn much from talking with people who agree with us, because they simply reinforce ideas we already have. We learn the most through reasoned and respectful discussions with those who disagree with us.
You and Aldebaranredstar are both very intelligent, very passionate, very knowledgeable people who disagree about a complex, difficult issue. I believe you could learn a lot from each other – that we can all learn from each other – and I hope everyone feels free to participate in the discussion.
You are taking this personally, Mia. You are right I do not know you. What I am taking issue with is not you, but your assertions, your claims. When you state a position in an open forum, you must expect divergent views from your own to appear in response. This is only reasonable. On this blog, we often have disagreements but we do not take diasgreement with a point of view as a total dismissal of the entire value of the person stating it. Mia, I have read your similar comments in other locations on the internet, and I have to say, with no offense or disrespect to you as a person, that what you are saying is false and wrong. This is my opinion and I have the right to express it. You are doing a great disservice to Michael Jackson’s supporters by completely misunderstanding what they are saying.
Wow, this person is so rude, I can’t believe you guys have this much patience with her!
I am a pretty direct person and I consider this trolling. This is not a forum dedicated to child abuse, so why should we discuss this in a broad sense? We discuss Michael’s case specifically, which is about extortion and character assasination. Not child abuse. Try learning the facts before you come complaining and critisizing to people who know them in depth! This has always pissed me off – like I would ever support and love a child molester! None of us would! So we have taken the time and made an effort to learn the cases. Sorry, but I have no patience or sympathy to people like that, who come to us, acussing us of “trivilizing child abuse”, before learning a damn thing about us or the cases.
Michael was a victim in both of these cases. What about his rights? What about innocent untill proven guilty? What about holding the judgement until he had “his day in court”? What about being accuitted of all crimes by the jury of his peers?
I’m going to have to disgree with Willa and say that the only thing to learn from someone like that is a dumbass fact-free judgmental attitude and rectum-derived rants. No offense ;D
Thanks for your response to this, alderbaranredstar.
With so much really bad stuff going on in the world (see MJ’s Why You Want to Trip on Me lyrics) I come to this blog for inspiration — to read about and discuss a man who I believe was a great artist and a great man with like minded people. Michael Jackson is a beautiful star in the sky — a man of integrity in a world where it is very difficult to find any public figure who is not corrupt — a man who was not afraid, through his art, to speak truth to power and to reveal himself, his truth, in his music.
Lorenzo, as I understand it, you are disappointed that MJ resorted to drugs? What’s not to get about MJ’s use of drugs for pain and to help him sleep? He was a performer — on stage and off. The show had to go on. Performances bring on adrenaline rushes, which interfere with sleep. Not sleeping brings on exhaustion. Exhaustion impairs one’s ability to go all out on a stage for 2 or more hours. In addition, his burn and other injuries caused him pain which also could impact a performance. And then there was his extreme emotional pain. Combine all this with the fact that drugs which one can use to bring you down (like lorazepam) or which numb pain are terribly habit forming, and you have a recipe for disaster. MJ was a performer trying to deal with issues that could adversely impact his performances — and his life. He used what was available, but, as we know, solving problem A, leads into problem B. Even knowing that, one still needs to solve problem A.
Mia, I suggest that you find another blog to visit. Clearly, this is not the blog for you. To put MJ in the same class, even the same sentence with Philip Glass, is absurd. I like Glass’s music, but he is not a charismatic public figure, the most famous man in the world. The most interesting thing to me about MJ is the mystery of his charisma — and you cannot separate the charisma from the man or his music or his performances — his art. I don’t deny that I am enchanted by Michael Jackson, but enchantment is not such a bad thing.
Well said, Eleanor! Thank you 🙂
It is pretty rare to find deep and relevant discussions about Michael’s art, which is why I was so happy to discover this blog. It’s like people can’t seem to get over this trivial stuff.
Like you said, the most interesting part about MJ is the mystery of his charisma – everybody are still trying to figure him out. As if determining the exact number of his surgeries, girlfriends or drugs is going to finally let us know what made him tick and what made him so special.
People take their own issues out on him, and then by extension on his fans. But thats their problem really, though now we have a stranger in Moscow discussion turned into trivial crap discussion.
Willa, can we get an ignore button? 😉
I don’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about fans (or non-fans) being too defensive, the debate becoming aggressive etc.
But I do think Mia is right about one thing:
We won’t get much recognition by the scientific community if we mix research with fan idealism. If we want to get into serious magazines etc. we’ll have to play down our enchantment a bit. (And this is not to be negative! Outside the scientific world enchantment is a wonderful thing, I agree!)
I mean, if an anthropologist falls in love with one of his informants, and this shines through in his writings, noone will take him seriously! 😉
This was also the main criticism of a non-fan who wrote a (negative) review of Joe Vogel’s ”Man in the Music” – that, according to this person, Vogel was so in love with the music that he couldn’t keep the necessary distance to it that a critic should have in order to make a cool-headed assesment! 😮
Again, getting acknowledged by achademia migth not be the ultimate goal as such. (Preserving MJ’s legacy among the general public seems much more important to me.) But sadly, I feel Mia is right that it might just be our enthusiasm about MJ that, in some occassions, prevents us from getting the message across.
Actually, Bjorn, maybe we should go the opposite route and just do what we are accused of doing anyway–namely, found a Church of Michael Jackson! Then we could get a non-profit tax exemption (in USA anyway) for our blogs, temples, newsletters, fund raising, etc. Let’s give the haters a REAL taste of making MJ a deity, an idol, a god, and all the other trash they accuse us of. I think it would be a lot of fun. (We could have his nose as an emblem of his holiness–only kidding, don’t hate me).
I am only partially kidding here. There must be a real basis for this oft-repeated fear, and maybe it’s that MJ could one day be regarded as a spiritual leader.
I see what you mean about the distance needed for objectivity if one is doing a scientific study but if you are looking at an artist you have to like their work a lot to ‘get’ what they are doing. Otherwise, you will not be a good critic.
You’ve hit on something I have really been thinking about, “fan idealism.” I have to agree with every word that you wrote (thank you!) and you are so right that in the world we live in we do have to be careful. But I guess in hopes of getting a little sympathy on this subject, I’ll share some of my thoughts with everyone.
Years ago, when I was in music school, I practiced obsessively for hours on end, studying everything I could about “the great composers.” I was mesmerized and enraptured by great music, and I studied with total love and devotion. My time was spent going to concerts and masterclasses and my money was spent on all this as well. I did nothing else and I talked about nothing else. And not one single person ever questioned this behavior – ever! On the contrary, I got a lot of praise and admiration.
But when I turned my attention towards studying an American musician/composer who is not a part of the classical canon, things were quite different. My colleagues began to warn me that I should not let my “personal feelings” get in the way of my “objectivity.” Interesting that no one ever said that about Beethoven – nor would they, should I decide to go on another Beethoven kick.
Media scholar Joli Jensen wrote an excellent essay titled “Fandom as Pathology” which basically talks about the low/high culture divide. I really think she hits the nail on the head. Aficionados and professors are elite and prestigious, but fans are dismissed as obsessive, blindly loyal, psychologically unstable, unable to form other social relationships. In reality, is this true? What is the real difference? Here is a preview of her essay: http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=hNSjil-mK9UC&oi=fnd&pg=PA9&dq=joli+jensen+fandom+as+pathology&ots=EFKV4qlomv&sig=wfq-xktmGM_TmvIVdgLXfEFv5Ak&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=joli%20jensen%20fandom%20as%20pathology&f=false
I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it just feels good to get that off my chest. These attitudes aren’t going to change over night, so I guess we just have to keep that in mind and push forward.
Yes, ultraviolatrae! To repeat myself from previous discussions, for years, all I ever listened to was classical music. If I got rhapsodic over Bach or Barber, it was evidence of refined musical taste. However, when I discovered Michael Jackson three years ago and wanted to share the great joy and inspiration of his music with friends and family, my son thought I had had a stroke and friends looked at me as if dementia were setting in. One friend (now ex) forbade me to ever mention his name in her presence.
The response to art is emotional, not scientific. If a painting or a movie or a play or a piece of music does not engage the emotions, it is a failure. One can certainly discuss technique dispassionately — sound quality, cameral angles, etc., but taken as a whole, art is an emotional experience — an emotional experience that can be shared.
So, I am a little puzzled by Bjorn’s reference to being taken seriously by the scientific community. We are not discussing whether or not a vaccine works, but the emotional appeal of an artist. And, the fact is that for millions of people on this planet MJ had/has great emotional appeal. The premise of this blog is that MJ is a great artist and discussions focus on the qualities of his music and his performances that make him great. Since he put himself into his work so openly and deliberately, it is impossible to discuss his work without reference to his life.
But to reference aldebaranredstar’s comment above and Caro’s below, Michael’s art is so powerful that for some it is transformative. It can change your life, literally change the way you perceive reality. It could be described as a religious experience. It was that powerful for me. For those of us that feel that way, we cannot unfeel the way we feel. Granted, feeling this way clearly effects our judgment of the facts of his life, just as the negative, elitist reactions to him do. But, in the final analysis, I think the facts are on our side.
This blog is clearly and proudly biased in favor of MJ. No apologies needed.
Hi Ultravioletrae. Finally had a chance to read Jensen’s article, and it was fascinating. (Also read an interesting essay about her article – it’s called “Fan as Pathology: Us vs ‘Them'” and it’s at a blogsite devoted to understanding fans of all kinds: sports fans, music fans, trekkies, …)
I was really intrigued by the elitist divides Jensen identifies (academics aren’t fans – they’re aficionados – with a well-reasoned and tempered enjoyment of the artists they admire) and I love the way she mixes things up and turns the tables. After looking at repeated depictions of obsessive fans she asks, “what happens if we change the objects of this description from fans to, say, professors?” As Jensen points out,
So once again we find ourselves wrestling with that divide between high art and popular art that we’ve talked about before.
I was also very interested in how Jensen connects our ambivalence toward fans with our ambivalence toward modernity. She says that our image of fans takes two forms: “an obsessed loner, suffering from a disease of isolation, or a frenzied crowd member, suffering from a disease of contagion.” And then she makes this fascinating claim:
She relates this to our deep fear that “Modernity has brought about technological progress but social, cultural, and moral decay,” and suggests that portrayals of obsessive fans are used as evidence of that decay.
Very interesting …
Thanks ultravioetrae —
Just read the article or the sample of it available on amazon. Very interesting. As to music fans, I think the establishment fears the passion of the fans and the celebrity who inspires this passion. Because, celebrity success comes from their talent and the emotional connection, not the fact that they have been given the good house-keeping seal of approval. They have not been “vetted” by the establishment. So, they are subversive. The public is responding to them because they are offering an alternative to the boring old and often stultifying status quo. And the fact that the public responds to them so powerfully is scary (Is it scary?) — because the elite often are so walled off that they can’t even feel or know what it is the public is responding to. So, label them all deviant and problem solved.
Also, at the end of the sample, Jensen talks about the elite’s preference for ,a well-mannered response vs the passionate response, and it reminded me of our discussion of irony. And I wanted to direct you to a recent op/ed in the NYT by Stanley Fish about Les Miserables where he goes into a lengthy discussion of art that is ironic and art that is sincere and the critics’ preference for irony:
Fish on irony —
“The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.
“Irony — postmodern or any other — is a brief against affirmation, against the unsophisticated embrace of positive (unqualified) values. No one has seen this more clearly than David Foster Wallace, who complains that irony “serves an exclusively negative function,” but is “singularly unuseful when it comes to replace the hypocrisies it debunks” (“E Unibus Pluram,” Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993). Irony, he adds, is “unmeaty”; that is, it has nothing solid inside it and is committed to having nothing inside it. Few artists, Wallace says, “dare to try to talk about ways of redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naïve to all the weary ironists.”
Well, Michael Jackson certainly was not afraid to talk about redeeming what is wrong.
Thanks, Eleanor, for this reference to Fish on irony. I love what he says! This is exactly what happened to Michael when he was sincere. It was scoffed as Hallmark card sentimentality, puerile, unenlightened, etc. I noticed this especially in reaction to his poem “Planet Earth” (which I know we both love). “Planet Earth, gentle and blue, with all my heart I love you.” It’s easy to take this out of the context of the poem and trash it as sentimental and without important content.
Too many critics have failed to do the work needed to understand Michael and respond to him precisely because they have too much distance. Too much distance will mean the critic is too remote from the subject to be able to intelligently comment on the work.
I would like to add that a good deal of academic writing is deader than a doornail, with an unintelligible vocabulary to boot. It is a form of obfuscation and is not written to be disseminated or understood outside a small circle.
Wow, Eleanor, the Fish article is so interesting, especially in light of Jensen’s article – to me, Fish’s article perfectly illustrates the divide Jensen is talking about between the (lower class) passion of “fans” and the (upper class) reasoned appreciation of “aficionados.” As Fish points out, the critics were put off by Les Mis in part by the intense emotional response of the audience, which “deeply embarrassed” them. As Fish points out, “All that crying, you know.”
You guys have already pulled out some great quotations, but here are a couple more that jumped out at me, especially when thinking about Michael Jackson:
To me, this is an apt description of Michael Jackson’s work as well, and it helps explain why fans and critics have such a different reaction to his work: fans are drawn to that emotional immediacy, while critics are embarrassed by it.
