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Michael Jackson Legacy: The Lies That Bind

May 3, 2011

Michael Jackson’s legacy demands nothing less than the truth.

Michael Jackson Legacy: The Lies That Bind

April 29, 2011. London. Westminster Abbey groans under its own weight in flowers and a nation prays for the sun to shine. A centuries old country hyperventilates as it waits for a young Prince and a young woman who would become a Princess – well, Duchess as it turned out – to kiss. The level of anticipation and interest in Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, building in the weeks and days before the big day, powered not only by a media whipped frenzy, but out of the massive desire to see the eldest son of the late ex-Princess of Wales make his choice before an audience of billions. Lady Diana Spencer, self-confessed ‘Queen of Hearts,’ was for many both in England and overseas, the real heroine of the Royal Family. And it was the memory of the joyous potential a young Diana’s own wedding represented and the huge sorrow and anger her death precipitated – that gave her son’s wedding the pathos and historic power it did.

The reality that it was in fact Diana’s death that revitalized the mythology and popularity of the British Royals is a deeply ironic one. Subjected to hostile media headlines after Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s marriage collapsed – in the wake of Diana’s death, the Royal family achieved its lowest approval ratings since King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936. Miraculously, that same Royal Family now enjoys the new affection that has transferred from the people’s adoration and respect for Diana – a respect she earned, to her first-born, Prince William.

The political Establishment, Royal family and still prevalent ruling class in British society, shunned Diana for her seemingly unpredictable informality and distinctly modern way of relating to a people the British constitution stubbornly defines as subjects. But the reason why Diana herself manifestly rejected the destiny that had been carefully mapped out for her, and was then rejected by the Establishment for that snub, was this singularity: Her refusal to accept a loveless marriage. That generations of Royal wives and aristocrats before her had put up with unhappy, arranged marriages and done so silently, did not change Diana’s mind or subsequent acquiescence to divorce.

Diana; the shy girl who became a woman before the world’s lens, portrayed then (and still now in some quarters), as weak, stupid – and famously, by parliamentary member Nicholas Soames on the BBC’s flagship, political TV program, Newsnight, in November 1995, after Diana’s interview with Martin Bashir as – suffering from ‘mental illness’ and in the ‘advanced stages of paranoia’– simply said ‘No.’ Deciding the vows she made during her 1981 wedding – not to mention the intrusive media she undeniably became a victim of – could no longer be honored if the husband she made them to did not love her exclusively: Diana made a choice. Though that choice would expose her increasingly to the aggressive attentions of a rapacious press who would not be ignored, one question amongst many bears asking: Would Diana have done anything differently if she still had the chance to choose between a loveless commitment or personal freedom and self worth? One suspects the answer would be no.

And it is this truth, in addition to Diana’s extensive philanthropic work – that is her greatest legacy. It is why the moniker ‘Queen of Hearts’ still has real potency and longevity. The example she set for her children and to the world: that no amount of privilege or perceived social status could ever compensate for the misery and pain that a life of emotional deception entailed – remains a bold and powerful one. The sole reason why Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton caught the imagination and hearts of millions around the world is simple: He married for love. And that choice, that one decision, will now ripple glorious effect into the generations that will result from it.

In the BBC’s evening coverage of the event, British reporter Andrew Wilson commenting, stated this truly unprecedented fact: “For the first time in over three hundred years, a future monarch has looked outside the inner circle for his bride – and brought her home.” This was Diana’s true gift. Diana bequeathed to her children the necessity of living an authentic life no matter how difficult, and the value and need for authentic love to fill that life. The first of her sons has now opened that gift. That is the power of legacy.

Legacy. A curious word. It applies to bloodlines of inherited wealth and historic families, and equally it applies to every human being. Who we are, how we live, and what we give during the lifetimes we are assigned – are key parts of sum we leave behind. And across the pond Michael Jackson also leaves a legacy to his children, and to the world. Like Diana, Michael used his fame, time and energy – not to mention millions of dollars – to positively benefit the lives of others. And like Diana, Michael also lived his life under unimaginable scrutiny. In Diana’s latter years however, the albeit tenuous respect afforded her by the media in Britain after her divorce and new relationships, not to mention the still rapturous media she enjoyed in America and around the globe, were exponentially more humane than that extended to Michael Jackson. While both these public figures endured violating levels of media attention, Michael did so for far longer and on a much more malevolent scale.

