“In the beginning, the land was pure – even in the early morning light, you could see the beauty in the forms of nature. Soon, men and women of every colour and shape would be here too – and they would find it all-too easy not to see the colours; and to ignore the beauty in each other. But they would never lose sight of the dream of a better world that they could build together – in triumph.”
And so ends the Michael Jackson-penned voiceover, spoken as the camera pans across a gorgeous vista displaying daybreak over a deserted landscape; the ending of which, signals the horns to ignite the iconic rhythm of The Jacksons track, Can You Feel It.
In spite of the short film’s inclusion in a 2001 poll listing the 100 Greatest Music Videos, the spectacle that is the Can You Feel It promo is nowadays often overlooked. However, in 1981, the year of its release, the video’s state-of-the-art visual effects popped the eyes and blew the minds of anyone that watched it, as demonstrated quite clearly by the gasp of disbelief accompanying the introduction of its premiere on American Bandstand. Prior to Can You Feel It, the accepted format of music videos was that of a band in a studio, pretending to sing and perform their instruments in front of a static camera. The conception and execution of the Can You Feel It project was nothing short of revolutionary. It was a vanguard; it was the work of a visionary.
(In a fortnight, Beyonce will be presented with the MTV Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award: an award named after Michael in 1991, in honour of the culture-altering contribution that was his dedication to utilising the music video as a credible artistic medium. Still, between the years of 1993 and 2005, the award was only intermittently presented. 1997 was one of the years in which it was – when Mark Romanek was granted the prize, after having directed the short film, Scream. However, since Michael was cleared of the child molestation allegations, they have been a frequent feature of the MTV Video Music Awards show. MTV would do well to remember that they would not even exist if it were not for Michael Jackson.)
Upon leaving Motown,The Jacksons created their own production company – Peacock Productions. They explained their choice of name for this venture by saying, “Through the ages, the peacock has been honored and praised for its attractive, illustrious beauty. Of all the bird family, the peacock is the only bird that integrates all colors into one, and displays this radiance of fire only when in love. We, like the peacock, try to integrate all races into one through the love of music.” The peacock feather is utilised in the Can You Feel It video, as an emblem of hope that descends upon humanity, after the light of the sun is extinguished by an eclipse. It’s a truly touching moment.
The significance of a group of black men, products of the decade that brought an end to racial segregation in the United States, wielding their substantial influence cannot be understated. Their message was to encourage progression – that, in spite of their forefathers having suffered the torture and inhumanity of slavery, any ambitions of world peace involve every one of us moving forward, united. Accusations were levelled at The Jacksons that the video was a mass Jehovah’s Witness promotion and recruitment attempt. And that’s cynicism for you. However, a connection does indeed exist between Christianity and peacocks: in the religion’s early incarnation, the peacock was utilised as a totem for immortality. This was due to the fact that after a peacock died, its feathers remained fresh and vibrant, in spite of the decaying flesh beneath.
One of the jackets that Michael wore to perform Jam on the Dangerous Tour (the artwork on the associated album also featuring an image of a peacock), in which he took to the stage to strut and state, reminds me a great deal of the shimmer and sheen of the peacock’s feather. At first glance, both the jacket and the feather are made up of what are ostensibly solid colours; but with closer inspection, it is revealed that they are actually comprised of myriad, minutely varied colours that integrate to appear as one. The same can be said for the many layers that combine to create a song; or the words employed to write a book.
As such, the peacock feather provides us with a perfect metaphor for the political and philosophical leanings of Michael Jackson. It is one that suggests that the growing individualistic nature of the people of the world (Michael himself taking individualism to its ultimate conclusion), in which the shackles of patriarchy are being dismantled (one of the consequences being a new-found freedom to provide one’s child with a name not dictated by cultural expectations – think more Prince, less Peter), need not necessarily be an ominous thing.
So long, of course, that we coalesce: that each of us take pride in our position as a requisite speck of light on the peacock’s coat; that we contribute to its immortality; that we do so – in triumph.