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Michael Jackson, the #MeToo Movement, and “Leaving Neverland”-Pt 1

Michael And Corey Feldman, The Friend Who Has Continued To Insist “Michael Is Not THAT Guy.” Then Who Is “THAT” Guy And Why Is Hollywood Protecting Him At Michael Jackson’s Expense?

Over a year ago, I had started a post on Michael Jackson and the #MeToo movement. At the time, Corey Feldman’s campaign to raise awareness of pedophilia in Hollywood was receiving a lot of press (most of it negative, sadly), as well as the recently surfaced tape where he could be heard clearly stating to Santa Barbara County investigator Deborah Linden in 1993 that Michael Jackson was not “that guy” and named his actual abuser, actor Jon Grissom. This was also about the same time that the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted and an explosive New York Times article revealed that Weinstein had been guilty of planting negative stories about Michael Jackson in the press (as well as other celebrities) to cover his own crimes. And best of all, it was around this time that Wade Robson’s and Jimmy Safechuck’s civil case against Michael Jackson’s companies was finally dismissed in court for once and for all.  At the time, many fans had been elated with this apparent turning tide, thinking surely now the media would catch on to how Jackson had been set up through the years. Indeed, my initial angle of the post had been as a kind of “karma catches up to all” piece. It seemed that while #MeToo was resulting in the downfall of many of the rich, famous and powerful-and exposing some of the tactics of its dirtiest in the business- it just might prove to be Michael Jackson’s saving grace. Finally, it seemed, many of the dirty players who had set him up and had contributed to the lynch mob that pursued him so relentlessly were finally being exposed. I am so very glad now that I put the piece on the backburner, so as to allow time for more perspective to be gained. As it turned out, the worst was far from over; in fact, they were just warming up!  As it turned out, their dirtiest tactics yet were still up their sleeve.

This Isn’t About Wade…It’s About The Victim’s Right To Be Heard!

Image result for dan reed wade robson Q&A egyptian theatre images

The rumblings started last year when journalist Louis Theroux made a sarcastic tweet in response to the Michael Jackson art exhibition Off The Wall in London, questioning (and I am paraphrasing here) why Michael Jackson was not receiving closer scrutiny in the #MeToo era (as if Michael Jackson had not already been under the glare of this kind of scrutiny for over two decades!). Then, for some inexplicable reason that still defies logic or understanding, Richard Marx (he of the famous mullet back in the 80’s and some hit songs that have been mostly forgotten now) went on an anti-Jackson Twitter rant on the occasion of Jackson’s Diamond Birthday celebration.  These issues, while annoying enough, could be handled. If there is anything Jackson fans have learned, it’s that there are always going to be opinionated jerks who know nothing about the Michael Jackson allegations or his 2005 trial who will nevertheless be willing to spout their ignorance. This is nothing new.

But when the documentary Surviving R. Kelly aired and dream hampton made the inexplicable decision to somehow lump Michael Jackson into the fray just because he happened to have recorded a song R. Kelly wrote (or maybe not, if the plagiarism stories are to be believed), that faint rumble grew into an outright explosion. Nevertheless, it was an explosion that seemed peculiarly questionable. After all, many artists have collaborated with R. Kelly through the years and have recorded his songs.  And, frankly, why wouldn’t other musicians want to work with him? R. Kelly’s genius as a songwriter and musician has never been in question. The artists who have worked with him is a long list that includes, among many others, Chance the Rapper, Lady Gaga and Celine Dion, but out of all of them, it was only Michael Jackson that BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrisse Cullors chose to emphasize in a tweet that was as bizarre as it was hypocritical:

Two pedophiles Michael Jackson and collaborating – the type of rape and abuse inside of Hollywood is astonishing

One has to ask: Why was Michael Jackson being villified for simply recording what he thought was a beautiful love ballad (which it is) and why was nothing said about Kelly’s other collaborators? For that matter, I want to go deeper with this. While it’s good that this kind of sexual predatory behavior is being held accountable, are we not creating a very slippery slope if we’re going to start trying to make an example of every artist, actor, etc who just happened to work with or had any business dealings with an accused celebrity? Is this now guilt by mere association? And how fair is it to expect that just because one celebrity works with another on a song that they somehow are privy to that person’s private doings?

After the airing of the doc, Lady Gaga (quite hypocritically, I really would like to add) immediately distanced herself from the whole affair by publicly renouncing her duet with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want” and removing it from public streaming. Don’t get me wrong; I like Lady Gaga. But I do question the suspicious timing of this sudden “awakening” that she had done wrong in simply recording a duet with a controversial performer.

But therein lies the difference. Performers like Lady Gaga, who are still alive, have the choice and the option to speak out about such matters; to defend themselves or to take action if necessary. Michael Jackson has no such recourse.

Lady Gaga Hypocritically “Cancelled” Her R. Kelly Collaboration In The Wake Of The “Surviving R. Kelly” Fall Out. BUT AT LEAST SHE HAD THAT OPTION!