Yet there remain striking connections between these two icons; similarities which apparently Michael and Diana were themselves well aware of. In a 1997 interview on the popular television program 20/20, American host Barbara Walters revealed that the last two concerts of the European leg of the ‘HIStory’ tour were dedicated to Diana after Michael learned of her death. Poignantly, in that interview Michael revealed that during one of those concerts he had this thought of the late princess. “I love you Diana. And shine on forever, because you are the true Princess of the people.” Interestingly, Michael’s choice of words here completely negates the media mischaracterization of him as being unaware of, or unable to understand the politick of the real world. Clearly Michael understood the deep insult and exclusion the British establishment intended Diana when, as a condition of her divorce settlement, it was insisted that the title of ‘Princess’ be removed from Diana’s official ranking as a Royal.

By referring to Diana as a ‘Princess of the People’ before an audience of millions, Michael stated the obvious: that after her death Diana was – in truth – this even more so. Symbolically too, since Jackson is known throughout the world as the ‘King of Pop,’ by declaring his sense of empathy with Diana and her struggles, Michael expressed in words the resonance and connection he felt with Diana that, in fact, exists on a number of levels. Many celebrities do good works, endorsing a charity is de rigueur for any modern PR savvy star. What made Michael and Diana so different was the way they gave to others, the overriding sense they did it from a place of compassionate service; not out of duty or because it would ‘look good.’ The similarities do not end there. Both Michael and Diana met not only untimely deaths – but violent ones. One, the result of a high speed chase through Parisian streets by paparazzi on motorcycles; the other, at the hands of a prima facie acutely negligent physician treating his patient with inappropriate drugs for relief from chronic insomnia. The grief that attended both these deaths was compounded by the certain knowledge that they were both overwhelmingly unnecessary.

Only the most imperceptive would deny that Jackson’s insomnia was undoubtedly the result of a life massively traumatized. Even for someone used to living in the glare of uber fame, the level of stress, abuse and cruelty Jackson had to deal with, went far beyond what any individual could healthily be expected to cope with. Indeed there is an argument – a strong one –for contending that Jackson would never even have arrived at a point in his life where he felt he needed doctors around him constantly, had the media persecution which came his way not been so unrelentingly vicious. Used to being bundled through the back doors of hotels and venues long before he hit his teens, Michael often said he had ‘rhinoceros skin.’ Clearly he did not. And now the toll of false allegations exacerbated and perpetuated in the public consciousness by the overtly malicious, commercially-driven marketing of Jackson as some sort of monstrous harmer of children by at least two generations of journalists, editors and TV pundits across the spectrum of media – now undeniably threatens the positive truth of his legacy. And it is that threat that has united many in one outstanding purpose: Restoration.

The reality that Michael Jackson remains the one of world’s least celebrated humanitarians, and despite fourteen emphatic ‘Not Guilty’ verdicts in the criminal trial of 2005, has not as yet been vindicated in the actual – is testament to the enduring power of perception. This perception of ‘guilt’ dominated Jackson news stories while he was alive and continues even after his death. Present day media comment in the run-up to the Conrad Murray trial that only hinted at the ‘demanding addict’ sub-text has now exploded into full blown accounts of ‘drugs found in the Neverland raid,’ and horrifically, graphic speculation about what the autopsy pictures may look like. It is evidence that the powerful and pervasive Fourth Estate shows no sign yet of any desire to recant the years of distortion they issued into the public domain. Many believe this state of affairs to be insurmountable. The question is, is it?

