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Archive for November, 2016

October 27, 2016 – November 28, 2016

Previously (in The Dangerous Diaries – Part 1, October 7 – 21, 2016), we discussed the concept of promiscuity in Michael Jackson’s femmes fatale songs, including “Billie Jean,” “Dirty Diana,” “Dangerous,” and “Blood on the Dancefloor.” However, I think this topic fully rewards a little more scrutiny than we afforded it in that discussion. In order to delve a little more deeply into this subject, we need to define the term as it is being used.

Miriam-Webster defines promiscuous as: 1. Having or involving many sexual partners; 2. Including or involving too many people or things: not limited in a careful or proper way. One of the synonyms listed for the word is indiscriminate; another is profligate, which has the definition: 1. Recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources, 2. Licentious, dissolute … and which lists promiscuous as a synonym.

Bingo!

If one searched for decades for a word to describe the early 21st Century, I suggest it would be difficult to find a more apt description than indiscriminate. As a matter of fact, I would like to propose that the term “Generation X” as a moniker for our cultural and societal afflictions be changed to “Generation I” with “I” being derived from the word indiscriminate while also describing our ego-based culture … or “Generation P” for promiscuous.

Let’s be totally honest and take a good, realistic look “in the mirror” for a moment: Ours is a promiscuous society. Many of our world’s problems, which are reaching (if they have not already surpassed) the critical stage, stem from our indiscriminate, profligate behavior. Many of Michael Jackson’s songs point to this definition of promiscuous.

We are promiscuous exploiters of the earth’s natural resources, rather than being careful, responsible stewards, which has led us to the brink of disaster he warns us about in “Earth Song” and “Heal the World” and “Planet Earth,” his beautiful love sonnet to the planet from which we all spring. “The planet is sick … like a fever,” he warned us in his last rehearsal for his O2 residence, This Is It. Instead of finding ways to feed our hungry, we waste billions of dollars transporting and sending millions of tons of unused food to the bottom of the ocean, thereby harming those we could feed as well as polluting the ocean with our unwanted surplus. Portion sizes in the United States are enough to feed two or three and what is not eaten is thrown away.

We are promiscuous, indiscriminate consumers of all manner of things from violence to food to drugs to sex to mind-numbing videogames, to media propaganda, all of which Michael Jackson warns us against in “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” through “Blood on the Dancefloor;” (the femmes fatale songs already treated in Part 1) from “Tabloid Junkie,” “Privacy,” “Scream,” “Why You Wanna Trip on Me” to  “Is It Scary;”from “Morphine” to “Superfly Sister,” from “Money” to “They Don’t Care About Us.”

When we do use our powers of discrimination, we use them irresponsibly against fellow members of our human family who aren’t like “us” for whatever reason – race, phenomenal talent or ability, creed, otherness, geographical location, economic viability, sexual orientation or difference. Michael Jackson does not back away from asking us to look at these issues with depth and sincerity while encouraging us to “make that change” in “Man in the Mirror,” “Black or White,” “Will You Be There” and “Keep the Faith.”

As a matter of fact, this promiscuous, indiscriminate, profligate consumption forms the basis and motivation of much of Jackson’s later work and he does not shy away from calling it what it is in his creative repertoire – promiscuity – although that fact seems to have escaped much of the world’s attention by an almost universal over-simplification of his work as displaying “paranoia,” “fear of women,” “childish rants and tantrums,” “sappy sentimentality,” “naïve idealism,” or “megalomaniacal tirades.” In my opinion, those ill-considered readings are interpretations which have long outworn their usefulness, if they ever had any relevance in the first place. When viewed from a slightly different perspective all of the songs listed in the above paragraphs (and possibly many others) have a foundation in warning us about our society’s indiscriminate waste and consumption … its promiscuity.

Context

One of the most fascinating and socially relevant ways to understand the complexity of Michael Jackson’s creative process, music, and short films is by analyzing it in the atmosphere in which each of his releases was composed and compiled and it is this concept that many of the most recent academic authors have done such a wonderful job of exploring in considerable depth and with the clear 20/20 vision of hindsight.

This trend began with Armond White upon the release of the short film for Black or White. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised to see Mr. White quoted so frequently by all of the more recent authors in the field of Michael Jackson Academic Studies. When I first read his collection of articles entitled Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles, I was unimpressed.

As a matter of fact, I must ashamedly confess to having fallen prey to the fault of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  His first article in the collection was entitled Janet, the Last Black Jackson and it and the next article focused almost entirely on Michael Jackson’s appearance and not in a favorable light. Mr. White attributed the changes in Michael’s physiological appearance as conscious efforts to satisfy the needs of a white-dominated industry … his tacit requirement to accommodate and assimilate into the white, patriarchal and hierarchical music industry as part of the “Black performers’ understood contract with the white-controlled world of show business.”

While I do not discount the fact that black entertainers certainly had to jump through many more hoops to achieve success in these industries than their white counterparts (and the publishing world often appropriated Black innovative expressions as originated by white artists and still does, i.e. Elvis Presley), I also have to remind myself that this article was written prior to the 1993 Oprah Winfrey interview (Ninety Prime Time Minutes with the King of Pop) during which Michael admitted to suffering from a “skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of my skin. It’s something that I cannot help.”

In all fairness, I must confess that Mr. White does, later, mitigate his earlier opinion somewhat with the words, “After viewing this [morphing] sequence [in the Black or White short film], it’s impossible to think of Jackson’s own facial changes as anything other than an attempt at transcendent humanity.”

In any event, I believe I may have just put Mr. White’s collection aside after reading the first two articles, failing to even read the remaining eighteen, in the belief that his offerings (like so many journalistic essays on Michael Jackson) bore very little in the way of factual information or any claim to actually deciphering his musical intentions with any degree of objectivity. I misjudged Keep Moving based on the first two offerings and put it aside as irrelevant.

