Eight years ago today, I ran alone into the deserted streets of a small coastal town and wailed incoherently with ecstatic joy. A woman had just released fourteen white doves: one to represent each of Michael Jackson’s acquittals.
Michael’s notorious legal problems comprise a third of the triumvirate of topics that people, by and large, discuss about him; the others being his art, and his face.
The last time I saw Michael Jackson’s face in the flesh, someone had just hit him. Whereabouts upon his person precisely is open to dubiety, though Randy Phillips freely admits to having screamed at Michael “so hard the walls were shaking” in the meeting contextual to the physical contact, and claimed in an email immediately subsequent to the meeting that, “We still have to get his nose on properly.” Whether this concern was meant literally or facetiously isn’t clear. But either way, Michael Jackson was being bullied.
Randy Phillips hit a terrified and extremely vulnerable man. One that somehow found himself so heavily in debt he had no choice but to obey orders. One that merely wanted to be able to afford a house for his children to live in. One that had been whipped into shape to entertain since he was five years old.
Michael’s face was talked about a lot that week. The press conference announcing his much-anticipated return to the stage gave the press all the pictures they needed to fill their perennial count and compare cosmetic surgery features.
The story goes that Michael’s first taste of rhinoplasty was as a result of an accident on stage during 1979’s Destiny Tour, when Michael was twenty-one years old. This may well be true. However, it was around this time that Michael wrote a recently uncovered motivational guidance note to himself, which stated,
“MJ will be my new name. No more Michael Jackson. I want a whole new character, a whole new look. I should be a totally different person. People should never think of me as the kid who sang ‘ABC,‘ ‘I Want You Back.’ I should be a new, incredible actor/singer/dancer that will shock the world.”
There are many theories behind why Michael would want to alter his face as drastically as he did, the most popular one being that he suffered with Body Dysmorphic Disorder as a result of his having been the most photographed child on Earth. By his early twenties, Michael had already conquered the world. Perhaps he then wanted to conquer it as someone else.
Michael began drawing pictures of elfen faces next to photographs of himself with the number ‘1998’ next to it (a good example is in Michael’s autobiography, Moonwalk). Although it’s true that Michael would sign many things with the curiosity-stoking ‘1998’, it holds a certain poignancy when seen with hindsight alongside these seeming future self-portraits.
Perhaps there was a perfect storm of maturity, enforced rhinoplasty and the onset of vitiligo; perhaps Michael harnessed and embraced this storm to create and control his Barnum-esque whirlwind. Of course, the transformation was a double-edged sword. It helped cement him his desired place in the memory of infinity, but at what price for his public palatability? Though the irony of the backlash against the changing colour and shape of Michael Jackson’s face, is that he single-handedly did more for race relations than anyone else to have ever existed.
There are a lot of perhaps and maybes, and this is exactly why people find the subject so fascinating. Perhaps the sole remaining person to truly understand is Michael’s makeup artist of thirty years, Karen Faye; who also happens to be the last person standing from Michael’s employed inner circle in the fight against AEG.
Karen Faye knew every intricacy of Michael’s face; every scar; every truth. It’s hard to think of anyone else that Michael would have trusted more. And here she is, taking a stand for the Jackson family in an attempt to get justice for Michael, which, as in 2005, is looking increasingly likely.
I wonder if Karen still works? Because there are more than a few fans suggesting that a certain Mr. Phillips might be requiring the services of a good makeup artist soon, too.