In 1992, 1995 and 2002 Michael Jackson released a series of Christmas messages to the world. I always like to revisit these every holiday season. His messages remain more relevant than ever, especially his message addressed to Germany in 2002. Recent events have seen many children killed or seriously injured, not only in the Isis attack in Germany but in the recent horrible explosion in Mexico. Michael’s messages remind us to take this time to reflect on our blessings but also to remember that pain and suffering in the world does not take a holiday.
Enjoy these holiday words of wisdom from our beloved Michael!
When it comes to books on Michael Jackson, there is certainly no shortage. It is a market that continues to grow more glutted with every passing year, but unfortunately, books focusing solely on the man’s art and music still lag far behind the voluminous outpouring of salacious “tell all” biographies and questionable memoirs from so-called “friends.” While recent years have brought about a much needed renaissance of serious critical interest in Michael Jackson’s music and the cultural importance of his musical legacy, the commercially available books that delve into this subject with any depth remain shockingly sparse. Other than the works of Joe Vogel, Armond White, Susan Fast and a few others, the market for books of serious discussion on Michael Jackson as an artist (and especially as an artist provocateur) has not overall proven as profitable as books designed to cater to the tabloid-fed demographic. For that reason alone, Mike Smallcombe deserves props for daring to tread into territory that few have dared to tread-at least with any hope of profitable return.
Smallcombe’s book had the misfortune of dropping this past April, only a few months on the heels of Steve Knopper’s The Genius of Michael Jackson, a book that purported to be a balanced insight into Michael Jackson’s artistic vision (at least according to the title) but instead disintegrated quickly into another snide odyssey from the perspective of a white male writer (another Rolling Stone writer, at that) whose respect for his subject’s artistry remained questionable at best (and, not surprisingly, largely limited to his Thriller-era, Quincy Jones produced work). However, with that being said, I didn’t necessarily detest Knopper’s book with the same level of vehemence as some fans. For starters, although Knopper offered little in the way of original theory, the fact that he had researched many of the more serious scholarly works on Jackson’s music at least said something, and if nothing else, his book may serve as a gateway for those mainstream readers curious enough to dig deeper into the growing body of scholarly research on Michael Jackson’s work. Secondly, the fact that Knopper wasn’t totally dismissive of Jackson’s Dangerous and HIStory era work suggests an interesting paradigm shift in the critical assessment and appreciation of Michael’s more mature work. For this reason and others, I was more prone to view Knopper’s book as at least a small but important turning stone in the overall canon of Michael Jackson books-at least, one that set out with the intent of analyzing his art rather than his life, even if it fell far short of that goal.
Nevertheless, the Knopper book still managed to raise a lot of ire among fans who, for the most part, found his often condescending attitude toward his subject more than off putting. Why write a book purporting to be about an artist’s “genius” and then spend at least a goodly half of the book attempting to portray this artist, by turns, as a spoiled brat and megalomaniac who essentially burned his “genius” out early and then spent the rest of his career running all of his well meaning producers, engineers, musicians, directors and record executives insane with his over the top demands, budget excesses, and eccentricities?
Thus, when news hit that yet another book was coming down the pipe from yet another white male journalist, purporting to celebrate Michael Jackson’s musical legacy, the mood among the fandom was understandably skeptical. Putting aside the works of Vogel and a few other notable exceptions, could we really trust another white male journalist to “get it right” this time?
I will be honest. I downloaded Smallcombe’s book onto my Kindle app with small expectations, despite much of the hype around it at the time. I started reading it and thought that, at best, I would be in for a pleasant but slightly boring journey down a path of already well tread stories. After all, most fans who have put any degree of research into Michael Jackson’s music are already well familiar with the stories of how his most famous albums and songs came together. That isn’t to say that the story of Michael Jackson’s rise from Jackson 5/Jacksons front man to international global superstar isn’t a phenomenal story. Of course it is, and it’s certainly a story that deserves to be told. It is a story that harkens back to the very essence of the American hero archetype. But it is a difficult story to tackle and to give true justice; its very epic scope is its own worst limitation. In the past, the most successful projects that have attempted to trace the rise of Michael Jackson have been content to trace that rise from The Jackson 5 days to the beginning of the Off the Wall and Thriller eras, which in itself is one of the most phenomenal success stories in all of popular music. Many projects are content to leave it there, with the promise of all the greatness and magic that was to ensue-as well as, of course, the inevitable (and by now almost cliche’) hint of the tragic fall to come, without ever taking into consideration that this “downfall” would bring about the greatest artistic resurgence of his career.
I admired the courage of Smallcombe to undertake the project, and the premise certainly sounded interesting; that is, essentially, the idea of making the reader a “fly on the wall” as the great metamorphosis that became the creation of Michael Jackson, adult superstar legend, was born. But admittedly, it took me awhile into this journey before I was truly captivated. Now, having finally read it all (it is a massive book and a huge commitment) I think I can safely say in hindsight why the book was slow to grow on me-but when it did, I was truly hooked.
Much of it has to do with the fact that, unlike most of the ilk of white male music journalists who undertake the task of analyzing Jackson’s art, Smallcombe actually has a deeply ingrained appreciation for ALL eras of Michael Jackson’s work, but especially his 90’s era work. In a promotional interview given at the time of the book’s release, Smallcombe stated that his favorite Michael Jackson album is Dangerous, followed closely by HIStory.
This fact alone gives the book far more credibility than many similarly earnest but ultimately failed attempts by past music writers, who usually end up making the fatal mistake of treating later albums like Dangerous, HIStory, Blood On The Dancefloor and Invincible as mere footnotes to Jackson’s legacy. Well, given the fact that these four albums alone outnumber the two-fold magic punch of Off the Wall and Thriller (with Bad often caught somewhere in the middle as the follow-up album “almost as good as Thriller but not quite) it may be worth noting that if we persist in relegating these albums to mere footnotes, that is one very long note indeed. Perhaps far better that we begin to attempt some serious analysis of what these albums actually do mean in terms of the Michael Jackson canon.
Although the entire book is certainly engaging, I was really most hooked from the later chapters forward. Sure, there were a lot of the familiar and expected facts, some of which can be tedious to hardcore fans who already know much of this stuff (however, Smallcombe isn’t writing necessarily for the hardcore fan, but for the lay reader who may not already be familiar with some of the more routine details of how these albums came to be) but in almost every chapter there would be some interesting tidbit or story I had not heard before. The stories are often amusing, revealing to lay readers the depth of Michael’s often childlike and wickedly humorous charm; sometimes shockingly sad; sometimes infuriating (the chapter on Invincible, for example, pulls no punches about Sony’s part in its publicity sabotage) and, at all times, respectful of the fact that the complexities of genius are not something that can be easily pinned down.
Of course, as with all books of this kind of scope, there are some inherent flaws. A fully comprehensive book of Michael Jackson’s entire adult career cannot be truly possible without cutting some corners, which means that no one era or album can be covered in depth. Also, those who are looking for more detailed accounts of Michael’s personal life would be advised to look elsewhere. Smallcombe does touch upon all of the major events of Jackson’s adult life, but only so much as those events are relevant to the music (but in all honesty, this is the approach that Michael would have us take if we must dissect his life at all-in the end, as with all great artists, all that matters of how he lived his life is what transpires into the art). Nevertheless, nothing here feels short changed. The sections dealing with the Chandler and Arvizo allegations, for example, appeared well researched and certainly informative enough for the lay reader who, again, would only need enough to know how vastly these events shook the core of Jackson’s foundation and inspired the works that came out of these dark chapters.
I think that mainstream readers will also appreciate Smallcombe’s balanced and objective approach. Even though Smallcombe is obviously a fan, and his genuine admiration of Michael as a human being and artist shines through at all times, it isn’t a book that in any way attempts to deify Michael or to excuse some of his excesses and flaws. However, there is very big marked difference between Smallcombe’s approach and that of, say, the approach that Steve Knopper took in The Genius of Michael Jackson. This is a book from an author who obviously respects Jackson’s artistry and is willing to examine his art objectively from the perspective of a genius musician, songwriter, and performer whose talent-like that of all the greats-was given to enormous ebbs and flows of energy. And in this story, we get a very real sense of the dark forces that were around Michael and that ultimately played their role in diminishing (though never killing) that energy.
However, this book-like all of the best books written on Michael Jackson-is not a tragic story, but rather, the inspiring story of a fighter and a survivor whose gift of music prevailed through all of the worst storms of his life. Smallcombe reminds us that Michael’s life, at the end, can be viewed as a glass half empty or half filled. On the one hand, yes, the tragedies are there. There were passages quite hard to read or, as a fan, to be reminded of again, such as Michael courageously attempting to rise to the demands of his This Is It rehearsals while his body was being systematically poisoned by Murray’s “Frankenstein” medical experiments. But Smallcombe also reminds us that Michael Jackson nevertheless died fully in saddle, with his boots on, having lived long enough to see the unprecedented demand for his ticket sales and having miraculously overcome his medical difficulties to deliver two nights of amazing rehearsals that, of course, would be forever immortalized as his final performances (and thereby cheating all of those naysayers who had predicted for him a life of ruination and exile).
Smallcombe’s book is much more than just a musical odyssey through the turbulent up’s and down’s of a musical icon’s adult career. It is also an important reminder that in the person of Michael Jackson, we had our closest American incarnation of a true epic hero, one whose art enabled him to achieve true “invincibility” and to survive against every odd-at least, until his great heart finally gave out and refused to take up the tiresome burden of living again. And that is where this story ultimately ends, as Smallcombe made the conscious choice not to exploit Jackson’s controversial posthumous “career.” Perhaps that is fitting, for no matter how much money Michael Jackson continues to earn from the grave, his legacy is firmly built on the songs and albums he left us, those he blessed with every ounce of his sweat, energy, and undying drive for perfection. And as Smallcombe reminds us in many passages, that obsession could at times be Jackson’s own worst enemy-it resulted, for example, in at least a fifth of Invincible’s greatest tracks being left on the cutting floor-but it was also this quality that made his greatest work, truly great.
Making Michael is a book that celebrates the greatness of Michael Jackson’s music with honesty and a refreshing lack of the usual “white privilege” cynicism that permeates the writing about Jackson from so many white male music writers. Fans will no doubt have varying opinions as to their own satisfaction with the book (I have read all of the reviews, and some of the more negative points are valid) but, overall, this book stands as an important addition to the growing list of scholarship on Jackson’s work.
In the time since I posted Part 1 of this series late on Friday, the focus throughout social media has been largely about Radar Online’s tomfuckery in falsifying the documents they claimed as “official” police documents in the original story they dropped on June 20th. My purpose in Part 1 was mainly to provide a broad overview of the story and to rebut the sensationalistic media claims that these were “new” or “recently unearthed” reports; secondly. to remind readers that there was nothing in those original reports that ever stated child pornography had been found at Neverland-a statement that was signed off by both the defense and prosecution, as well as Judge Melville. From there, I touched briefly on how Radar Online had faked a lot of the information and was making grossly exaggerated claims about the items that were in the authentic reports.
Late Friday, just as i had posted Part 1, the crap really started to fly when Canadian artist Jonathan Hobin reached out to the media to let the world know that one of the photographs Radar Online had falsely inserted as “evidence” of Michael’s “sick and twisted, disturbing stockpile” of sexually graphic images featuring children was, in fact, part of Hobin’s well known collection titled In the Playroom. It is, in fact, an art book of photographs for which the theme is the depiction of children who have been victims of violent crimes. It is a collection that uses “shock art” as a call to social awakening of what is happening to children in our modern society. Further research revealed that the media has covered this collection and its author quite extensively. There were stories on Vice.com as well as an extensive write-up for The Huffington Post by Priscilla Frank in 2013-yes, the same Huffington Post who jumped on the MJ story bandwagon and repeated verbatim Radar Online’s lies that an image from this collection supposedly was included as part of Michael’s “stockpile” of “disturbing images.”
Yet here is what Huffington Post wrote of Jonathan Hobin’s book in 2013:
Although generally childhood is portrayed as a time of innocence and bliss, the reality is often far more sinister. Photographer Jonathan Hobin captures our childhood fascinations with the darkest aspects of adult life in his polarizing series “In The Playroom.” The series recreates disturbing historical moments such as the attacks on September 11, 2001 and JonBenét Ramsey’s death. We reached out to Hobin to learn more…
Note that the JonBenet Ramsey photo is clearly mentioned here, which means The Huffington Post as well as other media outlets were clearly aware of this photo’s origins as part of an art collection.
