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February 11, 1998


Farzana Versey E-Mail this story to a friend

Black or white?

An Illustration by Dominic Xavier Put yourself in his shoes. How must it feel to be man, woman, child and product, all rolled into one, fashioned into a most exquisite piece of crystal, but always afraid of the mere nudge that could drop you to the floor into a thousand shards, each with a distinct identity and that terrible piercing feeling?

The glass may have entered Michael Jackson's soul but he has transformed it into icicle, and I do not know which is worse. It's like the song he sings, 'You're throwing stones to hide your hands.'

At the time when all of America is making pop icons out of White House sideys for the kind of chaos it might create, Michael Jackson stands like a rock unlike Arthur C Clarke. Mainly because Jackson spawns more questions that answers.

Why does Jackson hold his crotch while performing?

According to an American critic, it is, "to reassure himself the arguably Virgin King keeps publicly touching it". But why would a guy who unabashedly creates an androgynous persona and wants to look and sing like Diana Ross at a high feminine pitch, want to thrust his male sexuality in the face of the audience?

And it couldn't be vanity for he is known to rehearse for hours in a room without mirrors. I think it is quite the opposite of what we are made to believe. It is in fact a sexuality-denying gesture. It seems that once when he was approached by a gay who said he wanted to go to bed with him, Michael replied, "When was the last time you read the Bible?" And when the fellow told him that perhaps had he been a girl it would be different, MJ's response was equally deadpan, "No, there are some very direct words on that in the Bible too."

Why does he talk in whispers?

You see these pop stars screaming out their lungs. Jackson whispers. Is he an introvert? Is he afraid of the attention he might get for something other than his music? Is he secretive? Is he trying to hypnotise? Does he want to remain an enigma, someone who you have to strain to hear or "someone who has connected with every soul in the world"?

Why does he wear rhinestone jackets and diamond-studded gloves?

Easy. He can afford it! Some have called his performances a pantomime act and that these things are all part of showmanship. But Jackson is less of a showman, more of an artist. For him these baubles are discardables, an ironical statement on the state of entertainment itself, which is why he truly begins to perform only when shorn of all these appendages, punishing his sinewy body to perform impossible feats because somewhere deep down he feels, "though you do not need me now, I will stay in your heart."

Why does he love children, animals and older women?

I think too much is made of this great superstar going to Disney Land for a roller coaster ride (So do our diamond merchants!). No one loves babies only because you behave like one. Jane Fonda got it right when she said, "His intelligence is instinctual and emotional, like a child's. If any artist loses that childlikeness, you lose a lot of creative juice. So Michael creates around himself a world that protects his creativity."

With older women it is not so much looking for a mother figure as a benign female role model. And it is touching indeed for someone with his popularity to worship an old star like Liz Taylor. Reportedly, he has a room for her at his mansion where the wallpaper has her face printed on it. It speaks of tremendous humility and respect.

As does his love for animals. They are a part of the living species. Perhaps he also identifies with their exploitation and display at the zoos.

If he wants to be in touch with reality why does she sleep in an oxygen chamber?

Well, it is like asking, why does he live in Beverly Hills if he wants to be a recluse? Is he merely afraid of germs, or is it mortality that he fears? Does every artificial breath not give him a sense of posterity?

Why is he trying to be a White man?

No, he is not. He is only wearing a mask. Anyone who can be compared to Chaplin (by choreographer Bob Fosee) cannot be a pretender. The blacks have some wonderful stars to call their own, so why should they resent it if Michael changes his face, and not his identity? He just does not what to be a flag-holder on account of his colour. He does not want Harlem pounding at his door, nor born-again Christians, Muslims, revivalists trying to change his life. So he changes his looks.

His is a strange phenomenon. The less he wants to be Michael Jackson, the more he becomes one.


Because the moonwalk on earth is hard work, to create an illusion. It's tough trying to escape from yourself after telling the world, "Just call my name and I'll be there."

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Farzana Versey