Its been about 3 years since Michael Jackson died.
I wrote a reflection back when it happened.
Today, sitting in my girl’s apartment, I was adding new music to my iPhone. I began adding music I would like more people to hear, being that my iPhone is something of a mini-boom box. I have just two playlists for my music, 1) the party and the be-more-politically-conscious list and the 2) list that is just full of the be-more-politically-conscious songs. I like people to hear what I don’t think is heard very often, and I want people to get the message that they need to step up and do good shit.
I was searching for songs to add. I came across an mp3 cover song. “Man in the Mirror” by a Filipino group I had seen perform called 3 of a Kind.
I’ve known in my most recent listens that it was a globally conscious and inspiring song, but somehow Michael Jackson’s version wasn’t on my everyday playlist.
I watched the video on Youtube, probably for the first time this year. Seeing the images of Martin Luther King, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and kids in starvation, I was inspired once again to ignite global change and feed kids in Africa. At the finish of the video, I took a glance at the side panel of suggested videos. Additionally, the fans fainting by the dozens added to the idea that Michael Jackson did have some power to change the world.
The corner of my eye spotted the full version of the “Black or White” video.
“Why the hell not?” I clicked on the video and decided to watch the full version one more time, the full 11 minutes worth with the Home Alone kid and the Roseanne husband/dad playing rebellious son and angry father, respectively.
What had always struck me was amazed the diversity of people shown in the video, particularly the end of the video where individuals of different races and ethnicities morph into a different individual’s race and ethnicity.
This viewing time around, I became sensitive to the cultures shown: some tribe from Africa, the long nails and headrobes of the Thai, the Native Americans guns ablazing, an Indian, a Russian. From my point of view, it was probably indicative of a nice, harmonious global consciousness and multi-culturalism that seemed to define the 1990s.
Then we got to the point where we see Michael Jackson yelling in the fire. I never really got the lyrics.
Then the rap with Home Alone kid and his posse, figured that it wasn’t really McCaulay Culkin rapping and that it would be a repeat of the harmonious multi-culturalist discourse.
Then to the Statue of Liberty, waiting for my favorite morphing faces scene, waiting for Tyra Banks, and that Asian girl that looked like Beebee from Camp Annawanna.
I started to wonder what the lyrics were, particularly the part where he’s in the fires.
I Am Tired Of This Devil
I Am Tired Of This Stuff
I Am Tired Of This Business
So When The
Going Gets Rough
I Ain’t Scared Of
I Ain’t Scared Of No Sheets
I Ain’t Scare Of Nobody
Girl When The
Goin’ Gets Mean
Though I did continue liking some of his music, in my adult life, I’d thought Michael Jackson was something of a sellout. He could’ve been a child molestor, and it seems that he was just trying to whiten his skin, obscuring his identity as a black man.
After looking at the lyrics perhaps for the first time ever, I was somewhat surprised at a few things: what he was saying in the lyrics and how this and “Man in the Mirror” were “pop” songs, given today’s context. He sang “I ain’t scared of no sheets”, a reference to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s just shocking that he would even mention any source of conflict or controversy. This reference can be easily lost if you aren’t versed in English and recent American history, the struggles for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s, and the meaning of “sheets” in that context.
These two songs I juxtapose with today’s pop songs. An overwhelming majority of pop songs today are all about clubbing, relationships, having a good time, making money, being scandalous. I love those songs in certain contexts, but I’d rather be able to hear actual content and music with more, subtler messages on the popular stations as well.
I gained a bit of respect back for Michael Jackson; seems like he actually was trying to say something with his iconicity, his music, and use his stage for something better. Seems like he was trying to do and say something “real” with his music, and that he wasn’t trying to forget his “roots”, meaning the racial antagonism he and black folk have experienced in America.
After the changing faces scene passed, it was technically the end of the video, but I knew that coming up was the black panther part of the video. After this newfound revelation that Michael Jackson was perhaps more ‘political’ than I would give him credit for, I looked at some of the comments. One commenter insinuated that this scene was a call to the Black Panthers of the 1960s.
I just remembered the scene being full of dance moves and what seemed to be random violence.
In the video I just saw, Michael Jackson was smashing windows that contained racist graffiti. I think it definitely was supposed to reveal that Michael Jackson despite his global appeal didn’t really lose touch with what had been the roots of racial struggle, that it wasn’t as easy as he’d made it seem.
I learned through the song’s Wikipedia entry however, that in more widely seen versions of the video, and the one that I do remember, there actually wasn’t any racist graffiti. In that widely seen version, it looked like Michael Jackson, as this morphed Black Panther, was just randomly acting out in violence.
There seems to be some discrepancy as to which the original is: the one where he’s smashing the windows with the racist graffiti or the one where he’s smashing the windows without the racist graffiti. Wikipedia entry says that the one with graffiti was the ‘original’, while some sites say that the version without the graffiti was the ‘original’ and that Michael “and his people” added the graffiti.
It would be interesting to know if it was executives censoring Michael Jackson out for the politicality of his message or if they actually did decide to do that scene without the graffiti.
At any rate, after encountering Michael Jackson’s 2 videos today and delving into their meanings and references, I wonder if we will ever get to a point where the music industry will encourage “meaningful” content and messages.