So, I thought it would be fitting to begin this self-directed curriculum of study with an in-depth re-reading of the articles included in Mr. White’s booklet entitled Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles from a more objective, unprejudiced perspective. I am very glad to say that my re-reading has been fully justified and rewarded. In an academic study, it is not necessary to agree with every word an author writes; it is much more important to come to the study with an open-minded and unbiased willingness to give the author’s meaning the chance to be heard, sink in, and become part of the discussion between author and reader. Mea Culpa!

Mr. White admits that his perception of Michael Jackson changed over the years of his coverage of his career (approximately 1991 to 2009); addressing the change in the timbre of the articles included in his collection within the Introduction called “Moving Forward.” Unlike so many in the field of musical critique, Mr. White was little impressed with Thriller and BAD.  With the release of Dangerous, however, he describes his relationship with Michael Jackson as “changing from critical skepticism to sincere awe” and this transformation is manifest as a prominent feature in the articles included in the latter part of this compilation. The tone of “sincere awe” develops over the span of his coverage of Jackson’s releases throughout the 1990s.

Beginning in 1991 with his critique of the Black or White musical release and globally-broadcast short film, White’s critiques were, indeed, much more focused on Michael Jackson’s art, his delivery, his performance, his conviction, and his genius; calling the short film and the “panther coda” which accompanied its debut “the most significant gesture any American artist has made in years,” and “the best cinema of 1991 … easily superior to any short or feature length film released to the public that year.” He refers to Michael’s much-publicized apology and removal of the coda from subsequent broadcasts following the media-generated furor to the worldwide broadcast of the film as a capitulation to the “forces of repression” and calls the coda “Michael’s truth.”  White ends his critique of the short film with the words, “He’s already charmed the world; Black or White shows he has the courage to shake it up.”

In that last statement, Mr. White effectively, albeit obliquely,  refers to the change to which I pointed in the introduction to this study, which, in my opinion, was not so much a “coming of age” as an “expansion of consciousness.” He does not offer to what he attributes this change in the direction of Jackson’s art, but notes the more socially conscious “courage” required to “shake up” the world in passing, almost as an afterthought.

By the time of the release of Dangerous, Michael Jackson had discovered a supremacy and celebrity few have ever known with his early solo releases. Through the development of his God-given talents, his unwavering faith in those gifts, his punishing work ethic, his predatory curiosity, and his unstinting devotion to perfect execution, he had achieved a hitherto unparalleled success. However, with the release of the Dangerous album, Jackson looks around him at the world he inhabits and makes a conscious decision to address the many challenges he observes in his art … to use that celebrity in such a manner as to call attention to what he observes in the hopes of improving the condition of the human family.

In other words, there is a new commitment implied in Jackson’s later body of work. It’s no longer just about the sexy, young man with the golden voice dressed from head to toe in sequins. He has assumed the rasp of the voice of the voiceless, the primal scream of the marginalized, the cries of the systematically oppressed. Through keen and astute observation, he has bonded with the human family in a much more telling way, calling to each listener to transcend the system from within the system.

I find in this observation/influence trait, as displayed in Michael Jackson’s art, an enormously fascinating correlation to what our best scientific minds are telling us in the field of quantum physics: that through our act of observation we influence sub-atomic behavior, thereby bending the hitherto sacred laws of Newtonian physics, which demand that sub-atomic behaviors are predestined and unable to change.

The very act of observation changes a particle to a wave as demonstrated in double-blind tests. Michael Jackson’s observations of the world, therefore, bear the possibility of influencing and changing it. That possibility is magnified enormously through his artistic attempts to paint the world he observes with his vision, offering the world a chance to view its reflection in rhythm and song, bodily movement and theatrics and be entertained at the same time. It is, often, a subliminal message he imparts just under the backbeat … a subliminal message of peace, hope, faith, and love. Is it just a “coincidence,” then, that this new commitment comes to the fore in an album entitled Dangerous? I don’t think so.

White is similarly open-minded in his commentary on some of the other short films derived from the Dangerous album (“Remember the Time,” “In the Closet” and “Jam”), but some of his most scathing criticism is not directed at Michael Jackson at all. Rather, it centers on what he considers to be the racially-motivated media manipulation to which Michael Jackson was subjected in the latter half of his life. Like many of the more recent authors, Mr. White perceives race as a significant factor in the Michael Jackson story, prompting much of the critical commentary and persecution to which Jackson was a victim post-Thriller. In other words, he plays the “race card” (which the American establishment, as represented by its media, claims doesn’t exist and unanimously dismisses) unashamedly and without apology.

The release of the HIStory trailer as a nationally-broadcast television ad opens one of the most anticipated and castigated periods of Michael’s life. Everything he did was criticized on a monumental, global scale from the statues advertising his imminent arrival at tour stops … to the trailer (described as the “most vainglorious attempt at self-deification a pop star ever made with a straight face”) … to much of the new music on the album. Michael was the media’s favorite “whipping boy.” For those of us caught in the vitriolic backlash aimed at diminishing Michael’s relevance, it was an emotional rollercoaster ranging from excitement to rage as each single and/or short film in the campaign was released. Ironically enough, the universal, monumental scale of the critical commentary seemed to match (and possibly even drive) the monumental, global, nearly ubiquitous reach of Michael’s music, which seemed to be growing exponentially throughout the 1990s.

White may have been one of the … if not the … only voice alerting the public to the fact that there was much more here than an overly-simplistic narrative of megalomaniacal paranoia (as was the gist of almost every other critic and journalist, including Diane Sawyer as exhibited in her interview with Jackson and then wife, Lisa Marie Presley in 1995.) He comments, “All the media’s suspicion over Jackson’s “egomania” disregards its own” and “To nag about ‘self-pity’ in Jackson’s movingly tender “Childhood” is just a chance for reviewers to show off snideness instead of thoughtfulness.” He goes on to state, “That’s the way white journalists deny the complexity of Black artistry.”

White claims of the accusations of anti-Semitism over the “They Don’t Care About Us” release: “Black-Jewish relations are distorted by the arrogance of editorialists who aim to control (or else condemn) Black expression” and “censorship-by-editorial.” Of “They Don’t Care About Us,” itself, Mr. White views it as an “extremely conscientious composition. Jackson shows intelligence and courage by obliquely characterizing anti-Jewish language exactly for what it most often is, the expression of corrupted power.”

In Earth Song, White comments: “The eloquent layers of feeling put Black and human history in this chorus’s thunder.” Indeed! When speaking of “censorship-by-editorial,” this is yet another case in point. Earth Song, hugely popular in much of the world and referred to by Joe Vogel as Michael’s “Magnum Opus,” was not even released within the borders of the United States. Quoting Bill Bottrell, Vogel attributes this omission to the song being “anti-corporate, anti-nature-raping … so it was prone to censorship.” So much for freedom of speech, one of the basic freedoms upon which this country was founded and guaranteed to all its citizens (not just newspaper and tabloid publishers), unless, of course, you just happen to be Michael Jackson.

Overall, White’s comments on the HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 album are some of the most erudite and thought-provoking I have read. His reading of some of the short films made to accompany the music from the album and make it a multi-media, visceral experience is also eye-opening and thoughtful. He sees in it Michael’s “personal expression of social awareness” and attributes a personal message of “noblesse oblige – a class-based beneficence that many would deny to African Americans” in the final track on the album, “Smile:” “Michael indicates the gentle touch that ought to come with power …”

Subsequent authors in the field of Michael Jackson Academic Studies have, rightfully, followed the trend begun by Mr. White in 1991. Most notably, Joe Vogel, Elizabeth Amisu, Susan Fast and Isabel Petitjean have further focused on the historical, social, and cultural situations to which Michael Jackson was responding in his artistic life.

In his Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, Mr. Vogel precedes each chapter (each of which focuses on one of Michael’s solo album releases) with a lengthy introduction  examining some of the contemporaneous social, political , cultural events and musical trends to which Jackson was responding in his musical compositions and short film releases.

Further, in an article entitled I Ain’t Scared of No Sheets: Re-screening Black Masculinity in Michael Jackson’s Black or White. [Journal of Popular Music Studies, March 2015], Mr. Vogel places the release of the Black or White song and short film firmly within a framework of historical racial segregation marked by mutilations, beatings, hangings and cross burnings and bookended by the nationally televised beating of Rodney King, the acquittal of the police officers who perpetrated it, and the riots in Los Angeles that resulted from that verdict. This makes Jackson’s angry retort in the “panther coda” much more understandable; without these ties to historical and contemporary current events, the film could very easily be misinterpreted as “gratuitous sexual and violent behavior,” which is the overall simplistic narrative applied to his work by many in the fields of journalism and music critique at the time.

By decontextualizing Jackson’s work, Vogel argues, media effectively emasculates it (metaphorically referring to the actual physical mutilation of Black men in the not-too-distant past in retaliation for perceived violations of white/Black boundaries), removing its creative power, and sways public opinion against the voice of one crying out against the inequities he observes within the system he occupies. Within this contextual framework, however, Michael Jackson’s song and short film (including the “panther coda”) indicates a justifiable response to the events and circumstances he saw in the world around him.

That is the artist’s entire purpose and one can surely understand Michael Jackson’s angst at being so roundly misjudged. However, as Mr. White claims:  “Crusading journalists aren’t merely on the side of power – after all, Jackson’s got power – they’re on the side of white.” and “ …[They] come down to white, middle-class spokespeople saying: ‘Shut up and entertain us.’” In other words, they prefer Black performers docile and frivolous, neither of which adjectives could be applied to Michael Jackson in the Dangerous and subsequent campaigns.

Chapter 10: “Recontextualizing Michael Jackson’s Blackness” in The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona and His Artistic Afterlife by Elizabeth Amisu is devoted to placing Michael Jackson’s musical and cultural contributions within the significantly checkered history of slavery in the United States of America, particularly in the southern states where the white supremacist movement gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan and its vehemently anti-black, racially-motivated violence. Unfortunately, such history is not limited to history, as recent shootings of unarmed Black youths in several cities in America clearly exhibit. She quotes Ania Loomba that this system of “assigning different values to human beings” is complex and “twisted” in the American psyche and states: “The very notion that English, Dutch, and Spanish people came to the conclusion that the dark-skinned people of the African continent were, by virtue of their complexion, uncivilized, beastly, and oversexed, making them inherently less human than their white counterparts, remains at the heart of any debate …”

The very fact of the almost universally popular performative of “black face minstrelsy” in the 19th Century, which fed upon that notion and the stereotypical view of African masculinity which proceeded from it, was even further complicated, in Jackson’s case, by his anomalous skin disorder, which changed the color of his skin from brown to white, thereby defying touted European (read white) racial superiority.  The fact that this transformation resulted from a pathology (a disease) in Michael Jackson’s case just added further insult to injury and showed how truly irrelevant such inferiority/superiority concepts in the American psyche really are. Yet, they persist; they exist; and ignoring them or denying them is not helping to eradicate such antiquated notions.

It is this notion that Michael Jackson addressed with his customary incisiveness in the short film for “Remember the Time,” a film in which Michael reminded his viewers of the historically-proven, accurate fact that the African continent is, indeed, the “cradle of civilization;” that Egypt (and, therefore, its remarkable mathematical, architectural, scientific, and governmental achievements) is a part of that continent; and that those achievements were, as a result, much more likely to have been realized by Black people than by white, blue-eyed actors, as is so often depicted in films.  With an all-Black cast (as a matter of fact, Michael’s was the “whitest” presence on the screen), mesmerizing special effects, and historically authentic sets and costumes, Michael sang and danced his way through Ancient Egypt in a non-confrontational, Ghandi-esque depiction of Black pride and “peaceful resistance.” God bless him!

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It Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

Similarly, Elizabeth Amisu has entitled Chapter 15 in her wonderful book The Dangerous Philosophies of Michaael Jackson: His Music, His Persona and His Artistic Afterlife “Horcruxes: Michael (Split Seven Ways) Jackson.” Prior to the popular series of books and films in the Harry Potter saga, the word horcrux would have been little understood by the academic community or general public. However, placed in the context of this saga, it becomes very descriptive and commonly understood, which further underscores the importance of context as it relates to many of Michael Jackson’s artistic offerings.

While I love Ms. Amisu’s allusion to J. K. Rowling’s epic Harry Potter wizarding world (having often perceived Michael Jackson as the ultimate wizard, who, in my opinion, would have been right at home within the confines of the narrative), I believe that the chapter, which goes on to examine Michael Jackson’s life in light of the lives of seven other well-known artists, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, James Brown, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder, would have been better called “Lenses” or “Filters.” Her second choice, “prisms,” would also work. A lens is an instrument through which we view a subject in order to bring that subject into clearer focus or more perfect understanding and a prism splits a single beam of light into the full visible spectrum.

In contrast, a horcrux (as used in the Harry Potter saga) is an object or animal into which a wizard places a part of himself (a fraction of his consciousness … his soul, if you will). In this way, even if one part of his consciousness does not survive, the wizard can, indeed, still claim immortality and, in the saga, can be resurrected from the portions that still survive.  Wizard though he might be, it would be extremely difficult for Michael to have placed a portion of his soul into Bach and Mozart as they both lived centuries before Michael was born. Therefore, in the context of its usage in the story in which the word was introduced and understood, it would be much more appropriate to use the word “horcruxes” to describe Michael Jackson’s songs, books, and films … and in his afterlife, his fans and followers, including those who have been attracted to delving more deeply into his creative process in the field of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.

Michael Jackson often referred to Michelangelo’s quote: “I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why, to escape death, I bind my soul to my work.” This is a perfect description, from the artist’s own mouth, of a horcrux as understood in the original narrative of Hogwart’s School of Wizardry.  Therefore, by his own admission, Michael Jackson’s music, performances, literary works and visionary short films are his horcruxes, his claim to immortality, from which many of us resurrect him on a daily basis.

Further, his death and its aftermath were seminal moments in many lives across the world. Tales abound within the on-line fan community of life-altering experiences (including unexplainable, uncontrollable grief) in the wake of Jackson’s death and/or upon viewing the filmed rehearsals of his last creative endeavor, the This Is It documentary, released just a few short months following his death. That moment has been described by some of those affected as an “explosion” of energy during which a small spark of Jackson’s unique energetic footprint (for lack of a better or more descriptive term) entered their awareness and awakened them to his artistic genius and his loving presence, which would make all those so affected his horcruxes, myself included. Personally, I kind of like being one of his horcruxes.

Androgyny/Masculinity/Gender Ambiguity

One of the most commented upon facets of Michael Jackson’s life is his so-called androgyny and some of the most vitriolic commentary proposed that Michael Jackson was “confused” about his gender. I find such commentaries ludicrous. Anyone who has ever viewed one of Michael Jackson’s performances can be left in very little doubt of his gender. I, myself, was never in any doubt that Michael Jackson was decidedly and gloriously masculine in every way; I’m sure he wasn’t either. As a matter of fact, I wish more men would subscribe to his sensitive and nurturing performance of gender identification instead of the preposterous, aggressive machismo that currently defines masculinity in our culture. In my opinion, such commentary could only be suggested by authors with extremely limited definitions of gender and who are, themselves, therefore, gender confused. There are as many definitions of gender as there are people walking this earth (approximately 7 billion, I believe … that’s billion with a “b”.)

One of the best treatments of this facet of Michael’s presentation I have found appears in Dangerous by Susan Fast. She examines the androgynous quality of Michael’s voice, his appearance, his dance, and his performance with a wonderful lack of judgment which I have found refreshing. She refers to his vocal characteristics, particularly in “Remember the Time” as a “relaxed tenor … the smoothest Jackson has sounded so far on this record [Dangerous] …” and notes, “But the emotional landscape Jackson paints … is more intense and extreme than most soul man singers and this can quite easily be gendered as ‘feminine.’” Further, she states:

“I’ve wanted to dwell on how Jackson’s performances line up with conventional masculinity because this issue is mostly overlooked or denied in commentary on his gender. Even in his visual appearance and performance, there’s plenty that fits within the realm of the masculine – including his tough-guy gangster persona – but in order to understand that, it’s important to focus on the details at specific times in his career (you can’t talk about it all in one fell swoop. )”

I applaud Susan Fast’s comment here as being very perceptive. Forty-plus years is a long career and Michael’s performance of gender was in flux and, therefore, loosely defined and subject to change, particularly in the earlier parts of that span (as is all young teens and twenty-somethings’). Through familiarity, we have a tendency to forget that an 11-year-old boy’s performance of gender will, inherently, be different than that same young man at the age of 19 … or at the age of 40-plus. Change, in this regard, is inevitable.

In addition, societal “norms” have a tendency to fluctuate over such a span and that, too, must be taken into account. The decades encompassed within Michael Jackson’s career (late 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s) were periods of tumultuous fluctuation by anyone’s standards, during which many societal “norms” were re-examined (i.e. the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation movement, the Woodstock generation, the war in Vietnam and the riots that ensued on many university campuses as a result, etc.)

Fast refers to Meredith Jones as making “the compelling argument that Jackson’s facial features marked him as ‘intergender’ because he incorporated – side by side – signifiers of both conventional masculinity and femininity. His wide, made-up eyes and small, thin nose read as conventionally feminine,” she claims, “while his relatively wide, cleft chin reads as masculine.” She goes on to state that he always wore prominent sideburns while, for the most part, being clean-shaven.  “Markers of masculinity do not disappear. In fact, these characteristics, particularly the square jaw line and cleft chin, became more pronounced as he aged…” and she does not devote a whole lot of time speculating on how or why they became more pronounced “… perhaps through procedures, perhaps through fluctuating weight, or perhaps, again, simply through the natural process of aging. “

I would suggest that, perhaps, the toll of constant, unrelenting criticism might be another factor to consider. Having to constantly respond to inane comments would tend to “haggardize” anyone.

