Madiba: The Man Michael Jackson Called "Grandfather"

nelsonmandela_mjWith or without his connection to Michael Jackson, the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela, better known to many by his tribal name of Madiba (“Nelson” was a misnomer forced upon him by racist missionaries when he was a child) is rightfully one that is being mourned all over the world. However, since this is a blog dedicated to all things MJ, I would like to take a pause to reflect on the very special relationship that these two global icons shared.

I would also like to expose and put to rest an unfortunate hoax that many fans do not seem aware of. It’s not my intent, of course, to rain on anyone’s parade. But truth is important, and I would like to celebrate the genuine friendship that Michael and Mandela shared without having it clouded by words neither ever actually said.

Mandela’s own history is well known, but I am sure for many young people today, Apartheid is just a word that they have only heard from history books, or maybe have heard their parents speak. As an American, I have to admit that in the 1980’s (a time when I was pretty much just a kid myself) I only had a vague notion of what people meant when they spoke of “Apartheid.” It was a word we heard a lot in the news, and I was aware that it was a cause that many political activists had taken up.  All of the really “cool” and “hip” artists seemed to be writing songs about it, and staging concerts in united protest of it. But for many of my generation, “Sun City” was just a catchy single. Could we truly understand, from the comfort of our suburban American homes, what was happening in South Africa, where a political prisoner falsely named Nelson Mandela, a man of royal birth, sat in jail with no hope of ever seeing his family or the sun again?


But the late 80’s were strange, violent, idealistic and-ultimately-liberating times. Revolution was in the air. If the 70’s had been largely a passive decade, the 80’s were a throwback to the 60’s, when it really seemed possible that we could create world change simply by coming together and making it happen. The Soviet Union crumbled, and the Cold War was over. The Berlin Wall came down. And Apartheid, too, would become a casualty of what seemed a revolution of freedom. In the late 80’s, there was a sense that what we were witnessing was the dawn of a new golden age, where all the old, oppressive regimes would make way for a new democratic age of enlightenment and hope.

In 1990, I still didn’t yet quite understand all of the hoopla surrounding this man Nelson Mandela, or what his release from prison truly meant. I just knew that it was huge, and accepted blindly that it must be huge for a good reason.

Well, turns out there were plenty of good reasons. You can read here just some of the reasons why this was a man celebrated and, now, mourned all over the world:

One thing I have come to know about Madiba. While often celebrated as a man of peace, he nevertheless had a lion’s heart. One of the many qualities he did share in common with his “grandson” Michael was that rare combination of humbleness and meekness, coupled with a quiet yet raging and invincible courage-the kind of courage that doesn’t beat its chest or puff its feathers, but nevertheless, manages to move mountains. They both endured much and suffered much in their own ways, yet came out stronger for it.

mandela8Mandela, of course, had many celebrity friends. Michael Jackson was just one of a long list that included many of the most powerful and elite celebrities (but usually those most active in political causes or humanitarian efforts). Among his friends, Mandela counted such luminaries, world leaders, and humanitarians as Princess Diana, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, Pope John Paul II, Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, and too many more to mention.

Yet, for a man who could hold court with the world, there did seem to be an especial bond of affection that he held exclusively for the young man from Gary, Indiana, whom he would later call his “grandson.” Michael became more than just Mandela’s friend; he was, as Mandela himself stated in the letter read at Michael’s memorial, “family.”

This was an amusing story that was shared earlier by Dr. Patrick Treacy via Twitter:

“I was with Michael Jackson one day in my clinic in Dublin discussing a future concert we were arranging in Africa when Nelson came talking on the cell phone.

At first I thought it was a South African concert promoter and blandly spoke to him about how life was in the Cape for about five to ten minutes minutes before idly giving the phone back. Michael then just laughed and said ‘Hey, Patrick I’m really surprised to had to little to say to my grandfather ‘Mandiba’ when you had the chance to talk to him’ ‘You talk about him enough’.”Dr. Patrick Treacy

Fans of Michael Jackson are, of course,  very much aware of the long history and connection between Jackson and Mandela. Since late Thursday, when the news broke, I have come across numerous blogs featuring posts dedicated to the history of their friendship. And it seems only befitting that, just as Mandela reached out to console us and Michael’s family in 2009, the Michael Jackson estate has offered its own statement in the wake of Mandela’s passing:

“Michael Jackson was proud to call Nelson Mandela his friend. Like millions of admirers around the world Michael drew inspiration from President Mandela’s courage, his fight for human dignity and his commitment to peace. During his visits to South Africa Michael met often with President Mandela, who described Michael as “a close member of our family.” Our hearts go out to President Mandela’s family and to his beloved South Africans as they mourn their incalculable loss.”-John Branca and John McClain, co executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson. 

The opening montage of Michael’s HIStory tour included references to many iconic world leaders and political figures, among them JFK, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Ghandi, and of course Nelson Mandela. While some have viewed Michael’s constant references to such figures-and the need to associate himself among their ranks-as more proof of his grandiose megalomania, there is actually a much simpler explanation. Michael spent his entire life paying homage to the people who had influenced him. Is it so very wrong that this little boy who grew up in such humble beginnings in midwest America dreamed of becoming like his heroes? Isn’t that exactly what we teach our children, that they should strive to follow the examples of our greatest leaders? Michael was attracted to these people, not because of their power or the mass adulation they inspired, but because their idealism and accomplishments embodied those same ideals that he most valued, felt inspired by,  and tried to emulate in himself. Michael wasn’t perfect, and nor were the people he often referenced. But they did inspire us to reach for the best that we can be, given our human limitations.

Michael Meets Nelson Mandela in Cape Town, South Africa to Announce The Michael & Friends-The Adventure of Humanity” Concerts:


I often say that what I most admire about Michael Jackson isn’t what he actually accomplished, or what he was. It’s what he aspired to be that I find so compelling. Michael’s dreams- his vision for the world and for what humanity could accomplish-were as limitless and vast as the sky that stretched beyond the view of his little bedroom window on 2300 Jackson Street.

Michael’s greatest heroes all seemed to share similar traits, as peace makers who nevertheless had the courage of their convictions; as “lambs” who nevertheless refused to lie down. They were men (and a few women) who won their battles through graciousness, and bore their scars with fortitude and grace. They were people about whom storms blew, without ever affecting their inner core. This is what Michael himself had to say about his friend Nelson Mandela:

 “He (Mandela) became a lamb in prison. He had no bitterness, to this day saying even though he is eighty and his youth is gone—because he was in prison so long—he doesn’t regret any of it.” “He [Nelson Mandela] is sweet, very childlike.” Q: Does he like to giggle? “He [Nelson Mandela] loves children because when I went to see him I had some kids with me and people were saying the kids have to stay, but Michael Jackson can come. I said. “I’m sure Mr. Mandela wouldn’t mind seeing children. I won’t go in unless the children go too.” I remember his representatives looked at me like this [makes stern and suspicious facial expression] and they went back and then they said, “Everybody come.” The first thing Mandela did is run to the children and pick them up and hug them. I knew he was that kind of man and he loved them. He was talking to them and then he shook my hand. I knew I was right.” ~ Michael Jackson

I have to wonder if this example wasn’t at least in part what enabled Michael to get through some of his own worst trials and tribulations. Perhaps he did see himself as being on a par with his own martyred heroes. And, just perhaps, he wasn’t too far off the mark in doing so.

Certainly Mandela himself gave some hint of this in his own condolence letter to the Jackson family after Michael’s passing:

“Dear Jackson family,

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the untimely death of Michael Jackson. Michael became close to use after he started visiting and performing in South Africa regularly. 

We became fond of him and he became a close member of our family. We had great admiration for his talent and that he was able to triumph over tragedy on some many occasion in his life. 

Michael was a giant and a legend in the music industry and we mourn with the millions of fans worldwide. We also mourn with his family and his friends over the loss of a dear friend. He will be missed and memories cherished of him for a long time. 

Be strong, 

Nelson Mandela”

I don’t think we have to guess too far to know what “tragedies” he was referring to, but then again, those tragedies may run far deeper than any of us will ever know, just as the heights of those personal “triumphs” may be far greater than we will ever know. Mandela knew Michael’s heart, and there is no doubt that their bond was a genuine and profound one.

At Madiba’s Private Birthday Party, 1999:


Nevertheless, I do want to point out that one particular quote I have seen floating around, attributed to Mandela about Michael, appears to have been a hoax originally perpetuated in 2005. I am referring to this quote, which many MJ fans have been innocently sharing on social media since the news of Mandela’s death broke:

“When you are behind bars with no hope of release, you need to find strength wherever you can. Personally, I found strength in Michael Jackson.”

Like many others, my initial reaction was that it was a wonderful quote that appeared to be from Nelson Mandela on his friend Michael Jackson. But I then wanted to know the original source of this quote, and did some checking. What I made was a pretty unsettling (though not entirely shocking) discovery.

A google search for the quote led me to this site, where the story containing the alleged quote appeared in March of 2005: is clearly identified as a satire site, and in the context of the article, it becomes apparent quickly that this is a made-up story meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. It goes on to quote Mandela as saying that he drew courage in prison from the example set by Michael Jackson in leaving The Jackson 5 and embarking on his solo career and then, ending it by claiming he also draws strength from Martha Stewart!

But the story did not originate on this site. A link there leads to a site called and a writer named Andy Borowitz, who appears to be the originator of the phony article.

