PROVE YOU’RE HUMAN: The Post-Michael Jackson Post

The boy who danced and sang his way into countless hearts from all cultures anywhere is no more. Michael Jackson.

There’s a yawning MJ-shaped chasm in the universe at this post-Jacksonian moment. Michael’s death wrenched the spotlight away from Iran and refocused it on a lost boy who was led astray everytime he tried to find his way home. Now he never will. I think the pressure of having to prove he was human to a world that suddenly seemed to turn hostile and scornful proved too much for this extraordinary boy-man to bear.

PROVE YOU’RE HUMAN demand the spambot busters when you try to leave a comment on blogposts or Facebook discussions. You then have to correctly type two distorted-looking words into a box, an action that apparently will instantly expose a spambot (which pretend to be users but actually want to harvest your email and other useful info about you) incapable of deciphering the letters.

Could MJ possibly have realized just how many fans and well-wishers he has all over the world? Michael Jackson dies and nearly takes internet with him announced one headline referring to the volume of cybertraffic trying to verify his death on the afternoon of June 25th, resulting in an overload which nearly crashed the Net the day he died. The media, snarling and vicious only a few years ago has been obsessively adulating him in death.

looklikemoney09 crazy how this nigga #michaeljackson got respect when he died an aint have none when he was alive was how one tweep roughly and eloquently summed it up. A commenter (sharon p) on a blog called Can’t Stop Won’t Stop poignantly asked: “how will i remember him? as the person who bought the elephant man’s bones just so he could bury them. who will he remind me of? Zora Neale Hurston, who was also accused of child molestation in 1948 — an accusation that caused her to leave the “community” she had dedicated her life to.”

The accusations of child molestation made against MJ in 2005 and the resulting media frenzy must have left a malingering but fatal wound on his already bruised and battered psyche. We seem to overlook the fact that everything Michael did was a scream for help. MJ enacted on his body the aggression he faced from his father & by extension society, and he flaunted his wounds in our face– that etiolated Geisha mask and his mutilated nose were pleas for the unconditional love he always desired.

Yet the media demanded that Michael act ‘normal’ and policed his departures from the norm with a vengeance that verged on violence. Hyena-like they were expressing the deep violence that underlies the social contract, a violence that had also consumed his erstwhile friend Diana, Princess of Wales, a decade or so ago.

Well, the mainstream media has limited credibility for me now, particularly in the wake of the Iraq War which they triumphantly and confidently led us into. If i’m going to believe anyone on the Michael Jackson saga it will be his close friends and family (see Deepak Chopra in the Huffington Post) who all testify to his innate goodness and compassion and not some journalist riding a moral high horse and instructing me on what is normal and what isn’t. For a good article on the subject i recommend Andrew Sullivan’s Thinking about Michael.


Jackson’s profound influence on global popular culture can be measured in the numerous song-and-dance routines of Bollywood films. Indian choreographers have yet to recover from the Thriller effect, which informs a good three quarters of all Bollywood dance numbers. Jai ho MJ said AR Rahman in his tribute. In the Caribbean the Jackson Brothers came to both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Mark Lyndersay has written a memorable account in the Trinidad Guardian of his encounter with MJ on that 1978 visit. Here he describes accompanying MJ to Laventille:

The lanky young black man, his hair a massive puff that swayed in the evening breeze, walked along the road, waving, shaking hands and chatting with surprised people relaxing in their verandahs on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon. I photographed the entire encounter for what I was told were his scrapbooks, memoirs he gathered of his travels.

Another area Michael may have been surprised to know he impacted on was the Middle East. In an article called “He meant so much to Arabs” the author detailed the region’s love affair with the singer:

As most of his admirers in the Middle East got pirated or smuggled copies of his music in the 1980s and 1990s, I don’t think MJ knew just how much his music shaped a whole generation of Arabs, just how many fans he had here and just how devoted they remained throughout his ordeals.

We might not have heard of the Beatles or Elvis Presley, but we sure knew Michael Jackson

There was just something about him and his songs that rang true. When we were teenagers, we would often smuggle music by MJ into our school in Saudi Arabia and share it among us by putting the cassettes into generic plastic covers to hide the fact that we were listening to his music.

There were fears among the religious police about his “influence” on the young mind, particularly as songs such as Bad and Beat It were copied and sung, and even dubbed into Arabic, by the young and the rebellious.

We didn’t care about his personal life, it didn’t matter. What was important were the songs. We identified with the themes of loneliness and rejection in his lyrics.

After the first Gulf War, the young in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait listened to his songs for strength and inspiration. I know I did – even if I didn’t understand all of the words back then.