Years of self-serving media narrative will take certainly take time to be righted. But the journey back has begun, and it has begun in earnest. One way this is being achieved can be seen in the new narratives now surfacing. Amidst the wealth of rush-to-copy, mostly picture books releases that hit the market soon after Michael’s death, others have sought to push back the years of media misrepresentation and actually honor an exceptional life. To date, three publications are notable. American journalist, Aphrodite Jones’s ‘Michael Jackson Conspiracy’ published pre-2009 in 2007, details the extent of a preconceived negative bias within the U.S media towards Jackson and how that was reflected both during, and after, their coverage of Jackson’s 2005 trial. Post 2009, Bruce Swedien, noted recording engineer, released ‘In the Studio with Michael Jackson.’ In it, Swedien takes it back to the music, tracing the beginnings of his working relationship with Jackson from as far back as The Wiz through to HIStory – and does Jackson great service throughout. More recently, Joe Vogel’s new work, ‘Man in the Music: The Creative life and work of Michael Jackson,’ set for international release in October 2011, also promises to positively contribute to Jackson’s legacy – simply by returning the conversation to Michael’s commitment and service to the creation of phenomenal music, dance and visual art.

In the arena of journalism, Jones’s work with Discovery Investigation via her True Crime television programs has so far made modest impact on the prevailing smirking content found in the majority of current media, but these are early days. Similarly, British journalist, Charles Thomson, in hugely important articles on Huffington Post and elsewhere, has consistently exposed the damaging inaccuracies about the legal challenges faced by Jackson – inaccuracies still recycled ad nauseam by the media. In addition, a multitude of positive articles and interviews from people who knew Jackson personally (and some who didn’t) – such as David Nordahl, Thomas Mesereau, Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Fast, Stephen King, Jeff Koopersmith, Forbes Everett Landis, Michael Bearden, Linda Deutsch, Armand White, Stuart Backerman, Matt Semino, Dr Patrick Treacy, Barbara Amiel, Jonathan Margolis, Dave ‘Dave,’ Ishmael Reed, Gerald L. Campbell, Wade Robson, Howard Bloom, testimonials from stars and those who worked with Michael professionally, and the many families who benefited from the outreach work Jackson did continually throughout his life; are all part of the new narrative that could potentially transform the destructive Jackson meme most of the media remains irrationally attached to.

Mention must also be given to a hugely ambitious project undertaken by Reverend Barbara Kaufmann. In 2010, Kaufmann, herself a minister, award winning writer, Huffington Post contributor and bright voice in the field of activism – gathered together a bank of exceptional  articles, poetry and case studies, inspired by and dedicated to the lives and incompletely acknowledged achievements of both Lady Diana Spencer and Michael Jackson – as part of the collaborative ‘Words and Violence Project.’ It stands as a body of work that, in time, could one day be widely referred to and used by educational centers to further our society’s understanding of how words and media culture occupies a dual ability to both benefit and damage the lives it touches.

Likewise, a range of websites diligently compiling their respective collections of memories, anecdotes, stories, facts, and extent of the phenomenal philanthropic gift Jackson gave, are also contributing – some better than others – to the archiving of Michael Jackson’s legacy. While many of these sites focus only on the musical accolades and aesthetic of Jackson’s many ‘eras’ in his musical career, some notable ones go further and actively keep alight a true record of Michael Jackson’s compassionate legacy to a world that so dramatically refused it.

Among these, Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait. Represented by members and visitors from over 180 countries, 250 million so far (and counting) have signed up to be part of the largest [dot] comprised portrait of Michael Jackson ever commissioned. Also worthy of note is The Silenced Truth website. One of the first sites to draw attention to the gap in the world’s understanding of who Michael Jackson was, The SilencedTruth also hosts one of the most comprehensive lists of Jackson’s humanitarian contributions. Another site worthy of highlight is MJJ-777. Hosted by Jackson archivist Seven Bowie, it’s an exquisite repository. Rich in facts and a cultural breadth reflective of Jackson’s impact on the world, this site is a must-visit destination for not only fans, but all those who seek to expand their knowledge of Jackson. Also of note are the informational grand central stations in the forms of MJTruthNow, Vindicatemj, Reflections of the Dance, and the outstanding blog spots of smokeandmirrorsmj, gatorgirl277 and mjandjustice4some. To dismiss – as some do – the value of the work produced on these sites and blog spots as merely ‘fan’ sites hosting partisan perspectives, is to fail to comprehend the extent of the staggering research amassed on these demonstrably, credible sources.