Also, Fish says this “almost unbearable proximity to raw, un-ironized experience” shuts out the critic, leaving him or her “with nothing to do”:
At the end, Fish repeatedly refers to a David Foster Wallace article (“E Unibus Pluram,” Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993) that I’d love to read because he apparently talks about the limits of irony in a way I’ve often felt as well, and that you’ve mentioned a number of times, Eleanor. Irony allows those who employ it to look cool, detached, above those who get down in the muck of the world’s problems and actively engage with them. But this ironic stance is empty, hollow – as Fish says, “it has nothing solid inside it and is committed to having nothing inside it” – and therefore it is completely unable to offer solutions to those problems it stands above.
Not only that, but irony demands that they look down on anyone who tries. Here’s Fish quoting Wallace:
And I would say, “Enter Michael Jackson” as well.
Hi Eleanor. Just realized I got caught up in the Fish article and quoted some of the same things you did. Oops! Oh well, it’s important enough it bears repeating….
And I love your final line: “Well, Michael Jackson certainly was not afraid to talk about redeeming what is wrong.” Amen.
You have just begun to restore my faith in music journalism! Thank you so much for this outstanding article. I absolutely loved it. I believe critics need to be called out on their “stuff” and this was an excellent example of the kind of discussion that needs to be taking place. For me, the film version of Les Mis does everything you cannot do on stage; it assumes the audience has seen the stage play, and then does everything a large scale musical stage production doesn’t allow for–intimacy, closeness and immediacy.
Reading some of the comments to the article was equally enlightening. People certainly are afraid of confronting strong emotions without a comfortable distance from them! They want a rational approach, not pre-rational sentimentality. But as you so brilliantly pointed out, is a lack of postmodern irony the same thing as pre-rational sentimentality? No, I think not, it’s a step beyond that. I have a feeling it is a post-postmodern return to realism. And that is the value system that MJ fans resonate so strongly with. That’s my theory anyway.
Thanks again for posting this and for all your comments. Especially about family and friends who easily accept classical music “fanaticism” but suspect an appreciation of Jackson as a artist is a sign of stroke or mental illness! LOL! And a big thank you to everyone who has posted on this thread. It’s been an eye opening discussion for me. So many mind blowing comments, I intend to vigorously defend my right to critical proximity from now on!
Thanks for sharing this very interesting article about irony!
I think all of us should read the anti-sentimentality comment by ”brooklynbridge” (under ”NYT picks”). It contains basically everything we as ”MJ aficionados” have to deal with when discussing his art. Let me quote the second half:
You walk out into the night, having had all your questions answered, feeling oh so noble that you wept when that little boy died, the refrain from “Song of Angry Men” still ringing in your ears.
Of course, on the way to your taxi, you ignore actual beggars panhandling on the street. They are scruffy and unappealing. You don’t question injustice in the world you actually live in.
You were in the theatre to be “entertained” — to feel, not to think. Who needs irony? Who needs distance? Just allow yourself become an enthralled, passive, being, swept away by the “rhythms of rapt silence, crying, and applause”.
To my mind, the master of un-ironic melodrama was not Mark Rothko, but Leni Reifenstahl, who certainly did not allow irony a centimeter of distance in “Triumph of the Will”.
I’m glad you all enjoyed Fish on irony. And, Bjorn, the “brooklynbridge” comment you referred to reminded me of Man in the Mirror, where Michael sings “I See The Kids In The Street,/ With Not Enough To Eat/ Who Am I, To Be Blind?/Pretending Not To See
Unlike the sentimentality that brooklynbridge refers to, MJ’s art reveals “the injustice of the world we actually live in;” it does not take us away from it.
And, a brief confession, I loved Fish’s discussion of irony, but I didn’t like the movie, and irony — or lack of same — had nothing to do with it. I just couldn’t get into it.
Hi Bjørn. The “brooklynbridge” comment highlights something important, I think – mindless emotion can be very dangerous. It’s what gives us lynch mobs and bullying and even fascism, as brooklynbridge suggests. (In fact, I think we can add the mass hysteria surrounding the 1993 allegations to the list as well.)
But it’s incorrect to lump all emotions into one pot and suggest they’re all the same. Some emotions debase us and bring out the worst in us – emotions like fear, anger, prejudice, greed, envy, lust (for power or sex). But other emotions elevate us, take us out of ourselves, help us understand one another a little better, and encourage us to care about issues larger than our own wants – emotions like sympathy, compassion, joy, hope, benevolence, gratitude, a will to justice, an earnest concern for our planet and all its inhabitants, and of course L.O.V.E.
In fact, one way to evaluate art is by the kinds of emotion it engenders, and I agree with Eleanor that “MJ’s art reveals ‘the injustice of the world we actually live in’; it does not take us away from it.”
Wanted to add one more positive emotion to the list – mercy. I’ve been thinking about what you said about mercy, Aldebaranredstar, and I agree it’s a very important element of Stranger in Moscow, and of Michael Jackson’s worldview.
There was a terrible crime in England in the 1990s where two young boys – pre-teens, I think – lured a toddler out of a shopping mall and murdered him. It was horrific, just beyond description, and many people were so angry and revolted by those boys’ actions that they felt they were beyond redemption – that they should be sentenced to life in prison even though they were only children. But Michael Jackson felt compassion for those two boys, and wanted to visit them and comfort them and do a movie about them. He talked about that with Rabbi Boteach:
How about a fashion example of this same thing. While Michael was alive no fashion expert would even consider admiring his personal style during any era. It was just one his eccentricities, like weird MJ has this bizzare military stuly jacket on with glitter and some buckles on it, can this guy be any stranger. But as soon he died, he was a style icon, all of a sudden! The same clothes were suddenly unique expressions of his creativity, designers used his elements as inspiration, serious magazines did tributes to MJ amazing fashion sense.
So, I’m saying that cold-headed assesments are wrong just as often as they are right. I’m not saying we should try to get our love letters to Michael printed in the mainstream and demand that non-fans consider them serious journalism. But if people have a problem with such a well written and well researched book as man in the music, simply because the author likes the music too much, thats not our problem.
Raven talked about this issue with critics in her post about dangerous vs nevermind. It’s like you won’t be taken seriously as a critic if you like something too much especially if it’s popular. Negative reviews on great contemporary artists is something critics often do to feed their egos and hint on their “sophistication” – understanding the work isn’t the purpose.
Gennie, and Eleanor,
you’re quite right that discussing an artist and his work is quite another thing than measuring earthquakes or something! 🙂
Having written a number of reviews myself, I have often had difficulties deciding whether I should ”engage” myself with the subject, or try to keep a cool ”distance”. Distancing yourself as a rule makes the text seem more ”scientific” (and by extension ”reliable”), but also less personal.
Good point about MJ and fashion…
Björn,I think that you make some good points, and it was a good example that
you have with J. Vogel, because he is passionate with the music and the history behind the different albums. He is a fan academic writing for fans. And it shows. It is nice reading indeed,but not usable for in-depth studies on the music of Michael Jackson.
What I lack is a thorough analysis of each title, with form, structure, notation,voice part, rythm, textual synopsis, and a revue of what critics thought of this particular text or music, at the time. In Jackson’s case there is a very special detail to take note of: the non-verbal parts – the non-semantic inhold. And that the lyrics inhold does relate to the musical form.
Music sociologist Simon Frith thinks that the meaning of the words in a song is that they are signs for a voice: “In songs, words are the sign of a voice. A song is always a performance, and song words are always spoken, heard in someone’s accent. Songs are more like plays than poems; song words work as speech and speech acts, bearing meaning not just semantically, but also as structures of sound that are direct signs of emotion and marks of character. Singer use non-verbal as well as verbal devices to make their points…” (Frith, S: Why do songs have words ? p.20 , In: Music for Pleasure, 1988)
All these particular parts makes the fundament for an analysis, and a distance must be kept from the artist analyzed, because otherwise there is praise instead of logic,
The academic author must be the chorus in the drama, not the actors involved in fight over this and that. One can still be able to produce an attractive book or booklet with well selected images and conclusions on, for example, the reception of the album Dangerous (I should know) , that could be used in the Pop & Rock course (part of introductory course in Musicology) And It can still be parts with enthusiasm in it, but this can be brought forward from the critics cited – and there you will most probably also find contra enthusiasm, and be well-balanced.
This said, it should be noted that writing about music is something of an enigma. The significance of music in contemporary culture lies in the mediating technologies which catch, record and recreate the unique moment (yes, the very unique moment that I’m so much interested in). Some people argue that it is impossible to write about music. Frank Zappa said about especially music journalism as being:’written by peoplewho can’t write for people who can’t read’.
Also, fan writing about a certain artist is recognised as a group writing, and that makes it even more difficult, since an identity is closely related to an individual, with an individual voice.
Well, this was some of my shared thinking, hope there is something at least that can appeal to your posting on this.
If this perspective on MJ’s music is missing, why don’t you write an article about that? I’m not being sarcastic here – a lot of academics are using him in their work (though I’m mostly aware of cultural and social fields) so a musicologist perspective might indeed be missing.
It is not, however, the purpose of Joe’s book, I believe, which was more about the historical context of the songs, creative process, Michael as an artist, things like that. So with the purpose in mind, he manages to to tell Michael’s story with focus on him as an artist, instead of a celebrity. And it was never intended for the acedemic circles, but the mainstream reader.
Another thing I thought of when reading your post, if our personal interaction with a piece of music is a part of the experience, then by definition if you impose distance, you would miss a part of the experience. Its really important to define the things we discuss including the limitations, otherwise if I talk about the emotional state a song evokes and you talk about the form, structure and so on, we would both think that the other one is clueless.
Here is Simon Frith’s 1988 article on Michael Jackson for the Village Voice: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2009/06/from_the_voice_5.php
Ultravioletrae, thanks for this. So interesting to read these pre-1992 fore-shadowings of what was to come. It was especially interesting to me to read, in light of the current discussion, that the take of “The earnest psychologists of the British quality press … is the same as the tabloids’ but expressed less vulgarly”). Just add a few latinate syllables and stir and a discussion is magically transformed from trash (or, conversely, fan hysteria) to serious criticism. The medium is the message.
In this piece, Simon Frith serves as a good example of the “transcendent critic” — the critic who prides himself on his distance, who sees himself as being above “all that” — as being separate from and superior to and looking down on (in every way) the fans — the critic whose criticism proves his vast superiority to the common man (or woman).
Transcendent has a sinister meaning for me as it denotes someone who images himself or herself as existing outside an experience, who, from his/her lofty perch can dissect whatever is under discussion without getting his/her hands dirty. Clearly, those who believe themselves to transcend their own experiences and emotions are delusional.
I much prefer honest heat to dishonest cool indifference.
Is contempt an emotion?
MJ said when he was just a little boy that he didn’t sing anything he didn’t believe (I hope I have the quote right). Emotional immediacy was at the heart of his aesthetic. He did not try to distance himself emotionally from what he was singing about. Why should we distance ourselves from our emotional reactions to him and his art? Becoming aware of exactly what we are feeling and why will help us understand him — and ourselves. Assuming a false emotional distance serves no purpose that I can see.
The only reason people continue to talk/write about MJ is that they have strong feelings about him — both positive and negative.
Mia seems to have very strong negative feelings about the fans of MJ — which possibly extend to the man himself. It seems to me that she is far more interested in attacking the fans than she is in discussing his music. To make the claim — as she does — that those of us who believe that the preponderance of the evidence points to his innocence rather than his guilt means that we trivialize the crime of child abuse is absurd — and insulting. And to add injury to insult she cloaks these attacks in yet another type of attack — that we fans are not capable of serious and deep and real critical thinking — because we have come down on the side of his innocence. She poses as “a serious person” vs. all us non-serious fanatics.
In her two-pronged offense, she puts us on the defense, defending MJ and our love for him, completely derailing any serious discussion of, for example, Stranger In Moscow.
One has to wonder, what are her real motives in coming to this site? One thing is for sure, she has deftly and narcissistically shifted the discussion from SIM to Mia.
Ultravioletrae, thanks for posting the link to Frith’s Village Voice article. Eleanor, I see Frith’s article (from 1988) as more of a critique of the media circus that surrounded Michael during his stay in London than of Michael himself. As I hear him, he seems to imply that the whole brouhaha that surrounded Michael Jackson’s wasn’t necessarily Michael’s own doing, but more a “symptom of the age.” He writes:
“….the power of the British tabloid press to fashion glamour in its own terms, and “Wacko Jacko” was immediately assigned lead role in the greatest show of media pop frenzy since the Sex Pistols. The more exposure Jackson got, the more mysterious he became; the more we read about him, the more we wanted to read. The Sun, as usual, best grasped the public mood, printing “exclusive” Jackson photos so blurred that it was impossible to make out anyone at all…”
So Frith— by his own admission (sort of), and to his frustration—can’t get beyond the distractions of the whole circus to really pay much attention to Michael Jackson’s music or performances. (In fact, he didn’t have a ticket to the show at Wembley—and I wonder why that is.) But that in itself, I think, stands as a testimony to cultural shifts that were going on in the 1980s. Whether we embrace Frith’s distanced stance or reject it, the story of the whole ‘80s scene in the arts, in pop culture, in politics, in economics, in media, is, I think, so completely bound up with Michael’s story—and his effect on people’s lives during that time—that it’s as difficult to extricate him from it as it is to separate our understanding of him from the biographical material that we know fueled some of his creative work, at least in part.
