When Michael Stood Up And Told The World "I'm Beautiful"


Now on to the other short piece I wanted to share today. “I’m Beautiful” was a poem that came back into my consciousness last March, when I was preparing for my presentation on Dancing The Dream. “I’m Beautiful” is not from that collection, but it was while surfing Youtube for Dancing The Dream selections that I stumbled upon this very powerful video of “I’m Beautiful” that was posted by The Kingdom52.

lot12178Not much is known about this poem, other than that Michael wrote it on the back of a laundry service list of The Lodge, a resort on Pebble Beach that he frequented during the late 80’s and early 90’s.

I was struck not only by the beauty and powerful message of this video, as it conveyed Michael’s message to the world, but curious anew about this little-known poem that Michael scribbled one day, most likely on the spur of a moment, at Pebble Beach.  However, at the time, it wasn’t relevant to what I was doing with Dancing The Dream. As I said, it was not a poem from that collection (though given the timeframe and location of its inception, it may well have emerged as part of the same creative energy that produced those works). Anyway, I put it on the backburner with the intention of coming back to it at a later time. Then, as things heated up with the AEG trial, the Wade Robson allegations, and so many of the other stories that have made the last couple of months such a halycon, there seemed even less time to dedicate to a little scrap of a poem that Michael wrote on the back of a laundry service list eons ago.

Except that, throughout all of the upheavals of these last two months, this poem has never left my mind. In fact, I have heard it like the crash of a thundering wave, growing louder and more intense as the headlines surrounding his name have only grown more chaotic in the last few weeks. Sometimes I just have to give in and accept that there is a reason why a certain thing is calling me so intensely. “I’m Beautiful” was a poem that did not wish to be ignored any longer.

First of all, I just want to add a word or two regarding this video and some of The Kingdom52’s more extreme views. Obviously, this person is a Death Hoax believer, and is using some of the words from Michael’s poem as justification for her beliefs. I want to make it clear, here and now, that I am not a Death Hoax believer (if I were, I think that would have been abundantly clear long before now, lol) but I can certainly see how some of this poem’s more cryptic lines-“I’m a new person now,” “Knowing the secrets and determined with fire to move mountains,” “Molding my own world,” “The old me is behind,” “I will march ahead anew”-would give Death Hoax believers a lot of ammunition.

But anyway, I’m not posting the vid because I ascribe to her views, necessarily, but rather, only because I think it is a beautiful video, period. And because I think she beautifully captures the spirit and essence of this poem. I have seen other videos of this poem, but none to me are quite as powerful as this one. So, I am presenting it here with all due respect for our differences of opinion.

However, for those of us who reject the Death Hoax theory, what else might we learn about Michael from this poem?

We know that Michael was prone to writing manifestos, carefully setting down and committing to paper his long-term goals for his life. http://www.allforloveblog.com/?p=8143

It is, however, unlikely that this was any sort of long term plan for his eventual “death,” disappearance, and rebirth into a new life, except perhaps on a spiritual level. For starters, the dating of this poem (as I said, probably sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s, when Michael was frequenting Pebble Beach) makes this scenario seem unlikely. Now, yes, if he had written this in late 2008 or early 2009, then I might be giving this idea more than a passing nod.

But casting aside all death hoax theories, what exactly was Michael saying in this poem? We can’t fully appreicate the message until we know the place that Michael had to get to, within himself, in order to be able to say to the world that I am beautiful.

Many Well Known and Beautiful Photos Of Michael Were Taken At Pebble Beach, Including This One
Many Well Known and Beautiful Photos Of Michael Were Taken At Pebble Beach, Including This One

These words came from a man whose insecurities over his personal appearance dominated almost every aspect of his life. I am not just repeating this because I’ve fallen for the tabloid fodder. On the contrary, I do think the media exaggerated a lot of this. But nevertheless, I have heard it in confidence from many who were close to Michael that, yes, he was always convinced he was ugly. In fact, “just so ugly” was how David Nordahl described to me Michael’s feelings about how he looked.

The tabloid ridicule through the years, no doubt, only intensified this insecurity.

Michael Jackson: I look like a lizard, I look like, it’s horrible. I don’t like it, I never like it.  That’s why I wish I could never be photographed or seen and I push myself to go to the things that we go to. –From The Michael Jackson Tapes, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach.

It goes even deeper than being about physical appearance, however. I don’t have to tell you that Michael’s lifelong battle with the media and the public image of him that they, in part, created was vicious in the extreme. Michael may have had rhinocerous skin, as he once said. But eventually, anybody can become worn down under the weight of constant ridicule and scorn.

When the world thinks you are a freak, what do you eventually begin to think of yourself?

This was a battle that Michael fought, constantly, for years. I suppose, yes, in some ways he could have conformed to societal expectations and become “normal.” But at what cost? And how boring is “normal” anyway? Aside from his great creative gifts, Michael’s life became both an internal and public battle to reconcile just who he was, and just where he fit. For all of us who have known the pain of physical abuse, of bullying, and insecurity, self acceptance is not something that comes easy. Let alone self celebration.

To be able to say, even on paper, “Hey, I am somebody. I am beautiful” may take years of growth and self reflection. Even then, some of us never get there.

The sad irony in this is that this was Michael Jackson, one of the most celebrated persons on this planet. He must have heard he was beautiful all the time. For sure, he heard it from his legions of female fans. He was used to the accolades, all of the “You’re the greatest, Michael.”

But it seemed he still had to actively work at convincing himself that he was somebody worthy of space on God’s green earth.

I’m Beautiful (repeated 4 times)

I’m Gorgeouse [sic]

God Is For Me, Who Can Be Against Me…

What was going through his mind that day, as he scribbled those words on the back of that laundry list? What place was he in?

I’m reminded of an interview I saw with Rev. June Gaitlin a few years back where she said part of her healing mantra with Michael was to get him to proclaim “I am beautiful.” She said he kept repeating it, but he was repeating it in his high voice, and not very convincingly. She kept urging him to use his real voice; to say it like he meant it; to shout it from the rooftop, until finally he suddenly shouted-in his “real voice”-“I am beautiful!”