“His body was slight, without developed muscles, but straight, angular and strong – not a feminine thing about it, including the way he moved, right down to his walk … In his costume for the Dangerous tour, however, the gold fencing shirt drew attention to his bulging groin … left very little to the imagination.” [I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Fast saw the Gold Pants of the HIStory tour. OUCH!]

Regarding Michael’s oft-criticized “crotch grabs,” Ms. Fast states:

“But they weren’t ever really ‘grabs’ so much as stylized and often downright elegant gesturings towards … Those moves are controlled, deliberate, flirtatious, daring. It’s provocation.”

I don’t think I have ever seen another author notice that most of these graceful gestures, performed as part of Michael Jackson’s dances, only conformed to the word “grab” on fairly rare occasions (such as the BAD short film and the “panther coda” of the short film for Black or White) and only after he had been roundly and unanimously castigated for them for years. There are few gestures that so accurately represent defiance.

She, then, quotes Joe Vogel that he is “protesting the cruel history of mutilations by flaunting the symbol of his creative power and identity as a black man,” thereby bringing the history of racially-motivated violence right back into the discussion. I see all of the above factors as relevant in any discussion of Michael Jackson’s alleged androgyny.

Ms. Fast also brings the concept of “balance” into the equation, attributing it to the writings of the influential Enlightenment historian Johann Winckelmann. According to him, she states, “beauty was nothing other than the middle between two extremes.” Regardless of gender, all humans have feminine and masculine qualities, in varying degrees; balancing these seemingly disparate traits in our personalities forms much of our maturation process as we age.

Ms. Fast just barely skirts the issue here of “unification” which, in my opinion, so predominates in Michael Jackson’s creative output from his mid-teens to his last breath. He embodied the polarities of white/black, feminine/masculine, child/adult as well as the genre-bending of pop/rock/soul/R & B/hip hop/ heavy metal/classical … and jazz/pop lock/Broadway/ballet/urban contemporary within his own frame, bringing them all into closer alignment within his creative body of work. He blurred the hard lines between them, showing, in the process, that those lines are mobile, depending on our perceptions of them … not carved in granite. He balanced them; he reconciled them; he mediated them for us; he gifted all of us with his vision of altering our narrow definitions of all of them. In doing so, he de-polarized them.

This concept of de-polarization is something we navigate every day without even being conscious of doing so. We de-polarize hot/cold by turning on both to produce warm water for bathing or by centrally heating and cooling our homes. We de-polarize dark/light by flipping a switch and turning on a lamp as dusk turns to night. We reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable polarities on a daily basis.

Within his creative output, Michael Jackson shows concretely that Beethoven can coexist with R&B and Gospel, peacefully, harmonically, creating a new definition by eradicating the space between them, not just on one album but within one song. If they can coexist in harmony, Jackson implies, why can’t we? “Music is music and it’s all beautiful.” He demonstrated with his own body that even a movement as simple as a hand gesture can be stunningly beautiful and graceful regardless of genre; that dance does not have to conform to any preconceived definition.

It is just such a mediation that Michael Jackson’s artistic work indicates is possible for the many limiting and restrictive definitions we apply to people, conditions, and events in the world we see around us. And it is this de-polarization that he demonstrated within his creative output.

“I’m wary of trying to label Jackson’s performance of gender and sexuality because his idea, as I see it, was to get us to question – especially to question the parameters of masculinity and heterosexuality.”

I think Ms. Fast has captured in that sentence the whole of Michael Jackson’s body of work. He wanted us to question our labels, our standards, our societal ‘norms,’ our perceptions, our illusions, our ideas of beauty, and our definitions of ourselves. As Michael Bush stated quite clearly in his wonderful book King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson, “Michael loves people asking, ‘Why?’ … Michael loved the idea that he could make people question, notice, and search for meaning.” And it is in this search for meaning where the parameters of such definitions, labels, and stereotypes reside; therefore, it is only here that they can be changed.

As Michael Jackson states himself in “Innocence,” Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections:

“If you are locked into a pattern of thinking and responding, your creativity gets blocked. You miss the magic of the moment. Learn to be innocent again and that freshness never fades.”

 

 

 

 

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Installment 106

November 9 – November 15, 2016

Most Dearly Beloved,

I am afraid the world as we know it has come to an end.

Why? What has happened? This sounds serious.

It is serious. After a bitter, long campaign during which more mud has been slung than I can ever recall happening before, Donald Trump has been elected to the office of the President of the United States of America.

After unapologetically boasting rhetoric with blatant overtones of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, environmental disrespect, division and hatred; after refusing to release his tax records for the past several years (which I thought was a requirement for any public office); after revelations of alleged sexual misconduct which were leveled against him; after all of our living former Presidents and the heads of several other countries warned us against the dangers should he be elected; and after bombastic and podium-pounding displays of anger and malice reminiscent of Adolph Hitler against several sovereign nations in our global community, the American voters have nonetheless seen fit to elect Donald Trump to the highest office in the land.

My understanding is that the popular vote was decided in Hillary Clinton’s favor, but as in several elections in the past decades, it is not the popular vote that counts. It is the Electoral College which elects the President. It seems like a total waste of time for us all to cast our votes at all. I never will understand the necessity of the Electoral College. Our votes are not fairly represented by them.

Quite frankly, I am gutted. Until the very last moment, I held out faith that my fellow country persons would have more common sense and intelligence, but my faith feels a bit trodden upon this morning.

And how does that feel to you? What does that look like for you?