I find it fascinating to read these sources—newspaper and magazine articles from this period of time. In them, we can see a portent of things to come (though hindsight is, of course, 20/20). But mostly I see the critics and journalists—distanced though they may be—genuinely blindsided and surprised by the whole phenomenon that was Michael Jackson: the pervasiveness of his fame, the amount of “hysteria” he seemed to generate. It’s as though the “mania” that surrounded him surpassed that of Sinatra, the Beatles, and Elvis all put together.
Since I’ve really enjoyed a lot of what Frith has written about music on the whole, I went looking for other things he may have written about Michael Jackson–unfortunately I didn’t find much, but here’s an excerpt from one short piece from the book that Mia cited: “Music For Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop:
“And Now, the Message” (1983):
“There were two chilling moments during the Commodores show at the Hammersmith Odeon on Wednesday, though they chilled me in different ways, for different reasons.
“The first came during Gary Byrd’s support spot. Byrd is a dapper salesman of black pride, a rapping youth leader. But a version of his hit ‘The Crown’ aside, his performance on Wednesday was confined to introducing clips from the recent American TV celebration of Motown’s twenty-fifth anniversary.
“It seemed like a pretty good TV show —glimpses of how the stars used to be, classic old stage routines, framing a grand reunion concert, everybody back to perform, past splits and bitterness forgotten. Enjoyable, nostalgic, touching and comfortable until the sudden moment when we cut from the Jackson Five singing “I Want You Back” as children, to Michael Jackson singing “I Want You Back” now, stalking the stage with such venomous grace that shivers shot through me — I haven’t been so gripped by a TV presence since the awesome first glimpse of Elvis Presley in his 1969 come-back.
“Michael Jackson is undoubtedly the sexiest performer in popular music today — his androgyny has the risk, the neurosis, that Boy George’s lacks. Jackson’s sex appeal refers back to Little Richard’s rock’n’roll madness, across to street fears and disco narcissism; and all that Motown training diminish his threat but, rather, left him with a wonderfully flexible body language. Slight, tough, aggressive, submissive, Jackson has the remarkable ability to focus competing fantasies.
“And if it seems odd to review a live concert by reference to a filmed insert then that’s how the show went – not only did Jackson’s TV appearance get the most fervent audience response, but the Commodore’s own version of his “Billie Jean” (in their parody spot) got more applause than anything else they did.”
Nina — I probably judged Frith’s village voice essay too quickly — and I bow to your much broader and deeper knowledge of music journalism. And, I don’t disagree with you. Frith certainly did not distance himself in what you quoted in your second comment.
I really missed out on the eighties. In fact, I was so upset with the direction things were going that I left the country for a year. Then, upon my return, I was became caught up in one personal crisis after another — which is one of the reasons I think that I remained largely ignorant of MJ until his death. But, I completely agree with you that mining 80’s media response to MJ could really be revealing. I especially liked this that you said —
“the story of the whole ‘80s scene in the arts, in pop culture, in politics, in economics, in media, is, I think, so completely bound up with Michael’s story—and his effect on people’s lives during that time—that it’s as difficult to extricate him from it as it is to separate our understanding of him from the biographical material that we know fueled some of his creative work, at least in part.”
I would like to hear some more about this.
Eleanor, I’m hardly any expert in music journalism. But Michael has touched upon so many areas of contemporary life, that for me it’s been like the experience of climbing a tree, and then going off to explore its myriad branches! The garden of forking paths…
Thanks for bringing up that memorable statement by Emily Dickinson, which I always like to return to:
“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”
This comes very close to the way I felt when I started listening into Michael’s music and watching his performances.
“Songs are more like plays than poems.” This is an interesting concept, and to me depends on the traditions in which the songs or speech acts appear. For example, in the recitation of the Vedas, there were strict guidelines for the recitation, including hand gestures to aid memory of the rhythm, etc. There was little use for improvisation in the recitation of these sacred songs, which did not even become written texts for hundreds of years., In the case of Michael Jackson, obviously there is a lot of improvisation in the act of recording the song, including what we call the ad-libs (the nonverbal sounds, or ad-libbed words added to the lyrics). To me the ad-libs are as important, or even more important, as the lyrics for emotional and lyrical expressiveness. However, once the song was recorded, Michael tended to stay with that delivery in his performances, and the adlibs were a further development of what was already there (for example, I don’t see much deviation in the performances of Billie Jean in terms of the adlibs from the original recording). In Earth Song, however, he did deviate from the recorded version in his performances when he went into a passionate and beautiful adlib at the end of the song (“Tell Me What About It!”), which is a gospel singing adlib that we see in the Royal Brunei Performance, for example. It seemed at those times that Michael ‘lost it’ or lost himself so deeply in the song that it took him somewhere emotionally that he went beyond its borders somehow. I see that also in What More Can I Give when he sings, “We should give over and over again.”
The adlibs for Earth Song at the end of the Royal Brunei performance, 1996.
Thanks so much for the Brunei clip, below.
So I’m just going to post an observation for us to think about. If we truly want to change public perceptions about Michael Jackson, clear his name, and preserve his legacy, we have to figure out ways to reach out to those who think he’s guilty and change their minds. Agreeing with people who already believe he’s innocent is easy. Engaging with people who think he’s guilty is hard, very hard, but that’s what we need to do if we truly want the general public to reconsider the evidence and see things in a different way.
You’re right, willa, but it is very hard when the person think: if a child said he/she was abused he/she was. Period.
People like mia aren’t opened to discuss. She has her mind done. She even can read about it, she thinks the discussion about any case about allegations if child molestation is disrespectful. In her opinion, any questioning about the veracity of an allegation of child sexual abuse is disrespectful to the alleged victims. She is not a person in search of evidence; she does not care about the rights of the accused being violated. I would dare to say that in Mia’s opinion, and many like her, it matters little whether a inocnete goes to prison. If he was accused of sexual abuse, he is the devil. Point.
When a person has doubts, disbeliefs about Michael’s innocence, or even believe he is guilty, but is willing to learn the truth is different. In cases like this we must be ready and willing to submit arguments. But Mia is the type who would not believe even if Jordan himself said he was not abused. And he said, in fact, several times, untill to be drugged with amytal, as we know very well. But she wants to know? I don’t think so.
Willa, i know what you are say and I used to say the same, engaging with those people, thinking that if I just present the evidence, they would see it. But some doors can only be open from the inside. No matter how much we knock and try to change people’s minds to clear his name, unless they are open to hearing it, it won’t happen.
I agree with Daniela and Aldebran, we can bring the evince to them but we cannot make them see it. (You bring ahorse to the water, but you cannot make it drink).
But I honestly believe that Michael’s name and legacy is going to be just fine, regardless of what some people think. It already is. I just went to the cirque show for the second time (i went to copenhagen and moscow shows) and both times you can see all kinds of people in the audience, from small kids to elderly people. The shows are sold out every time. Obviously, there are enough people who want to see an MJ show and don’t feel like are watching pedophile art or a glorified child abuser.
People who think he was guilty are not that many but they are loud and they like to mess with fans. I stopped trying to change people’s minds when I realizes that it is so easy to get information about it for anyone who wishes to do so. People believe in so many crazy things, that I think it is better for our sanity to just let it go sometimes.
When I want to go to a site hoping to engage people who are not sure Michael is innocent, I click on Vindicating Michael or Michael Jackson Vindication 2.0. I come to this site because it is a respite from some of the ugliness encountered elsewhere on the internet. Here I find beauty and spirituality and friendly souls. Here I find it’s safe to assume that I won’t have to defend Michael, but can simply enjoy all he has given us. It’s a haven I want to be waiting for me next time I visit. Why not just give people who are interested in “discussing” Michael’s possible guilt or innocence links to the aforementioned blogs and keep this one for aficionados?
Yes, kris…. I agree so much with this. Thanks.
Willa, I hear you and we do try, believe me, we try so often in so many ways to communicate and dispel all these misperceptions.But I agree with Daniela, that if a person’s mind is closed, no amount of rational debate will help. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink–the old adage. I recently had a conversation online with someone who was making claims that MJ wanted to be white and his reasons were he straightened his hair, wanted white skin, and a small nose via surgery.When I gave reasoned answers on all this his reply was “you make some valid points but I stand with my earlier statements.” There comes a time when you have to acknowledge that people have an investment in believing what they want to believe about Michael, and we can’t alter that. As you know, the 14 not guilty verdicts mean nothing, so what are we to do? Can we really be responsible for all the prejudice and lack of analysis? As I said before, where are we going to put our energies? I choose to go on with the discussion about SIM.
Here is some info about a beautiful Renaissance hymn based on Palm 51 written to celebrate the last day of the Feast of Candles in the Catholic Church, a ceremony of counting the 29 days before Easter. This Gregorian chant was kept secret by the Pope, and it was only when Mozart heard it that he transcribed the whole thing after one listen, and it got disseminated.
“Miserere, by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), is a setting of Psalm 51 composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during matins as part of the exclusive Tenebrae service on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. It was the last of twelve misereres composed and chanted at the service since 1514 and the most popular: at some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music and it was only allowed to be performed at those particular services, adding to the mystery surrounding it. Writing it down or performing it elsewhere was punishable by excommunication.”
Here is the Latin sung in the chant and the English translation (only the first lines).
“Psalm 51 (to the Chief Musician–God): Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam. [Have mercy on me, God: according to the greatness of your mercy.] Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum: dele inquitatem meam. [And according to the multitude of your mercies: erase my sins.] Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me. [Thoroughly cleanse me from my iniquity: and from my sins wash me.]”
This is a beautiful hymn and reminds me of what I see as a prayer in SIM: Lord Have Mercy.
See Gennie’s comment 27 Jan..4.06.. “like I would ever support a child molester ”
Thanks Gennie, I agree., and.most people are so busy stating Michael’s guilt, that they don’t consider this.aspect.
This is how I deal with it…
If a discussion arises about Michael being a child molester, where generally I am the only one who believes he isn’t, I look “them” straight in the eye , smile sweetly and say “You obviously don’t have a very high opinion of me, if you believe I would admire a paedophile”. (.and I use that word deliberately.)
This usually leads to embarrassed looks and mutterings, but nobody seems to have the courage to tell me what they think of me !!!.The best they can do is say “well of course we’ll never know”.. so then I don’t know if they are referring to Michael or me!!!.
If a discussion about Michael comes up.( e.g some latest absurd tabloid episode.).I say something along the lines of ” Oh don’t get me started on him !! using a disparaging tone, and when they have finished agreeing what a “weirdo” he was.. I then come in with ” Oh do you thinks so.?. I always felt he was so kind and generous and special, and I absolutely adore his music!! They usually look gobsmacked !!!
I admit this is all a bit “naughty”, but I only have ever used this “strategy” with people who know me well . What’s interesting is that after I have spoken, they never seem to come back and challenge me. It isn’t my intention to embarrass them and it has always remained good -natured. (lol)..
They know that I have strong feelings about lots of subjects and hate injustice of any kind. So I just leave things at that, and trust that it may make them re-think a little bit at least ( If I’m OK, then Michael must be !! )
Apologies.. I know this isn’t about SIM, but as already mentioned in various comments, a good deal of Michael’s later music reflected so much of what he felt because of these alleged crimes..
I find this particular song very haunting,and a lot of the prior analysis by everyone seems to fit well. Then you never know with Michael’s songs ,,.so often multi – layered and open to many different interpretations. Although I do believe he quoted this as one of his ” most biographica”l.. I love it and I think the “short film” is superb.
Love your comment, I will try your tactics next time 🙂
You are so right though, people think that we (the fans) are some crazy gullible idiots who would eat anything angel Michael would feed us! Pff! 🙂
I find it very offenseive from Mia to come here and claim that we “trivialize child molestation” just because we say Michael Jackson was falsely accused. No one here trivialized child molestation and no one here said that all child molestation allegations are false. But there is no reason why someone cannot be concerned BOTH about child molestation and false allegations of child molestation at the same time.
Child molestation does exist. But also false allegations of child molestation exist and that is a very real and serious problem too. Both ruins lives. And I think both need to be talked about. Do you think, Mia, that the lives of people who have been jailed (like the people in Witch Hunt) or stigmatized (like Michael) for life based on false allegations do not matter? How would you feel if it was you?
It’s also offensive to suggest that if we say that Michael was innocent of the allegations against him then we consider him some kind of deity. Are those really the only two options: either he was a criminal or a deity? My experience is that this one is a common ad hominem attack against MJ fans by those who ran out of arguments. (This is a variation of the “oh you are just a rabid, crazy, fanatical fan” ad hominem, which is also used to avoid having to address the points fan raise.)
I agree with Aldebaranredstar: it’s absured to say that since none of us were there we cannot form an informed opinion about whether those allegations against Michael were true or false. A lot of scientific facts weren’t discovered by scientists directly observing a phenomenon, but by scientists concluding them from all the evidence they have gathered. That doesn’t mean they are any less facts.
My stance on this is that each case has to be viewed individually. Like Gennie said this blog is not specialized in discussing child molestation in general, but discussing Michael Jackson. Since the allegations (unfortunately) were a big part of his life, which influenced not only his personal life but his art too, they HAVE to be discussed. Especially if we talk about the HIStory album and its songs you just cannot avoid talking about the allegations. Pieces of art do not always exist independently from their authors. Often they can be better understood when we know their background and the life situation that inspired them.