How do we really know what he would feel-today-about having recorded “You Are Not Alone?” Would he also renounce that choice, in hindsight, if he could? in all honesty, we simply don’t know. The bottom line is that he simply doesn’t have that choice. He can’t defend his actions or past choices from twenty years ago as with these other celebrities, and it was highly irresponsible for this production to make a blatant issue of a track that Michael simply, and quite innocently, recorded because he liked the song.

Would Michael Today Renounce His Decision To Cover “You Are Not Alone?” We Don’t Know. But We Must Also Remember That He Doesn’t Exactly Have That Choice Anymore.

But, as it turned out, the stir created by Surviving R. Kelley was just the hint of much worse to come.

On January 9, the news of a four-hour hit piece, Leaving Neverland, rocked the fandom. It came as no surprise that this was Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck at work again. But the more disheartening news was that this one-sided mockumentary was going to get the star treatment via a coveted spot at the Sundance Film Festival and a premiere on both HBO and UK Channel 4 (HBO, as it turned out, was a major sponsor).

The documentary has since had its premiere, and under the auspices of what appears to be some rather shady circumstances, all of which I will touch on shortly. But before I get too deep into that muck, let me back up and talk a bit about Corey Feldman and last year’s events (all of this is more connected than what may seem apparent at first).

Corey Feldman, who was also one of the child stars in the 80’s that Michael Jackson befriended, has been working hard with little success to obtain funding for a major motion picture he has wanted to make exposing Hollywood’s pedophile ring and revealing what he says is the truth about what happened to him and his friend Corey Haim (in the day, they were a pair known affectionately as “The Two Coreys”).

But the biggest problem with Corey Feldman’s story is that no one, it seems, really wants to hear him, let alone to take his accusations seriously. In this era of the #MeToo hashtag where even the hint of an allegation has been enough to destroy the careers of many powerful men (the New York Times alone listed 51 as of November 2017), it would seem that Corey Feldman’s revelation of names would be a media bombshell. The fact that Santa Barbara officials simply sat on this evidence for nearly twenty-five years without doing anything (all simply because Tom Sneddon and Deborah Linden were too preoccupied on their witch hunt for Jackson) would appear, logically, to be yet another of the kind of bombshell stories that the media loves. But again, other than Dr. Oz and a few low key publications-the silence has been deafening. And the same players who worked so vociferously through the years to silence/ignore Feldman’s accusations (instead preferring to shift the spotlight onto Jackson as a red herring) are still apparently hard at work to make sure that Feldman’s campaign-as well as what it could potentially reveal about Jackson’s innocence and their guilt-remains silenced. Or at the very least, as low key as possible. To put it another way, the hypocrisy continues, as rampant as ever.

Corey Feldman’s interviews, which not only exonerates Jackson fully but even indicated that the accusations against Jackson may well have been initiated by actor Jon Grissom in an attempt to cover up his own abuse of Corey Feldman as a child!

Granted, that is not nor has ever been the sole purpose of Feldman’s campaign, which is about justice for himself, for his friend Corey Haim, and all other victims of Hollywood pedophilia. But by the same token, Feldman has made no secret of the fact that at least part of his modus operandi is also to clear his friend Michael Jackson’s name, for once and for all.

Vindication will come when my best friend’s perpetrators are behind bars, when the people that molested me are behind bars and when my good friend Michael Jackson is fully exonerated in the public opinion because he was never a predator-Corey Feldman

In searching through all of the various interviews with Feldman on Youtube , I found this one published by Studio 10 that I think is one of the best at most concisely summarizing and encapsulating this issue.

One thing Feldman states here that I found especially compelling is the fact that child stars are subjected to at least two very serious forms of physical and psychological abuse. One, of course, is the simple fact of being robbed of childhood by being forced to work at a capacity that even many adults would not be able to handle, all while giving up most of their earnings to their parents. The result? If the parents are unscrupulous, the child actor may well reach eighteen to find that they have nothing to show for all those years of hard labor but empty pockets (Feldman claims here that only about $40,000 was left of the millions he earned as a child star). Then, as if those issues were not enough, they are often compounded by sexual abuse. In the above interview, Feldman says he had tried to commit suicide as a child twice, and this was before any sexual abuse had even occurred! “This was before I was molested; that was my psyche going into the molestations!” he states.

The video then segues into a segment regarding the importance of Michael Jackson’s friendship, which as Feldman has stated on numerous occasions, was actually an oasis away from his abusive situations. This isn’t surprising. Throughout his adult life, Jackson reached out to both former and current child stars. The experience of shared childhood stardom was the basis of his close friendship with Elizabeth Taylor. He also reached out to many former child stars, from Shirley Temple to Mickey Rooney and many others.  He also formed a close bond with Liza Minnelli, whose mother Judy Garland was a child star (Garland herself had passed away while Michael was still a small child, but I believe he was able to feel an extension to her through alliance with her daughter). With these adults, Michael was able to form a bond, and that bond was the shared pain, suffering, and unique experiences that could only come from being a child star. In the same spirit, he often reached out to those he knew were currently part of that same grist mill. This included then current child stars like Feldman, Corey Haim, Macaulay Culkin and others. The reasons really don’t seem that far fetched to comprehend. With the adults, Michael was able to commiserate about what it had all meant. With the children, there was still a chance–that is, a chance that at least one adult in their lives could provide them a sense of normalcy.

