Citizen Journalism: You Can Change the World

Willa:  This week I am so excited to be joined by D.B. Anderson, author of two of the most popular articles in our Reading Room. “The Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the Politics of #BlackLivesMatter” is an opinion piece published by The Baltimore Sun that places Michael Jackson’s activism within the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And “Sony Hack Re-ignites Questions about Michael Jackson’s Banned Song” is a self-published article that went viral, becoming the most popular independent post in all of Gawker Media for 2014 – and it wasn’t even published until mid-December. Thank you so much for joining me, D.B.!

D.B.:  Thank you so much for having me, Willa! I’ve been reading Dancing with the Elephant for a long time and I always walk away with new insights, so it’s quite an honor to be here myself.

Willa:  Oh, it’s an honor to talk with you. And your Baltimore piece seems especially timely right now, with the Freddie Gray protests rocking the city. As you point out, #BlackLivesMatter protesters have been drawing on Michael Jackson’s work from the beginning of the movement:

On Twitter, #TheyDontCareAboutUs is a hashtag. In Ferguson, they blasted the Michael Jackson song through car windows. In New York City and Berkeley last weekend, it was sung and performed by protesters. And in Baltimore, there was a magical moment when the Morgan State University choir answered protests with a rendition of Jackson’s “Heal The World.”

We see that trend continuing in Baltimore, with protesters singing “They Don’t Care about Us” and recent videos of one resident, Dimitri Reeves, responding to both the police and the rioters with performances of “Beat It” and “Man in the Mirror.” Here he is dancing on a truck, with sirens in the background and a police helicopter swooping overhead:

And here he is in front of police in riot gear:

He talked about the experience in a National Post article:

Reeves, who has been dancing since age five, said a particularly nerve-wracking moment came during “Man in the Mirror,” which he performed in front of a line of riot police. To his amazement, after a while the cops slowly backed away. “It was beautiful.”

D.B.:  This was fantastic, and what really made me happy was the number of media outlets who covered it, even Billboard.

Willa:  Yes, and NBC, Fox, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, and a lot more, including the newswire service United Press International.

D.B.: I’ve heard that this gentleman actually does this regularly, and it wasn’t a one-off performance. And maybe it was just filler content, but I have a tiny hope that some media featured it because they understood a political significance.

Willa:  I hope so. I know some of the articles I read focused on the fact that he was trying to calm the violence while giving voice to the frustrations of the rioters. That’s a difficult assignment, and Michael Jackson is one of the few artists whose work is up to the task – who can provide an impassioned cultural critique while promoting nonviolent solutions.

So D.B., today we’re going to talk about strategies for effectively engaging with the media, something you’ve accomplished with both of your recent articles. But maybe we should begin by talking about how you came to write these articles. What’s the story behind them?

D.B.:  I suppose everyone who writes about Michael does so because he deeply touches them in some way, and I am no exception. No, let me rephrase that – everyone who writes thoughtfully about Michael. You know what I mean!

Willa:  Yes, I know what you mean …

D.B.: Anyway, I’ve been reading extensively about Michael for several years, and I’ve been so deeply impressed by works like Remember The Time (Whitfield) and Man in the Music (Vogel), as well as many websites and blogs like yours. And I have had great and not-so-great conversations with people all over the world, and learned so much from them.

After a while I began to feel strongly that I had something to say about and on behalf of Michael to the world, but I didn’t know what it was, if that makes any sense. I started and then stopped writing several things because I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Did the world need another blog about Michael? I couldn’t figure out a way to add value. So I had ideas about Michael swirling around in my brain wanting desperately to get out, but I wasn’t sure where to put them.

Meanwhile, on a parallel track, I live near Washington DC, which is sort of ground zero for the media. You can’t avoid news and talk shows, and by listening to NPR and CNN all day – which I do just to have company – you become educated on how the media thinks of itself. I noticed some commentators being very critical of other media people. And there’s a giant divide between the cable news networks – they are always talking smack about each other. In particular, I started to study Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, who have developed media criticism into an art form. This became a bigger and bigger idea for me, that somehow this fit. So these two tracks started converging in my mind and I was pretty sure that “Michael and the media” would be my focus.

Willa:  Oh, that’s interesting, D.B. Michael Jackson criticized the media for years, both in interviews and in songs like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Leave Me Alone,” “Why You Wanna Trip on Me,” “Tabloid Junkie,” … In fact, it seems every album has at least one song taking on the media. And of course, many cable news personalities seem to take great delight in “talking smack about each other,” as you pointed out. But I hadn’t put those two threads together before, or considered that the way the media criticizes itself could provide an opening for Jackson’s supporters to join in and get their views across.

D.B.:  Michael certainly did criticize them, and for good reason. And the one constant you find is utter frustration at the journalistic malpractice that was committed with no accountability, and as far I know there has never been a loud enough, satisfying, and sincere mea culpa.

So as I was listening and studying the media it dawned on me that there is a new generation of journalists out there, ones who have no reason to be invested in covering up what happened before, and who are willing to challenge each other. So the environment is ripe for revisiting Michael’s whole story.

Willa:  And that’s an important point. Many of the commentators out there are surprisingly young, and do seem more open to questioning conventional wisdom and seeing Michael Jackson in new ways.

D.B.:  Yes! But then there is still a subject matter knowledge problem, because how many journalists truly understand the facts? They learned about Michael through news, too. So, the other important development in my own thinking was realizing it was pointless to wait for some journalist to write what I wanted to read.

Willa: Yes, very few journalists really know the circumstances surrounding the allegations, and few seem to understand his true significance as an artist and cultural leader. I gradually came to that realization also. After he died I kept reading all these tributes, but to my mind even the positive ones seemed to miss the point about what was so special about him. It’s true he was an awe-inspiring singer and dancer, but he was so much more than that – he meant so much more than that – and none of the tributes I read seemed to get that. I kept looking for something that expressed what I felt, but it just wasn’t there. Nothing even came close. And finally I started writing about him, without really intending to, just to express what I was searching for and couldn’t find.

D.B.: I’m very glad you did. I probably owe you rent for the time spent on your pages! The pieces you’ve done on analysis and interpretation of his lyrics and imagery are the ones that stick with me the most. I’m sure that much of my understanding of “They Don’t Care about Us” was informed by your posts about the HIStory album.

In thinking about the media I came to appreciate that citizen journalism is widely practiced today – for example, most of the original reporting on the ground in Ferguson came not from reporters but from ordinary people who set up their own live streams and tweeted events.

