Presidential Politics, Part 3

Willa:  Lisha, so much has changed since we wrote our last post. This emotionally wrenching election has finally ended, and I feel so stunned and demoralized. It feels like our political process is deeply damaged, maybe even broken as many people say, and it seems now more than ever it’s important to talk about alternative forms of power – meaning ways other than politics to bring about social change.

Lisha: This has been such a difficult time for me – confronting how deeply divided we are as a nation. I’m not at all sure that our institutions are strong enough to withstand the pressure they’re under, and I believe it demands a response. As Michael Jackson said in This Is It, “It starts with us. It’s us, or else it will never be done.”

Willa:  I think you’re right, Lisha, and that’s a great example. He’s specifically talking about the limitations of government here, and how politicians tend to follow public opinion, rather than lead it. That’s clear in the sentences leading up to the sentences you quoted:

People are always saying, “Oh, they’ll take care of it. The government will do it. Don’t worry, they’ll …” They who? It starts with us. It’s us, or else it will never be done.

Lisha: Michael Jackson made this statement back in 2009 as a part of “Earth Song,” urgently sounding the alarm about climate change. He warned this was going to require our participation if it was ever going to be solved, and he knew time was running out. So I can’t even imagine how he might have felt now, over seven years later, knowing that a climate change denier is about to be nominated as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Willa: I’ve been thinking the exact same thing. It feels like, at a time of great environmental peril, we’re about to take a huge step in the wrong direction. One small ray of hope is that Ivanka Trump arranged a meeting between her father and Al Gore, and afterward Gore called it “a lengthy and very productive session” and said it would “be continued.”

Lisha: Yes, it’s at least a glimmer of hope.

Willa: But I don’t know that we can just sit back and hope it all works out. After all, Michael Jackson never put much faith in politics.

Lisha: True. When Ebony magazine asked him about his political views back in 2007, he said:

To tell you the truth, I don’t follow that stuff. We were raised to not … we don’t look to man to fix the problems of the world, we don’t. They can’t do it. That’s how I see it. It’s beyond us.

Willa: That’s a great quote, Lisha. But while he was skeptical of politics, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t socially engaged. He believed passionately in the power of art, specifically, to change people’s perceptions, ideas, and emotions.

Lisha: He was willing to step up to the plate and do what he knew to do. And I think he made some amazing contributions that we still benefit from today.

Willa: Exactly. In a 1980 interview on 20/20, he described how audiences would respond when he and his brothers performed on stage, and then he linked that response to important cultural changes – the kind of deep emotional changes artists can evoke but politicians can’t. Here’s what he said:

When they’re all holding hands and everybody’s rocking, and all colors of people are there, all races, it’s the most wonderful thing. Politicians can’t even do that.

Lisha: Wow. He was so young when he said that. But it sums up so much about his life’s work and what was yet to come.

Willa:  It really does. And we see that focus on deep cultural change not only in his concerts, but in his song lyrics, short films, poems and essays, and other art as well.

However, some of his art didn’t announce itself as art, and often we don’t think of it as art. But this other kind of “art” was also very important at bringing about social change.

Lisha: That’s so very true.

Willa: For example, his meetings at the White House with Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush can be seen as a type of public theater, as we talked about last time. There’s staging and costumes, photography and cinematography, and the distribution of the resulting images around the world – all elements of an elaborate, globally released theatrical production.

And those images of Michael Jackson being treated as a respected guest at the White House, like an honored dignitary, had a political as well as an artistic effect – they helped change public perceptions about the “proper” position of a black man in America. Those images of a black man walking with confidence through the White House may even have helped Americans visualize what it might be like to someday have a black man living in the White House, and in that way may have helped pave the way for Barack Obama.

Lisha: This is such an important point, Willa. Those were very powerful images that helped loosen up old, unconscious ideas about the great white male as being uniquely qualified to lead.

I think a lot of Americans hear the word “racism” and instantly try to disown it, thinking it exclusively means the kind of hateful prejudice expressed by David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. We know from experience that most Americans aren’t like that, although I will say there has been a shocking degree of tolerance for these groups in this election cycle.

Willa: There really has. That’s one of the most disheartening realizations of this election – that a large percentage of Americans are able to ignore racism, misogyny, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and other kinds of prejudice in exchange for promises of economic gain.

Lisha: This has been so painful for me to come to grips with. And I feel like there’s just so much denial about it. For example, even without harboring any kind of racial animus, racism is still a part of all of our lives in the US, whether we want to admit to it or not. The term “racism” isn’t just about hate groups or hate speech. It also refers to a caste system based on race, where the dominant white culture enjoys a distinct advantage. And that’s something we desperately need to address.

Willa: Absolutely. That’s such an important point, Lisha.

Lisha:  But as you said, Michael Jackson used his art to upend that system back in 1984, at least for a moment, when he put on a glitzy military costume and commanded the White House lawn. He upstaged all involved, President and Mrs. Reagan included. I think that was such a smart, bold move that challenged how power operates in a very clever way.