The rejuvenation proper of Jackson’s official charitable legacy has still to be re-ignited since the Estate is still in probate and thus has to seek specific legal dispensation to make payments even to approved creditors. But as the executors – John Branca and John McClain – of the Estate of Michael Jackson expressed as recently as April 21, 2011 as part of a larger statement, their intention to make decisions and “… direct contributions to recipient charities … with complete regard to Michael’s wishes and Michael’s legacy, which we intend to honor and perpetuate ” –  should assure those who need it that rejuvenation is indeed coming. The legal furore over the sensitive and complex settlement with Howard Mann and Melissa Johnson, who held the rights to various trademarks and control of the ‘Heal the World Foundation,’ itself an unauthorized impression of Michael Jackson’s original vision – has paradoxically within it the seeds of a new platform for the Estate, Michael Jackson’s family – and three children to go forward from an albeit clumsy beginning to a future that possibly reincarnates that vision.

On January 25, 2011, Zach O’Malley Greenburg of Forbes reported that the Estate of Michael Jackson earned $275 million more than Madonna, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z combined. An intimidating statistic considering the artist earning these gargantuan sums is in fact dead. But this also suggests that if speaking in purely monetary terms alone, the legacy of Michael Jackson is very much alive. Greenburg notes much of this boon was due to the commercial boost that nostalgia driven sales of ‘all things Michael’ received ‘following the King of Pop’s death,’ which of course indicates that the one thing the ‘Michael Jackson’ brand does not lack – is an audience.

In February of this year, the Estate of Michael Jackson declared it made over $310 million before debt clearance, and it is no doubt banking on that same audience to consume the array of Michael Jackson products now flooding the market. These include: the interactive dance game Michael Jackson the Experience, box-set Michael Jackson Vision, collector’s item Opus, the film This Is It, the Cirque du Soleil collaborative live extravaganza The Immortal World Tour, the Epic album releases – part of the Sony corporation, and a legion of Michael Jackson posters, T-shirts and merchandise etc, as well as the sales of Jackson’s peerless musical back-catalogue. None of this, of course, even takes into account the plans for a replica ‘Vegas Neverland,’ the revenue possibilities for the actual Neverland, and the over $1.5 billion estimated worth of the Sony/ATV catalogue jointly owned by the Estate and Sony. Yes, in purely monetary terms alone, legacy is big business.

But the success of a legacy turns on more than just balance sheets and portfolios. Clearly the Estate has already made more money than any of Michael’s three children could spend in a lifetime, and to those children it will not be their father’s money they remember – or long for. The lasting legacy of Michael Jackson will, in reality, rest on the de facto restoration of his rightful place as not only one of America’s greatest creative sons, but also one of her most unjustly judged. After death, a man (or woman’s) reputation is the unwritten text on which the memory of that individual falls or stands. The public’s insistence on an ambivalent collective relationship with Michael Jackson, and the American and British media’s engineering and perpetuation of that stance, however – is not fixed. Flux is inevitable, and the pendulum will swing. Perhaps to somewhere in the middle, or perhaps just beyond the catastrophic damage wrought by years of media malice and deception by characters that need no introduction here. That will not be good enough for many of course, but how far that pendulum swings will be down to the work of those actively involved in the work it will take to move it further.

The reshaping and restoring that Michael Jackson’s reputation deserves will need work to make that restoration a reality. But behind the scenes a body of people that combines fans, advocates and supporters, the Estate, the Jackson family, Jackson’s friends, the generations of fans yet to come – and perhaps Michael’s children; are all part of that groundswell. Just as Diana’s children now forge new destinies because of the gift their mother gave them, three voices bearing the name Jackson may one day join the force that now gathers pace but as yet lacks focus. Because the reality is this: it isn’t only love that survives. The lies that bind will remain as tightly fastened as they are allowed to – and Michael Jackson’s legacy demands nothing less than the truth.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. AnnieDomino permalink
    May 3, 2011 11:19 am

