¡Porque Soy Malo, Soy Malo!

Willa:  Last spring, longtime contributor Bjørn Bojesen shared his version of “Bili Ĝin,” which is an Esperanto translation of “Billie Jean.” That led to a behind-the-scenes discussion of Michael Jackson and foreign languages, with Joie, Bjørn, and me all brainstorming about songs or short films where he sang or incorporated words in a language other than his native English. This was such an interesting topic for us we decided to take the discussion online and talk about it in a post. Thanks for joining us, Bjørn, and for sharing “Bili Ĝin” with us!

So Esperanto is actually a good place to start this discussion since it’s such a Michael Jackson kind of concept. As I understand it, Esperanto was invented in the late 1800s using elements of many different languages to help promote global peace and understanding. Specifically, it was created by L.L. Zamenhof to provide a neutral means of communication that bridged divisions of language, nationality, and ethnicity. I can see how this would appeal to Michael Jackson since crossing boundaries and healing divisions is something he did throughout his career. And as you recently mentioned, Bjørn, he incorporated an Esperanto passage in the promo film for HIStory. Is that right?

Bjørn: Yes, that’s correct. At the very start, right before the soldiers come marching in with their heavy boots, an unseen man shouts out a declaration in Esperanto. Take a look:

In the YouTube video, there are some glitches in the subtitles, but the anonymous person’s message goes like this: “Diversaj nacioj de la mondo” (Different nations of the world) / “konstruas ĉi tiun skulptaĵon” (build this sculpture) / “en la nomo de tutmonda patrineco kaj amo” (in the name of global motherhood and love) / “kaj la kuraca forto de muziko” (and the healing power of music). A few seconds later, one of the smelters also shouts in Esperanto: “Venu ĉi tien!” (Come over here!)

The promo created quite a stir in the Esperanto community when it aired. Why would MJ use a snippet of Esperanto? I have no idea whether he actually spoke Esperanto, but I guess he scripted the lines (in English): “in the name of global motherhood and love, and the healing power of music.” Doesn’t this sound very MJ to you? I mean, just the idea of a universal motherhood instead of the usual brotherhood…

Willa:  It really does. It sounds “very MJ,” as you say, and it’s also interesting how those words undercut the visuals. What follows those words is a show of military force, with goose-stepping soldiers evocative of Nazi military demonstrations. So there’s a strong tension between the Esperanto words, which describe the statue they’re building as a tribute to “global motherhood and love,” and the accompanying images, which place the statue in a military context.

Bjørn: Yes, but this tension only exists if you understand the words!  99.8 percent of the viewers would have no clue what the voice actor was saying. So, why didn’t MJ simply let the man speak his lines in English?

Willa:  Well, that’s a good point, Bjørn – and I have to admit, I’m one of the 99.8 percent!

Joie:  As am I. You know, Bjørn, I find this fascinating and I’m also really surprised by it. I had no idea those words were spoken in Esperanto. I don’t ever remember hearing that at the time of the video’s release. I just remember all the controversy over the film itself being declared hateful and narcissistic. But you ask an interesting question … why didn’t he simply use a language that was more easily recognizable to the masses? Even if he didn’t use English, he still could have used Russian or Spanish or even Japanese. Any other language that more people would hear and immediately recognize. But instead, he chose Esperanto. And Willa and I are of the belief that he rarely did anything artistic without a very precise reason for it. So I am intrigued.

Bjørn:  I think you’re touching on something important, Joie, when you talk about a language that’s “more easily recognizable to the masses”! This is exactly why many upper-class art aficionados can’t stand Michael Jackson – they think he’s just feeding “the masses” with stuff they can easily digest. But I think MJ had a perfect understanding of this balance between being accessible and being esoteric. By dropping such small hard-to-get references – like his basing the You Are Not Alone video on the painting Daybreak by Maxfield Parrish – Michael Jackson added interpretational depth to his art. By the way, wasn’t it the MJ Academia Project that first revealed that the HIStory promo video is essentially a spoof of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 Hitler propaganda film, Triumph of the Will?

Willa:  I think so … at least, that’s the first place I heard it.

Bjørn:  With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that the initiator of Esperanto, Zamenhof, was a Jew…

I also think MJ is reflecting on his own use of language. His mother tongue happens to be English – which since World War II has functioned as a second language for huge parts of the world. The English language helps MJ get his message across to the masses, but at the same time it gives native English-speakers like him a communicational advantage (while others have to search for words, you can just keep talking).

Esperanto is the wannabe international language with the potential to put speakers of different mother tongues on a more equal footing. Say all the countries of the UN decided to make Esperanto a global second language, and began teaching it in every classroom on the globe. That would give people from any culture a basic tool for communication – but it would also mean that native English-speakers would have to “make a little space.” So, in this promo video, MJ is somehow endorsing the idea of Esperanto. By letting the language “guest star,” he questions the status quo (using native languages for international communication). I guess you could call it an artistic discussion about language and power.

Willa:  That’s a really interesting way to look at that, Bjørn. And we could push that idea of challenging “language and power” even further if we consider that English as a “global” language began with British imperialism and colonialism. As the British Empire spread around the world, so did English culture and language, with many indigenous people encouraged or even forced to give up their native language and use English instead. And of course, racism in the United States is a direct result of British colonialism and the slave trade. So in that sense, English can be seen as a language of oppression – the language of those colonizing and displacing indigenous people around the world.

So getting back to the HIStory teaser, it’s interesting that in the visuals he’s strongly pushing back against efforts to silence him and “put him in his place” following the false allegations of 1993, and in the Esperanto spoken parts he’s pushing back against English, the language that to some degree silenced his ancestors and tried to keep them in their place.

Joie:  Wow. Really interesting way of looking at that, Willa!

Bjørn: Yes, I agree, Joie, I hadn’t thought about it like that either! So, if the HIStory teaser is a kind of rebuttal – to Nazism and colonialism and the extinction of native languages caused by English and other “big tongues” – couldn’t Liberian Girl be seen as an attempt to recover what was lost? Even if the song’s intro is in Swahili, which is an East African language, and most of MJ’s forebears probably came from West Africa…

Joie:  Ah! Very clever thinking, Bjørn! We could almost say the same thing about the coda at the end of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.'” The Cameroonian chant, “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah.”

Willa:  Wow, you guys, that is so interesting! I really like the idea of approaching those two from this perspective. You know, both of them seem to address the issue of representation and interpretation – or misinterpretation – to some degree, and in both the use of an African language signals a major shift in the mood of the song/video. In “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” he talks about how the media distorts meaning – like in these lyrics, for example:

I took My Baby to the doctor
With a fever, but nothing he found
By the time this hit the street
They said she had a breakdown

Most of the song is pretty edgy and fearful, and that’s all in English. But then the Cameroon part starts, and suddenly this edgy, trippy song shifts and becomes joyful and triumphant. It’s a very dramatic shift in mood.

There’s a similar shift in the Liberian Girl video. It begins in black and white, with an eerie, sustained, high-pitched note vibrating in the background as the camera pans around what seems to be a British colony in Africa. A waiter walks out of the Cafe Afrique, we see workers in African dress, and then a white missionary in European clothes with a rosary and clerical collar. The camera follows the missionary until he walks behind a beautiful black woman; then the camera stops on her. She looks up and speaks directly to the camera in Swahili, and suddenly everything changes. The black-and-white tone gives way to vibrant color, and we discover we’re not in colonial Africa but modern day Hollywood, in a studio filled with glittering celebrities.

One of the things that’s most interesting about this, in terms of language and colonialism, is that Liberia is an African nation founded and, in effect, re-colonized by free blacks and escaped slaves from the U.S. in the 1800s – people whose ancestry was African but who no longer had a home country to return to. And its official language is English, the only language this diaspora of people had in common. So it’s almost like the English language was re-colonized, just as the nation-state of Liberia was – the language of the colonizer was reclaimed and reappropriated by the colonized.

And we see that idea suggested in Liberian Girl as well. All the celebrities are milling around and Whoopi Goldberg asks, “Who’s directing this?” The camera cuts to Steven Speilberg sitting in a director’s chair, implying he’s the director, but he’s looking at his watch and he’s no more in control than anyone else. Then at the end of the video we discover who’s really been calling the shots: Michael Jackson, behind the camera. So he has reclaimed the Liberian Girl video as his own, just as the former slaves from America reclaimed Liberia and English as their own.

Bjørn: Well, the problem with this interpretation, Willa, is that Liberia was already inhabited when the African-Americans founded it! Just like Israel was already inhabited by Arabs when it was founded as a place where Jews could live in peace. To my understanding, today the “original” Liberians – talking various African languages – are second-class (or at least less fortunate) citizens in a state dominated by English-speaking “American” Liberians (with ancestors ultimately hailing from many parts of Africa, not just Liberia).

I don’t know a lot about Liberia, and I can sympathize with the idea of the ex-slaves reclaiming “English as their own” (after all, who doesn’t love his mother tongue?) But I do think that Jackson’s use of African languages in these songs reflect a longing for the uncolonized past, maybe even for a romantic Africa that never really existed (or, perhaps, for a “garden of Eden” that could come into existence in the future!) As the linguist Ben Zimmer pointed out on his blog the day after MJ had died, the chant in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” was heavily inspired by a line from “Soul Makossa” by the Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango. (Dibango sued MJ for plagiarism, but they reached an agreement out of court.) Here’s “Soul Makossa”:

Dibango sings “ma ma ko, ma ma sa, ma ko ma ko sa,” which is in his native language, Duala. So, MJ’s chant isn’t really in any African language – but so close that is certainly sounds African. In the same way, he uses Swahili (from East Africa) as a symbol of (idealized) Africanness, even if the actual Liberia is in West Africa, far away from the places where people speak Swahili… So, for me, the use of African languages in these songs are really more about a “longing for paradise on earth” as it was before colonization, and as it could become once again.

Willa:  I think that’s a very important point, Bjørn – that he’s referring more to an idea than an actual place. After all, after the shift in Liberian Girl, we aren’t in Liberia; we’re on a movie set in Hollywood, so he’s clearly demonstrating that the opening scene wasn’t really a scene from the actual nation of Liberia, but a Hollywood depiction of “exotic Africa.” The challenge for us, then, is to figure out what idea, exactly, he’s trying to get across when he sings with longing about a girl from Liberia.

It’s interesting in this context to think about the end of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, when Harriet Beecher Stowe sends Eliza, George, and the other escaped slaves to Liberia. For her, it represented a place where they could be safe and free, and where their son Harry could grow and thrive. For her, it truly meant a “paradise on earth,” as you said, Bjørn, but it also reveals a despair about her own country. Stowe didn’t think it was possible for them to ever be truly free in the United States, or even Canada, so she had to send them to Liberia to ensure their freedom.

But I don’t think Michael Jackson ever did give up on the United States – though he had good reason to, and he chose not to live here after the 2005 trial. And I think Liberia, as a concept, means something different for him than it did for Stowe.

Bjørn:  That’s really interesting! I guess I’ll have to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin some day. Stowe’s “Liberia,” as you describe it, reminds me of Bob Marley and the other Rastafarians, who saw Ethiopia as a Promised Land. The name Liberia, which comes from the same Latin root as “liberty,” roughly translates as “the land of the free.” I once made an Esperanto translation of “Liberian Girl,” where the ethymology really shines through: Liberianin’  means “Liberian girl” as well as “girl from the country of freedom.”

Willa:  Really? You translated “Liberian Girl” also? That’s wonderful!  And I love the alternate meaning of “girl from the country of freedom.”

Bjørn:  The rainforest sounds at the beginning of the song (a prequel to “Earth Song”?) could indicate that MJ used “Liberia” as a metaphor for Paradise. Now, “Paradise Girl,” that’s a little spooky, if you think about it. But I’ve always thought this song wasn’t about “Liberia” at all, but rather about a girl who’s very far away from the singer. Like MJ’s (extreme!) version of “Distant Lover,” if you know that Marvin Gaye song!

Okay, let’s get back to the language question. Why does Michael Jackson’s Liberian girl, whoever she is, speak in Swahili? Is that just to add some exotic spice, or what do you think?

Joie:  Well now that is a really good question, Bjørn. And while I really enjoy picking apart a song or a short film and trying to analyze it and discern its true meaning, I also sometimes think that maybe a cigar is just a cigar. What would be wrong with adding in Swahili, or any other foreign language for that matter, for the sole purpose of adding a little exotic spice to your creation? Maybe he simply thought it sounded cool.

Willa:  You’re right, Joie, it does sound cool, and it perfectly fits that space in the song. We know he was fascinated by sounds – found sounds, manufactured sounds, the sounds of nature, the sounds of the city, the sound of words – so it’s very possible he chose those phrases simply based on their sounds and rhythms.

But I’m still intrigued by the fact that both “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and Liberian Girl focus on American pop culture and the entertainment industry, and how certain things are represented or misrepresented within that industry. And both include an African phrase that serves as an important pivot point – one that changes the whole mood of the work. That seems significant to me. But what does it mean?

As you mentioned, Bjørn, “Liberia” shares the same Latin root as “liberty.” As I understand it, the name “Liberia” was chosen to emphasize that this new nation was envisioned as a place where former slaves could find peace and liberty. So it seems significant that Michael Jackson evokes Liberia, but more as an idea than a physical place, as you suggested earlier. And to me, that’s reinforced by the fact that he incorporates Swahili, but it’s Swahili that has become unmoored from its native country and is now being used in a Hollywood video that to some extent critiques Hollywood.

The lyrics to Liberian Girl suggest something similar when he says their romance is “just like in the movies”:

With two lovers in a scene
And she says, “Do you love me?”
And he says so endlessly,
“I love you, Liberian Girl”

So their romance is presented as something of a fantasy, something that’s been scripted by Hollywood. In all of these cases, it’s like he’s both evoking a fantasy and critiquing it at the same time, and looking at where it comes from. For example, in Liberian Girl he’s evoking the exotic while questioning what it means to be labeled as exotic.

Joie:  That is a very interesting interpretation, Willa! Sometimes you really do blow me away with how your mind works. It’s fascinating!

Willa:  Thanks, Joie, though I might be totally missing the boat with this one – it’s pretty subtle what he’s doing. It’s just so interesting to me that he begins Liberian Girl with a classic scene of “exotic Africa,” then reveals it’s all just a Hollywood fabrication, and then suggests that the real exotica is Hollywood itself. And the Swahili phrase is the turning point where our perceptions are flipped inside out.

Joie:  Do either of you know what that Swahili phrase means? I would be very interested to know what she’s saying in the opening of the song.

Bjørn:  According to the album booklet, it means “I love you too – I want you too – my love.” (Google Translate seems to agree, although it renders mpenziwe as ”lover”.)

Joie:  Huh. I don’t think I ever knew that before. I’ve always simply wondered at the meaning. I can’t believe it was in the album booklet all this time and I never noticed.

Bjørn:  No worries, Joie, an album’s booklet is often the last thing I study too!  But you know what? It just struck me there’s an interesting semantic evolution going on in this song: It starts with rainforest sounds that don’t have any particular meaning to the average listener (but who knows what the animals are really saying?) Then it progresses to a line spoken in Swahili, which to the vast audience is just as meaningless as the sound of a bird. Then, at last, Michael Jackson starts to sing in English, and because we understand the language, all of a sudden we don’t hear his words as ”sounds” any more, but as meaningful pieces of information… Perhaps Jackson added Swahili just to emphasize that the meaning we assign to words really is arbitrary, and that we might as well be in a situation where Swahili carried the information, and English was some unintelligible but exotic spice, just like the language of the forest, or even the sound of instruments…

Willa:  Wow, that is fascinating, Bjørn! And if we interpret the opening that way – as examining how we make meaning – that progression of sounds is paralleled in the visuals as well. As you say, the sounds gradually become more intelligible as we move from bird song (something we don’t understand and can never understand) to Swahili (something most of us don’t understand at first but can if we put a little effort into it) to English (which for most Americans is our native language). And the visuals begin with the Cafe Afrique sign, then pan out to the Casablanca-like scene, and then keep panning out to show the Hollywood set. So as we telescope out, the images become more familiar – closer to home, in a way – and our understanding of what we’re seeing shifts and gradually becomes more clear:  we’re watching a film being made.

Bjørn:  This film, as you say, is being referenced to in the lyrics as well: “Just like in the movies… With two lovers in a scene…” So maybe the chief function of the Swahili phrase is to underscore the very otherworldliness of this cinematic fantasy, much like the Elvish phrases in the Lord of the Rings movies or the Na’vi dialogue in Avatar. Yes I know, Swahili is a living language spoken by real people. But still, hardly anyone in Liberia speaks Swahili!  As pointed out earlier, Swahili is an East African language. Its native speakers live along the Kenya-Tanzania coastline.

What’s intriguing about Swahili, however, is that it’s become a truly international language in much of Eastern Africa!  Millions of people in Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya use Swahili to get their messages across a multitude of linguistic boundaries. It is, indeed, the closest we get to an African “Esperanto.”

Willa:  Really?  I didn’t know that.

Joie:  Neither did I.

Willa:  That’s fascinating to think about it as “an African ‘Esperanto.'”

Bjørn:  If we look at it like that, the openings of “Liberian Girl” and the HIStory teaser are very similar: Something is being said by a non-MJ person in a cross-cultural language, before MJ himself enters the stage and reassures his English-speaking listeners that they’re not wholly “lost in translation”!

“Stranger in Moscow,” interestingly, takes the opposite approach. Here MJ’s loudly sung English-language lyrics are followed by another man whispering in the lingua franca of the Cold War Communist world: Russian.

Willa:  Wow, Bjørn, that is so interesting! And to me, it feels like the Russian in “Stranger in Moscow” functions in a very different way as well. It reinforces the edgy, unsettled mood of the song, as well as the theme of alienation from his home country.

Joie:  I agree with you, Willa. “Stranger in Moscow” has always been one of my favorites and I think it’s because it is such a beautifully constructed song. But you’re right, the use of Russian in the song really heightens the sense of loneliness, isolation and despair that he’s trying to convey here. The alienation as you put it. Whenever I listen to this song, I actually get the sense that his sole reason for using Russian here is to make us feel those negative emotions more fully.

Willa:  It feels that way to me too, Joie, and that feeling intensifies once we learn what those Russian words mean: “Why have you come from the West? Confess! To steal the great achievements of the people, the accomplishments of the workers…”

Joie:  Yes. It’s very intimidating, isn’t it? Imagine being a stranger in a strange land, detained by these scary officials and having those questions barked at you over and over again!