Willa: Yes, and those images of him with President and Mrs. Reagan, and later with President Bush, were widely broadcast and I think they had a powerful political effect around the world.

You know, we began our last post with Frederick Douglass, who was one of the first to realize the power of images in overcoming racism. We also mentioned Douglass visiting Abraham Lincoln, so I thought it was interesting that Dave Chappelle talked about that in a moving monologue on Saturday Night Live after our recent election.

At 9:50 minutes in, Chappelle describes going to a party at the White House a few weeks ago and says this:

Now I’m not sure if this is true, but to my knowledge the first black person who was officially invited to the White House was Frederick Douglass. They stopped him at the gates. Abraham Lincoln had to walk out himself and escort Frederick Douglass into the White House. And it didn’t happen again, as far as I know, until Roosevelt was president. When Roosevelt was president, he had a black guy over and got so much flak from the media that he literally said “I will never have a nigger in this house again.”

Lisha: I have to say that Chappelle’s words hit me hard. How shameful – how utterly disgraceful – that a group of Americans have been thought of and treated in such an abominable way.

Willa: Yes, and by President Roosevelt of all people, who along with his wife Eleanor is often considered a champion of civil rights. In fact, Michael Jackson includes Roosevelt’s picture in the prison version of They Don’t Care about Us.


He also mentions Roosevelt by name in the lyrics, singing these powerful words of praise:

Tell me, what has become of my rights?
Am I invisible because you ignore me?
Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I’m tired of being the victim of shame
They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can’t believe this is the land from which I came
You know I really do hate to say it
The government don’t wanna see
But if Roosevelt was living
He wouldn’t let this be, no no

Michael Jackson repeats these last two lines in a later verse, substituting Martin Luther King’s name for Roosevelt’s, which suggests he sees them in somewhat parallel ways. Specifically, he implies that neither Roosevelt nor Martin Luther King would tolerate injustice – they “wouldn’t let this be.”

But if Dave Chappelle is right, that may not be true. Maybe Roosevelt would have bowed to political pressure after all, as presidents often do, and as he himself did when “he had a black guy over” to the White House and capitulated to all the criticism he received for it in the press.

Lisha: Ok, well, let’s stop and think about that. Clearly, there was a limit as to how far he would go in defending the racialized “Other.”

Willa: That’s true, or how far he felt he could go. If politicians get too much beyond the people who elected them, they run the risk of losing their constituency. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he reportedly told an aide, “We have just lost the South for a generation.” And he was right. With a few minor exceptions, the South has gone solidly Republican ever since, though a few states like North Carolina and Virginia seem to be tilting back.

But your point is well taken, Lisha. In general, politicians simply can’t move people the way an artist like Michael Jackson can. If they push their constituencies further than they want to go, they may lose what power they do have.

Lisha: Michael Jackson wrote “They Don’t Care About Us” more than twenty years ago, but it’s just as relevant now as it’s ever been. The song has continued to show up when needed, for example as protesters take to the streets to defend this simple claim: “all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.”

It’s crucial right now that we try to hang on to those lofty ideals we just never got around to carrying out, things like “liberty and justice for all.” Michael Jackson envisioned them in artistic ways that bypassed our rational mind and hit at deeply buried, unconscious ideas and attitudes. It’s up to us to recognize these as meaningful sites of resistance and keep moving forward.

Willa:  Absolutely. He talked about this explicitly in films such as They Don’t Care About Us, Black or White, and Can You Feel It, but also in numerous more subtle ways as well. We see some of these more subtle explorations in Thriller and Ghosts, and more radically in the changing color of his skin. We also see it in unconventional art such as the political theater of his visits to the White House.

But there were times when he explicitly used the power and spectacle of politics to draw attention to causes he cared about.

Lisha: One example I’ve been inspired by is the 1993 inaugural gala for then President-elect Bill Clinton. Although Michael Jackson was previously honored by two Republican administrations, when a Democrat was elected, Michael Jackson was again on center stage. He used the opportunity to draw attention to an issue that he deeply cared about, paying tribute to Ryan White with “Gone Too Soon.” It’s worth taking a few minutes to re-watch this and really take it in:

Willa: This is such a powerful moment. And you’re right, Lisha. It’s also a clear example of Michael Jackson using the political theater surrounding the American presidency to raise awareness about a cause he believed in – in this case, AIDS – as well as a person he cared about.

Lisha: I can’t help but notice how moved both President and Secretary Clinton are by this performance. As we all know, they later established a charity foundation that now supplies life-saving medication to over half the world’s AIDS population.

Willa: Yes, and that’s really important to remember. I don’t think Bill Clinton expended much political capital on the AIDS epidemic before Michael Jackson championed the issue during this inauguration performance. And that artistic act has had a long-term effect through the Clinton Foundation, as you say, saving thousands of lives worldwide.