This leads to a very disturbing possible conclusion. If the bond between Jackson and Feldman was as close as he claims-and if he really was treating Michael as his confidante and the only adult in show business he could really trust-is it possible that Michael Jackson may have come to know too much? (I don’t want to claim credit for this idea; my fellow MJ advocate Helena espoused this same theory in a very interesting blog post from 2017).

But if this is true, was someone (or many someones) trying to shut him down?  As has already been speculated, it seems very odd that actor Jon Grissom-who Corey Feldman has repeatedly named as one of his actual abusers-was the one who initially tipped off Santa Barbara officials that Feldman was spending “too much time with Michael Jackson.” Yet this is what actually appears when one looks up Grissom’s biography on IMDB:

Jon Grissom has a criminal record that includes a 2001 arrest for child molestation charges. He was found guilty of the crime in 2003 and served time. He is also in violation of “Megan’s Law,” which requires sex offenders to register with the state.

 

The truth is that, back in 1993, Santa Barbara officials (more specifically, Tom Sneddon and Deborah Linden) were far more concerned with spinning this friendship with Michael Jackson into something sinister than hearing the truth about who Feldman’s abusers actually were. This is a claim that Feldman has made for years, but the Santa Barbara sheriff’s office denied that Feldman had ever actually named names-that is, until the actual tape of that 1993 interrogation surfaced!

Here is a transcript from Feldman’s 2017 interview on The Today Show:

I sat there and I gave them the names; they’re on record. They have all of this information, but they were scanning Michael Jackson. All they cared about was trying to find something on Michael Jackson-”

“Who you said by the way did not abuse you-” (Matt Lauer)

Michael was innocent, and that was what the interview was about in 1993. I told them he is not that guy, and they said ‘well maybe you just don’t understand your friend’ and I said ‘no, I know the difference between pedophiles and somebody who’s not a pedophile because I’ve been molested. Here’s the names, go and investigate…’-Corey Feldman, Matt Lauer interview

This is the same interview, by the way, in which Feldman later noted the aggressive manner in which Lauer tried to shame him for refusing to name names. Matt Lauer, it should be noted, was the same interviewer who was first willing to give Wade Robson a platform back in 2014, and at the time of this interview with Feldman was only a few weeks away from becoming himself yet another casualty of #MeToo. 

But this wasn’t the first time Corey Feldman had faced public ridicule and shaming for trying to out Hollywood’s pedophile ring. Years ago, on an episode of The View, Feldman was raked over the coals by Barbara Walters who disdainfully told him, “You’re damaging an entire industry!”

Isn’t it interesting, however, that these were some of the same people who were so quick to pounce on, believe, and even perpetuate the allegations against Michael Jackson? Isn’t it interesting that they never held his accusers to the same level of accountability? What gets me most in re-watching this clip is how Walters doesn’t even seem genuinely surprised or shocked by the allegations (her lame “And they’re still working in this business” notwithstanding) but, rather, disgust at the messenger. The reasons, of course, why Walters and others (for she is by no means the only one!) continue to defend and hold the silence is because they themselves are dependent upon “the industry” for a living. If the industry is destroyed, they go down with it.

Michael Jackson, for all his fame and record sales, was never a Hollywood “insider.” The fact that perhaps he wanted to be (for this did seem to be one of his most persistent ambitions; his last uncharted frontier, so to speak) is beside the point. In fact, this ambition may well have been part of his undoing. He was never going to be guaranteed that level of protection and loyalty because he wasn’t a “member of the club.” He was a musician; an oddball; an outsider knocking for admittance. Although #MeToo has definitely changed the playing field somewhat, it still remains true that when a musician is accused of a crime (particularly a Black musician) he or she is far more likely to be swept under the bus. Next up on the hierarchy: Black actors, then White musicians, and finally White actors. But once you get into the realm of White powerful Hollywood execs, then you are treading into very dangerous waters indeed! However, at the time the 1993 accusations serviced, Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly “just” another African-American musician and entertainer. He was already owner of the ATV catalog and had just signed what was, at the time, the most lucrative recording contract in history, one that was guaranteed (at least according to the terms of the contract) to give him a stake in the film industry. There was a time when Jackson was clearly being courted by the likes of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and some of Hollywood’s most powerful elite.  So what went wrong?

The truth-and this is coming from someone who has spent her entire life as a movie geek who loves Hollywood-is that Hollywood is a notoriously hypocritical place, but then this could also be said for much of journalism and the media as well. When an accusation is made, the first impulse of all those not immediately affected is to instantly distance themselves publicly from the pariah as much as possible, lest their own reputation be tainted by the association.  Granted, this is not always of the celebrity’s own volition. They are often acting on the advice of their own PR firms in order to protect their own brand. However,  it has also been proven that this can take the form of deflecting (i.e, finding a scapegoat who can take the focus off of themselves) and the notorious Harvey Weinstein was apparently a master at it.