Willa:  Or to bring it a little closer to home, imagine the police asking you, Why are you so kind and generous with children? Confess!  It’s to lure them in so you can abuse them …

What I mean is, it wasn’t just the KGB who interrogated people in intimidating ways – the Santa Barbara police investigators did the same thing, and not just to Michael Jackson but to young children as well. They interrogated Jason Francia over and over again when he was only 12 years old. As he said later, “They made me come up with stuff. They kept pushing. I wanted to hit them in the head.” Like the stereotypical image of the KGB, they were determined to wring a confession from him.

And I think that’s the idea Michael Jackson is trying to get at here. He’s not pointing a finger at the Soviets – he’s pointing a finger at us, and saying in some ways we are as much of a police state as Cold War Russia. And the shock of that realization has made him feel like a stranger in his own country.

Bjørn:  That’s fascinating, Joie and Willa. I hadn’t thought about it like that. Both “Stranger in Moscow” and “Liberian Girl” mention specific locations in their titles, which is a very unusual thing for MJ to do. (Most of his titles are quite unspecific – just think about “A place with no name”!) And both songs use great regional languages to create a specific mood. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of Jackson’s short films, but I have remarked a couple of times that Russians have commented that the scenes in Stranger in Moscow look nothing like Moscow at all.

Willa:  That’s true. You can tell from the street signs and the close-up of the American quarter that it was filmed in the U.S. And that seems very deliberate – he wants us to know he’s really in the U.S. though he feels like he’s in a strange land.

Bjørn:  So, I wonder if MJ is using Moscow and Russian in a metaphorical way, just like he uses Liberia and Swahili to evoke a dreamlike vision of Africa. Thanks to the Cold War, Russian must sound like a very alien language to many Americans. And Moscow must still be the very ”eye of the tiger” to some folks! (Poor Russian MJ fans!)

So, without demonizing too much here, we might say that while Jackson uses Swahili as a paradisaical or “angelic” language, Russian, as used by the KGB agent, does duty as the language of his demons…

Willa:  Oh, that’s interesting, Bjørn!  Or maybe the Russian is evoking a frightening unknown. In other words, it’s not so much that Russian is “the language of his demons,” but that Americans once demonized it because we didn’t understand it and were afraid of it. I have friends a little older than I am who remember the Bay of Pigs, and the school drills for what to do if the Soviets attacked with nuclear bombs. And the main feeling they remember is the uncertainty – the fear of something powerful that you don’t understand, that can attack at any time without warning. I can certainly understand how Michael Jackson might feel that way about the Santa Barbara police …

Joie:  Wow. That’s really deep, Willa. And Bjørn, I love what you said about the “angelic” language and the “demon” language. I think it’s clear that both languages were used in very different ways to convey two very different realms of emotion, and that is very fascinating.

Bjørn:  Yes, it is! And just as the languages help the music paint these emotional landscapes, the music also influences the way we – as non-speakers – perceive these foreign languages. Personally, I find Russian quite a beautiful language, with all its mushy sounds. And, importantly, it is whispered, as if the KGB agent is telling a secret. If we hadn’t just heard MJ’s lament, we might have thought it was a lover whispering something to his beloved, much like the Swahili girl in “Liberian Girl.” And this makes it all the more frightening – it’s like a cold embrace, followed by a stab.

Willa:  Wow, that’s a fascinating way to look at that, Bjørn – and pretty chilling too.

Bjørn:  So, in “Liberian Girl,” “Stranger in Moscow,” and the HIStory teaser, Michael Jackson uses bits of foreign languages to help create a mood or atmosphere. And the languages he uses have all – at some point in history – been rivaling English as a transcultural means of communication:  Swahili, Esperanto, Russian. Furthermore, the pieces seem to highlight different aspects of foreignness:  the exotic and alluring (Swahili), the unfamiliar and strange (Esperanto), the threatening and repulsing (Russian).

Willa:  And there’s another song that fits this pattern also:  “They Don’t Care about Us.” It begins with a woman saying “Michael, eles não ligam pra gente,” which is Portuguese for “Michael, they don’t care about us.” As you said of Swahili, Esperanto, and Russian, Bjørn, Portuguese is another language that has “at some point in history – been rivaling English as a transcultural means of communication.” Like England, Portugal was a powerful nation during the colonial era, and as a result, Portuguese is the official language of countries around the world, from Europe to South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Joie:  That’s very true, Willa. You know I think most people just think about Portuguese being spoken in Brazil and, of course, Portugal. But it’s actually the official language of many African nations, like Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau, and others. And, as you said, even in Southeast Asia. It’s interesting to think of it as “rivaling English as a transcultural means of communication,” because it really did at one point.

Willa:  And still does in some regions – like I didn’t realize it was so widespread in Africa. That’s interesting, Joie. And to get back to what you were saying, Bjørn, about the different emotional effect of each of these languages, the Portugese lines at the beginning of “They Don’t Care about Us” have always struck me as sorrowful, in an almost maternal way – like the sorrow of a mother who cares deeply for her children and has seen too many of them come to harm.

Bjørn: You opened up my eyes here, Willa and Joie! I have to confess I’ve never heard that Portuguese part before. I gave the song another listen, and couldn’t hear it – but then it occurred to me that it had to be in the video! I’m a great fan of Michael Jackson’s music, but a lot of his films I haven’t watched in their entirety. So, I went to YouTube, and heard that phrase spoken for the first time.

I wonder, though, to what extent Portuguese is being used to create an emotional effect, and to what extent it’s being used to evoke an idea of “Brazil” – after all, the film does take part in real-world Brazil (not a fantasy “Liberia”), where Portuguese is spoken as the main language.

Willa:  That’s a good point.

Bjørn:  But if we look at the emotions, I do agree with you, Willa, that it sounds like a caring mother speaking to her son. By the way, those people who like blaming MJ for having a “Jesus complex,” should take an extra look… In the exact same moment as the Brazilian mother figure says the name “Michael,” the camera pans to the famous Rio statue of Christ the Redeemer…

Willa:  Oh heavens, Bjørn!  You’re just trying to stir up trouble, aren’t you?

Bjørn: Well, yes and no, Willa. This being an academic discussion, I don’t think I’d do the readers any favor by censoring what I see! It’s a fact that the name and the statue appear at the same time, and I’d like to think it’s intentional. But okay, let’s save the interpretation of that for an ”MJ and religious symbolism” post!

So, in the four “foreign language songs” we’ve looked at so far, we’ve got an Esperanto-speaking worker, a Swahili-speaking lover, a Russian-speaking agent and a Brazilian-speaking mother… MJ himself, however, still sings in his native English. The foreign culture remains inaccessible and different. Interestingly, on a couple of occasions he did cross the border, so to speak. I’m of course thinking about the versions he did of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” in two of the world’s great international languages:  Spanish and French… What do you think about them?

Willa:  Well, my first reaction is that I love them – they are both exquisitely beautiful, I think. And it’s interesting for me to hear a Michael Jackson song the way non-English speakers must usually hear them – where the meaning comes not so much from the words he is singing but from the expressiveness of his voice.

Joie:  That’s an great point, Willa, one that I don’t often ponder. But it’s interesting to think about how non-English speakers perceive Michael’s music. Especially since his music is so very beloved all over the world. But you’re right that they must experience it much differently than native English speakers do.

You know I went through a similar phenomenon back in my teen years when I had a huge crush on the guys of the Puerto Rican boy band, Menudo. They would release albums in both Spanish and English, and oddly enough, I found that I really loved those Spanish speaking songs, even though my Spanish has never been all that great. To this day, I often find myself singing them.

Bjørn:  When I discovered Michael Jackson’s music as a child, I hardly understood anything he was singing. I just liked the sound of it! So I can certainly follow you there… “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” isn’t among my favorite MJ songs, but I agree it’s nice to hear him sing in Spanish (which I understand) and French (which I don’t really understand). Why did he choose this particular song, do you think? I mean, if it was to promote the Bad album in Spanish- and French-speaking countries, he could have handed the translators the song ”Bad”… (I just hear it: ¡Porque soy malo, soy malo!)

Willa:  That’s great, Bjørn! I’ll be thinking about that next time I hear, “Because I’m bad, I’m bad …”

So I don’t know why he chose “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” but it’s a beautiful song and it’s a duet – one of his few duets – and that would allow him to interact with someone while he was singing, someone fluent in Spanish or French. Maybe that’s part of why he chose this one. I don’t know about Spanish, but he did speak passable French. In fact, in the 1980s he was interviewed in French by a Montreal reporter, and he answered in French. And he loved Paris – he even named his daughter Paris. And of course he always liked to bridge boundaries, as we discussed at the beginning with Esperanto.

So thank you so much for joining us, Bjørn, and for adding a European, multilingual perspective!  We always love talking with you, and hope you’ll join us again soon.


About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on October 24, 2013, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 63 Comments.

  1. Wow, what a really interesting post this week!

  2. What about the translation of the sign language at the end of “they don’t care about us”(prison version)? I have always wondered what he said there.

    • That’s a really good question, Dawn. I just did a quick internet search and didn’t find a good answer. I did find a link to a YouTube video raising the question, and someone wrote this comment:

      This isn’t best resolution but from what I can see, It looks like “They can never take your understanding” the first sign was “never” it looks like the second one is “understand” and the the next one looks like a very bastardized version of the sign “take,” and the last one looks likes “you,” even though if he wanted to say “your” it would you be a open palm facing us and the syntax is off, but if he was an amature signer then those would have been common mistakes anyway.