CNN was literally days behind the activists in Ferguson. And everyone on social media knew it, and was complaining about it. The entire series of protests we’ve had over the last year – all of them – if you want to know what’s happening, you go on Twitter. Realizing this was a crucial turning point in my thinking.  It was one of those ordinary citizens on the ground in Ferguson who first posted a clip of protesters blasting “They Don’t Care about Us” through open car windows. And it got passed around on social media among protesters, and then among fans, and that clip was really the first spark in what became “The Messenger King.”

The protesters continued to embrace and expand their use of “They Don’t Care about Us” throughout the fall and it was so energizing to me, that these young people found meaning in a song that was released when they were toddlers or maybe not even born yet. And I could not stop thinking how understood Michael would feel, that someone finally gets it, what this song was all about. To me, it was a vindication in many ways. You know, Michael always played a long game.

Willa: That’s true, he did. And “They Don’t Care about Us” does seem to be a perfect channel for expressing the cultural zeitgeist right now – especially among young people – at this pivotal moment in history. For example, 2Cellos just released a video of their reinterpretation of “They Don’t Care about Us,” and it blew me away. Here it is:

Even without lyrics, this video superbly captures the underlying idea that we are just pawns in a game between superpowers who “really don’t care about us.”

D.B.: By now I’m convinced that Michael understood that “They Don’t Care about Us” was a critical piece of art. It explains why he fought so hard for it. He wanted it to live, and it is living. I suspect that Michael knew The New York Times would not have the last word, you know? He was a really long-term strategic thinker.

The protesters just organically reached for this music over and over through the months. So when “where are all the celebrities?” became a topic of conversation, and Questlove held up the Dixie Chicks as an example, I got angry, to be honest! I mean, I didn’t see any clips of Dixie Chicks songs at the rallies! Are you kidding me? No. Just no. Now Questlove had a very valid point – that it is very risky to speak out – and I totally agreed with his point. It just felt to me that he had opened the door with an excellent example, but if you want to talk about brave risk-takers, let’s get down to real. He was exactly right, and he set up my premise perfectly. But at first it made me mad, and that was the juice.

Everything finally gelled after an event on December 5, and that night I sat down and wrote “The Messenger King” in about four hours. The context was, Rolling Stone had just acknowledged that their “Rape on Campus” story had serious inaccuracies, but their statement did not accept responsibility and they said they’d been misled by their source.  And then this happened:

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A media professional calling out other media for not verifying the source’s story. Publicly. In writing. With profanity for emphasis, no extra charge. When this clicked into place, I knew: The world is open to receive. This is the right moment; this is Michael’s time. Go.

And so I did. Well I didn’t write it, so much as channel it. Wrote it on Friday, spent the weekend figuring out where to submit it, submitted it on Monday, and it was published on Tuesday.

Willa:  Wow, D.B., that’s amazing.

D.B.:  I am as amazed as anyone else, really!

And then just days after that, the Sony hack happened and there was another opportunity on a silver platter. I would never have recognized Bernard Weinraub’s name had I not just fact-checked myself for “Messenger King” by re-reading Vogel. He is mentioned in Joe’s commentary on “They Don’t Care about Us,” so when I saw Weinraub in the early hack coverage, his name was fresh on my mind. I was blown away because here was a chance to go deeper into the meaning of “They Don’t Care about Us” and answer Weinraub and put that whole controversy into the “ridiculous” department where it belonged. I knew I had to write it while the iron was hot. It was a very frenzied December! I never got my Christmas things out of storage, at all.

Willa: And I’m so glad you seized the moment like you did. It obviously struck a nerve – just look at all the attention it received! So it seems like, for you, one key lesson from all this is timeliness. To have impact, “citizen journalists” as you put it, have to get their message out at just the right moment – when a relevant story is a hot topic, and news outlets are receptive to what they’re trying to say.

D.B.: Yes. Neither story would have had as much impact without the timing. Sony and the protests were in the news, and I didn’t want to write just for fans. I wanted to reach the protesters and the media and the music industry and regular people. There was only a short window to catch a wide audience.

But just as crucial is to be ready when the opportunity comes by being prepared – you never know when it will appear. So all the thinking and writing and reading prepared me for the moment. The opportunity was there for anyone to take, but no journalist got either story, because they were not prepared.

First, they just don’t know all the history. Second, they don’t know that they don’t know it. And third, they’re already very busy. But I got some great comments from members of the press after they read my pieces. So contrary to popular wisdom, I feel like the press now generally has open minds to Michael.

Willa:  And that’s a really important insight, and an important opportunity. But you have me very curious, B.D. What were some of the comments you received? And who sent them?

D.B.:  After “Messenger King” was published, I got a phone call from a popular columnist. And he asked me, “did you really just say that Michael Jackson was framed by a white prosecutor? That he was a victim of police brutality?” And I thought he was going to rip into me. But instead he told me, “You have said what everyone else has been afraid to say.”

Willa:  Really? He actually said that?

D.B.: He did! Willa, I was shaking, because you don’t get calls like this every day. And you know, his remark was so profound. A lot of journalists know there is something rotten in Denmark. They know it. Oh, they know – it’s saying it out loud that’s the problem. But as I say, the younger journalists, they are not invested in the old status quo. Changes will be made.

The biggest compliment I got was the estate posted a link to “Messenger King” on Michael’s official website. That will always be special to me. But for purposes of this discussion, their doing so has a message: “We endorse and agree with the position. This is who Michael was.” I think they’re telling us how we can help them.

Willa:  That’s interesting. So you took the initiative and wrote that first article and got it published, and at just the right time when it would garner a lot of attention. But then once it started gaining momentum, the Estate helped push things along?

D.B.:  I’m not sure how it occurred exactly. I just know that after, maybe 4 days or so, someone contacted me and said, go look at Michael’s Facebook page. The estate had seen the article – whether they are always scanning the media or whether someone sent it to them, I don’t know – they had seen it and posted about it on his website and then promoted it through his social media. And I was just stunned because I haven’t ever seen them do this before.

Since then, the estate has taken the social justice theme and run with it several times. They posted about Michael’s work during Charlie Hebdo attacks, when people were singing “Heal The World,” things like that. And, Willa, since we began this conversation yesterday, the estate has just done a post on the Baltimore dancer we spoke of! So it’s clear to me, this is where they most want the global conversation to go, in terms of his image, and well it should, because it’s absolute truth about him as a person.

Willa:  And as an artist. It’s moments like these when the power of his art really shines through.

D.B.: Oh yes. This is why he did what he did. Exactly for this.