I feel angry right now, and not because of some people’s opinions, but because it gets to me, still. Why are we the ones who always have to defend ourselves? Why was Michael the one who was constantly supposed to defend himself from these allegations and evil lies, when it had nothing to do with him? Why did we turn his gift into a curse by bullying him for being who he was born to be?
Stranger in Moscow is one of my favorites, actually if I had to do top 3 of the song that touches me the most, it would be SIM, Earth Song and Who Is It in no particular order. SIM has something about it, especially when you listen to the instrumental version. I cannot recommend it enough. The beat is hypnotic and it just manages to express the feelings of the song even without the words.
This song, and the other two I mentioned has this in common, they pull you into his state, even if just for a moment. If you just let him take you, it cannot be ignored, i’ve seen this in others as well. I think this is what makes stranger in Moscow so strong, the music is leading, the words come as second and almost unnecessary part. Every beat and every sound paints this picture of a dull state of staring into a rainy window, consumed by your sorrow, held down by the weight of the world on your shoulders. I don’t even know which comes first: the knowledge of he went through went he wrote it or the feeling of the song itself.
Pieces of art do not always exist independently from their authors. Often they can be better understood when we know their background and the life situation that inspired them – says Jacksonaktak.
I don’t think a work of art can ever be independent of the artist, as it mostly comes from the depth of their soul, their being. We are all what our HisTory has made us, and I think artists are much more in touch with that aspect than most of us ‘mere mortals’.
I very much agree with all the comments re fandom. I only came to Michael 3 years ago and he hit me like a sledgehammer and completely knocked me sideways. Even as a teenager i never experienced anything like the ‘obsession’ that I feel for Michael, I am not that kind of person normally. Most of my friends were absolutely floored by my initial reaction to Michael, but they know and understand me very well, and as time as gone by they have grown into me and Michael, as I have myself.
I love Alderbaran’s comments about a Church of Michael, and it does seem to me that many peoples worries are that we fans make a deity out of him, and to be honest I have done so myself a bit, because I feel he was a deeply spiritual man with a deeply spiritual message, and personally I see absolutely no harm in that. I am deeply inspired by him, and anyone that can make us better persons has my attention.
There are many aspects to this trying to make others understand Michaels message, but I still remain of the opinion that we have to try when given the opportunity. I think it is good to stay calm, and let the other person have their say, and then from our own knowledge and research of Michael (which it seems to me that all of the bloggers on this site have done extensively) counter all that they have said with what we know about him. There was recently an article in an awful tabloid mag here about the prosthetic nose tips in a jar (obviously raked up by the Sullivan book), and a young friend (aged 10) showed it to me cos of the lovely photo of Michael on the front cover which she thought I would love to see, and I did. However, we got no further than the cover because I told her that I now refuse to read any ‘tabloid rubbish’ about Michael anymore, and she agreed with me and said that she would do the same from now on, and like me she would only read about MIchael from books and sites online that I recommend, and would only talk positively about him.
Sorry for the long response, but I have saved it up for a few days, and now blurted it out all in one go ha ha!!!!
“it does seem to me that many peoples worries are that we fans make a deity out of him, and to be honest I have done so myself a bit, because I feel he was a deeply spiritual man with a deeply spiritual message, and personally I see absolutely no harm in that. I am deeply inspired by him, and anyone that can make us better persons has my attention.”
I agree, the reason MJ has affected my life so deeply is much more than than his artistry and genius – it is his SPIRIT. And the reason he is so reviled is also because of his SPIRIT. The power of his spiritual message frightens people, so they must find ways to destroy him.
Many people accuse us to see Michael as a deity and use it as an argument to attack our credibility, as if we were unable to see the truth because we see him this way. And what about they see him as a demon? Seeing him as Godhead affects the judgment, but seeing him as demon doesn’t?
I do not see Michael as a saint or deity, just as special human being, a guide, someone who can show us things that we refuse to see often. Have there were others human as special as him, who changed the world, that lead people to change and they are still human, like Gandhi, as Mother Teresa, Mandela, Martin Luther King. Only humans, it makes them more special for me, because they do not have the power of the gods, but they still were able to operate major changes in the world and lead people. Michel is not a saint or a god, but he is a master, as C. Mecca says in her book, he is the American Master.
Hi everyone. This is going to be a long comment, but this is a very important topic so I’m just going to let it take what space it needs.
I know that it can be very hard to talk with people whose perspectives are radically opposed to our own. For example, I just read an article by a pompous, snarky, ill-informed academic that has me in a towering rage. I thought I’d read enough bad stuff about Michael Jackson that I was kind of immune to that sort of thing, but it really got under my skin. It revealed much more about the writer’s anxieties about race, gender, and sexuality than it did about Michael Jackson’s, and it was written in such a disdainful way. I can’t believe a paper like that was actually read out loud at an academic conference. It’s unbelieveable to me.
And as several of you have pointed out, why is disdain for Michael Jackson and his work seen as more conducive to analytical reasoning than affection? Disdain and affection are both emotions, so why is it assumed that one emotion (disdain) clarifies our judgment, and the other (affection) clouds it? This article I just read proves that isn’t true – the writer of that article was so blinded by his negative emotions, it led him to completely misread Michael Jackson’s work, I believe.
So I know how hard it can be, but at the same time, if we want to change the opinions of the general public, we have to find some way to talk with those who don’t know his work very well, or have been misled by years of tabloid rumors, or simply see him in a different way than we do. And if we want them to genuinely listen and consider what we have to say, we have to be willing to genuinely listen and consider what they have to say. And a lot of what Mia said was true.
As Bjørn and Ultravioletrae have pointed out, Mia was right when she said that academic journals prefer dispassionate objectivity. As she wrote, “Every researcher has to keep a distance, be grounded in reality and allow for criticism in order to be credible.” Whether you agree with it or not, that is the situation, and I know that from personal experience. A friend is reading Chapter Four of M Poetica, and he just sent me an email last week saying that, in places, he thought I sounded too much like a fan and “lost credibility.” Those were his exact words. So we would be wise to consider what Mia has to say.
Mia was also right when she said that victims of sexual abuse have had to battle a sense of shame for what was done to them. In fact, in some cases they – the victims of the crime – have been as stigmatized as the perpetrators, and we need to be sensitive to that.
When I was in junior high school, the choir director of our church walked into the minister’s office to talk with him about something, and found him molesting a boy scout. It turned out that he had molested four other scouts as well. He admitted it and said he would resign, seek counseling, and move to another location. The elders of the church wanted to accept that, but the parents of one of the boys refused and said it needed to be turned over to the police, and they did call the police. Our minister was so horrified by that he committed suicide, and it tore our church in half.
Some members of the congregation actually accused those parents of driving our minister to suicide. (Should he have been allowed to move to another church and possibly abuse other boys? And why was he more horrified by the exposure of his crimes, than by the crimes themselves?) The choir director was later asked to resign. She was a very sweet, elderly woman who had served the church for more than 20 years, and all of us in the children’s choir loved her. But she was forced to leave because her presence was felt to be a reminder of a divisive time that people were trying to forget about and move beyond.
I felt a lot of sympathy for the minister’s family. He had two girls a couple of years younger than I was, and a nice wife, and I really liked his sister. She was my high school chemistry teacher and a good friend of my cousin, and I know how devastating this was to all of them. But the congregation’s main sympathies and concern should have been with the boys who were abused and their families, but it wasn’t. All of those families left the church, and that was regarded as a huge relief. No one wanted to deal with it. So at a time when those families most needed the support of a community, they were ignored and excluded.
The allegations against Michael Jackson occurred in a world of many prejudices, and we’ve talked a bit about the influence of those prejudices – especially of race, gender, and sexuality – in how the 1993 allegations were perceived. But there are also prejudices against those who have been victimized, and we need to be sensitive to that.
“Mia was also right when she said that victims of sexual abuse have had to battle a sense of shame for what was done to them. In fact, in some cases they – the victims of the crime – have been as stigmatized as the perpetrators, and we need to be sensitive to that.”
That is true, but my problem with what Mia said is that in my opinion she erected a straw-man with that argument as saying that Michael Jackson was innocent of the allegations against him (and we are talking about one specific case – his case) is not being insensitive to this general problem you described in your post. To me it rather seems like that by making this false dilemma that, according to Mia, either you are concerned with child abuse OR by false allegations of child abuse (you can’t be both?) she is just trying to silence people who argue for Michael’s innocence. To her the mention of Michael’s innocence of the allegations seems to be “trivializing child abuse”. That’s a deliberate misinterpreting of other people’s position and the same can be said about this “deity” claim (is he either a criminal or a deity, there’s no middle ground?), so I’m not really convinced about Mia’s honesty, to be honest.
I’m sorry this sentence is a bit confusing:
“That is true, but my problem with what Mia said is that in my opinion she erected a straw-man with that argument as saying that Michael Jackson was innocent of the allegations against him (and we are talking about one specific case – his case) is not being insensitive to this general problem you described in your post.”
What I meant is:
That is true, but my problem with what Mia said is that in my opinion she erected a straw-man with that argument suggesting that if you say Michael Jackson was innocent of the allegations against him (and we are talking about one specific case – his case) that is being insensitive to this general problem you described in your post.
Will said —
As Bjørn and Ultravioletrae have pointed out, Mia was right when she said that academic journals prefer dispassionate objectivity. As she wrote, “Every researcher has to keep a distance, be grounded in reality and allow for criticism in order to be credible.” Whether you agree with it or not, that is the situation, and I know that from personal experience. A friend is reading Chapter Four of M Poetica, and he just sent me an email last week saying that, in places, he thought I sounded too much like a fan and “lost credibility.” Those were his exact words. So we would be wise to consider what Mia has to say.
Willa, I have to disagree with you. Academic journals prefer opinions that follow the conventional wisdom. Academic journals are cultural gatekeepers. The establishment took the position that MJ was a non-serious pop star and a weirdo who hated being black and who was capable of just about anything. Recognizing MJ’s artistic greatness is challenging their whole worldview and value system. They are grounded, not in reality, but in their own constructed reality — just as we all are. I think your friend’s comments that you have “lost credibility” just reveal his own biases. it is tough going against the flow, but you are doing that and I applaud your efforts!
Don’t let comments like these or the fact that your work is not yet recognized by the gatekeepers discourage you. You are on the right track! Don’t let them define the terms. Believe me, I know what you are up against. But, please, don’t let them cast doubt on your own, very valid, perceptions.
Excellent point Eleanor! Michael Jackson studies pushes established boundaries in ways that reflect the work itself. It would be a mistake to try to study MJ and stay within the lines.
I really treasure this site as a precious oasis where Michael Jackson is given the respect he is due as an artist and as a fine example of the human race. All the people who comment here regularly have contributed so much, I value the insightful commentary and resonate very strongly with your viewpoints, including the issue of Mia’s critique of the site as well.
That being said, this site is also about encouraging more people to read and understand Willa’s book, which is really a key that unlocks the door into a more sophisticated understanding of a major artist whose cultural impact cannot be overstated. All of us who have taken that journey know what an exhilarating one it is. Many fans have noted that Randall Sullivan’s way of encouraging people to read his book was not the most intelligent approach, he managed to alienate the very people he was hoping to attract. So, I thinking of how we might learn from his mistake.
What would you all think, as an act of MJ-like radical inclusion, of asking Mia to share her thoughts about MJ as a musician/artist? I would be interested in hearing what she has to say as a musicologist who has done some research on this topic, including how she understands her role as a researcher and the need for objectivity. Even if she is not willing to, it still might be a way of thinking about how to approach this situation in the future.
“What would you all think, as an act of MJ-like radical inclusion, of asking Mia to share her thoughts about MJ as a musician/artist? I would be interested in hearing what she has to say as a musicologist who has done some research on this topic, including how she understands her role as a researcher and the need for objectivity. Even if she is not willing to, it still might be a way of thinking about how to approach this situation in the future.”
I think that’s an interesting idea. My sense is that she has thought about his work and would like to talk about it, and I’d like to hear what she has to say.
We don’t need to ask her to do that b/c that was always an option, but she chose not to take it. She chose to focus a diatribe elsewhere. I of course am just expressing my thoughts and don’t want to stop anyone else from doing what they think is a good idea. I also question the idea that Michael welcomed all and sundry, as in a radical inclusion. I think he was selective in the people he chose to exchange ideas with.
@ultravioletrae said: “What would you all think, as an act of MJ-like radical inclusion, of asking Mia to share her thoughts about MJ as a musician/artist?”
I too think that is a wonderful suggestion.
Hi Ultravioletrae. Sorry for the delayed reply. Had to go to Tallahassee for a while. Anyway…am back at my farm.
I take your point about Willa’s book — and have been thinking about it and wondering about her intended audience (sorry to be talking about you in the 3rd person, Willa). Her insights are so interesting and the message she wants to get out about MJ so important that it seems a shame to spend so much time trying to get academic recognition — because, for one thing, what does it get you? Certainly not a broad audience. How many people really read academic journals?
As to your question about Mia, to be honest, I’m really not interested in what she has to say. As far as I’m concerned, she has said too much already. But, that’s just me…
My interest in MJ goes beyond his role as greatest artist of the 20th century to most powerful cultural iconoclast. I wouldn’t be at all surprised it he became recognized as “a savior,” showing us the way out of the multiple messes we seem to be getting ourselves into. He has left an extraordinary legacy that speaks for itself.