This is what the contributor notes on that site says about Andy Borowitz:

JWR Contributor Andy Borowitz, the first-ever recipient of the National Press Club’s Award for Humor, is a former president of the Harvard Lampoon,and a regular humor columnist for Newsweek.comThe New YorkerThe New York Times and TV Guide. Recognized by Esquire magazine as one of the most powerful producers in television, he was the creator and producer of the hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and producer of the Oscar-nominated film Pleasantville.

Okay, so Borowitz, in addition to all of his other credentials, is a “humor columnist” whose specialty is writing satire.

I did some additional searching to see if I might, by some chance, be able to unearth any original interview with Mandela from which that quote might have originated. The search only led me to another mocking article from the same writer, Andy Borowitz, that was featured in the March 28, 2005 issue of Newsweek:

The Borowitz Report: Michael Jackson’s ‘Great Courage’

By  / March 28 2005 7:00 PM

Former South African President Nelson Mandela said today that he gained strength during his many years of imprisonment by thinking about Michael Jackson, adding that the King of Pop continues to be a source of inspiration for him today.

“When you are behind bars with no hope of release, you need to find strength wherever you can,” Mandela said in an exclusive interview with a Danish magazine. “Personally, I found strength in Michael Jackson.”

The former South African president said that while imprisoned in the 1980s, he drew emotional sustenance from following Jackson’s recording career. “It took great courage to leave the Jackson Five and go solo,” Mandela said. “I thought to myself, if he had the courage to do that, I, too, must have the will to go on.”

Even to this day, Mandela said, Michael Jackson is “a constant source of inspiration,” adding, “When I am not drawing strength from Michael Jackson, I am drawing strength from Martha Stewart.”

Jackson received kind words from another international icon today, the boxer Muhammad Ali, who told a Norwegian newspaper that he, too, draws inspiration from the platinum-selling recording artist.

“When people ask me where I get my strength from, I tell them that I look at the man Michael Jackson looks at when he looks at the man in the mirror,” the former heavyweight champion said.

Elsewhere, with enlistment levels falling, the Pentagon said it would focus its recruitment effort on people who had not read a newspaper in the past two years.

Borowitz mentions a “Danish interview” but there is no link to this source and all searches for it have only led me down a dead end path. It seems likely that, in fact, there was never any such “source” at all; that this is simply a fabricated story meant to poke fun at Michael and to mock his friendship with Mandela. In March of 2005, this would have been the height of the Arvizo trial (around the time of the infamous “Pajama Day”) and a time when mockery and satire of Michael Jackson in the press was at its unchecked height.


If anyone does know of the actual existence of this “Danish interview” I would love to know, but so far I have found nothing. And now I am finding it somewhat troubling and disturbing that so many fans are attributing a quote about Michael to Mandela that he not only never made, but that may have had its origins in a satiric article that was actually mocking their friendship. I hope I will be proven wrong, but until I see from it this actual “Danish source” and from anyone other than Andy Borowitz, I am calling hoax.

In Pretoria, South Africa, 1996:


However, allow me to just close this out by reminding you all what has always been said about small minds. Michael Jackson and Nelson Mandela did not have to prove to the world what their friendship meant, nor did they owe any explanations.

Nor did they have to “prove” what courage, grace, humility, and living your life by example meant.

Imagine Being Joe And Katherine, And Knowing That Little Boy You Gave Birth To And Raised In A Two-Room House Is Now Introducing You To The Leaders Of The World!
Imagine Being Joe And Katherine, And Knowing That Little Boy You Gave Birth To And Raised In A Two-Room House Is Now Introducing You To The Leaders Of The World!

When both of these men died the world stopped in its tracks and mourned, however briefly.  Both accomplished more, and did more for humanity, than all of the Andy Borowitzes of the world combined. All mockery aside, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nelson Mandela found courage and inspiration in Michael, even if only through his music. Mandela was a man whose heart had not been touched by bitterness, as Michael himself noted; a man who, for all that he had been through, still loved to dance, laugh and party. Don’t believe me, just read this account from a writer who still remembers vividly the day he saw Nelson Mandela dance:

Do you think Madiba, with that much joy in his heart, ever danced to MJ? You bet your bottom dollar he did! Both men led extraordinary lives; lives that carried them from the depths of poverty and despair to the heights of world fame and adoration. Michael may have indeed dreamed big and grandiose. But how many of us, in our lifetime, will ever get to meet our heroes, let alone become as family to them? Michael, like Mandela, would get to rub shoulders with presidents and queens, with kings and popes, all while maintaining the innocence and humbleness of spirit that remained at the core of their souls. Mandela may or may not have ever actually said, in so many words, that Michael’s courage got him through those dark days in prison. But what he did say spoke so much more.

He called him his grandson. He called him family. And sometimes, as we know, kinship runs deeper than blood.


RIP Madiba. May your long, courageous journey in this life reap its reward.


62 thoughts on “Madiba: The Man Michael Jackson Called "Grandfather"”

  1. Raven,

    Thank you for all the valuable information you have compiled here! It’s a pleasure to read about these two luminaries’ relationship, and to see still more images—some from “off the beaten track”—of the two of them together.

    I’m usually not gullible (or so I’d like to think); but I’ll admit that I, too, was taken in by the quote attributed to Mandela where he says he finds strength in Michael Jackson. But it’s it’s also possible that this quote—though we can’t find it’s source at the moment—represents a kernel of fact within Borowitz’s otherwise parodic article. In the spirit of the “Onion” (progeny of the Harvard Lampoon, where Borowitz apparently served as president), his is among probably dozens, or hundreds, of humor pieces that circulated around Michael’s legal debacle around 2005. We can now see it in context, as a reflection of popular sentiment at the time

    Here’s an item in the Jewish World Review, which you mentioned above: I think it’ll give us a better idea of what Borowitz was up to:

    From the Andy Borowitz Archives

    03/01/05: Iran says it seeks to build nuclear-powered birdhouse
    02/28/05: Canseco claims he injected Goldie Hawn with Botox
    02/21/05: Majority of Americans already know Jamie Foxx’s Oscar speech by heart
    02/16/05: North Korea claims it possesses Ben Affleck film
    02/15/05: Poll: 100% of GOPers approve choice of Dean
    02/14/05: Condi offers to give France Michael Moore
    02/08/05: Iraqis paint fingers purple to pick up women
    01/18/05: CIA attacks al-Qaeda with prescription drugs
    01/12/05: Dean: Dems must pass torch to new generation of losers
    01/06/05: ‘Palestinians’ rise up against Richard Gere
    01/05/05: Steinbrenner’s wallet tests positive for steroids
    01/04/05: In effort to demoralize enemy, Rumsfeld holds pep rally for insurgents
    12/31/04: Bin Laden issues New Year’s resolutions
    12/29/04: Paris Hilton vows to be more annoying in 2005
    12/27/04: Stranded travelers informed that airline does not exist
    12/23/04: Brawl erupts at Reindeer Games
    12/21/04: Makers of crack issue safety warning
    12/17/04: Bin Laden demands to be named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year
    12/13/04: Dems embark on fact-finding mission to NASCAR
    12/13/04: Kerik: bin Laden was my gardener
    12/08/04: Fearing attacks by athletes, fans take steroids
    12/07/04: Tommy Thompson offers terrorists helpful food-contamination tips
    12/06/04: Nader offers to lead Ukraine
    12/01/04: In tearful resignation, Ridge admits he is color blind
    11/30/04: Iran seeks permission to make teeny tiny nuclear weapons
    11/29/04: Rather’s resignation based on false information
    11/23/04: NBA BANS FANS
    11/19/04: Lincoln bedroom found in Clinton library
    11/12/04: Peterson jurors no longer remember trial
    11/11/04: Dems already focusing on losing in 2008
    11/03/04: IT’S GORE!
    11/02/04: Florida to decide election by show of hands
    10/26/04: PETA seeks to ban animals from political ads after coyote eats ostrich
    10/22/04: Steinbrenner acquires nuclear weapon
    10/20/04: Poll: Americans evenly divided over which poll they believe

    And so on, and so forth. So: I’d take it from whence it comes.


    Great people rarely have simple legacies, I find.

    On that note—about how time and history changes things—it’s also worth remembering that Nelson Mandela himself was placed on the U.S. list of terrorists by the Reagan administration, and remained there until as recently as 2008! It should be noted, too, that he didn’t renounce armed resistance: he was committed to revolutionary struggle. I see no reason to “soften” him in this regard. Today, Mandela is rightfully regarded across the world as a freedom fighter: and Michael Jackson, too—possibly both *despite* AND *because of* his complexity—is widely regarded as a genius and humanitarian.

    1. Yes, it was pretty obvious that it was intended as a satirical piece, although I did wonder if he had based it at least in part on an interview he had actually read. It sounded almost plausible up to the Martha Stewart part, but then, I also thought the part where he says Mandela claimed he drew strength from Michael’s courage of going solo from the Jackson 5 as very suspect. That was the point where anyone (even if they didn’t know they were on a satire site) would start to say, This HAS to be a joke. As much as I admire Michael, I don’t think you can possibly compare a man who has spent over twenty years as a political prisoner to a pop star making a decision to go solo. Some might say that’s bravery in a sense, but it’s not the same thing. As Michael himself said in his own words, performing in front of thousands of people is not the definition of courage.

      I do believe that Mandela admired Michael’s courage in other ways, and this was what he was alluding to in his statement when he spoke of Michael rising over his adversities. I don’t doubt that Mandela may have drawn inspiration from Michael. I just don’t think he would have expressed it in such a cheesy way, or used such a poor example.

