The Reading Room
Welcome to the Reading Room! This is a place to browse through some of the best articles and videos available online that provide interesting insights into Michael Jackson’s art and cultural significance. If you’d like to suggest an article, please send us a link and a brief note about why you like it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
His Art, His Career, His Cultural Impact
Toni Bowers. “Dancing with Michael Jackson.” Los Angeles Review of Books. May 14, 2015.
Explores the power of Michael Jackson’s music, his dance, his message, and his life, and places it all within the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As Bowers writes, “To dance with Michael Jackson, to take his outstretched hand, is about more than honoring a difficult, extraordinary life and immense gifts — though it is high time we did that without grudging, judging, or telling lies. … It is a way of choosing the kind of future we want, and the kind of people we want to be.”
Adam Clark Estes. “How Michael Jackson Inspired One of the Original YouTube Memes.” Gizmodo Australia. August 10, 2015.
Suggests that “Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance did for YouTube what his original Thriller music video did for MTV.” Then traces the history of Michael Jackson flashmob dancing on YouTube, from the original video of Philippine prisoners dancing in a prison courtyard to a Lego version of Thriller.
Lubov Fadeeva. “Michael Jackson: The Dancer of the Dream.” Michael Jackson.ru. January 26, 2015.
Provides fascinating insights into Michael Jackson as a dancer in the deepest sense, where dance is seen not merely as entertainment but as a sacred, ancient rite. Written by a Russian professional dancer and choreographer, it’s the best article we’ve seen about what exactly made him so special as a dancer and set him apart from all the others.
Susan Fast. “Michael Jackson: Posthuman.” The Conversation. November 26, 2014.
Considers Michael Jackson and his art through the lens of “posthumanism,” and concludes that he “shattered the assumptions of a society that craves neat categories and compartmentalization.”
Lucy Jones. “The Incredible Way Michael Jackson Wrote Music.” NME. April 2, 2014.
Explains his compositional process, using examples from the “Beat It” demo and the 1994 Dangerous court case. As Jones says, “just as Mozart could hear whole symphonies in his head, Jackson fully realised his songs before they were put down on paper.” Includes links.
Sylvia J. Martin. “From Asia to Africa, The King of Pop Emerges as a Global Platform for Philanthropy and Social Change.” OpEdNews. June 11, 2013.
Explores how, since his death, “Jackson has in fact emerged as a global platform for philanthropy.”
Sylvia J. Martin. “Remembering Michael Jackson: Moonwalking between Contradictions.” Norman Lear Centertainment. June 24, 2010.
Written by a cultural anthropologist, it uses the moonwalk as a metaphor for Michael Jackson’s work as popular yet “subversive.” Particularly looks at the “deft way” he was able “to deliver commentary on racial identity.”
Sylvia J. Martin. “The Roots and Routes of Michael Jackson’s Global Identity.” Social Science and Modern Society. April/May 2012.
Looks at Michael Jackson as both an American and global icon, and how this benefited both him and the U.S.: “Jackson’s music and life narrative were upheld at home and abroad as compelling evidence of the ascendancy of American individualism, entrepreneurialism, multiculturalism, and consumer capitalism.” Also considers how, as an African-American, he “was always already transnational.”
Matt Semino. “Michael Jackson, the Wounded Messenger.” The New York Examiner. November 29, 2010.
Buys into the myth that the latter years were a downward spiral of addiction and plastic surgery. But if you can get past that, it presents a powerful support of his message – for example, “A deeper analysis of Michael Jackson’s work reveals an individual with a burning concern for improving the lives of the disadvantaged and persecuted around the world.” Also one of the few mainstream articles to openly say the 1993 accusations were extortion.
Hampton Stevens. “Michael Jackson’s Unparalleled Influence.” The Atlantic. June 24, 2010.
Makes the bold claim that “Michael Jackson was the most influential artist of the 20th century” – not the most influential pop musician or singer or dancer, but most influential artist of any kind, including painters, writers, and jazz musicians. And then offers compelling evidence to support that bold claim.
Charles Thomson. “Michael Jackson: His Lead Guitarist Jennifer Batten Gives a Rare Insight.” Sawf News. March 2010.
Interesting, wide-ranging interview with long-time Michael Jackson guitarist Jennifer Batten, who traveled with the Bad, Dangerous, and HIStory tours.