      I have no idea if this is accurate or not. In fact, I’m a little doubtful – he worked with ASL interpreters in his concerts, and it seems like he could have easily found someone to teach him the signs for whatever he wanted to say. But it does suggest what some of those signs may have meant. Here’s the YouTube video:

      • I would agree with you about the sign language that he wouldn’t do it incorrect especially with Michael being such a protectionist. Not to mention we are talking about a man who learned his song I just can’t stop loving you in both Spanish and French. In the Bad documentary the language coach spoke about how perfect Michael was with learning and executing the lyrics in Spanish so again it’s a intriguing why the sign language is so mysterious.

  3. Thanks again. So interesting. So much to think about. Got to watch some videos. The esperanto at the beginning of the History film is so interesting. Do you think the translation could be Mother Earth instead of global motherhood?

    • Why patrineco for motherhood? Why not matri-something? Weird.

      • @Eleanor

        ”tutmonda” consists of the elements TUT ”whole” + MOND ”world” + A (adjectival ending) = concerning the whole world = global

        ”patrineco” consists of the elements PATR ”parent” + IN (female ending) + EC (abstract ending like ”-hood” or ”-ness” in English) + O (noun ending) = ”the idea of being a mother” = motherhood/maternity

        So, the translation should be correct! 🙂
        (After all, I did it myself, and I’m quite fluent in the language.)

        Mother Earth would be ”Patrino Tero”.

        Hope that helped!

        • Thanks, Bjorn. What I really meant was, given the juxtaposition of the words for global and motherhood and Michael’s love for the earth, my mind leapt to the idea of mother globe (earth) rather than global motherhood. I didn’t doubt your translation. I know you know what you are talking about. My mind just tends to play with words.

          That being said, I had forgotten that “patri,” which in English usually refers to fatherhood, means parenthood as well as fatherhood, linguistically confirming the ancient cultural and patriarchal idea that the only true parent is the father: Athena proves Orestes innocent of parricide (murder of a parent), since he only murdered his mother, not his father, and a mother, as we all know, is not a “true” parent.

          So, my feminist sensibilities are offended that Esperanto would use “patrineco” for motherhood. Although I am sure there are sound linguistic reasons.

          I hope you will forgive my feminist approach to language.

          • Ok, Eleanor, I see what you mean! 🙂

            I can tell you you’re not the only one who’s bothered by ”the patriarchal system” underlying certain words in Esperanto. It is, in fact, one of the few things that I myself don’t like about the language. ”Patro” without any suffix is father, ”patrino” is mother, and so it goes with a handful of other words, like ”onklo”, uncle, ”onklino”, aunt.
            I would much have preferred to have double words like ”patro” and ”matro”. But the idea was to have as few basic words as possible – less for the student to memorize – and then use suffixes to increase the vocabulary. It certainly could have been the other way around – with a ”female root” as a base and a male suffix. Some feminist esperantists today use both a female and a male suffix, although the roots are still ”patr-” etc.
            When you use the language, though, the etymology does not make anyone feel bad. Strangely, the language simply works – just like English, Spanish, or any other language.

  4. About the Kiswahili language phrase in Liberian Girl I recently found this:
    The words are sung by South African singer Letta Mbulu, and and in the link they say:

    >> „Directly translated to English from Kiswahili, the lingua franca of East and Central Africa, the phrase means “I love you also, I want you also, you my love” which is grammatically incorrect. According to pundits, the song could alternatively have been phrased as “Nakupenda, nakutaka, mpenzi wangu” i.e. “I love you, I want you, my love.“ However, the same pundits acknowledge MJ saying the phrase was a big honour to the entire East & Central Africa back then, to have and to hear Kiswahili in one of Michael Jackson’s legendary productions.“<<

    So maybe the fact, Michael sometimes used other languages in his songs, could also be seen as an honor, like a special gift, he gave to the people by using their language.

    • “So maybe the fact, Michael sometimes used other languages in his songs, could also be seen as an honor, like a special gift, he gave to the people by using their language.”

      Hi all4michael. I really like this interpretation – that by using a foreign language, he is honoring the culture and people who speak that language. I think that especially makes sense in the Brazil version of They Don’t Care about Us, where he is honoring and calling attention to people who are carving out a life in an atmosphere of extreme poverty and prejudice.

  5. Brilliant post! My jaw is on the floor. Incredible. Many thanks.

  6. OK. I will try to join this very esoteric discussion.

    I’m still having a hard time with the use of Esperanto, its translation, and what it means in terms of the video. I have never liked the idea of Esperanto, because I look on language as something organic to a culture, something that, in its linguistic history and its “music” or lack of same expresses a culture’s character. So, to me, Esperanto is something concocted, something made up, unreal. Which is why it has never caught on. Also, I really don’t understand the History video. I’m sure there is a logical and artistic explanation, but what is it? Perhaps you have dealt with this in a previous post. I apologize for not remembering. So, with that said, I’ll move on.

    As to Wanna Be Startin’ Something, Michael probably just loved the sounds of ma ma se, etc. as do I. I don’t have much more to say about that. I didn’t know its history until recently. And it is interesting.

    I love Liberian Girl. There’s clearly a lot of racial stuff going on. Liberian Girl opens with a black and white old Hollywood colonial and “romanticized” version of Africa — exotic and no black people — sort of like Casablanca — that is the Africa that white folks can relate to. Does the priest represent the missionaries who spearheaded colonization?

    Then, a black girl — a colored girl — who opens her mouth singing — not English — but Swahili and suddenly the screen is drenched in color (the colored girl brings color, warms things up) and we are out of 40’s hollywood movies and into 80’s sets.

    It seems to me that Liberian Girl is a lovesong to a black/colored girl and as far as I know there were no pop lovesongs to black girls. It has seemed to me that the use of a foreign/African language plus the exotic white opening sets the stage for making black girls romantic and exotic — instead of always imaging them as maids, etc. He is making it romantic to be African in the same way that it is romantic to be French or Italian.

    Also, I think the sound of the language is so beautiful, so feminine, so delicate that it enhances the black girl’s beauty and attractiveness. It makes people think about Africa and Africans in a different way. And then he shows how all realities are constructed.

    • @Eleanor, you write:
      ”I have never liked the idea of Esperanto, because I look on language as something organic to a culture, something that, in its linguistic history and its “music” or lack of same expresses a culture’s character. So, to me, Esperanto is something concocted, something made up, unreal. Which is why it has never caught on.”

      I’m not here to propagate Esperanto, but the idea of Esperanto is precizely to keep native languages – like English – ”organic to a culture”. The idea is to have a neutral second language, so people can communicate *between* cultures.

      To write this, I have to use *your* language, I have to submerge myself into your culture and linguistic history. If we’d written this in Esperanto, we’d both have to leave our native ”safety zones”. THAT’s the idea of Esperanto.

      All languages on earth are ”made up”. Every word you use has been made by someone. Most words were created spontaneously by anonymous people so many centuries ago that their origins have been lost. Languages are like enormous, collective works of art. We’re adding our bits to the artwork all the time.

      It is perfectly possible, though, to create a new language from scratch. If you can get people to speak your language, to express their feelings with it, to laugh and cry and joke in it, then IT IS A LIVING LANGUAGE! 🙂
      Esperanto has speakers, so it’s just as real as English. It exists, it’s part of the world. (No matter how it came to be in the first place.)

      The reason Esperanto hasn’t ”caught on”, as you say, has nothing to do with the language itself. (I tell you, there are people out there who want Latin back!)
      It has everything to do with power relations in the world. If you want to know why English is currently ”atop”, I recommend David Crystal’s book ”English as a Global Language.”

      I think MJ was fascinated by the idea of Esperanto. (If otherwise, why would he use it?)
      And, no offence, Eleanor, but I also think your initial reaction to Esperanto mirrors many people’s initial reaction to Michael Jackson:
      MJ and Esperanto are both seen as ”not authentic”, ”unreal”, ”Frankenstein creations”. People are fixated on the nose/the skin colour/the fact that someone consciously compiled the grammar, and not on the ”soul” or ”essence” (the dance/the direct communication).

      I bet MJ’s keen eyes saw this!

      • I think you raise an interesting point, Bjork; here you are, writing in English. Thanks for the recommendation of David Crystal’s book–I’ll look for it. The idea of the “natural” and “authentic” is often used to uphold hegemonic structures of all kinds.

        And as you point out, Michael’s sensibility partakes of a kind of futurism, where technology plays a large part in shaping and reshaping of the visible. Intentional or not, there’s a utopian aspect to much of his work (including the personae he created)—a striving for a kind of universalism, as some have read it, that seems to have a lot in common with Esperanto.

      • Not to run this discussion into the ground, but I am sticking by my guns. An organic language is an expression of culture just as art is. People study language to learn about a society’s culture and its character. Studying an artificial language like esperanto will give you insights into the culture and character of an individual — the person who developed it — but not into the character of a society.

        But, I will amend my comment to say that I like the idea of esperanto — it arises from a good place, the desire to facilitate global harmony through a global language. And that, combined with your brilliant observation below about Chaplin’s use of it, is no doubt why Michael chose it to use in HIStory. But, practically speaking, I just haven’t thought it would ever achieve its goal.

        • That’s great, Eleanor, as I’m certainly ”standing my ground” as well! 😉
          I’m not very fond of the word ”organic” in this context.
          Languages are not living beings – only speakers are.
          Esperanto has indeed got speakers – fluent speakers who speak the language just as naturally as they blush. So, in that way, it’s ”organic” too. (Here’s a neat collection of E-o literature, translated to English: http://goo.gl/LoY3VL .)

          I agree that historically transmitted languages like English are like windows into a society.
          Studying English will give you insights into the daily life in Australia, English authors, American music… I love the Basque Country, so I spent some time studying Basque.