      Borowitz’s pieces are amusing when taken in the spirit they are intended, but the problem is that sometimes these things will get taken out of context (as what happened with this particular quote) and people will believe they are actual quotes. I have to cringe now when I see this quote being shared on FB and Twitter by fans who believe it is genuine.

  2. I wish the quote was true. But I’ve read Mr Borowitz for a while now to know it is impossible for it to be remotely true.
    Thanks Raven, for the text and, especially, the photos! Much love.

    1. I just think that somehow, over time, that particular quote was taken out of its original context. A lot of people do not seem aware of where it actually came from.

  3. Whether the quote is true or not, does not matter.
    What matters is the spirit of it, their common beliefs and what they shared in private as ‘family’, that had nothing to do with their celebrity status, and the photo’s speak volumes.
    Because Mandela was like a magnet for celebrities of all walks of fame, politicians , worldleaders, everyone wanted to be seen with him, because it was politically correct.

    Imagine that the same man was once labeled a terrorist.
    Mandela was a peaceful man by character and principally against violence. But when it became clear that the apartheid regime was not going to move but used extreme violence against unarmed protesters, he knew that worker strikes, sit down protests and peace marches were not going to work. That is when he picked up arms and started the armed branch of ANC.

    Michael has the same kindness that was mistaken for weakness.(like Katherine Jackson)But when it came to real issues, like injustice he fought back with angry words that were like a weapon and very threatening to some. Which was such a different and unexpected side of him and such a contrast to his ‘hollywood’ lifestyle, that people were left totally confused and it backlashed heavily on him. Most people dont remember, but only 5 years ago Michaels name was almost synonymous to ridicule. Its only now that people see what he was trying to say.
    That is what I think he and Mandela have in common.
    Mandela also went from terrorist to icon and beloved world leader.

    I was lucky to have been in an audience that Mandela adressed at meeting shortly after his release. He was making a tour through countries that had supported the anti apartheid struggle and made a stop in my hometown.
    To be in the presence of this man is the most overwhelming and emotional thing I ever experienced and I felt like being part of history. Many people in the crowd could not keep a dry eye.
    Because all the while whe were rallying against apartheid and freedom for Mandela, I had not expected to see it happen in my lifetime.
    So to see this man in real live and knowing that he had just spent
    almost as many years in jail as I was at that time was like a dream came true.

    Mandela’s inaugural speech is one of the most inspiring.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    These inspirational words could also have been Michaels.

    “It always seems impossible untill its done ”
    R.I.P Madiba

    1. I agree that it does not matter if the quote was actually said or not, because I believe it is true in spirit even if the words never appeared in print. If Borowitz didn’t “get” what Mandela and Jackson’s friendship was all about, that’s his problem. That is what I meant when I said small minds don’t matter.

      That must have been an amazing experience to actually have been there and heard Mandela speak!

      I suppose I can say I only saw one world leader in my lifetime, and that was Ronald Reagan in 1984. He came to my home town to take part in the Spirit of America festivities. I was pretty much underwhelmed with the whole experience. I know I should have been excited. How many people actually get to see the President in person during a lifetime? But I wasn’t into politics and especially not into Republicans. However, my ex (Alex P. Keaton incarnate, lol!) was so determined to not miss out on this “special day” that we had to be there at seven that morning to claim a seat, and sat outside in a blazing Fourth of July sun all day just to keep those seats. It’s funny, but all I really remember about that day is getting the worst sunburn of my life! We did all of that just to see Reagan come out and do a five minute speech. Then some local school kids (dressed in duck costumes) marched past while Reagan saluted them, and it was over. Still, it’s kind of interesting to look back now and realize I witnessed a bit of history. I got to sit and hear a president speak! (And all I could focus on was my sunburn, lol!).

      It was an amazing time, wasn’t it? I certainly didn’t expect to see all of those changes take place in my own lifetime, either-the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Iron Curtain coming down; the end of Apartheid. It was a tremendous domino effect when these things started happening. I can only think of one other time in history when there was so much simultaneous revolution, and that was in the late 1700’s, starting with the American revolution and culminating with the Napoleonic wars.

      No event exists in a vacuum, but every so often in history, the right circumstances come together and the pace of change is accelerated to an amazing degree. I think we lived through such a time in the 1980’s and it was a glorious thing to witness.

      1. However, my ex (Alex P. Keaton incarnate, lol!) was so determined to not miss out on this “special day” that we had to be there at seven that morning to claim a seat, and sat outside in a blazing Fourth of July sun all day just to keep those seats. It’s funny, but all I really remember about that day is getting the worst sunburn of my life!”

        That is hilarious. I bet today you would look differently at an event like that. After all Reagan turned out to be one of the better US presidents of the 20th century.

        It was indeed an amazing time. The world changed forever and we were a part of it.

        1. Here is a little more on Reagan’s 1984 visit to Decatur, Alabama and what he said that day, for anyone interested:

          Looking back on that speech now, after almost thirty years, it’s amazing how much of it I had forgotten and yet how much came back to me. I remembered quite vividly when he said Decatur was waving the flag while others were burning it. The Spirit of America festival began in 1969, during the Vietnam War era. I also remembered that when he said you never hear of anyone jumping the Berlin Wall to get into East Berlin, it generated thunderous applause.

          I was not then nor now a fan of his policies, but I still think it’s kind of neat that I can at least say I saw and heard him speak, even though I would have never gone had it not been for my ex dragging me, kicking and screaming.

          I was sure for many years afterward that Reagan would be the cause of my death because that sunburn took a full ten years to heal.

      2. Sina, how wonderful it must have been to see Mandela in person! Thanks, also, for mentioning that Mandela was an advocate of armed struggle under the conditions of Apartheid.

        The quote you mentioned here, “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate….” is actually attributed to Marianne Williamson. This is from Williamson’s entry in wikiquote:

        “The famous passage from her book is often erroneously attributed to the inaugural address of Nelson Mandela. About the mis-attribution Williamson said, ‘Several years ago, this paragraph from ‘A Return to Love’ began popping up everywhere, attributed to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inaugural address. As honored as I would be had President Mandela quoted my words, indeed he did not. I have no idea where that story came from, but I am gratified that the paragraph has come to mean so much to so many people.’ ”

        It also bears mentioning that it was Ronald Reagan himself who, during his presidency, put Mandela and ANC on the list of terorrist organizations. Raven, you were sunburnt waiting for Reagan to appear for a speech; and millions the world over were burnt by him. In my opinion, Sina, far from “one of the best Presidents,” Ronald Reagan was a villain.

        I should also mention that 1980s, as I experienced them, were far from a glorious time of social and political change. I thought then (and still do) that when it comes to American politics, the 80s were a decade of reaction, of retrenchment, of backward policy that undid all of the social gains it took decades of struggle to achieve.

        Many lessons of the 1960s had been lost, it seemed to me then, and still. I was among many young people who joined a work brigade that set out for Nicaragua in 1984, in solidarity with the Sandinista revolutionary movement (which Ronald Reagan was doing his best to dismantle, by all manner of violation of international law). His Latin American policy was especially murderous; and, as I learned from many Nicaraguans I met, even as they tried to work their way up from poverty they lived in fear that U.S. forces would invade their small country in an attempt to crush whatever hard-won gains had been achieved in this struggling nation, headed by their duly elected President, Daniel Ortega.

        Reagan followed a pattern of imperialist adventurism and nation-breaking that continues to this day. The genius of his administration was to amp up this practice and turn it, and the continual warfare it necessitates, into a *normal* feature of life for millions across the globe.

        As for his domestic policy, Reagan’s first years in office marked the beginning of of *neoliberal* economic policy–still very much with us—that has been responsible for the near-complete destruction of the middle class in the US and especially the financial collapses of recent years. The attention to trickle-down economics (long discredited by responsible economists) would ultimately immiserate millions of Americans, who might at one time have stood a fair chance at obtaining a decent job and standard of living, but are now facing foreclosure and chronic, long-term unemployment, poverty, and hopelessness.

        I don’t attribute all of this to Reagan, of course—but he had a decisive hand in shaping, in blueprint form, these political and economic policies that plague us to this day. That’s why I can’t wax all admiring about what a great, charismatic “communicator” he was: all it amounted to was a pack of lies designed to beguile and hoodwink the public into believing that the interests of greedy corporations superseded (or worse—were CONGRUENT—with their own!), and that invading other people’s countries because “we” don’t like their policies, or because “they” aren’t friendly to “us,” might actually be a swell idea.

        Please. These thoughts only leads me to reflect that the most shameful deed Michael Jackson ever performed, or ever could perform, or was ever SAID to have performed, had NOTHING to do with molesting children (which I don’t believe he did, anyway). No: it was to appear, in all his splendor, to receive an award at the Reagan White House, and thereby to bestow a measure of credibility on the murderous butcher who inhabited it.

        1. I don’t think that Michael really saw his meeting with Reagan as a political act, however. He was still very young at the time, and although his political consciousness became more acute in his later years-as did his activism-he remained a mostly apolitical person. In other words, what I am saying is that it had nothing to do with endorsing Reagan’s policies, one way or the other. I just think he was young and, like most young people would be, thrilled to have an opportunity to be invited to the White House and meet the president.

          I’m sure his close association with Mandela (which came later) enlightened his view to many things, especially in regard to the Reagan administration. But Michael was also one of those rare people who had the ability to look past politics in an attempt to bring all people together, regardless of ideology.

