In an interview he gave in 1996, Michael Jackson spoke passionately about his dislike of the nick-name “Wacko Jacko” originally foisted on him by a UK tabloid. It was a name that haunted him throughout his adult life and one that has recently been applied to his daughter Paris by the press in Australia.
Nineteen-years-old Paris Jackson was invited to attend the 2017 Melbourne Cup – Australia’s richest horserace which attracts participants and VIPs from all over the world every November. Known as “the race that stops a nation” the Melbourne Cup also has a high fashion content with the “Fashions in the Field” being a showcase for Australian designers and labels.
Paris, who is signed with IMG Models, was sponsored by Myer for this year’s Cup. She arrived in Australia the day before the race and was photographed getting up close and personal with one of the Cup favourites, an English horse named Marmelo. Her ‘tryst’ with Marmelo was depicted on the front pages of News Corp publications in each major capital city in the country. It seemed that the Aussie media had fallen under her spell.
Next day, as the VIPs arrived at the track, Paris was one of the stars in her lacy rust-coloured boho-chic dress, ankle boots and crystal headband. It was a cool, blustery day, but she managed to pose for the photographers graciously before disappearing inside the Myer marquee with the other VIPs. 
In the following day’s post-Cup coverage in the media, she was pictured through the window of the marquee fooling around and pulling faces at the photographers outside (having fun – as I’m sure were many others inside with her). Unfortunately certain media writers decided this was an example of “off the wall” behavior and subsequently labeled her “Wacko Jacko 2.0”.
Paris herself tweeted the journos directly, calling them “fxxxxx’ cowards. Bet you don’t have the balls to call me that to my face…” One of Michael’s friends, Brett Barnes (who is Australian, and still lives here) responded that “They’re a tabloid pretending to be a newspaper. Your father always knew we’ve got some of the worst press in the world.”  
Paris advised that she didn’t care less what they called her, “but adding ’2.0’ is their way of dragging in my father into it and THAT I will not stand for.”
She later reiterated that she didn’t care what they called her, but that – “it’s the principle”.
This situation is exactly what Michael Jackson anticipated when he spoke to Barbara Walters at the George V Hotel in Paris in 1997 and expressed how he felt about the “Wacko Jacko” nickname and how unfair it would be if the media passed it on to his son. (Prince was the only one of his children to have been born at this time.)
“I want him to have some space…where he can go to school. I don’t want him to be called “Wacko Jacko” that’s not nice. They call the father that. That isn’t nice…right?…
They created that. Did they ever think I would have a child one day…that I have a heart? It’s hurting my heart. Why pass it on to him?” 
Of course, the media has long over-stepped the line of decency when it comes to Michael Jackson’s children – querying their parentage and anything else that will guarantee the sale of a newspaper or magazine, grab ratings or web clicks (and sell advertising).
While we might consider the media as an entity that encompasses many forms of communication – in print, on-line, on the airways, on TV – the stories and the accompanying headlines are all written by “journalists” and “editors” – i.e. someone given the platform to supposedly inform the public. Such people are meant to have ethics. We’ve always been inclined to champion “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press” as a basic human right. But that does not mean that verbal or printed abuse, bullying, harassment or character assassination is acceptable – from anyone, on anyone. That’s just abuse/miss-use of freedoms for which some people have given their lives.
Writing for TheFIX on nine.com.au Julia Naughton provided information on the origins of “Wacko Jacko” as revealed by Joe Vogel in his article in The Atlantic in 2012 when he wrote “Even for those with no knowledge of [the nickname’s] racist roots and connotations, it was obviously used to ‘otherize,’ humiliate and demean its target.”  Naughton quite rightly suggests that “Resurrecting the nickname and applying it to a young woman – who also happens to be the daughter of the celebrated music icon – seems wrong and frankly, irresponsible.” 
When shared online, Naughton’s article comes with a subtitle that reads: “It’s time to retire ‘Wacko Jacko’”.
It’s a “retirement” that is long overdue.
Naughton’s article is one of the few exceptions tackling the publicity resulting from Paris’ Cup day appearance with any sympathy or objectivity. The treatment of Michael Jackson (during and after his lifetime) and now his children is a sad reminder that while society attempts to call the bullies to account, some of the most strident voices can be the worst offenders.
Unfortunately the name-calling was not the only media harassment Paris Jackson suffered. There was some attempts at character assassination, with one journalist suggesting Paris behaved like a “diva” at the Melbourne Cup in refusing to wear an outfit by a prominent designer (Alex Perry) that had been purpose-made for her, choosing instead the boho-style dress by Morrison. This was denied by her management who advised that no such Alex Perry dress had been made, and that Paris had been given a selection of designs from which to choose. She chose the Morrison.
Perry actually posted a happy snap of himself with Paris on Instagram and thanked her for wearing his design on the cover of Stellar magazine (an insert in the Sunday Herald, a Sydney publication published by Fairfax.) 
Other post-Cup tabloid pieces referred to Paris’ guest appearance as being accompanied by “much drama” (neglecting to clarify that it was of the media’s making) and while providing the explanation of her dress choice, still found it necessary to repeat her supposed “snub” of an Alex Perry custom design that never existed. (The media never let the truth prevent them from repeating supposition and unsubstantiated gossip, as Michael Jackson himself experienced time and again.)
Paris’ partying antics in the Myer marquee were also reported as “bizarre behavior” when she pressed her face against the window and made faces – nothing terribly bizarre when one considers what many Cup Day punters where doing at Flemington and other race tracks around the country at the time (i.e. drinking themselves insensible, displaying behavior that lacked all decorum, and generally doing things they’d likely regret – if only they could remember anything!) 