We see a similar focus on raising awareness for specific political issues when Michael Jackson teamed up with former President Carter for the Heal LA Project, which was later expanded to Atlanta also. Michael Jackson talked about the LA project during a speech about his upcoming 1993 Superbowl halftime show, and he cites both President Carter and President Clinton as inspirations:

And of course, he incorporated these themes into the halftime show itself, especially in the grand finale performance of “Heal the World”.

President Carter actually came to Neverland as they worked on the project. Here’s a picture taken during his visit:


Lisha: I love that photo!

Willa: I do too! And there are quite a few photos from the announcement of the Atlanta project in the Omni. Here’s a video slideshow of some of those:

Lisha: Those are wonderful, Willa. Michael Jackson certainly did hang out with the presidents, didn’t he?

Willa:  He really did – another trait he shared with Frederick Douglass.

Lisha: Well, we still have more to cover on this topic. To be continued…

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 December 8, 2016, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Thanks for new post. I am no more interested in US politics than I am ours here in South Africa, although it does seem that both countries now have crap Presidents!!!! but I am sorry that you are all so traumatised by the result. Hopefully we can get rid of Zuma before you can Trump!! The only reason I will vote in our next general election to be to help achieve that hopefully!!! So many ANC black supporters are changing parties as they have had enough and there is no longer the groundswell of allegiance because of Nelson Mandela.

    What I do enjoy is your pointing out how Michael was able to effect change by not being political per se (though a friend of mine points out that everything we do is political!!) but by what he did with his life and how he used his very considerable influence to make change – very much taking up Ghandi’s incitement to “be the change you want to see”. Michael lived that for me and I endeavour to live my own life that way using him as my inspiration and moral compass. George Fox (founder of The Quakers) asked people to “be patterns, be examples walking cheerfully over the world” and Michael was ever that (though the cheerful part was oft times very difficult for him), and I live my life that way. For the most part, I cannot change that much “out there”, but I can affect my own world and for me, as an ordinary Joe Soap so to speak, that is most important and can be very effective.

    thanks for the post and keep up the good work of reminding us what Michael did and would have done, so that we can keep going in trying circumstances as he did, with our rhinoceros skins as well ha ha!!!

    • Thank you Caro!

      In my mind, this election has shown how political ideology is bound up in processes totally outside the realm of traditional politics, i.e. policy or skills required for good governance. We need our artists more than ever, to respond in surreptitious ways that can truly influence the hearts and minds of people.

      This is such a scary time! I wish Michael Jackson were here. We need him.

    • Thanks, Caro, for bringing your perspective from South Africa. I know that I (and probably many other Americans) tend, in our isolation, to get caught up in the problems and issues of within U.S alone. It’s good to be reminded of the world outside our borders.

  2. Both Michael Jackson and Donald Trump beat the racist media. Both Michael Jackson and Donald Trump beat the corrupt government. Both Michael Jackson and Donald Trump were vindicated by the American people.

    • Hi Messi. I agree there are some very specific ways in which Donald Trump seems to have followed Michael Jackson’s lead when interacting with the media. I believe both used the media as a kind of performance art, as a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post suggests. Trump’s son, Eric, seemed to confirm this in a conversation a couple weeks ago, and Trump himself seemed to confirm it at a rally last week. When some of his supporters started chanting “Lock her up,” referring to Hillary Clinton, he said, “That plays great before the election. Now, we don’t care, right?” Here’s a clip:

      However, their motivations were entirely different. Michael Jackson fought racism and other forms of prejudice throughout his career, as we can clearly see in some of his most powerful and iconic films like Can You Feel It, Beat It, Bad, Black or White, and both versions of They Don’t Care About Us. Trump, on the other hand, used race baiting, misogyny, xenophobia, etc, in very manipulative ways to promote fear and anger and drive his supporters to the polls.

      To ignore that essential difference between them is to deny the motivating force behind much of Michael Jackson’s work and life.

      • Hi, Willa. There are, of course, multiple ways to look at Trump, but one thing I have considered recently is a more charitable view that he saw deep systemic problems in the way the nation is going, read polls about the high levels of citizens feeling things are getting worse, and decided to run for the Presidency to try and make things better. One can say the same for Bernie Sanders. They saw a problem, or a set of problems, and widespread public dissatisfaction, and took action. Having stepped into the fight, Trump used all the weapons at his disposal to defeat his opponents, doing his level best to win. As he said in his rallies, ‘If I don’t win, it will be the biggest waste of time and money.” In other words, he did what he thought he needed to win, including the name-calling–Crooked Hillary, etc. As we see in the clip you posted, it was a strategy and he didn’t really want to ‘Lock her up.” He was much more a strategic fighter than the media gave him credit for. They said he was an impulsive child, etc but I think he was much more in control of his message. The other thing about Trump is that he was raising legitimate issues that were not being sufficiently addressed–mainly immigration and trade.

