America Misses Michael Jackson!
This page originally appeared at http://members.aol.com/valsadie/mjessay.htm - see explanation for new location...
It's true! America misses Michael Jackson -- and what's more, we want Michael back!
Must I paint all of you a picture? Well, wait, I guess I must. This is the multi-faceted, multi-talented, multi-controversial Michael Jackson of which Im speaking...
African-American popular music singer Michael Jackson has almost always been talked about, especially during his meteoric career rise in the early 1980s. There were mostly comments deriding his appearance and manner. But the bulk of them were good-natured jokes; in an outspoken, clothes-make-the-man kind of country like America, anyone who chooses to talk in whispers and dress in pants barely reaching his ankles is truly asking -- nay, begging -- for ridicule! And we won't even discuss the floppy black fedora, and the sparkly quasi-military/Sgt. Pepper's/bandleader uniforms and single sparkly white glove which defined his persona back then. Greet Michael Jackson --the King of Sequins!
And his choosing to have children as his constant companions -- from the anonymous to the famous -- seemed to point to no more than a continued immaturity on his part. Deep down, we all sympathized with Michael's attempts to experience a childhood he was very publicly robbed of while being the lead singer of one of the most influential R&B groups in the world, the Jackson Five, during the 1970s. But it was still just another chuckle, another potshot to take at the man who, when attending the Grammy Awards in 1984 and becoming its most lucrative single-show recipient (a record he still holds as of 1999), attended with statuesque model/actress Brooke Shields -- and then television star, kid actor Emmanuel Lewis. It was all just more eye rolling.
The eye rolling did turn into quizzical looks as the 1980s wore on, with stories of Michael's wanting to buy the remains of the so-called "Elephant Man," wanting to buy a hyperbaric chamber, supposedly so that he could live to be 150, and on and on. But it was still just gossip and idle stories. If anything, these items just kept Michael's name in the papers. More jokes were made, though they seemed to be getting a little meaner.
Actually, the most startling development with Michael in the late 1980s was that he seemed to be growing lighter and lighter in complexion as time went on, something which he would not explain or even admit to at the time, and which sparked even more gossip and speculation and idle stories. By 1990, all of it left us with a picture of Michael as someone who seemed to be very out of touch with reality, someone whose excess of riches had led to an excess of eccentricities. Someone who, with the lightened skin and with the nose and chin plastic surgeries, seemed to be trying to turn himself into someone more Caucasian in appearance, which sounded a death knell to his status as a figure of acclaim in the African-American community. To some, to many, but it wouldnt be accurate to say to all.
At worst, we thought Michael was just very weird. His actual identity seemed vague and hazy and not well-formed (or was that not well-informed?), but he was still held to be a decent person and not a real harm to anyone.
That all ended in the fall of 1993. On the eve of Michaels full-scale world tour, which celebrated his nearly fifteen years of adult solo career success, he was accused of sexual abuse of a child. The child, a thirteen-year-old boy, had been, along with his mother and sister, among Michaels traveling companions that year, including being with him at the World Music Awards held in Monaco in 1993. The event had been shown on television here in America, on the ABC network, in the spring. Nearly every reaction shot of Michael sitting in the audience and there were several, as Michael was very purposefully placed in the front row and received a good handful of the awards presented that evening as well featured the accusing boy sitting on Michaels lap.
A pretty damning image...
I remember looking at it when it aired and thinking a little disparagingly of Michael but certainly not in the way in which he was later accused. I was thinking that Michael certainly had a lot of nerve having a kid on his lap that wasnt even his. If I were that kids father, Id be mad as hell to turn on my TV and find the world seeing my kid on some other guys lap--!
A prophetic thought...?
And 1993 started so well. Finally, Michael seemed to be facing up to all the confusions surrounding his person and persona and was responding to them. In 1993, Michael sat down face to face with famed TV personality Oprah Winfrey and answered questions in a live one-and-a-half-hour interview (something which Id then thought about as probable as Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan leaving basketball to try his hand at playing professional baseball... and we all know how that turned out). Before the interview, hed given an impassioned, thoughtful speech in his acceptance of the 1993 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards that year. Michael seemed to finally be coming out of his Neverland shell.
But the child abuse accusation pushed Michael back into that shell. And as 1993 became 1994, the legitimate media -- which had initially supported Michael in his fight against the allegations -- seeing their circulation and viewer numbers dropping in the wake of the tabloid medias focus on the more sensational facets of the case, changed direction and then took the lead in presenting speculations and a string of untried statements, both from Michaels former employees and his estranged sister, La Toya, as fact. It was a textbook definition of a media feeding frenzy. Each new speculation from a tabloid newspaper such as The National Enquirer easily became the lead story on the more-respected network evening news. No one questioned the motivations of any of these participants, and Michaels continued denials seemed to go unheard. In 1994, Michael came back to an America that no longer regarded him as just a little weird, but to a place where he was considered to be among the very worst of humanity. It no longer mattered if he was innocent or not. It had been decided in the court of public opinion that he must be guilty, that any child hed ever been seen with must also be a victim of sexual molestation, that Michael must have carried on for years sexually abusing children.