Willa:  So what about your second article?  Did you receive feedback from the press about it as well?

D.B.:  On the piece about The New York Times, I’ll let them speak for themselves. Here’s S.I. Rosenbaum, Senior Editor at Boston Magazine:

Then there’s Wesley Lowery, national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for The Washington Post:

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And Bomani Jones, sports journalist at ESPN:

Willa:  Wow, D.B.  Reading these just does me a world of good! It’s like a tonic. And it’s really motivating.

And I see what you’re saying … it does seem like some people in the media are open to taking a closer look at the controversies surrounding Michael Jackson, and at the media’s complicity in perpetuating them – and even creating them, as in the Weinraub case.

D.B.: It was a very eye-opening and encouraging experience. You know, how many times have people said, “when are journalists going to write the truth about Michael?” And there has been a perception that the media is united in its intent to give MJ a bad rap. But this really taught me this isn’t the case nowadays. My articles were news to them!

The journalists who read the pieces – and there were more of them than I have named here – are now, I hope, more likely to consider Michael thoughtfully in the future. Over time, I think if Michael’s advocates continue to take ownership on getting the history out, the press will delve deeper and do the parts that only they can. So I really hope that more of your readers will step out into citizen journalism too, speaking to an audience beyond the fan base, because they have the power to effect change. We can be the “live streamers” and point the way.

Willa:  I agree, and this idea of citizen journalism is really exciting. Did you have any worries or concerns?

D.B.: I did have some real trepidation about doing the Weinraub/“They Don’t Care about Us” story. I was concerned that people would think I was attacking Sony – it wasn’t my goal. It’s about Weinraub, and what he was possibly up to with David Geffen, and lack of professionalism in journalism, and the very self-centered, dare I say racist, view that Weinraub took. Sony was not my target but I rode the wave. I felt slightly uncomfortable about that, but I knew that’s how the headline game is played. I was a little nervous too about taking on The New York Times, and I obsessed over making the story as bullet-proof as I could.

Willa:  So have you heard from anyone at the Times?

D.B.:  Not a word! I never expected the story to take off the way it did. It was helped greatly when Max Read, the editor at Gawker, included it in the Sony Hack pop-up blog, which was an enormous source of new readers. It had gotten, I think, a couple thousand page views already, so I emailed Max cold, and he said (I’m paraphrasing) “Fantastic; stories like this are exactly why we are publishing the emails. I am adding your story and apologize in advance for the trolls you will get.”  And this is not to be believed, but I swear it is true – I got virtually none of the usual MJ haters. Interacting with readers in the comment section at Kinja was my favorite part.

Willa:  That’s wonderful! Perhaps I’m being naive, but I really hope that we’ve moved past that intense stage of the hysteria, with all the mindless name-calling and saying terrible things without any sort of substantive evidence. It does seem that, in talking about Michael Jackson now, the conversation tends to be a little more restrained, and a little more nuanced and open-minded. But I’m very worried that the Robson-Safechuck allegations could set off a whole new round of hysteria. I worry about that a lot, actually.

D.B.:  Willa, my experience shows that the majority of people believe he is innocent, or want to believe it. There is an awakening. What people still need in order to seal the deal in their minds, are facts. And when they are reading a reasonable story, they respond in a reasonable way. Michael’s story becomes a much less complicated one when you see the obvious – that he was a rebel and a social justice fighter in the style of Gandhi, and that he was persecuted by racist law enforcement. No voodoo in sight. It’s an easier thing to believe.

I think a good strategy is to completely ignore Robson/Safechuck. Don’t feed that beast. Instead, I would like to see advocates creating their own content, really good content that calls attention to the true issues: his philanthropy, or the use of his music in times of trouble, like in Paris – or interview ten children who were assisted with their medical issues by Michael. Write about how MJ put on the 9/11 concert but no one knew it. Write about AIDS. Write about South Central LA and school shootings. Lots and lots of possibilities. But with Robson, it’s different. In my opinion the current tabloid stories need to be starved of oxygen. No clicks, no commenting, no yelling at the author, just … radio silence. That is the kiss of death for a story and a reporter.

Willa:  I see what you’re saying, but it also feels risky to let false claims go unanswered. Some pretty wild rumors have been circulated about him, and sometimes they get a lot of attention – even when there is concrete information contradicting them – because that information doesn’t get out. But I understand your point that giving those stories attention helps perpetuate them. It’s complicated.

D.B.:  Robson’s lawyers are intentionally leaking stuff to the tabloids, as a strategy to get the estate to settle.

Willa:  It does seem that way, especially with the timing of how they’ve announced the allegations. The Robson accusations were made public during the AEG trial, and the Safechuck allegations came out the day before the release of Xscape. And then there are all the really lurid leaks to the tabloids. It seems to me that Robson and Safechuck’s law firm – and they have the same law firm working for them – is engaged in a pretty sophisticated media campaign to embarrass and harass the Estate and force them to settle, as you say.

D.B.:  Exactly. I’m not buying. No one believes Wade Robson. And I have more faith in journalism than I did before.

But never underestimate tabloids. So if it does get to the state where hysteria goes around, that is the moment when one of us needs to pounce on it with a story, which I hope someone is already working on right now, about Robson not getting the job at Cirque du Soleil which apparently caused his “remembering.”

And I would go for it right out of the gate with an opening sentence like “It’s widely believed that Michael Jackson was the victim of malicious prosecution by a zealous and bigoted district attorney in 2005. Now another has tried …”  That story should be ready and waiting to be published at the critical media time, with last minute edits where needed, no matter which way the case ends up. In other words, I’d love to see a citizen journalist with a story on why Wade lost. But either way, a citizen journalist story can give the rest of the press some factual nutrition. Otherwise they’re just looking at a giant void filled with tabloid trash. Citizens are the anti-tabloid. We give the press choices.

Yes, now that you mention it, it would be very strategic to do a victory lap story, one that drives the final stake into the heart of this nonsense forever.

Willa:  Sounds like you’ve already started writing it, D.B.! … at least in your head. And I hope you do.

D.B.: I enjoy thinking about strategy but don’t think the Robson story is in my wheelhouse.  I am certain there are others more qualified to do a Robson story. Maybe we will get some volunteers in the comments section!

Willa:  Maybe so – you’ve certainly motivated me to think about new ways to work within the media. And I hope you’ll join me again to talk more about citizen journalism. This has been so enlightening as well as inspiring. I feel like you’re helping to chart a course for how we really can change the world. Thank you for joining me and sharing your insights!

D.B.: Thank you very much for having me, Willa.  I enjoyed talking with you.

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About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

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

Posted on April 30, 2015, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 71 Comments.

  1. Awesome! I loved reading this piece and it gives me great hope. It seems like the fight for an understanding of Michael’s art and his vindication has been making progress. A lot of people in the Michael Jackson community have worked tirelessly to change the perception of Michael by providing factual education to whoever we can get to listen to us. Thanks so much for this encouragement.

  2. Reblogged this on MJ Truth Now and commented:
    MJ Truth Now would like to thank the writers of Dancing With the Elephant for their great discussion with D.B. Anderson who wrote two excellent pieces on Michael Jackson that were incredibly thought provoking.

    From Dancing with the Elephant blog:

    “The Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the Politics of #BlackLivesMatter” is an opinion piece published by The Baltimore Sun that places Michael Jackson’s activism within the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And “Sony Hack Re-ignites Questions about Michael Jackson’s Banned Song” is a self-published article that went viral, becoming the most popular independent post in all of Gawker Media for 2014 – and it wasn’t even published until mid-December.”

  3. Reblogged this on mjjjusticeproject and commented:
    WE are most decidely in love with DB Anderson — Buds …

  4. This is so well done and thought-provoking–what a gathering of insights and connections. Thank you, Willa and D.B.!!

    D.B., have read Armond White’s chapters on HIStory in his “Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles” (2009)? White was one of the journalists who defended TDCAU (and HIStory in general) in 1995 (when writing for The City Sun).

    He goes after the hostile critics (referring specifically to Henry Louis Gates, Nelson George, and Jon Pareles), who attacked the album. Some quotes: ” Ridiculing any American dissatisfaction as tantrum, these writers help the derangement of values that has corrupted all levels of American living, particularly at the comfortably-employed top. HIStory is special because a kingpin like Jackson dares to enunciate social distemper so marvelously. From “They Don’t Care About Us” to “Scream,” Jackson makes the discomfort of American living, the whole serious question of our nation’s lost humanism, a matter of mainstream consciousness.”

    “‘They Don’t Care About Us” offers an oppressed person’s wariness, but the “anti-Semitism charge, instead of challenging racism and capitalism, encourages the public to stop thinking, just panic and finger point.”

    “This album is full of the steeliest, deepest remorse perceptible to anyone who has ever hurt. Only the deaf will reject it, only the heartless will deny it.”

    • D.B. Anderson

      I should have listed Armond White as one of my strong influences! White has a reputation for being a contrarian, and this is something I admire greatly. Michael’s story alone teaches us how wrong crowd-think can be; and it’s very important to have thinkers with an elevated level of perception – sort of, “above the fray.” That’s where MJ was too – apart from society and above the fray as well. That’s how he was able to see truth where others could not.

      Interesting, that Henry Louis Gates, Nelson George, et. al., were practicing on Michael what the younger black media call “respectability politics” and which they reject entirely – (see Michael Eric Tyson and Ta-Nehisi Coates)

      By the way, one other nugget we have gotten from the Sony hack is very exciting — PBS has approached Henry Louis Gates about doing an episode of American Masters on Michael! https://wikileaks.org/sony/emails/emailid/128911

      I wonder whether there is value in a citizen journalist making sure he has read all the recent TDCAU stories.

      • Hi D.B. Anderson; thanks so much for your excellent articles, which I read with enthusiasm when they were first published. It’s really refreshing to consider Michael Jackson’s music as inspiration for activists, and I’m very excited to read more of your insights!

        Among other things, the very sound of the refrain in TDCAU, with it’s compelling drumbeat, makes for an unusually powerful chant in a march or demonstration of any kind (I used to participate in a lot of them). It’s not entirely tuneless, but the tune is very simple; it’s reminiscent of children’s’ schoolyard taunt, something that can be felt on a very elemental level. It works to buoy up people’s spirits, to focus a sense of purpose and promote solidarity.

        I’ve been pondering the question of “respectability politics” for awhile, in connection with Michael and in other contexts. Do you see Gates and Nelson George as critiquing Michael for falling short of a “respectable” ideal?

        Awhile back, there was an altered photograph of Michael going around on Facebook, which seemed to depict him as a clean-cut older man as (presumably) he *would have* appeared if not for vitiligo, surgery, and the other alterations in his appearance. He wore a fashionable white pinstripe suit, a gray silk tie; and his the portrait that was used in this illustration was clearly derived from one of a number of black-and-white photographs that were taken of Michael in 1978 during one particular photoshoot (I don’t recall the name of that photographer). One man on Facebook writes:

        “His brown-ness is refreshing, and maybe that’s a healthy political statement of some sort, but I can’t say I like the clothes and the vibe, the whole middle-class-ification of one of music’s genuine weirdos. He wasn’t a deacon in some church, he wasn’t the most successful car dealer in northern New Jersey, he was a freakishly gifted alien from outer space. Increasingly, he looked like that, for better or worse. This picture is full of coded signals of (conventionally masculine, black, etc.) normalcy that frankly reveal how terrifying talented freaks are, how strong a desire there is to domesticate or rein them in.”

        While I know some might take exception to *any* description of Michael that uses terms like like “weirdo,” “freak,” or “alien,” I think there’s some value in a polemic that reclaims and repurposes those words, as this statement shows.

        While I don’t believe any person—including Michael—is capable of locating themselves “above the fray (we are all *situated* somewhere, and must grapple with all our biases), I think the more practice people have in examining their own assumptions, the better the chance of defeating the kind of “crowd think” you’re talking about.

        • I agree, D.B. Anderson, that there’s now a younger generation of journalists (and other writers) who will be perplexed about “what the fuss was all about” in 1993 and 2005. And I strongly agree that it’s best to starve out those voices who give any sort of credibility to Robson, Safechuck, etc.

          As for reading matter, I’ve downloaded, photocopied, and read *too much* academic and analytical literature on Michael’s music, performances, and global popularity. But there’s one particular article that’s especially astute about the themes in “They Don’t Care About Us” (the song, the lyrics, and both short films), and that I’d recommend: Brian Rossiter’s ” ‘They Don’t Care About Us’: Michael Jackson’s Black Nationalism.” It was published in a journal called “Popular Music and Society” in May 2012. (Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 203-222). I don’t know whether you have access to a database that might carry this journal: if not, and if you’re interested, I can easily send you a copy of the article. I find it very useful.

