The Ghost of Jealousy

Willa: So Joie, on a number of occasions when asked about the scandals that surrounded him, and the way the media turned against him and really vilified him in later years, Michael Jackson suggested that one cause was jealousy. And I always interpreted that to mean that certain individuals (like Evan Chandler) were jealous of him, and that’s certainly true.

But then Lisha McDuff, Harriet Manning, and I did a post a few weeks ago about blackface minstrelsy and how it was motivated in part by envy – racial envy. And then the other day I was listening to a 2002 phone interview with Steve Harvey, a black comedian and radio host, and I was really struck by the fact that when Michael Jackson talked with him about jealousy, he said “us” – not “me” but “us,” that people are jealous of “us” – and I think that “us” means successful black entertainers.

It’s funny – that one little word opened my eyes to a completely different way of interpreting what he’d been saying all those years. It seems to me now that he’s not talking so much about personal jealousy, though of course that’s part of it, but about racial jealousy – the jealousy of whites against successful blacks. As he tells Steve Harvey,

They hate to see us grow and build and build, and there’s nothing wrong with that [with growing]. They can and it’s ok. What can I do but reinforce the talent that God gave me? That’s all I want to do, is share the love and gift of entertainment. That’s all I want to do. I don’t want to hurt anybody.

Here’s the interview, and the part about jealousy starts about 8 minutes in:

Joie: I had forgotten all about this Steve Harvey interview, Willa. And speaking as a Black American, I agree that he’s talking about race when he makes his jealousy statement.

You know, this is actually an issue that many black people have struggled with and talked about among themselves for many, many years. Michael’s statement that, “They hate to see us grow and build” is a very real phenomenon in our society, and it has been going on since the birth of our nation. Or rather, I should say, since the end of slavery in our nation. And he wasn’t just talking about successful black entertainers. He was talking about any Black American who has found great success in whatever field they happen to work in, whether they’re famous or not. In fact, I believe that it’s one of the prevailing factors for all the backlash President Obama has seen during his time in office.

Willa: I agree. Part of the backlash – against Michael Jackson and Obama as well – is caused by racial prejudice, I think, but I hadn’t thought about it before in terms of jealousy – racial jealousy. That’s interesting, and it’s also interesting that Michael Jackson’s words seem pretty obvious to you and not so obvious to me. I wonder if that’s intentional, and it gets back to the idea of “language and power” that we talked about with Bjørn in a post a while ago – that Michael Jackson is using language in a subtle way so that it means different things to different listeners.

You know, if we look at his exact words, he’s speaking in a pretty indirect way. He never says the words “black” or “white,” and actually never mentions race at all. But still, if a listener is familiar with that ongoing conversation that you’re talking about, Joie – one “that many black people have struggled with and talked about among themselves for many, many years,” as you say – then his words are obvious, but if a listener isn’t aware of that context, then that just goes right past them. So I wonder if he’s speaking in a careful way with two distinct audiences in mind – specifically, if he’s talking in a way that immediately resonates with blacks, but doesn’t alarm or offend whites because we don’t really get what he’s saying.

Joie: It’s interesting to me that you think that, Willa. That he’s talking in some sort of code or something in order to connect with the black audience but not alarm or offend the white audience. Because to me – and probably to any other black person listening to this interview – he’s not speaking in a careful way at all. In fact, when I listen to this interview, I hear him speaking in a very relaxed, very open way. He’s not being cautious and careful with what he says because he knows that there’s no reason to. He’s speaking to another black entertainer, and his two black co-hosts, on a radio show geared toward a black audience. He obviously felt very comfortable with his surroundings in that moment. And he obviously knew that he was among people of a similar background (the Black American experience) who would understand immediately what he was talking about. So there was no need to speak “in a very careful way with two distinct audiences in mind.” So, I’m saying that I don’t think he was purposely talking in code or anything.

Willa: Well, that’s true, Joie – he does sound relaxed and comfortable. But still, a lot of things are left unsaid, like the words “black” and “white.” It’s like there are gaps between his words. And he’s not just speaking to a black audience – radio waves go out to everyone – and whether it’s intentional on his part or not, I think different listeners interpret his words very differently. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they fill in the gaps differently.

There’s a similar situation in the song “Ghosts,” which was written after the 1993 allegations and strip search. Here’s the chorus:

And who gave you the right to scare my family?
And who gave you the right to scare my baby?
She needs me
And who gave you the right to shake my family tree?
And who gave you the right to take intrusion
To see me?
And who gave you the right to shake my family?
And who gave you the right to hurt my baby?
She needs me
And who gave you the right to shake my family tree?

You put a knife in my back
Shot an arrow in me
Tell me are you the ghost of jealousy?
A sucking ghost of jealousy?

He’s talking about the false accusations and the strip search (“who gave you the right to take intrusion / To see me?”) as well as the scandals that followed, and once again he suggests the real motivation behind them is “jealousy.” He never mentions race, and I never interpreted it that way – as racial jealousy. I thought he was just saying that Evan Chandler and Tom Sneddon and Diane Dimond and all those other figures working so hard to bring him down were envious of him and his success. But now I’m wondering if I was misunderstanding him – that he was talking specifically about racial jealousy – something Harriet mentioned was part of blackface minstrelsy, and a much larger cultural narrative as well, for more than a century.

Joie: Ok, I guess I see where you’re going with this. And when I think about it, there were no accusers or “other figures working so hard to bring him down” as you say that I can think of who were black. So, maybe you’re on to something.