That’s Melbourne Cup Day, and that’s the ugly, intoxicated aspect of Aussie culture, whether the rest of us Aussies like it or not. It’s apparently acceptable to the tabloids, whereas a fashion preference and party hi-jinx by the King of Pop’s daughter are not.
A news.com.au article stated that it had turned down an opportunity to interview Paris because of restrictions on the questions they could ask (i.e. NOT about her family and not about her past problems). One wonders what “off limits” questions they could have asked that she hasn’t already answered in numerous magazine articles. Don’t they realize how tiresome it is reading the same questions posed to celebrities by different interviewers who obviously assume that everyone is as fathomless as they are about their subject? It’s indicative of a lack of research, lack of information – or perhaps just lack of interest on the part of the interviewer.
Ashley Spencer addressed some of these issues in his article for TheFix titled “All the reasons why Paris Jackson was the absolute best part of the Melbourne Cup.”
“The look was all so perfectly Paris – who recently tweeted, ‘my daddy was a hippie and my mama was a biker chick the fuk u expect’ – and far more interesting than the parade of monochrome body-con frocks and wobbly pumps that annually descend on Flemington. Iconic.” 
Far from home and looking out-of-place “surrounded by a bunch of old strangers… in tiny hats” (a reference to the fascinators that many of the women wear for the occasion) Spencer was pleased Paris found a friend to laugh and have fun with (Queensland-based former model turned tradie, Tyler Green); “And THEN! She gave us perhaps the greatest moment in Melbourne Cup history. She pressed her nose against the Myer marquee glass and proceeded to lick it.
As for the media article lamenting the “demands” by Paris’ team if she was to be interviewed, Spencer writes that “Paris has had to fight her whole life to be recognized as her own person outside of her family’s fame. She’s worked incredibly hard to make a name for herself as a budding model, actor, and activist.”
“It’s not crazy to ask people to respect your career and your personal life – especially when the event you’re promoting has absolutely nothing to do with your past.”
Media rivalries do not help matters, with one journalist complaining that the Victorian Racing Committee had banned any rival media outlets “including yours truly” from interviewing Paris, “as one of the event’s sponsors is the Murdoch press machine, which has already interviewed her around five times at last count.” 
So, some sour grapes can be factored in to the tabloid headlines, it seems.
There’ll always be those who criticize while others totally “get it” that sometimes you just need to “be yourself”. And how refreshing that is – as experienced by Rachael Finch who shared a conversation with Paris in the marquee for Channel 7’s live coverage of the Cup, and scored a spontaneous hug at the end of it. 
Throughout the whole post-Cup day, while seeing many of the articles and variations on the articles about Paris’ visit pop up on my news feed, I was reminded of something that happened back in 1965 when the Melbourne racing establishment had been similarly rocked on its foundations by a young woman in a pretty dress.
In that year, UK supermodel Jean Shrimpton appeared at Derby Day in a dress that was a whole 5 inches above the knee! What a fuss there was from the stuffy old guard. Nothing changes much… Sadly Shrimpton succumbed to expectations on Cup day by wearing something considered “more suitable” to the occasion (a suit topped by a hat – how boring!) 
What’s changed between 1965 and 2017? Not much, it seems
Postcript: December 2017
The dress worn by Paris at The Cup and designed by Morrison, became a sell-out even before it hit the stores, the Daily Mail reported on Nov 13, 2017.
“The $600 Morrison dress Paris wore to the Melbourne Cup last week has already sold out – before even being offered in stores.
Founder Kylie Radford revealed that she has received pre-orders from all over the world for the rusty red bohemian dress beloved by the model.
Radford found new customers from the likes of Spain, UAE, the US, and Iceland after a highly publicised appearance by the 19-year-old daughter of Michael Jackson.” 
Alex Perry discussed the matter of Paris’ dress choice in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov 19, 2017.
“You can’t put her in an Alex Perry lady dress and strap her in and put a pair of high heels on her, it’s not right for what that girl is.” [Perry said.]
Describing it as “a fashion storm in a teacup”, he believes “a mistake was made by someone at some point saying she was wearing Alex Perry but it wasn’t confirmed”. 
 Video of Paris fronting the media at the Melbourne Cup 2017 http://www.smh.com.au/video/video-life-and-style/video-fashion/paris-jackson-appears-at-the-races-20171107-4zs1s.html
 Tweet by Paris Jackson https://twitter.com/ParisJackson/status/928009291264675851
 Reply Tweet by Brett Barnes https://twitter.com/IAmBrettBarnes/status/928018860682354688
 Transcript of Michael Jackson-Barbara Walters interview 1997 http://www.allmichaeljackson.com/interviews/barbarawalters.html
 Joseph Vogel “How Michael Jackson Made ‘Bad’” The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/how-michael-jackson-made-bad/262162/
 The demeaning backstory behind that cruel Michael Jackson nickname
 Alex Perry on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BbL6sB5HknP/?taken-by=alexperry007
 Rachel Finch https://twitter.com/7horseracing/status/927763443049930753
 Melbourne Cup memories: The legs that stopped a nation http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/01/sport/jean-shrimpton-melbourne-cup-fashion/index.html
Paris having fun on air with Hamish & Andy on Cup day:
Paris by the fashion mags: Vogue and Elle:
Images used in photo montage:
- Michael Jackson (1997) Getty Images
- Paris Jackson (2017) by Alex Coppel
- Jean Shrimpton on Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne (30 Oct 1965) Getty Images
No infringement of copyright is intended in this educational, not-for-profit, exercise. Montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan