Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Michael Jackson, in further review

So, in the weeks since Michael Jackson's death, I've really had to revise my opinion. In my original analysis, I was too quick (so soon after his death!) and too callous about the cycle of abuse. In many ways, I placed a victim of serious abuse, who had been glorified and terrorized by America in the place of BAD PERSON PERIOD.

The day before his death, my fella and I had had an hourlong conversation on Jackson, in which we judged him harshly for his nonstandard appearance and abuse of children. And I stand by my latter judgment - it should not be made invisible, and should be noted in discussions of his accomplishments (and it was, by those more authoritative on the subject than I). In hearing and percieving the news of his death, I was in the context of a conversation that was not kind to Jackson, and was slightly racist/ableist (who am I to judge how Jackson navigates vitiligo?)

But I was not in the habit of loving his music, as I have quite suddenly in the last few weeks. This is why I'm revisiting the topic, after so many words dedicated to Jackson. In my immediate review, I underestimated the genius of his work in a serious way:

The man was a defining voice in the last century, and he is still immediate and current. These are the songs that folks will be listening to in 200 years. These songs are genius in and out of the context of era and career.


I know this post comes after too much energy has been spent on Jackson, but I want to revisit because I don't want my last post to be my last word on Jackson. The inspiration came from Siddity, who today tipped me off on this sci-fi esque classic from the Jacksons:

And I found this funky tune on my own:

It may look like my cursor around the turn of the century. But Jackson in 1978, with the discordant afro and familiar but no less impressive moves, is quite an unexpected joy. Before the beauty and ruination of his solo career, but after the pain of his abusive and exploitative childhood, Jackson's vocal talent and astounding physical grace is apparent, as it ever was:


  1. One of the things I so admire about you is your ability to revisit a topic a second time to offer a new take on it. RMJ, you rock my girly socks.

    I have to admit that I'm a bit sick of all the MJ stuff, although I do appreciate intelligent dialogue such as the one you've created here. My (probably completely un-PC) take on his life and death is that he was an unbelievably talented person who had some serious issues over his lifetime which weren't ever addressed constructively. Add crazy media attention from a very young age, and you've got a recipe for a damaged person. In some ways it seems as though he coped with the shit life threw at him in the best ways he knew how - though some coping mechanisms may or may not have bordered on the criminal. I've never been sure what to make of him as a person, but all I ever really gave a shit about in the first place was his music.

    (Sorry for the rambling comment - it's 1:30am here right now!)

  2. That's actually a great way to put it, Girl. He had a lot of issues - some of them were internal and some of them were externally imposed.

    Thanks for the kind words and all the comments this week!

  3. Wow, that's really cool that you examined your prior comments like that! One thing I've been thinking in the last few weeks about Michael Jackson is all the cruelty he faced long before the molestation allegations, and it made me think of something a progressive feminist psychologist once said in a presentation about the inner city youth she worked with. She said that a lot of the kids turn to crime in part because all their lives, they see people's actions not corresponding properly to the consequences of those actions. They see gangsters literally getting away with murder and having the most money in their neighborhoods, they see innocent kids getting gunned down, and in the end they have very little concept of why being good matters, or why you shouldn't commit crime.

    If you look at MJ's life, you see a lot of that going on, albeit in a different way. He raised awareness of starvation in Africa and donated loads of money to charity, and people called him crazy and made fun of him for that and for things he may or may not have done that, at any rate, weren't really hurting anybody. For example, the hyperbaric chamber business, which I've heard was actually some piece of equipment for burn victims. Even if it really was some sort of oxygen tank thing, who gives a shit, unless you're arguing from an environmental standpoint regarding the waste it would take to make and possibly run the thing? (Which, of course, the tabloids could care less about.) He was basically derided for being different, even when helping people, and while nobody will ever know the truth of the later things he may or may not have done which obviously would matter and would be incredibly harmful, I have to wonder if it's not too much of a stretch to say that his experiences in life didn't exactly give him much incentive to do the right thing. Not that it's an excuse, but more an explanation. Which of course, is a great lesson on why we should all keep our criticisms of people to the things that really matter, and not get all tangled up in what society tells us is "weird" or "different" about them. I think there's an entire gigantic book waiting to be written on the ways in which racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism (with the vitiligo thing) all contributed to people's hatred and fear of Michael, and how the very same people who would defend Kobe Bryant, R. Kelly or William Kennedy Smith to the death take such great glee in pillorying MJ for the exact same things -- for those people (obviously not feminists like yourself who are consistent about these things!) it's not really about concern for children or abuse victims, it's about having a great excuse to tear apart someone who they hated anyhow, who they hated more for being different than anything else.

    In more amusing commentary, my Pandora weirdly started playing Smooth Criminal while reading this entry, which it's never played before! When I decided to go look for the lyrics to the song, my computer suggested a search I did a few weeks ago for "smoothie on keyboard." Now I am laughing because that was the day I literally spilled an entire Odwalla smoothie on my keyboard. (And still rehabilitated it! You just rinse the keyboard off thoroughly and let it dry for 1-2 days!)

  4. Sekhmet, thanks for the really insightful comment! This kind of content is really helpful. I hope you stick around!


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