This brings me back to the original question raised. If, in the early 90’s,  child stars like Corey Feldman did not yet have the maturity or emotional capacity to stand up to their abusers or to blow the whistle, did some feel threatened enough by Jackson’s close friendships with Feldman and other child stars to want him permanently removed from any position of power or authority he might have had in that kind of situation? By turning him into the object of suspect, perhaps? I realize this is a tough question to raise; even harder, of course, to prove. But it is certainly not a theory without some merit.

The proverbial “proof in the pudding” actually came with an  explosive December 2017 New York Times article I mentioned previously, “Weinstein’s Complicity Machine.” I have quoted here the relevant (for our purposes) passage:

Over dinner in West Hollywood in late 2003 or early the next year, the men had discussed a plan to help Mr. Weinstein avoid embarrassment. While married to his first wife, he had become involved with someone else, Mr. Benza discovered. A clerk at a Los Angeles art studio where he commissioned a gift for Mr. Weinstein — a painting of a reimagined “Hollywood” sign reading “Harveywood” — volunteered to Mr. Benza that a friend, Georgina Chapman, was seeing the producer. Mr. Weinstein, who would later marry Ms. Chapman, was separated and wanted to keep the relationship confidential until he was divorced, according to his spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister.

Mr. Benza, then between jobs, had a suggestion. “I could supply your P.R. girls with a lot of gossip — a lot of stories — and if people come at them with the ‘Harvey’s having an affair story,’ they can barter,” Mr. Benza recalled telling Mr. Weinstein. “He said, ‘A. J., it’s got to be good stories,’ and I said, ‘Don’t you worry about it.’”

Collecting a monthly retainer, Mr. Benza said, he reported items on Roger Clemens, Michael Jackson and others and sent them to Mr. Weinstein’s communications team, though he didn’t know whether they were used to trade away stories about the producer. Mr. Weinstein’s spokeswoman said the payments to Mr. Benza were for public relations work during Miramax’s dispute with Disney.

After 10 months, Mr. Weinstein said, “I think the coast is clear; I think we beat this thing,” according to Mr. Benza, who recently had a brief stint as a writer for American Media and also runs his own gossip podcast, “Fame Is a Bitch.”

 The “Mr. Benza” of the article was none other than gossip columnist A.J. Benza, famed for his sordid stories about the rich and famous, and particularly nasty stories about Michael Jackson. It was revealed that Weinstein had also worked closely with Dylan Howard, editor of Radar Online and National Enquirer, to create “smoke and mirrors” stories about other celebrities including (most notoriously) Michael Jackson. This gets doubly interesting when it is recalled that it was Dylan Howard who became the foremost “go to” person in the media for Wade Robson’s attorneys, especially the stunt they pulled in 2016 with fabricating a “fake news” story of child porn that was never found at Neverland.  

With all of these forces at work, is it any surprise to learn that the new documentary Untouchable-exposing Harvey Weinstein’s crimes-was premiering at Sundance Film Festival on the exact same day as Leaving Neverland? Dear readers, do you recall seeing anything in the press this weekend about Untouchable? Neither do I. Oh yes, there were a few mentions on some very low profile outlets, but other than that, not a peep. Compare that to the media frenzy that surrounded Leaving Neverland and you get the idea. Something feels very rotten in the state of Utah right about now. Leaving Neverland was a very, very late, last minute addition to the lineup, barely making it under the wire of the deadline, and it seems there was quite a tremendous pull to get it on the bill.

Standing In The Que For “Leaving Neverland.” It looks like a lot of nice, ordinary folks but don’t be fooled. A significant number of media “plants” were in place to ensure a non-controversial Q&A for Robson and Safechuck.

Preliminary reviews have started to come in, and in the next part of this post, I will share some very critical thoughts on this film and the reactions it has garnered. Also, now that we’re getting a better idea of what is actually in the movie-and maybe more interestingly, what is not-I will be in a much better position to start critiquing it. Stay tuned. Part 2 is coming…

Dan Reed, Wade Robson and James Safechuck at the Q&A. Full dissection coming…this is gonna get brutal!

Image result for wade robson Egyptian theatre images

 

50,000 Signatures Needed; Almost There!

As most of you are aware by now, Sundance 2019 will be premiering a hit piece directed by Dan Reed and sponsored by HBO and UK Channel 4, a four-hour sobfest in which the same two scam artists who recently had their cases against Michael Jackson’s estate and companies thrown out of court-Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck-will claim that they were molested. While trash stories about Michael Jackson have come and gone in the last ten years (most notably since Robson’s sudden about face in 2012) the understandable concern now, both within the fan community and for those who care about justice, is that in this era where the lynch mob mentality of #MeToo and the “Cancel Culture” it has helped spawn is drowning out all voices of reason or due process, this could be one injustice against the name Michael Jackson too many. It is long overdue for this kind of endless defamation to end. I have a post in the works that will analyze the full extent of Michael Jackson’s legacy in the MeToo era. As always, we must keep uppermost in mind four  crucial differences between Jackson’s “case” and that of other celebrities who have fallen under the scrutiny of MeToo, namely:

  1. That Michael Jackson, unlike many of these other celebrities, had his full day in court over a decade ago (and to that we must add that this was a court case that put his entire life under intense scrutiny, as it didn’t become “just” about the Arvizo case, but every friendship with every child he had ever known!)
  2. There has never been one bit of actual  inculpatory evidence presented against him, even after one of most thorough prosecution investigations on record. In every single instance, it has come down to an accuser’s word against Jackson’s. And now he is not here to defend against such accusations, making these actions all the more reprehensible.
  3. A decade long investigation by the FBI yielded nothing!
  4. The role of race, Hollywood double standards, and how Michael Jackson was used as a scapegoat within the industry to divert attention from the crimes of others (namely one Harvey Weinstein!)
  5. That these allegations have been led by a man who endlessly sang Jackson’s praises as a mentor and guiding light of his life-until he was fired from a prestigious gig directing the Michael Jackson Circus du Soleil show, a loss that cost him millions.

In the meantime, though, please work to voice your disapproval!

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Michael Jackson’s Halloween: Scary Enough?

“Are You Scared Yet?”

On July 11, after much fanfare and teasing, a new project from the Michael Jackson estate was officially announced.

 

by Denise Petski

Michael Jackson’s Halloween, a new, hourlong animated special, featuring the King of Pop’s music as its soundtrack, will premiere this fall on CBS.

Created and produced by Optimum Productions, the Michael Jackson company now owned by his estate, the special will feature the voices of actors Christine Baranski, Kiersey Clemons, Alan Cumming, George Eads, Brad Garrett, Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Lucas Till.

The special follows millennials Vincent (Till) and Victoria (Clemons), who meet “accidentally” on Halloween night and find themselves, along with Ichabod the dog, at a mysterious hotel located at 777 Jackson Street called This Place Hotel. Once inside, Vincent and Victoria are sent on an unexpected, magical adventure of personal discovery, culminating in a spectacular dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson.

John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson, serve as executive producers. Daniel Chuba is the producer and Mark A.Z. Dippé is the director.

Many, including myself, presumed we were finally building up for the official announcement of the long promised Thriller 3D film project. Alas, although that was not to be for this go-round, we still have a project that is centered around a Halloween theme. (Update: Thriller 3D has been scheduled to premiere at the Vienna Film Festival August 30-September 9).  However, the announcement had no sooner been made than a barrage of negative reactions swiftly engulfed social media. That’s really no surprise. These days, the announcement of any major MJ-related project is usually a polarizing affair, but this project, in particular, seems to have elicited a lot of strongly negative reactions-somewhat inexplicable, I think, given the overall benign nature of this project. Sure, it’s not Thriller 3D or Dangerous25 (a project that many were hoping to see come to light) but what could possibly be so wrong with an hour long animated special on a major network, featuring Michael Jackson’s best known dark themed works?

Well, the answer to that question is quite complex, and to fully understand it, one must take into account how deeply divided the fan base has become over the estate executors and how deeply that issue of trust vs. mistrust has become, especially when it comes to A: Projects that profit off of his legacy, and B: How that legacy is being handled.  As I have emphasized many times, I have always been and remain neutral when it comes to the politics surrounding the fandom and estate. Overall, I believe the estate has made some smart moves when it comes to preserving Michael Jackson’s legacy (This Is It,  the Cirque du Soleil Immortal show and One) but also some major missteps. The controversy over the Michael album has forever tainted any posthumous music releases, and the insistence on “contemporizing” Michael’s music (rather than simply allowing the tracks to stand on their own merit) has not helped matters. True, they did manage to wrangle a Top Ten hit with the updated “Love Never Felt So Good” but, for the most part, there have been far more misses than hits with the estate’s attempts to ignite interest in a posthumous musical career for Michael Jackson. In a recent article, in fact, it was stated that there were no future plans to release anymore music from the vaults. That is a downright shame, as they are still sitting on a ton of unreleased gems that many fans want to hear. There is certainly still a market for unreleased MJ tracks; it’s just that fans want these tracks, for the most part, in their raw but pristine state, not over produced by a Timbaland or L.A. Reid to try to mimic everything else on the radio these days.

I think it may be safe to assume, then, that the estate has not had a very good track record for its management of Michael Jackson’s posthumous musical output. I’ve said many times, if they had simply combined the best of the unreleased tracks on Michael (minus the controversial Cascio tracks) and the best of the demos that made it onto Xscape, they could have had a great posthumous MJ album. The tragedy is that, between the insistence on including debatable tracks (which weren’t exactly great tracks to begin with) and the insistence that every MJ track must somehow be “updated” to compete in today’s market, the estate has pretty much blown any confidence that fans may have once had in their ability to successfully market a musical career for Michael Jackson beyond the grave. And here we can certainly add that this shaky confidence has not been helped by the loss of the Sony/ATV catalog, nor the little matter of that 750 million dollar debt with Uncle Sam (which I will still be addressing in due time).

However, when it comes to the musical legacy that Michael created in his lifetime-those seven adult solo albums and the many classic tracks they yielded-the outlook has been much brighter. Clearly, public demand for those songs isn’t apt to disappear any time soon, and it is in the continued public demand for those songs-as well as the continued popularity of Michael’s brand and image-that largely keeps the estate’s bread buttered. The estate’s marketing of Michael Jackson’s known works has been for the most part successful, though still occasionally marred by some questionable choices (for example, licensing the use of “Bad” for Angry Birds, a move that many felt reduced the track’s powerful political message to a silly rumble between cartoon birds). Indeed, these are the kinds of arguments and debates that continue to drive the polarization of the fandom over most estate decisions. Inevitably, some are going to argue that these decisions cheapen the message of his songs and will ultimately water down the impact of his legacy, while others argue-just as vehemently-that this is exactly the kind of exposure that will keep his music, image, and memory alive for future generations.  Both arguments have their validity, and this brings me to today’s topic. Michael Jackson himself was an artist who constantly balanced the often polarizing extremes of artistic purity on the one hand, and commercialism on the other (Michael did love sales, and anyone who would wish to argue that sales did not matter to him is sadly deluded). This fact is partly what makes the posthumous marketing of Michael Jackson product a particularly challenging affair. The balance between “what Michael would have wanted,” “how Michael would have done it” and what is going to keep fans and consumers happy is a constant challenge. Even this aspect raises another interesting question: With the wealth of material and projects left behind by Michael Jackson that were completed-but have yet to receive their due-do we really need new projects that have nothing to do with him other than the lending of his name?  Here in particular (especially since we are talking a Halloween special) I am referring to the short film Ghosts,  a film whose re-release fans, including myself, have spent years clamoring for. As far as the general public is concerned, many are still unaware of this 1997 closet classic, which given the right promotional push and a little updated HD magic, could certainly still captivate a modern audience. Personally, I would love, love love to see Ghosts re-released as a major broadcast special.

However, I do think that in all fairness, we have to consider the uphill battle that the estate is against. There are some factions simply waiting to tear down and rip to shreds anything the estate does, regardless of rhyme or reason. As soon as the announcement hit, many of the reactions across social media were viscerally over the top. Granted, I think much of the negative reaction has stemmed from a long series of gradually building disappointments over estate projects, but I’m just not sure that there is anything in the idea of a Halloween cartoon special to warrant so many hostile reactions, even if, granted, the announcement of the project may not have warranted such a major buildup. This post is not intended as an outright defense of the project-which, granted, could still turn out to be a disaster-but I would like to directly address some of the criticisms that the project has raised, and why I don’t necessarily agree with all of them. For starters, a point to consider is that this is going to be a major network broadcast, which in itself speaks volumes about the renewed faith in the Michael Jackson brand. Obviously, its target audience is going to be kids, and the plan seems to be that this might develop into one of those perennial seasonal projects that returns year after year. That will depend, of course, on ratings and the overall quality of the program, all things that have yet to be proven, but the fact that CBS is willing to take its chances and broadcast a Michael Jackson themed special geared towards children speaks volumes about how far the healing process has come in the re-branding of Michael Jackson.

A recent Inquisitir article by journalist Jonathan Brown summed it up perfectly:

WHY I’M ‘THRILLED’ THAT A MICHAEL JACKSON ANIMATED SPECIAL IS HAPPENING THIS YEAR [OPINION]

Michael Jackson was pretty special to a lot of people.

Special enough, in fact, that a little more than eight years after the sudden, saddening loss of the Grammy-winning music genius, a Halloween-themed animated special centered on the beats, pops, and vocal effects that the 50-year-old left to the planet in the wake of his death, will air later this year, just in time for the annual boo-fest.

And for the record, I couldn’t be prouder, happier, and just about moved to tears to learn of this news. And also, no, I am not ashamed to own or publicize my tears. In fact, the world probably could do better with owning their feelings, kind of like Michael tried to teach all of us through his music.

But, I digress.

The reason why the news of CBS’ plan to air the one-hour long cartoon special, Michael Jackson’s Halloween, themed around the only album that could go with it, Jackson’s seminal Thriller; an album that still charts at least once a year on the Billboard Top 200 (along with a mix of MJ compilations that always include some, if not all, of the seven singles released from the nine-song long 1982 recording), is wonderful to yours truly is for one reason and one reason only.

It means that despite everything that most of us have heard about him, the thing that made Michael Jackson special; his gift of music, has finally found a way to outwit, outrun, and outlast the gossip.

And you know of the gossip, I’m sure. The many whispers. The ones that, just this week, began to hit the headlines again for the umpteenth time since the special Michael Jackson departed this Earth. Whether you believe those rumors or not is up to you, but what I believe at this moment is that for the first time since they’ve been uttered, they’re not the only focus of Michael Jackson being in the headlines.

michael jackson special
A new animated special themed around Michael Jackson’s legendary ‘Thriller’ album will air on CBS this fall. [Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Right now, it’s also about his music. Right now, there’s also talk about whether the album is too dated for present times for a television show in 2017, or whether anyone wants to actually see a Michael Jackson Halloweenanimated special in 2017, some fans included — and no, there’s not actually wrong with having a third, for the record (following the short films for Thriller and Ghosts, of course).

But with that said, with the storm finally starting to lift on the life of someone who was far too special than anyone ever could’ve imagined, perhaps now, we can finally begin to get back to Michael Jackson’s ultimate dream of making the world a better place through his forever-amazing music.

michael jackson special
[Image by Getty Images]

Perhaps now, the young kids who this Michael Jackson animated special in geared toward, won’t grow up only knowing of him as the “joke” their parents made him out to be.

Perhaps they can be the ones to carry his music and magic over to the next generation without the shame and/or judgment that came along for us with standing by the belief that the King of Pop, Michael Joseph Jackson, the blessed son of Katherine and Joe Jackson, brother of Janet, Tito, Marlon, Randy, Rebbie, Jackie, Jermaine, LaToya, and the late Brandon, father of “Prince” Michael Jr., Paris-Katherine and Prince Michael Jackson II, whom he affectionately relayed to as Blanket for the “blanket” of love that he felt for his children, was actually a good guy.

Maybe now, in 2017, we can start reminding the world just how loving, wonderful, magical, powerful, inspirational, and special Michael Jackson truly was.

And it can all begin, ironically and finally, with a Michael Jackson animated special in 2017.

[Featured Image by Junko Kimura/Getty Images]

To add my own after thoughts to this, being “moved to tears” over this project may be a bit hyperbolic but Brown does bring up an interesting point that cannot be emphasized enough. The news of this special hit the same week that the Jimmy Safechuck case was officially dismissed, resulting in yet another round of media attacks by a desperate Vince Finaldi in order to salvage whatever chance the Robson case may have.  In the wake of Finaldi’s revenge, the fact that CBS would be broadcasting a Michael Jackson Halloween special was still considered by mainstream media as the bigger story. This is a positive no matter how you slice it, but I would still like to move beyond this (to some extent it is a given that Michael’s art will always trump the tabloid trash) to, rather, addressing some of the direct concerns about the artistic merits–or lack thereof–of this project.

By far one of the biggest criticisms the project has raised is the fact that it is a cartoon. Many of the harshest criticisms I saw could basically be summarized as the estate reducing Michael Jackson’s legacy to an animated cartoon, and how insulting this is for a serious artist. Considering Michael’s own love for animation (heck, we are talking the guy whose dream was to purchase Marvel comics!) I find these kinds of criticisms particularly baffling. Certainly Michael had always loved incorporating these kinds of fantastical, often animated, elements into his work. We know he was a huge fan of Walt Disney, that he loved comics, that he loved the idea of casting himself as these kind of comic, “Superhero” characters. In fact, a very good discussion on a recent MJ Cast episode addressed this very issue, as various points were raised both pro and con regarding the upcoming special and the entire Thriller 35 promotional campaign (of which, supposedly, this project is just one of several planned–we hope, anyway). We also know that a plan for a television Halloween special, to be broadcast on CBS,  was already being proposed as part of Michael’s planned “comeback” following the This Is It residency. However, this would have shaped up (according to Michael’s plan, at least) as something very different from the current project (though that isn’t to say that the current project bears at least some similarity in spirit). The plan that Michael drafted with Randy Phillips would have been a reworking of his “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment from the This Is It shows. Michael very much wanted to reintroduce the world to Ghosts, and the plan had been to include footage from the classic 1997 film.

The Halloween Special Jackson Was Planning For CBS Would Have Recreated Elements From His This Is It “Thriller/Ghosts/Threatened” Sequence

So the argument that this was something Michael had already planned before his death does have validity, but then becomes one of those pesky “yes, but…” kind of questions that will drive you bonkers if you find yourself drawn into a debate over it. Yes, a Halloween special was in the cards and on the drawing room table, but the actual product that Michael envisioned making would have been very different from the project that it now looks as though will actually materialize.

But in all fairness, we still have to come down to the obvious. Michael Jackson didn’t live to do his planned spectacular “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment on tour, let alone to oversee the production of this proposed Halloween special, which I’m sure would have been something quite wondrous to behold. And it goes without saying that he is not here to actually host the program as he had intended. So what to do? Well, either the idea could die with him and wither away in the vault, or the estate could try to find a way to at least partially realize this vision. Again, some will call it exploitation and others will see it as keeping his brand alive, and these days there isn’t much room for middle ground in these debates. The real challenge-and ultimate test-will be in how well the project is actually pulled off.

To that end, I have no crystal ball and certainly can’t predict how this project will play out. As it gets closer to the broadcast date, I’m sure we may start to see some trailers and other teasers that may give us a better idea of what to expect. But in the meantime, here are some points of concern that have been raised and some possible points of refutation to consider (as Michael would say, all for love, of course).

Point #1: The estate is treating Michael like a joke by reducing him to a “cartoon”:

I saw a deluge of social media outrage over the idea of portraying Michael as a cartoon. I think for many, the idea conjures up recent associations such as the hologram fiasco. However, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with giving us either an animated Michael Jackson special, or for that matter, an animated Michael. We already know that Michael was a huge fan of animation. What’s more, a lot of younger fans (particularly those only born in the 80’s and 90’s) seem to have forgotten that many of us who grew up with The Jackson 5 also grew up with seeing Michael as a weekly, Saturday morning cartoon. The Jackson 5 cartoon was a huge favorite of fans in the early 70’s.