          I disagree that Esperanto gives insights into ”the culture and character … of the person who developed it”.
          This is more or less like saying you’ll learn a lot about England by reading an English grammar. The author of Esperanto is as dead and gone as the Anglo-Saxons.
          Fans of Esperanto argue that studying the language gives insights into the entire world, as the speakers live in many different countries and cultures.

          Here in Denmark most people don’t learn English out of any curiosity about English-speaking cultures. They learn it because they want to be able to order a meal and a hotel room, and maybe say hello to the ice-cream guy at the beach.

          So, in an ”Esperanto world” people would still study English in order to read Shakespeare or apply for a job in Pennsylvania. Esperanto would be studied primarily for international communication. (And yeah, all you people who were born into English would have to give up some of your privilege…)

          Yes, you’re absolutely right that Esperanto isn’t an expression of one particular, regional culture. Like it or not – but that’s the whole point!

  7. More thoughts. If the yardstick for the success of a post is whether or not it provokes thoughts, then….you hit the jackpot — especially the really interesting info on the use of esperanto in HIStory. So, please, don’t be offended by my ruminations on esperanto.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that it makes sense for Michael to choose a language developed to promote global communication and harmony to express his dedication “in the name of global motherhood and love, and the healing power of music.” I also agree that he deliberately chose a language dedicated to global communication and unity rather than a language, English, which is a tool of global hegemony. But it is also interesting and significant that he must have known that only a tiny percentage of people seeing the video would ever even hear or understand his dedication. So, what’s up with that? One of the many mysteries of this video.

    History is written by the victors and is always the story of military and political leaders. HIStory is his (Michael’s) story. As a black man in a white society, he is a member of the vanquished class. As an artist and a musician and a dancer, he is a member of a class that is frequently left out of histories. In HIStory, he, a black man and an artist, has a starring role, he is turning the meaning of history on its head. Yet, he is using the standard militaristic images associated with history to do it. Does HIStory ridicule the bombast associated with western, patriarchal history?

    And then there is all the robot stuff. I don’t know, but I am guessing that Michael first started doing his robot moves for fun, to make kids laugh. Then, as he gained greater insight into the position of blacks in a white society, he might have felt some kinship with robots, since the only rationale and justification whites could come up with for treating blacks as they did was that blacks were not fully human, they did not have the deep important feelings that whites did. Neither were they capable of original thought which suited them perfectly for work that was endlessly repetitious and robotic. And, they had no individuality, were some sort of faceless mass, they “all looked alike.” So, in HIStory, Michael is the leader of these robotic masses, masses who also were canon fodder. He is the only one who has a face — and what a face it is.

    So, in a video that appears to glorify militarism and patriarchy, he is covertly undermining it. However, given the state of affairs in today’s world, it is really hard for me to look at those images and understand and feel and get his spoof. And, one wonders, were we even meant to understand it — and is that why he used a language to express his dedication which he knew most people would not understand? A verbal message which is both overt and covert to go along with a visual message that is both overt and covert.

    And, yet, once we get into the music of the album, the meaning becomes perfectly clear.

    Thanks for giving me more insights into the genius who was — and is — Michael Jackson.

  8. A few comments on this interesting discussion. As Bjorn says, who doesn’t love their native tongue, but just to put in a few good words for the English language, I’d like to point out that while any language may be the language of people who did terrible and oppressive things, the language itself really can’t be held accountable for that of course, and English as a language has a lot going for it. First of all, English has an enormous vocabulary and part of that comes from incorporating many words from other languages but also from its roots. Second, English is a ‘word order’ language that is not highly inflected and so it is easy to learn in terms of grammar (but harder for pronunciation). Third, and perhaps most importantly, English is highly expressive emotionally b/c it has a large number of vowel sounds (15) and thus is great for poets and singers. I appreciate English a great deal and have studied it both as a language and in terms of its literature and just wanted to put in a defense of it so that it isn’t portrayed as the language of the oppressors and nothing more.

    • Hi Stehpenson,
      I hope you didn’t get the idea that I hold English responsible for the actions of its worst speakers! 😉

      English certainly has ”a lot going for it”, as you say. It’s a beautiful language for poetry.
      But I don’t think it’s any better than German or Swahili or Korean as a means of global communication. I know about people – in Italy, in Mexico, in Vietnam – who find English *extremely* difficult. They get lost in all the English sounds, in the great number of strong verbs (go – went – gone), and, first and foremost, in the jungle of English idioms (”to pull someone’s leg” etc.) and words with different shades of meaning (try to look up ”put” in a dictionary, and you get a long list). Everyone can learn to say ”1 dollar my friend”, but if you want to really express yourself, then English is, as far as I know, a rather difficult language for non-natives.

      You write:
      ”Third, and perhaps most importantly, English is highly expressive emotionally b/c it has a large number of vowel sounds (15) and thus is great for poets and singers.”

      I don’t quite agree with you here. My own language, Danish, has 20 vowel sounds, and I don’t think its more (or less) emotionally expressive than English! 🙂
      Have you ever read some of the poetry in ”1001 Nights”? Well, Classical Arabic had only 3 (!) vowel sounds, and look what the poets managed to do…

      I sometimes write poetry myself, and I do agree with you that the structure of the language has something to say here. But, much more than that, I think the amount of ”emotional expression” depends on the poet, not the language.
      I think Shakespeare would have written just as poignantly had he been an Italian.
      And MJ sang with just as much emotion in Spanish as in his native English.

      • Hi, Bjorn–thanks for replying. Re English as ‘the language of oppresssion’–I wanted to put in a good word for it, as a native speaker and someone who has taught English both laguage and literature. In looking on the internet, I found that other languages are actually spoken by larger numbers of people–Mandarin is #1, and Spanish and Hindi are in the top 4 places, with English either #2 or #3. The British Isles were the subject of invaders–the Romans were there for 400 years! Then there were the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, all descending on the native Celtic peoples. So that history needs to be recognized when talking about ‘who’s bad’.

        As far as the number of vowels sounds in English, I am not saying it is more expressive than other languages, but that it IS highly expressive, especially spoken or sung. In trying to ascertain the actual # of vowel sounds in English, I found it is not easy to give a precise # and the numbers range from 15 (which is a conservative, ‘safe’ #) up to 27!! There are some interesting discussions about that online.

        I don’t think people ‘make up’ languages–languages are spoken–and they are shaped by the people using them, speaking them. I don’t think someone sits in a room and decides THIS is where the language is going to go. It evolves over time as it is spoken. I am fascinated by the roots of words, for example the Indo-European roots for English. Take a word like dru-wid. Dru- is found in other words like true, tree, sturdy, trust (etc) and wid–is association with knowing, (wisdom), and so on. So dru-wid means ‘knower of trees.’

        I agree it is not easy to learn another language well–to be as comfortable in it as in one’s native language. Even if one learns to speak another language, there is the challenge to read and write in it. You are doing a great job, BJorn, with English and I am glad we can communicate as I certainly do not know Danish!!

        I do disagree re Shakespeare–he is so in tune with English that I can’t imagine him writing in another language! MJ IMO could not have sung many of his songs in Spanish. Even the words–soy malo–don’t cut it compared to “I’m Bad!” Of course, this is all highly speculative re what would have been or what might have been. The fact is MJ sang in English and even though people in other countries did not understand the words, they were moved by the feeling and the beat!!

        • Hi, Stephenson, allright! 🙂
          I’ve been teaching English myself, back in 2011, and I’ve always been quite fond of the language. This discussion wasn’t about bashing English *as a language*, or labelling native English-speakers as ”Bad”. I’m sorry if reading it made you feel like that!

          But it IS a fact that English HAS been ”the language of oppression” in many places around the world. Take for instance MJ’s home state for much of his life, California:
          ”Nowhere was the linguistic diversity of the New World more extreme than in California, where an extraordinary variety of village-dwelling peoples spoke seventy-eight mutually unintelligible languages.” (Victor Golla, http://goo.gl/aikWTk )
          Nowadays, hardly any Amerindian languages are spoken in California. One could say that communications have improved: Most Californians can now understand each other, thanks to English and Spanish. BUT this understanding has a price: 78 beautiful, unique languages, full of interesting images and sounds and histories, are gone forever.

          I MUST STRESS that Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and several other languages have ALSO been ”the language of oppression”. English is no ”better” or ”worse” than these other languages. Spain was occupied by Goths and Arabs and Romans etc., and the linguistic history of Spanish is quite comparable to that of English. (Methinks!)

          I don’t think any national language is suited for transcultural communication. I don’t think the widespread use of English as a lingua franca is doing English any good. But that’s just my personal opinion, and as you’ve guessed, I have a weak spot for Esperanto (or another language like that).

          I think MJ saw the beauty of minority languages/cultures, and that his use of different languages reflects that. I also think he was fascinated by the thought of Esperanto as a way of crossing linguistic boundaries – without you having to give up your English or me having to give up my Danish! 🙂

          As a multilingual writer, it is my humble experience that Literature runs deeper than language. The feeling comes first, the words follow. I am convinced that a great storyteller or a fabulous poet would do great things no matter which language they happened to be born into.
          Perhaps you’re right that Shakespeare would have been a lesser poet had his native language been Italian. Maybe Dante would never have written his glorious Divina Commedia had his native language been English. We shall never know! But, yes, we disagree on this. As I see things, a great writer will be a great writer no matter which language is at his disposal.