Joe Vogel. “The Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson’s Music.” The Atlantic. February 8, 2012.
As Joe Vogel himself writes, “the bottom line is this: Somehow, in the midst of the circus that surrounded him, Jackson managed to leave behind one of the most impressive catalogs in the history of music. Rarely has an artist been so adept at communicating the vitality and vulnerability of the human condition: the exhilaration, yearning, despair, and transcendence.” Amen.
Armond White. “In MJ’s Shadow.” New York Press. June 30, 2009.
Part eulogy, part retrospective, part cultural criticism, offers a New York film critic’s overview of Michael Jackson’s career and media coverage.
Anne Wollenberg. “Black or white.” Art & Humanities Research Council. June 24, 2014.
Drawing on the work of Harriet Manning (whose doctoral research was funded by the AHRC), discusses how Michael Jackson challenged the long history of blackface minstrelsy in his art. Also provides a good introduction to Harriet’s book, Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask, for those who haven’t had a chance to read it.
Black or White
Barbara Kaufmann. “Black or White: The Series Intro” (part 1 of 8). Inner Michael. April 5, 2011.
Provides wonderfully in-depth analysis and interpretation, as well as placing the video within a historical and cultural context.
The MJ Academia Project. “You Remind Me of a Black Panther.” YouTube. November 13, 2011.
Connects this video with resistance to racial oppression throughout Michael Jackson’s work, while showing how it draws on and supports the work of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers. (Unfortunately, this documentary video is not available at this time. However, a transcript is available here.)
Blood on the Dance Floor
Joe Vogel. “Michael Jackson’s ‘Blood on the Dance Floor,’ 15 Years Later.” The Atlantic. March 21, 2012.
Tells “the strange story behind the global hit.”
Joe Vogel. “Michael Jackson, Dangerous, and the Reinvention of Pop.” Pop Matters. September 28, 2011.
Reevaluates the significance of the Dangerous album, claiming that, “contrary to conventional wisdom, by the end of 1991, Nirvana was as much ‘pop’ as Michael Jackson—and Michael Jackson was as much ‘alternative’ as Nirvana.”
Don’t Be Messin’ ‘Round
Joe Vogel. “The Story Behind Michael Jackson’s Infectious, Newly Released Song.” The Atlantic. June 5, 2012.
Provides historical background for the first single from the new Bad 25 album, while providing insights into Michael Jackson’s complex process for creating songs and albums.
Joe Vogel. “Remembering Michael Jackson: The Story behind His Magnum Opus.” Huffington Post. June 24, 2011.
A sneak peak at Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus – and a good introduction to the book if you haven’t read it.
Barbara Kaufmann. “What’s in a Little Ghosts Story?” (part 1 of 3). Inner Michael. July 26, 2010.
Provides analysis and historical context for Ghosts – both the film and the songs it contains: “2 Bad,” “Ghosts,” “Is It Scary.”
Aric Clark. “How White Privilege Misled Me About Michael Jackson’s HIStory.” Two Friars and a Fool. December 26, 2014.
Addresses white discomfort with black anger, and suggests that discomfort was an underlying cause for the dismissive response by many white Americans to the HIStory album when it came out. Now, in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Clark (a pastor) questions his own biases and arrives at a new appreciation for HIStory and for the righteous anger Michael Jackson expresses through it.
The MJ Academia Project. “As Jacked as It Sounds, the Whole System Sucks” (part 1 of 2). YouTube. February 10, 2012.
Situates the HIStory album as a response to the 1993 scandal, showing how it rewrites existing cultural narratives and pushes back especially hard against the narratives being imposed on him. For example, the trailer video promoting HIStory closely parallels a 1935 Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, but completely subverts its message: instead of promoting fascist ideology, it undermines that ideology and supports the dispossessed. Also looks at Scream, “D.S.,” “Money,” Earth Song, “Tabloid Junkie,” “Little Susie,” and “HIStory.” (Unfortunately, these documentary videos are not available at this time. However, a transcript of Part 1 is available here and a transcript of Part 2 is available here.)
Joe Vogel. “Exclusive: Inside Michael Jackson’s ‘Hollywood.'” Huffington Post. March 14, 2011.
Traces the long history of “Hollywood Tonight” as a song and video, providing interesting clues about Michael Jackson’s original vision and how that translated into the version included on the Michael album.
Man in the Mirror
Rembert Browne. “Rembert Explains the ’80s: Michael Jackson at the 1988 Grammy Awards.” Grantland. February 28, 2013.
A funny, heart-warming, moment-by-moment analysis of one of Michael Jackson’s greatest performances: “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Man in the Mirror” at the 1988 Grammys. As Browne says, “This might be the most beautiful performance of our most beautiful song.” The perfect pick-me-up if you’re feeling down, it’s also filled with small insights guaranteed to reveal details of this amazing performance you never saw before.
Ryan Kristobak. “Michael Jackson’s Isolated Vocals for ‘Man in the Mirror’ are Raw Emotion.” Huffington Post. December 6, 2013.
OK, so this isn’t an article, just a paragraph, but that paragraph is sandwiched between two versions of “Man in the Mirror”: one with the vocal tracks only, followed by the full version we all know. It’s one of his most familiar works but, as Kristobak writes, “you’ve never heard it this way before. Stripped of all accompaniment, Jackson’s vocals are allowed to shine even brighter.”
Joe Vogel. “Michael Jackson: Man in the Music, Part 2 (Morphine).” Huffington Post. June 27, 2009.
Joe Vogel at his best, providing both historical context and wonderful analysis while showing why “Morphine” is one of Michael Jackson’s “most experimental and brilliant creations.”
One More Chance
Charles Thomson. “Michael Jackson’s ‘One More Chance’: A Dream that Turned into a Nightmare” (part 1 of 4). Sawf News. November 30, 2010.
Provides interesting historical information about the creation of this video, including interviews with Jackson associates and crew members involved in production.
Joe Vogel. “Michael Jackson: Man in the Music, Part 4 (Tabloid Junkie).” Huffington Post. July 2, 2009.
Identifies “Tabloid Junkie” as “a full-fledged indictment of the news media” and answers critics’ facile dismissal of works like these “as examples of Jackson’s persecution complex,” asserting instead that “Jackson, in this rather ambitious track, is singing truth to power on an issue with relevance far beyond his personal life.”
They Don’t Care about Us
B.D. Anderson. “Sony Hack Re-ignites Questions about Michael Jackson’s Banned Song.” Kinja. December 17, 2014.
Traces media and public reaction to one of Michael Jackson’s boldest protest songs, from a harshly critical and “disingenuous” article in The New York Times by Bernard Weinraub (husband of Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal) condemning it as anti-Semitic to its recent adoption by Black Lives Matter protesters who see it for what it is: “Jackson’s statement against abuse of power and the political corruption that enabled it.”
The MJ Academia Project. “Some Things in Life They Just Don’t Want to See.” YouTube. December 23, 2011.
Places both videos – the Brazil version and the prison version – within the context of White oppression and Black resistance, including connections with Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and the percussion band Olodum. (Unfortunately, this documentary video is not available at this time. However, a transcript is available here.)
Joe Vogel. “Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982).” Library of Congress. 2014.
Written for the Library of Congress, this article situates us in 1982 and attempts to recapture the excitement and significance of the Thriller album when it was first released – a time when cassette tapes and the Sony Walkman were changing the way people listened to music.
We are the World
Michael Miller. “‘We Are the World’ on Its 30th Anniversary: 5 Things to Know.” People. January 25, 2015.
Includes fascinating video clips taken behind the scenes 30 years ago, such as the “bridge people” (Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, and Kim Carnes) working out their section. One especially fun moment is an impromptu singalong of “Day-O” for Harry Belafonte, who originally conceived of gathering a “supergroup” of artists to raise money for famine relief in Africa.
The Media, Public Perceptions, Legal Issues
D.B. Anderson. “The Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the Politics of #BlackLivesMatter.” The Baltimore Sun. December 9, 2014.
Views Michael Jackson’s activism within the context of recent protests about police abuse of power against black citizens, and posits the police handling of the charges against him as a backlash to his activism: “For in speaking truth to power, Jackson made himself a target. … No one ever seems to connect the dots: A very vocal, very influential, very wealthy black man was taken down by a white prosecutor on trumped-up charges.”
David Berreby. “Jackson Wasn’t Normal. So What?” Huffington Post. July 9, 2009.