Willa: Well, that’s true – none of the people working hardest to smear him were black, unless you count Stacy Brown. Just as importantly, it’s very interesting how different people reacted whenever he suggested – however indirectly – that the scandals plaguing him were tinged with racism or racial jealousy.

For example, in a 2005 interview with Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson said that the public persecution he faced “has been kind of a pattern among black luminaries in this country.” When Jesse Jackson asks him, “How are you handling it?” he replies,

I’m handling it by using other people in the past who have gone through this sort of thing. Mandela’s story has given me a lot of strength – what he’s gone through. The Jack Johnson story … called Unforgivable Blackness. It’s an amazing story about this man from 1910 who was the heavyweight champion of the world, and thrust into a society that didn’t want to accept his position and his lifestyle. And what they put him through. And how they changed laws to imprison the man, to put him away behind bars just to get him some kind of way. And Muhammad Ali’s story … All these stories that I can go back in history and read about give me strength.

Here’s a link and the discussion of race starts about 4:15 in. It’s an astute reading of his situation, I think, and places the false allegations against him – and the police and public response to those allegations – within a context of other successful black pioneers who have been targeted by the authorities.

However, his words caused outrage, as well as some pretty snide remarks. In an opinion piece in The Los Angeles Times, a white academic, Elaine Showalter, wrote this:

Although he has tried to present himself as a target of racist envy and malice, comparing himself to Nelson Mandela (the ace of race cards) in an interview with that swiftest of spiritual ambulance-chasers, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jackson’s race is as indeterminate and ambiguous as his sexuality.

Elaine Showalter was a groundbreaking feminist scholar in the 1980s – I read some of her work back then and had a lot of respect for her – and I can’t believe she of all people would be so oblivious and write something so simplistic and so snootily patriarchal. This is really troubling, I think, in many different ways – not the least being her assumption that, because his skin is no longer dark, he’s somehow disqualified from talking about race or pointing out the racism that surrounds him.

Joie: Yes, that remark is incredible, isn’t it? And you just want to ask her, you know … if she had suddenly found herself with a disease … let’s say breast cancer for instance, and had to have both her breasts removed, would she suddenly not be a woman anymore?

Willa: Wow, Joie. That’s a powerful question. I never thought of it like that before …

Joie: Or if there was a disease out there that caused a white person’s pigment to darken, would she no longer be allowed to identify herself as Caucasian? I mean, she’s not just saying he’s disqualified from pointing out the racism that surrounds him. She is saying that he no longer has the right to identify with the black race. That he no longer has the right to call himself a Black American. Her very comment is incredibly racist on so many levels.

Willa: That is really interesting, Joie. When you reverse the situation, it really highlights just how much she’s talking from a privileged position, doesn’t it? Why does a white person feel she has a right to decide if a black person is black enough to suit her? That isn’t just incredibly offensive, it’s nonsensical. I can’t imagine a black person ever saying that about a white person.

I mean, picture a person with two white parents who grew up in a white community, as Michael Jackson did with two black parents in a black neighborhood in Gary. And then try to imagine some sort of circumstance where a black person would say that person wasn’t white enough to speak from a white perspective. I just don’t think it would ever happen, and it wouldn’t make sense if it did because we don’t have a cultural history of blacks forcing whites to meet their expectations of whiteness. But we have a very long history of whites forcing blacks to fit white definitions of blackness, as Lisha and Harriet and I talked about.

But I shouldn’t oversimplify this. It wasn’t just whites who reacted badly to the Steve Harvey interview. An opinion piece by Sinclere Lee in Black News Weekly was just as snarky:

If Michael Jackson is guilty of anything and should go to jail, for, it’s when he compared himself to Nelson Mandela. I know Nelson Mandela! I met Nelson Mandela when he came to Washington! Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest freedom fighters in the world! Nelson Mandela spent 27-years in prison to free the Blacks in South Africa, and you can’t do a day in jail! Michael, don’t believe that shit Jesse Jackson is telling you, you are no Nelson Mandela!

Joie: And to me, this is a ridiculous statement because Michael Jackson, and Jesse Jackson for that matter, both knew Nelson Mandela personally as well. Michael didn’t simply “meet” the man when he came to Washington. He knew Mandela very well. He and Mandela were actually very close friends for many, many years.

And Michael wasn’t comparing himself to Mandela in that comment. He was saying that he uses Mandela’s story as a source of inspiration to deal with the blatant racism he was experiencing. There is a huge difference.

Willa: I agree completely, Joie. And what can possibly be wrong with saying that Nelson Mandela inspired him?

But while this article is just as bad as the Showalter piece in some ways, there’s an important difference, I think. While Lee criticizes Michael Jackson for comparing himself to Mandela (which he doesn’t do, as you pointed out), she doesn’t scoff at the idea that racism is involved, the way Showalter does.

Joie: That’s true, she doesn’t. In fact, she never even veers off in that direction. Her main focus is simply the fact that she was personally offended by the thought that Michael was comparing himself to such a great freedom fighter.

Willa: Exactly. And I think that difference is subtle but important. Elaine Showalter seems to think it’s ludicrous to suggest that racism played a role in determining how Michael Jackson was treated by the police and the press (while I think it’s incredibly simplistic to assume racism wasn’t involved) but Sinclere Lee doesn’t make such a naive assumption. While a white academic may think racism played no part in it, Lee knows better.

Joie: That is interesting, isn’t it? You know, Willa, sometimes I wonder if you could take a poll now that everything is over and done with and Michael is no longer with us … how many people today, white and black, would admit that race played a factor in how he was treated by the press and the police? You know, now that we’ve all gotten a little distance and perspective. I wonder what people think today. Does that make sense?