        One thing that interests me is the way people responded to his attacks in person on camera–not only Hillary but his Republican opponents. Most just shrugged and did the eye roll and laughed, smiled, etc. I think Hillary was in a bad situation as a woman held to a different standard in terms of ‘acceptable decorum” but I think she might have, esp. in the last debate, fired back and responded more forcefully. In other words, she needed to get mad and show it–in her face and in her words. She could have responded with more intensity when he said, “[if I were President] you’d be in jail,” by replying that the President cannot on his/her own put people in jail!! It’s up to the courts, and we have an “innocent til proven guilty” assumption as a bedrock principle. I realize the debate format limited her but it did not get in Trump’s way–did it? I think she also could have said, ‘How DARE you!!” In other words, show the anger. Don’t smile. It’s not funny when someone says on stage in front of millions they are going to put you in jail!!

        On the other hand, I agree with Messi that corporate media was outrageous against him the same way they demonized MJ. That kind of overkill creates sympathy for the underdog and may have helped him get elected in the long run. There was definitely a power struggle going on: MJ vs. media and Trump vs. media. The media also attacked MJ as racist (anti-semitic lyrics in TDCAU), completely misinterpreting his message. I think they did that with Trump too–looking to bring him down. For ex., when Trump asked people to raise their hands to pledge they would vote at his rallies, the photos of the people raising their hands were compared to those of people doing the Zeig Heil to Hitler. Frankly, I loved it when Trump called the media dishonest–they are!! They are too often pursuing ratings without ethical constraints. Maybe I am still holding a grudge for how they treated MJ–but journalists need to get back to hard facts and less opinion, and certainly not mixing the 2. They even implied the child sex abuse charge against Trump (with his daughter). The media went too far IMO.

        • Stephenson:

          On an earlier post, I think I wrote that the job of an entertainer (MJ) and that of a politician, or would-be politician (Trump) are vastly different. It follows that the larger social and political CONSEQUENCES of the way each of them were treated by the media are of *vastly* different orders of magnitude; and it makes any comparison between them, on that score, quite meaningless.

          Apart from that, Trump didn’t need any help from journalists to come across as a narcissistic demagogue through the channels of communication we have. One has only to look at the recorded statements from his campaign speeches, or take a gander at a number of his tweets—or the manifest behavior of his adherents at his rallies, and in other spaces, for that matter—-to understand his candidacy as an affront to decent people everywhere, and his upcoming presidency as a grave danger to all of us.

  3. I agree this is a scary time, Willa and Lisha, and it has been scary for me for a while–even before the Occupy movement appeared in 2011, I could feel strong tensions ready to break out. Unfortunately, the Occupy movement, which (IMO) had a lot of potential, got shut down. But the social tensions that Occupy revealed emerged with greater force in later movements, such as BLM and the Bernie Sanders movement. The forces that destabilized both major parties were in play when Occupy appeared on the scene with its large demonstrations and marches. The time was right bc of dissatisfactions multiplying across the social spectrum. The latest dissatisfaction appeared in the more rural areas of the country. Those who do not live in such areas perhaps do not fully appreciate the economic breakdown that is happening here. I drive through the main street in my small town and see rows of empty storefronts. Only the big stores can survive–and even our Radio Shack closed. Local businesses struggle to survive. People just don’t have $$ to spend. If one lives in an urban setting, maybe one does not see all this. So many smaller stores and local restaurants have closed in the last year. My local newspaper is full of foreclosure listings. Given all the dissatisfactions, I can see how the election depended on going for a new person–an unknown–such as Bernie S. or Donald Trump. The appeal that someone not connected with any previous administrations and their failures (perceived or real) was strong. Trump’s focus on renewing USA’s infrastructure is being met with approval around here–as counties try to get $ to repair roads and bridges.

    I think there are powerful fears about economic instability and terrorism that played into this election–people are hurting and looking for someone to help them, the country, and a destabilized world. Many realize we need a change–the question now revolves around that change. Can it be done together and peacefully? I worry that if people don’t calm the rhetoric, and that includes the media, we are headed for a civil war– I hate to say that, but it is the logical end of extreme social and political turmoil. Praying and hoping we pull back from that brink. We can’t save the planet and the natural world unless we can build consensus. Identity the most important goals, develop a good plan, and then act on it. (Sounds easy, right?). In the People’s Climate March in NY City, 400,000 people marched together and one of the banners impressed me so much: “Unite the Struggle.” If we want to stop catastrophic environmental degradation, we have to make it an all-out priority and unite, and stop allowing ourselves to be splintered into different warring camps. Can we unite to save the planet? Can we convince the denialists? Why don’t we set up a fact-finding commission to establish once and for all what is the US position on this and just stick with that. Let’s stop pretending the degradation we see is not caused by human activity. In other words, we can argue into infinity or we can resolve the issue with an independent commission.