Places our ideas about “normal” within a historical context, then considers what Michael Jackson’s life would have been like if he had been statistically average. Includes this wonderful line: “Everyone’s life has moments that feel very far from normal, and those moments just happen to be when we feel most human, most alive, and most ourselves.”
Tanner Colby. “The Radical Notion of Michael Jackson’s Humanity.” Slate. June 24, 2014.
States that “Empathy is the quality that’s missing from virtually everything ever written about Michael Jackson. We glorify him or we vilify him or we pity him or we take his changing appearance and we use it as fodder for theories about race and gender—the highbrow equivalent of the objectification you’ll find in the tabloids. We do all of this, but we do not attempt to understand him.”
Susan Fast. “Difference that Exceeded Understanding: Remembering Michael Jackson (1958-2009).” Popular Music and Society. May 2010.
Notes that Michael Jackson’s differences – meaning his extreme talents – were what drew us to him, then offers more compassionate interpretations for what she calls “his other, less embraceable differences” that led many to turn against him.
Mary A. Fischer. “Was Michael Jackson Framed?“ GQ. October 1994. Republished by The Floacist on August 27, 2007.
Investigates the evidence surrounding the 1993 allegations – one of the few investigative articles about the actual evidence ever published in the mainstream press.
Forbes Everett Landis. “Does the American Dream Have to Die with Michael Jackson?” Hub Pages. Undated.
Raises an interesting question: Will our children still strive to succeed when they see how viciously we attack those who succeed?
Charles D. Martin. “The Racist Freak-Show Origins of ‘Wacko Jacko.'” YouTube. October 24, 2009.
Provides a detailed – perhaps too detailed – account of public fascination with Michael Jackson’s changing body, and in Dr. Martin’s words, places this within “the context of 19th-century white Negro exhibition.”
Tom Mesereau. “Defending Michael.” Daily Journal. July 1, 2009.
An overview of Michael Jackson’s 2005 trial written by the ultimate insider: his lead attorney, Tom Mesereau. Mr. Mesereau has spoken and written fairly extensively about the trial, and his articles are available here on his website. His website also includes a number of videos about the trial, including his fascinating talk at Harvard Law School on November 29, 2009.
Tom Mesereau. Forward to Michael Jackson Conspiracy. Nebraska: Aphrodite Jones Books, June 1, 2007.
Provides important insights into media coverage of the trial, such as this: “More accredited media from around the globe covered this trial than the total number of reporters who covered the O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson trials combined. … If Michael Jackson had been sent to prison, it would have generated more media coverage than any event in history. Billions of dollars hung in the balance.”
Ayana Soyini. “How Michael Got Gangsta with Sony Music over Black Music and Racism.” Golden Eyes Online. July 2002. Republished by Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner on June 30, 2009.
Exposes discrepancies between the July 9, 2002, music industry summit in Harlem as observed by the author, who attended the event, and how it was characterized and largely discredited in the media.
Charles Thomson. “Conjuring a Chorus of Boos: The Truth About Michael Jackson’s UK Comeback.” Charles Thomson [blog]. November 17, 2013.
Looks at media coverage of the November 2006 World Music Awards, and through video footage and his own first-hand experience shows that media representations of this event – specifically, the audience’s reaction to Michael Jackson – was a “purely fabricated story.” Then considers the larger implications. As Thomson writes, “Witnessing the creation of the myth … was a shocking and saddening insight into the media’s more sinister machinations.”
Charles Thomson. “FBI File Reveals Attempt to Convict Jackson with Racist Law.” The Diary of a Fledgling Reporter. January 3, 2010.
Describes how the Mann Act has been used against Black celebrities such as Chuck Berry and boxer Jack Johnson, and how the Los Angeles Police Department pushed the FBI to prosecute Michael Jackson under the same law.
Charles Thomson. “FBI Files Support Jackson’s Innocence; Media Reports Otherwise.” The Diary of a Fledgling Reporter. January 2, 2010.
The title says it all. Thomson requested Michael Jackson’s FBI files under the Freedom of Information Act, and discovered page after page with “NOTHING” written across the top. Every allegation the FBI investigated was found to be baseless. As Thomson writes, “That Jackson’s life was dissected and his behaviour was investigated for more than 10 years by two major law enforcement agencies and not one piece of evidence was ever produced to indicate his guilt speaks volumes.”
Charles Thomson. “Michael Jackson: It’s Time for Media Outlets to Take Responsibility in Covering the Rock Star.” Huffington Post. March 2, 2010.
Specifically looks at how the media covered two contradictory stories: Gene Simmons’ claims of insider knowledge about allegations against Michael Jackson, versus an interview with long-time tour guitarist Jennifer Batten along with additional fact-checking that clearly show Simmons’ claims were false. More generally, presents this as an example of systemic media bias against Michael Jackson.
Charles Thomson. “One of the Most Shameful Episodes in Journalistic History.” Huffington Post. June 13, 2010.
Written five years after the 2005 trial, offers a very detailed look at specific media biases and failures in covering that trial and the verdict that followed.
Charles Thomson. “Video: Thomas Mesereau Interview.” The Diary of a Fledgling Reporter. October 17, 2011.
Audio recording of Tom Mesereau, Michael Jackson’s lawyer during the 2005 trial, briefly describing the case, the prosecution’s “hubris,” the intense media bias, and the financial reasons behind that bias.
Joe Vogel. “‘Am I the Beast You Visualized?’: The Cultural Abuse of Michael Jackson.” Voices: Education Project. November 2, 2011.
Examines the pervasive media impulse to portray Michael Jackson as a monster, an “other” – as well as how he responded in what Vogel calls “his trio of late Gothic songs: ‘Ghosts,’ ‘Is It Scary,’ and ‘Threatened.'”
This is a great list. I do think it would be good to include Armond White’s ‘Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles.’ I found this book to be really wonderful and just right on with insights and so well-written and with such deep and powerful advocacy for MJ’s work.
Hi Aldebaran. I agree that Keep Moving is well worth reading, both for the insights it provides into Michael Jackson’s work, and to see how Armond White’s understanding and appreciation of his work evolved over time. (Keep Moving is a collection of articles White published about Jackson from 1986 to 2009. The first article, “Janet: the Last Black Jackson,” calls Michael Jackson’s “unprecedented popularity a vapid triumph,” and claims that What Have You Done for Me Lately and Nasty are far superior to “the enigmatic Billie Jean, the banal Beat It and the inept Thriller.” However, he soon develops a deep appreciation for Jackson’s videos, especially, and calls Black or White “one of the best music videos ever made – probably the outstanding film of 1991.” Not the outstanding video, but “the outstanding film.” And this from a celebrated New York film critic. That is truly high praise.)
The only reason Keep Moving isn’t included in the Reading Room is because you can’t read it online. We don’t have Joe Vogel’s books listed here for the same reason, or even Michael Jackson’s own books. We also don’t list articles that aren’t available online, or that are only available with a paid subscription. Everything in the Reading Room is free and available with the click of a button.
By the way, if anyone would like to order Keep Moving, here’s a link for how to do that: http://www.resistanceworks.blogspot.com/. It’s refreshingly low-tech – you just send a check for $13 directly to the author – and my copy came with a nice personal note. Very cool!
What Have You Done For Me Lately and Nasty superior to Billie Jean and Beat it? Wow, just wow. I don’t think many people would agree. I definitely don’t.
You know, I wonder if Armond White himself would agree. I tend to think he wouldn’t. After all, he wrote those words more than 25 years ago, and you can tell from the articles in Keep Moving that his thinking about Michael Jackson’s videos has evolved a lot over that time.
In fact, I was very interested in seeing how his ideas shifted over time. You know, some people – especially people whose opinions have been recorded in print – get locked into one point of view and refuse to reconsider. That isn’t the case here. I get the sense that Armond White is honestly engaging with Michael Jackson’s work, as well as his own conflicted feelings about Michael Jackson himself, and I really appreciate that honest and open engagement.
The other book I liked a lot was ‘The White Afro-American Body: A Cultural and Literary Exploration’ by Charles D. Martin, especially the chapter ‘White Negroes, Leopard Boys, and the King of Pop.’ I sent Willa a youtube on this. It refers to albinism and vitiligo in race relations and perceptions–very good and very relevant to MJ’s experiences (in my view).