Willa: It does, and that’s another really interesting question, Joie. My sense is that feelings about Michael Jackson have softened a lot since he died, and people are much more likely to see him as innocent now that he’s gone. We talked about that in a post last spring. But I don’t think people in general – and white people in particular – are ready to acknowledge what a huge influence race and racism had on how the allegations were perceived by the police, the media, and the public. The idea of racial prejudice, and especially racial envy, makes whites very uncomfortable, I think, and most whites don’t want to even consider it. But the more I think about this, the more I think Michael Jackson was absolutely right, and racial jealousy was at the heart of it.

I mean, it’s very interesting to really look at what people are actually saying at different points, and how they’re saying it. Look at what Evan Chandler tells him the last time they meet. He points his finger at him and shouts, “You’re going down, Michael. You’re going down.” The implication seems to be that Michael Jackson has risen too high, and now Evan Chandler is determined to take him down.

Randy Taraborrelli expresses a similar idea in his biography. Based on Chandler’s accusations, the police conduct a strip search, and here’s how Taraborrelli leads into his description of what had to be a humiliating and truly horrible experience:

The bottom line is that Michael has done whatever he wanted to do for most of his life, living in a world of privilege and entitlement simply because of who he is. … However, in December of 1993 Michael was about to experience, if just for one day, what it might be like to live in the real world, where people often have to do things they may not necessarily want to do.

This passage is so shocking to me. You would think Taraborrelli’s focus would be on the evidence, and whether the strip search confirms or contradicts Chandler’s accusations – supposedly that’s the point of it, after all – but it isn’t. Taraborrelli is much more focused on the psychological impact of the strip search, and the effect it will have on how Michael Jackson sees himself and positions himself in the world. Taraborrelli seems very critical of Michael Jackson “living in a world of privilege and entitlement,” and now the strip search is going to bring him back down to “the real world,” and Taraborrelli speaks approvingly of that. He seems to think it’s appropriate that Michael Jackson will be brought down, “if just for one day.” And it really feels to me that Taraborrelli’s words express quite a bit of jealousy.

Joie: Well, you know how I feel about Taraborrelli, and I believe that there are several spots in that book where he comes off as jealous of his subject. So, I agree with you completely on that statement.

Willa: But is it jealousy because of his wealth and his celebrity? Or is it racial jealousy? Or is it a combination of both – is he jealous that a black man, especially, has been so successful? I really wonder about that, especially since both he and Evan Chandler talk specifically about the need to bring Michael Jackson “down.”

That language and imagery of bringing him down reminds me of a horrifying scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin that we talked about in a very painful post a long time ago. Rosa, a beautiful young slave, a teenager, tries on a dress belonging to her owner, Maria. Maria walks in and sees her wearing it, becomes furious, and sends Rosa to the whipping house. Here’s Maria’s explanation for why she orders such an extreme punishment for such a trivial offense:

She has all her life presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she forgets who she is; – and I’ll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy!

So Maria isn’t angry so much because of the dress, but because it’s a sign that Rosa “forgets who she is” – that she is a young black woman, and a slave. Maria feels very threatened by that, especially since in many ways Rosa is more truly “lady-like” in her looks and bearing than Maria is. So Maria intends to shame her and remind her of “who she is,” and scorch it into her memory so severely she’ll never forget again. In other words, Maria wants to bring about a psychological change in Rosa, and “give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy!”

It seems to me that’s exactly what Taraborrelli is talking about with the strip search – that it will cause a psychological change in Michael Jackson that will “bring him down” from his “world of privilege and entitlement.” And it’s what Evan Chandler is talking about when he points his finger and shouts, “You’re going down, Michael. You’re going down.” And I think it’s what Michael Jackson himself is referring to in “Morphine” when he sings, “I’m going down, baby.” He’s being brought down by the same impulse that brought down Rosa more than 150 years ago.

Joie: That’s an interesting comparison, Willa. And one you’re probably right about. But, I guess what I’m getting at is, I wonder if people’s attitudes about the whole situation … and really about his whole life … I wonder if their attitudes are truly shifting and softening, or if it’s simply a case of “don’t speak ill of the dead.” Do you know what I mean?

Willa: I do, but I don’t know the answer. And I’m not sure people themselves know why their feelings have changed, or how deeply they’ve changed. Or what truly motivated their feelings against him to begin with. I mean, maybe feelings have softened because he’s gone, and because there’s no reason to feel threatened or jealous of him any longer.

Joie: I don’t know. I’m not even sure why it matters or why that question sort of haunts me. I guess I just feel like here was this special, beautiful, talented, loving man who only wanted to make the world happy, and he was ridiculed and persecuted and hated for it. That bothers me.