Those that have ears to hear and eyes to see will. My position is that we just need to keep pointing out how great he is and ignore the detractors.
PS If you think I am slightly anti-academic, you would be right. I do not think academe is the place to go for wonderful, fresh, and original ideas. If MJ had had a conventional academic musical education, I think it would have crushed his creativity. I do not think we would even be talking about him.
Hi Eleanor. Thanks for the encouragement! I appreciate it. And I wanted to clarify that I’m not saying I agree with the idea of the “objective critic” (I don’t – in fact, I’m actively resisting it) but we do need to be aware that there’s a bias toward critical distance, and of how strong that bias is.
In my own case, it feels to me that the idea of critical distance just isn’t really an option. Michael Jackson has been influencing my thoughts and perceptions – how I see and experience and interpret my world – since I was nine years old. I’m not even sure sometimes whether my thoughts about him and his work and larger social issues are my own or whether they came from him, and how do I go about separating that out? His voice has been in my head for decades, since I was a child. How do I gain critical distance in a case like that?
My feeling is I don’t, I can’t, but maybe there’s something valuable to be learned from close critical proximity that can’t be learned from critical distance….
Although academic institutions (including publications) DO function in many ways as cultural gatekeepers as Eleanor says, and although they do favor styles of expression that often seem (on the face of it) distanced and dispassionate, I find the situation a little more complicated than that.
Reading Susan Fast’s essays (“Difference that Exceeded Understanding,” for example), or her colleague and co-editor Stan Hawkins’s introductory essay in the special Michael Jackson issue of the “Journal of Popular Music and Society,” among other examples, I find an evident enthusiasm.
Like you, Willa, I find that writing dispassionately about Michael is not an option—even though my own “proximity” only dates from the time of his death. I had to find a form, or container, that would accommodate the uncontainable. But writing that departs from the more standard academic approaches can be difficult to get published—by a university press, anyway.
I like your of “close critical proximity,” as opposed to “critical distance.” I’ve been savoring an irony here when I consider the intricate implications of all this. For the past thirty years or so, ever since feminist thought has been ensconced in the academy through Womens’ Studies programs and the like, the idea of closeness, proximity, the personal, the intimate (generally hallmarks of womens’ writing, in history) are qualities that have been elevated to a place of prestige, alongside the seemingly more dispassionate, objective, scientific, forms of writing that are thought to have a more masculinist bent.
Yet this new consciousness doesn’t seem to be reflected in editorial policies; or even (I have to admit), in my own classroom (!) where I continually ask my students to write something that resembles a “standard” academic essay. Hmmm…..
This also ties in with the demand for “objectivity.” It’s interesting that certain intellectual trends, going back at least as far as the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond, have *severely* interrogated the very idea that objectivity, in an ideal sense, is even possible! We all have histories (“subject positions”) that are inevitably reflected in the ways we think about the world; we are all human, not omniscient beings; we all have biases. The best we can do, then, is to try to understand our own biases, where they come from, how they’ve been molded and shaped by the ideologies that surround us and from which we can’t extricate ourselves. This has been the standard “line” for some time, at least in fields like the humanities (if not the “hard” sciences).
Thanks so much, Willa and ultravioletrae, for that reference to Jensen’s article. (I’m going to have to carve out some time to read it, and my interest in studying Michael Jackson has led me to some other readings about fan cultures, celebrity studies (which is now a viable academic sub-discipline!), and other related stuff.
I hope to find the time to weigh in more on this matter of high/low culture a bit later—but for the moment, I can say that academics—especially in areas like Cultural Studies– have focused on Michael Jackson as a topic of serious study since the 1980s. I’ve collected several hundred academic articles (from various journals and book anthologies on popular music, popular culture, cultural studies, etc.). I’d be happy to share what I have with anyone here who’s interested. While some of it can be found online, most of these articles are only available in print.
Well, all of this is a roundabout way of thanking Willa and Joie for your thoughtful comments on “Stranger in Moscow.” I wanted to respond to that, since I find that short film to be the most artistically (*cinematically*) realized of all the films in Michael’s oeuvre, and it’s definitely my favorite…. even if he doesn’t dance!
Please do share!!!!
Nina, I would love a reading list — just seeing how much is out there and the topics would be interesting. Maybe if you did not want to put it on this site you could send it to Willa and Joie and then they could forward it to those of us who are interested.
My two cents as a non-academic:
How can one write about something as subjective as art objectively? Isn’t that inherently impossible? Even if one is seemingly distanced from the subject of his critique and writes in a seemingly dispassionate tone, I personally think that’s just a surface thing. As humans we all have our prejudices, biases, values, cultural frames etc. which in my opinion make it simply impossible for anyone to truly be objective. Especially in such a field as art, where, unlike in natural science, there aren’t exact numbers, datas, facts which can decide a debate. (And even in natural science sometimes personal biases come into play.) In art there are tastes, personal values, personal cultural backgrounds and things like that which all shape our opinions and how we individually think. Who decides whose opinion is closest to “objective”?
So I don’t believe in objectivity in art critique. Art critique is not science. I’d rather have academics to be honest about it than to try to enforce “critical distance” and “dispassion” and “objectivity” (which doesn’t exist IMO) at all costs. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I expect professional critics and academics act like fanboys and fangirls, but I don’t expect fake “objectivity” either.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to read a good, informed, well-researched critique and they are very important too for the documentation of cultural processes, developments, phenomenons. But I also know that’s just someone’s opinion and that it’s not, because it can’t be, objective.
Nina, I’d love you to share those articles!
I love all the comments here on this important issue raised by Bjorn (thanks!) about fandom, objectivity, and enthusiasm. Thanks, Ultravioletrae for sharing your experience and for that interesting reference–love the statements by Joli Jensen.
I chose the user name Aldebaran because I loved the sound going way back, but I found out it is the red star in the constellation Taurus. It is an Arabic word al-debaran, which means ‘the follower’ b/c this star follows the Pleides in the sky. I do see myself as someone who likes to support and ‘follow’ others I admire, and I see nothing wrong with that. It is like being close to something or someone that nourishes you, and to me this is healthy and the way we grow. Flowers turn to the sun, don’t they?
Thanks for all the great comments. I agree, Daniela, that great beings are a guide, ones we learn from.( Have you read that book by C. Mecca btw?) And amen to Eleanor’s statement that this blog is ‘proudly’ biased in favor of Michael Jackson! I agree with people’s comments that a response to art has to be emotional–in fact, it has to hit you on all levels. Emily Dickinson famously said that her criteria for a poem was it had to blow your head open and that’s how she knew it was a poem! This is not a calm, measured reaction at all–this is being blown away.
Willa, thank you for your thoughtful comment and for sharing a very difficult personal experience that shows how these acts can tear people apart and trigger a lot of emotional reactions and social turmoil. I feel very sorry, esp.for the children and the choir director.
I would like to point out, though, that in the case of Mia, her comments were not rational and it is hard to respond rationally to that. I also question whether she would have heard a rational response. You were very reasonable and kind in your reply to her. Did it help? I would say no. The other point is that I have read this person’s comments elsewhere. On another blog, the blogger called Michael an ‘innocent little dove”–this was just an epithet said in passing, but Mia jumped on it as sign of seeing Michael as totally innocent of any faults. On this blog, the blogger was talking about Alfred Kinsey and how he used data collected from a pedophile and included it in his charts, claiming on that basis that infants had organsms as a very young age. Taking this as a sign that this blogger supported child abuse (when the blogger was actually using that info to criticize Kinsey very strongly), Mia got upset. Others tried to correct this misinterpretation, to no avail.
Let’s look at her statement made on this blog:
“Every discussion, no matter where it starts from – lyrics, music, music videos, or whatever topic connected to Michael Jackson – it always progresses into propagandistic and highly disturbing comments and links on other topics. In this edition it is how people should view and interpret the very issue of child molestation and child abuse and ‘explanations’ on drug addiction. Often it is also common to read anti abortion propaganda, homophobic, religious and ultra right wing political propaganda. Every website and blog about Michael Jackson seems, in reality, to be devoted to totally different things than to discuss and analyze, in any substantial way,.the diversity of Michael Jacksons artistry. Instead, there are something similar to a crusade going on, against the very topic, the very truth, that child molestation and child abuse acctually occurs, and that this is one of societys worst and most disgraceful, problematic issues. Children and minors can not defend themselves in this discussion, they are highly vulnerable and are constantly silenced by people who try to direct the public debate about one of the worst crimes comitted, in the direction towards ignorance, doubt and silence. The same can also be said about hatred crimes comitted to others that do not share the same religious views, the same political views. the same sexual orientation, the same ethnicity etc. as the ‘mainstream’.” Mia
This below is from her too, I believe. The ideas are too similar IMO to be coincidental.
“Thank you NY Times, for this great article. It does spread well needed light on the malicious abuse and stalking going on at the Amazon website and elsewhere, by the organised flocks of abusers that call themselves ‘fans’ of Michael Jackson. They really do have a self promoting agenda as Mr Thomas Mesereau so rightly describes. I do respect his endorsement of the book, as I think he has insight and knowledge. And I also think that he knows what is really at stake here. The Michael Jackson fan community do not only attack their opponents – on their various fansites there is also something else very disturbing going on – the self appointed duty of ‘advocacy’ for Michael Jackson by spreading hatred with homophobic, ultra conservative and quasi religious contents, and by far the worst: implying that abuse and molestation committed towards children does not really exist. Instead it is the children that ‘seduces the adults’, children are ‘sexualised’. The guilt, they implies, should be transferred onto the very victims- the children. In this, they have hijacked Michael Jackson as an object of desire and for sickly obsession, as a medium, a tool for their despiccable agenda and activities. They call him their “innocent little dove, and use him without any respect for his personal integrity and artistry – this is of no or little interest for them. As a consumer with demands on ethical standards, I now awaits the urgently needed action also from the estate of Michael Jackson.” Yiva(7 recommends)
I hear what you are saying about treating others with respect, and maybe I was a bit hard on Mia (?) but, honestly, I have no patience for these ideas, and I just don’t think there was anything anyone could have said to change her point of view.
Thanks for that, Aldberanstar. I agree the ideas in the two quotes seem to be to similar to be a coincidence. A person who claims something like this is definitely not honest:
“and by far the worst: implying that abuse and molestation committed towards children does not really exist. Instead it is the children that ‘seduces the adults’, children are ‘sexualised’. The guilt, they implies, should be transferred onto the very victims- the children.”
I have never seen fans claim things like these. So she actually slanders fans here without any basis. The people who claim things like that are pedophiles and their advocates, some of whom actually tried to use Michael for their own purposes. The very origin of the allegations against him may go back to such an intention (via Victor Gurierrez), but these people are considered as Michael’s enemies by fans. I have seen fan blogs exposing and criticizing such people and ideas, but I haven’t seen any fan endorsing those people and ideas. However I have seen MJ haters endorsing and supporting them and their ideas.
So this is again a good example of Mia intentionally misinterpreting fans’ positions and erecting straw-men. This is very, very dishonest conduct.
You talk a lot about me that you do not of, and you talk of me as being the third person. it is considered very rude, And for your information, I’m Mia – just Mia (my right name bye the way, I do not use pseudonyms). So do not try to make me into a ‘troll. And do not accuse me for spreading false information. I mainly do works in academic contexts, and no one has never been even near to suggest that I had not validated my conclusions, There might be more people than just me who have strong objections to your strange tactics – repeating Bible citations in one part and vicious slander and abuse in another part. Your reaction to what I tried to argument is very aggressive and contra productive. You obviously need a victim of some sort – but I’m not willing to be that one, so get off that. There is a very visible peck order on this blog, and in that I do not have any interest to share. I do believe in freedom of speech, and that right also encompasses me.
And one thing more, No, there is nothing that you can say to me to change’, my point of view’, as you call it. I do not think that you know what my point of view is, at all.
And I do not listen to people that react in the way you do, you have the wrong tactics for thoughtful discussions. I separate Michael Jackson from all these stories in his private life. I forecast very dark futures for him, when it comes to his lasting legacy.
I think that all that will remain is the pointless and endless stories about his sexuality, his nose and his guilt. The musician – and the person will not survive over time.
I wanted a reply from Willa, and I did get it. I have not tried to determine the inhold of this blog, but I thought that there was a possibility that the editors would appreciate a critical view on some of the material appearing here. I was not critical to the very initative discussion on Stranger in Moscow, I just had an idea that this very short film could also be discussed in relation to works from other composers, just like Philip Glass who is a well respected, innovative modern American composer, who also makes film music. They create different sort of music, but with resonating points.I have always wondered what a voice-over part in a film could have been ‘transported’ by the music of Michael Jackson. But I do not feel the motivation to think freely on that matter, as I’m not granted freedom to express any other than the ‘right ideas’ here.
Hi Mia. You’re right, it is rude to talk about someone in the third person when they are still present, and I apologize. I thought you had given up on us and were not present anymore. I also apologize for any comments that felt offensive or insensitive.
I would be very interested to hear your ideas about Stranger in Moscow, especially in relation to Philip Glass or other composers. I realize we got off to a bad start and I’m sorry about that, but I’m sincere in saying I hope you will share your thoughts.