But the real clincher is that Hobin’s book wasn’t even published until 2008! So this book was not possibly something Michael Jackson could have even owned in 2003 when the raid of Neverland took place!
This same photo was featured as part of a Huffington Post slideshow of Hobin’s work in 2013-there was no mention then of it being anything other than a work of art!
Hobin has tried to reach out to the media to spread the truth about the photo and its origins. So far, I don’t know if anyone has taken him up.
But interestingly, as soon as Hobin spoke out-and as soon as other media outlets began circulating that Radar Online had faked at least a portion of the documents-the original 88 page document Radar Online had posted suddenly lost 27 pages overnight, shrinking to a mere 61 pages. This is clearly a case of track covering! With no retraction and no formal apology forthcoming, the gesture of merely removing these blatantly falsified images and documents means nothing. They created the damage by putting this fake crap out there in the first place-now that they’ve been caught, they are trying to cover it up.
And to make matters worse, now that the spotlight has been placed on how Radar Online falsified official police reports. they and their cohorts have merely created another diversion, one that is far more disturbing since it involves unfounded speculations about Michael’s own children and nephews. If this isn’t the ultimate in defamation, I don’t know what is! I do know that it’s time it has to stop; this feeding frenzy has gotten so crazy that anyone, it seems, can make up anything they want about Michael or his family-or his children (one of which, let’s not forget, is still a minor!) and have it printed by media outlets who will never bother fact checking the story. In fact, it’s scarier than that. One can truly speculate anything they want, and in so doing, create an atmosphere where people will believe it is fact. What they are doing is creating a lot of smoke to cover up the fact that there is no fire. It’s an old media tactic, but unfortunately, one that often has the desired effect.
Anyway, I guess I am allowing my anger to get me sidetracked and ahead of myself. What I intended with this series was to rebut Radar Online’s claims with what I know to be true about the Michael Jackson case and what was found (as well as what was not)-to separate truth from sensationalized fiction. And the best way to do that is just to go straight through the documents, addressing each item or issue as it appears. I will be basing this, obviously, on the original 88 page document which Radar Online has since deleted-not because I wish to further sensationalize their fabrications, but because I think it is important that everyone knows what they tried to get away with (I don’t think it was because they honestly didn’t think they would be caught; more like they just wanted to see how much and for long they could milk the story before the truth did catch up). The fact we must keep uppermost in mind when reviewing these materials is that many of these items had already gone through one round of misinterpretations and attempts to view them out of the context of their original intent-remember, the prosecution was trying hard to build a case for them as “possible” grooming materials since they had no actual evidence on which to build their case. Radar Online (as well as Vanity Fair and others) then merely added another layer of sensationalism to what was already, in many cases, gross misrepresentations of these items. It has also been reported by sharp-eyed fans that many of the “fake” images obtained from internet sources carried identifying information pinpointing them back to Wade Robson’s and Jimmy Safechuck’s attorneys. You will be seeing this as we move through the documents and come upon the faked images.
The first three pages, as noted, are missing so the document essentially picks up with page 3. (Updated: You can find a discussion of the content of those missing pages here). The first item being discussed is Item #507, a drawing made on notebook paper of a boy in a circle. There were some apparent impressions made onto the paper by someone writing on a sheet of paper that had been on top of it, but nothing could be determined as far as what the writings may have been. However, anyone familiar with Michael’s art style knows that this sounds very typical of the types of drawings he liked to do. Many of his sketches have been seen publicly (many are available at a glance with a quick Google search) and we can see that, typically, Michael liked to draw self portraits of himself as a child, other famous figures and cartoon characters, or scenes that in some way evoke the essence of childhood. Below are some very typical examples of his art work:
It is very obvious, then, that the drawing described could have been very typical in style and content to any of the above. Notably, nothing further is inferred about the drawing other than that it would need to be “forensically processed” in order to read the latent writings. Translation: They knew they were wasting time even taking up space talking about it, as it was just a drawing of a boy sitting in a circle (interestingly, this could have been one of Michael’s many self portraits depicting himself in the spotlight, but without actually seeing it, it’s hard to say. All I know for certain is that, being familiar with Michael’s style and the types of subjects he liked to depict in his artwork, this is typical).