To be honest, I’m really conflicted about this video. (Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=denCWHXbovw.) It does have some very important things to say, and it puts public fascination with “white Negros” within a historical context. But I also find it needlessly explicit and intrusive when describing the strip search, especially, and that makes me really uncomfortable. (But as Joie has told me on more than one occasion, I’m a bit of a prude….) It just feels to me that in some ways it enacts the same “salacious” phenomena it’s critiquing. But it does make some very important historical connections.
As I said, I’m really conflicted about this one….
Hi Aldebaran. First, thank you for suggesting this book. I am currently looking for it online and I can’t wait to read it.
I also want to say that I don’t share Willa’s uneasiness when it comes to this discussion. And she’s right when she says that I do call her a prude. Back when we were working on the Vitiligo post, she didn’t even want me to use the word ‘genitals’ because it made her uncomfortable! But, as I pointed out to her, I honestly don’t know how to get around any “real” discussion of the molestation accusations without touching on those private areas. Because, as this book/video you’ve recommended so beautifully points out, his private areas (genitals) are at the very heart of the whole sad tale.
Hello, everyone, enjoying all the discussions and such; this blog is such a valuable resource. Just have to add that I think Armond White’s book is great, too, and often overlooked.
My 2 cents on Charles Martin’s video is that it’s very informative (no, I’m not related to him!) and while perhaps a bit exoticizing at times, the pros far outweigh the cons. A tough issue like this merits a gritty discusssion. Willa, would you consider posting it to the site with a disclaimer stating your reservations? That way, your concerns are noted but others can benefit from the info?
Re the use of the term genitals, I agree with Joie that we can’t engage in a substantive, nevermind scholarly, discussion about vitiligo or the molestation charges without using what is after all a clinical term. Especially when black male sexuality is such a vexed issue not just in the US but all over the world – these are, after all, the terms of the debate. The strip search was abominable and I believe needs to be tackled head-on, not tip-toed around, despite hurt feelings. Any battle truly worth fighting necessitates discomfort and sacrifice, right? Look at how activists in the Arab Spring and environmental activists in China are putting themselves out there and confronting uncomfortable terms and practices….
As an anthropologist and fan, I must confess that sometimes it’s hard to have a thorough discussion with MJ fans about what was at the heart of much of the controversy surrounding him, and the public’s reception of him. I know a lot of us are still very sensitive to how he suffered from the media and the US legal system, and don’t want to inflict more judgment. But I have seen on some fan boards and blogs people say, “you can talk about this, but not that”….but some of what are in my opinion really rather arbitrary distinctions can shut down meaningful analysis, especially considering that MJ’s life narrative is embedded in his work, as he said himself. How can you fully engage with his work if you can’t fully engage with his life? I think we have to take the long view. “Respect” is a subjective notion, too, even among fans.
When I taught university students about MJ, I repeatedly noticed that they were far more willing to re-consider their biases about him when they felt free to air and ask questions that some fans would probably find extremely upsetting. I’ve seen how some of the knee-jerk defensiveness and hand-wringing about MJ by some fans can turn off potentially interested and sympathetic people from learning more about him.
I guess the very nature of fandom in general can make even ambivalence hard to accept, but I think people with ambivalent views can still play a productive role in helping us understand MJ’s phenomenon. (Relatedly, I like that Joe Vogel includes Margo Jefferson’s “On Michael Jackson” in his MJ Studies section on his site, despite Jefferson’s ambivalence about MJ. She has her right and her reasons to feel ambivalent MJ.).
Anyway, just my opinion, as I stated, and thank you to anyone who’s bothered to read this far! I apologize if I upset anyone with my candor. Joie and Willa, thank you again for creating this space.
Joie and I talked about this a lot last week, and we just added Dr. Martin’s video to the Reading Room.
I just want to say that, for me, the problem isn’t that he talks about the human body in explicit and detailed ways. (After all, I have a teenage boy in the house, so I’m certainly hearing my fair share of jokes about “man parts” these days. …) The problem is that he talks about Michael Jackson’s body in explicit and detailed ways. In a few places, it just feels intrusive and voyeuristic to me – which is interesting since public fascination with the bodies of “white Negroes,” especially the sexual aspects of those bodies, is the main target of his criticism in this video. That’s what I meant when I said, “in some ways it enacts the same ‘salacious’ phenomena it’s critiquing.”
You know, this is an ongoing issue for me, and I’ve struggled with it ever since I started writing M Poetica. I think it is very important to respect an artist’s privacy, and I’m especially sensitive to it in Michael Jackson’s case simply because media coverage of him was so intrusive and abusive. But what do you do when an artist’s public persona is part of his art? when his very body and the color of his skin is a work of art? when the scandals swirling around him become part of his art? Where do you draw the line between public and private in that case?
This is something I’ve wrestled with for two years now. I keep drawing a line and saying I’m not going to cross it – and then find myself drawn across that line. For example, I did not want to talk about the molestation scandal when I started writing M Poetica – in fact, didn’t want to know anything about it – and I actively fought that for months. But his later work constantly references what happened in 1993 and all the fallout from that. You simply can’t understand his later work if you don’t know what happened in 1993, and I couldn’t talk about his later work in any meaningful way without describing what happened.
So I know very well the complicated situation Dr. Martin is facing in making this video, and I know how difficult it is to try to negotiate that. This is a very important and challenging topic, and I’m glad he’s addressing it and taking on those challenges. I’m just saying that in certain places, I personally would have drawn the line between public and private in a different way, and granted Michael Jackson a little more privacy.
Hi, Thanks for posting the video–I am not sure if Dr. Charles Martin made the video or someone else–the images are from his book and the words quoted too. I did not find the video offensive but–I do understand how someone could. The book is very interesting and it is a broader study than one focused on MJ alone. I found it so good b/c it gives us a historical perspective–a context–that is needed to realize it was not just MJ who got the mockery, scrutiny, intrusive investigations into his body b/c of his vitiligo–and how vitiligo itself affects the conversation of racial differences and identity. It is sad to see MJ’s impassioned facial expressions trying to defend his innocence in the clips from his CNN press release 2 days after the strip search, and how it was dismissed by ‘experts,’ experts in twisting the truth. Why was there such disbelief regarding whether or not MJ even had vitiligo–boggles the mind–maybe he saw through all this when he sang, ‘Am I the beast you visualized?’ I once saw the ‘drawing’ that Jordan or Evan made–but not sure it was the real thing. It was very amateur and not detailed–but maybe what I saw was not the actual drawing. The humiliation was unbelievable and you can see in MJ’s face how upset he was.
I wanted to add a comment about Armond White. As Willa says, he did start out with one view of MJ in 1986 but did a complete turnaround. I would like to include a quote, if that’s ok: ‘MJ was such a fact of life for the past 40 years that the news media’s disrespect–as in journo’s demeaning ‘Jacko’–deprives the world of appreciating the wonder and depth of Jackson’s art. Critics regularly grant hero status to particular artists . . . [but] what word can adequately describe the world-changing creativity, astounding craft and miraculous precision of Jackson’s output?’ ‘In the waking reality of a world continually going mad, our loss of MJ’s presence was a cultural disaster and something more. Our compass point of feeling and aspiration came unmoored. . .’ Well, I could go on, but you can see how fervently he appreciated MJ.
Joie, when you do read the Charles Martin book, please let me know what you think about it. Thanks to you, Willa, and Sylvia for the discussions above of the complexities of respecting MJ’s privacy and also dealing with the allegations and how they affected him and his art. I agree with Sylvia that we need to tackle the issue head-on–yet at the same time, Armond White attacks media and music critics without going into more detail than general references to ‘scandal.’ So I guess there are many approaches to this.
Hey, Aldebaran – I just got my copy of Martin’s book in the mail. I’m going to dive right in this weekend! It looks fascinating. I’ll get back to you once I’ve read it.
If one is dissecting the media and/or legal discourse about the ’93 allegations, then “scandal” is not a precise enough term, as it does not relay the who, what, where, why, and how’s of what I think is a complicated scenario. If one is writing about MJ’s music or cultural impact in a general sense, then “scandal” may be a more acceptable approach.
Hi, Joie–I’m glad you got the book. It is pretty detailed as you can see– I learned a lot. Looking forward to your reactions.
I LOVE that David Berreby article. EXCELLENT. Thanks for posting the link!