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 February 13, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. The points you’ve made by bringing up Michael’s interview with Steve Harvey are right on the money. He also spoke of the continent of Africa and how other civilizations have been greatly impacted and influenced by the African culture. Michael always extremely proud of his black cultrual and ancestry and rightfully so, knew the envy and jealousy was race related. He even likened himself to Jack Johnson in a different interview. The black heavyweight champion who was similarly treated because he dared to knockout the reigning white heavyweight champion of the time. The similarites between Jack Johnson and Michael Jackson are quite interesting and something you both should discuss if you haven’t already. It is important to note that Michael paid tribute to Johnson in the short film You Rock My World as he shows the boxers poster on the wall of the joint he enters with his buddy Chris Tucker. Additionally, I have always felt Randy Tababorelli was passively aggressive towards Michael in his book due to the fact that Michael pretty much cut him loose as a friend many, many years ago. The description of the strip seach, Randy gives details of how Michael was embarrassed, crying and emotionally distraught during the ordeal as if any man would not be. It is never quite clear who the source for this particular part of his book is since it is doubtful Michael or his agents who was in attendance would speak of it. Randy seems to take great delight in the event of Michael being put in his place by this degrading inspection and probing of his private parts. When you consider the reasoning and the forcefulness behind this order of the strip seach you can easily see it was Tom Sneddon making sure Michael knew his place and just who was in charge of his life at that moment. Now you can immediately relate that to how slaves were stripped naked while they stood shackled on the auction block to strip them of their dignity.The way slave traders demoralized the slaves on the auction block is exactly what Sneddon and Randy in his effort to relate the incident intended as well. Thank you again for a wonderful discussion. As usual, you both stimulate the mind to go even deeper into the saga of this great man. I believe he was one of the strongest men alive to have lived through the many tribulations of his life and still maintain a grace and gentility that God afforded him.

    • Hi MJJJusticeProject. The parallels between Michael Jackson, Jack Johnson, and other “black luminaries” like Chuck Berry, Muhammad Ali, and James Brown are really telling, I think, and show the extent to which black male celebrities, in particular, have been targeted in an effort to “bring them down.”

      And I agree that Randy Taraborrelli’s perceptions of Michael Jackson are really problematic, though they change rather dramatically over time. One thing that’s interesting about his book is that three separate editions have been printed at very different stages of Michael Jackson’s life and career – in 1991 (before the Chandler allegations), 2003 (before the 2005 trial), and 2009 (after his death) – and you can easily trace how much Taraborrelli’s opinions and perceptions shift with each new edition.

      I think a lot of it is because he’s influenced by the opinion of others, and public opinion in general changed a lot over that time. But I also think a lot of it has to do with Taraborrelli himself, and where he was in his own career. There seems to be a feeling among journalists that you have to prove your credibility and objectivity by being critical of your subject, and I see that quite a bit in Taraborrelli, especially in the earlier editions – this need to prove himself by disparaging Michael Jackson. His later work is better, I think – more nuanced – though still completely missing the boat sometimes.

      And this brings up a final point, which is that I think he simply didn’t understand him. He was judging Michael Jackson simply as a pop singer (as so many critics did) and Michael Jackson was so much more than that …

      p.s. Thanks for reposting, and for all the important work you do.

  2. Reblogged this on mjjjusticeproject and commented:
    Important discussion about Envy and Jealousy of an entire race.

  3. I agree that racial jealousy played a part in Michael’s treatment by the police and the press. I think Showalter calling Michael’s race indeterminate also points to the anxiety Michael’s vitiligo caused people, over and above the anxiety his success caused them. Michael was believed by many to have intentionally lightened his skin, to have intentionally tried to become white. I think Michael’s perceived attempt to cross that barrier (to “pass”) was very threatening to a lot of people, but their fear of his change in skin color was never really discussed or examined. The public’s response was generally expressed as anger or ridicule, but not as the fear that I think was really there. I think that anxiety about Michael not staying in his lane in terms of skin color has also been expressed in how some people have reacted to the skin color/facial features/hair type of his children.

  4. Very thought provoking discussion, and I also appreciated MJJJusticeProject’s comment very much. I have never really bought into the whole racial argument with respect to Michael, because I guess, coming to MJ fandom late in life (and, to my undying regret, after the end of his life) I have always seen him as a citizen of the world, rather than as being of any particular race or nationality. Of course I realize this is a naively simplistic view of what for Michael was something he lived with his whole public life, as with other successful, ground breaking individuals. If you get too big for your boots, there will be plenty who want to put you back in your place. Whether ‘that place’ is defined by racism, or jealousy of fame, success and money, or just fear of genius and difference, I am not in a position to say. I am not an American, and my own country is such a polyglot of cultures about which most of us have a pretty relaxed view, that I am not in a position to comment. I can’t know what it must have been like for Michael as a Black American to feel that there were those who were out to ‘bring him down’. Given how the press goes after the rich and famous, and particularly pop icons, film stars etc, eager to dish the dirt, I would have thought Michael’s being black was of little consequence. But again, that is naive of me, because I’ve never walked in those shoes, so I can’t possibly know. But it seems from the quotes you cite and other things I’ve heard or read, that he definitely felt that way about the treatment he received at the hands of his persecutors. So it was obviously very real to him, and he obviously felt it very keenly. The Tababorelli excerpt just reminds me how much his book on Michael made my blood boil. The man’s books are tabloid ‘journalism’ at best, and his bio on Michael a betrayal of his supposed ‘friendship’ with MJ. I definitely think he WAS jealous of Michael’s success, which he did not share in beyond a youthful age, but of course, he cashed in on his one-time association throughout Michael’s lifetime and certainly after it… until the heat applied by some of us fans made it too hot for him and he bailed out of the subject. I thought that was pretty cowardly, but nothing less than I expected of him. I really don’t think race was a part of that jealousy, but more a case of Tababorelli knowing someone who has become the biggest star in the world, and the most recognizable person on the planet, while he’d become someone who just writes about him, is dependent on him and others who have gained success. (By the way, because I can never remember how to spell his name without looking it up first (despite having many friends of Italian extraction) I generally refer to him as Randy Tabloid, which is I think most apt. Hopefully that does not make me an insensitive name-caller and put me in the same league as some of Michael’s enemies!) In the end I tend to a view I hold on most issues, which is that a single cause/motivation can seldom be determined, because there are too many contributing factors. In Michael’s case, his whole stated and re-stated mission to ‘heal the world’ and attempts to maintain a childlike loving view of everything and preference to think the best of people, and trust them accordingly (often to his detriment) made him just too ‘strange’ and unbelievable in a cynical world. It’s a repeating pattern in history as I’m sure you’re aware. The visionaries are seen as freaks, both by their own and by others. Michael never said or sang it better than in the “Ghosts” short film. For some his difference, his mission, his vision, really WAS scary for them.