Michaels disillusionment with America can only be very real.
In 1994, when Michael saw the machinations of the grand jury that was convened, and how the speculations of the media were being allowed to filter into the courtroom and were coloring every statement, every action, every deed hed ever performed, he understood the enormity of the damage to his persona, his person, his career.
At the time, we were shocked that Michael decided to settle out of court. It was assumed that Michael would be some kind of combination Rambo/General Patton and fight them on the beaches of both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, the two court districts in which he was accused. To many and I mean, many Michaels decision to settle out of court was held to be indicative of his guilt. Why would he pay so much money to someone if he wasnt guilty? Conversely, in a perverted way of thinking, the motivation of the accusing boys family was never questioned. It was assumed that receiving $20 million or so (as it was widely reported but not yet proven) should be able to cure any wounds or trauma suffered by the boy. Why wouldnt you take any money thats being offered to you for free, no matter what the circumstances?
It was a sick time in America.
And so Michael has continued his career outside of America. Michael agreed to let Sony release the long-delayed double-album greatest hits set called, HIStory in 1995, with one disc of Michaels previous hit songs and one whole disc of new material. In 1997 came the tandem album, Blood on the Dance Floor, a set of remixes of the new songs on HIStory. Both sold respectably. But they werent superstar act numbers. There was now a moral component out there, as no wanted to buy the music of someone thought to be guilty of such a heinous crime no matter that this guilt was never proven in a court of law, only out of the mouths of pressured and roundly irresponsible journalists. For the first time, Michael launched a full-scale concert tour -- complete with incredible set pieces, with fireworks, a light show, magic tricks, with an exciting piece of computer animation, explosions, in-jokes (At one point, Michael strides out on the stage carrying a suitcase. He very deliberately sets the suitcase on top of a stool, opens it, and then takes out the aforementioned black fedora and sequined glove. He dons them and then bursts into a rousing version of Billie Jean. What a showman!) and never played one date in mainland America, just a few dates in distant Hawaii.
It also seems that Michael may continue his life outside of America; it was reported in USA WEEKEND newspaper in late 1998 that Neverland Ranch is for sale.
Only now is America seeing the error of its ways. With the advent of the internet, Matt Drudge, and Kenneth Starr, were starting to understand that when you play with fire when you toss around someones reputation like its a hot potato you get burned. America is currently facing the possible removal of its elected leader, President Bill Clinton. Despite the facts of the case, the path which has led us there can only be described as stultifyingly mucky, muddy, and low.
Also, the shocking accidental death of Diana, Princess of Wales, due to a fatal car crash in 1997, which is suspected to have been caused in some way by the tabloid photographers chasing her, has proved particularly sobering.
Its still never been proven whether Michael Jackson was guilty of the crime of which he was accused. Michael himself has moved on; hes now the father of two children of his own, with his second wife, Debbie Rowe-Jackson. By most reports, theyre a happy couple, with two children who should never want for anything. By other reports, his wife is merely a salaried employee, paid well to sire two children of the self-proclaimed King of Pop. Moreover, Michael is supposedly going broke due to having to pay off other secret child abuse allegations and lawsuits.
Some people havent yet learned.
Ironically, America could use an entertainer like Michael right now. And I dont mean that particularly musically. Certainly current musical artists like Garth Brooks, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Sean Puffy Combs, the Spice Girls, and Shania Twain have achieved Michael-like dimension in their careers, while Michaels 1980s contemporaries Madonna and (the artist formerly known as) Prince continue to have some presence. Longtime artists like the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Cher, Kiss, and Aretha Franklin continue to meet new challenges along with younger counterparts like Whitney Houston, Michaels sister Janet Jackson, the Beastie Boys, Will Smith, and George Michael, while comparable upstarts like Master P, Brandy, Lauryn Hill, Hole, Marilyn Manson, Usher, Jay-Z, and the Backstreet Boys always seem to be around the corner, reminding us to keep a look out for the new crop. But thats kind of the point. The music business has changed, and its all so splintered now. You couldnt have a Michael Jackson these days, the entire apparatus of the music industry is different. Michaels music cut across so many Americans of various ages, races, and cultures, unifying them. In this time of uncertainty and doubt of the future of the leadership in our country, when it seems our elected officials arent listening to their constituents and are seizing power for themselves, we could use some semblance of unity in our country. At one time, Michael certainly provided that. Now that we could use it again, its seemingly gone forever.
