We're going to touch on one of the issues that the media brought up in the immediate hours, even minutes following the death of Michael Jackson. And this is a very difficult topic to write about, difficult as it seeps into other fraught areas of the history of music. Suffice to say it's not really a topic about Michael Jackson himself, more to do with some of the media noise.
And right from the get go of the coverage the media made it an issue, where I really don't think it was an overt issue before that.
And that is the controversial theme of race. Needless to say, I suppose generally this theme has been excited by Michael's changing appearance over the years.
Some time back US President Barrack Obama
is asked by a reporter why he didn't say more about Michael's passing, as this has caused 'concern in the black community'. Interesting isn't it ? It's been decided that it isn't even an issue that it may have caused concern or be noticed by anyone else.
(As it went, Jackson's image must have became strained enough for Obama to distance himself as far as possible from this even being a serious proposition. In a politically astute way, Obama goes to some lengths to annotate, or rather funnel his tribute to Jackson through a great wariness about his' tragic and sad personal life', and he's 'glad to see that he's primarily being remembered for his entertaining and great gifts'.)
But perhaps some of the race theme is best encapsulated in a CBS interview with director Spike Lee:
Like Obama, Lee says that incredible talent and gifts are accompanied by other idiosyncrasies. That's absolutely correct, and it is very important people understand that. You can't judge certain kinds of people; gifted people, creative people etc through the same lens as you tend to judge everyone else. That's not to say people should be exonerated from anything and everything but at the same time it is simply naive to expect to hold them to the same criteria as everyone else. And I want to come back to this topic later on.
But Lee, injects that in a film he made he has a white guy list his heroes who are all black but goes on to say they are 'more than black'. This is a source of great amusement for Lee, who thinks he's discovered something really cool.
Lee, frankly at least partly at the media goading/fawning of interviewer Katie Couric goes on to suggest that Jackson's 'provenance' is such a sensitive issue and he even has no qualms about recounting some story of some guy getting attacked because he didn't sufficiently acknowledge Jackson's heritage.
Yet in a world where we are constantly asked to be colour blind when that angle suits, or even told that there is no such thing as race
, the media's clear determination to revise the death of Michael Jackson into a narrative about racial group identity, rather than a narrative about a great man with a tremendous reach becomes a little conspicuous.
I'm sure some will disagree, and I don't wish to sound like I'm criticising whatever genuine feelings people may have, but clearly at times his death was also being shifted into some other statement, and this was happening immediately.
And this has specific effects, and one of those is that we end up looking at race rather than individuals, and although I understand it in one way, I also find this a slightly distorting emphasis to be placed on anyone, and it also puts something of a fence around the legacy of Michael Jackson.
Repeatedly it has been said in the coverage, that Michael Jackson opened the door to a lot of black artists, and that Michael Jackson broke into MTV
where black artists were not generally encouraged previously.
The New York Times
quoting Al Sharpton said, "“Before Michael we were limited and ghettoized,” Mr. Sharpton told the mostly black crowd. “But Michael put on a cutaway military jacket, pulled his pants leg up, put on a white glove and smashed the barriers of segregated music."
I think Al Sharpton has said some really wonderful things about Michael Jackson, some of them are said from a certain perspective, but they are poignant, moving and powerful. In one of these speeches says something like "You are Bad Michael Now, you are the Baddest". It was a great line I wish I could remember it properly or find the clip.
But how times change.
If Michael Jackson had a hand opening the door to presumably what came out, and the media are now telling us this is important, it just happens to be Michael Jackson also represented a set of things that like them or not, that I think were rather different.
At times you almost see Michael Jackson, and I don't mean to sound rude, but relegated to history as foot in the door for race-first self-esteem, with his own career as an artist something on the side.
You could almost be forgiven for thinking that's what it was all about if you knew nothing about Michael Jackson and just listened to some of the coverage of his death alone.
As far as Michael Jackson was concerned anything that even smelt like a bellicose 'dose of race' or any kind of specified racial delimiter publicly came much later on when his career was in trouble and I think it also needs to be seen in a certain context which gets even more controversial, because as far I'm aware this never had significant painstaking attention given to it in the music itself before that.
Songs like Black or White
, which although I personally didn't care for at all, I generally understood as the opposite to the above, possibly the other extreme of racial comment. As a side note I think Michael was inadvertently playing into the hands of other trends when he made that song, but I believe it was genuine and well intentioned, and I know it has fans.
Michael Jackson is someone who brought light, hope, dazzle, joy and inspiration, instead of nonsense, despair, anger and confusion, and he had a tremendous global following and like a lot of great figures is difficult to categorize.
In his prime he was detached from the atmosphere of political correctness and group banner waving that's applauding him now. He was himself, an incredibly gifted person and it's that that makes someone a 'problem'.
Indeed, it's difficult to disagree with Michael's friend actress Elizabeth Taylor about the real reason at least for some of Michael's difficulties, where she said in 1993 in the interview with Oprah Winfrey, "He is larger than life and some people just cannot accept that" (1:14)Part 3 Next...
Labels: Al Sharpton, Michael Jackson, MTV, Obama, race, Spike Lee