          Had MJ been born in Brazil, he would’ve been singing in Portuguese, and still be a great star. But of course, his fame wouldn’t have spread quite as much, so maybe we should be grateful that things turned out the way they did! 😉

          Finally, yes, languages ARE made up, or rather ”being made up”! We do it all the time, unconsciously. New expressions emerge and disappear; each generation has its way of saying things. Languages are NOT made by God or Big Bang like stones or trees.
          Languages are made by humans, by US.
          Every word, no matter how far its etymology might take us, ultimately hails from the brain of a single human being who said it first.
          WE are creators of language; every time we express ourselves, we add a bit to the creation.

          Creators of art-languages like Esperanto or Elvish do sit down and make conscious decisions about things that happen unconsciously in so-called natural languages.
          But the moment any such language leaves the writing-table and is picked up and used by real persons, it gets a life of its own. This has happened with Esperanto. There’s nothing ”strange” about this. If you didn’t know how Esperanto originated, it would’ve been just like learning Polish or Portuguese.

          Etymology is fun, and I like it a lot.
          But it is something for educated people, like ourselves! 🙂

          Unless you believe in previous lives, you can’t ”feel” the history of the words you’re using. There’s no way that a non-academic can feel that ”mother” has a history that goes back thousands of years, while ”twerking” is a recent invention. (Although, of course, everybody has a mother, and therefore will get a lot of feelings aroused by the word, whether it takes the shape of ”mum”, ”madre” etc.)
          The name ”Wendy” was made up by the author J.M. Barrie, while the name ”Maria” predates Christ. Yet who on earth would think that Wendy is less ”natural” than Maria?

          • Wow, fascinating discussion, Stephenson and Bjørn! You know, Shakespeare wasn’t just an amazing poet and playwright, but also a very inventive wordsmith. I took a History of the English Language course a long time ago taught by a true lover of language, especially English, and she admired Shakespeare as much for all the new words he added as for his literary talent. There are hundreds of words we use every day that were invented by Shakespeare. Here’s a partial list.

            And apparently Bill Robinson’s creativity in dancing and acting extended to language as well. For example, he coined the word “copacetic,” which I’ve loved ever since I first heard it in a Grateful Dead song ages ago. …

          • p.s. I did a little research about “copacetic,” which I first heard in a Grateful Dead song, and here’s an interesting tidbit: Jerry Garcia’a parents named him for Jerome Kern, a composer of popular music who wrote hundreds of songs, including “Bojangles of Harlem.” Wow.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy

            “Wendy is a given name generally given to females in English-speaking countries.
            The name is found in United States records from the 19th century; the name Wendy appeared over twenty times in the U.S. Census of 1880. In Britain, Wendy appeared as a boy’s name in the 1881 census of England, and was occasionally used as a diminutive for the Welsh Gwendolyn. It was also used as a surname in Britain from at least the 17th century. However, its popularity as a girl’s name is attributed to the character Wendy Darling from the 1904 play Peter Pan and its 1911 novelization Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie.] The name was inspired by young Margaret Henley, daughter of Barrie’s poet friend W. E. Henley. With the common childhood difficulty pronouncing Rs, Margaret reportedly used to call him ‘my fwiendy-wendy’.

            The name Wendy is sometimes considered a variation of the name Wanda.

            Various Chinese rulers have held the name and title Emperor Wen, which in Chinese is read Wen(-)di (文帝). Chinese women with the same or similar-sounding characters as their given names often anglicise their names as Wendi or Wendy (e.g. Wendi Deng, Wendy Kweh).”

            Hi, Bjorn,

            I checked re Barrie and Wendy but this is what Wikipedia says about it (see above).

            I think we agree more than we disagree–just my opinion.

            What I am most interested in is celebrating MJ.

          • Re Shakespeare and his amazing influence of the English language. Of course, there is much here but doing a quick look I found 2 comments that were interesting to me:

            1) that the English language was in great flux at the time of Shakespeare, and 2) that he is perhaps given credit for more word creation that he is due, even though his contributions were great.

            “Early Modern English as a literary medium was unfixed in structure and vocabulary in comparison to Greek and Latin, and was in a constant state of flux. WhenWilliam Shakespeare began writing his plays, the English language was rapidly absorbing words from other languages due to wars, exploration, diplomacy and colonization. By the age of Elizabeth, English had become widely used with the expansion of philosophy, theology and physical sciences, but many writers lacked the vocabulary to express such ideas. To accommodate, writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare expressed new ideas and distinctions by inventing, borrowing or adopting a word or a phrase from another language, known as neologizing. Scholars estimate that, between the years 1500 and 1659, nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages added 30,000 new words to the English language.

            and this:

            “Shakespeare’s Coined Words Now Common Currency”

            Jonathan Hope of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, writes in his essay, “Shakespeare’s ‘Native English,'” that “the Victorian scholars who read texts for the first edition of the OED paid special attention to Shakespeare: [H]is texts were read more thoroughly, and cited more often, so he is often credited with the first use of words, or senses of words, which can, in fact, be found in other writers.”

            Well, it’s clearly a huge subject–language–and has many ramifications!!!

          • Hi Stephenson and Willa,

            thanks for the fascinating details about Shakespeare and ”Wendy”!

            I doubt that ”Wendy” has anything to do with a Chinese name. (Unrelated sonic similarities, so-called false cognates, pop up all the time.) But the Welsh theory seems plausible.

            My point was that all the words we use have been invented by individuals. Some of them were invented 10.000 years ago and have changed a lot throughout history, while others appeared in the language only last year. If you’ve never studied language history you cannot ”feel” the age of words. Any words that are used in communication between persons are ”natural” (or ”living”), including words from so-called constructed languages. (The only difference between ”constructed” and ”natural” languages is the length of time and number of persons employed in the moulding of the language. Or that ”natural” languages are unconsciously created by societies, while ”art” languages are consciously created by individuals [who often want to change the existing societies].)

            In Sweden there’s a great example of a name constructed by an author: Ronja.
            This name was coined (apparently out of ”thin air”) by world-famous children’s books author Astrid Lindgren for her book Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia the Robber’s Daughter). Today, several girls in Scandinavia are called Ronja. I hope no one looks at them and says: ”Oh, please get a new name, you artificial human being!” 🙂

  9. The HIStory teaser was attacked by Diane Sawyer in 1995 and the reference to Triumph of the Will came up right away.

  10. Very interesting comments about the HIStory teaser from an Eastern Europe perspective as showing the people in that region (HIStory tour performed in many Eastern European countries) that an army can bring love and music and not fear and pain. The blogger argues convincingly that the teaser had special meaning for people in those countries.


    btw, re the clip above, if you click on the right side arrow near the ‘speaker’ icon, it will play.

    • Thanks for this link. Really interesting. My problem is that the images themselves inspire fear and pain in me, they make me feel bad, not good. I keep thinking if I could only understand what he was trying to accomplish, I would feel better about it. And, I think there must be something else going on other than Michael showing the establishment world what the real world thought of him. I think there is an element of ridicule in here, ridicule of militarism, etc. — but not sure.

      And the connection of motherhood to totalitarian/facist imagery brings both the Nazi and Soviet Union celebration of mothers to mind. One thing is for certain, there is a tremendous amount of stuff going on in this video

      Wikipedia reports that In Germany —

      The holiday was then [in pre-nazi germany] seen as a means to encourage women to bear more children, which nationalists saw as a way to rejuvenate the nation. The holiday did not celebrate individual women, but an idealized standard of motherhood. The progressive forces resisted the implementation of the holiday because it was backed by so many conservatives, and because they saw it as a way to eliminate the rights of working women. Die Frau, the newspaper of the Federation of German Women’s Associations, refused to recognize the holiday. Many local authorities adopted their own interpretation of the holiday: it would be a day to support economically larger families or single-mother families. The guidelines for the subsidies had eugenics criteria, but there is no indication that social workers ever implemented them in practice, and subsidies were given preferentially to families in economic need rather than to families with more children or “healthier” children.[43]

      With the Nazi party in power during 1933–1945, the situation changed radically. The promotion of Mother’s Day increased in many European countries, including the UK and France. From the position of the German Nazi government, the role of mothers was to give healthy children to the German nation. The Nazi party’s intention was to create a pure “Aryan race” according to nazi eugenics. Among other Mother’s Day ideas, the government promoted the death of a mother’s sons in battle as the highest embodiment of patriotic motherhood.[43][44]

      The Nazis quickly declared Mother’s Day an official holiday and put it under the control of the NSV (National Socialist People’s Welfare Association) and the NSF (National Socialist Women Organization). This created conflicts with other organizations that resented Nazi control of the holiday, including Catholic and Protestant churches and local women’s organizations. Local authorities resisted the guidelines from the Nazi government and continued assigning resources to families who were in economic need, much to the dismay of the Nazi officials.[43]

      Mother’s Day in UNRRA camp Germany in 1946
      In 1938 the government began issuing an award called Mother’s Cross (Mutterkreuz), according to categories that depended on the number of children a mother had. The medal was awarded on Mother’s Day and also on other holidays due to the large number of recipients. The Cross was an effort to encourage women to have more children, and recipients were required to have at least four. For example, a gold cross recipient (level one) was obliged to have eight children or more. Because having fewer children was a recent development, the gold cross was awarded mainly to elderly mothers with adult children. The Cross promoted loyalty among German women and was a popular award even though it had little material reward and was mostly empty praise. The recipients of honors were compelled to be examined by doctors and social workers according to genetic and racial values that were considered beneficial. The mother’s friends and family were also examined for possible flaws that could disqualify the mother, and they also had to be “racially and morally fit.” They had to be “German-blooded,” “genetically healthy,” “worthy,” “politically reliable,” and could not have vices like drinking. Criteria that weighed against honors were, for example, “family history contains inferior blood”, “unfeminine” behavior including smoking or doing poor housekeeping, not being “politically reliable”, or having family members who had been “indicted and imprisoned”. There were instances where a family was disqualified because a doctor saw signs of “feeblemindedness”. Even contact with a Jew could disqualify a potential recipient. Some social workers had become disillusioned from the Weimar Republic and supported Nazi ideas personally as a means to “cure” the problems of the country. The application of policies was uneven, as doctors promoted medical criteria over racial criteria, and local authorities promoted economic need over any other criteria.[43][44]

    • Yes, that’s an interesting take, thanks for the link!