          In the 80’s I was largely very apolitical myself, and living all those years with a staunch Republican who, of course, defended every move Reagan made didn’t help to enlighten me. But even then, I knew I felt very uncomfortable with a lot of the things that were going on. I was still very young and, in some ways, naive but was starting to learn that the US isn’t “the good guys” in every case.

        2. Nina YF thank you for correcting the origins of the quote. Another myth debunked . This has been in the public for years and many including myself took it for a fact because it sounded like something Mandela could have said.
          This is how easy it is to make up a story and have the public believe it.
          I agree with you on the desastrous effects of Reagans foreign policy – including on S America and S Africa , his domestic social policy and the move to the far right that the US made during his presidency. But in retrospect many economists credit Reagonomics for the economic boom that followed his administration.
          I think the 80s were more diverse than the 60s and 70s, because next to materialism and generation x it was also the prelude of the changes that were to come in the 90s , in Europe and elsewhere which to a certain extend were a reaction to US policy.

          Why Michael agreed to accept an award from Reagan I can only guess. As an outsider I don’t know the sensitivity in the US of such a move. Maybe he thought it not done to refuse an offer from the head of state who he may have thought was above parties and had no agenda. A decade later he performed at Clintons inauguration, which imo was a very political statement for someone who was not into politics.
          I remember Prince(Jacksons)tweet about Obama’s re-election.
          (hope that it is not another hoax ).
          There must be some influence still from his dad to tell the world so boldly about his political preference,in a way Michael never did, maybe to avoid controversy.

          1. In a time when even lowly first-term Congressmen and county sherriffs express hatred and disdain for Barack Obama, it might be hard to remember that in the recent past, the holder of the office of President was accorded great respect, whoever it was. It would have been unthinkable for Michael to have refused an honor from Reagan, who rarely acknowledged any African American, no matter what they achieved. At any rate, Michael was essentially non-political, unlike many other AA performers of the era.

        3. You really nailed it. Reagan was completely overrated. His many atrocities continue to be glossed over. His economic and foreign policies started our downward slide. This president was no hero and doesn’t deserve the saintly, even god-like image his followers continue to perpetuate.

        4. I frequently hear it said that Michael Jackson, or that other people, have been essentially “non-political.” Bullshit. (Pardon my language here, Raven et. al.)

          Although I can’t speak to what other people mean by “politics” or “the political,” to me it is a world view (one which I adopted very early in my life), a way of looking at reality that takes the utmost consideration of the ways people live together, especially as regards power relationships. (Unlike yours, Raven, my own youth was no obstacle to a political consciousness, however crude it may have been. I was participating in antiwar rallies and marches from the time I was 14.)

          So, we can talk about the politics of a nation, the politics of a neighborhood, or of the classroom, or of the bedroom—and even the politics of this forum, for that matter. While the dynamics of power may be quite fluid at any given moment, *politics* are inescapably present any time people participate in a social group.

          Therefore, “politics,” as I see it, is not simply a matter of party affiliation or how you vote. Many people—including stars—have registered their opposition to the prevailing ideological winds and policies of their time in numerous ways, and this most certainly includes African American stars. There’s no doubt, however, that Michael wanted a certain kind of validation from what he perceived as the highest echelons of the (white) world: the presidency, no less than the Guinness Book of World Records.

          However much Michael Jackson (or any other person) may claim that they are “apolitical,” they are bound to multiple networks of power as long as they maintain a place within the human community. Whether he said it or not—-whether he thought it or not—-Michael Jackson visiting the White House to receive an award was indeed a political act, as were his visits there during George H.W. Bush’s reign, and as was his appearance at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Through these events—and especially given his stature as a celebrity—he lent tacit support to these figures, and many more.

          I don’t believe he evolved much political consciousness at all, Raven, much as we’d like to think he did. His involvement in public life remained at the level of a sentimental humanism whose goal is ameliorative rather than revolutionary. (I know that many fans will see this as distinctly an asset, rather than something worthy of critique.) His lauded humanitarian efforts–like many prominent people’s—were gestures aimed at ameliorating certain symptoms of human suffering through charity (“Heal the World”), rather than striving to eliminate the STRUCTURAL conditions that give rise to that suffering (through revolutionary struggles, for instance, à la Nelson Mandela.)

          And that’s fine; I’m not knocking it. He was trained early by Motown (and by his family) not to make waves, and to refrain from rocking the boat in any way that would place his career (or that of his family members) in jeopardy. In interviews, he and his brothers never spoke out on the issues of the day. And in truth, there are many ways of changing the world—revolutionary struggle certainly isn’t the only one

          It’s just that today, many young people—and some, apparently, not so young—seem to think that some kind of concerted political struggles are off the table (and beyond the pale) altogether.

          1. I believe Michael’s personal political views were much more closely aligned with Clinton, who became a close personal friend. While he did maintain a cordial relationship with the Reagans, they weren’t exactly people he hung out with. He also very much looked up to such Democratic luminaries as JFK and FDR (of course, I think both of these are men who have achieved a certain saint-like status and celebrity cult that transcends politics). However, it’s interesting that when we look at all of Michael’s personal heroes who were presidents, all were Democrats.

            I don’t think Michael was implying any endorsement of Reagan or Bush. But he wasn’t fool enough to turn down an offer to be honored by the White House or a chance to be seen with the president-whoever the president might be. In that regard, I don’t think you and I are really in disagreement. Michael DID seek that validation. He was always attempting to prove, just as he said in “Black or White” that “I ain’t second to none.”

            And you are right in that it was largely how he had been conditioned as a performer. Motown trained its stars to be performers and entertainers, not activists.

          2. Well, that’s true, Raven; he might have thought it foolhardy to turn down an offer by the White House. Nonetheless, many prominent people, certainly including African Americans, have found ways to register their objections to the prevailing political order of their day. (Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, and Harry Belafonte come immediately to mind.)

            That Michael declined to make strong political commitments or to take a firm stance on certain issues, is, I believe, more the result of the zeitgeist of the ’80s than of any personal trait…. or even his Motown background. The activism of the ’60s had abated: Jane Fonda, for instance, wouldn’t have been caught dead receiving an award from, say, Richard Nixon when he was President. She and other celebrities marched on the White House in protest of the Vietnam war. At an earlier time—In the ’50s— Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were among the Hollywood luminaries who marched on Congress to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee. Oh, there have been numerous examples.

            By the 1980s, it seemed that the politics of protest had given way to a kind of political acquiescence which at times seemed to arise from a world-weary cynicism, probably through the depredations of economic crises of the ’70s. In any case, whatever the reasons, the ’80s seemed to me a time when young people, almost without questioning the dominant paradigms that ruled their lives, simply found it expedient to “play it safe” rather than engage in protest of any kind. Radicalism of any kind, it seemed, was off the table; unthinkable.

            All through the ’80s I never followed Michael Jackson’s music or career. To whatever extent I thought about him, he probably struck me as a member of the “younger generation” (though only 1 1/2 years younger than me) –stars and unknowns alike—that had, *en masse*, knuckled under to the status quo and the seeming *inevitability* of maintaining business-as-usual.

          3. “Although I can’t speak to what other people mean by “politics” or “the political,” to me it is a world view (one which I adopted very early in my life), a way of looking at reality that takes the utmost consideration of the ways people live together, especially as regards power relationships. (Unlike yours, Raven, my own youth was no obstacle to a political consciousness, however crude it may have been. I was participating in antiwar rallies and marches from the time I was 14.)”

            If you “can’t speak to what other people mean”, perhaps you can re-think your judgmental response. It is ridiculous to compare twenty-something Michael Jackson’s response to Ronald Reagan with Jane Fonda’s actions during the Viet Nam War. Even if Michael loathed Reagan ( and there’s no evidence that he did), he would not and could not behave like a middle-aged white woman born into wealth and prominence. And that’s got nothing to do with Motown training. The world does not necessarily conform to your personal world view.

          4. Simba, where did I ever say it did? I stated some examples of activist performers—several African American men, in fact—who were not “middle aged white women born into wealth and prominence.” (Jane Fonda was actually in her 20s when she was engaged in antiwar protests in the ’60s).

            Are you prepared to claim that political protest, even in the form of declining awards or boycotting public events—has been exclusively the province of privileged white people? Because many celebrated African American writers, artists, athletes, and entertainers were deeply and *visibly* involved in Civil Rights struggles and social movements throughout the 20th century. If Michael Jackson has not been among these, it’s for many complex reasons, I believe—but one reason is simply that the terms of social protest had shifted in the ’80s, and there was no very viable movement for him to join at that time.

            Even critic Nelson George, in his book “Thriller,” questioned Michael’s 1984 visit to Ronald Reagan. He viewed the event as curious, since Michael was already such a well-established and revered star that he didn’t need this kind of publicity.

            The cover of another of Nelson George’s books, “Post-Soul Nation: The Explosive, Contradictory, Triumphant, and Tragic 1980s as Experienced by African Americans (Previously Known as Blacks and Before That Negroes)” features a photograph of Michael holding the plaque he received and shaking hands with Reagan during that visit. I have the book. Although I haven’t started reading it yet, it promises to be an interesting survey of a post-Civil Rights scene, and the political Zeitgeist in the 1980s.

            We could all learn more about the fascinating history of socially committed performers—and its instructive to remember that some even put their careers on the line through taking risky political stances. Do I “blame” Michael for not doing so? Absolutely not. He came along during the “post Civil Rights” era, and a product of his time just as surely as Paul Robeson was a product of his.