I can only imagine the seismic energy shift that must have occurred in that room, in that moment!images (6)

Did Michael really know he was beautiful? Despite all of the tabloid stories that depict him as a tragic and fallen human being, full of insecurity and self-loathing (their favorite narrative) the evidence from Michael’s own words suggests that he was very much in touch with his own inner strength. He always knew what he was capable of. He was aware of his beauty. But perhaps, like all of us, he sometimes needed a little reminding. We are all dependent upon the need to love and to feel loved. For Michael, it meant coming to realize that the only effective way to create change really does begin with the ability to love (if you’ll pardon my cliche’) the man in the mirror.

Sadly, the only reason we even know of this poem’s existence is because it turned up for sale on Julien’s Auctions.


The winning bid went for $16, 250.

Sixteen thousand dollars seems like a steep price to pay for some words written on paper.

But the true worth of those words can only be measured in terms of what they accomplished for Michael’s soul.

As the old Mastercard commercials used to say: Priceless.

ETA: Back in 2010, Seven Bowie did an interesting piece on this poem as well, which you might want to check out:


36 thoughts on “When Michael Stood Up And Told The World "I'm Beautiful"”

  1. Thanks so much, Raven!That video and Michael’s poem is Gorgeous and Beautiful, as he was! It would be nice to know more precisely when it was written–if it is late 80’s early 90’s then as you say it is right around the time of Neverland purchase (’88), Moonwalk (’88), Dangerous (91) and Dancing the Dream (92), which as you discussed in your DTD post was a period of great creativity and exploration.

    I was interested in the statement “God is for me, who can be against me.” This idea is in many religions, but also in the scriptures MJ was looking at when he collaborated with Deepak Chopra. Here is a stanza from a Sufi devotional song: “Why should I beg from anyone? What can anyone else give me, when my Lord, my great Lord, gives me everything?” In Moonwalk, MJ writes that his first duty is to God and next to his family.

    “Making my own world”–leaving the family compound and going out on his own, creating Neverland and being “a new person,” ideas similar to the note on the 60 minutes piece, although that was written in ’79.

    Moving mountains is also a religious concept–having faith the size of a mustard seed means that you can move mountains. Love all the determination he shows here–what a strong person he was. The line about ‘knowing the secrets” is v. intriguing too.

    1. You know, the more I think about it, the more it bugs me because we really don’t know exactly when it was written. Obviously, the Death Hoaxers have latched onto it because they feel it is “evidence” of his plan-another manifesto, if you will. But I think that really depends on how literally you take his words. I see it in more of a spiritual sense. It’s a casting off, yes. But the idea of shedding one’s skin and casting off an old life for a new one can have many levels of symbolic meaning.

      I am assuming it was composed in the late 80’s or early 90’s because I know this was the time when he was frequenting The Lodge (many of his oceanside pics that were used in DTD were shot there). However, who’s to say that he might not have returned there at a later time? I even checked out the front of the laundry service list, to see if there might be a date or some clue, but there isn’t. (You can see the front, as well as the poem on back, if you click on the link to the Julien’s Auctions page I gave in the post).

      When I first learned about the poem, I was fascinated to think that it might have come from a later time, such as after the trial in 2005 (around the same time of his “Innocent Man” lyrics) but I don’t think that it is likely unless it can be established that he stayed at The Lodge during that time. However, again, there is simply no way to know for sure.

      It’s certainly not that it’s any less fascinating if it dates from the late 80’s or early 90’s. But I know that his mindset at this time would have been different. This was a time in which he was still very idealistic and optimistic for his future. But, yes, even then, he was breaking away from many old paths; forging a new life. Leaving home; leaving his religion; testing his wings.

      I guess there’s just part of me that would like to know that maybe he felt this same confidence and fire at the end of his life. It would be a great comfort to me to know it dates from a later time, but like I said, it is no less fascinating even if dated from an earlier time.

  2. Here’s the quote from Matthew 17:20: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

  3. It seems to me that Michael was put in a lose-lose position for the most of his life: whenever he would beat the odds and manage to rise after an attack or despite the circumstances, it would only make people want to bring him down even more. And whenever he stumbled and revealed a crack in his rhinoceros skin, it would be taken as proof of him being damaged to begin with, self-loathing and that his troubles were all of his own making.

    Blaming his complex relationship with his appearance on him being “a tortured self-loathing soul” is just so misguided given how much outside forces had influenced his self-perception. From his father calling him ugly and people openly talking about how he is no longer as cute as a teenager as he used to be, to his diseases altering his appearance and him having to accept that while being accused of betraying his race and gender, and being openly publicly mocked for his looks… Hey, most regular people are not quite satisfied with their looks and they don’t have cameras pointed at them 24/7. I wish people would understand just a little what he had to deal with – if you torture someone, they become tortured, no matter how strong they are, cuz with enough force you can bruise anybody.

    He never gets the credit for having the guts to show his post-vitiligo face and staying in that spotlight despite the abuse directed at him.

    1. I think a lot of this idea of blaming Michael for his own problems is the media’s way of alleviating responsibility. I’m not saying that his own choices in life didn’t play some hand in it, but as I always say, my purpose here isn’t to dwell on his flaws, as there are plenty of places readers can go if they want to read that stuff. I am all about celebrating the man-his life and accomplishments-while recognizing his humanity.

      But getting back to point, if you read enough tabloid articles (or even mainstream media articles) about Michael, it’s almost always the same narrative; the same, broken record. “Damaged,” “tragic, “self loathing,” “Michael’s demons,” etc, etc., etc. All words and phrases used to paint a picture of a tragic hero who fell due to his own tragic flaw. The “demons” is probably the funniest to me, since they can never define exactly what those “demons” are supposed to be. It just looks cool on the printed page and makes for a cool headline, like so many other of their favorite and well-worn epitaphs. The media will blame everyone. They will blame Joe Jackson; they will blame Katherine; they will blame the siblings; they will blame all of the managers, hangers-on, enablers, and sycophants in his life; they will even blame the fans (“Michael put so much pressure on himself to please his fans”) but they will never, ever look in the mirror to acknowledge their own responsibility.

      A good example…just recently, The National Enquirer ran a story blaming Paris’s suicide attempt on her attraction to “satanic music” (I am not quite sure when Kurt Cobain became a satanist, lol) and basically demonizing her as some sort of devil child, while conveniently ignoring that it was THEY who saw fit to plaster her dad’s autopsy photo on the cover of their magazine (which, just maybe, MIGHT have had some hand in her distress, ya think?).

      Oh yes, that word…”tortured.” That’s another one of their favorite catchphrases. Michael was supposedly so “tortured.” Well, if one is “tortured” then someone or something must be doing the torturing, as you say.

      But again, they will never own up to that part of it.

      Yes, Michael was INCREDIBLY strong in the face of all the adversities of his life. And this is why I love reading his own words, whether it is his poems or lyrics. His own words confirm a truth that the media never wanted us to know. I never teach a class or give a lecture featuring his words without having people come away simply astounded that THIS was the man they thought was so weird; such a freak, etc. I guess they think all of his great music was somehow a fluke (or written by somebody else) or maybe that all he knew was how to write dance songs. They honestly have no idea of just how profound he was, on so many levels. And what an incredibly strong spirit he had.

      1. I read that National Enquirer article. But who takes that stuff and nonsense about Paris’ “satanic” activities seriously, anyhow? Not me… and not you. Frankly, I don’t much care about the tabloid-reading “general public” and what they think. To me, these particular organs of the media—the sort of thing you see at the supermarket checkout aisles—are very easy to ridicule. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

        Having read a fair amount of art, music, and especially film history, I have a different view of the media’s take than most fans. I find myself continually offering this perspective on MJ fans sites, and I’ll state it again here.

        When it comes to the way very welll-known artists are remembered—from Leonardo da Vinci through James Brown—the discourses that surround well-known artists are made up a the contributions of a whole panoply of people—historians, gossip columnists, biographers, critics, fabulists—AND the fans themselves. And *very little* of what survives in the long run has anything to do with day-to-day details of the gossip that surrounded them when they lived, or the few years after their death VERY little. If anything, reports of these artists’ struggles—their “demons,” so to speak—- become part of the romanticized, awestruck reverence that accrue to people who are widely regarded as creative geniuses.

        These iconic figures: Elvis, Marilyn, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, even Kurt Cobain, and so many others—aren’t they continually depicted as “tragic” figures, replete with “inner demons” that did them in at an early age? What about Vincent van Gogh? Mozart? Who among these people WEREN’T “weird” and “freaks,” according to the popular lore? Aren’t they ALSO regarded as geniuses?

        If anything, these artists’ “demons” are seen as a function of their genius, and vice versa. They wouldn’t have produced what they did, and served us as they did, without these demons. It’s a very romantic narrative of the creative artist in modern western cultures, a narrative that persistently crops and weaves itself into a grandiose mythology—but it’s one that people in our culture seem unwilling to part with. The reasons for that are, I imagine, very complex.

        1. Nina, You are very right about “demons” being in a way a part of the genius – after all why would people expect someone to extraordinary and ordinary at the same time?

          My perspective is though it is not the inner demon that haunts these artists, but their heightened ability to perceive and create that makes them more sensitive to outside forces. Michael spoke several times about how he just cannot tune out or ignore the pain and injustice in the world, he felt compelled to do something. Most of us can just turn away and push that thought out of our minds, like we are numb to it.

          I think a lot of this “demons” thing had to do with feeling so misunderstood by so many. To have the whole world think of you as freakishly eccentric and barely human at best and as a predator and a criminal who harms children at worst – anyone would have “demons”.

          But its also in the nature of being an artist to be more open, more sensitive and thus more vulnerable, than the rest.

      2. I totally agree about the media never considering their own actions as something that contributes at least to the “torture”.

        It kinda got me thinking that our pop culture operates largely with these stereotypes, almost caricature-like, that really influence how we perceive the world. A brilliant scientist must be half-crazy or at least socially inadequate and a great artist must be this tortured soul and so on, as if there is an idea of balance and genius must come at a price. Maybe its so easy to sell this portrayal to people because otherwise its just not fair that he gets to be extremely gifted, extremely successful and a happy person too! Its the whole building up and then tearing them down thing..

        Now with Paris its really easy to see how any angle can be presented using the same info: take her goofy pictures and jokes and she is a fun-loving overenergized teenager (out of control and all). Take darker song lyrics and quotes plus rock chick style and she is depressed and tortured with a flair for satanic music (talk about weird interpretation though!). None of us can be accurately summarized in a sound-bite, but they just keep trying..

        1. Gennie said, “I totally agree about the media never considering their own actions as something that contributes at least to the “torture”.”

          An incredibly frustrating truth!

  4. So, what’s mainly remembered about these people? Every gossipy detail of their lives? No. Their work is appreciated and enjoyed by successive generations. And for those who may not be interested in the art and music, they are nonetheless remembered as iconic geniuses. Everyone has heard their names. They are the stuff of myth, and what is mainly remembered are the ways they have affected people the world over—in their own time, and generations later. The ways people feel about them, all those magical things about them that made them so brilliant, so charismatic, so iconic, so influential, so ahead of their time.

    There’s no reason to think that this won’t be Michael Jackson’s legacy, and that he won’t become part of this pantheon of the gods. I take the looooonnnnng view here. His profundity, and his strength of spirit are becoming better known all the time, even as the press reports, for their profit, the blow-by-blow goings-on of the trial. These won’t last.

    What I’m saying is that these seemingly contradictory elements (demons, self-loathing, damage, etc.) AND ALSO the qualities we revere (genius, profound, strength of spirit), are always already yoked together into an aggregate mythological narrative of the iconic person. And part of this is a construction of the fans themselves. (It’s too easy to “blame” the media.)

    I’m afraid you can’t have one without the other. You can’t expunge all the myth and gossip and rumor from Michael’s general story, without also sacrificing those qualities that make him the object of love, admiration, and even reverence, from people the world over. It just doesn’t work that way.

    So what’s at stake? What would you like to see happen?

  5. I see your point but none of the names you mention were ridiculed to the same degree as MJ. Were any of them put on trial? for abusing kids?? Were any of them supposed to have changed their race and even their sex? Were they seen as unremittingly ‘creepy’?

  6. Iutd:

    I’m find I’m really, really reluctant to take up that discussion whose only purpose can only be a competition in the “Olympics of Suffering.” I’m kind of appalled at how quickly MJ fans get caught up in this line of thinking, a vortex that has no beginning and no end. It’s as if, somehow, elevating Michael to the position of THE most put-upon, oppressed, long-suffering, ridiculed individual in the history of the world, will somehow “redeem” his legacy and ensure his good graces in history. That is obviously NOT the point I was trying to make in my above post.

    [But if you need to play that game, look at the life story of Oscar Wilde, and you’ll see a similar dynamic at work in his trial of 1900. (History did not begin in 1988, after all.) Or, take a look at Milos Forman’s 1987 film “Amadeus,” which deals with the life of Mozart. Yes, apparently it was “unremittingly creepy” during Mozart’s time that he had debts (nobody today would bat an eye at such a “scandal”). He was buried in a pauper’s grave. It was “unremittingly creepy” that van Gogh was poor and cut off his ear. It was “unremittingly creepy”–according to the standards of the dominant culture of the 1930s through the 1950s—- that Paul Robeson was seen as a communist, and his US passport was revoked as a result of his political sympathies. The list goes on.]

    Nobody whose opinion means *anything* to us can maintain that Michael “changed his sex.” He remained a black man: that was his identity. Yet there have been many, many astute observers, writing over the past three decades, who have noted that his performances DID at times present some necessary challenges to categories of race, gender, and sexuality that we tend to live by. And, they imply: MORE POWER TO HIM. I fully support this view, as I would any effort to dismantle these seemingly inviolable categories. These are systems that undergird and prop up the intolerance and oppression that threaten human progress, and even our collective survival.

    Michael Jackson may not have changed his sex, but I have a number of friends who have, and there is nothing “wrong” in what they have done, just as there’s nothing wrong with people who love people of the same sex . I can only regard the kinds of arguments TOO MANY MJ fans put forward—ostensibly in Michael’s “defense,” and in the name of “vindicating” him—as part and parcel of a deeply homophobic and transphobic culture that rejects any (progressive) view his importance as a social catalyst. As for the concept of “race,” it’s a fiction—albeit a very powerful one—which has perhaps long since outlived its useful purpose as a productive way of understanding human diversity.

    If we can appreciate Michael’s changing appearance (beyond the simplistic and ever-victimizing cry of “VITILIGO”!) as a perhaps *deliberate* statement about the constructed and highly arbitrary nature of the (seemingly) eternal and sacrosanct categories of race, gender, and sexuality, then we will have come a long way toward realizing a vision of a more just world. As, I believe, Michael Jackson himself would have wanted us to.

    1. Second this, all of it! 😀

      People who challenged the norm of their time were always ridiculed and persecuted. I feel that it is much more important to get people to understand why MJ was treated this way, the same way many many other great artists and thinkers were treated, than to “vindicate” him which is like trying to get water out of a leaking boat – its coming in way faster than it can ever get out.

      For us right now the reasons that people turned away from Mozart, Wilde or Chaplin seem idiotic, so maybe in 100 years MJ would not seem strange at all.

      1. Yes; please see my response to iutd; it applies to what you are saying, as well.

        I suppose I could deal with the “demons” phrase better if it just wasn’t such a tired cliche’. And who doesn’t have “demons?”

        I get this mental image of Michael needing an exorcism, like Linda Blair, lol.

        1. Haha exactly, who doesn’t have demons!
          Reminded me of this part of Anna Nalick song:

          Yeah we walk through the doors, so accusing their eyes
          Like they have any right at all to criticize,
          Hypocrites. You’re all here for the very same reason

    2. Nina Y F why are you so dismissive of the devastating effect of vitiligo on Michael Jackson? You act like it was a mere detail of his life, instead of a major disability that would have ended most public careers. It certainly didn’t signal any desire on his part to become racially or sexually ambiguous.

      I think everyone is tiptoeing around the obvious – Michael was attacked primarily because he was a black man audacious enough to make himself a king. I happened to catch a glimpse of Steven Tyler on TV the other night. He has long, multi-colored hair, makeup, polish on his fingers and toes, and clothing that is notably feminine in appearance. Nobody attacks or embraces him for it – it is what it is. But then he can do what he wants because he’s a white guy. Michael wasn’t.

      1. I always believed that at least part of Michael’s look in the late 80’s and 90’s was due to the influence of glam rock and the popularity of the metal hair bands. The 80’s in general was a very androgynous decade, where it seemed both male and female artists were pushing a lot of gender boundaries. Prince, also, was very much a part of that, but never seemed to get as much flack as Michael. But I could never understand why people would single Michael out for wearing makeup or having a somewhat feminized appearance, when this was the decade of bands like Poison and Motley Crue, and artists like Boy George.

        Michael was actually probably one of the most “normal” looking guys of the era, lol.

      2. Simba,
        True, nobody embraces or attacks Steven Tyler for adopting some “feminine” signifiers. It’s seen as simply one version of presenting oneself as a (white) rock star. But Michael played with too many signifiers simultaneously, in ways that were generally seen as more transgressive than Tyler ever was. So one “reason” to ridicule Michael became as good as another. He threatened the status-quo in numerous ways that Tyler didn’t, including (of course) that he was a black man who became too rich and powerful. That’s the most obvious explanation, I think, but there are other factors at work which I believe are worth considering. In many ways, he was more vulnerable than his contemporaries.

        I agree with most of what you’ve said in your posts above. For the many facets of his *difference,* Michael was ridiculed and trounced by the press for many years. Yet for some of the very SAME reasons, his performances of radical “otherness” were championed by other, perhaps less mainstream (and more progressive) groups of people.

        I hope that at some point you will you do at some point discuss the analogies (and disanalogies) between Wilde and Michael Jackson’s situations vis-à-vis the law and the social mores of their historical moments. I don’t know if you’ve seen this article, but cultural critic Elaine Showalter published a piece in the Los Angeles Times during the 2005 trial where she approaches that same comparison:

        “Is Jacko Our Wilde Man?” Elaine Showalter

        Then there was a rebuttal to Showalter’s view (by Scott McLemee) on another blog, and several comments there as well:

        “Not So Wilde”

        You might want to check these out.

        Iutd, Raven et al.: I’m sorry to come on so strong when I take exception to some of the assumptions that I see made by fans, here and elsewhere. My frustration grows out of three years of participation in these online spaces, and certain kinds of prejudices and preconceptions that are rampant in fans’ discussions of Michael that involve the idea of his “defense” or “vindication.”

        One major sticking point, for me, is the constant need to assert Michael’s heterosexuality:”Michael wasn’t gay!” or “Michael wasn’t effeminate!”—as if being gay or effeminate is automatically and universally a scourge, or some kind of terrible thing! And when scholars (for instance) write about the many ways Michael challenged social norms of gender presentation, sexuality, and/or race, I can assure you that they mean it in the BEST way—NOT as an insult, but as a way of underscoring his cultural importance during the moment in history when such challenges were badly needed…. as they still are, imo.

        As it happens, I’ve read all of what Joe Vogel (and many, many others) has written about MJ, including his excellent piece “The Cultural Abuse of Michael Jackson.” Of course I agree with this standpoint. But Vogel has ALSO written two fine books that put the focus and the emphasis where, I believe, it rightly belongs: Michael’s music and his creative work.

        1. Could you be more specific about “too many signifiers”, because I’m pretty sure that Michael Jackson never wore nail polish or a skirt, off stage or on. He didn’t even wear an earring, and even Harrison Ford does that! I think his major negative signifier was Owning the Beatles Catalog While Black. That was unforgivable.

          1. Simba,

            Michael’s otherness was more than just being a guy who wore make up or experimented with his style – that is much easier to accept and to put in box for most people. Instead, his mind simply functioned in a whole different way, I believe, he didn’t think in boxes, stereotypes, boundaries. He wore make-up because he wanted to, while most people see that and go thinking “why, what is he trying to say, what is the purpose of it?” Well, when you don’t think in stereotypes, the purpose of make-up is pretty straight forward – it alters your appearance in which ever way you like! However, if you think of it a signifier of belonging to a certain group, you can (and people do) put a lot into it.

            Most people don’t think Michael was gay (I don’t see how anyone could get a gay vibe from him at all), but they don’t quite know WHAT he was, thats the thing! Like Susan Fast wrote in that great article – they don’t know which box to put him in! Tyler fit neatly into glam rock box, and since he is “figured out”, there is no urge to mock.

            No such luck with Michael, there is no simple way of defining him. I think its very simplistic to blame it all on racism. No doubt, it played a role, probably a bigger role in America, than here in Europe, but there were many complex issues in play, not just that.

          2. Yes Simba.. I agree. Sometimes the answer is simple and just hiding in plain site, yet we tend to look for more “sophisticated” explanations.

            Much as I “enjoy” the various debates about Michael, from whatever viewpoint , whether we are passionate admirers, or cultural analysts.. I think we all have a tendency to overanalyse him,(and forgive me as I have written this before in my comments)would he say “leave me alone” or would he “thank you for supporting me” ??

            On a different (probably controversial note !! ) I have never understood
            the obsession with the Beatles. I saw them live 3 times in my teenage years having been dragged along to gigs with friends. They were pretty useless as a live band imo (although the song-writing skills were never in doubt ). The “Stones” were much more entertaining (LOL!!)

          3. I was always a Stones girl, myself. They had more sex appeal. The Beatles seemed neutered by comparison. Mick, like Michael, is a great showman, That’s what The Beatles lacked imo.

            But they did write some great music. Today, symphonies perform Beatles music. Can’t say the same for (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. But still, there’s something about the raw energy of a Jumping Jack Flash, or the exotic dark vibes of Sympathy For the Devil, that no Beatles tune imo can come close to. They were REAL rock’n’roll, based in the blues, whereas The Beatles were really just very well crafted pop, at least in the early years. Ironically, though, it was the early years of The Beatles that produced many of my favorite songs by them-Love Me Do, Money, I Feel Fine, etc. The later stuff became a little too “out there” for me.

        2. Nina, on my bit 🙂 the fact that the same “difference” made him so groundbreaking as an artist and a performer sounds very organic to me. I believe it was the same source that drove his creativity and enabled him to think of things that others haven’t.

          Reminded me of something Neil Degrasse Tyson said, if we dare go to places that nobody went to before, we are bound to discover something new, simple as that. So, it makes sense that by doing different things than others around him or doing same things differently, Michael achieved different results as well. For example, his love for all childlike stuff was his biggest inspiration and one of the biggest sources for mocking..

        3. I really don’t think Scott McLemee got it, at all. This would actually be an interesting piece for a counter rebuttal. I haven’t looked at the first link yet (sometimes I operate out of sequence, lol). I’ve been busy working on my new post today, so have only been doing quick check ins periodically on comments. I will try to catch up tomorrow, and hopefully offer a little more insight at that time. Also in regards to some of the other topics that have been raised here, as well.

        4. Okay, here is my promised follow-up:

          I read the Showalter piece. Actually, I think I remember this article from many years ago (parts of it came back to me as I read). One sentence struck me, because as someone who was not particularly a diehard Jackson fan at the time, and was merely following the trial as the rest of America, when I happened to catch a mention of it on CNN, etc., I know that what she states here is very accurate in summing up how most of us felt at the time:

          There is little hatred for the alleged villain and scant pity for the alleged victim. Few commentators are eager to see Jackson severely punished or his accuser richly rewarded. General interest in the verdict is keen, but most Americans seem ambivalent about Jackson’s guilt or innocence.

          Given the truth of this observation, it makes it even sadder to realize how this trial was used as an excuse to symbolically pillorize Michael in the public consciousness.

          In a way, there are also interesting parallels with the comparison of what she calls “destructive acts.” In both cases, the “destructive acts” are not so much the crimes-or alleged “crimes” themselves-as the somewhat reckless behavior that led to raising these questions in the first place. Wilde recklessly sued the Marquis of Queensbury for slander, apparently failing to realize that bringing a case of slander might not be a wise idea if what you are being accused of is, in fact, true. In similar fashion, Michael went so far as inviting Gavin Arvizo BACK to Neverland to appear in the Martin Bashir doc, to make a point about his desire to help sick kids. For all practical purposes, the Arvizos could have been out of his life and out of the picture at that point. Why the need to bring them back in?

          I do get a weird vibe about this article, as it seems Showalter may be trying to make the point that even “if” Michael was guilty of pedophilia, so what? This is akin to the idea that Wilde was persecuted due to the standards of his time; that something considered perfectly natural and acceptable now was considered a crime back then. I’m referring specifically to this sentence:

          But accusations of homosexual pedophilia have struck a deep chord of moral outrage. In this and other respects, Jackson’s trial has some significant parallels with that of Oscar Wilde in April and May 1895.

          While standards of morality do change over time, I think it is dangerous to compare one to the other. Pedophilia is understandably looked upon with “moral outrage” because it involves the abuse of children. (Even when it may be a consensual relationship between an adult and older adolescent, it is still, nevertheless, an abuse of power). Thus, while we can draw some parallels between the two cases, we have to consider that what Michael was being accused of is, in many ways, far more heinous-and thus, the damage to his reputation, both for present and future generations, far more serious.

          I am not quite sure if she is trying to say, look, even if Michael was guilty of pedophilia, so what? That is a new line of argument that many haters are using. More and more, I see haters trying to feed lines to fans such as: “Just accept that he was a pedophile, and get over it.” So in other words, after years and years of trying to shame and humiliate fans for being “supporters of a pedophile” they are now trying to sing the tune of, “Hey, it’s okay, if you’ll just admit it and stop being in denial.”

          So…does that then mean there is no longer any moral outrage? Especially from those who have used this as their entire excuse and justification for all the hate? The danger in this line of thinking is that it invites a kind of blind passivity, both in accepting a “truth” about Michael that no evidence supports as a “truth” and in accepting pedophilia as something perfectly natural; nothing to be upset about.

          I didn’t mean to get off on that tangent, but I half wondered if this wasn’t where Showalter was trying to go.

          On to some of the other issues brought up…

          Homophobia. I have said many times that I would certainly have no problem accepting a gay Michael, if I had reason to believe he was, in fact, gay. But the danger is in forcing an assumption on him and then presuming it as a truth. To be honest, I think fans are sensitive to the issue for a couple of reasons, one because there is still very much a social stigma attached to being gay-despite all of our progress (and Michael was a sex symbol to his female fans, unlike someone, say, like Elton John, who has always been appreciated solely for his talent) and, two, it becomes an even more sensitive issue because of the pedophilia accusations. Haters, especially, push the gay narrative because, for them, it’s one step closer to making the accusations against him more likely.

          I feel confident in saying, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Michael had heterosexual relationships, so I know he wasn’t gay. If he did have any relationships with men (of which we don’t know) it would make him, at most, bisexual. But I just don’t feel there is enough evidence to say this conclusively. Michael never claimed to be gay and I think we have to be careful about imposing our own versions of what we want to believe about him.

          But, for the record, I don’t think we’re so much addressing the gay issue so much as what people PERCEIVED in him as an apparent transgender evolvement. Yes, he wore makeup. Yes, he eventually had a preference for long, wavy hair. Yes, he spoke in that feathery voice for most of his adult career.

          Was Michael aware that these things all contributed to the public perception of him as being somehow “less” than masculine? Certainly he did. He was no dummy, and everything he did was part of a carefully calculated image. I am sure he was well aware of what our current standards are. He chose to buck the norm and to go against those conventions. But why?

          I am aware that his use of make-up grew out of a necessity, starting with his vitiligo. I believe that’s where it started. But he also enjoyed wearing it. Karen Faye has said that he enjoyed the freedom it gave him to experiment with different looks, and he often said it wasn’t fair that women got to wear all the beautiful scents, and use make-up to change their looks, but a guy couldn’t. So in that sense, he was aware that he was indulging in a transgender behavior, and didn’t seem to care what anybody thought about it.

          But was he truly effeminate, as some argue? If we look back through history, there are certainly many periods-in fact, right up to the Victorian era-when men wore make-up, long hair, wigs, powder, etc-and were still regarded, in every sense, as men. It’s simply that the standards of what defines “feminine” and “masculine” changes over time. It may be closer to the truth to say that Michael’s brand of masculinity was simply a bit out of step with the times. But he certainly never appeared to me as feminized. I may have mentioned on here before that I once had a running bet with a male friend of mine. He was arguing about how “weird” Michael was and how he dressed like a woman. He mentioned something about Michael wearing women’s blouses, etc. So I put him to the test. I told him, “You find me one photograph where Michael is wearing a woman’s blouse.” A few weeks later, after searching all over the net, he had to admit he was wrong. Michael never dressed like a woman, and he hadn’t been able to produce one image that proved it.

          What he was doing was a kind of selective processing, where he had just assumed for so long that something was true about Michael, based on hearsay and casual observation, that he hadn’t really taken the time to research the validity of those assumptions. This is all too common with people who have only a casual knowledge of Michael, unfortunately. The popular narrative is easier to believe, because it requires less work.

          I do think Michael knew exactly what he was doing. Overall, he certainly seemed comfortable in his skin, and offered no apologies for who he was, or the image he presented. He didn’t beat us over the head with it. All of his transformations were very gradual. He didn’t offer explanations; he didn’t even so much as say, “Look at me; I’m making a statement” (the way a lot of celebrities do. Boy George, for example, was so obviously a gimmick that no one took him seriously, not even in the 80’s). With Michael, it was always, “This is who I am; take me or leave me.”

          Some things to consider: As Simba pointed out, Michael never wore nail polish. He never wore clothing that could be considered feminine. He didn’t even wear much jewelry; I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of him wearing an earring (I doubt he even had pierced ears). He didn’t have body piercings; there was no bling.

          None of that seemed to be his style, yet all of the above are hallmarks of truly androgynous performers. I don’t think Michael was ever trying to be androgynous. I think he had some androgynous qualities-which for me, only made him more attractive-but he was not truly androgynous or transgender. Perhaps pushing a few boundaries, blurring a few lines? Maybe. But overall, he was still very overtly old school. You may recall that the reason he dropped the idea of the duet with Madonna for In The Closet was because she wanted to do this whole transgender concept with herself as the man, and Michael as the woman. He let it be known that he was definitely NOT “down with that” and it wasn’t going to happen.

          I think it is more likely that he just enjoyed playing with his face and image like a canvas. I don’t think he was gunning for any serious social statement.

          1. EXACTLY, Raven, I agree with you, TOTALLY, on most of your points, but not all of them. You have it absolutely correct, about the way Michael dressed.

            True, he wore bright colors, a lot of times (his most favorite amongst them having been red and black, although he wore others as well). True, he wore what most people would normally consider as “women’s” cosmetics and eye make-up (especially, from “Thriller”/“Victory” Tour onwards, during the last half of his life) —— such as lipstick, eye shadow, mascara, foundations and concealers (to cover up both the Lupus rash and the Vitiligo spots and splotches that eventually became more and more noticeable, that had disfigured his face and body), blusher/rouge, and so forth, even his emphasizing having long, thick eyelashes, at some point or another, even though he ALREADY had great big, wide-set, naturally BEAUTIFUL eyes all his life —— which, along with the surgeries done on his nose (that ended up making it much narrower, smaller, in proportion to his large eyes [that looked even larger, due to the changes in the nose’s size and shape], and had pointed the tip of his nose upwards), had made his facial features appear much, much more “androgynous”/“feminine” to most people in general.

            True, that from the “BAD” era onwards (with the exception of a short “Jheri-Curl” hairstyle he occasionally wore during the “HIStory” era, or it was short straight hair, like he wore in the “You Are Not Alone” and “They Don’t Care About Us” short films), he wore his hair anywhere from around his shirt-collar (in “BAD,” “Dirty Diana,” and other short films of that time-period) to a little bit past shoulder-length (like in “Scream,” with his sister, Janet, and in “B.O.T.D.F.”), most of the time.

            But, he NEVER, EVER in his lifetime, wore ANYTHING that even resembled “women’s” clothing, NOT in the slightest. Brightly-colored (and, even sequined, embroidered, sometimes) outfits, stage costumes, etc., of course, but still, they were clothing designed for him as a MAN. He always dressed as a MALE, the natural birth-gender he WAS, whether onstage or off, both in public AND in private.

            I’m just SO sick and tired of these (supposedly, allegedly) “highly-educated scholars” whose “research” is EXTREMELY biased and slanted towards their own negative viewpoint of Michael —— such as that which makes all kinds of FALSE assumptions (if not telling outright LIES, to SLANDER his reputation) about what his private, personal lifestyle MIGHT have been, in their minds (in large part, because, he was what he, and those who actually KNEW him well, had said he was, rather than him getting involved in a way of life that he knew went against his beliefs), in order to carry out a certain agenda regarding various social issues —— when NONE of people had ever known him at all, much less had ever met him.

            How about these people admitting THE TRUTH about a man who just wanted to do what he did best —— which was, to sing, to dance, to write, produce and perform songs, to be involved in show-business as a whole, with as much of EVERYTHING that he would have taken part in, that we, the public, can enjoy for ourselves —— without any focus on his personal, private matters or medical/health problems. He wanted to look as “normal” as possible, to HIM, not necessarily to us, even though we STILL may not understand him or his ways. He should have been LEFT ALONE, with the only focus we have on him concerning his MUSIC. PERIOD.

            If I may ask something more: “Why is there so much mentioning of Oscar Wilde, and what does HIS life have to do with Michael Jackson’s? I don’t see ANY relevance, here.”

  7. You completely misunderstood my point, Nina. What actually happened to MJ needs to be acknowledged, which it is not–as Gennie pointed out, the media has not acknowledged its role in the destruction of his reputation. Tabloids still to this day call him J—. Vogel talks about this at length–I suppose he is also someone you find appalling?–you did mention Van Gogh in your earlier post, but I don’t think there were headlines all over the world in the media of the day broadcasting him cutting off his ear. The fact that media has changed drastically since that time as well as the existence of remorseless paps to feed the media should IMO be taken into account. You are accusing me of all kind of opinions that I do not have (which I would appreciate you would not do) in a very hasty generalization on the basis of an inoffensive comment I made. I agree the closest parallel would be Oscar Wilde, although Oscar Wilde actually went to jail and was destroyed by it physically; he also was a homosexual, while MJ was not a p–. So there are differences there as well as similarities.

    You just used my comment to bash me and MJ fans and that is something that shuts down the conversation rather drastically. I am appalled and disgusted to be quite frank.

    1. There ARE interesting parallels between MJ and Oscar Wilde. I was once planning to do a post on their comparisons; I may still do that, yet.

      But there are important differences, as well. Wilde, for example, WAS guilty of the “crime” he was charged with, although most reasonable people today would agree that what he was charged with should never have been a crime in the first place. So in that regard, he was still-if we judge him by the standards of today-no criminal. What happened to him was very sad because he was completely ruined after that, and it led directly to his death (the fall he suffered in prison is generally believed to have contributed to his resultant infection and illness).

      However, even if his affair with Bosie wasn’t technically a crime (again, by today’s standards) some still understandably question his morals. He was, after all, a married man with two children. By his own admission, he allowed his obsession with Lord Alfred Douglas to overtake his life and everything he had worked for-his career, his art, his family, all suffered and paid the price for his obsession. His children essentially lost their father, as they were cut off from him and denied any further contact. Their mother died soon afterward, so they were orphans for all purposes. This was the single greatest heartbreak of Wilde’s life. But he had to admit he had only himself to blame. Again, the shame of it was that Wilde lived in a time where he could not be true to his own nature, without being branded a criminal. But he did bring innocent children into the world, who had to suffer because he put his passions and his lust ahead of them. Really, the whole thing was just a terrible, terrible tragedy that breaks my heart every time I think about it.