  5. From everything I have read I’ve become convinced that the savagery Michael endured was racially motivated. They just could not stand that a black man had achieved such heights. I’ve heard varying graphic descriptions (not from Terriboreli’s book) of the stripsearch, and the last I knew the photographs were still held under court seal. Is that still accurate? Imagine Michael going through what turned out to be the final 15 years of his life under the threat of public release of these photographs. And I cannot understand how Michael’s reps or counsel could ever have permitted that atrocity to occur, even with a warrant issued by some judge. No celebrity, none of them, today would allow himself to be subjected to such a thing. It definitely was a conscious effort to bring down the world’s most successful black entertainer and keep him “in his place”. Of course Sneddon must have seethed anew when Michael composed and performed the song “DS” when touring around the world. Michael refused to be kept in the “place” Sneddon and his corrupt crew had in mind for him. Thanks for this post which has given me a chance to vent about the mind-boggling SS and the motives behind it.

  6. Great post, again ladies.

    As for the view point on Michael changing since his death, I will add that I find it very interesting that this seems to be the case with many black figures that only once they can no longer speak will the public start listening. MLK and Muhammad Ali come to mind. And we, the MJ fans and community, must be knowledgeable of this because Michael’s art and voice could be taken away from us/him and turned into something it’s not a la MLK.

    Thanks again for giving me something to think about!

    • “And we, the MJ fans and community, must be knowledgeable of this because Michael’s art and voice could be taken away from us/him and turned into something it’s not a la MLK.”

      This is a really important point, Destiny, and a very real danger, I think. One of Michael Jackson’s greatest strengths as an artist was that he could be whatever people wanted him to be (to paraphrase the lyrics of “Is It Scary) but that very ambiguity also leaves his legacy wide open for appropriation. That’s one reason I think it’s so important to look carefully at his work and try to let his art speak for him. His art is his truest expression of who he is.

  7. Given the US’s history, racial jealousy was definitely at play and Michael knew it, hence the references. Classic example: Tom Sneddon, a man who couldn’t stand having a rich, Black, male landowner in his midst. Land ownership is a big part of the American dream, and Michael’s sprawling ranch seems to have taken on nightmarish proportions to Sneddon. African American writer James Baldwin approaches this from another angle in his “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood” : “He [MJ] will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…”.

  8. This was an interesting and in my opinion, very relevant post. Denying that race had anything whatsoever to do with how Michael was perceived and treated always makes me think of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. It seems to deny the obvious role of race, though I also think Michael’s extreme “otherness” was also a huge factor. I think he actually cultivated his otherness in a way that inspires great admiration, even adulation, but also revulsion, depending on who’s doing the viewing. He furthermore rubbed salt in the wounds of many who view the world through a race prism by refusing to be get into the narrowness of race. He was proud of his heritage and roots, but saw himself and all people as One and human first. He never wanted to be distracted or redirected from that–and that probably made many people, both Black and White–quite furious.

    On Willa’s question: “…what truly motivated their feelings against him to begin with. I mean, maybe feelings have softened because he’s gone, so there’s no reason to feel threatened or jealous of him any longer…” I would like to suggest that Michael deeply understood the latent feelings (of jealousy, or resentment of successful Blacks) that may reside in too many White people, and his whole oeuvre and challenge was to break that down. He was, in fact, hugely successful in breaking down those feelings–more than any other Black figure had been. He inspired a love and sense of Oneness that many people of any race had not experienced before. He made people realize how absurd and insignificant and artificial a division race is, but not only race. Then there was an enormous backlash. The media became a tool to not only make Michael “go down,” but also to inspire and inflame the whole resentment thing to a frenzy in the minds of anyone who wasn’t in a sense already WITH Michael, inspired by the vision of Oneness that he never stopped striving for throughout his life. No matter how bad things got or how under siege he was with people trying to push, push, push him back down, and into the grave, ultimately, Michael held onto that vision.

    And yes, now he’s in the grave before he should have been, because of that pushing down. I have to disagree, however, with any suggestion that, being there, “there’s no reason to feel threatened or jealous of him any longer.” I’m afraid that his legacy is still very much under attack. Because it wasn’t just the physical Man that needed to be put down–it was the message tied up in the legacy and all his work. Do you not see the efforts made to define him still …as a super-weirdo, if not worse; a sad case of a psychologically damaged has-been unable to recapture his lost glory; a drug addict; an egomaniacal pretender to titles like King of Pop; an asexual, regressed little boy who refused to grow up (diagnosed with the Peter Pan complex recently by his “friend,” Deepak Chopra in an interview…? Do you not notice how the media and every PR machine in this country promotes and cheerleads anything at all related to The Beatles (not even American but, significantly, White)? Yet decent books about Michael cannot find publishers, so potential biographers of the highest calibre, who you’d THINK would want to write his incredibly rich story, continue to stay away from him as a subject?