” I just had an idea that this very short film could also be discussed in relation to works from other composers, just like Philip Glass who is a well respected, innovative modern American composer, who also makes film music. They create different sort of music, but with resonating points.I have always wondered what a voice-over part in a film could have been ‘transported’ by the music of Michael Jackson.”
I am really interested in your ideas about Jackson and Philip Glass, I’m a big admirer of Glass and also think it’s an interesting comparison. Would you be willing to share more about your ideas on this? I am a musician/musicologist as well, I think it would be wonderful if we could discuss it.
I’d really like to know more about your work on Michael Jackson, also what good scholarly literature is available in your language that might not be well available in English translation, and more about what you have observed about Michael Jackson studies in general. I am really interested in your perspective.
The question is: be sympathetic to victims of sexual abuse and combat child abuse means not address the cases of false charges? It means not defending Michael, when we have many reasons to believe that the Chandlers and Arvizos lied? It was what Mia said. Fight against child sexual abuse does not mean fire all the people who have been accused of child sexual abuse without give a chance to defend themselves, because many have been accused unjustly. The McMartin case is an excellent example of how children can be taken to accuse someone they never come to know.
Here’s an interesting testimony:
I like to talk about the charges, I have a blog focused on that and I did not do it for fans, but for anyone who is not a fan, so he/she can found information from a reliable source. When people ask me about the cases involving Michael, I’m willing to sit for hours and to talk about it also listen and try to understand their doubts and clarify them. But there are some people who think that once you were accused you are guilty. Period. There’s no argument against it. And there people who seem to like to think that MJ was guilty. It seems crazy, but I feel that many people were happy with the idea he was bad.
Special person like Michael bother lots people. And we know that this desire to destroy idols grows stronger when the idol is a black man.
Anyway, although I agree with you that the real victims deserve our sympathy, I think the discussion about the cases of false accusations aren’t cruel to the real victims or even discourage them to tell what happened to them. Michael himself cared about child abuse. Examples of this are the songs “Do You Know Where You Are Children”, “Little Susie”, “Scared of the Moon”. MJ was protector of younger children, he had it as a mission, to create a better world for them, and accuse him of child molestation just made that mission more difficult. He was a guardian angel that had his wings broken by the accusers. And who was hurt by it along himself? The children. Remember he said he wanted to adopt children from around the world? If not for the charges, he would have done and many abandoned children would have found a home. In my opinion, show the world that he was not guilty is also a way to fight for children.
Revolt me that people do not give Michael even the benefit of the doubt (All of us are innocent until proven guilty) and did not want to discuss it, simply because we were not there. Until the last days of his life he was worrying about children, One of the most painful things I’ve ever listened was the record on Murray’s Ipod, in which Michael says he wanted the money from the This Is It shows to build a child hospital. Despite all he suffered, he still full of hope and kindness. What an extraordinary human being! In his place, I would have taken hatred about the world.
Well, I’ve said too much in this post. Excuse me.
P.S Aldebaran, I have not read the American Master by C. Mecca, just parts of it cited by another authors such as Barbara Kauffmann. It is a very expensive book , so I could not get it yet.
Daniela..you are so, so right ..
Some of us understand that Michael was actually an advocate for children, but those who participated in the false accusations against him , whatever role they had to play, in their frenzy to “nail him”, actually perpetrated a huge dis-service to those genuine victims of abuse .
Horrible as it sounds , I wonder how many children at the time, who were being abused by someone in their life, felt that if Michael Jackson could “get away with it” (i.e the “victim” wasn’t believed, rather than the “victim” lied).then who would believe their story. ??
In some ways I wonder that if Michael had had the strength to pursue malicious prosecution, not only would it have benefited him, but also genuine victims of child abuse too.
(I understand why he didn’t after all he had been through)
And then of course there were all the children ( and adults for that matter )who never got to benefit from Michael’s kindness and generosity ,. all cut short because of some people’s malice and greed.
And it’s ironic if you stop to think about it (especially those with a closed mind) that the Chandlers and Arvizos and the like,, didn’t care one jot about children who were (are) actually suffering the misery, pain and loneliness of abuse,
I hope that one day Michael’s hospital will be built ..
Well, I think the quotes Alebaran did show WHO mia is. To me is clear like crystal she is a hater trying to infiltrate, feigning interest in his music. And she is creazy, she seem someone who was abused and hate everyone in the world. WHEN in the world she saw a MJ fan sayin child abuse do ot exist? Or the child is who seduces the adult? She distorts everything.She is dangerous. And she don’t know nothing about Michael Jackson, nothing! She can’t imagine how he inpires kindness, love, charity. I’m a better person because of him.
I’m not very good with children, I have no patience with them, but I always think of him and how he was gentle and loving with them and it touches my heart, my attitude is changing. Poor Mia, she has not been able to see the especial human being Michael was, she was not touched by his light yet. I feel so , so, so, sorry for her.
You know Daniela, Either you or ‘Alebaran’ do show me.You are just vicious people. I’m not like you a hater, and is not an infiltrator – I do not think of people that do not share my opinion, that they have started a world conspiracy towards me. And I’m crazy and all other things. I’m lucky, I have never been abused, but I have worked with children do have suffered from child abuse and molestations, and their mothers have experienced abuse too, in som cases been murdered. Have you taken in your custody some child who’s mother have been beaten to death?I have. I have also worked with young (very young) girls that have been forced into prostitution and have a background of childhood rape and abuse (often for years).
You do not have to pity me, by any reason. I feel sorry for you, for your hatred for a person that you do not know at all. That is not a good ground to advocate for anyone.
Just look at what happens when we engage with a hater like we just did here:
The actual topic is dropped and all the attention is on the hater
We are debating how affectionate we can be towards MJ as fans without pissing people off
No opinions about MJ got changed since the troll never intended to listen to begin with
The troll succeded in getting us upset, defensive and doubting OUR behaviour
I am totally for informing people about these issues when they really don’t know what happened there. It is different though when you deal with people with a certain agenda, and who need to believe certain things that fit that agenda. I have an analogy for this – having a discussion with these people is like rooming with a meth addict. You try to bring up real things like when the rent is due and they go “How can you even think about that when there are police scanner voices coming from the airconditioner!” Would you try to talk sense into them or would just slowly step away, nodding and dialing 911 in your pocket?
I am making fun of it but I am very serious as the same time. Whatever issues these people have, it has nothing to do with MJ or us. They need him to be this evil psychotic pervert with every issue on the planet in order to dismiss him and they need us to be a crazy bunch of lunatics to dismiss us. Whatever. If someone told you the world was flat, how much effort would you put in convincing them?
Please, guys, let’s not let the few delluded individuals ruin it for us by making every conversation about Michael into a battle about this crap. And no I am not saying child abuse issues are crap, just that all questions about Michael in this sense had been asked and answered too many times already.
Absolutely, Gennie. That’s why I wrote the above, hiding below one of Willa’s comments. These are my sentiments: When I want to go to a site hoping to engage people who are not sure Michael is innocent, I click on Vindicating Michael or Michael Jackson Vindication 2.0. I come to this site because it is a respite from some of the ugliness encountered elsewhere on the internet. Here I find beauty and spirituality and friendly souls. Here I find it’s safe to assume that I won’t have to defend Michael, but can simply enjoy all he has given us. It’s a haven I want to be waiting for me next time I visit. Why not just give people who are interested in “discussing” Michael’s possible guilt or innocence links to the aforementioned blogs and keep this one for aficionados?
I saw your comment, Kris, and I agree.
I am incredibly thankful to this blog because it had opened my eyes to an idea of discussing MJ in a way that hadn’t occured to me before. there are plenty of places to discuss things like his trials and eccentricities, and very few places to discuss the man and his work with like-minded people.
I think Joe Vogel mentioned in an interview recently in connection to Sullivan’s book that he is just not interested in reading/writing about the “eccentricities” of MJ when one could explore things that actually made us pay attention to him in the first place. I agree.
But that was Mia’s point, wasn’t it? She wanted to talk about Stranger in Moscow, and thought that discussing the allegations was inappropriate and a distraction. I replied and said I thought the allegations were central to Stranger in Moscow, and we couldn’t really understand one without understanding the other. If anything, I’m the one who got the discussion off track (sorry!) but I actually think this is a very important discussion, even if it is a bit off-topic. …
I do want to discuss Stranger in Moscow, though, because it is one of my favorite short films, and one of the most important, I think.
I agree with Gennie, Kris, and other great comments that want us back on our track rather than getting derailed. The analogy to the meth addict was priceless! Let’s face it, there is no way anyone without a serious disturbance in thinking could emit the ideas we heard. We do not need to take on the burden of educating people in general, esp.people of that mindset. For example, anyone can do research and find so much information, including wonderful books, such as G. Hughes and A. Jones, etc. The work has been done already. It is available to all who seek the truth. Let’s point them in that direction if they seek info.
Back to SIM. I looked at Black or White coda b/c I recalled Michael stamping or splashing in a pool of water similar to what he does at the conclusion of SIM. In BOW he seems to step into the pool; but in SIM, he stamps the pool. It is interesting to me, b/c the stamping shows anger, whereas the stepping does not so much (although anger is all over the place in the coda as we know). There is little actual movement in SIM, no dancing, everyone seems to be in slow motion, so this stamping seems significant, along with other movements Michael makes at the close of SIM. What I want to say is the stamping stand out, gets your attention. He is angry about all this happening to him.
The other part of SIM that we haven’t discussed is the Russian KGB interrogation at the close. Joe Vogel translates it: “Why have you come from the West? Confess!! To steal the great achievements of the people, the accomplishments of the workers?” (194). This is important, esp. the word ‘confess’–which is so significant for the children subjected to interrogations to coerce them into saying what the ‘investigators’ wanted them to say, and thanks, Daniela, for the link to the children talking about why they ‘confessed,’ that is, lied, in the McMartin case. It is a huge eye-opener.
In looking at the BOW coda again, I looked carefully at the statue that the black jagiar walks past and I do not believe it is of George Washinton, as the Academia Project claimed. It looks more like a Roman soldier or leader. I don’t see the typical George Washington dress, the figure is bare-headed, and seems to be dressed as a centurion type. Just an observation.
Finally, I went back to ‘Billie Jean’ and I forgot that it starts in black and white and then shifts to color once MJ appears. The opening with the paparazzi is in black and white. I think MJ’s choice of filming SIM entirely in black and white is significant. We could run some nice paralleles/contrasts between BJ and SIM as far as the visuals..
That’s really interesting, Aldebaranredstar, thinking about Billie Jean, Black or White, and Stranger in Moscow as a continuum. I hadn’t thought about them that way before. I’ll have to ponder that for a while. …
Do you know theres’s a little of SIM in Sonic 3?
Just read it:
“On December 2, 2009, a member named dma from the website VGMdb (a website that focuses on video game music) brought attention to an article in Black & White Magazine. This interview was with Brad Buxer, a credited music composer for the Sonic 3 soundtrack. In this interview, Buxer confirms that the final release of Sonic 3 does contain at least one piece of work by Michael Jackson:
B&W: Can you clarify the rumor that Michael had in 1993 composed the music for Sonic 3 video game, for which you havel been credited?
Buxer: I’ve never played the game so I do not know what tracks on which Michael and I have worked the developers have kept, but we did compose music for the game. Michael called me at the time for help on this project, and that’s what I did. And if he is not credited for composing the music, it’s because he was not happy with the result sound coming out of the console. At the time, game consoles did not allow an optimal sound reproduction, and Michael found it frustrating. He did not want to be associated with a product that devalued his music…
B&W: One of the surprising things in this soundtrack is that you can hear the chords from Stranger in Moscow, which is supposed to have been composed later…
Buxer: Yes, Michael and I had composed those chords for the game, and it has been used as base for Stranger in Moscow. […]”
I’ve been thinking about the objectivity and academic circles issues that were discussed here, so I hope it’s ok I’m going to derail this thread once again 🙂
I like to watch science talks, especially about physics, and people who work in science and try to explain in to those who don’t, are anything but dispassionate and remote. In fact, when you hear Neil Degrasse Tyson talk about the universe, it’s so poetic and mindblowing, I would compare it to being awed by a piece of great literature or music.
Objectivity becomes an issue when you are so attached to an idea that you ignore the evidence or refuse to see a different perspective or deliberately highlight only partial data. Enthusiasm by itself is not incompatible with objectivity. In fact, it is people who are deeply passionate about something, that become experts in it and have the ability to ignite that spark of interest in others. If people claim that a book or an article lacks objectivity, they have to say why based on what is missing, ignored, biased and so on. Otherwise its like “I don’t like MJ and you do, so therefore you are not objective”…
So, bring it back to MJ, I believe it is people like Joe Vogel and Willa (and many others) who have a chance of changing the narrative in time because of their passion and genuine interest in exploring Michael’s work, not in spite of it. Think about those teachers who really got your attention and inspired further exploration – I bet their were passionate about their subject!
End rant 🙂
You’re right, of course. There are those in the media that are seeking to replace their favorite whipping boy, MJ, with another one, just because it’s always been so financially successful for them. This new whipping boy, being groomed into existence as we speak, is us, lumped together under the label “crazy, insane, nut-job fans.” The media has kept us in the headlines since the Sullivan book was so soundly rejected by what his publishers had hoped would be a sympathetic fan base. Since that didn’t work out so well for them, they’re trying to lure the general public into buying the book by trying to pit that public against us.
