Just about everyone knows the scene in the Star Wars movie “Return of the Jedi” when Luke Skywalker challenges the ghostly apparition of his Jedi mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, saying “You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.”  As Luke now knows (as was revealed at the climax of the preceding film “The Empire Strikes Back”) Darth Vader is Luke’s father.

Obi-Wan explains that what he’d told Luke was true “from a certain point of view.”  Luke is not at all impressed by the old Jedi’s explanation; his whole world has been shaken causing him to question his very identity.  “Luke,” Obi-Wan continues, “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” [1]

Why am I recalling this classic piece of movie fiction?  It’s not because Michael Jackson was himself a huge Star Wars fan (which he was).  Rather it’s because the idea of “the truth” being relevant to “a certain point of view” is important in terms of what we believe about the King of Pop from the books we read and the stories we hear, either in person or via some TV documentary.

Family and friends have their versions of Michael Jackson, disgruntled former associates another, and his musical colleagues yet another.  Those who use their association with him to generate income for themselves, without authorization from his family or Estate, are likely to have another.

The conundrum for the fan and the researcher is to figure out from all the bits and pieces of information and opinion, what is fact, what is fiction or, perhaps, exaggeration, and from that fathom what sort of person was the real Michael Jackson?

To know and understand Michael, as much as any of us can from a distance, I firmly believe requires the study of his art.  The work of the artist tells us more about its creator than any biography.  A true artist puts his/her heart and soul into their work – they put themselves into their work.  Thus, the writers and tellers of the stories about Michael Jackson reveal more of themselves and the nature of their relationships with Michael than they reveal about the King of Pop himself.

A study undertaken at Wake Forest University and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in July 2010 found that “Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality.”  Not only does a positive view of others reflect our own positive personality traits, but the study suggests that the level of negativity one sees in another person may indicate one’s own unhappiness, disagreeable or neurotic nature, or other negative personality traits. [2]

This does not mean we should ignore every negative we read/hear about someone we admire; it is not possible for a human being to live a life free of mistakes or negative elements.  But, acknowledging Michael the right to make mistakes just like the rest of us, still leaves the matter of his true nature for us to fathom from the information – or mis-information – we are given.

Last year I wrote an article about which sources I thought were worth referencing and which weren’t when writing about Michael Jackson.  In that article I eschewed the tabloid-style biographies that repeated some of the ludicrous stories about Michael’s life.  Reading these purportedly “exhaustively researched” tomes, you are left thinking that the respective authors ignore or dismiss firsthand accounts by family members and friends, court transcripts and even (in terms of his health and physiognomy) the coroner’s report on his death.  If dedicated fans can source this information, why can’t the authors of unauthorized biographies?  [3]

I remember my reaction on reading a book by one of Michael’s “confidents” and being left wondering if Michael Jackson was really such a silly, petulant, gullible individual as depicted by this author?  I’m not even going to answer that, because the art, his many outstanding achievements, his children, his creative colleagues, and his many charitable works, tell us otherwise.

Who we believe in terms of the stories we encounter about Michael very much depends on our impressions of the people telling those stories.  Are they betraying Michael’s confidence in the telling?  How would he likely feel about such things being aired?  Are they true?  Again, our reactions depend very much on what we think of the teller of the tales.

As someone who has been blessed with opportunities to talk one-on-one with a few people who have worked with Michael, I can only say that their stories leave a far different impression of him than any of the books I’ve read.  I’ve heard him described as a shy (off stage) and gracious Prince Charming, as a best friend, as a generous benefactor, as the equivalent of a “brother”, and, of course, an entertainer without equal.

These individuals are also telling us about Michael Jackson “from a certain point of view”, but theirs happens to be the view I trust and prefer and the one that best coalesces with his artistic achievements and humanitarian aspirations, not to mention the love reciprocated by his own children.

And that’s my point of view.  Make of it (and, consequently, of me) what you will.

“Your focus determines your reality.” — Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master [4]

Kerry Hennigan
February 2019

Sources:

[1]  “Obi Wan Tells Luke Anakin’s History (Flashbacks)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jobWnQ__OPA accessed 31 Dec 2018.

[2]  Science Daily “What you say about others says a lot about you, research shows” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100802165441.htm published August 3, 2010

[3]  Hennigan, Kerry  “Sources on Michael Jackson – who is worth referencing?” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/sources-on-michael-jackson-who-is-worth-referencing/ published June 2018

[4]  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) https://www.starwars.com/films/star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace