As a Michael Jackson fan and academic, I have been used to the ‘old reductions’, those things by which the magnitude of Jackson’s artistic, creative and social impact have been reduced over the last thirty years, through a drip-feed of propaganda and thinly veiled racism. I can’t deny that as a woman of colour it makes me angry.
This was a recent review of an excellent book called ‘Michael Jackson Inc.’ by Zack O’Malley Greenburg which charts Jackson’s extensive business acumen throughout his career. But the review in the ‘Wall Street Journal’ of the same book has more reductive qualities than a chemistry experiment in oxidation.
Firstly, the review focuses, not on Jackson’s incredible earning power as an African-American artist, but on Jackson’s assumed guilt of a crime he has been acquitted of. If someone has been acquitted of a crime, gone through the torturous experience of two years waiting for a trial of one they haven’t even committed, had their liberty and their earning ability threatened, followed by a months-long trial based on shaky non-evidence of wrongdoing, skirted with a full media circus, surely they would have earned the right to be presented as innocent.
Acquittal means innocence.
Secondly, the ‘Wall Street Journal’, that bastion of ‘I-don’t-know-what’ (I’m more of a Shakespeare Quarterly sort of girl) fixes on the myth of the ‘spiritual negro’. That archetypal monstrosity, that black people’s acheivements must be mystical in nature because we couldn’t possibly use our intellect, our hard work, perserverance and determination to acheive.
Even when describing Jackson in the pantheon of Greco-Roman gods, it is clear that he, to this particular Wall Street Journal writer, is simply a lesser deity, a sprite, a nuisance at best. And there we have it again. Would a nuisance gain so much media coverage? Would a nuisance sell that many records? Would a nuisance go to number one repeatedly, even without the breath in their lungs or their physical presence to bolster their sales?
The simple answer is… No.
Even his death, a homicide for which Conrad Murray went to jail, was described as ‘squalid’. ‘Squalid’ implies squalor, reminding the reader of the ghetto, that preserve of impoverished ethnic minorities. It forgets that Michael Jackson died in the largest suite in a palacial mansion, and that his death was due to the negligence of a cardiac specialist who was being paid over $100,000 a month to look after him.
I don’t write about everything I read about Michael Jackson. It would take too long and it would be counter-productive to what I truly believe in, creating an academic model for the study of his art. However, this is just a perfect example of what the MJ Academic is up against, of what the artist was up against in his life, and what he still is up against now.