In many ways – and despite reservations about Washington’s recent foreign policy – he was a symbol of America as a land of opportunity, especially for a generation of Arabs that had grown up in conflict.

People named their cars after him, not to mention their pets – my own white-and-black cat is called MJ.

The 1985 song We are the World, which MJ co-wrote, is a regular at school parties. Even his more recent albums strike a chord with his Middle Eastern fans, while a song like Scream, for example, is often played among young groupings who feel frustrated, pressurised, and suppressed by the establishment, whether it be official or cultural.

MJ performing live in Bucharest

As #Michaeljackson replaced #iranelection overnight as the top trending subject on Twitter a bitter Iranelection tweep reflected on the rapid shift in the public’s attention: amazing how quickly interests shift from the plight of an entire country and its people to the death of a washed up pedophile #iranelection”. I wondered if this person so contemptuously dismissing Jackson realized that, just as in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, it was probably this ‘washed-up pedophile’ who was responsible for exposing Iranian youth to the seductive, permissive culture of the West and indirectly to the rebellious spirit we saw erupt in Tehran last week.

And for a great deconstruction of how news systems work the death of ‘famous persons’ have a look at this cartoon from the Stereotypist (a comic written and poorly drawn by john campbell. updated entirely without warning. e-mail wtfwjd ‘at’ gmail dot com)
below. In the meantime i prefer to think of Michael as a friend on Facebook visualized him:

Sonjah Stanley Niaah MJ: The moonwalker who dwelled on earth for a while and left a luminous musical legacy!

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

22 thoughts on “PROVE YOU’RE HUMAN: The Post-Michael Jackson Post”

  1. Great post Annie. It’s been so bizarre to hear the 911 call being replayed over and over again. It is hard to believe that you are listening to the end of such a dramatic life. I really like the concept of MJ dying and taking the internet with him. This world gets stranger and stranger by the day.

  2. i think mickey j was sadly misunderstood… he never had a childhood and it did something to him… so he related to children as if he were one of them… i never thought he was a molester… i just thought he wanted friends… children know no boundaries on affection, because it is desexualised for them… i think it was for him too…

    sad sad sad that this is one of the main things people will remember…

    the media will always be fickle…

  3. I consider it intriguing that he was such a worldwide focus of attention in spite of coming from the black American working class. He broke out of his origins, betrayed them (that is the right word), yet never left them.

  4. Will, yes, he seemed childlike and i’ve often thought that too. He liked to play just as children do.

    Frag, well tht’s what makes it such a super achievement, that coming from the back as it were he was still able to dominate. a friend and I were trying to think of even one comparable figure to MJ…and couldn’t. He really was unique, imagine if he had had political ambitions?

    he would hve had the largest number of supporters worldwide than any other world leader could command–

    u have to explain how u read betrayal into this Frag.

  5. Annie: As Spy magazine put it almost two decades ago, Michael Jackson proved that only in America could a little black boy grow up to become a white woman.

    Jackson spent a large part of his adult life rejecting who he was in pursuit of something he could never hope to be. I was fascinated to read, on a friend’s life journal, a recollection of a childhood debate over whether or not he was white.

  6. Good one Annie, I loved your spambot analogy, it was very apt. MJ spanned generations, cultures and economic background. He was a fine performer, hopefully history will be kinder to him that we were.

  7. hey C-wallah! good to hear from you…thanks for good feedback.

    yes, one can only hope…

    Frag, plenty white people want to be black and that’s never seen as problematic in the same way is it?

  8. Michael will never die because he is an angel. That is where you got it wrong Annie, he was not trying to prove himself human, he was trying to tell us that he was an angel but many did not get it. His video, ‘Have you seen my childhood’, makes it clear that he saw himself as an angel. Shame about the prescription drugs when herbs could have made him feel Irie

  9. Hail Annie Paul, for me MJ started dying slowly from about 1995 when there were noticeable changes in his facial features. Then he finally died in 2005 when allegations of child abuse surfaced. Those allegations have never fully been resolved. I don’t give priests who diddle like boys a pass and neither will I give MJ a pass. I noticed the media and some in my circle were very quick to condemn priests who were alleged to have molested children (and settled out of court) but were very skeptical of MJ’s accusers. “a money dem a look…its a set up.”

    Additionally, it seems that most persons want to give MJ a pass because of whatever pop-psychology explanation. Blame the doctor…no it was his dad…no it was his handlers…damn, it was the system.

    My take is this. 1995 MJ was an adult who made choices (regardless of whatever influences) for which he was solely responsible. Those choices had consequences some of which may have resulted in his death.

    Eulogy: MJ great performer…terrible role model.

    I think I’ll keep my nose, my skin colour, hair and penis!

    Peace and love, Stero

  10. Funny how ppl choose not to remember that MJ was acquitted of child molestation charges (because the id who accused him of that travesty could NOT describe what MJ even looked like when he was supposedly naked)… oh no wait.heir faulhighlightt. The media didnt that nearly enough.

    Funny how it’s not in the spotlight that the kid who claimed to have been molested by MJ admitted that he was LYING recently… no media spotlight on that.

    And MJ goes down in history as the pop star who gave to the MOST charities internationally… again, the media just forgot to highlight this.

    Whenever it’s a scandal, they’re all over it like white on rice. But anything innately good and noble?? Oh no… where’s the news in that?

    MJ was a role model. And a damn good singer. So says I. Read my blog post bout it.

    Catch yah lata Annie.

  11. Never fails to amaze me how we can harp on the perceived bad and never try to see beyond it. From where I sit the whole of MJ was greater than the sum of hi sparts and I applaud that.

  12. hi Abeni, yes, couldn’t agree w u more!

    and Mark, please don’t mention it. i really liked your recollection of MJ in Trinidad and particularly his visit to Laventille. thanks for the link!

  13. hi annie, anil from delhi here. i too want to add my two cents on MJ. a few weeks before his death at a late night drinking session i played MJ’s 1983 motown performance of Billie Jean, remember it, the glove, the hat toss, the moon walk and all? the one in which you could feel the electricity in that hall flow out of the TV and into your living room or wherever you happened to be watching. it was the moment when every dance floor that was and would ever be sighed, gave itself a shake and said bring it on! i remembered watching it live on the TV in 83, and on this night a few weeks ago, after the video buffered and we were watching, the same thing happened again. a friend there commented, ‘this guy just makes you want to get up and dance!’

    that bit aside, i want to add two things. MJ makes me think of many, but for now two only. 1) i think the King of Pop for MJ is a misnomer, MJ was the Poet of Pop. that may seem oxymoronic, how can poet and pop go together? but i say this in all seriousness because what i find it worth thinking aboutis how can such a troubled life make such poppy music? we went through the ‘hate MJ phase’ of this artist’s life, now as has been pointed out, we are in the ‘love MJ phase.’ the ‘respect MJ phase’ is yet to come. and that respect will not be for his music, or his climb to fame, or his global reach, but because here was a person who may not have written poetry but who lived a life on the razor’s edge of some of the most contentious issues of our time. the manner in which his life has made so many of us think about such categories as black/white, artist/performer, adult/child etc., is why i prefer to think of MJ as the Poet of Pop. you’ve asked what if MJ was a politician, i ask what if he were a poet?

    The second thing i want to bring up is this ‘man/boy’ description of MJ. you’ve used it also, but I first read it in a comment by paul mccartney about MJ. depending on how we think about it, this issue has serious ramifications and i don’t know if i’d be able to articulate my concerns about it fully here. let’s say that something about the confidence with which this description gets applied troubles me. when mccartney calls MJ a man/boy, he is speaking from some secure place of being a man, of knowing what it means to be a man. but i wonder what it all means, this man/boy? what are the underlying assumptions behind its use? whose criteria is being applied here and to which parts of MJ’s life does it apply: the music he made, the fantasy home he created, his interaction with kids…? how we deploy this distinction becomes significant if we bear in mind that we live in a world that is constantly blurring the line between adult and child, and pop culture is no small player in this. think about the target audience for films (transformers and others), books (harry potter), fashion (gap kids, lingerie for the young adult), video games, the marketing strategies for these products make meaningless the man/boy distinction. add to that the seen-but-not-heard existence that the surveillance measures of the state are pushing us all into, and a curious repetition of history seems to emerge. once again capital and the state are taking control of the boundary between adult and child. how to fight this i am not sure. is it to hold on to old definitions, or do we have to abandon them and come up with new ones? MJ tried one way and got into serious trouble. maybe as communities as much as individuals we need to be vigilant about who controls the line between adult and child.

  14. ANIL! great to hear from you. btw am coming to delhi aug 16-20, hope to see you.

    very provocative observations on MJ, i like the poet of pop idea. yes, i think he was more of a phenom than he’s being given credit for yet.

    The Man/boy view of MJ stems from things he himself said, from his desperate attempts to recreate the childhood he never had, his refusal at a certain level to ‘grow up’ which i firmly believe he was crucified for by the very capitalist system (and its media hounds) you mention…

    but more on all this over cups of chai at IIC when i come?

  15. ..and not a word about the primarily US society that converted a handsome black boy into a white freakish man? His own decisions; Yes but the pressure to be white and have that non-afro nose!

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