            From the National Archives, here’s what appears to be a TV broadcast of a roundtable discussion that took place after the famous March on Washington in 1963, where some show business luminaries are talking about race in the U.S., following King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

            “Hollywood Roundtable”

            Description: “In this motion picture film, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, Joseph Mankiewicz, James Baldwin and David Schoenbrun discuss the Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963”

          5. Nina Y F said, “I frequently hear it said that Michael Jackson, or that other people, have been essentially ‘non-political.'”

            Very interesting discussion re Michael’s political activism or perceived lack-there-off outside of monetary charitable contributions. I’d like to share my view on this. Many have mentioned the “times” Michael lived in when he was in his 20’s as an explanation and even the training he received much earlier in his career via Motown. That may be but I’m surprised that no one appears to have mentioned the influence that Michael’s large family had on him. Despite their conflicts and despite the often hostile view many have of his family (understandable) there’s no denying they had a profound effect on him and his choices especially early on. Along with his family he was also profoundly affected by his religious affiliation and indoctrination via the Jehovah’s Witness Church up through his early adult hood. Many here may already know that the JW church doesn’t strictly prohibit it but they do discourage its members from participating in the political process. I believe it can’t be underestimated the churches continued influence on Michael indirectly long after his separation from the church in the early 80’s. A separation that was a very painful event for Michael in which the church forced him to choose between his career and his membership within that church. A career path that went against church doctrine. Of course we all know what choice he and they made.

            I’d like to reference this article that discusses Serena and Venus Williams and their affiliation to the JW church and how that has affected their politics…as far as what they reveal to the public. The following quote discusses the source of the JW view on political matters. A view that informed much of Michael’s life in terms of politics and tempered his potential for activism in early adulthood.

            “Because of John 17:14 and other passages in the Bible. In that verse, Jesus says of his followers: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have interpreted that statement as a call to remain neutral in ALL political matters. (In some of the sect’s literature, members are described as “representatives of God’s heavenly kingdom”; they are thus obligated to stay out of local political affairs in keeping with the behavior of ambassadors.) Witnesses also refrain from serving in the military, running for public office, and pledging allegiance to the flag.”


            On the occasions that Michael visited the White House (Democrat and Republican) I believe part of that was not publicity, he didn’t need that, but to be a type of ambassador as described in the quote above. I believe Michael did see himself through the eyes of the JW church as one of many “representatives of God’s heavenly kingdom” and as such an ambassador. I think it’s clear he felt God had given him special gifts as an entertainer in order to be an ambassador on a global stage in order to be an agent of positive change as it related to such issues as the environment and child wealth fare, not just in his local community. Of course none of this was in the context of a megalomaniac as some in the press would like the public to think. That said it’s not clear how “religious” Michael was in later years but it is clear that he was deeply spiritual and that the values learned from childhood via the indoctrination of the JW church stayed with him throughout his life to a very profound degree. Which was unique and one of the many attributes that contrasted him from his siblings.

            Michael may not have conducted his political activism as overtly as others, especially early on as I try to describe above, but he was an activist and that activism increased in later years with maturity and increased confidence in his own voice…not to mention distance from his family and distance from any direct control from the JW Church.

          6. I found this interesting 1988 article comparing/contrasting activism on college campuses in the ’60’s and ’80’s that speak to the “times” Michael experienced in his 20’s:

            One Step at a Time

            “Many compare the new student activism to the radical politics of the 1960s, but most say the political techniques have changed. Although students listen to the music and wear the clothes of the baby-boom generation, the focus has shifted to effecting positive change rather than simply protesting.

            ‘There are as many students involved in working for change on campus today as there were in the 1960s,’ says Yale senior Jon H. Ritter, who has been involved in student activism during his four years at Yale. ‘The difference is that in the 1960s students were calling for everything at once, while students in the 1980s have more specific goals, and work on one issue at a time.'”


            “Activists today are dedicated to the behind-the-scenes work that attracts less attention, but makes real changes, says Felicia Kornbluh ’88-’89. ‘What makes the most important changes today are doing things that do not always end up on the nightly news,’ she says.

            ‘There were a lot of things that contributed to the spectacle of the 1960s. We do not have a war going on today. We do not need a free speech movement. Administrators do not call the police at demonstrations. And the demography has changed–there were an awful lot of kids then, who got angry awfully fast,’ Kornbluh says.”

            The Times, They Have a’Changed: Student Activism in the 1980s
            By Lisa A. Taggart,
            May 27, 1988

            This is another interesting article describing 1980’s activism on campuses. The article was written the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison and after he had made a visit to the U.S. which was described in the article as, “one of the most important events of the century.”

            “The following article was written in 1990 as a brief overview of student activism in the mid to late 1980s. It is by no means comprehensive, but does provide some first-hand perspective on national student organizing and examples of activism on campus.”


          7. Nina Y F said, “Because many celebrated African American writers, artists, athletes, and entertainers were deeply and *visibly* involved in Civil Rights struggles and social movements throughout the 20th century. If Michael Jackson has not been among these, it’s for many complex reasons, I believe—but one reason is simply that the terms of social protest had shifted in the ’80s, and there was no very viable movement for him to join at that time.”

            Agreed concerning your comment re the 1980’s. I’d like to add that the JW church also played a role in tempering Michael’s potential for activism in the ’80’s while he was in his 20’s. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts as it relates to my comments above re the JW church’s influence on Michael. Thanks.

          8. Very true about the JW’s disengagement with political affairs, and like the Scientologists, they exert their discipline on their high-profile members. In his book, Jermaine Jackson describes how the church sent members on tour with Michael, at Michael’s expense, to monitor his behavior. This went on for years. Even if Michael felt strongly against Ronald Reagan and his policies, he probably would not have expressed it openly. That said, remember that millions of Americans absolutely adored Reagan when he was in office, and millions still do. Michael dissing a man that even Gorbachev called a great president would not have gone over well.

          9. Exactly!! Although this may sound calculated I believe Michael did have bigger goals in mind in terms of keeping his activism “soft” early on. I point this out in more detail in another comment further down in this post. “Rocking the boat,” so to speak, regarding individuals such as his visit with some such as President Reagan (no stranger to the inner workings of the entertainment industry by the way) would have created the kind of chaos that would have derailed the strong foundation Michael was in the process of building inorder to do much bigger things in the future in terms of serious activism that could stand the test of media/industry pressure. As a refresher, “Jackson had come to the Reagan White House May 14, 1984, to lend support to the White House program against drunk driving and alcohol and drug abuse.” Well before false allegations were leveled at him that truly did slow down and eventually derail him achieving his bigger goals.

            A Look Back: Jackson At The White House
            By/Mark Knoller /CBS News/ June 26, 2009

  4. Raven, thank you so much for this valuable post! There was so much love and admiration between Mr. Mandela and Michael Jackson, it’s just so shameful none of it, absolutely nothing, has been displayed in media coverage of Mr. Mandela’s transition. A simple google search results in at least as many articles and pictures of Michael with Mr. Mandela together in the mid-90’s than with any other head of state or celebrity. This lack of media attention to Michael’s close connection with, and love for, Mr. Mandela is, of course, not surprising. Someday in a more perfect world posts such as yours will find the mainstream circulation they, and Michael, so rightly deserve.

    1. His friendship with Michael Jackson was acknowledged in this Huffington Post piece:

      It was very nice to see this.

      Of course, I don’t expect the news reports about Mandela to also be about Michael-and, for sure, Michael wouldn’t have wanted that, either. It is only right that Mandela’s life is celebrated for what HE accomplished, not for who his friends were. But, just as with the deaths of Elizabeth Taylor and Whitney Houston and others who were close to Michael, it’s expected that there will be some inevitable cross referencing. These were all people whose lives intersected, and who collectively represent the zeitgest of an era.

      I think part of the problem when it comes to comparing someone like Mandela to Michael is that, in the world view eye, Mandela is seen as a great political leader and activist who has achieved near saint-like status, whereas Michael is viewed as “just a celebrity”-and one whose many flaws have been splashed across the tabloid pages of the world. So it’s easy to see why there is some resistance to putting them on the same level. Many people don’t know of Michael’s activism, and during his lifetime, when the media did focus on anything he had to say, it was only to mock him. For example, the drive to oust Tommy Motolla and to expose racism in the music industry was not portrayed in the media as a heroic act, but rather, as the ravings of a madman. I have seen just the most horrendous articles that mock his beautiful speeches at Oxford and Exeter.

      Since people couldn’t see past the “wacko jacko” image that had been created of Michael, it seemed absurd and unsettling that people like Nelson Mandela would call him their friend. That’s why the media has, for the most part, downplayed and mocked these friendships. Michael was always portrayed as the desperate suck-up, rather than as an equal. We can see hints of this, for sure, in the Borowitz article, and it doesn’t take much psychological probing to understand the roots of that article. What would a man like Nelson Mandela possibly have to gain from Michael Jackson? For years, mocking Michael’s friendships with people like Mandela and Princess Diana was a way of keeping him at a certain level. It is the same mentality that drove much of the coverage of his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. (It was never about what she wanted from him; it was always all about what he must have wanted/needed out of HER).

      It reminded me of when I saw a special awhile back on Ryan White. They were mentioning some of the celebrities who befriended Ryan White, such as Elton John but no mention of Michael whatsoever. That made me angry, because for sure Michael deserves more credit than he ever got for all of his humanitarian efforts.

      I do appreciate pieces like the one I linked to above because, even though I don’t expect Michael to be the centerpiece of the story, it is simply nice to see him respected as an equal among great company. That is all I have ever asked and, truth be told, all I think that any of us really want for him. Just simple respect.