      Wilde wasn’t a criminal, but he paid the price for his very human failings. Today, he is revered because he was a great playwright. But even now, his moral choices remain a subject for hot debate-not because he was homosexual, but because he was a married man and a father, who basically threw it all away on an impassioned fling.

      I do not know how history will view Michael, but I do know that his ARTISTIC legacy will survive intact. Over time, once all of the current generation of journalists with personal axes to grind, such as Diane Dimond, have died out and all of the tabloid headlines have turned to dust, there will be a revisionism of how he is viewed. I am sure that future scholars will be aware that he was a controversial figure, but by that time, he will be judged by different standards and from a different perspective; a different set of lenses, if you will. I think he will be looked upon very much like a Van Gogh, or a Mozart, or an Oscar Wilde…as a genius who was unfairly persecuted by the standards of his own time. Who knows, maybe in a hundred years or so, they will be analyzing the corruption of the tabloid media and its impact on society in the same way we now look back at the evilness and hypocrisy of the Salem witch hunts.

      It would be interesting if I could live long enough to see how history will ultimately judge him. Perhaps I will live to see how he is viewed in twenty to thirty years, but that is really nothing. It will be how he is viewed a hundred, two hundred, even three hundred years from now that will matter. I know I won’t live to see it.

      But hopefully the seeds that are being planted now will be a part of that.

    2. Um, I think you really seem to take things very personally, while we are in fact just discussing societal issues in relation to MJ.

      For our own health, I believe we might as well come to terms with the fact that the media will not take any responsibility for the part they played in destroying Michael. The issue is too abstract for any single “journalist” to feel personally responsible. In a way, for them, I bet its just like following the rules of the game – if you wanna be a reporter and compete in this “news” market, there are certain things you must do, or you’re out. Just look at how hard it was for Aphrodite Jones to publish an unbiased account of the trial. Most journalists are not willing to go that far for the truth and risk their own money and career to get it out. I may sound cynical right now, but in the end those are people with jobs, bosses, loans and families to support. The vindication of Michael Jackson could not be further from their minds when they type an article that needs to be sold.

      Much bigger question is, why is there so much demand for slanderous, juicy, unverified gossip to turn numerous writers most of whom probably are decent people into a huge media machine that provides endless gossipy “entertainment” while causing real damage to the very artists it depends on. So, as much as we might want to blame the media and stop there, i don’t think its accurate at all. Honestly, if tomorrow TMZ would publish a sex tape with Michael in it, that they somehow got their hands on, how many of us would drop everything to watch it? I bet their website would crash, since the whole world would like to see that. So, how can we really blame the media for providing exactly what we want and pay for? Its like blaming the fast-food industry for the obesity epidemic – sure, they are selling you junk, but you actively choosing to buy it! If people would vote with their money and choose differently, there would be no money in selling junk! Same with tabloids.

      As for Oscar Wilde, I don’t see a monumental difference just because he actually was gay. What Michael was really accused of throughout his whole life was being different. And not acceptable kind of different, like gays or rock stars, but uniquely different. And that he was guilty of. For general public its almost “details” whether he was actually guilty of doing anything inappropriate (at least those I talked to), just that he was the way he was is enough to make them extremely uncomfortable.

      Raven, I just wanna add about the morality of getting married and having children while being gay (since I had a huge debate on that same thing about Brokeback Mountain) it really must be seen in the context of its time, because if you are raised somewhere where being what you are is not an option, you try to adjust and make yourself fit in and do the right thing. Nobody wants to be the freak, so people convince themselves that they are “normal” or can pretend to be “normal” and do the normal thing, get married, have kids and so on. Brokeback mountain illustrates this extremely well, since the guys did not even consider themselves gay and they genuinely tried to have normal lives. I find it extremely unfair to question someone’s morals when they just trying to figure out how to live with the hand they’ve been dealt and fit in to where they happen to live. Hope its not too much off-topic 🙂

      1. Well, as you are saying, however, that is a societal issue rather than a personal one. To this day, when I teach Oscar Wilde in British Lit, my students still wish to debate all of these aspects of his personal life. So these aren’t necessarily my personal views so much as what I have actually heard discussed and debated. Most people today agree that Wilde should never have been persecuted and convicted for being gay. But some still seem to have a hard time getting past the fact that he committed adultery and caused his children unnecessary grief and poverty. Maybe it’s the nature of the times. People today are so much more conservative and the pendulum has really swung back solidly to the middle. It’s not like the 60’s and 70’s when I think people had much more open views about sexuality AND monogamy. I swear, sometimes when I talk to young people these days, it’s like talking to my parents!

        I don’t think Wilde should be villified because, as you say, he was a product of a time when many felt they had no choice but to conform to societal expectations, just like Jack and Ennis from Brokeback Mountain who probably would have been so happy together that neither would have ever thought of cheating. But both tried to play by the rules of society, and failed.

        BTW you know the part of Brokeback Mountain that always cracks me up the most? When it’s “the morning after” and they are sitting side by side on the hill, refusing to even look each other in the eye. Ennis says, “I want you to know, I ain’t queer” and Jack goes, “I ain’t queer, neither.”

        LOL. Has to be one of the funniest scenes in cinematic history.

  8. Just to say I am really, really tired of MJ fans/advocates attacking each other. It is repellent to me and I feel it disrespects the work Raven does to put these posts together. I am not going to comment anymore as I have truly had enough. I will simply read Raven’s posts from now on.

    Raven, Thank you for all you do. I really appreciate your blog and all your research and sensitivity. I am sorry but I will say goodbye as far as posting my reactions to either your post or other people’s comments to it. I really don’t need to be insulted by others who do not know me, and I find it hard to hear MJ fans in general charged with all kinds of flaws. I wwill certainly continue to read your blog with great interest and enthusiasm! Kudos to you!!!

    1. No offense, but when you share your views publicly anywhere, you automatically invite comments/critique – otherwise what’s the point of a discussion if we just nob to each other? I think we can expand our understanding by trying to see things from other points of view 🙂

      Besides it makes you a better conversationalist 😉

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