This is a defense of pop’s own King-turned-martyr. Jackson has suffered DIED for our sins and we must repent!

To begin with–and this is an important premise to clarify–I don’t believe Michael Jackson is a child molester. I am aware this is a very fringe disposition, likely to be discarded as wishful thinking, but nevertheless I stand by my convictions. Michael Jackson may not be the most normal dude you’ll ever encounter, but the presumption that he’s an absolutely unhinged raving psycho is all hype. It’s clear to anyone whose interest in Michael Jackson extends beyond the front page of The Enquirer that he isn’t a drooling mad man. Even if his childlike persona is troubling and quite frankly self-indulgent, Jackson is capable of functioning within basic parameters of human logic. It would take someone far more deranged than Jackson to parade around the fact that they share their bed with children, should wrongdoing truly have been at hand. My sense is that Jackson is more out of touch than insane. He really does share his bed with children, and it is precisely because he didn’t take advantage of the situation that he feels quite at liberty to say so on international television.

And anyway it was only once he went to the media with this declaration of bed-related generosity, setting off a storm of speculation, did the mother of the alleged victim come forth accusing Jackson of sex-abuse. He’s such an easy target for this kind of accusation not only because he frolics around in the far away world of Never, Neverland where crying “pervert” is shaping up to be a lucrative cottage-industry, but because Jackson’s mutilated face is really all the proof any member of the court of public opinion needs to find him guilty (thank god our legal system works otherwise…sometimes).

Which gets me to the meat of my argument: Michael Jackson’s captivating physicality—the axis on which his fate is hinged. Ever since he was little Mikey Jackson, adorable lead singer of Motown’s The Jackson 5, he was made a into a spectacle by virtue of inhabiting a deviant body. Artistic merits aside (and they are considerable), the Jackson 5 are first and foremost a novelty act. Michael possessed a grown-up talent trapped inside the body of a 10 year old, and the thrill of this juxtaposition is the first in what would become a tradition of extraordinary physicality (more on this in a bit).

I’ve argued in one way or another over the course of my blog that teen idols are subject to what we define as “the male gaze”, casting them in continuous pantomime of bopper images in the fetishized role typically occupied by women. Additionally, the black body has a long history of being built into the spectacle of power in both overt and coded ways in the history of mass media (blackface minstrelsy is often regarded as the first instance of “pop culture” in America. Eric Lott’s superb book “Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class” is a must-read for those interested in the many ways the image and performance of the black body by both blacks and whites has been complexly (mis)used for both good and bad social purposes in American history).

Most importantly, as black people became blackface performers on the antebellum minstrel stage (“blacking up” and exaggerating stereotypes, often with costumes emphasizing the size of feet, or wearing wigs to parody hair etc.) a complex self-commodification takes place. In some instances, it isn’t clear just where the “authentic” culture ends, and the parody begins.

One would be hard pressed to fathom any act faker than the Jackson 5, who seldom even attempted to pass themselves off as “real”. While Michael aped the adult emotions of lost-love “Ooh, baby give me one more chance” or life-long devotion “Just call my name, and I’ll be there”, at 10 he was hardly trying to stake a claim on authenticity. Truly his ability to approximate was his prodigious talent.

His radiant smile—still his most endearing physical asset—never betrayed for a moment what we now know was an abusive and miserable childhood. The synchronized dancing of the J5 often featuring Michael (poignantly) performing “the machine”, was clearly strictly choreographed—presumably by his overbearing father or the artistic directors of Motown, both open in their agenda to appeal Michael to white fans.

It’s extreme to call this “blackface”, but I will go so far to propose there is an element of racial performativity here, a commodification of blackness that beckoned white fans to “come along on our soul plane”, or, “be our soul sister”, “come with us to Africa!” (16 headlines circa 1973) the product of calculated corporate design, to be performed daily by a coerced child on a world stage.

Jackson’s body is itemized in the 1974 pages of 16, not an unusual image for this magazine, but atypical for so young a star.
I have little doubt that all of theses socio-political intersections on his over-sexualized body as a child registered for Michael, especially since the spectacle of the body was overtly built into the J5 routine, a method not utilized so impressively in teen idoldom since Elvis (and not a choice of Michael’s design).

Below is a clip of a teenage Michael dancing with his brothers in a sketch that certainly fits a familiar template of 19th century blackface minstrelsy—the white man aping what is thought to be typically black movements and music for the sake of comedy, with the aid of the virtuosic black performer who conspires in his own trivialization:

One of the most surprising things I discovered sifting through the 16 Magazine archive was the primacy of Michael Jackson (and to a far lesser extent his brothers and sisters) in his early years. Until then there had not been a single black teen idol consistently featured in the mainstream (read: white) bopper forum. Like an atomic bomb in 1973 the Jacksons hit those pages with an unmatched barrage of black idol images marketed to white girls. This is no small feat given the hyper-sexuality, hyper-consumerist bent of bopper culture. The taboo of the “animalistic” black man encountering the “helpless/passive” white woman in a sexual context is one of the most pervasive and powerful myths in American culture (black men were lynched—and castrated—overwhelmingly on this charge in the Jim Crow south). It remains the premise for a great deal of racial fear and hatred of the black man, though in a contemporary era, acted out in more subtle ways. Recall if you will the smear campaign against Rep. Harold Ford in 2006. In overcoming the taboo, an important social border between races in America is for the first time on so large a scale transcended by none other than MJ. Even if the triumph was momentary, the importance of precedent cannot be overlooked.