      1. Re Ryan White. Raven I agree that Michael is often ‘forgotten’.
        I remember when Elizabeth Taylor passed away there was hardly a mention of their friendship.

        There was a time when the whole world wanted to be seen with him. Including 3 US presidents. It must have been hurtful to him how people turned their back on him. It is slowly changing, and it will take some time. But it will change and he will get the respect he deserves.
        So sad he had to die for it.

      2. Raven, thanks, I hadn’t seen that HuffPo piece of those “who posed with” or “who met” Nelson Mandela (HP’s own wording), and, although we will never know for sure, I’ll bet Michael was the only one described by Mandela himself as “a close member of our family” (Mandela’s letter to Jackson family read by Smokey Robinson at Michael’s memorial).

  5. Nina Y F says “Are you prepared to claim that political protest, even in the form of declining awards or boycotting public events—has been exclusively the province of privileged white people?”

    To some extent this is true. It’s not like during the Reagan era and before, there were that many awards to black artists to decline. But “speaking truth to power” has gotten black Americans attacked and even killed. When Eartha Kitt made Lady Bird Johnson uncomfortable during a White House lunch, LBJ destroyed her American career personally. To this day, many white Americans despise “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, but she was in a professional and financial position to weather the downturn in her popularity, and there was a tremendous downturn.

    “Because many celebrated African American writers, artists, athletes, and entertainers were deeply and *visibly* involved in Civil Rights struggles and social movements throughout the 20th century. If Michael Jackson has not been among these, it’s for many complex reasons, I believe—but one reason is simply that the terms of social protest had shifted in the ’80s, and there was no very viable movement for him to join at that time.”

    If there was “no viable movement” for Michael Jackson to join, why are you excoriating him? The video of middle-aged men talking about the March on Washington was made the night before Michael’s fifth birthday.

    It’s curious that you don’t give Michael credit for the activism he was involved in. This was a man who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to charity, who energized We Are the World to aid starving people in Africa before Africa was in vogue, who was the single largest contributor to the Million Man March. On a personal level, he took in Ryan White when the rest of the world feared and scorned him. He created a life for Dave Dave, who was burned horribly by his own father. By your logic, none of this matters, because he accepted an award from the President of the United States.

    Accepting a presidential honor has nothing to do with publicity – with all due respect, Nelson George is looking back at the 80s with infallible twenty-first century hindsight. It’s easy to find fault with the past, but a little harder to put actions into context.

  6. Yes, the ‘radical’ Jane Fonda–wife of Ted Turner and exercise promoter–her radicalism is so inspirational today LOL. MJ became more radical as he aged and matured–not less.

  7. Simba, I probably meant not to excoriate Michael so much as to excoriate Ronald Reagan (who so many people now like to say was a “great president”). Inasmuch as Michael performed for or visited both Republican and Democratic heads of state, then it seems to me he may have been wiser than people who take a more partisan view. After all: Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama…. in the many ways that really count, they’re all the same. So perhaps I shouldn’t single out Ronald Reagan as an especial villain.

    Still, as I said above, there’s a difference between actions and stances (like charitable giving) that aim to ameliorate intolerable conditions for some people, and stances that propose a more revolutionary approach by dismantling the underlying structure that gives rise to those conditions in the first place. It’s worth remembering that while he was in prison, Mandela did not renounce armed struggle. But it’s the older, seemingly “mellower” Nelson Mandela—in the eyes of some, the “safer,” more compromised statesman, rather than the activist—who’s currently receiving international attention as a hero. And it’s the older Mandela that Michael seems most closely aligned with.

  8. On the topic of Michael’s humanitarian efforts, I recently saw this article (published in the journal “Celebrity Studies” in 2010), which I think is worth looking at. The authors propose the question of *why* Michael didn’t receive more recognition for his humanitarian work. They do draw a distinction between *humanitarian* activities, and those that they believe are truly *political.*

    “Michael as he is not remembered: Jackson’s ‘forgotten’ celebrity activism”
    Hilde Van den Bulck* and Koen Panis

    Department of Communications, University of Antwerp, Belgium

    In life, Michael Jackson showed considerable interest in and generosity towards various causes, charities and philanthropic initiatives relating to issues including AIDS, cancer, children’s welfare and famine. It appears his engagement really took off after his hair caught fire filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. Treated at the Brotman Medical Centre, Jackson visited burns victims and donated $1.5 million to the hospital. From then on, Jack- son funded various humanitarian initiatives through the proceeds of concerts, royalties, charity auctions or personal donations. His best-known and most successful effort was probably co-writing Band Aid’s We are the World (1985) that became a best-selling sin- gle, raising money for African famine relief. It is believed that in life, Jackson gave more than US$300 million to charity; his last will and testament stated that 20% of his assets were to go to charity; but Jackson’s involvement went beyond money. In 1992 he set up the Heal the World Foundation to coordinate the distribution of goods to those in need. He further met frequently with the underprivileged and disadvantaged – particularly children – in hospitals, orphanages, deprived areas and his Neverland Ranch
    (for detailed over- views see JacksonAction, 2007; MJFC, 2009).

    “Jackson’s humanitarianism gained a certain recognition. In 1984 he received an award for supporting drug and alcohol abuse charities from the hands of President Reagan. In 2000, the Guinness Book of Records named him the pop star who supported the most charity organisations, and in 2009 he posthumously received a Save the World Award. Yet, since his death, both mainstream and gossip media and most of the audience have ignored Jackson’s activism. Indeed, while some traditional media, a number of internet blogs and certain Facebook and Twitter contributions addressed his philanthropy, attention focused upon his musical achievements and, most of all, the eccentricities and scandals of his private life. Drawing upon the literature on celebrity culture and celebrity activism, we want to explore why Jackson’s philanthropy has been all but forgotten in the aftermath of his death.

    “Looking at the relationships between celebrities, media and audience that together make up contemporary celebrity culture, we find a growing focus upon the private rather than the public persona of a celebrity, and within the private, on the ‘real’ and the scandal- ous – the tabloid version of celebrity life (Cashmore 2006). In his analysis of the evolving media portrayal of Jackson, Hinerman (2006) points implicitly to this trend. He distin- guishes three stages of media coverage of Michael Jackson: presented in the 1970s as an extraordinarily talented member of his family, in the early 1980s as a solo artist and, from 1987 onwards, as an eccentric associated with strange incidents and whims such as plastic surgery, living with a chimpanzee and inviting young boys to Neverland, making him a tabloid favourite. Jackson’s humanitarianism took off during the latter part of his celebrity life, but was unable to obliterate or turn around the media’s dominant discourse of eccen- tricity. While this seems ‘proof’ of the overpowering dominance of the scandalous over the serious in contemporary celebrity culture, such conclusions should be drawn with caution, as there are many examples to the contrary. Angelina Jolie, for instance, managed to turn around her original image of sexy Hollywood wild child into that of a philanthropist, good-will ambassador and advocate for world problems (Van den Bulck, 2009). So – although it is certainly true to suggest that Jolie’s philanthropic status has not gone uncontested – why did Jackson fail where Jolie succeeded?”

    1. Interesting read, although describing plastic surgery as “whims” and stating that Michael invited “young boys” to Neverland seem a tad tabloidish, if that’s a word.

      The most astonishing thing – to me, anyway – is that there is a serious journal dedicated to “Celebrity Studies”! Who knew?

  9. “Michael as he is not remembered,” con’t:

    “In many respects, Jackson fitted the textbook ideal of a social profit endorser. He enjoyed a level of worldwide fame few could match. It made Jackson a newsworthy sub- ject, enabling him to create public interest in the organisations and causes he endorsed. As a celebrity’s legitimate standing (Meyer and Gamson 1995) on an issue improves when (s)he has an obvious connection with it, Jackson was often well placed, working from per- sonal experience. His involvement with burns victims followed the Pepsi incident and more than once he suggested his work for abused children (e.g. support for Child Help USA) was linked to a personal history of childhood maltreatment by his father.

    “However, other elements hampered the star’s philanthropy from taking the upper hand in Michael Jackson’s celebrity persona. Jackson supported a wide and varied range of causes and organisations, yet such diversity can lead to over-exposure and subsequent cynical public attitudes (Pringle 2004). For instance, analysis of Bono’s rise as a celebrity activist reveals that recognition came only after he decided to focus upon a limited number of causes or, in the words of Long (2006, p. 1), on ‘one idea, one brand, tight focus, tight leather pants’.

    “Moreover, analysing the most prominent and visible celebrity activists today, it appears that Jackson’s engagement was of a different nature. Although Jackson supported campaigns for racial equality, HIV/AIDS research and the environment – expressed in songs such as Black or White and Earth Song – in general his engagement was humanitar- ian rather than political. This is in contrast to the (more recent) political advocacy of much-cited activists such as Bono, Clooney and Jolie, who flirt with the boundaries of politics. Today – and according to some in the wake of 9/11 – we have become used to (and expect) celebrity activists who provoke and rival the world’s political leaders, creat- ing a buzz and generating coverage in ‘hard’ news sections. Jackson’s ‘soft’ approach was no match for this.

    “Finally, scandalous stories about a celebrity’s private life are not detrimental to and can even be countered by celebrity activism, as the example of Jolie shows. Similarly, Bono’s do-good image survived allegations about tax evasion (moving the U2 portfolio to Amsterdam) and health risks for Red label workers. However, it appears that certain boundaries cannot be transgressed. While Jackson’s early humanitarian image could take criticism that he made money from the benefit singles he wrote, it was hit at its core with the child abuse accusations (1993) and court case (2003). Many of Jackson’s charity con- tributions involved children’s welfare and became inconsistent with the narrative of child abuse and his eccentric behaviour towards his own children – epitomised in the dangling of his nine-month-old child over the balcony of a Berlin hotel. By the time Jackson was cleared of the abuse allegations, the harm to his humanitarian legacy was done and, indeed, irreparable, probably closing the door to the pantheon of celebrity activists on him for good.

    Cashmore, E., 2006. Celebrity culture. New York: Routledge.
    Hinerman, S., 2006. (Don’t) leave me alone: tabloid narrative and the Michael Jackson child-abuse scandal. In: P.D. Marshall, ed. The celebrity culture reader. London: Routledge, 454–469.
    JacksonAction, 2007. Charitable contributions. Available from:
    ?page=charity.htm [Accessed 6 December 2009 ].
    Long, R., 2006. Using your star power. Foreign Policy, May/June. Available from: http://www.for- cms.php?story_id=3440 [Accessed 8 December 2009 ].
    Meyer, D.S., & Gamson, J., 1995. The challenge of cultural elites: celebrities and social movements.
    Sociological Inquiry, 65 (2), 181–206.
    Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC), 2009. Charitable work. Available from: home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=409&Itemid=124 [Accessed 6 December 2009 ].
    Pringle, H., 2004. Celebrity sells. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
    Van den Bulck, H., 2009. The white woman’s burden: media framing of celebrity transnational adoptions. In: R. Clarke, ed. Celebrity colonialism: fame, representation, and power in colonial and post-colonial cultures. Manchester: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 123–139.

  10. Yes, Simba; “Celebrity Studies” and “Fan Studies” are growing fields within the general framework of “Cultural Studies.” Who knew, indeed?

    I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s prognosis; it may yet be possible for Michael’s reputation to “live down” those rumors and be recognized in its totality.

  11. IMO MJ was much more radical and challenging of the status quo than the other people mentioned, such as Jolie, Clooney or Bono–Charleton Heston (long-time President of NRA).

  12. I wonder how so, iutd: you may have a point (at least about Bono, Clooney, or Jolie—Charlton Heston has historically been a “mixed bag” in certain ways). I also think it depends on your understanding of *radicalism* and the *status-quo* in any given place or era.

    Anyway, all this is part of a much larger discussion: one in which a generational differences are certainly a factor.

    Some people here may have read about a well-publicized kerfuffle that took place between Jay-Z and Harry Belafonte a few months ago. It was over this very question of how celebrities (in this case, African American celebrities) become involved in social and political movements, occasioned specifically bysome of the protests that took place re the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida—this was around the time of the verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. The substance of the debate between Belafonte and Jay-Z seems to have died down now; but I think it clearly showed the differences between the “activist” M.O. of the older generation of African American performers and the younger stars.

    It might be worth looking into.

  13. Michael was born in poverty in an all black community with a father who worked in a steel mill, went to extreme wealth in an almost non black community and was old enough to remember the difference. That alone must have made him aware of the difference between the have and have not. From a very young age in Gary they performed for charity to ‘give back’ and as per Katherine Jackson they would sit in front of the tv and cry about poor children in Africa.
    Growing up ( as a JW) he met with many black activists like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Mohamed Ali,

    And later in LA with Elizabeth Taylor,Jane Fonda e.a. though very ‘hollywood’ great advocates for many causes . All of them must have had an influence on him and spurred his public humanitarian efforts that by the way started in the 80s.

    I think the fact that he did not take a radical stance is more complex than his JW beliefs. With the J5 and his solo cross over success it became important not to offend any (fan)group and to avoid controversy. I believe that the Motown drill formed his correctness and imagekeeping which later on became even more important with the billion dollar record deals. It went as far as his manager firing a woman because she supposedly kissed him on stage .
    Add to it a character trait , he himself said he had,to avoid confrontation.
    But all that does not take away his intentions and what he achieved.

    Imo activism or humanitarian work starts with compassion for your fellowmen and Michael cared very much about the well being of others.
    He did not change social structures , but he had the potential and charisma to influence masses and he did on a global scale.
    Change does not always come from activism or radicalism, many changes happen gradually, by accident or incident. Like refusing to stand up in a bus despite the rules say you have to.

    “By the time Jackson was cleared of the abuse allegations, the harm to his humanitarian legacy was done and, indeed, irreparable, probably closing the door to the pantheon of celebrity activists on him for good.”
    Sadly this is very much what happened and it seems almost impossible to change THAT image.

    1. There was nothing controversial about a woman kissing Michael on stage. Fans did that, and more, during You Are Not Alone. Tatiana Thumbtzen was fired because she ad libbed a kiss that wasn’t rehearsed, which was highly unprofessional. (She has also hinted that her refusal to ‘play ball’ with Frank Dileo had something to do with her firing.) A meticulous performer like Michael could not tolerate a loose cannon in his production.

  14. Sina said, “I think the fact that he did not take a radical stance is more complex than his JW beliefs. With the J5 and his solo cross over success it became important not to offend any (fan)group and to avoid controversy.”

    Although I agree that the reasons for how Michael approached his activism are complex I believe his JW beliefs do play a significant role along with the idea of avoiding controversy. Outside of that here’s a theory as to one of the complexities that possibly influenced Michael’s activism. A little calculated but here goes. Michael was very much building a foundation in order to have the freedom to do more significant things in the future from a position of financial independence making a “softer” approach to activism a short term necessity. Although I don’t have an article to quote I believe that on one level Michael wanted to take his activism and use it to initiate change from the inside out…with one focal point being the very industry he worked in. I think we are all aware that of the many causes Michael supported one that doesn’t get as much attention is the fact he championed changing the way the entertainment industry viewed and treated older black entertainers. Many of whom saw their success and fame benefit others far more richly then themselves. Again I don’t have an article to quote, and this does go off topic from Raven’s post, but it is my understanding that Michael wanted very much to be a media mogul, not just an entertainer, with the ability to influence the industry from the highest levels in order to “correct” injustices that occurred and were occuring within the industry. Michael was well on his way if it weren’t for certain road blocks we are all aware of that I feel were placed by established elites for the purpose of preventing him from becoming too powerful in the industry. Again just a theory but one that seems viable to me re the nature of Michael’s activism.

    1. SandyK, you are absolutely right that Michael wanted to have influence in the industry. He knew how the industry worked and knew you could only change it from the inside. The fact that he bought the catalogs of other artists and so could give back Chuck Berry’s songrights to him, that he wanted to be a partner or even buy Marvel studio’s is prove of it. He knew that he was not going to achieve that by controversy. Some will say it is calculated I say it is strategic insight.

      The History album and ‘angry black man’ speech, even his 1993 NAACP speech, came as a defense, after he had personally been through harsh scrutiny, and was threatened in his existence. He said history was his most biographical album.
      By the time History came out and his lyrics became more personal and agressive, he may have felt at that stage,he had nothing to loose. But we also know how it backlashed and it was only a matter of time before the powers that be would pay him back.

      1. Sina said, “Some will say it is calculated I say it is strategic insight.”

        Agreed. Michael often made calculated decisions with the best example being his “Thriller” album. He didn’t make that album on the premise of creating music for music’s sake. He saw the industry at the time as lacking a certain amount of inertia, energy, creativity, whatever you want to call it. The early 80’s were not good times for the music industry. Michael saw too many albums being released where only one song is worth listening to and the rest was filler. He wanted to set the bar as hight as possible and give the listening public something worth their money and release an album that had hits from cover to cover with no filler. He wanted to create a work that would be the best selling album of all time and he achieved it! Oh my goodness how audacious is that!?…not to mention calculated…:)

  15. Radical lyrics: “I’m not going to spend my life being a color” “It don’t matter if you’re black or white” “As jacked as it sounds, the whole system sucks” “You’re a parasite in black and white/Do anything for news” “Where did we go wrong? Someone tell me why” “Now I don’t know where we are/But I know we’ve drifted far” “One thing I can say they don’t really care about us’ “what about crying whales/we’re ravaging the seas’ “throw the brother in jail” “this one’s for all the lost children” “We can change the world/I can’t do it by myself’ “Tired of injustice” “what about all the peace that you pledged your only son’ etc etc etc

  16. Thank you for the interesting post, Raven, and to everyone who has commented for the many questions, debates, historical perspectives, and references to other articles. On the question of Michael enacting or not enacting a radical politics aimed at revolutionary changes in various flawed social and/or economic structures, it seems clear, as Nina Y F has said, that he did not follow the path of revolutionaries like Mandela or more radically engaged African Americans such as Ali, Belafonte, and Robeson, though his song-writing did seem to become more engaged in critiquing existing systems by the mid-to-late 1990s, after he had endured the first round of allegations in 1993. His outspoken criticism of Sony in the early 2000s included in some instances an astute analysis of the ill-treatment that many African American artists suffered historically in the music industry. Granted, these stances were driven largely by his own personal experiences rather than a more wide-ranging radical agenda. But perhaps Michael Jackson’s most radical acts were not engagement in organized efforts to change the ills structured into contemporary society, but rather his insistence on being himself even in the midst of them. I can’t help but think that one of Michael’s most radical (and bravest) acts was simply to appear and perform in public with his body bearing the various visual consequences of his Pepsi commercial accident, his lupus, and his vitiligo. He rarely explained, certainly never apologized, but just carried on flying in the face of various expectations and boundaries having to do with race, gender, music, performance, and behavior. He was constantly ridiculed for his lack of conformity to all kinds of expectations and categories, and finally, I believe, criminalized for this lack of conformity. Michael may not have literally changed social structures, but perhaps simply by being uncompromisingly himself, by appearing and living in ways so different from standard expectations, he changed what many believed was possible for themselves and for the world. I also believe that Michael’s humanitarian efforts went beyond the effort to use charity to alleviate suffering. In his Oxford Union Speech, for example, he develops a perspective on children’s suffering that takes into account larger systemic problems — with violence, with the family, and more. If Michael did not himself change these structural problems, surely he had a more than passing understanding of them. One of the many tragedies of Michael’s 2005 trial and the terrible toll it took on his life, it seems to me, is that it made it very difficult for him to develop further as an activist. We will never know how radical Michael Jackson might have become.