True, we might argue that Michael himself didn’t exactly  have much say or control over his career and image at that time (he was only a kid) but in one of his taped conversations with Rabbi Schmuley Boteach (which made it into Boteach’s 2009 The Michael Jackson Tapes) the adult Michael gave us some interesting insight on how he felt about being a Saturday morning cartoon figure:

It is very interesting here that Michael states being a part of that cartoon series was something he felt “more special about” than all of the “hit records and concerts.” He stressed the importance of the connection to children around the world, who were still watching The Jackson 5 cartoon a generation later (and no doubt are still watching it today).  Michael’s own words certainly leave little doubt how he felt about being a “cartoon figure.” He certainly didn’t view it as something demeaning or as something that belittled his image, but said, in fact, he thought it was one of the coolest experiences of his life.

Point #2: They would not do this to someone considered a “serious” musician or artist. This is proof of the estate’s ongoing refusal to take Michael Jackson seriously:

But really? I could point to at least half a dozen examples that outright refute this argument.  The most obvious, of course, would be The Beatles, who not only got the cartoon treatment in their 1968 classic Yellow Submarine but also, like The Jackson 5, as a Saturday morning cartoon. (The Osmonds, likewise, had a stint as a Saturday morning cartoon, though I suppose there could be room for debate as to whether The Osmonds count as “serious” musicians!).

But certainly being made into cartoon figures didn’t reduce the artistic status of John Lennon or Paul McCartney, so again, there is no reason to jump to the knee jerk assumption that such a project is somehow cheapening his legacy. (However, with that being said, we can still argue, Yes, but…The Beatles did maintain some degree of creative control over projects like Yellow Submarine and therein lies all the difference in the world. To that, I would say it is definitely a valid point, but The Beatles’ actual input into the finished project was actually quite minimal, as they considered the vehicle more as a convenient and quick way to wrap up their three picture commitment to United Artists).

Point #3 This project doesn’t even feature Michael Jackson until the very end. His image is nowhere to be seen in the promo. Is the estate trying to “erase” Michael Jackson from his own brand?

Where IS Michael Here? That’s The Question Some Are Asking.

Again, this was an interesting question raised on the MJ Cast webisode I linked to earlier. We are being promised that an “animated Michael Jackson” will make his appearance at the end of the special, but it seems that until then, we will simply be making do with Vincent, Victoria and “Ichabod the dog” having various spooky adventures in a haunted house (albeit, presumably, to a Michael Jackson soundtrack) for nearly an hour. This could go either way, I suppose. On the one hand, it could be a very satisfying and climactic buildup to the big moment when “MJ” actually makes his grand appearance. OR it could have the opposite effect of simply reducing his grande finale performance to a footnote at the end. Again, much is going to depend on how well the project is ultimately put together, and will the big payoff at the end be worth it? If it becomes just an hour of two animated teens having silly, lame adventures and the finale falls flat, the project will be sunk. So obviously a lot is riding on how well that finale comes off.

The premise can work IF (But Only IF) the grande finale pays off.

On the other hand, it does appear that Michael’s “presence” as such will certainly be a factor throughout the program, not only the music, of course, but in all of the various allusions to his song titles and films. It seems that at least part of the idea is that these two “millenials” will not immediately make the connections, but of course they will be very obvious winks and nods to those of us old enough to remember.

As to whether the promotional ad is a deliberate attempt to erase Michael’s image from the project, or simply to preserve the element of surprise at the end, I can’t say. I would certainly hope that it is the latter. A mystery still remaining, however, is which “era” Michael we will get when he finally does appear at the end. Is it going to be “Thriller” era Michael? Or the “Ghost” era Maestro? Or something else altogether? The one argument I would buy is that it seems the estate has continued to push “Thriller” era Michael as its brand of choice, while ignoring or downplaying much of his later, more controversial work. And it may explain in part why Dangerous 25 has been all but trumped by Thriller 35. Clearly, we know there is a very large percentage of Michael Jackson fans who remain nostalgic for 80’s era Michael, pre-vitiligo, pre-political, and pre-controversial. Is the estate catering to that faction? It would not surprise me, although we also have to remember that Bad25 was largely a commercial flop because it did not receive sufficient fan support (again, we had about roughly half the fan base actively boycotting it as an estate project) so there is that argument to be considered, and again, may have a lot to do with why no Dangerous 25 project has materialized.

For now, I am willing to give Michael Jackson’s Halloween the benefit of the doubt. My initial gut reaction to the announcement was, “It seems like a cute idea, but I’m not blown away.” As I have continued to emphasize, everything is going to depend on how well the idea is actually executed. But I would say that certainly at this point, the estate cannot afford another disappointing output. The likelihood that this is going to be something brilliant is pretty slim, but at the very least, if done right, it may turn out decently enjoyable. The sad irony here, of course, is that Michael Jackson, as we all know, was the master of perfection who never settled for mediocrity.

On the positive side, I do have much higher hopes for Thriller 3D which may possibly see a theatrical release in conjunction with the TV special. In any event, Halloween 2017 is shaping up as the season of Michael. It will be interesting to see how these projects play out. Duds or classics, the proof will be in the pudding-the pumpkin pudding, that is.

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