If it’s unclear, the girls pictured are wearing J5 merchandise.

Before he was eligible to vote Michael Jackson was a pop idol trash-bin for cultural anxieties and desires contained in the repository of his prematurely sexualized body, and impressionable adolescent mind.

Which brings us to body modification. First of all, it should surprise no one that Jackson would have plastic surgery. Given his aforementioned femininized position in the public eye, his body image issues are no more evidence of psychosis than a woman subject to the same media scrutiny. I don’t feel his surgery up to Dangerous era compromised his physical appeal all that much (though the modifications were certainly unneeded). The plastic surgery while, let’s say, provocative, was not itself an insurmountable problem as of 1994 or so. It was the whole “becoming white” thing upon which we stumble and fall.

What’s that about? The totally easy way to go is to say, “he has racial hatred and could afford to do something about it.” To which I reply, “…well…yes”, but you and I both know, there is always more to it than that. Michael Jackson, for instance, was pained to orient himself as a figure in black culture. Consider his video for “Jam”, a visual catch-all for mainstream black pop culture in the early 90s culminating in the epic union of the two MJs:

Watch “Jam” here.
[Notice how often both Jackson and Jordan are silhouetted. Their bodies—opposite physiques in many ways—are so iconic they needn’t be more than outlined to be recognizable immediately.]

Could it be the case that Jackson’s skin bleaching has less to do with a wish to “become white” than it has to do with shirking the race-specific spectacle into which he was built as a child? He really does not appear to try and distance himself from black culture, but blackness as a physical attribute has been so central to his childhood exploitation; could it be the first large step toward self-disappearance? So much of his mutilations, after all, are the lessening of his body, what with his shrinking facial features, apparent underfeeding, and the removal of pigment, Jackson is piece-by-piece removing himself from a physical apparatus. Today when we see him in sunglasses, wigs, surgical masks, and blankets, wheeled around in a wheelchair when he’s perfectly capable of walking, we see that he’s obscuring his body from view and in some instances (his nose), from existence.

It’s one thing to be a showman with his glitter outfits, BANG, WOW, KAZAAM stage shows, his trillion “comebacks” and on and on, but I suspect that somewhere along the way, Jackson was able to compartmentalize his body as a commodity—out for rent, but not for sale. He does not give himself over as a physical being outside the realm of stage (the workplace). His elaborate costumes on stage directly contradict those of his lived existence. We often see these displays of proof of his insanity—I’d say his cover-up garb reflect an attempt at least to cling to whatever sanity he has left.

Now, what are we to make of the strange presence of the fan created Jackson “comeback trailers” on the internet? If you are not aware, there is a genre of youtube videos aiming, it seems, to mentally and emotionally prepare us for the mythic return of the King. Interestingly, few of these videos are set to the music of Michael Jackson. The prevailing format transposes footage of Jackson onto a comically grandiose score, highlighting magnitude of his star-power through a parade of Jacksonian iconography and indeed the arresting spectacle of his body:
[below are two examples, though there are many more like these to be found]

To be sure, his dance moves are notable but as Four-Eyes pointed out to me, they’re kinda repetitive (an observation with which I had to agree—though it pained me so!). Why are we still fascinated by these moves that at least one kid in every high school across America has mastered reasonably well? The innovation in dance is way past Jackson at this point, which seems to prove my point that Jackson’s body is compelling for a variety of reasons only one of which is his dancing ability.

Further, it’s hard to imagine any other pop star meriting “trailers” of this sort (admittedly, not even Michael Jackson does). What is this impulse to construct him as so absurdly epic a figure? Could it be, as I am tentatively supposing, that on the locus of his body an entire nation’s fears and dreams reside? To watch him deteriorate is to behold a spectacle of our own national corruption (pop cultural gluttony, objectifications and consumptions, racist legacies, and on) through the perversion of one of our most cherished stars. The notion that he could somehow comeback better than ever (an unlikely prospect if ever there was one), is to dream for the return of an idealized American past, that mythic time before we looked at ourselves and beheld something ugly.

The flip reaction, and by far the more popular, is to deny him altogether. In doing so, we deny our role in the system that (at least in part) made him what he is today. Left and right Jackson is called disgusting, disturbing and the like. I’d posit that the unpleasant feeling we have when we look at him today is not disgust at all; it’s guilt. If ever a person was not the marker but the bearer of meaning, it is Michael Jackson, which might explain how easily most of us have transitioned from life-long devoted fans to sneering observers spitting the word “freak” at the mere mention of him.

It is not so strange that Michael Jackson would have famously endeavored to purchase the bones of John Merrick otherwise known as “The Elephant Man”. It seems like the most natural thing on earth for Jackson to find solace in the company of another quite like himself.

In other words: Michael Jackson 4-evah.


Update: For a more in-depth discussion on defending Jackson’s behavior as of late (child molestation charges), I urge you to check the comments on this post! Miss Janey and Cara have certain objections that may be of interest to those hung up on the controversy.

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