Next described is a book found in the arcade room, The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes. The report describes it as a book about adolescents and the counterculture, with “some” pictures featuring apparently adult individuals “with no clothing, or in a state of partial dress.”
I did a little further research on this book (which frankly wasn’t hard-a quick Google search is usually is all the detective work that is required, since these were and still are perfectly legal art books) and found out that the entire project was part of an Italian art exhibition that opened in Florence in January of 2003. The project’s purpose, as stated on the pittidiscovery website was:
“an opportunity for reflection on the increasing importance of teenage tribes in our society. A society where the obsolesence of concepts of sexual and demographic identity reflects social changes in progress in a violent, contradictory manner. The fourth sex belongs to adolescents. A sexually indefinite moment, in which gender ambiguity prevails. Adolescents are not boys or girls and not yet men or women. They belong to a parallel, fluid universe, in a state of becoming. They are closely connected to the present, yet symbolically contain the seeds of future.
Adolescence is not just a phase of passage in human life, it also is a mental state, an existential condition with an overwhelming impact on lifestyles and trends. Adolescents are omnivorous, tireless consumers, distracted but also attentive, easily persuadable but also independent. Adolescents do not want to be well-balanced, they love extremes in everything: from fashion to art to music…
Unbalanced between the present and the future, adolescents appear to us as both agitated and strangely passive. They may give form to their world in an aggressive way, but at the same time they are also forced to come to terms with the labels, the judgments and the formulae of the adult world.
Observed and studied by experts of all kinds, monitored in their behavior patterns, adolescents represent a decisive segment in the strategy of consumption. They adore clothes and music. They want to be cool at all costs. Fashion watches the teenage universe closely both as a source of inspiration and as a crucial target group, while contemporary art explores, exploits and analyzes the myth of the eternal adolescent. From the rebellion of the historical avantgardes, through the counterculture of the Sixties, to the doubts and uncertainties of Generation X, contemporary art has treated adolescence as an indispensable point of reference, coming to grips with its radical gestures, its violations and impatience.
The exhibition The fourth sex. Adolescent Extremes observes and portrays the restless territory of teenagers :an incredible resource of creative energy. The show lights a series of emotional fires where ideas meet and derail in new constellations of meaning. The materials in the show reflect the complex universe of contemporary culture: fashion, communications, art, music, cinema… The themes are many, and inevitably touch some of the nerve centers of our society. Talking about adolescence doesn’t only mean the subject of young people, but it also means talking about their restless relationship with the adult world. This doesn’t only mean representing the positive energies of this age group, but also exploring the insecurities and fears that can lead to terrible, extreme gestures.
The two curators, Francesco Bonami and Raf Simons, intend to construct an exhibition that is itself an expression of the languages of adolescence, mixing expressive codes and disciplines. Drawing inspiration from the multiplicity of the languages of teenagers, The fourth sex will be a space in which different ideas and trends release, transforming the show into a place of encounter and dissemination. The exhibition, installed at Stazione Leopolda by a group of young architects, the Cliostraats, sheds light on the strength, weakness and promises of the fourth sex. The book/catalogue offers a variegated montage not only of the images in the show, but also of supplementary iconographic materials, such as images from art, fashion, teenage icons, legendary films. The volume is also an anthology of the most interesting writings on the theme of adolescence, in which a mixture of poetry, literature, current events, journalism and essays, give form and color to all the contradictions and ambiguities of an unhappy age we will never regret.
After wasting considerable space to describe the book, the report clearly states: “None of the material within this book would meet the legal requirements to be considered child pornography.” Get used to hearing that phrase; it’s one that’s going to crop up with just about every item described! The only thing they could try to claim is that such items could be used for grooming material. This, again, is going to come up a lot because, remember, it was all they had to go on and the prosecution was trying desperately to build a case on this!
Well, this is as much as I’m going to have time to post today, but I will continue on Wednesday to take you through both the real and “imagined” journey of Michael Jackson’s “stockpiled” porn. Sorry, though, if it isn’t as titillating as the tabloid accounts. Truth seldom is.
In the meantime, here is a cool rebuttal video that’s starting to go viral. Share it and make it go viral some more!