        • “Among other things, the very sound of the refrain in TDCAU, with it’s compelling drumbeat, makes for an unusually powerful chant in a march or demonstration of any kind”

          That’s a really interesting point, Nina – it’s almost as if it were written with protests in mind. Chants are a powerful way for groups to come together as one, and enact in a very literal way the idea of a group speaking with one voice. (I’m thinking of a Jesse Jackson rally I went to back in high school where a stadium full of teenagers shouted “I am … somebody! I am … somebody.” It was deafening – I think that may be the loudest noise I’ve ever heard without a microphone. And then there’s the famous “Hell no, we won’t go!” during Vietnam protests.)

          You know, Michael Jackson himself suggests the chanting of protesters in the opening of the song. You especially see that in the “prison version” video, which begins with a small group of girls behind a chain-link fence chanting the chorus:

          • D.B. Anderson

            Michael specifically stated, in his defense of TDCAU, that he intended it as a protest song.

        • D.B. Anderson

          Yes, Nina, I think respectability politics had everything to do with it. In the same way that, later, the youth were told to “pull their pants up,” Michael’s jheri curl and makeup offended black men just ahead of him in age… When you think about it, Michael was doing nothing different than what Prince, Boy George, David Bowie and other 80’s artists were doing with that look. (And Michael, of course, had legitimate need of the makeup in order to mask the vitiigo, in addition to being in style). But Michael got heat for it in a way that no one else did. He was supposed to be the stand-bearer, inn the minds of those critics.

          As for being above the fray, I was referring to the circumstances that prevented Michael from being able to move about normally. Thus he was more removed than most – and from this perch, perhaps he could perceive some truths not obvious to those in the middle of it.

      • Yes, D.B., I agree re the dangers of “crowd-think,” and to me it’s more and more appalling and concerning how ‘the news,’ meaning the for-profit corporate mass media–in all its manifestations–shapes our perceptions: by what they choose to highlight, how they shape the story and ‘tell” it, and most important, what they choose NOT to focus on (what they ‘bury’ in the back pages or ignore).

        I am starting to think the ‘news media’ is taking us away from actually experiencing the world we live in!! They manipulate our reality and our thinking in scary ways, scary b/c we are not aware of the manipulation (or not aware enough).

        This is evident to the max in the fact that the media managed to turn a wonderful, insightful, brilliant, and world-changing artist and humanitarian like Michael into a caricature, and how people literally “bought’ it. They did the same to Armond White, although not as severe of course.

        Btw there is a book by Alain De Botton that looks interesting called “The News: A User’s Manual.” I have only read snippets but I find De Botton’s work in general thought-provoking. (He has many YouTube videos too.)

  5. I’m no good at writing articles but I’m an excellent researcher and can find things like this about the W.R. and Cirque that replaced him with Jamie King I’ll be looking for more too
    http://mjjr.net/robson/robson_film.html

  6. What a great post. Thank you DB for writing these articles. Hopefully at last Michael is getting some well deserved good press, rather than bad press. Our ‘true’ Michael is now being heard at last. Soooo good to read about .Keep up the good work and you too Willa – your blog is a real beacon of light around Michael.

  7. Thanks D.B! Thanks Willa!

    I was so glad to read this:

    D.B.: After “Messenger King” was published, I got a phone call from a popular columnist. And he asked me, “did you really just say that Michael Jackson was framed by a white prosecutor? That was he was a victim of police brutality?” And I thought he was going to rip into me. But instead he told me, “You have said what everyone else has been afraid to say.”
    Willa: Really? He actually said that?
    D.B.: He did! Willa, I was shaking, because you don’t get calls like this every day. And you know, his remark was so profound. A lot of journalists know there is something rotten in Denmark. They know it. Oh, they know – it’s saying it out loud that’s the problem. But as I say, the younger journalists, they are not invested in the old status quo. Changes will be made.”

  8. Wow, it seems Michael’s message is finally getting through!!

  9. Thank you so much, Willa and DB, for this post and congratulations DB for the reception to your wonderful and brilliant and timely and strategic articles! I loved this that you said in the post — “And I could not stop thinking how understood Michael would feel, that someone finally gets it, what this song was all about. To me, it was a vindication in many ways. You know, Michael always played a long game.”

    Yes, finally, someone gets it and truly understands him. And I think that it is Reeves’ understanding of MJ that gives an extra dimension to his work.. He is really channeling MJ.

    As Willa said, “They Don’t Care about Us” does seem to be a perfect channel for expressing the cultural zeitgeist right now – especially among young people – at this pivotal moment in history.”

    And, “…he was trying to calm the violence while giving voice to the frustrations of the rioters. That’s a difficult assignment, and Michael Jackson is one of the few artists whose work is up to the task – who can provide an impassioned cultural critique while promoting nonviolent solutions.” YES!

    Like Willa, I felt so encouraged by what you had to say and the reception you got and the comments. It was “a tonic.”

    Michael really did “play the long game.” His art had so many layers, and during his life, it was understood at one level, the truth and beauty and magic of his performances, his music, his dance. But now, as we look deeper, we discover so many additional treasures. He lives on in his art, inspiring people like Dmitri Reeves, the brave and non-violent protesters, and all of us who want to get his message out, including and especially, Willa and DB.

    Keep up the good work, everybody!!!!

    • D.B. Anderson

      Thanks Eleanor! I agree, “so many additional treasures.” I kinda sorta have a feeling that Michael Jackson is only just getting started.

    • Well said, Eleanor!! Great comment. The perception made in the post and highlighted in your comment that Michael played a long game, and a strategic one, mapping out and committing himself to a long-term plan from a relatively early age, is important. When you want to “change the world” that is something you need to do!

      I agree the work of Dimitri Reeves and the 2 Cellos show how much deeper his message is than was appreciated during his lifetime (understatement of the century!). In fact, I was struck by the red and blue military costumes in the 2Cellos video. We are getting way too divided up into these kinds of “red” state, “blue” state conflicts. In fact, just to make a somewhat related point, I just read that, incredibly enough, during the 2009 conflict between Gates and Sgt. Crowley, that ended up in the White House “beer summit,” Gates requested Crowley’s DNA and found they were distant cousins and had a common Irish ancestor (see wikipedia). While deeply aware of the injustice in a system that oppresses (“the whole system sucks”), Michel did indeed believe in nonviolence, in races and peoples coming together to solve these problems.

      May we continue to discover those “many layers” and “additional treasures” he gave us.

  10. Thank you to everyone making Michael’s message heard. I know he is loving it and helping us all out.

    I’ve been working on a bunch of different articles about Michael’s social justice work because that aspect has been so overlooked. You two continue to be a huge help for me in understanding what he was up to. Thank you.