I agree. Take for example, this debate about Sullivan’s book. There is this false premise in the media and among the general public that if you are a fan your arguments are automatically invalid or non-credible, just because you are emotionally close to the subject. So Sullivan must be right about those subjects rather than the fans who correct and criticize him.
But if they’d actually take the time and effort to look into those matters they’d find that it’s fans who are correct about them and Sullivan isn’t. There are many claims in his book which can be factually disproven. So just because someone is emotionally closer to a subject than another person it doesn’t automatically make his arguments less valid. But there seems to be this false premise that your arguments are automatically a lot less credible if you are a fan.
In fact, naturally it’s fans of Michael who invest time and effort to research things about him in-depth. Many of those Sullivan supporting 5-star reviews on Amazon are full of falsehoods, written by people who are obviously ignorant about the facts of Michael’s life. So did their “emotional distance” make them more level-headed, more credible, more right? Not at all. On the contrary.
Many fans spent a lifetime following Michael, so it’s natural that they have more knowledge of the subject. Yes, some fans judgement may be clouded by the emotional attachment, but it’s very offensive to suggest that all fans would twist or ignore facts or make up things just to defend Michael. I’m a fan of Michael, but I’m also a fan of truth. There’s no way I’d deny it if evidence would lead to Michael being a child molester. It’s offensive to fans to think most of them would. I think that Michael was innocent of the allegations against him, because after extensive research of the cases evidence led me to that conclusion. As a fan I wanted to know the TRUTH about him, that’s why I researched.
I dare to say that most of the people who attempt to discredit fans just based on the fact they are fans did not do the same extensive research about the cases as many, many fans did. So how exactly are they more entitled to make judgements about whether Michael was guilty or innocent, when many of them are clearly painfully ignorant about the facts of the cases? And we can say the same about many other aspects of Michael’s life, and even art.
Great points, jacksonaktak.
Great points, Genni! Thanks for bringing back my faith in ”enthusiastic objectivity”! 🙂 Now back to Mj…
I haven’t wanted to respond until now because I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire that has been raging here, and because I could actually see all points of view and agreed with them on many levels.
However, one of the main things that inspires me about Michael’s music and especially how he lived, is that he lived with what Caroline Myss calls “spiritual elegance”. Yes his later music often relfected his anger and frustration, and I think those songs are great, but one very rarely heard him in public lambasting anyone, apart from the one occasion when he called Tommy Matola “devilish”. Rather he said in more than one interview that he respected his fellow artists and didn’t want to badmouth them. As he said in Ghosts, “There’s no need to be rude”.
I am so glad that you all had your say, (though I was sorry that some of you were quite rude at times, though I do understand why. as I also get very defensive when anyone attacks Michael around me), that Willa was able to apologise, and that Mia was able to come back with some very interesting comments that have to do with Michael’s music. I love Joe Vogel’s work because he concentrates on the music, I love Willa’s work because she deals with the ‘face’ of Michael in a very constructive way, and I love this blog for everything that is shared by us all. In many ways I really wish that we could get away from the personal stuff, as I believe Michael did himself. Just watched the whole Oprah interview again after reading all the comments on the All For Love Blog, and I just loved it when he said that if he met his hero Michelangelo he would want to talk about his art not his personal life. But as Willa rightly says, so many of his lyrics are so deeply autobiographical, that is is impossible not to consider his life and what happened to him because it is all there in the music.
So guys if I could draw it here, I would draw Michael making the peace sign with his hand, and say as he did “It’s all for L.O.V.E.
Well, since Caro held back not wanting to add to the fire and now has decided to speak up, I think maybe I will put my foot into these troubled waters too (to switch metaphors). What I saw was that someone came here and really attacked with no holds barred the comments made and the people making them. (I got called a ‘vicious person’ for instance! And my quoting from Psalm 51 was seen as a ‘strange tactic.’) Fans were called several times ‘obsessive’ and the purpose of the blog was questioned as to whether it was in fact an attempt “To say that child molestation and abuse, phaedophilia, does not exist in reality? That drug addiction is not okay, but with the exception for Michael Jackson?” Personally, I do not see the comments in response to those really offensive remarks as inappropriate or rude. Who was the one being rude in the first place, I ask you? If you are going to object to one’s person’s rudeness and not another’s, is it fair? If you are gpoing to apologize to one person and not another, is this fair? Where is Daniela’s comment about ‘hypocrisy’? Just wondering where it went. She told us she has a blog focused on the allegations and so no doubt the attacks questioning her motives affected her especially deeply.
About the reference to the toddler that was murdered by children in the U.K., yes, Michael had compassion and wanted to visit them, and it caused a big fight between him and Lisa Marie. She thought it was not a good idea, and obviously he did not go, although he defended his desire to go and said it turned out the kids who killed the toddler had been watching a lot of violent movies, about “Chucky”–some kind of killer doll. But again, I see the reference to that murder as taking us out of the realm of SIM, and I feel we have been all over the place; in some ways it has been productive but maybe in some ways not. When I spoke about mercy as an element of SIM, I was referring to mercy for Michael, for the false accusations, for the stress and pain of what he endured (for the rest of his life), but instead of a focus on that, the toddler murder came up, which was not a major issue for Michael, although clearly he thought they did not have good parenting (!). His more general desire for compassion for children came for sick, neglected, abused, and starving children, for parents to spend more time with their children, for society to honor and respect children more, and for adults to become more child-like.
This brings me to the point that, as Willa said, “If we truly want to change public perceptions about Michael Jackson, clear his name, and preserve his legacy, we have to figure out ways to reach out to those who think he’s guilty and change their minds.” First, I am not sure we need to do that. Second, it is impossible to “change their minds.” They have to change their own minds. We can discuss strategy, but what would an effective strategy be? Did Joe Vogel set about to change people’s minds? I don’t think that was a major focus, but the end result may have been to change people’s minds, but certainly not all minds, as we see there are still a lot of people out there who think negatively about Michael. I think we need to honor him in our writings, in our conversations, reveal the info that we have gathered, correct misapprehensions , and I really think this is what people tried to do in the case that transpired here. People used reason in the face of attacks.
Hi Aldebaran. I’m confused – if we aren’t hoping to exchange ideas with those who disagree with us, perhaps change their minds, and maybe learn something ourselves from them, then why engage in conversation at all? What’s the point?
I’ll choose the thing I can best respond to (in these troubled waters):
Mia, you wrote,
“What I lack is a thorough analysis of each title, with form, structure, notation,voice part, rythm, textual synopsis, and a revue of what critics thought of this particular text or music, at the time. In Jackson’s case there is a very special detail to take note of: the non-verbal parts – the non-semantic inhold. And that the lyrics inhold does relate to the musical form.
“Music sociologist Simon Frith thinks that the meaning of the words in a song is that they are signs for a voice: “In songs, words are the sign of a voice. A song is always a performance, and song words are always spoken, heard in someone’s accent. Songs are more like plays than poems; song words work as speech and speech acts, bearing meaning not just semantically, but also as structures of sound that are direct signs of emotion and marks of character. Singer use non-verbal as well as verbal devices to make their points…” (Frith, S: Why do songs have words ? p.20 , In: Music for Pleasure, 1988)”
I’m interested in Frith’s idea here; songs are more like plays than poems, because they are *performed* (though there is “performance poetry,” it’s still more common to read a poem silently). To perform a song effectively often involves a kind of acting skill, and in this, Michael seems to have much more than rudimentary abilities. For instance, I’m astonished at the spot-on *acting* instincts Michael brought to his performance of “She’s Out of My Life” in the 1979 video, even down to the expression in his eyes. He should be recognized as one of the great vocal *actors* of our time: as Liza Minnelli said, “he’s a great, great interpreter of a song.”
I hear your frustration, Mia, in missing an in-depth analysis of the musicological elements you mention. It’s true that most scholarship falls short of this kind of investigation, since the writers’ interests often lie elsewhere. But as a start, I can recommend the recently-published (2012) special issue of the Journal of Popular Music and Society (“Michael Jackson: Musical Subjectivities”), edited by Susan Fast and Stan Hawkins.
Though I don’t necessarily agree with all the authors’ conclusions (and much of the technical discussion was beyond me, I admit), I was impressed by the level of analytical detail—of the music—most of them brought to their studies, often with musical notation, to illustrate their points. Here’s a list of the articles that appear there:
1. Introduction: You Rocked Our World, Michael! Your Moves, Your Look, Your Music, Everything!, Stan Hawkins
2. The Sound of Crossover: Micro-rhythm and Sonic Pleasure in Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,’ Anne Danielsen
3. Black or White? Michael Jackson and the Idea of Crossover, David Brackett
4. ‘Michael Jackson’s ‘Ressentiment:’: ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Smooth Criminal’ in Conversation with Fred Astaire,” Amir Khan
5. ‘They Don’t Care About Us’: Michael Jackson’s Black Nationalism,” Brian Rossiter
6. ‘When You Have to Say ‘I Do’: Orientalism in Michael Jackson’s ‘Liberian Girl,’ Jeremy Samuel Faust
7. ‘You Can’t Win, Child, But You Can’t Get Out of the Game’: Michael Jackson’s Transition from Child Star to Superstar, Jacqueline Warwick
8. Michael Jackson and the Expressive Power of Voice-produced Sound, Mats Johansson
9. Michael Jackson’s Queer Musical Belongings, Susan Fast
There are also a couple of album reviews:
• “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I,” Ryan Hibbett
• “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5,” B. Lee Cooper & William L. Schurk
In spite of my woeful lack of musical knowledge, I found that reading these articles really contributed to my appreciation of Michael Jackson’s artistry. Unfortunately, unless you have access to an academic or institutional library that subscribes to this journal, you can’t get access to these online (except for Hawkins’s introductory article, which is available to the general public). But I can send these articles (and many more) to you on disc, if you contact me off-site.
By the way, all—I offered to share the reading matter (and photos!) I’ve collected over the past several years. I’m still working on a rather inclusive bibliography of all this stuff (books as well as articles, blogs, etc.); but it’s a long-term project that’s going to take me awhile! Meantime, I’d be happy to send everything I have on discs. For articles, these include academic essays, chapters from books that deal with various aspects of Michael Jackson’s work, reviews, articles in popular magazines, newspaper articles (mostly from the Washington Post c. 1983-1985), blog entries, and much else.
To everyone who’s interested, please ask Willa for my email address, and I’d be happy to send the discs of all this material–at my own expense. Willa, you have my permission to forward my email address to anyone who’d like this material.
i live in Cape Town South Africa so it is even more difficult for me to get hold of the types of articles you write about, and i am wondering if your very kind offer to send a disc of them would extend to me here? If so, I wish there could be some way for me to reimburse you for the postage, but that would probably be very difficult, so I would donate something towards our local Red Cross Children’s Hospital in recompense if that would be ok with you?
Please let me know if you are willing to post them to me, and I will get your email address from Willa. Thanks
Then it will be this way? She can come here and say what she wants to attack us as irrational and fanatical fans and we can’t refute that? Fair enough! If my comments were not published, why hers were? The blog’s editors have the right to do whatever they want, but this is not a fair attitude and it is not consisten with the posture of one who says that everyone can express their opinion. Why my post was not posted? What I said so offensive? She offended me first! She insulted me, all of us, and Michael. I’m a fan; I’m on a blog dedicated to my idol. And she? What she is doing here? It is outrageous that even a blog dedicated to him we aren’t free from people like her. Thank you for support someone who just pretending respect MJ as an artist, while attacks him and us, against me, a true fan.
Today, Feb 3, 1992, Michael announced his Heal the World Foundation, which was in part supported by Pepsi, and, as Michael said, was intended to help children and the ecology.
“Good afternoon. I like to thank the Pepsi-Cola Corporation for sponsoring the Dangerous Tour, which we plan to kick off in June. The only reason I’m going on tour is to raise for the newly formed, Heal The World, an international children’s charity, that I’m spearheading to assist children and the ecology. My goal is to gross one hundred million dollars by Christmas, 1993. I urge every corporation and individual who cares about this planet and the future of the children, to help raise money for the HTW charity. ”
At this event, a boy’s choir sung Heal the World and Pepsi gave a check for 100k to HTW. Well, we know what happened when the allegations hit in 1993. By Christmas 1993, The Dangerous tour, second leg, was cancelled in the middle, Pepsi dropped Michael as its spokesman, and the plans for Heal the World Foundation did not reach intended goals, and the foundation eventually was closed. We simply have to talk about the allegations because of their great impoact on MJ’s life and art.
Given the troubled waters that IMO interrupted our discussion of SIM as a watershed artistic statement on the effects of the allegations, I would like to point out that since the accusations leveled at readers and the blog, no less than 30 comments have been made in direct response (yes, I counted tham!). IMO this means the discussion got totally derailed. Now we’re discussing, God help us, Simon Frith, who said that Michael was not famous for his music and was some kind of corporate toy-boy (oy veh!).
Wow, Aldebaranredstar, thank you for pointing out that this is the anniversary of the ’92 deal with Pepsi. I don’t know that you can overstate how brilliant MJ’s strategy was when it comes to these Pepsi ads, which were way more than “soft drink fantasies,” as Frith says, they were actually ads for Michael Jackson. MJ managed to get Pepsi to promote HIS music not only for free, they paid him staggering amounts of money for the privilege of doing so! Pepsi was advertising Michael Jackson at least as much as they were promoting their own product in those ads. According to Bethany Klein’s “As Heard On TV,” MJ’s 1984 Pepsi commercials were anticipated not as advertising but as “must-see programming.” MJ managed to hijack commerce for his own use and then directed it towards his humanitarian causes. This is another reason we call him genius. And of course, it’s heartbreaking to think about what the world lost when this association came to an end.
