By Saswat Pattanayak
They finally killed Michael Jackson.
The music industry giants of America with their racist press collaborators took away the life of the greatest entertainer, the world has witnessed in recording history.
Michael Jackson was on a slow death since several years now. Most notably ever since he raised his voice against Sony Corporation and the exploitative music industries. Ever since he, more than anyone else as influentially, highlighted the plights of black artists as victims of racism: “The record companies really, really do conspire against the artists. They steal, they cheat, they do whatever they can. Especially against the black artists.” Unable to accept how Sony’s chairman Tommy Mottola referred to one African-American artist as a “fat black nigger”, Jackson condemned him as “mean, a racist, very, very, very devilish” person. Michael Jackson had taken a stand against racism within music industry in a manner no musician had dared to take before. Nor after.
But that was not all.
Michael Jackson had also emerged as the most widely recognized human being in the world.
Unlike anyone else in human history – way more than any icon of the western world, more than any president of modern times or emperor of the ancient age – it was Michael Jackson who was recognized and respected by people all across the globe. The most “popular” American was increasingly transcending the limits of fame set by the power structure. He was rising taller than the Washington Monument in nation’s capital, and World Trade Center in New York City. Micheal Jackson was a bigger ambassador of American love than Kennedy or Lincoln ever were. He was a bigger American poet than Walt Whitman was. A greater performer than Frank Sinatra. A better dancer than Fred Astaire. A grander legend during his lifetime than Elvis was following his death.
And yet, as his good friend Elizabeth Taylor often remarked, inside America, Michael Jackson was “treated as dirt”. Why would he be not? He had surpassed every limits ever set forth: by America for the black peoples.
Michael Jackson was the black man who steadfastly refused to walk the ropes, to plead with the press, to sell his musical soul to the corporate copyrighters. He was the black man who took over the Elvis and the Beatles and shattered every myth revolving cultural purities. He was the black man who challenged the white hegemony over recording business and historiography. The musical pundits had to be forced to rewrite the list of greatest entertainers. Through “Thriller”, he won the world and then a record number of records. From the greatest music video the world had ever witnessed, to the Moonwalking steps the world had never known so gracefully existed, to the songwriting of “Man in the Mirror” that no one knew millions would cry to – Michael Jackson redefined everything that the world of music had hitherto known and did not.
They could not categorize him. In fact, he would not allow that to happen. His creations were not merely rock or pop, soul or blues, dance or music. But they were all soul-lifting. They were breathtaking. Mesmerizing. His “Beat It” red jacket was as much revolutionary as his “Heal the World” pleas to make the children smile. Everything he did, he did with a sense of dedication that shook the foundation of the common knowledge. And this violated the principles of status quo in the western world that could “allow” him to exist, but not “emulate” him now that he had vanquished the protected heritage masters to oblivion.
Thus, Michael Jackson, the de facto cultural ambassador of the United States of America emerged more popular worldwide than he was back home. He made friends with the Islamic nations that America despised. He was crowned by the African tribes that America ignored. He befriended more people and gave rise to more dreamers than America as a nation did. The more America became isolated in the map of the world, the more acceptable became Michael Jackson to the world. Michael Jackson became the internationalist – the singer more powerful than the recording industries, the man more acceptable than the press reports, the heart more profound than all the charities. Little surprising that as Jackson went on winning hearts of the world majority, the elite press minority of America unleashed their fury back home.
How do you stifle a legend while he is alive? Especially, if the person is the greatest philanthropist – more consistent than Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates put together. Charity in the modern age began with Michael Jackson. Whereas every billionaire would squander away token money in order to evade taxes and earn immortality, Jackson would give away the entire proceeds of his shows to cause of black children in America and for the dispossessed in Africa – without a mention in the press. If charity meant not blowing the trumpets on celebrity TV shows, if charity meant giving without expecting, perhaps charity in its grandest term has ended as well with Michael Jackson.
It is not the legend and the myths of Michael Jackson that made him. It is in fact, the plain human being which he was that was exemplary. He loved children and he made no qualms about it. He did everything in spirit to address the needs of children. Heal the World Foundation is the single largest voluntary organization sponsoring the cause of the oppressed children worldwide. Greater than any country on this earth, greater than the United Nations’ duplicitous endeavors and certainly greater than the neoliberal rhetoric by the free market champions – are the contributions of Michael Jackson to making the world a better place – “for you and for me and the entire human race”.