    Once I get my blog up I’ll have a lot more to say, but here’s some ideas for now: I’m seeing three critical things about Dimitri and others who are spreading Michel’s music and dancing in times of police violence.

    First: Dancing the way Michael did (street dance, letting the body decide how it wants to move) RELEASES TRAUMA. Trauma causes us to freeze up or lash out. Releasing trauma enables us to access creativity for keeping our communities safe and creating effective change. We have a broader range of options than fight, flight or freeze. So getting protesters dancing has a huge impact.

    Second: Music has the power to interrupt violence. It has stopped potential prison riots in their tracks. Dimitri’s experience shows how “Man in the Mirror” got riot police to back off. Why does it do that? It open’s people’s hearts. It carries a frequency of love. It calls for self-reflection, all in music that is the soundtrack of our lives (at least for many of us). That is a huge source of power for us protesters. And it links to my next point:

    Third: Look at the third version of “They Don’t Care About Us” that was to be performed in the This Is It concerts. He had a video of thousands of soldiers dancing behind him for that song. In other words, he was saying to the military & police, “They don’t care about YOU” and he was inviting them to JOIN US in creating a new world.

    I think that was his most dangerous message of all. The powerful need the military to keep control. No military–or one that won’t follow orders–and we’ve got a whole new ballgame.

    I’ll leave it there. Love to all of you!

    • D.B. Anderson

      This is great to hear Keeley. I very much look forward to your articles. You make a very fascinating point, that Michael through his music speaks not only to the oppressed, but **directly to the oppressors** as well, as if to say, there is no profit in this for you either. And maybe this is the secret sauce, why it is always Michael who shows up at times like these.

      Another example; he speaks to the military very powerfully in the visual for Heal The World. I was interpreting the soldiers as symbols for hardness of heart, but certainly it works literally too.

      • Yes! In Heal the World he’s showing us how soldiers are trapped in these wars, and how children have the power to reach them, to bring them back to us, to life, to healing. At the end the soldiers are not just laying down their weapons, they are tossing them, throwing them away. Thank you for reminding me of the soldiers in this video. It’s such an important message! We are all worthy of love, there is room for all of us on this planet.

    • Hi Keely —

      I think you are absolutely right when you said —

      “Third: Look at the third version of “They Don’t Care About Us” that was to be performed in the This Is It concerts. He had a video of thousands of soldiers dancing behind him for that song. In other words, he was saying to the military & police, “They don’t care about YOU” and he was inviting them to JOIN US in creating a new world.

      I think that was his most dangerous message of all. The powerful need the military to keep control. No military–or one that won’t follow orders–and we’ve got a whole new ballgame.”

      And I think he was giving us the same message in he HIStory promotional film, leading both members of the military and members of a swat team.

      Great comment!

      • Oh yes, good catch! Here again he was making it look so exciting and, well, normal to soldiers and police to join him in his army of love…thanks for pointing it out.

  11. Thank you for investigative reporting. It has been missing for a long time, especially about Michael Jackson.

    I was in Nairobi during the first terrorist attack last year and every time the news reported a story, they showed people in the streets singing Michael Jackson’s ” Heal the World” or they had the words of the song flashing on the bottom of the TV screen when they reported the news. I was very moved by how the music brought the people together to love and heal and deal with the shock of what had happened, rather than showing people picking up weapons in anger.

    • Oooh, thank you for sharing that. What in inspiring bit of information. It feels like momentum is building.

      Marianne Williamson said that when Dr. King was assassinated, we confused the message with the messenger, and much of his message was lost at that time. Now with Michael it seems that people are really picking up the message and running with it. It is not lost, we are making it our own, and expanding its reach.

    • Hi Betty,

      I’d like to include your comment in an article I am working on about how the allegations are intended to distract us from MJ was/is calling on us to heal the world. Can I name you as the source of that information? and can you tell me what were doing in nairobi at the time? You can reach me at keelymeagan @ hotmail.com

      Thanks,

      Keely

    • I’m so sorry, mjsangel! I found this comment stuck in the spam folder. That happens sometimes when comments have a number of links, so sometimes some of the most interesting comments get lost for a while – darn! Thanks for the research.

      • No Problem as long as you have them now.
        I loved the article and since I’m no good at writing articles I figured I’ll post links that can help aid in what you were looking for. ❤
        How many links are allowed in one post before it's considered Spam? more than one?

    • Thanks, this is exactly what I needed!

  12. D.B.Anderson

    In other words, Eleanor, he is expressing the same thing (only more artfully & gently) as NWA in “Fuk da Police”. Exception: that Michael cares for the soldiers too.

    Yes, that made him very, very dangerous.

  13. Okay, I was feeling shy yesterday. But today I confess that I’ve been working on an article for when the current lawsuit by Robeson and Safechuck gets its procedural ruling in May (we hope). My goal is to make it suitable for more mainstream publications, but at this point it is probably still tilting towards progressive/activist publications. Come to think of it, there should be one for both.

    Would either of you be willing to edit, or perhaps even co-write? I ask this for two reasons: I need help knowing how to link to what’s currently playing in the press (My prior writing has been in books) and my publishing credentials are limited (self-published in the natural building field and ghostwriting in alternative medicine field), so it might help the publishing possibilities with one of you as coauthor. I do have a marketing person who can help pitch the stories.

    I’m happy to send the draft I’ve got and more background on where I am coming from. I realize I’m new to the MJ scene (I’ve was bitten by the MJ bug only 9 months ago) and I’ll continue working on this anyway, but I’d love your feedback or to work with you in some capacity if possible.

    • I replied to Keely through email, but just wanted to let everyone know that, if any of you want to take on something like this, I’m happy to help however I can. As I told Keely, I don’t know much about publishing in the popular press, but I’ll do what I can!

    • Nina Fonoroff

      Hi Keely,

      Although I have very little knowledge of the publishing world, I’d be very happy to read your article and offer feedback, or help in any way I can. I’m intrigued by what you said earlier; that music and dancing have the power to open hearts and release trauma.

      Is it OK if I email you at the address you gave?

      • Yes Nina that would be wonderful.I’d love to send you those articles for feedback, so please send me your email address! Thanks too for the comments about MJ and open hearts and trauma. I’ve got so much more to say about that. He was using so many tools to stay alive and change the world, and the more I explore the more excited I am. Trying to get a blog up soon to start sharing.