  11. So there’s a strong tension between the Esperanto words, which describe the statue they’re building as a tribute to “global motherhood and love,” and the accompanying images, which place the statue in a military context.”

    This paradox in Michael’s work has always baffled me somewhat. He talks and sings a lot about love and peace etc., while wearing military style clothes. I know he is a man of contradictions, but I wonder sometimes how the two can be reconciled. I know he was interested in English military stuff, but it does bother me, and I wonder if anyone else has any ideas – well I know you have ha ha, so I would like you to share them please.

    I read the post and a couple of days later, was watching Liberian Girl, and wondered how on earth anyone could hear that the voices at the beginning were speaking Esperanto, and then when I look at the post this morning, I realise my mistake dah!!!! wrong short film. I am also one of the 98.9 % because there are no subtitles on my DVD version, so again the question is, why on earth didn’t Michael put them in?? I suppose he just wanted us to intrigued, but I must say I am very glad to know what the words mean.

    Was interested on the Spike Lee DVD to hear someone saying that they thought the song was Librarian Girl!! conjours up all sorts of other images hey.

  12. Hi, Eleanor and Caro, thanks for your intriguing posts and the interesting questions you raise.

    Eleanor, that statement that you think there is an element of ‘ridicule’ of militarism in the HIStory teaser is so great–I love it and agree with this 100%. If you look at the way MJ ‘salutes’ his ‘army’ it is actually quite funny IMO. Instead of the sharp gesture of the usual military salute, it is a more casual gesture similar to when a man is about to make a bow (a kind of flourish with the hand going up to the head and then moves downwards). The gesture MJ makes here is almost foppish. So this is a ridicule or critique certainly of the normal macho military salute. He is also shown earlier blowing kisses to the crowd, quite an unmilitary gesture!!! His walk is also the MJ swagger and not the military robotics.

    Caro, re your question about why did MJ emphasize the military aspect while at the same time promoting love and peace, such a great issue to raise. My take is as follows: MJ really did want to change the world. The whole idea of promoting himself as a king had far-reaching consequences. If he is a king, he has a ‘kingdom’–which consists of his followers, fans. If he has a kingdom, he has a ‘country,’ which IMO was basically the whole world. MJ was photographed and painted in very kingly contexts and costumes, in all historical periods from Roman to today, from Asian to Western. I think he was promoting the idea of a new world in this way–he was the leader or king of a new nation. He had an army (his citizens or followers), he had his own country (which was more psychological than geographical, meaning anyone could be part of it). So the HIStory teaser shows this new kingdom.

    The other point is the name Michael (one who is most like God) is the name of the archangel who led God’s army of angels in the fight against the rebel angels led by Lucifer. I think MJ modeled himself to some extent in the same iconic way St. Michael is depicted, which is as an angel but also at the same time a military leader in the fight between good and evil.

    Eleanor, about Mother’s Day–very interesting info–thanks so much. MJ was clearly not interested in either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day per se, but fought hard from a Children’s Day as an international holiday, which is a great idea that for some reason people don’t want to support or hasn’t happened yet, but I hope will happen one day in MJ’s name.

    • Hi Caro, Eleanor, Stephenson. What an interesting discussion! I agree that the HIStory teaser is really troubling, especially all the Nazi imagery. But I also think Michael Jackson is doing something important with it. There’s some subtle mockery in it, as you point out, Stephenson, but he’s also appropriating that imagery and redefining what it means to some extent.

      It seems to me that, in general, we tend to keep art and politics in separate boxes, but I don’t think Michael Jackson did that. I think he saw all aspects of human culture, including politics, as art. Apparently he had a fairly extensive collection of Nazi propaganda films (which caused a minor scandal when it was discovered after he died) and he studied Hitler.

      It’s interesting to look at the Rabbi Boteach book, for example, where they discuss Hitler a number of times, and see how Michael Jackson talks about him – for example, in this passage on page 124:

      Hitler was a genius orator. He was [able] to make that many people turn and change and hate. He had to be a showman and he was. Before he would speak, he would pause, drink a bit of water, and then he would clear his throat and look around. It was what an entertainer would do trying to work his audience.

      This is so fascinating to me, to hear Michael Jackson critique Hitler in this way, like one entertainer sizing up another. And apparently Rabbi Boteach felt the same way. As he writes, “Michael’s analysis of Hitler was brilliant. I subsequently watched many of Hitler’s speeches and Michael was absolutely right. Hitler would get up to speak, pause, make the crowd eager with breathless anticipation, and only then would he slowly begin.”

      So I don’t think Michael Jackson borrowed this imagery lightly, at all, when creating the HIStory promo film. He had studied it extensively, he knew how powerful this imagery was, and he also knew Hitler had used it for evil purposes – to create a police state that crushed those who were different, including blacks as well as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the disabled.

      Now Michael Jackson finds himself in a situation where the Santa Barbara police are trying to crush him, because he is different. And he fights back using that exact same imagery. It makes me really uncomfortable (as powerful art sometimes does) but I also think there’s something important happening here that I don’t understand very well, and I feel like I need to explore it further.

      • ” It makes me really uncomfortable (as powerful art sometimes does) but I also think there’s something important happening here that I don’t understand very well, and I feel like I need to explore it further.”

        Well, in Europe’s (alternative and mostly online!) media there’s more and more severe critisim of the US imperialistic politics since the so called “war against terrorism” in which America seems to be selling his very soul as the land of the free by increasingly corrupting its own values to an extent where many people ask themselves: “Who is this country we’ve all been looking up for so long for real and what exactly is it’s agenda?” (e.g. the NSA bugging scandal, compound and torture in Guantanamo Bay, executions of “evil” islamic leaders without a trial, Edward Snowden fleeing to Russia,….) With our Nazi past in Germany and the (first demanded then self-imposed) duty to never let such terrors of facism ever happen again, people grow more and more uncomfortable to follow the American Big Brother and might see clearly why Michael complained: “I can’t believe this is the land from which I came…” in “They don’t care about us”. 😦 They also pay attention to how the US incorporated former NS officals (like Wernher von Braun) if it served their interests. A lot of these aspects remind me of the facts presented in the MJ Academia Project about the Nazi-methods of the mass media in general (and America -primarily technically- leading the way here).

        Of course this isn’t a topic in the mass media at all….

  13. P.S. The gesture that is MJ’s ‘salute” is at about 2:28 in the teaser. I think the huge ‘eye’ banner is pretty camp too, if you think about it. It doesn’t work as a fearsome military image IMO, esp. with MJ’s curl in there as well–lol.

    I read about the filming of this, it was really hot at the time and the unifroms were uncomfortable of course. They kept hiring more soldiers for a greater effect. I also read MJ spent $30 million of his own $$ on HIStory.

  14. On the Dangerous cover, there is a word above each portal on the lower left and lower right. The words are entrare and exitus. Latin/Italian? You need a real high res image to read this http://www.sendspace.com/file/rey36g

  15. Hey guys,

    As a russian MJ fan from Moscow, I have to comment! I think you americans really are projecting a lot of your own stuff onto stranger in moscow. Michael spoke about it actually (i think it was the online chat in 1995, but not sure) where he was asked how he wrote that kind of song specifically about Moscow. He answered that the song was about his inner feeling, and had nothing to do with Moscow where the fans were great. So, i always felt that he just happened to be there when the ish really his the fan, and it was cold and rainy on top of everything.

    In fact, when you listen to it as a native russian speaker, it is still hard to understand exactly what is said, especially after “confess” as it fades out. I used to turn the volume all the way up to try to make out what he said back then.

    Besides, the idea that Michael would use one language as “angelic” and another one as “devilish” is as anti-MJ as it gets, since he was about uniting and not dividing. No offense, but had to call out the obvious bias.

    I agree with the point that it was Michael’s own country that made him feel like a stranger interroagted by KGB, and that was likely the metaphor 🙂

    • Hi Gennie,

      I was the one coming up with the ”angelic-devilish” thing, and I’m not American. 🙂

      When comparing the Swahili part of ”Liberian Girl” with the Russian part of ”SIM”, the contrast does strike me as that between an angel and a devil (metaphorically speaking).

      Yes, MJ was about unity, but he was also an artist, and he used images of all kinds – from the uplifting and beautiful to the dark and tragic.

      With so many Americans having grown up with the idea of the Soviet (and by extension Moscow and the Russian language) as ”the enemy”, I don’t think MJ’s use of Moscow/Russian is entirely random.

      That doesn’t mean he’s ”anti-unity” (or anti-Russian!); he’s just an artist, an American artist who likes to explore and challenge symbols and conceptions and historically transmitted prejudices.