    Of course, the bitterness I feel on the issue is compounded by the fact that during the 9 debates that were televised among the candidates in the election–there was not ONE question from the media on “climate change.” How can we expect people to be informed when we refuse to talk about it?? The denial of such a huge problem as species extinction and environmental degradation is far-reaching and must stop. I am glad that people like Al Gore and Leonard DiCaprio have gone to talk to Donald Trump personally. That is the way to change things–good interactions between people who can communicate respectfully with each other.

    • I agree with you completely. Climate change is the issue of our time, like it or not, yet it’s still not being mentioned nearly enough in the media. Of course, the climate itself should really be enough. How bad does it need to get??

    • Hi Stephenson and Sharon. I agree that climate change is the most critical issue facing us right now, and it simply isn’t being addressed. As you pointed out, Stephenson, “there are powerful fears about economic instability and terrorism that played into this election,” and people have a very difficult time thinking about long-term solutions when they’re scared. For that reason and more (including plain old public civility) I agree we need to lower the volume, try to calm the anger and irrational fears so evident during this election cycle, and focus on the very real problems we need to address.

      btw, like you, Stephenson, I had hoped that Trump’s willingness to have a conversation with Al Gore meant he was open to new ways of thinking about climate change and the environment. In fact, it seems Gore himself interpreted their meeting that way. However, Trump’s cabinet selections contradict that. As an article at Huffington Post says in the headline, “It’s Hard to Overstate How Anti-Environment Donald Trump’s Cabinet Picks Are.” Here’s a link.

      • Hi, Willa–a friend recently made a good observation that one of the problems with acceptance of the reality we call “climate change” is that the phrase is not descriptive or precise. People rightly point out that climate does change–and that can’t be denied and puts us on the defensive. My friend suggests we say “environmental degradation” instead as it is more descriptive of what is happening. I was thinking of adding the word “systemic,” as environmental degradation alone does not indicate the breadth of the issue. Using the word “warming” is an alternative (as in ‘Global Warming” or “Accelerated Global Warming”) but this is also problematic, as ‘warm’ can have good connotations, or not be happening in a particular locale. We could say, “Systemic Environmental Degradation.” What do you think? Those of us who care have to find a way to get through–although our gov’t sure has dropped the ball and should know better. Trump is going to hear from environmentalists BIGLY!!

        On a brighter note: Best wishes for a wonderful 2017!! Thanks for all you and Lisha and contributors do at DWTE!!

  4. Truth be told, I can’t quite separate climate change from other pressing issues that are at the forefront of what increasingly appears as a world on the brink of collapse. The continual depredation of the natural world is, in my view, inextricably connected with the refugee crisis; continuing and endless war; economic inequality; racism, and particularly the legacies of white supremacy in the U.S. (i.e., the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and other places, which mostly affects poor communities of color.)

    The list goes on and on, and includes even seemingly “random” instances of gun violence. We are living in a nervous world, one where more and more people are overwhelmed—-even at an unconscious level—by the specter of rapidly diminishing resources, necessary for our survival. Under these circumstances, violence of all kinds can only be expected to increase, as people believe they must compete for the last drop of oil (or water), or the last bit of food left on an uninhabitable planet.

    Gloomy as it may sound, of course none of us are clairvoyant. But I believe we must be CLEAR, and try not to obfuscate. To that end, we have to make fine (and some not-so-fine) distinctions between one phenomenon and another, seemingly related but vastly different, one.

    So, to clarify some remarks I made above (addressed to Stephenson):

    Maybe nobody knows or cares—or NEEDS to know or care—who Michael Jackson, or any other celebrity had sex with, or how often, or how much plastic surgery they had, or when, where, and why.

    But it behooves us, I think, to have *at least* a modicum of knowledge about a presidential candidate’s policies on serious issues like climate change, energy, economic inequality, immigration, and five (count ’em) military engagements in the Middle East. This is ESSENTIAL for us to know.

    Journalists are simply *doing their job* when they investigate a candidate’s background, including their tax records (which Trump refused to release). If an investigative reporter is worth their salt, and if they suspect that a candidate or a President-elect is prevaricating or hiding something, then they *must* do their best to ferret out that information, by any means necessary, in the PUBLIC INTEREST.

    For those who work in news media, to go too easy on a politician (as opposed to a pop star) is to fall down on the job. It is to eradicate a bond of trust that should exist between the press and the public. We are adults. We need to have a working knowledge of the issues, if we are to make INFORMED decisions about our lives—such as who to vote for.

    A thriving democracy cannot exist without an independent press, and without the freedom of expression that guarantees that the press can operate freely AND responsibly.

    This should make the differences between Michael’s “case” and Trump’s appear patently obvious. And it also removes ANY sympathy I might have for Trump’s whining about the “lying media,” and how they’re *persecuting* him.

  5. “Maybe Roosevelt would have bowed to political pressure after all, as presidents often do, and as he himself did when “he had a black guy over” to the White House and capitulated to all the criticism he received for it in the press.”