        Warmly

        Keely

    • keely, i really don’t think you should write that article (no offence intended) , surely if this new court cases makes headlines, you definitely should , but if no ones talking about it, its much better not to raise that rotten thing again,
      our aim should be to make interpretation on mj’s art, not his life,i really dont think about 100 years from now kids would want to talk about his life, its like this- do we give a damn if shakespear likes to climb tress or drink tea? – surely we would care to read hamlet than that, similarly mj’s art matters way more than the circus road that was his life, and besides i havent seen one complete analysis of his work other than joe vogels ‘earth song’

  14. Scottie Shaffer worked for Michael Jackson from approximately 1992 to 1997. He was known around Neverland by the nickname “House.” Shaffer went off to start his own business- he does product placement for movies and is very successful. But he always stayed friendly with all the Jacksons. He’s invited to a Jackson wedding this summer, in fact. And Scottie is outraged by Wade Robson’s accusations that Michael molested him.

    “For all the time I was in the inner circle, working for Michael, I never observed any inappropriate behavior. It’s impossible for me to believe,” Shaffer told me the other night.

    Scottie started working for Michael in late 1992, when the “Black and White” video was shot. He stayed until 1997-98. He was present through the whole debacle with Jordan Chandler. He was also there as Jackson entertained many kids at Neverland. His title was Special Projects Coordinator. Shaffer was with Michael when they met Omer Bhatti, the kid who Michael later referred to as his son, and who now uses that distinction to stay with the Jacksons. (He is not in any way related to them.)

    “People are just after the money now,” Shaffer says. “And it sickens me.”

    Shaffer– who’s a nice guy and a straight shooter– also adds that the Robsons didn’t spend that much time at Neverland. His website is http://www.turnkeyproductionllc.com

  15. does anyone know what happened to mjacademia videos, i have only known about them from different blogs …they deleted their account it seems …
    so if anyones having a copy of any of their videos plz mail it to me??

  16. Here kittuandme I don’t understand the language though 😦

    • i simply dont get why they would delete them 😦 does anyone know who was behind these ?

      • Hi kittuandme. I heard through the grapevine that they had to take them down because of copyright violations, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. It’s too bad – they were really interesting.

  17. I thought this was interesting in terms of Michael Jackson and #BlackLivesMatter. It’s a new TED talk about how constraining it is for young black men growing up in America. As the speaker, Clint Smith, says, this constraint isn’t just to be socially accepted … it’s to stay alive. If a young black man’s actions actions are misinterpreted, he can be shot and killed – something we’ve seen in the news all too often lately.

    Here’s the video:

    • yes, this was excellent! Very moving and very sad.

    • This is so shocking to hear, but it explains alot.
      What a sad state for a civilized country that a substantial part of the population is treated like that and completely alienated
      This is bound to end in a massive eruption of rage sooner or later. No one can llive like that forever.

  18. I’ve been trying to figure out when that next robson/safechuck court ruling is and on dailymichael, if I’m reading it right, it seems a court ruling won’t be coming for quite a while. The earliest would be June 30, but that is not a status conference (which is what I’m guessing we are waiting for).

    Does anyone understand this better than me? Here is the link:

    http://www.dailymichael.com/lawsuits/robson-v-estate/297-keeping-track-of-robson-and-safechuck-cases,

    • Hi Keely!

      There are several processes going on at the same time. Both Robson and Safechuck filed a creditor’s claim and a civil lawsuit which makes it four processes at the same time.

      The creditor’s claims are discussed in probate court processes while the civil lawsuits in civil court processes (but it’s the same Judge in all of these cases).

      In the Robson probate case (creditor’s claim) there was a summary judgement hearing at the end of April and now we are waiting for the Judge’s ruling on whether that part of the case can go on or will be dismissed due to statutes of limitations. That ruling is due any time.

      The June 30 hearing is in the Robson civil process. In that part of the case there is a complaint by Robson against two of MJ’s companies (MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures) claiming they facilitated his alleged abuse. That process is in the demurrer phase. The Judge already sustained a demurrer by the Estate at the end of last year saying that Robson did not give a viable cause of action as to how MJ’s companies were supposedly responsible for his alleged abuse. But the Judge also gave Robson a chance to amend his complaint to try to claim a viable cause of action (this is normal). Robson filed his amended complaint, the Estate filed another demurrer. So the hearing about this is on June 30.

      And the July 21 hearing is in the Safechuck probate case. There too there was a demurrer by the Estate which the Judge sustained with leave – which means that he gave Safechuck a chance to amend his complaint. Safechuck did and now we are waiting for the Estate’s demurrer and the hearing is scheduled for July 21.

      There is nothing going on right now in the Safechuck civil court proceedings (probably because it’s on hold for something in the probate case).

      • Thanks so much for this clear summary of what is happening. Really really helpful. I’d thought the Robson/Safechuck cases had been combined into one, but looks like that hasn’t happened.

  19. does anyone here believe that michael was robbed of grammys in the bad era?? i mean he lost in all 5 nominations, but on the othere hand so did prince and whitney , and plus the competetion was pretty tough……but he won none? i mean why?bad is considered to be one of the greatest album by the rolling stones but still

  20. Nina Fonoroff

    Here’s something that connects activism with Mark Anthony Neal’s course at Duke, “Michael Jackson and the Black Performance Tradition.” Neal writes on his blog, “New Black Man””

    What Digital Humanities Looks Like: Reimagining Michael Jackson’s “Scream” for #BlackLivesMatter

    Dec. 5, 2014
    Mark Anthony Neal

    “So of course the first question is why a course on Michael Jackson–and why at this time? Why not a course on Jackson?…a course that uses his body of work and his literal body as a vessel to explore the anxieties, fears, apprehensions and violence produce by the centuries old presence of people of African descent in the United States?

    “For this particular iteration of the course, we looked at Michael Jackson’s relationship to the Archive(s) — do a quick Google search on Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker, who died almost 70 years before the advent of YouTube, for example. For their final projects, the students–in 8 groups of 7–were assigned a particular track from Jackson’s catalogue, and charged to curate uploadable digital content, that addresses many of the course’s most prominent themes: race, gender (performance), class, cultural appropriation, and the function and value of the archive(s).

    “Presented here is one such project, which reimagines Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” for the #BlackLivesMatter moment, foregrounding in a significant moment in Duke’s own history of racial politics.”
    ______________________________

    And here’s another video his students produced, using “You Can’t Win.”

    #WhatDigitalHumanitiesLookLike: “You Can’t Win” (for #TrayvonMartin)

    “Writing about the song “You Can’t Win” in his autobiography Moon Walk Michael Jackson recalls “My character had plenty to say and to learn. I was propped up on my pole with a bunch of crows laughing at me, while I sang “You Can’t Win,” The song was about humiliation and helplessness—something that so many people have felt at one time or another. “(140)

    “With “You Can’t Win” as backdrop students in the Michael Jackson and the Black Performance Archive course at Duke University re-staged the final minutes of Trayvon Martin’s life highlighting the deeper connections between Jackson’s music, the vulnerability of Black youth and the political moment defined, in part, by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.”

    I ordinarily don’t care for short films that have one piece of music running throughout; and I’d been especially nervous about re-enactments of the Trayvon Martin shooting. But this video is strangely affecting to me.

  21. Nina Fonoroff

    Here are the links:

    “Scream”:
    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2014/12/what-digital-humanities-looks-like.html

    “You Can’t Win”:

    This is Neal’s 2012 syllabus for his course “Michael Jackson and the Black Performance Tradition,” which he offered again in 2014:

    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-syllabus-michael-jackson-black.html

  22. Nina Fonoroff

    Also, at the Baltimore protests, one citizen journalists captured audio of the MJ impersonator and the noise of the crowd, with his commentary, “Michael Jackson Saved the Day”:

    https://www.spreaker.com/user/baltimorespectator/michael-jackson-saved-the-day?autoplay=1

  23. I have been trying to open the baltimore sun page for some time now and it won’t open for me i don’t know what i am doing wrong. Please help

  24. Thank you very much,i’ll give it a try now and let you the outcome.

  25. http://www.amazon.com/MJ-The-Genius-Michael-Jackson-ebook/dp/B00UDCNLN8

    anyone read this book?? it came out recently….i am curiosity whether the guy would explore mj’s later works (HIStory dangerous BOTD) like joe vogels amazing book did, if this book simply gambles with thriller- that thriller- this, it would be a total waste of time , wonder whether the author gives us insights on HIStory songs because each one of ’em is a masterpiece

  26. kittuandme: The book is only available for pre-order. It won’t be released until October 20, 2015. The author wrote another book in 2009 called Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. The reviews are generally favorable (see a partial below) so I’m hopeful this new one on MJ will be positive and well researched but, as you know, we’ve been disappointed in the past.

    “This is an excellent book. Steve Knopper, contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, and who has also written for such publications as Wired, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly and the Chicago Tribune, has written this book detailing the trends from the near death of the music industry in the late 70s to early 80s to the life-saving entities such as MTV and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. Knopper provides meticulous detail about the negative and positive trends of the music industry over the past 20 years to the newly developed digital age of downloading music via iTunes.”

  27. Thank you, Willa and D.B, for such an enlightening conversation! D.B., you hit on something very important. I think there has been a sense for a long time that the guard is slowly changing when it comes to the media. I like to think there is a new generation of journalists who are not only more interested in the truth about Michael Jackson, but also more willing to expose the media’s past failings.

    As a writer who has spent the better part of the last five years blogging on Michael, I understand all too well the frustration of wanting to get this knowledge beyond just the fan base and to a more mainstream readership. Of course I love being appreciated by the fan community, and MJ fans are some of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people around. And I do think the blogs are providing an invaluable service that should not be under estimated. Like social media itself, blogs have become a way for writers knowledgeable about Michael to have a voice that mainstream media would never have given them in days or yore,and I definitely believe we have made an impact. I suppose this could be considered one brand of citizen journalism, by taking advantage of a medium that is cheap and readily available. However, it can indeed get very frustrating sometimes when you feel as though you’re just preaching to the choir

    It is a known fact that most fans are far more well versed, for example, in the facts about the allegations than most mainstream journalists. Yet the media at large remains dismissive of us and our research largely because we are perceived as “rabid fans.” And then, finally, when the truth is put out there, such as what you did with the Sony hacking piece, we see these kinds of reactions as you described from the columnist-shock, surprise, and a sense of, “Why didn’t we know any of this before?” For example, that Michael Jackson was pursued relentlessly for years by a white prosecutor with a vendetta against him is certainly not news to the fan community. It’s what we’ve been saying for years, but the media turned a deaf ear and simply called us “crazy,” “delusional,” and so on. But maybe the zeitgeist truly is starting to change. The Sony hacking scandal revealed that much of what Michael was trying to tell us about Sony and racism in the industry was true and not just the paranoid delusions of a “has been” superstar upset simply because his last album hadn’t sold to his expectations. And songs like “They Don’t Care About Us” are finally being understood and appreciated as they were intended, rather than mocked as more “paranoia” rantings from an egotistical artist who couldn’t seem to “get” that critics were only willing to sing the praises of his genius when he gave us happy dance music. You are absolutely right; Michael knew that these were songs whose time would come.

    In the past, I have tried to submit articles about Michael to mainstream publications but without much luck, even though I have many publication credentials in other areas. Even when I made every effort to keep my language objective, to avoid “fan talk” and to adhere to all publication guidelines, it seemed the minute they realized I was writing an unabashedly positive piece on Michael Jackson, I was given the typical “fan brush off” reception. Yes, I know there’s something to be said for persistence but, still, it gets frustrating. However, I think you hit on something, which is the major importance of timing. Hitting the right publication with the right piece at just the right time seems to be the critical factor. But aside from the obvious-being able to write well-and having the perfect timing,what are other tips that could give us “citizen journalists” an advantage? In other words, what do you think makes an editor decide that one piece on Michael Jackson is from a credible writer with something worthy to say that needs to be heard, and another piece is just biased fluff from a fan?

    • D.B. Anderson

      Great questions! I think we could do another whole blog post on this topic.

      One tip: Following editors and writers on social media helps you get a sense of who they are and the type of content they are looking for. It’s critical also to understand both the mission statement of the publication as well as the demographics and characteristics of the publication’s audience. For example, with the Sony piece, there was a lot of debate among media types about the legitimacy of publishing the emails. Many journalists from large corporate publications were very strongly against it, but Max Read is determined to blow up old school journalism. Knowing this made all the difference in that instance.

  28. That’s very true. Establishing some kind of first hand connection enables you to know what a particular editor’s agenda may be. It seems evident that those editors who are, in fact, looking to “blow up old school journalism” are probably the best bet, given that it was this very old school journalism that was largely responsible for Michael’s media persecution and for creating so much misunderstanding and misconceptions about him in the first place. I would imagine that anyone who wishes to write intelligently and knowledgeably on Michael Jackson isn’t going to be likely to find a warm reception among those still upholding the old guard.

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