It feels like the world as we know it has come to an end. It looks like Armageddon of the brain. I feel ashamed of my country … and of myself as a citizen of my country. For some strange reason, I feel guilty. I feel even more of a stranger in a strange land than I ever have before. And, quite honestly, I feel like giving up and moving to a small, deserted island where government is not an issue.

Unfortunately, there are no more small, deserted islands. Believe me, I’ve looked. We are ONE; we sink or swim together.

Yes, I understand. That’s the way I felt when I was touring with the Dangerous Tour in Moscow. It seemed like the whole world had changed overnight from a welcoming place to a forbidding place, gray and colorless, featureless and foreboding.

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
How does it feel?
When you’re alone
And you’re cold inside?
Like a Stranger in Moscow

But let me ask you something. Did the sun come up this morning? Did you wake up? Were you able to get up and move around?

Yes, it’s a beautiful, sunny day, unseasonably warm for this time of year, in fact. Yes, I woke up. Yes, I am able to get up and move around.

Excellent! Then you have found three things to be grateful for before you have even begun your day. There are many for whom those three things are not part of their experience.

In this moment, everything is fine. Stay here in this moment, with the sun shining in your windows and your body able to sit up, walk around and take nourishment.

What you are doing is allowing what may or may not happen in the future to ruin this moment. You are resisting what is and worrying about what will be. What purpose does that serve? Does it change what has happened?

No, not really.

He has won the election, but he has not actually assumed the office. It hasn’t happened yet, but you are dreading what is only a thought in this moment. It’s not real yet. Anything can happen between this moment and when he actually takes office. This is not the best example, but Saul became an entirely different person on his way to Damascus one day about 2,000 years ago. A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. [Michael chuckles.]

You can choose to wrap yourself in that gray and hopeless outlook and, believe me, I understand that the temptation to go down that road is very seductive. However, you can also choose to wrap the gratitude blanket around you, to be grateful for the sun rising, for waking up and for being able to get up and move around while you look for ways to move forward with faith.

But how should I feel? Is there anything I can do?

No one can tell you how you should feel. Only you control that. But, contrary to what most people understand, it is a choice. You can resist what is … or you can accept it, let go of your resistance, and move forward.

Accepting it is not the same as approving it; it is just an acknowledgment that it has happened. Resisting it doesn’t change it; it just causes you stress and discomfort.

As we have talked about so frequently, stress changes your inner environment to one of fear and contaminates each moment with the chemicals that fear and stress create in your inner ecosystem. Acceptance removes the stress and allows you a platform from which you can make clearer decisions. From that point, you get to choose what you create.

When I was in Moscow, I had come face-to-face with my worst fear.

Yes! That’s what this morning’s news feels like. I have come face-to-face with my worst fear. What did you do?

I did what it was given me to do. I made a decision to move forward despite my anger, disappointment and disillusionment. Giving up was not an option although it was a sore temptation.

I did what I had always done. I took those feelings and created a song through which I was able to form a connection with all of you. Later, I created a short film that very closely illustrated  those same feelings to make them a more visual and, therefore, visceral connection with all of you, so that you would know that I had, as you so often say, “been there, done that and had the t-shirt.”

It was what I had done all my life with my fear and anger and guilt; it was what I had been taught to do; it was what I had been given to do.

I was wandering in the rain
Mask of life, feeling insane
Swift and sudden fall from grace
Sunny days seem far away
Kremlin’s shadow belittling me
Stalin’s tomb won’t let me be

We are all members of the human family; we have all felt that utter hopelessness, that fear of the future, that despair over what has occurred. We are more alike than we are different. We can choose to perceive our sameness rather than our differences.

We can choose to connect with that feeling in others … to lift them up and provide them an outlet … a catharsis … through whatever means we have at our disposal …or we can choose to disconnect ourselves entirely from the human family and wallow in our fear and disappointment.

I was blest to have the music and to be able to share my feelings with all of you, to work it and mold it and shape it into the best that it could be. And, then, to send it out into the world to forge a link between us that could, with nurturance, be unbroken.

But not all of us have been given those blessings, my beautiful one.

That is true, but all of us have been given something with which we can share our pain and our joys. Some have music, others have visual art, others have dance and still others have financial resources. Whatever we have been given, we can share it freely to connect with others who may be feeling the same fears and disappointments.

In your specific case, you have been given the gift of these Conversations. You can talk with me about it and we can work out a way to move forward with faith together.

I know and I am so grateful for that, Michael. Thank you.

No … thank YOU!

In this way, we can let others know that they are not alone in their feelings. Shared anger is anger halved; shared disappointment loses much of its sting; shared disillusionment feels a little less hopeless.

Creation trumps reaction (pun intended) every time, in every situation and circumstance … no exceptions. Never doubt it. 

Every day create your history
Every path you take, you’re leaving your legacy

The word create infers an awareness … a consciousness … that you are the Creator of your inner environment, at least. That is where those feelings of utter fear and hopelessness live … in your inner environment.

You are not a victim of the winds that blow first one way and then the other. You may not be able to control what happens all around you, but you can create your response to it. Don’t allow the circumstances and situations you face create you. You create you! Consciously.

James Twyman, who has spearheaded a movement called the World Peace Pulse and who is doing monthly on-line meditations from trouble spots around the world sent out an email to subscribers on the morning after the elections. The subject line of his email read: Why am I so happy about the US presidential election?

In his email he states that this is not the outcome he was hoping for, but he says “that’s not the point.” He confirms that our happiness does not depend on outside occurrences measuring up to our expectations. It’s not about what happens out there; it’s about what happens within our own hearts. He also states that he spent the morning after the election results were broadcast praying for Donald Trump instead of cursing him. He goes on to explain:

“I asked thousands of people to pray for the “highest good” to be done in this election. Part of that involves me letting go of what I think needs to happen and trusting what actually is happening. It’s impossible for me to know what humanity needs to evolve into love, but I am willing to play my role no matter what. That’s the key – to commit to love regardless of the direction we seem to be heading.”