    No, I’d say that Michael Jackson and what he stood for are a threat and/or a cause for tremendous jealousy still, in some quarters. If anything, his death and the renewed interest in him and the softening you mention are cause for redoubled efforts in some quarters to deny, disenfranchise, and denigrate him as any options I mentioned above and more. There was great success in those portraits, after all, while he was still alive. The definitions were nearly set in stone before the man went and up and died, and then, to everyone’s surprise, the entire world turned up to mourn. I don’t think the scale on which he was mourned has even been fully acknowledged. It was extraordinary what happened to the internet, if you remember, but how much have you heard about the entire phenomenon since?

    One final point: jealousy (or insecurity, or whatever you want to call it) on the part of Whites is no doubt a big factor in what happened to Michael. But what about Blacks’ own insecurity? Didn’t many in the Black community disown him because they too were uncomfortable with changes in his physical appearance and his appeal to other (mainly White) audiences worldwide? It seems to me that he was not Black enough for many Blacks. Michael couldn’t win and his vision couldn’t win, and he must have known it, because his own people didn’t buy it entirely, either. There was a symposium that touched on this issue at the Schomberg Center in NYC in 2009. Many Blacks turned their backs on Michael because he wasn’t Black enough to suit them (somehow Prince gets a free pass on this score.) On numerous occasions, I’ve had Blacks express uncertainty or embarrassment (and even anger around the plastic surgery choices he made that seemingly erased much of what was most “African” about his appearance) to me about Michael. They don’t seem to know where to put him, how to categorize him. They seem to wonder if they should embrace him–and I believe this must have caused as much pain to Michael as White insecurity did. I hope you’ll consider talking about this other reality in one of your future blogs.

    • Mark, I so agree with your post that I wanted to respond. Paragraph 3 especially struck me. The deliberate intention to portray Michael as a drug addled, manipulative, demented, narcissistic, bankrupt, washed up has-been is still alive and well. As much as I would give anything to believe that his image and legacy have not suffered in the last years, I fear that is not reality. He was globally mourned after his death but it didn’t take long for the ghouls to set upon him again. Problems with the family that confirm to many that his family is as “crazy” as he was, the Murray trial, the AEG trial, drug issues, the new Robson accusations, tabloid documentaries, etc continually keep the media at high alert for all stories that sensationalize and perpetuate a destructive image. His music is hardly played anymore and if it is, it’s mostly J5, not Michael. When I hear interviews of people discussing music greats, too often it’s the Beatles (ad nauseum), the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, etc. There’s a well known talk show personality who recently has begun asking every guest who they think should be on the “Mt Rushmore of musicians”. Every morning (my husband has it on) I hear Sinatra, the Beatles, Little Richard, Dylan – never Michael. The biggest selling, globally impactful artist of all time and he’s never mentioned (yes, I know, it could be the target audience). It’s as if all the negative media/trials/trash talk have made people not only pull away from Michael but dismiss him which for Michael would be the cruelest fate. What makes the media and the haters continue to flail away with such unprecedented force 5 years after his death? It’s like a serial killer who continues to stab 30, 40, 50 times even after his victim is long dead. What did Michael do to incite such fury? Is it an issue of race? Yes, I’m sure for some. Perceived gender identity? Yes, for some. “Suspicious” love of children? Yes, Joe Q Public is convinced. However, I also strongly believe that it’s because Michael was like no other. The world had never seen anyone like him. He was brilliant, gifted beyond measure, gentle and loving, charismatic like no other. He had a magnetism that was inexplicable; he connected with people in every corner of the globe at such a level that they had no idea what hit them. He became a god – not GOD – but a god and that gave him enormous power and influence. Just as importantly, he did it entirely his own way. He was unstoppable but he was also UNCONTROLLABLE. No matter what was thrown at him, he refused to buckle, he refused to conform, he refused to be controlled by anyone. It would have destroyed him to be ordinary and normalcy doesn’t know what to do with the extraordinary and Michael was extraordinary at such a level that he was almost other worldly. People fear what they don’t understand and can’t control and often come to hate it. And so his life became like Hunger Games – a fight to the death.
      My husband keeps telling me that someday all this ugliness will fall away and Michael’s legacy will be all about the music, his art will prevail above all else. I hope to God he’s right.

    • Very perceptive commentary. The effort to diminish and misrepresent Michael Jackson’s legacy continues unabated, particularly in other English-speaking countries. I do disagree that Michael’s so-called “otherness” was a factor, apart from racism. What, really, was so unusual about him, especially compared to many other musicians? Despite his vitiligo, like Jack Johnson, it was Michael’s “unforgivable blackness” which engenders the fury against him, the almost psychotic need to “put him in his place”. How dare he be so rich, so talented, so loved! How dare he believe he can run a movie studio alongside Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen! How dare he own the Beatles catalog!

      Howard Stern has said that he decided to call himself the “king of all media” because he was so outraged that Michael Jackson was known as the King of Pop. (Evidently Elvis Presley’s kingly moniker didn’t bother him.) Think about how deranged that is – a career decision made not from ambition, but racial spite. Stern’s lurid questioning of Lisa Marie Presley about her sex life with Michael is quite revealing – the threat of Michael’s black male sexuality was palpable. That’s why I find all the talk about androgyny, asexuality, and gender so ludicrous. As Michael told Shmuley Boteach, the media campaign against him went into high gear when white women all over the world were shown swooning over him. No “gender identity” confusion there.

      There are bright spots here and there. On Jeopardy recently, the had a category for Eighties Hits. For three of the five ‘answers’, the correct ‘question’ was, “Who is Michael Jackson?”!