    1. Anzola, I very much agree with what you have aid here. I had been going to mention that Michael, as you’ve said, did pose a radical intervention in dominant culture–even a downright “threat”—in the very ways he presented himself. If he hadn’t, chances are he wouldn’t have gotten as much grief as he did.

      1. Yes, I agree. And Michael captured the nature of his “threat” very powerfully in his song “Threatened” and, in a more multi-layered way with a wider tonal range, in the short film “Ghosts.” What I also find very interesting about Michael’s self-presentation,especially from about 2000 on, is that in MJ fan culture there are countless testimonies from female fans about how physically attractive they find the mature MJ, even though his public “look” was one that is very far from what our culture would deem a conventionally attractive form of masculinity. This is a very subjective realm, of course, and it’s also true that MJ never fit into conventional masculine paradigms even when he was younger (one of his most attractive qualities, to me), but I still find it interesting that scores of women seemed to love the older MJ for precisely those aspects of his self-presentation that were treated so scornfully in the mass media.

        1. Anzola, I find your comments very perceptive in general, but I disagree vehemently that Michael “never fit into conventional masculine paradigms even when he was younger”. Are you kidding – he was hot as a pistol! Please refer to Todd Gray’s wonderful book Michael Jackson Before He Was King, or the video for Blame It On the Boogie. Throughout his life, with his broad shoulders, lean torso, lithe thighs, Michael had a masculine body that wouldn’t quit. No matter how much or little makeup he used, that never changed.

          1. Yes, Simba, totally agree. When I was referring to the younger Michael and the conventional paradigms of masculinity, I was thinking more of the anti-macho self-presentation in “Beat It,” for example, which on many levels outside of those related to attractive body shape, size, and other indexes of “hotness”,etc., does challenge conventional modes of masculinity, or the complexities of the masculine images in the short film for “The Way You Make Me Feel.” So I was referring to a more wide-ranging set of representations of masculinity than just those of his individual person alone. I know Todd Gray’s wonderful book very well and am so glad he had the chance to capture those beautiful images of Michael. (And I’ve done [and continue to do] my fair share of sighing over the beauties of Michael in all his incarnations!)

          2. I think “Beat It” was when I first became aware…as in, REALLY aware…of just how hot Michael had grown up to be. I remember thinking, “Is THAT little Michael from The Jackson 5? Whoa!”

            But this was a time when I was also coming into my own awareness of what I found attractive, and realizing that I was not attracted to the stereotypical macho guy that conventional society dictated I should be attracted to. In some ways, rock stars have always appealed to a different paradigm of attractiveness. In the 50’s, people like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, etc weren’t exactly conventional sex symbols or even the most masculine looking guys, but women adored them.

            There used to be a joke in the 80’s that the only guys who were getting chicks were the guys who looked like chicks themselves (a nod, I’m sure, to guys like Michael and Prince and all of the hair metal guys). I think Michael did very much have his ear to the ground, and was part of that movement that was re-defining what male sexuality was all about, though how conscious he was of it (or if he was just swept up in the tide of the times like everyone else) I can’t say. I’ve always believed that Michael was at least partially inspired by the popularity of the metal hair bands; certainly by the Bad era. He was going for that same sort of slightly effeminate edge (this was the era of guys who wore leather to show how tough and bad-ass they were, while wearing lipstick and eyeliner to show off how “pretty” they were).

            I always thought it was very sexy that Michael didn’t have a beefed up body. I prefer the lean agility and cat-like grace of a dancer’s body, and I think one of the things that Michael and other male performers of his generation really spearheaded was making that body type an accepted standard of sexuality (whereas before, the standard had been all about the muscle and the brawn). This is the era where we really start to see men of that body type being celebrated in a sensual way.

          3. Simba: I don’t doubt that he was hot as a rocket at that time. I certainly feel that way, as do a lot of people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he fit into the conventional paradigms of masculinity.

          4. I agree, Anzola; the themes he dealt with, particularly in short films like “Beat It” and “The Way You Make Me Feel” evoke a tension between conventional expectations of masculinity, and the need to redefine it. As many, many commentators have noted—in his appearance, his voice, and other aspects of his performances, he pushed against the traditional boundaries of gender and presented a more nuanced version of masculinity.

            But this, too, speaks to the shifting notions of what constituted “politics” in the 1980s. That decade saw the rise of “identity politics,” where considerations of race, gender, and sexuality—and the question of which people enjoy certain privileges relative to others—was a common (progressive) political paradigm. A new generation was preoccupied with these issues. Michael’s presentation, his “being himself” (as you say, Anzola), and the particular way he performed that self over time, was his radical gesture. I think this was very much in keeping with a redefined sense of political engagement (Madonna, Prince and other stars were exploring similar territory, in different ways).

            I don’t mean to say that Michael necessarily *intended* all of this, or that he would’ve described what he was doing in these ways. But he undoubtedly had his ear to the ground, and would surely have picked up on and used the vibes of the time.

    2. I agree that the trial really stymied a lot of his possibilities in terms of all areas of growth-artistically, professionally, artistically, and personally. It had really taken him nearly a decade to recover from the Chandler allegations, but he was well on the mend (at least from a professional standpoint; I can’t vouch for personally because only he would know that).

      As has been pointed out many times, Michael in his later years had many more reasons to be angry; to be bitter, and to take up the fight. In some ways, he went from being a very naive idealist (the youthful Michael) to a much more cynical and hardened mature man who had seen far too much evil to ever really be that naive youth again. We see this reflected in his lyrics, and in his somewhat more militant activism of later years. Some have said that the campaigns he was taking up, such as speaking out against Sony, were out of character for him. I take another view. Rather than being out of character, I think they represent a growth, or new direction, of his character that was born out of reaction to what he had endured.

    3. It’s very enlightening to study old videos of Soul Train. When Michael was in his late teens and early twenties, his skinny but masculine body type was typical for young black men. Bodybuilder brawn was not generally popular, and the obesity epidemic had not yet struck. There was nothing unusual about Michael’s physicality, except how gorgeous he was.

  17. Raven said, “There used to be a joke in the 80′s that the only guys who were getting chicks were the guys who looked like chicks themselves…”

    I remember Eddie Murphy “joking” about this very thing as it related to Michael.

    There were certainly a lot of guys with a more lean body type in the 70’s and 80’s that didn’t represent the paradigm of masculinity per the 2000’s but had a significant female following…to varying degrees…El DeBarge, Sting, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Axl Rose, Babyface, Prince (as you’ve mentioned), dare I include Rick James, even Elvis Costello, John Lennon and Lionel Richie. Not that it didn’t exist before but the more beefed up and/or tattoed and/or aggressive image does seem to be one that is emphasized more over the last 10 or so years as epitomized by the likes of Henry Rollins, Anthony Kiedis, R. Kelly, Eminem, Chris Brown and even Justin Timberlake to some degree although not exclusively as seen with the success and female following of individuals such as Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz. Although they may also decide to add more ink and spend time in the gym like Timberlake has done in order “beef” up their image.

    1. It’s amazing to me that, considering all the blather about Michael’s hair – the giant Afro, the jheri curl, the ponytail, the long wig – nobody I’m aware of has said anything about two of the biggest male stars of today changing their look – Bruno Mars stopped straightening his hair just as Justin Timberlake started straightening his. Maybe it’s because people finally realize it’s all just costuming, not some kind of statement.

      1. Yes, very true and at one time Timberlake had shorn his hair very short and at times reminded me of Eminem. With the hair style changes exhibited so far by the likes of BM and JT they still don’t match the more melodramtic style changes Michael went through. Any change in style can be risky business as to the “marketing” of any artist. Michael boldly changed up his style many times through his adult career as we know with varying degrees of success. Although he may have gotten imput from various sources (he rejected input from Madonna and Latoya famously likes to take credit for the military style jackets) we know he ultimately owned his style in all its guises.

        Although fleeting here’s an interesting image of Bruno Mars where he bares an uncanny resemblance to a young Michael Jackson pre Jheri curl.

        Bruno Mars

        Young Michael Jackson

        Off The Wall era MJ

        1. I find that many of Michael’s siblings (most annoyingly LaToya and Jermaine) tend to want to take credit for a lot of Michael’s ideas. Sometimes this may be true, but I doubt it is true in every case. And every sibling seems to want to stake a special claim in being “the one who was closest to Michael.”

          Many stars tend to change up their looks and image now. I think Michael was probably a trailblazer in that regard for men, just as Madonna was for women. Michael was interesting because he tended to come out with a new look to accompany every album.

          1. Yes, Michael did that very well. Although there are some looks I like better than others all are appealing and each added to the interest and anticipation of each new release. Brilliant marketing on his part!!

            By the way, Raven, could you delete the last “Off The Wall era MJ” link in my post? It’s pointing to an advertising site that doesn’t represent what I intended to post. Thanks!!!

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