How do you stifle such a man when he is alive? A man who defied the media conventions of masculinity. A man who refused to carry out the gender roles of prescribed American macho cowboy image. A man who played into no racial stereotypes. No black exploitation of his racial image. A refusal to be an essentialist. How does one stifle a man who defies national boundaries? Not a national hero, Michael Jackson would be. The singer poet of the “Earth Song” was a global crusader against neocolonial expansions, who amplified the cause sung in his crying voice:
“What have we done to the world
Look what we’ve done
What about all the peace
That you pledge your only son…
What about flowering fields
Is there a time
What about all the dreams
That you said was yours and mine…
Did you ever stop to notice
All the children dead from war
Did you ever stop to notice
The crying Earth the weeping shores”
How do you stifle this environmentalist? The pacifist? Or the humanist, as exemplified by the immortal poetry of his in “Man in the Mirror”:
“I’ve Been A Victim Of A Selfish
Kind Of Love
It’s Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They’re Not
How do you stifle the political activist? The supporter of Roosevelt’s socialist policies? The fighter for social justice? In “They don’t really care about us”?
“Tell me what has become of my life
I have a wife and two children who love me
I am the victim of police brutality, now
I’m tired of being the victim of hate
You’re raping me of my pride
Oh, for God’s sake
I look to heaven to fulfill its prophecy…
Set me free
Tell me what has become of my rights
Am I invisible because you ignore me?
Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I’m tired of being the victim of shame
They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can’t believe this is the land from which I came
You know I do really hate to say it
The government don’t wanna see
But if Roosevelt was living
He wouldn’t let this be, no, no”
They would do to Michael Jackson what they did to Paul Robeson. When Robeson had become more popular and rewarded abroad as an internationalist fighting for social justice, he was condemned back home in America. His passport was snatched away so he would not be able to perform. The only platform for an artist is an ability to express. Robeson’s expressions were taken out of contexts and the press vigorously mounted an ugly war against him, portrayed him as an enemy of freedom and democracy – the very ideals that Robeson held closest to his heart.
That is how the system kills an artist. The very core of their philosophies is scandalized. In instances of Michael Jackson, his philosophy of life did not revolve around political economy. He had no aspirations to mobilize the masses for revolutions. He was not a fighter against market capitalism. But he had a potent weapon in his hands nevertheless, to transform the world after his vision. Children. For him, children were the past, present and the future. If the world was in a mess it was because of the grown-up militarists. The children were left out of the agendas set by the men. Children were neglected world over. Their rights trampled, their dreams refused to take shape, their imaginations murdered everyday.
Children, Michael Jackson theorized, needed the love and the attention. They were the center of the universe. It was the children for whom Michael Jackson acted in movies, made the music videos, wrote innumerable songs, danced to be imitated, and built the most beloved amusement park in the world. It was not merely about Michael Jackson’s lost childhood. It was about the childhoods that were yet to shape up. It was for the future that Jackson wrote in “Heal the World”:
“We could fly so high
Let our spirits never die
In my heart I feel
You are all my brothers
Create a world with no fear
Together we’ll cry happy tears
See the nations turn
Their swords into plowshares
We could really get there
If you cared enough for the living
Make a little space to make a better place.”
And it was the children they did abuse to get back at Michael Jackson. Trial after trial after trial. Months after months, Michael Jackson defended himself. The mainstream press which he refused to cooperate with, ridiculed him through cartoons and staged demonstrations and judicial overtures. King of Scandals, they called him. Even today, as he is no more, the press headlines Michael Jackson thus.
The scandals never really left him alone. Neither did the millions of loyal fans who despised the media as much as they loved Michael. I grew up learning about Jackson through the sensational press and just like any other admirer of his, I learnt soon to disregard the press reports as fabrications and targeted accusations. It was a constant refusal to believe in the press reports over what they projected democracy and liberty as just as they projected what a monster Michael Jackson was. Like millions of his devoted fans, I have deliberately and proudly refused to go beyond what the man stood for. I have every reason to believe Michael Jackson over the mainstream press reports. Every reason to trust Michael Jackson over the racist judicial system. Every reason to celebrate Michael Jackson over the monopolist music industry whims.
Jackson did not speak much to the press. Like Bob Dylan, he too did not trust them. But unlike Dylan, Jackson did not permit himself to be isolated. Unlike everyone else, Michael Jackson was a black artist owning the license to his own music, producing his own albums, refusing the media an entry into his life, controlling his gender roles, his paternal duties, his marital status, his appearances, his sexualities, his imaginations and their cumulative expressions. Michael Jackson was the artist, everyone of us aspired to be like.
It was necessary that they had to let him die just when he was enthused over his return to the stage this summer. They could not have allowed the return of the legend in the age of the complacent. They could not have left him in peace any place in the world. The mendacious reports and mawkish bullshit manufactured by the press can continue no longer, now that Michael Jackson is no more.
What will remain now on are his immortal songs, his inspiring messages to save the trees and prevent the wars. And most of all, his immense love for the world’s children. A deeply personal love, only he could fathom in “Childhood”:
“People say I’m not okay
‘Cause I love such elementary things…
It’s been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood
I’ve never known…
Have you seen my Childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne…
Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
Look within your heart then ask,
Have you seen my Childhood?”
I shall miss you, my beloved childhood hero. In many ways, its good that you are no more amidst us. Because rest assured, before you are judged again, you shall be only loved now on.