    • “I’d say that Michael Jackson and what he stood for are a threat and/or a cause for tremendous jealousy still, in some quarters. If anything, his death and the renewed interest in him and the softening you mention are cause for redoubled efforts in some quarters to deny, disenfranchise, and denigrate him as any options I mentioned above and more.”

      Hi Mark. I’m afraid you are right about that. In fact, as Michael Jackson himself suggests in Ghosts, his art may be even more powerful – and therefore even more threatening – after his death. (After all, it is only after the Maestro’s death that we see the full power of his art – so powerful it is able to defeat the repressive Mayor.) So it makes sense that the backlash would increase as well.

      One criticism that has been thoroughly challenged since his death, I think, is the notion that his work doesn’t matter any more – that he peaked with Thriller and became irrelevant after that. I think a lot of critics/journalists/gossip columnists who believed that myth were shocked by the outpouring of grief when he died, and are still struggling to understand it. But at least now they have been made aware that there is, in fact, something more to understand …

      p.s. VC, your note about Jeopardy struck me funny, and it just made me laugh! “Who is Michael Jackson?” indeed! Biographers, music critics, art critics could spend their entire careers trying to answer that question. In fact, Taraborrelli kind of has – three editions and counting – and he’s barely scratched the surface …

  9. Thanks for this much needed discussion. And thanks for posting the Steve Harvey interview. I so loved hearing Steve showing his appreciation for Michael and hearing Michael’s gentle voice and his laugh. Such a great laugh.

    The Tarraborrelli quote is unbelievable!

    “The bottom line is that Michael has done whatever he wanted to do for most of his life, living in a world of privilege and entitlement simply because of who he is. …”

    Not because of who he was, but because of what he did. Michael was not born into a world of privilege or entitlement. Everything he had, he worked for… and he worked very very hard.

    “However, in December of 1993 Michael was about to experience, if just for one day, what it might be like to live in the real world, where people often have to do things they may not necessarily want to do.”

    This is just so revealing and what it reveals is ugly. Very few people, black or white, ever had to experience what Michael went through. Because, as you point out, very few people excite the kind of jealousy and desire to “bring him down” the way Michael did — because he was black and because of his incredible talent and success. Clearly Tarraborrelli was tarroberrily jealous.

    I have never had any doubt that what Michael endured was in large part a consequence of racism.

  10. I have never heard of anyone else, besides Michael Jackson, who was forced to endure a strip search, based on allegations, and being told that a refusal to do so would be an indicator of his guilt. I was shocked when I heard about it at the time. I am still shocked that it occurred. The fact that they inspected and photographed his entire lower torso, back and front, to me indicates that this was an exercise in humiliation of the highest order and meant to “break” Michael.

    MJJJusticeProject is absolutely correct. This was a “slave” being inspected by the “masters”.
    There is no place in hell hot enough for Tom Sneddon and the cowards who persecuted Michael throughout his life.

  11. Thank you for a provocative and insightful discussion. There is so much here that I want to comment on that I don’t know where to begin so I will say only this. When, as a new “lightening bolter”, I read RT’s book and thereby his description of Michael’s hideous body search, I actually cried. For someone as sensitive and modest as Michael, I cannot imagine the agony he went through standing on a platform with strangers circling him, photographing him, forcing him to lift his genitals for a closer look, one even bringing out a ruler (who else could have recounted those details except Sneddon or one of his henchmen?). As a woman, I could only liken it to a woman being forced to lie naked on a table with her legs forced open and some sadist shoving a camera in her vagina. What Sneddon did to Michael was northing short of emotional and psychological rape and to make it even worse, I have no doubt DS took sick pleasure in humiliating his victim. Michael petitioned twice to get those photos returned to him only to be denied. Now that he’s dead, there is absolutely no reason that they not be returned and with people like Orth and Dimond still skulking around, that is a dangerous thing. Or an even worse thought — Sneddon and Robson collaborating on Round 3.

  12. I agree, Corlista, that those photos should have been returned long ago. Disgraceful and shocking that they were ever taken, but hanging on to them after death is beyond the pale.

    I agree that racism is behind the media vendetta, although they refuse to admit it. They even defend their ‘J–o’ epithet as unconnected to a racist name for a monkey, even though there is so much evidence, including children’s books where the monkey character is called J-o and dolls of the same character were sold up into the 1950’s.

    • I agree and I also think that racism has always played a part in the treatment of Michael Jackson, by the media. I know many people naysay that, Imo simply because it was more subtle than say in the Jim Crow era of the South. That subtley Imo, was even more damaging to Michael’s image than outright bigotry, in its insidious, cumulative affect, meaning say a lie long enough and it becomes the false ‘go to’ for the truth. Meaning for many that is as far as they go. TPTB are not stupid that way. Rev. Farrakhan touched on it/exposed the subtley in this interview with Arsenio Hall just after the strip search.

      But, what they didn’t count on was that Michael could ‘out think’ them.

      And boy did he. He bound his soul to his artistic works, His story is there for all time. The only ones who don’t see it are the ones who are willfully blind. they perfer to hate. But when all is said and done, there it is. Which reminds me of a couple quotes are the staying power of truth.
      “Three things cannot long be hidden. The sun, the moon and the truth.” ~ Buddha
      and “The truth is like a lion, you don’t have to defend it, turn it loose, it will defend itself.”~ Augustine of Hippo

      Maybe not in our life time, but Michael will have his rightful place in history.

