In the song, ‘Price of Fame’, Michael lets us know that his father had made him fully aware of the dangers inherent in the altitude of fame he was shooting for,
“Father always told me / You won’t live a quiet life / If you’re reaching for fortune and fame… / I feel their envious looks at me / Their mistaken jealousy…”
The risks were nevertheless confronted by Michael. As he sang in ‘Dirty Diana’,
“I’ll be the freak you can taunt /And I don’t care what you say / I want to go too far / I’ll be your everything / If you make me a star…”
Fan adulation, after all, was integral to Michael’s sense of identity.
The echelons of fame that the Thriller album vaulted Michael into contained two major drawbacks for him. Firstly, that he would forever be shackled with the impossible task of striving to improve upon the album’s unprecedented commercial achievements; and secondly, that becoming the most famous person alive meant that the bounty on his head suddenly became dangerously high. Especially after his being shrewd and audacious enough to invest his capital into the white man’s game of music publishing. A very young and uniquely influential black man suddenly became perceived by the establishment as one who was getting disconcertingly above his station.
These risks ultimately became manifest through the infamy that arrived with the child molestation allegations. With the tragic irony being Michael’s pursuit of fame being driven by a desire to spread his message of love as a healing force for the disadvantaged children of the world; whilst the architects of his fall from grace were motivated by money. The consequence of this tragedy was that the vacuum created by the potency of Michael’s drug of fame became inversely correlated with his self-defeating reliance on analgesics.
One desire of the 1993 extortionists was that Michael would “never sell another record.” In 1995, Michael toured the world performing in front of the largest crowds of his career, promoting the HIStory album, the biggest selling double album of all time.
As Michael exclaimed on ‘This Time Around’, the track from that album directed towards Evan Chandler, “Control this!”
Another song from the HIStory album, ‘2 Bad’, features the lyric, “Hell all up in Hollywood”. It’s featured in the short film ‘Ghosts’ as Michael the Maestro orchestrates a deft dance of the decrepit dead.
The monstrous success of the ‘Thriller’ short film means that this other macabre magnum opus has become overshadowed by its colossal cousin. Although the ‘Thriller’ choreography may well be iconic, in comparison with the sophistication of its kindred cinematic spirit, its artistic significance has the mere pallor of the dead. ‘Ghosts’ is not only a spectacular visual and sonic treat, it is also politically-charged and multi-layered in its themes. Part of the choreography evokes the image of a hanging man.
Michael conceived ‘Ghosts’ as a response to the 1993 child molestation allegations. In the film, Michael plays the roles of a spectre, a skeleton, a demon, an oppressive village mayor, and a demonically-possessed version of said mayor.
In ‘Thriller’, during Michael’s pursuit of unprecedented fame, he chose to metamorphose into that most iconic emblem of horror – a werewolf. In ‘Ghosts’, after suffering the consequences of the successful attainment of the fame he had craved, the monster he assumed the role of was one of an-altogether more real, and more sinister kind – an embodiment (and a substantial body at that) of the reactionary, radical capitalist mentality of Bible Belt (and a substantial belt at that) America.
The references in ‘Ghosts’ are obvious. There is little dialogue, but what there is leaves little room for interpretation. With one child asking Michael’s Maestro character to “Show ‘em the neat stuff you did for us!” before being chastised by another of the children with the words, “Shut up! That’s supposed to be a secret!” and Michael responding with, “Don’t you kids enjoy it when I, er… do my little… you know?”
The demonic incarnation of Michael possesses the Mayor. After the possessed dance, the Mayor then scatters the ghouls with a scream, and the Maestro then destroys himself by smashing himself on the floor. We see his face crumble into dust. Is this as an analogy for Michael’s self-sabotaging personal demons? If so, we quickly learn that these demons have been overcome, as the Maestro returns and the Mayor is terrified into a rapid departure through the nearest window, leaving his comical, cartoon-inspired shape in the smashed glass.
This was the only time Michael voluntarily appeared to be a white, Caucasian man. Specifically, as a characterisation of late District Attorney Tom Sneddon – the white man who had relentlessly hounded Michael out of an insatiable desire to unjustly trap Michael. Relentless efforts motivated by self-promotion.
As part of the second wave of allegations, made possible through Sneddon’s success in changing the law in order to pursue Michael, Neverland was stormed and ransacked. It was a strange, entirely fruitless act that involved hitherto unseen levels of scrutiny, undertaken by the ominous luminosity of metaphorical burning crosses; mob-rule insisting that the “freak circus freak” left the village. Michael had portentously referenced these events in the ‘Ghosts’ short film.
And the last thing organised racists would do after carrying out a lynching such as that alluded to in the ‘Beat It’ lyrics? Seize the property of the lynched.
The grand splash that was the extravagance of Michael’s art means the subtleties contained within it are often overlooked. The purpose of the magnitude was to garner global attention. But it’s these ingenious intricacies that will result in the grand splashes rippling on forever.
Michael, in his genius, utilised the extravagantly large, such as in the use of the HIStory statue, but also the nuances of the small. It is these that grant us the liberty of interpretation.
Michael’s canon of work – created out of a studied perfection due to his being self-aware at having established an immutable place as a cultural phenomenon – is there to be analysed. It’s both a treasure map and a treasure trove, with its bounty often only perceived with hindsight. It took twenty years for the intricacies contained within the spectacle of the Black or White video to start being dissected.
Seen in this light, it’s interesting to note such things as the ‘adlibbing’ at the end of the jaw-dropping, victorious 1995 MTV VMA come-back performance, “Though you’re far away MTV, I am here to stay” Was this a reminder to a company he had single-handledly revolutionised? Through having such an immense popularity that forced them to start playing black music? Had Michael feel slighted by MTV’s lack of support during the dark days of 1993/94?
And the moment in ‘Smooth Criminal’ in which Michael catches a cue ball, crushes it in his hand and then aggressively blows the white dust into a black man’s face?
Such minutiae become very interesting indeed.
Another piece of dialogue from ‘Ghosts’ is, “See what you’ve done? Aren’t you ashamed? Young people are impressionable.”
Michael understood that in order to fight bigotry and prejudice, he had to use his elevated position to capture the minds of children and turn them against the ingrained views of their parents. Which is why “Black Or White” begins with a boy standing up to his father.
And this was another factor that generated the inordinate rage directed towards Michael during the 1993 allegations: the feeling that he was undermining the security of the patriarchal system; that he was somehow “stealing” children away from their fathers. Evan Chandler, the father of the 1993 accuser, even admits in his book that he was jealous of his son wanting to spend more time with Michael than him. Evan Chandler was an estranged father insecure in his role, and felt threatened by the possibility of Michael replacing him.
Which is a natural reaction, albeit one borne of the more bestial elements of human nature – as all jealousy is. The more sinister and premeditated part of Evan Chandler’s scheme, however, was the ruthless extortion attempt in which he was content with the idea of annihilating an innocent man. In truth, Michael did indeed steal the children from the orthodox patriarchy, and provided a new, non-patriarchal model; one exemplified by his later becoming both father and mother to his three children. Michael’s reimagining of the family construct is often viewed as pathological, due to its non-conformity. As Michael said, “They don’t understand it so it makes them feel very uncomfortable”.
The traditional “loving family” does not need to be biological. As humanity is becoming more individualised, there is an evident increase in “tailored families” – tailored to maximise the potential for love.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest example in existence of a bespoke family is the Michael Jackson fan community itself. The single greatest thing that Michael’s fame achieved was this everlasting international following – one fortified by the pain of being paraded through unjust hellfire, a comradery united by such a unique love that can only be formed through such unique experience.
So, to those that might dare attack us – be afraid. Be very afraid.
To once again quote Michael the Maestro in ‘Ghosts’,
“Did I tell you I wasn’t I alone? Meet The Family…”
This article includes edited extracts from The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla, available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371