Sanemjfan, on the site Vindicating Michael, recently did an excellent article on a dancer named Arthur Wright, a black entertainer whose experience with vitiligo and its consequences for his art is in many ways similar to Michael’s. The blog I’m referring to is entitled, “The Parallels between Michael Jackson, Arthur Wright, and Emily Juana Burke, Part 1 of 2 (part 2 of 2 is about Ms. Burke). Have you guys read it? Mr. Wright wrote a book about his problems and the treatment he received. I actually tried to buy it, but it is long out of print and thus rare and expensive. But David included lots of excerpts from it in his blog.
Hi, Kris–yes, I did see that piece–it is very interesting and really shows the physical and psychological traumas assoc. with being a Black person and dealing with vitiligo. There is also a book by Charles Martin called ‘The White African American Body,’ a historical overview that goes way back to Colonial times when Blacks with albinism or vitiligo were on display in saloons and fairs; he has a chapter on MJ. There is a youtube link to it in The Reading Room on this blogsite.
I also appreciated your comment about Obama being married to a Black woman and I thought about how MJ married 2 White women and how that made it harder for him with both Blacks and Whites.
There is a not so secret, undercurrent brotherhood of white males who find the very idea of an MJ highly objectionable. Not only because this black man had the audacity to become “King” of anything, married a white princess, and then even had the nerve to present the world with “white” babies. Black men have been deballed and lynched for far less. Such “brothers” wouldn’t even have to talk about what MJ deserves for overstepping the race-lines in so many ways. They would instinctively know how to bring him down slowly and agonizingly and without mercy. Nor would they allow MJ the legacy he deserves. Ever. To me, that’s the basis from which everything springs. Sneddon fits right in–as member, executor, and hero. This still is the land in which Emmett Till was tortured and killed for whistling at a white woman. It’s the main reason Mr. Obama is so intensely hated by so many. And it’s the reason many white men keep a loaded gun under the bed–they want to be ready for some imagined race war. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a mental health counselor. I wondered how he would set up a list of personal identifier that included his name, his sex, and his race. He put his race first, his sex second, and his name last. You’d think someone in his profession would be immune. We have a long way to go with securing Michael’s legacy, as the Sun’s recent English bodyguard-article demonstrates. Of course the Sun would say they’re just telling people what they want to hear. While I am grateful for the vindicatingmichael site, which explores and refutes the lows in our mission to restore Michael’s true legacy, I so appreciate this site for showing us the heights.
Hi, Kris–this is a link to an article in the Guardian UK website about a bi-racial family and they had twins–one twin was born Black and the other White. Interestingly, it was the White twin who got bullied in school, so much that his parents took him out. It is a very interesting article about the racial barriers in place. The kids bullied the White twin b/c they thought he was really Black yet appeared White–sort of like MJ and the dancer Arthur White. In school the teachers wanted the White twin to draw himself as Black–it was unreal.
Thanks for the link, aldebaran. I read the article. There’s something in what this family says–just by being who they are they are forcing others to come to terms with their own racism. The twins are a sort of measuring stick pointing out the misguided and often unconscious beliefs of others. In the same vein, have you seen the South-African film “Skin” about a white couple who had a black baby? In the time of apartheid, what followed was inhumane and absurd. I’m hoping that all this color-paranoia will die out in a couple of generations. Right now, few countries are immune.
Hi, Kris–I will check out that movie ‘Skin’–thanks for that. Yes, ‘color-paranoia’ is where we are right now–absolutely. It’s all projection of loaded meanings onto skin color.
@aldebaran–Along those lines, there is a film called “Powder” that reminds a lot of people of Michael’s dilemma. It’s about an albino white boy who was born with strange powers. He’s different, and in fact is kept secret from the world. He has to live in a basement, and when he finally comes out, he is hated and ostricized and totally misunderstood. I first ran across it in the comment section of MJJ’ site, found it on Netflix, and was amazed at the similarities.
I see I was wrong about Netflix. It’s on Youtube.
I’m just wondering why Parts 2 and 3 of Charles Thompson’s article “One More Chance” are not accessible. I only saw Parts 1 and 4. Not that I’m that excited about reading them, because Part 4 nearly brought me to my knees in sorrow over what Michael went through. BUT, I would like to know the entire story.
Hi ambwirt. That’s odd – I’m not sure why Parts 2 and 3 aren’t available. However, you can read all four parts as one article at Charles Thomson’s website. Here’s the link.
Thanks very much!