    • Hi Gennie. I am American, and I think you’re right that “you Americans really are projecting a lot of your own stuff onto Stranger in Moscow” – though I wonder if that’s the point? What I mean is, I wonder if Michael Jackson was calling attention to how much we project onto other countries – in this case, Cold War Soviet Union – and forcing us to question that.

      As I mentioned in the post, a lot of my friends are older than I am and remember the fear they felt toward the Soviets in the 1950s and 60s. But that’s not my experience. I’m about the same age as Michael Jackson, and that was all before my time – and his too. My memory of how the USSR was represented in the 60s and 70s wasn’t so much fear as self-congratulation. The feeling was that we Americans are free and live in a just and democratic society while Russians live in a police state, in constant fear of their own government.

      So maybe by conflating the US and Russia – creating a video that talks about feeling like a “stranger in Moscow” while clearly walking the streets of an American city – Michael Jackson is questioning all that. Maybe we Americans aren’t as free or as just as we think we are. And maybe some members of our society, such as minority populations, live in fear of the police and the government here too – with good reason.

      • “Maybe we Americans aren’t as free or as just as we think we are.”

        I think you’re right, Willa, and it makes me think of Goethe:

        “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

        Also this isn’t a problem only Americans have to face, but all of us. Charles Thomson wrote an interesting blog post yesterday about the incredibly false media coverage of MJs UK Comeback at the World Music Awards in London in 2006, which he describes as “construction of a purely fabricated story”.

        But I think, when he states that “It was a sorry day for journalism – but the profession has had many of those where Michael Jackson is concerned” he misses the fact that this is not at all only happening with Michael Jackson, but with every sort of “critic” who questiones our way of (capitalist) living. Today there are (nearly?) no newspapers or magazines that could survive without the money of their (industrial) advertising customers. They aren’t free to write what they want at all and by this time only 147 entities seem to “rule” our world. A very disturbing and threatening trend to think about….

        • Hi Julie. Both of those articles were fascinating – in fact, I added the Charles Thomson one to our Reading Room.

          I agree that the media treatment of Michael Jackson demonstrates just how ruthlessly they attack anyone who’s different, especially those who force us to question our way of life, as Michael Jackson did. And I agree that money was a big part of it, but I don’t think it’s the entire story. After all, a lot of free-lance bloggers and individual “haters” attacked him also, with no monetary motive to do so. I think that, for some, he was just too threateningly and powerfully different. But maybe they’re just falling in line behind the paid media, who do have a strong financial incentive to inflame people’s passions and stir up scandal whenever they can.

          • Hi Willa. I totally agree with you that it is not all about the money, though it certainly makes the world go round and I am convinced that there are as many different reasons to feel threatened by Michael Jackson as there are different characters with specific desires, fears and motives out there. May it be because he’s redefining current concepts of masculinity or because he may stand for a new form of economy, namely the creative economy or or or …

  16. To add to my previous post about MJ setting up a ‘kingdom’ in a psychological/spiritual sense (thus his use of crowns and other regal refererences in his military costumes), I would like to draw attention to the gates of Neverland–they had on them the exact replica of the coat of arms of the British monarchy and the same motto (on y soit qui mal y pense). This is another sign that MJ is deliberately setting up a “kingdom” that was intended to be every bit as powerful as a nation state, if not more so. In light of this, I see the HIStory teaser as an extension and reinforcement of these earlier tropes.

    I agree with you, Gennie, re MJ wanted to unite and not divide–absolutely!!

    • “This is another sign that MJ is deliberately setting up a “kingdom” that was intended to be every bit as powerful as a nation state, if not more so.”

      Citizenship in a modern sense (and as a result national identity) has only emerged since the French Revolution and the rise of Republican thinking. Since then, the state was seen not only as territorial state or personnel assignment to absolutist monarchy, but also as an association of citizens (who developed a social identity as “we the Frensh/English/German …”) I think MJ’s “kingdom” could just be a new form of collectiv identity construction. Even more since national identities are becomming more and more obsolet in a world of globalisation and the reality of the www.

      By the way, here’s an interesting comparison (in terms of google search results) which do show that MJ is as “big” as a country:

      • Hi Julie and Stephenson. That’s a really interesting way to think about Michael Jackson’s “Kingdom” – as you describe, Julie, “a new form of collective identity” as compared to familial, tribal, or national identities, or the divisions of identity politics such as affiliations based or race or sexual orientation.

  17. Hi Stephenson, I didn’t realize “on y soit qui mal y pense” was the motto on the gate. Interesting. It was one of my mother’s favorite sayings and I grew to hate it, because, she used it to deflect any criticism — as in, if you think badly of me…., the evil is on you for thinking it. Result, no change and refusal to take responsibility for her own actions.

    But, it certainly fits for Michael. In his case, evil was certainly in the eye of the beholder.

  18. Looking at some military parades on youtube (from Hilter in 1939 to China in 2012) and then at the HIStory teaser, I noticed some significant differences. In the Hilter military parade, he arrives in an open car and gets off at the review stage where he sits on a chair for the review. In the Chinese one, there are a bunch of military and civilian political figures on the review stage. The troops marching by all salute those on the review stage. Now in contrast, MJ is on foot and marching along with the troops–he is not elevated above them by being on a raised stage or separate from them. The marching troops in the teaser do not all salute him either–in fact, he salutes them (if you can call it a salute). Also, as MJ says to Diane Sawyer, there are no tanks, missiles, etc in the teaser, whereas this is a big part of a military parade. (It gets a bit more traditional in the statue unveiling part, with more drama, police holding the crowds back.) The other difference in the teaser is the focus on women and children, which is absent from military parades, unless the women are in uniform and marching in the parade, in which case they look just like the men (but in skirts).

    Julie, I agree that a lot of scary stuff is going on with the USA in its “war on terrorism” and the rise of the ‘security state.’ It’s important to look at the reason for all this, which IMO is way more than keeping USA citizens ‘safe’ from ‘terrorists’ and much more about keeping control of the natural resource upon which all modern ‘civilization’ depends–oil. (I just saw a facinating documentary called “A Crude Awakening” about the fact that we have already gone beyond ‘peak oil,’ meaning demand is greater than supply.)

    Also good point that national citizenship is a recent phenomenon relatively speaking, and I agree 100% with what you say here: “I think MJ’s “kingdom” could just be a new form of collectiv identity construction. Even more since national identities are becoming more and more obsolet in a world of globalisation and the reality of the www.”

    • Stephenson,

      I think you are right about this new identity that Michael could have been constructing. In fact, as someone who grew up as an MJ fan and someone who had lived in several countries, I identify completely with the idea of global citizenship. I just dont see that kind of difference in people, but many others still do.

      Michael had often emphasized that his traveling and seeing the world had given him an unique perspective to feel for all people everywhere. I have heard the same thing from other travellers and have felt it myself – you just cant help but understand that we are all the same despite national borders. Once you identify yourself as a human being, the national identity loses its meaning. He must have felt that and tried to communicate that. And of course that was misunderstood.

      • Good point about that, Gennie. MJ did talk about how his travels had made him aware of the one-ness of humanity. Perhaps using all these different languages in his music was another way to reinforce this one-ness. In addition to the languages discussed in this post, there was a Spanish version of the charity single What More Can I Give called Todo Para Ti. I do think in the creation of Neverland and in the HIStory teaser, he was playing with this concept of a place beyond national borders, an imaginative place which was, for want of a better name, MJ Land.

  19. A fresh thought: Maybe Charlie Chaplin inspired MJ to use Esperanto in ”History”?
    Chaplin famously mocked Hitler in ”The Great Dictator”. Wiki says:

    ”Some of the signs in the shop windows of the ghettoized Jewish population in the film are written in Esperanto, a language which Hitler condemned as a Jewish plot to internationalize and destroy German culture, perhaps because its inventor was a Polish Jew.”

    • That’s amazing! There are some street scenes about 27:10 into the film http://youtu.be/09ITj4kRot4 Are these in Esperanto?

      • @Ultravioletrae
        Hm, it’s a bit hard to see…
        But I can see several signs (mainly on shops) in Esperanto starting at about 0:24:38 (when the woman goes out in the street):
        Drinkum’ (Drinking [of Alcohol])
        ???ejo (Something-place)
        Papervendejo (Paper Shop)
        Plumb??? (Plumb-something)
        Vestaĵoj Malnovaj (Old, i.e. Second-hand, Clothes) – This is where the soldiers smash the window
        Freŝaj legomaj (should be ”freŝaj legomoj”, Fresh vegetables)
        The vegetable signs are in Eo too, one of them says Tomatoj (tomatoes).

    • WOW! Now there is probably something to that, Bjorn! We know of Michael’s love of Charlie Chaplin.

    • Bjorn, Thanks for pointing that out. I bet you are absolutely right. Really gives a window into MJ’s thought processes and his attention to detail. Connecting the dots between Chaplin and esperanto and Chaplin and Michael connects Michael to esperanto in two ways. So interesting. Layers on layers…

  20. ” did speak passable French. In fact, in the 1980s he was interviewed in French by a Montreal reporter, and he answered in French”

    Is there a video or audio to that interview? I would LOVE to hear him speaking French….

    • “I would LOVE to hear him speaking French….”

      Hi Julie. So would I! Unfortunately, I’ve only found written descriptions of that interview – darn! – but if I ever come across a video of him speaking French, I’ll be sure to post it.

  1. Pingback: Who helped Michael Jackson write Esperanto? ~ Esperanto Language ~ QnA World

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