At the office today a relatively new member of our executive team, having seen the photos of Michael decorating my work station, told me her ‘Michael Jackson story’ which follows.
In the week following Michael’s passing, Deb and her husband were in the US where her husband was attending a conference at a Mid-West state university.
Deb decided to take advantage of the university gym while her husband was occupied, and on her first visit a member of the staff explained about the music coming over the system. “Out of respect for Michael, we’re only playing Michael Jackson music this week.”
And it was true – Deb said. Each day she went to the gym, people were working out to a non-stop soundtrack supplied by Michael Jackson. Deb thought it was pretty cool.
Later, when back on the West Coast, Deb and her husband visited the Mission district of San Francisco and discovered something quite extraordinary taking place. People were riding around on bikes with boom boxes strapped on the back, and driving cars with their sound systems blaring the same song, over and over. It was MJ’s “Billie Jean” and this was “Billie Jean Day”, held to honour not the famous tennis player, Billie Jean King, but Michael Jackson. Deb said she considers it a pretty unique thing to have experienced.
We went on to talk about the reaction to Michael’s passing by all sorts of people around the world, including officials in countries outside the US; whereas in his home country, the response was predominantly community-based and fan-generated, as per the tributes she had encountered.
Deb asked me if I thought the official reaction in the US would have been different if not for the accusations that had plagued Michael in the 1990s and 2000s. I said ‘Yes, definitely’. Most things written in the media or spoken of in public about Michael in the US reference the false accusations. Outside the US (tabloids aside, of course) most of the world had accepted the jury’s judgement of 2005 and ‘moved on’.
I told Deb about Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s article “Writing about Writing about Michael Jackson” for Forbes in which he looks at some of the reviews written about his book “Michael Jackson , Inc.” and how, rather than book reviews, they were highly subjective commentaries on Michael himself.
Greenberg wrote: “it seems for many observers the subjective has settled over the years like sediment at the bottom of an ancient ocean, forming a solid mass still sometimes mistaken for objectivity.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/08/28/writing-about-writing-about-michael-jackson/#5cc8c5e0ae65)
Based on my own observations in sourcing and sharing MJ international news items (those I can read or get Google to successfully translate) and from encountering fellow fans and people generally in countries where I have travelled as an MJ pilgrim, mainstream America still has some ground to cover to catch up with the ‘world view’ of Michael Jackson.
At one of Brad Sundberg’s “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminars at the Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, in October 2015 I suggested that the US was “20 years behind” almost everyone else in the way in which Michael was perceived in the media and official circles. Sadly, we all seemed to agree with this observation.
It’s people like Sundberg and his cohorts, for whom the seminars have a therapeutic effect, and fans who organise events or arrange charitable contributions in Michael’s memory, who lead the way in the US of A.
By way of contrast, in Rio de Janeiro on the day after Michael’s passing, the Governor issued a proclamation that his state would be the location for a permanent memorial to the pop icon. It was a promise that was fulfilled as visitors to the favela of Santa Marta can attest. (http://laht.com/article.asp?Categor…)
In the US there are still media commentators who are predominantly noted for their obvious antagonism towards Michael Jackson, and who seem determined to tarnish his memory and legacy. Their re-iteration of a cynical, negative and accusatory narrative with respect to Michael has become very predictable regardless of a lack of actual evidence to support their dogmatic opinions.
As Greenburg writes “there’s still a ways to go before the objective fully overcomes the subjective. That’s a good goal to set as a future birthday present for the King of Pop.”
Meantime, the fans keep showing their respect by playing his music, organising events, and following in Michael’s humanitarian footsteps, resulting in personal experiences like the ones Deb told me of today.
And so the legacy continues and the legend grows.
First published on Facebook, 11 March 2016
The author with Britto’s mosaic portrait of Michael Jackson at Santa Marta favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A statue of Michael is located adjacent to the mosaic on the lookout where “They Don’t Care About Us” was filmed. Photo (c) Kerry Hennigan, October 2012.