Yes! Exactly

And I think it’s important to realize that nothing is ever as bad as it may seem. We tend to magnify the negative aspects of people and situations because we worry so much about them, which just makes them grow in our imaginations to the point where they become monsters, eating up all the positive aspects of our lives.

In the past few months, you have made Donald Trump into the devil incarnate in your mind. You have railed against his platform, his speeches, his appearance, and everything else about him.

He is not the devil incarnate; he’s just a man who makes mistakes just like everyone else. He just does it BIG.

When I knew Donald Trump, he was one of the very few people who supported me during a very dark period of my life. He was very kind to both myself and Lisa Marie, even allowing us to stay at Trump Towers and providing us some privacy during a time when many of my friends couldn’t be reached and were distancing themselves from me in the fear that the infamy of the allegations would rub off and sully their careers. He stood by me. So, he has good qualities like loyalty and friendship.

There are no wholly negative people; we all have the capacity for good, noble actions and decisions; we all have tendencies that are selfish and lacking in compassion.

Our mission is to see and encourage the good and noble aspects of each other and to overlook the mistakes and judgments that are lacking in sensitivity or wisdom as just that … mistakes and errors in judgment. Errors can be corrected with patience and compassion.

As you discovered in our Neverland therapy sessions, when we understand some of the societal and cultural pressures those who have hurt us were laboring under, it is much easier to see their actions as errors and to view them with compassion and forgiveness. The same is true here.

We’ve all made mistakes; none of us is perfect. We’ve all spoken ill-considered words, been the author of ill-considered actions. That’s just human nature.

In addition, we, aided and abetted by our media whose allegiance to profit and sensationalism is unquestioned, see things and judge them from the perspectives they offer us (which, as we have seen in the past are seldom without prejudice), never questioning what they present to us as fact.

It is neither unheard of nor unusual for media reports to magnify the smallest thing into a fear that becomes unmanageable, is it? It is neither unheard of nor unusual for media reports to take words out of context or bend them to suit their own agendas. It is neither unheard of nor unusual for editors to alter photographs or film clips to more closely align with their biases. And it is neither unheard of nor unusual for media editors to fabricate lies and print them as truth. We have definitely seen all of these in my physical life and I have no doubt that some of that has been practiced in this Presidential campaign.

I am certain that media reports have played up many of the negative aspects of all of the candidates in this election campaign; they always do.

Here abandoned in my fame
Armageddon of the brain
KGB was doggin’ me
Take my name but just let me be
Then a beggar boy called my name
Happy days will drown the pain

So, it’s important to realize that we don’t have all the facts. As a matter of fact, we probably know very little of the truth.

how-does-it-feel

Okay, Baby, I grant you that. So, what are my options?

Well, I think that the most important thing is to realize that here, in this moment, everything is fine. The future hasn’t happened, yet. Don’t trade this moment for the fear and anxiety of what may or may not occur in the future. The present moment is too precious; it is where we live.

Then, I think that resisting what is just generates more of what is. Viewing the situation without resistance allows us a clearer view of the circumstance that is causing our distress. It relieves our own anxiety and tension, releasing healing chemicals into our ecosystem instead of harmful ones.

Please understand, I understand your hurt and disappointment. I was not very good at releasing my resistance to the circumstances I faced. I resisted with a vengeance and caused myself immeasurable harm in the process which manifested in many of the physical problems that plagued my life, like my admitted addiction to pain medication and the sleep deprivation which always played a major role in my physical well- being. That’s why I’m here to discuss this with you and keep you from making the same mistake. Resistance helps nothing; it just makes everything seem bigger, scarier and the hurt more intense.

You started this dialog with the statement that and I quote: “I’m afraid that the world as we know it has come to an end.” We have talked in great detail in several of these dialogs about the world “as we know it” and its many failings and injustices. Perhaps, the world as we know it needs to come to an end to make way for the world as we must create it if we are to save the planet from total extinction.

I know that seems like a harsh thing to say, but in the example we used before from our earlier dialogs, the trial of Conrad Murray, we needed to sweep away all the negative emotions and deceit in the physical space of the courthouse to make room for the Spirit of Truth to enter. Those visualizations of sweeping out the courthouse were a metaphor to help you visualize what we were doing; by cleaning out the courthouse we were really helping you to clean out the fear and anxiety you had built up over the trial; but the same concept applies here. Perhaps, the new President-elect is the broom we need to clean up the dormant racist and anti-feminist feelings that apparently remain in the hearts of many of our citizens.

We have been warned by our greatest scientific minds that we are headed for disaster on a magnitude that we have never seen before. That means we need to be shaken out of our complacency and wake up to what is happening in the world in order to evolve.

We have seen that we do not live in an ideal world … or in an ideal country. Many of our high-sounding ideals have been seriously compromised in favor of economic predominance, military might and expediency. Many of our citizens are homeless; many have no health care; many are victims of human rights violations and police brutality.

Like a volcano, we are sitting on a powder keg that we have crusted over with our unwillingness to look at our guilty little secrets and heal them. The pressure is building and the toxic gases need to rise to the surface. Much that we have refused to face has to bubble to the surface to be released and healed. It will, undoubtedly, be uncomfortable.

I think it’s also important to note that the man has not been elected dictator; he has been elected President of a country which is governed by three separate branches and a system of checks and balances which are meant to protect its citizens from tyranny. In other words, the President does not rule alone; his power is actually somewhat limited. He is a cog in a very large machine full of well-meaning, intelligent people  – a very visible and vocal cog, but a cog, nonetheless.

And I think that the methods we have used in the past to relieve some of our anxiety over what may happen in the future have particular applicability here.

When we began visualizing for the trial of Conrad Murray, you were facing a very similar situation. You had built him up to be the devil incarnate as you had Tom Sneddon, if you recall. We replaced all of our negative fears and anxieties with our faith that the truth would be revealed. The results were spectacular, not only in the observable outcome of the trial but, even more importantly, in the way you viewed things; your perspective changed. Your visualizations calmed your fears, relieved your stresses and anxiety and allowed you a broader view.

In many cases, people are ennobled by the office they hold. They realize that their role is a responsible one and they rise to the occasion, so to speak. We can support that kind of ennoblement in this situation with patience and compassion by visualizations that activate the President-elect’s sensitivity and empower his compassion.

I love water balloon fights and always have. Instead of water balloons, we can have LOVE balloons … COMPASSION balloons … TOLERANCE balloons and drop Love Bombs on the White House and Capitol Building. This sounds like a lot more fun than sitting around and worrying about what may or may not happen!

Yes, it does because the last few days have not been fun at all. There has been this heavy feeling of dread which has been very difficult to lift.

Your words have reminded me of the article I quoted before in these Conversation [Reference: Installment 103, June 2016], written by Danielle Agnew entitled Why Donald Trump Is The Best Thing to Ever Happen to the USA, dated March 15, 2016.

Ms. Agnew proposed in her blog post that Mr. Trump would end up unifying (although probably unconsciously) this country as no one else could by bringing all the issues that the United States doesn’t like to talk about … all those nasty little secrets like our clandestine racism and bigotry, homophobia and police brutality that we sweep under the carpet so that we don’t have to face them … out into the open, making us as a country take a good look at ourselves in the mirror and decide if we like what we see.

We like to think of ourselves as so progressive, forward-thinking and tolerant, but we are still beating our African-American brothers, broadcasting video of the brutality on national television and acquitting the police officers who perpetrated it. We are still shooting young, unarmed black men for no reason other than their skin color. And we still fear a black man who gets more powerful than we are comfortable with.

Yes, that is true. The United States is a great country, but it is not perfect. It doesn’t want to look at itself realistically. It prefers the whitewashed version.  That version says: there’s nothing wrong; there’s no need to fix what isn’t broke. Just cover it up, ignore it and it will go away. Unfortunately, it’s not going away.

While many African-Americans are upwardly mobile, responsible taxpayers, according to prevailing racist attitudes all black people live in ghettos, as Mr. Trump stated in his campaign speeches. He also recommended that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (women’s suffrage) be repealed because most of his supporters were men.

Yes, we are making progress, but there are huge enclaves that cling to old racist and chauvinistic attitudes.

Ms. Agnew posits that Donald Trump has forged a link with those factions bent on holding on to those antiquated ideas and will end up uniting a country that is currently far from united.  She states that his popularity stems not so much from his willingness to broadcast his opinions at the top of his lungs, but to broadcast theirs – the ones they have not admitted having because of their fear of rejection by loved ones and their own prickling consciences.

“I’m behind Donald because he speaks his mind,” say millions of followers, crunching on their chips and watching ringside as the circus continues.

“Yet it’s not the fact that Donald Trump is speaking his mind in an outside-the-box way that inspires the deep dedication and screeching discipleship from coast to coast … The fact remains that Donald Trump receives the unfaltering dedication and hero worship from his followers not because he speaks his mind — but the fact that Donald Trump is indeed, speaking their mind.

“Trump gives a name, a face, a resume and a strangely-fitting suit to the ugly stepchild of American Consciousness: Bigotry, fear of change — and the hatred that is born from resentfully stewing these ingredients in repressed silence.

“Finally, the Movement of Secret Seething Resentment has a leader.”

And I do think that Ms. Agnew has a point. There is a huge segment of America that doesn’t adjust well to change, wants to remain insulated against the rest of the world, wants to keep America for Americans (preferably white Americans), and resents anyone who doesn’t agree with those ideals. We are not united and it’s long past time for us to admit our failings, discuss our skeletons in the closet and commit to changing our standing in the world.

“Well, in order for the United States to remain united in this fragile world climate, it’s time we kick our secrets to the curb. It’s time we find out what we really have under our hood, America — who we really are — and stop hiding who we wish we had the courage to be, in the shadows.

“Until we come to grips with some serious tears in the seams of our national fabric — no switching of Presidents and Congress will heal the gridlock and the rip in consciousness of the Corporatocracy that though horrifying — now defines our country.”

She proposes that Donald Trump is going to turn out to be the point at which the rubber meets the road. After all, we can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge. And there are precious few ways to ignore Donald Trump.

In other words, if we want to play with the big boys, we are going to have to stop kidding ourselves and face up to who and what we have become.  It may not be fun and it probably will not be pretty.

The fact that we used to be the big boys notwithstanding, we have lost our grip on that status through turning away from the ideals for which our country was founded. Human rights have fallen to corporate rights and the almighty dollar.

“Donald Trump is fearless in his commitment to his opinions, and moreover — to himself. He embodies Capitalism, sensationalism, unapologetic stereotypical male sexuality all with the swagger of a movie-star-meets-professional-wrestler.

“He has chosen to present himself as a finely-sketched, perfectly sculpted caricature of American ego, idiocy and ignorance.”

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that this is, indeed, how much of the world views America – as a bully in the global playground, as hypocritical in upholding human rights, pointing the finger at violations in other countries while at the same time sweeping our own violations under the rug. It’s our way or the highway. Before we can change it, we have to acknowledge it.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for Donald Trump.

It’s not a question of blame; blaming ourselves is just another way of resisting acknowledging that we are all brothers and sisters in a large human family. It’s a question of learning to accept our brothers and sisters in our own country with all their diverse opinions, ethnic and gender differences and learning how to get along. That does not mean we have to agree with them; we don’t have to convert them to our way of thinking nor do we have to accept being converted to theirs; we just agree to disagree. Then, perhaps, we will have evolved enough to accept all our human brothers and sisters in our extended global family without judging them,

Donald Trump is a human being and he, too, is a member of our human family who deserves our prayerful and mindful support as he prepares to assume a very responsible position in the world. Instead of judging and fearing him, let’s admit that he is all too human and invite him out to play in the LOVE balloon fort.

I’ll prepare the balloons! We got this!

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