    I would like to bring some other thoughts on why Roosevelt was mentioned in TDCAU since Michael insisted in the disclaimer of the video that it “pictorializes the injustices to ALL mankind” (so not only with regard to racism).

    Roosevelt went down in history for the New Deal, “a series of programs, including, most notably, Social Security, that were enacted in the United States between 1933 and 1938 […]. The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians refer to as the “3 Rs”, Relief, Recovery, and Reform: relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy to normal levels, and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. […] The New Deal represented a significant shift in politics and domestic policy. It especially led to greatly increased federal regulation of the economy. It also marked the beginning of complex social programs and growing power of labor unions.” (Source:

    In this respect Roosevelt was one of the few or maybe the only (?) US president to actually confront neoliberalism which intellectuals like Noam Chomsky hold responsible for the decline of democracy we can witness all over the world today due to its concepts of deregulation and privatization. There are a lot of clips on youtube where Chomsky discusses neoliberalism in long-term lectures as well as in short cuts, e.g.

    In an interview he even points out the difference between then and now:

    “The Depression hit in 1929. About five years later, you started getting real militant labor organizing, the forming of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, sit-down strikes. That’s what basically impelled Roosevelt to carry out the New Deal reforms. That hasn’t happened in the current economic crisis.” (Source:

    So the difference is us, the people, ’cause we function as a kind of backup for politicians or make them “bow” as you stated in the line I cited above.

    Roosevelt was also known for his environmental interest. He “created 140 national wildlife refuges (especially for birds) and established 29 national forests and 29 national parks and monuments. He thereby achieved the vision he had set out in 1931: Heretofore our conservation policy has been merely to preserve as much as possible of the existing forests. Our new policy goes a step further. It will not only preserve the existing forests, but create new ones.” (Source: Unlike his cousin Theodor Roosevelt who started to create reservation parks only to enjoy his private hunting…

    Some historians even claimed that Roosevelt would have never dropped the atomic bombs on Japan if he was still living then… In fact he died a few months before. This remains a controversial question in the historic field to this day.

  6. In my view, Michael was turbocharged to fight, on a global scale, the injustices he saw and experienced, and to spread his message as an alternative (L.O.V.E.), turbocharged by his own talent, his religious background, and by his fame. What the media did to him is beyond despicable. Michael IMO had a more powerful impact on human society than any POTUS. The “gutter press” is aptly named. They threw him in the gutter and to some extent still do (see recent Barbara Walters special). I think by doing so, they ‘normalized” (hate that word but seems appropriate here) bullying. Now we have an epidemic of bullying all over. And mainstream media increasingly melds with the tabloids. Coincidence? I think not. What the media did to Trump in the past 18 months is minor in comparison. The difference is that Trump fought back harder in an immediate sense with blunt and fiery rhetoric, whereas Michael, as an artist, fought back artistically and through his fans. Michael had a longterm strategy: “lies run sprints, truth runs marathons.”

    • Stephenson, I think I’m a little confused by your comment here. Are you genuinely concerned for Donald Trump in your critique of the way the media operates? Or is your argument more animated by your feelings about an overzealous media that persecuted Michael Jackson over a period of years?

      It’s vitally important that we make a distinction here, I believe.

      For the reasons I mentioned above, we need a functioning media—a media WITH TEETH—to conduct a no-holds-barred interrogation of those who are running for (or holding) public office. So I guess I’m struggling to understand *why* you are mapping Michael Jackson’s story onto Donald Trump’s, in terms of their “victimization” by the news media AND their styles of “resistance” to it.

      Right now, our president-elect is in a pretty good position to make life utterly miserable—indeed, unliveable—for millions of people in the U.S. and all over the world. Many of us seem to be in agreement on this. (The same cannot be said of Michael Jackson, I don’t think!) Does Trump really need, warrant, or DESERVE our sympathy or consideration?

      More to the point: what kind of media culture do we want in the years to come?

      In my view, news and public affairs journalists need to be even TOUGHER on certain public figures, like Trump and his staff. They need to interrogate our elected officials, more thoroughly and assiduously than they’ve been doing for a very long time. We need serious *investigative* journalism always; and now more than ever.

      • IMO we do not have a ‘functioning media” and have not had one for some time. What we have is a media with an agenda that plays sides, that demonizes people for profit, that has trivialized the ‘news’ into reporting on rumor, anonymous sources, celebrity gossip and fashion bloopers, and that utterly fails to educate the electorate. The agenda to demonize Michael was/is clear. The agenda to demonize Trump was/is equally clear.The media significantly influenced the 08 primary election by failing to vet Obama, never revealing or discussing any negatives in his background and acting as if there weren’t any. Basically, by throwing their entire support to him, and coming out with a lot of negatives about Hillary, they helped him win the nomination. They tried and failed to throw the primaries and the election this time. The media is all about ratings–they are not about facts or truth, so they hype whatever brings ratings and fits their agenda. I thought that was pretty much common knowledge. “News” is now primarily opinion, not news, or even worse, a blend of slanted (selected) ‘news’ mixed with aggressive opinionating.

        If there is civil war in US as a result of their agitations, they will be there with cameras rolling and photographers at the ready. It will be a ratings boon for them. Destabilization is what they want because conflict, arguing, controversies bring ratings. This is why they write headlines using violent language when it is not needed (like somebody “slams” somebody else, or somebody “fires back” against somebody). I think you are terribly naive about the media. And these techniques are not limited to USA or English-speaking countries. Michael’s lyric “Anything for money” is apt.

        The difference between Trump and Michael is that the media had decades to demonize Michael, hence the difficulty now in trying to de-program people; on the other hand, they are just getting started w Trump. I would never go on any of those talk shows, which are so demeaning to the ‘guests’ (victims) who are often shouted down, interrupted, interrogated, and basically insulted and yelled over, especially if the ‘journalist’ is seeking to silence the hapless guest from articulating an opposing POV to that of the network.

        I see the media as almost totally corrupt. There are so many cases of them cherry-picking quotes to create a false headline. Here is a recent discussion of the WashingtonPost’s claim that Russia hacked the Vermont power grid, which turned out to be false.

        Some about bias in the election coverage:

        It is highly revealing that the word ‘narrative’ has gained so much value when speaking of journalism or the news. This is obviously a literary term relating to story-telling or fiction. This is exactly what is happening: creating, selling, marketing a narrative. It has basically become a religion, a level of moralizing that one would expect from the pulpit, as if the aim of government and the press is to make us “good” vs. “evil” people according to a ‘narrative’ of what values are the ‘right’ ones.

        The media has taken away or is attempting to take away critical thinking. Personally, I feel debunking the ‘news’ and advertising should be taught as a mandatory class in schools and colleges, universities, etc. We can teach students to analyze how, as viewers or readers, we are being manipulated covertly and overtly. This would give people tools to resist the pressures we increasingly face from a kind of mob voice coming from media and corporate sources that pile on to one cause, one person, one issue and blare it in our faces until we either accept the narrative or turn it off.

  7. Stephenson,
    My above post was meant to convey a sense of what good journalism OUGHT to be doing, and its ideal function in society; not the way we currently find it.

    You say,
    “Personally, I feel debunking the ‘news’ and advertising should be taught as a mandatory class in schools and colleges, universities, etc. We can teach students to analyze how, as viewers or readers, we are being manipulated covertly and overtly.”

    I agree entirely. Many so many of us in Media Studies (and Cultural Studies) departments in colleges and universities are already doing that, and have been doing it for years.

    I’d also like to point out that, as an independent filmmaker myself, I AM part of what you (without differentiation) seem to be calling “the media”—as are a number of RESPONSIBLE journalists you may or may not be familiar with. (I’ll refer you to these, as well as some media watchdog organizations you might find interesting, at another time.) In my opinion Glenn Greenwald, the editor of The Intercept—a blog you’ve linked above—is one of these (I’m not so sure about the writer at Politico.) At the same time, I think it would be “terribly naiive” of us to believe that some idea of *politics* does not creep into ALL of these sources. Journalism, news, Public communication of *any* kind is not apolotical, and we will never find any factual *objectivity* of the kind you may be looking for.

    To speak to this point, you also say,
    “It is highly revealing that the word ‘narrative’ has gained so much value when speaking of journalism or the news. This is obviously a literary term relating to story-telling or fiction. This is exactly what is happening: creating, selling, marketing a narrative. It has basically become a religion, a level of moralizing that one would expect from the pulpit, as if the aim of government and the press is to make us “good” vs. “evil” people according to a ‘narrative’ of what values are the ‘right’ ones.”

    The stories that we see TV and in the movies—whether they are disguised as “fictions” or not—-will invariably be presented as stories—or “narratives,” if you like. Everything we see and hear and read, from NPR to the National Enquirer to the novels of Charles Dickens, will be presented as A NARRATIVE. Otherwise, what would we have? A recitation of raw data, “facts”—something like the Guinness Book of World Records? If you can think of any alternative to a “storytelling” mode of presentation for getting information across to large numbers of people, stephenson, please let us know.

    Of course I agree with your idea about media education. In fact, a large part of what I do professionally is exactly that. In a large sense, I’m teaching “media literacy” (which exists as a field) at the university level in the U.S. I’ve been doing it for a few decades now. In my curriculum, NO kind of media is spared analysis or escapes a critical eye.

    If we are ALL to become (somewhat, or “terribly”) less naiive about “the media,” then I suggest we adopt a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of just what, out of the dizzying variety of public communications that exist today, “THE MEDIA” includes.