Eleanor and Nina, wonderful comments! I found Frith’s article rather confusing, in that he does seem to grasp the enormity of what he was witnessing, but was reluctant to consider the quality of the musical experience as being relevant! I really appreciated your perspectives. I absolutely loved the quote from “Music for Pleasure,” what a treat. Nice to hear someone of Frith’s stature expressing himself so readily when it comes to his own musical experience. (Was it you Eleanor, or Gennie? who said, it’s not like we’re developing new vaccines, we’re just interpreting music! lol)
Sorry Aldebaranredstar, I sort of derailed into the Simon Frith thing, oops, shouldn’t have done that!
He was a social entrepreneur…..
He certainly was. I think he was a very savvy businessman, but was unfortunately surrounded by “vampires” as Lisa Marie termed them and it was them rather than Michael that got his finances into such a mess.
Excellent catch, aldebaranredstar. I was incensed by the NY Times closing off comment soon after that ridiculous rant, but not surprised by it.
I really don’t understand all this pandering to an obsessed hater like Mia.
You know, we can’t control what other people say. We can only control how we respond, and in our responses I think we should always try to be our best selves – compassionate, considerate, knowledgeable, patient, and genuinely interested in what others have to say. That allows for better conversations, and it makes the world a much more pleasant place.
It’s especially important for us, as Michael Jackson fans, because other people (including the media) see us as a reflection of him. Our actions reflect on him. And I think it’s a much truer expression of his message when we conduct ourselves with compassion and dignity than when we react with anger and engage in the same kind of name calling that’s been directed at us.
Hear Hear Willa – my sentiments exactly. Following Michael’s inspiration I want to change the world, and certainly other peoples opinion about him, and I want to do that the way i think he would have done – with grace and dignity.
Except the gloved one never bothered with certain types of people, he just let his work speak for itself. I dare anyone to recall an instance when Michael would stood as low as to argue with someone who had a poor opinion of him.
I’m all for what Willa is saying, in general, but on the other hand, I tried with too many haters already to know when to walk away.
Definitely agree about controlling our responses though 🙂
I’m just amazed with how much controversy Stranger in Moscow brought up! 160 comments and counting. Reminded of that line in fat boy slims remix – Michael Jackson, what have you done! As long as there are heated debates like that over anything Michael, his legacy is safe. Because it means people are still deeply passionate about him, one way of the other.
As Michael had said to Diane Sawyer (in relation to history teaser): “I wanted their attention and they fell right into my trap!” We all did 😀 insert michael’s smirk from Ghosts after he revealed that it all has been just for fun!
Hi Gennie. I agree – “As long as there are heated debates like that over anything Michael, his legacy is safe.”
btw, I hadn’t heard the Fatboy Slim tribute, so just did a quick search and found this:
That’s wonderful! “Michael Jackson, look what you’ve done!” Indeed.
I don’t feel that Norman Cook (aka FBS) did this track as a tribute at all. I don’t believe he had any respect for Michael as an artist , or as a man, and he went on to make some very disparaging comments about him. ( Raven (AFLB) did an interesting post on this in April 2012 ).
The YouTube video is fantastic though.. full marks to it’s creator !!!
So, before it is too late, I thought I’d return to Stranger In Moscow.
At the beginning of the film, it ihas been raining, but has stopped — no umbrellas. A man is watching from an upstairs window, eating from an opened can. Other than the man at the window and MJ, there are several other main characters and a series of events that take place in slow motion — homeless man watching passersby, catching coin and watching wasp; boy — not part of the group playing ball — watching ball smash window, man surrounded by pigeons, then feeding them, woman watching people go by outside window, spilling coffee. Each of these other characters is passive, cut off from life — each is an observer rather than a participant — as is MJ. When it thunders and starts raining, MJ takes shelter and watches the people streaming by — most under umbrellas. The rain is something to be avoided. Then the children run splashing by, clearly enjoying it — leading the way. The man in the window seems relieved that the rain has begun, he traces the drops running down the windows with his fingers. Then the homeless man reaches out to touch the rain drops; the boy and pigeon-feeding guy remain in the rain and seem to welcome it; then MJ and the homeless man and the woman join them in the rain. Guy up in window who has been watching everything walks away, seemingly happy and satisfied at this turn of events. The others lift their heads, drinking in the rain — while the faceless crowd remain protected (cut off from) it under their umbrellas.
So, MJ is telling us exactly how it feels when you’re deeply depressed, when you are alone and cold inside. You feel completely cut off, you see life passing you by, everything is slowed way down — life is happening in slow motion and to other people. Then, to get out of this funk, you step into the flow of life, feel it, drench yourself in it.
The rain is their salvation. Depression comes from feeling alone and cold inside, but it is also the lack of the ability to feel anything, it is often this horrible dull numbness. The rain restores them to life — to the ability to feel and experience life. it is restorative.
As usual, there is so much going on. But, I like to think that one of the messages is that when people fail you, you can get out into nature — and regain your mental health and your joy.
But what about the wasp? I guess you can also get stung.
He is soooooo amazing.
quick thoughts —
wasp and coin — man can’t provide for himself, can’t even lift a finger to protect from from wasp
boy can’t move to prevent ball from smashing window
coffee spills, things happen to the woman
these people feel that they have no control over life, can do nothing to help themselves or others and then, they walk into the rain and hope enters their lives
Eleanor.. I like your quick thoughts very much !!
I was rereading what Willa and Joie said and it seems that they see the man who is watching from the apartment going out in the rain. Somehow, I missed that. And, for some reason, I can’t watch the video on youtube that I was looking at this morning to check it out.
He didn’t seem as isolated as the others, was more engaged, actively watching, interested. Oh well, see what missing a single detail can do. And, nothing is accidental. “If the camera shows a gun on the mantel, it will be used.”
Eleanor – wonderful observations!!! Thanks for bringing us full circle!
Also interesting that it is the rain that washes their pain away instead of sunshine or sunlight.
“These people feel … can do nothing to help themselves…”
I think that’s very true. Many depressed people say they don’t even have the strength to take a shower and everything feels so heavy … The day passes slowly… They just wanted to sleep and sleep and forget everything.
The people in the video are kind of “dormant”, then the rain comes and awakes them, just as it awakes the life inside a seed that was hibernating.
And I love the way Mike’s character in the last scenes, receives this renewing rain so completely, as if he was letting it wash his soul from all suffering and depression and then he will be ready to start again.
And talking about the wasp, it seems big. Too big for a wasp.
Great comments, all.
I’m very interested in what you say here about deep depression here, Eleanor, and what Danielle, and others have said about rain as a healing medium. I’ve thought about depression in connection with “Stranger in Moscow”; as I can attest from experience, in that state of mind, your visual perception is somewhat altered. Quite strongly, it affects depth perception, as the world seems visually flattened; and also the colors of the world seem muted, as if some slice of the full color spectrum has fallen behind a curtain of gauze.
Almost as if to literalize this flatness, I find it especially interesting that the images where Michael appears were made using technique of rear-projection. We can see in some “Making of Stranger in Moscow” clips (on YouTube) that Michael is walking on a treadmill, being filmed against a blue screen, which enables image compositing. When we see him walking toward us on the sidewalk (or standing under an awning, or anything he’s doing in this film), he actually IS doing these things in isolation—that is, isolated from those with whom he appears to share the urban world of the film, and in fact he’s performing (as I read somewhere) in a warehouse in Van Nuys, California.
I also heard the director, Nick Brandt (who also directed the short films for “Earth Song” and “Childhood”) say that they used a very high-speed camera for the shots of the rain, to produce the illusion of extreme show motion. It seems that the same high speed filming technique was used for the spinning quarter, the wasp, the pigeon who flies across the seated man’s field of vision (truly one of the most beautiful shots in the film, and one of the most glorious black-and-white images I’ve ever seen), the baseball splintering the window, the coffee spilling.
This is one of the only short films of Michael’s that was shot in black and white; there’s also “In the Closet” (though that film was released in a more sepia tone, it’s still monochromatic). It’s probably not entirely accidental that both film’s directors—Herb Ritts and Nick Brandt—are best known as still photographers, and this is evident in the choices they make through their cinematography. Both films convey a visual tone that seems (to me) highly influenced by some combination of fashion, wildlife (in the case of Brandt), portrait, and street photography.
Also, “Stranger in Moscow” reminds me very strongly of a film by Dutch artist Joris Ivens, who, in 1929, made a film called “Rain” (“Regen”), a sort of avant-garde documentary that Ivens shot over a period of a few months, during several rainstorms. (You can probably find this beautiful film on YouTube). Ivens stated that he wanted to do more than simply document the phenomenon of rain—he wanted to instill a feeling of wetness in the audience. “Stranger in Moscow,” through its music as well as its images, seems to do that as well.
Nina, that film by Joris Ivens is absolutely beautiful – thanks for telling us about it. I absolutely hate rain – it one of the main reasons why I emigrated from UK to Cape Town, but I have to say that this blog and Michael’s Stranger In Moscow, and now this lovely film, have made me rethink it, and when the winter comes to Cape Town I might just be more happy about it ha ha.
On the point about you shareing those articles, if you are willing to send to me, I gather Willa has written to you and given you my email address. I would love to hear from you and can send you my postal address.
So on to the next blog out today – wonder if it will be as controversial………………………
The six characters—the man touching the window, the homeless man, the man in a business suit feeding the birds on the street, the woman in the coffee shop, the young man playing baseball, and finally, Michael (who seems to serve as their collective chorus, or narrator)—do seem to be isolated, alienated from the general flow of life, and perhaps depressed. I think of them as “lost souls” of a sort, unmoored—like “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” At the same time, they also seem like they may be endowed with a sort of sixth sense, a heightened sensitivity, even a capacity for second sight, in some strange way. What binds them is that they are on a different wavelength than the people with whom they share the streets, the sidewalks, the parks, the restaurants—-they are on the same wavelength, and exist in a kind of state of suspended animation.
“How does it feel
How does it feel”
Asks us, as you said, Willa, to imagine how the narrator (Michael) feels. It also brings me to mind of Bob Dylan’s classic song, “Like a Rolling Stone”:
“How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
No direction home
Like a complete unknown….
Like a rolling stone.”
Dylan’s lyrics imply the narrator’s state of anonymity, whereas Michael , in “Stranger in Moscow,” sings, “here, abandoned in my fame.” But being completely anonymous may be the flip side of the same coin as the isolation —and “unknown-ness,” or “unknowability” —that the extremities of fame can bring. One irony (that word again!) that the writer Owen Hatherley notes in this film, is that it shows us probably the only scenario in which Michael Jackson can walk down a street unnoticed—here, he can BE anonymous and left alone, rather than surrounded by an unruly mob of fans, reporters, paparazzi, etc…..
Late in the song, Michael sings,
“We’re talking danger… we’re talking danger, baby!”
We see him from in a series of different shots—-from above, from below—one of which includes his foot crashing down into the puddle, generating a sheet of liquid, something like the coffee cup spilling its contents over the table. Perhaps the “danger” is something that all these characters can sense—like that moment when we see that a dreaded yet inevitable turn of events, or accident, is about to happen—but, as in a dream, we can do nothing to prevent it. You try to run, but your legs won’t move. The moments when the woman notices the overturned coffee cup, or the young man witnessing the baseball about to hit the window, strike me in somewhat this way.
The homeless man blinks as he “sees” the wasp—-but it’s as though he is seeing without looking, or looking without noticing. He, like his fellow observers, may have a special ability to perceive both more AND less than their fellow urban-dwellers. It’s almost as though some perceptions come to them from a different world. And I love the way the slow-motion droplets, cascading down their hands and faces as they stand in the rain, imparts a kind of sculptural feel to their physicality—-especially the young man, who leans against a wall, completely still, as the camera is positioned low, making him appear statuesque. This is very consistent with Nick Brandt’s photographs of African wildlife. In his photographic vision, animals take on a majestic, almost monumental, appearance through his compositions and use of light. It’s an extraordinary series of animal portraits; these have been published in several books.
Sorry to carry on and on! And I could go on indefinitely about how I read the meaning and purpose of the rain, and so many other aspects of “Stranger in Moscow,” other cinematic associations, etc. But for now, suffice it to say that of all the short films of Michael’s oeuvre, this one is especially dear to me (I think it especially speaks to my heart and soul as an experimental filmmaker). I love its profound ambiguities, the perfect congruence between the song and the visual structure, the implied subjectivities of the characters, the dreamlike atmosphere evoked by both the song and the sublimely precise, evocative images.
Thanks for these great additional comments. I wish we had spent more time on SIM. So much to see, so much to hear, so much to feel.
Nina, as to the 6 characters (in search of a life?) “perceiving more AND less than their fellow urban dwellers,” I think that, too. Everyone else is more or less unconsciously going about their busy-ness — and opening their umbrellas, unthinkingly, in lock-step response to the rain, whereas the 6 characters, in spite of — or because of — their isolation, embrace the rain, letting it heal them, letting its peace wash over them.
I think this is my favorite short film, too. Although I do love Earth Song.