So its my contention that America misses Michael Jackson, misses that time of unity and we want Michael back! You dont have to look very far to see earmarks of this. Sure, Michael is still the target of a cheap joke every now and then, but Ive noticed a handful of occurrences now where Michaels name and image have been invoked not only without such scorn, but also with much admiration and celebration.
Just watch one of the surprise hit films of late 1998, Rush Hour. The films star, Chris Tucker, refers to Michael in a handful of the films lines and even performs some of Michaels signature dance moves.
The USA TODAY newspaper, in their 1999 review of the book, 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium, mentioned that Michael Jackson was among some of the other most famous names of the 20th century inexplicably altogether missing from the books pages.
Plucky 1996 Olympic Gymnast Amanda Borden currently has in her repertoire a floor routine performed to the music of Michaels Thriller-era hits, complete with flourishes of the choreography found in the Beat It video. She was cheered to high marks in an early 1999 competition with this routine.
Perhaps the most telling was a performance I witnessed from professional figure skater Viktor Petrenko. One of his artistic long programs in this 1998-1999 season is performed to a medley of Michaels songs, which spans songs from Billie Jean to You are Not Alone. And Viktor even dresses the part! This Russian figure skater, the last male Olympic champion under the old, stolid communist U.S.S.R., skates this routine which includes skating moves mimicking Michaels moonwalk, pop-locking, and pelvic thrusts while wearing (the now infamous!) black fedora and white sequined glove! Viktor performed this routine at a show in Las Vegas in late 1998 and was honored with a thunderous standing ovation!
Even on the flip side, when Michael is invoked in order to make those cheap jokes, lately the results have been more eye-opening than eye-rolling. The Fox television show, MadTV, has consistently performed sketches ridiculing various aspects of Michael (proving they have at least some kind of fascination with him). But on Halloween in 1998, an otherwise derisive running sketch on the show which climaxed with a confrontation between one of the shows cast members portraying Michael and the actual four members of the rock band Kiss, doing a guest appearance on the show, ended with Kiss member Ace saying the lines, Hell be back. He always comes back.
Now if that isnt food for thought, I dont know what is.
I dont pretend that this is all quarters heard from concerning Michael. But clearly were becoming aware of a void, of knowing that something that used to be there is now gone. Weve started to remember and revalue what it is that Michael Jackson brought to America and his contribution to popular culture. Hopefully, its not too late for us that all well have of Michael is those memories, that in some way Michael will be able to finish what he started. Michael is not dead (sadly, like some music artists we could all name), nor has he made any real decisions that have damaged his career and credibility (likewise some other musical artists we could all name). In other parts of the world, Michael is still thriving and inspiring audiences to much acclaim and applause. Its time to let go of all the confusion and cheer not only those who invoke Michael, but Michael himself. Michael deserves to let his career subside here in America on its own, and not let it be that it was cut short due to the abnormal events of the 1990s.
Michael, can you ever forgive us? Come on home!
Val's List of Update Links
President Clinton was acquitted of the perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges by the U.S. Senate in February 1999.
Even Michael could be mistaken about how much plastic surgery he's had; Michael's famous plastic surgeon, Dr. Steven Hoefflin, has been accused of outright faking many of his operations on Michael (among other unscrupulous dealings... Read the entire legal complaint)
Michael has won the latest court case involving the molestation charges. A lawsuit from the father of the boy was settled in arbitration in favor of Michael. E! Online pointed out that two previous cases, one against (the infamous!) Victor Gutierrez and another against a group of former employees, both claiming evidence of Michael's guilt in one way or another, have both failed once brought to judge and jury.
Debbie Rowe-Jackson filed for divorce from Michael on October 8, 1999, citing "irreconcilable differences." Call it cynical, but there was a Michael Jackson/Debbie Rowe Divorce Watch web page.
Michael was showered with accolades at the close of 1999, including netting the top spot of the MTV/TV Guide 100 Greatest Videos Ever Made list with "Thriller," and was also recognized by "Entertainment Weekly" magazine (who truly skewered Michael in the more hectic moments of the child abuse allegations in 1993-94) by being positioned number eight on their 100 Greatest Entertainers list (in fact, their write-up on this sounds a lot like my essay here; see the excerpt in my forum).
Michael Jackson News Links
You can always find out the latest news by checking out the Yahoo! News Full Coverage - Michael Jackson page.
The Official Source for Michael Jackson News and Information
MTV News: Michael Jackson Headlines
Launch.com Artist Information - Michael Jackson
MJNI - MJ News International
Canoe, Canada's Internet Network: Michael Jackson News
Michael Jackson Online - International Fanclub
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This page was originally published on America Online on
February 8, 1999. Date of last update: 07/30/2009. Web site created
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This page was originally published on America Online on February 8, 1999. Date of last update: 07/30/2009. Web site created entirely by firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 1999-2010.
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