MICHAEL JACKSON – The Man, the Music, and the Media
By Lois-Ann Clark
July 5, 2009: In the early 1970’s, a young woman shopping in a suburban Boston mall barely noticed a group of five young African-American men—who appeared to be brothers—going about their shopping unrecognized by other mall goers. She smiled politely at the slightly-older, rather muscular man accompanying them, then suddenly recognized the group in wide-eyed wonder. In response to the glimmer of recognition in her eyes, the man accompanying the group made the age-old gesture for quiet, putting his forefinger over his lips, accompanied by a non-verbal plea for quiet when their eyes met, which the young woman obliged. The young men were (of course) The Jackson 5, and the young woman felt quite noble, but rather conflicted, because she really wanted to meet them and get their autographs.
Imagine the life that young man, who evolved into the Michael Jackson we lost last week, lived. Forty years of never being able to do normal things like going to mall without running the risk of being mobbed, and doing other things we simply take for granted. While many things have been written about Michael Jackson’s life and choices over the last week, few have stopped to “walk a mile in his moccasins.”
When the news about Michael Jackson’s death hit the airwaves, it was shocking and unbelievable. His loss was felt worldwide; and indeed, fans came from the four corners of the world to celebrate his life and mourn his death. But what has happened in the ensuing days has been a travesty, and an example of the factors that drove Michael to the eccentricity which may have contributed to his untimely death.
First, we have the media, just like buzzards, trying to beat each other to the punch with some of the most bizarre stories one has ever heard. Then we had his father on the red carpet at the BET Awards, talking about his record company, probably initially in response to a question about what he was doing, but then carrying it to a whole ‘nother level at a press conference the next day. As if that weren’t bad enough, there were reports of Michael not being the children’s father, and then questions of who would have custody of the children. As one attorney said, his—Michael’s—name is on the birth certificates, and that pretty much settles it.
Then, there were the obligatory mention of allegations of child molestation, and the ensuing trials: one of which was settled out of court, and the other in which he was acquitted. It was as if each media outlet had to try to take it to another more absurd level.
I think the most disgusting thing I heard over the last week was regarding one of the paparazzi who camped outside his home 24/7. One actually had a zoom lens that read the information on a panel inside the ambulance and further invaded Michael’s privacy by zooming into the cabin of the ambulance to get a photo of him on a stretcher inside. The photo was sold for over six figures. Is nothing sacred?
Joe Jackson, the Jackson family patriarch, is no stranger to the media. Regardless of his strained relationship with Michael, he was his father and mourned his son in his own way. He referred to himself as “crying on the inside.” The media have portrayed him as an insensitive buffoon, rather than the brilliant architect of The Jackson 5.
What most members of the media—who are predominately Caucasian—do not realize is the way that many African-American families discipline their children. Joe Jackson is what many would refer to as tough taskmaster, someone who took, “no tea for the fever.” Although I make no apologies for corporal punishment, members of the Black community know at least one Joe Jackson in their families and/or communities. While I certainly do not in any way condone his discipline style, I understand his reasons. Mr. Jackson was the parent of six male children in a society that has never been kind to Black males. He was a hardworking, working-class father with eleven mouths to feed, often working double shifts to provide for them. Simply stated, Mr. Jackson had a dream for his children and his family and used the parenting techniques he knew to motivate them to do their best.
Are their any AABoomers who are not familiar with having to get the switch with which they were to be disciplined? (Okay, maybe you didn’t have to do it, but you were familiar with the technique.)
Not satisfied to leave it there, the media then suggested that the children might be in danger if Mr. Jackson were in the home, knowing full well that he and his wife had lived separately for over a decade. No doubt this speculation brought Debbie Rowe, the mother of record of Michael’s older two children, out of the woodwork to file for custody since she had been left out of the will. This from a woman who had taken a settlement to give up her parental rights.
To me, it seems that the media—whom we must remember has air time to fill—is making much ado about nothing. Who Michael Jackson choose to leave his money to is his business. It was his money. He had his reasons. He was, according to all accounts, extremely close to his mother.
Did anyone really think he would leave anything to his father after what he (Michael) had said about his father in the media in the past? Why the mock surprise that the senior Mr. Jackson had been left out? Besides, the law sees a married couple as one, so Joe Jackson is taken care of anyhow.
Then, we have the African-American nurse-practitioner, who emerged on the scene for her 15 minutes of fame, divulging information which should have remained privileged. What purpose did that information serve, except to fuel reports that Michael had a chemical dependence, Could she not have shared that information with the Coroner’s office, or the family?
It is no wonder then that Michael Jackson evolved into such a tortured soul. His genius is undisputed. His choices were unorthodox, but I wonder about the choices we would make if we had the resources to indulge our every whim, and people surrounding us to agree with our every thought.
For me (and millions of other fans), I choose to celebrate the life a man whose music survived four decades. His eccentric behavior was not unusual for someone with such phenomenal talent who could start trends by simply wearing a single sequined glove or a red leather jacket with lots of zippers. When the dust settles, it will be his music that endures, and the media will be on to the next sensational story.