      • Hi rykm50. Thank you so much for sharing that interview. I had seen a short clip of it, but hadn’t seen the part where Rev. Farrakhan talks about the strip search. And I think everything he says is exactly right: “Michael was treated like a slave on a plantation,” just as he says.

        It horrifies me to think what Michael Jackson must have gone through psychologically (and what so many black men in our history have gone through) – not just the shame and humiliation, but also the deep sense of alienation he must have felt afterwards. As he sings in “They Don’t Care about Us,” “You’re raping me of my pride” and “I can’t believe this is the land from which I came.” I can’t believe this is the land from which I came either – that such atrocities can happen, and probably do happen, much more often than we realize.

        p.s. I love the quotes you cited of “the staying power of truth.” It reminds me of the words of another important philosopher: “Lies run sprints but the truth runs marathons” ~ Michael Jackson

      • Yes, thanks for that clip–I agree the strip search was the ultimate manifestation of the power of the state to tell Michael who was the real authority and to ‘put him in his place.’ I like what Farrakhan says about the media playing the exact same role. The media in effect created their own caricature of MJ–which they then set up as the
        ‘real’ Michael Jackson. Their version was desexed and de-race’d–a sexless person who was neither black or white, who was not even really human. When Diane Sawyer said to LMP–“married?–married?–to Michael Jackson?? How weird can it get?” she essentially proclaimed him unworthy of human affection. It was the amalgamation of the combined power of the state and the media that MJ had to deal with and oppose.

        • Just want to point out that while MJ was subjected to a strip search and that was a mindboggling violation, there were many wrongfully accused, innocent people during this ‘childsex abuse hysteria’ that went to jail for up to 20 years, and there are even some who are STILL today in jail, on the basis of an overzealous prosecutor and untrained psychologists interviewing young children. See Sean Penn’s “Witch Hunt” and the “Innocence Lost the Plea” Frontline PBS special.

  13. I believe jealousy is at the heart of the Wade Robson situation as well. Not so much Wade’s jealousy of all that Michael achieved – although that’s a component – but jealousy of Jamie King, who has beaten Wade out of a number of high-profile jobs. (There may be a racial component there as well; Jamie King is half black.) It’s telling that MJ never hired Wade as a dancer or choreographer. Why Wade thought he was ‘entitled’ to stage a Jackson show is a mystery.

    • I thought Wade danced in the Jam video?

      • Wade was a kid extra. He never performed with MJ as an adult dancer. He never staged a Michael Jackson tour.

        • Thanks VC, I’ve been wondering about that. I know he dances as a child for a split second in BorW and Jam, but if I’m not looking specifically for him, I miss it. I’ve read he’s in the HTW short film, but honestly, I’ve never noticed it. I suppose one of these days I’ll look and try to find it.

          I also couldn’t think of a single example of WR working with MJ as an adult and started to wonder if I had just missed it. To be honest, his dancing looks awkward to me, it’s hard for me to imagine him working in a polished, super-refined MJ dance chorus.

  14. I think Tom Mesereau was wise not to play the “race card” during the trial, but that does not mean racism wasn’t involved. Law enforcement was incredibly prejudiced against MJ. The very first day they received Jordan’s complaint in 1993 they decided MJ was guilty. They completely ingored every evidence that shed doubt on these allegations and instead of trying to uncover the truth they tried to coerce other kids to make allegations in support of Chandler, they twisted things as they pleased etc. They did not have an honest investigation at all. I’m sure a part of it was a personal bias and prejudice against MJ – not necessarily because of his race, but the fact that he was different. But it also involved race. It would be ridiculous not to consider the racial element.

    Re. strip search

    I wonder what constitutes a “probable cause”. Because as far as I have heard searches can be carried out only based on “probable cause” and I heard normally they do not consider an allegation by one person a “probable cause”. Normally they have to have something stronger than that to carry out a house search, yet Michael was subjected IMMEDIATELY to several house searches after the Chandlers made their allegations. In August, 1993 they searched Neverland, his Los Angeles condo and a hotel room he usually stayed in Las Vegas. Then in November they also searched his parents’ home in Encino and the offices of doctors who treated him (dermatologist Arnold Klein and plastic surgeon Steve Hoefflin). Then in December the strip search. I have never heard about strip searches being carried out – not even in other child molestation cases. It was highly unusual. And according to the Chandlers’ book it was not pursued by them but by Sneddon!

    Then in 2003-04 again they raided Neverland with 70 sheriffs and – what is less mentioned – they also raided the homes and offices of several associates of Michael, they carried out search warrants on his bank accounts, phone lines, just everything imaginable! Altogether they carried out about 70 searches or so if I rememer correctly. It’s like they were after the Al-Qaeda! It was harrassment and I cannot imagine how it could be justified legally. Obviously law enforcement (including judges which gave permission to these searches) were just very biased against MJ.

    And yes, the photos of the strip search have never been returned despite of MJ requesting it twice. In 2005 he was acquitted and they still refused to return the photos!

  15. speaking of Mandela – “When you are behind bars with no hope of release, you need to find strength wherever you can. Personally, I found strength in Michael Jackson.” reading this just gave me chills

  16. Wow, kittuandme! I hadn’t seen this quote before. Can you share where you found it? I’d love to learn more about it.

  17. Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s something fishy about that Newsweek article. 🙂 I live in Denmark, and have never seen said interview with Mandela, nor been able to find it. Raven at the Allforloveblog investigated the case, and came to the conclusion that the article wasn’t serious:

  18. found these sketches -

    made for shorrt film ghost.

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