    For example: what about social media and its (disturbing) role in purveying some kind of “news”—which is where a lot of people currently get their information? What about comedy shows like “The Daily Show” (formerly hosted by John Stewart, now Trevor Noah?) Or other comical voices, like John Oliver, etc.? I recently read a study that examined, generationally, where most people are getting their news from. Newspapers have been closing down at a high rate in recent years, and this has had a decisive effect on the state of journalism today.

    In my view, analysis and criticism of “THE MEDIA” must *also* attend to its *fictional* forms in the mainstream (Hollywood cinema, TV), as it does to various sources of journalism—-which is what I’m assuming you mean, stephenson, when you talk about “THE MEDIA.” Historically, viewers are as likely to be “brainwashed” by these fictional narratives (if that’s what we want to call an adherence to dominant ideologies), as they are by news programs. (The history of Hollywood cinema, in fact, is rife with representations that support histories of genocide, white supremacy, the punishment of dissent, the disparagement of the poor, the fear and distrust of immigrants, and so on. Further, these viewpoints can be seen JUST AS STRONGLY in those movies that begin with the most “liberal” of intended messages.)

    This isn’t just hairsplitting about terminology. I’ve conducted shot-by-shot analyses, in my courses, of the myriad ways representations of race, gender, sexuality, and class work, through a whole variety of films (fictional *narrative* films, as well as documentaries whose history I’ve also taught—and which are, in fact, themselves constructed as narratives (!)

  8. So. What does this have to do with Michael Jackson? Plenty.

    Just this past semester, I taught a course at my university called “The Cinematic Worlds of Michael Jackson” (about which I have a lot to say, but should probably save it for another moment.)

    Secondly: Michael Jackson himself wasn’t (as is commonly supposed) a complete “innocent” with respect to his uses and manipulations of “THE MEDIA.” In some very real ways, the “Michael Jackson” we know, love, and frequntly defend, wouldn’t even exist were it not for “the media.” Let’s consider that.

    What else might we call his visit to the Reagan White House, dressed to the nines, if not an event that was constructed *by* and *for* “the media”?

    He was very well aware of what he owed the media, as is Trump. (Did I mention this before? Both, it should be pointed out, were admirers of P.T. Barnum, whose fame rested on his construction of “The Greatest Show on Earth.”)

    The enduring question about Michael Jackson, then—and indeed, about *any* superstar who gets dragged by the tabloid and even mainstream press—is, why and how does “the narrative” shift? We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again. Michael Jackson is not the only person who withstood this kind of symbolic assault.

    Stephenson, you say,
    “The media has taken away or is attempting to take away critical thinking.”

    I believe we need to be asking a deeper set of questions about “the media,” it’s relationship to Michael Jackson, Donald Trump, and what we are calling truth and reality.

    If we apply a reductive “story” to the current state of news journalism—above all, by *erasing* vital distinctions between the coverage of a media celebrity in entertainment, and one in politics—then we are no better than any automaton who has relinquished their “critical thinking” skills.

    The truth is, Trump’s campaign received many, many times the media coverage than his opponents did—entirely FREE OF CHARGE. He rode this coverage all the way to the White House. We have to get wise, or accept the consequences.

  9. As a norwegian, USA is the greatest country in the world! As for Donald Trump being a racist, homophobic etc… bigot: you have been duped by the media just as much as they managed to fool people about Michael Jackson. Now there is a President in the White House who truly loves his country and its people, but so many leftists (mainly) are too busy believing all the garbage in the media to see it.
    You should really watch this video.

  10. Bonnie Bennett

    I just want to say I’ve just started “m poetica” and I think it is the most exceptional book about Michael Jackson thus far. I myself am beginning to write a book about Michael Jackson and I find this book and this blog(which I know should be the focus of my comment but…)to be so inspirational. If I can write just a quarter as well I think I will be happy. I’ve been waiting to have a really intellectual discussion about his art for quite sometime and had almost given up. Thank you for restoring my hope The it is indeed possible but also very accessible. I will be following the blog faithfully.

    • Hi Willa. Hope you are well

      Have lost your email address in transfer from laptop to smartphone & wanted to write for some time

      I had sadly come to the conclusion that the blog had wound up as there was no activitity, but this comment coming thru has renewed hope!!

      I googled the blog & it seems that is now only available thru Facebook only? I sincerely hope not as i dont do or want to do Facebook, particularly now i no longer have a laptop

      Please let me know what is happening. Would be very sad if blog has gone

      I entirely agree with this last comment & sincerely hope blog will continue & in email form.

      Regards. Caro

      • Hi Caro. It’s good to hear from you, and thanks for the nudge. I shouldn’t speak for Lisha, but I’ve been so shell-shocked in recent weeks I’ve found it hard to write. But of course, these are the times when all of us most need to write. …

        Lisha and I haven’t made any changes to the blog, such as moving it to Facebook. Everything with the blog is the same. We just haven’t posted anything in quite a while now, but we’re hoping to publish something again soon.

        Thank you for getting in touch, Caro. And Bonnie, thank you for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

        Best wishes to both of you,

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