    Despite Michael’s personal admiration for Princess Diana it does him a huge disservice to compare him to her. The British royals get a free pass from the same racist media machine that villifies Michael. The white English language press have a natural affinity for the “royal family” and a vested interest in constantly promoting them as some sort of class (and race) ideal. We are conditioned to believe that we must be interested in them. I live in a previous British colony and it is insulting to the millions of people who lived under the Brits to refer to them as “the Royal Family” as if they are naturally assumed to still be such for all of us. We have our own “royals”! Diana undertook charitable causes because she had nothing better to do – she said so herself. Yes – she did the work with warmth and compassion. There is nothing special in that. Most people could do it given the support she had of that same British Establishment she eventually fell out with.The simple fact is that she – and her son – are given media attention for just being part of the right family, not because of any inate abilities they have.Michael Jackson was born into the “wrong” family. A poor black family in mid-Western America. And he became the most famous person on the planet, NOT because of who he married or his last name – but because of his enormous talent and charisma. THAT is an achievemnt worthy of our attention and admiration. Despite his massive workload and the level of dedication required to maintain his standard of musicianship and performance he still committed himself to his many charitable endeavours. The attention afforded the British royal family is totally disproportionate to their abilities, achievements and relevance to the world. The millions of people who participated in the media inspired “frenzy” of the royal wedding were just puppets on the string of the Queen, David Cameron (who I like BTW) and the media. Sheeple!


  2. Marie permalink
    May 5, 2011 2:21 am

    Annie – Thank you for preaching the truth! You’ve said it all! Although, I love Diana, but you were right. Michael was the most loved and most popular person in the planet. He was and he still is. And it’s not because of his last name or affiliation to anything, but because of him. He unified the world regardless of race, gender, age, religion, political belief, social status. He brought the world together in their LOVE for him like no other world leader ever did, not religious leaders (obviously we have so many religions in this planet), not political leaders (MJ was loved by even some countries that do no consider themselves ally to the US), and not kings/dynasties because the kings in the past and present only have rules over their own countries or cities. Michael’s dominance is exceeds the borders music and of US. He is loved and respected in all continents of the earth. Therefore, Michael is the “real” king “on earth.”


  3. Alison permalink
    May 9, 2011 5:51 pm

    Thank you Deborah for a very well written piece.
    It is very interesting what happened in regard to the wedding of William and Kate, because apart from some die hard staunch royal supporters I truly believe much of the country would not have been very interested in the wedding if it were not for Diana. Even so there were still many people who went shopping instead! I watched it and found it very emotional because of the HUMAN STORY behind it – 2 brothers who lost their mum at a very young age, after what she experienced, and who have turned out against all odds exactly how she wanted them to, normal young guys who do not consider themselves above anybody else. I am not terribly interested in “the royal family” per se, and i didn’t experience what Annie refers to as a media frenzy, but I do think that what Diana contributed to the future of the monarchy, and thereby to the country, is very profound and yet to be discovered. It will definitely not continue for long as it has been. When William’s turn comes it will be organised in a completely different way, will be much more modern, economical, down to earth and relevant. To have produced such a change that there has been NO PROBLEM raised to a future king marrying an ordinary girl, a “commoner”, for love, is remarkable.
    It is not just about the members of the Windsor family themselves, its about the whole set up of the establishment around them, the people who’s job it is to manage them, these are the people who have a huge say in how things are done.

    Sorry Annie but you are wrong about why people in Britain were supportive of the wedding.The Queen has her supporters who will always be there, the media do not whip that up, the rest were supportive because of Diana, who actually got relatively very little mention but even watching TV she could be ‘felt’ – without the media telling you afterwards, and because both William and Harry are viewed fondly by most people even non-royalists, because they are normal, down to earth and both are in the services and have put their lives on the line like any other serviceman when they didn’t actually have to, they would have got away with it – Harry on the front line in Afghanistan, seriously!, nobody would have expected that.

    What Diana contributed to humanity was also remarkable. I love Michael Jackson much more, I wasn’t specially interested in Diana but was sad when she died and shocked at the how of it, but Diana did in England what Elizabeth Taylor and Michael did in the USA – touched the hands of people with HIV /aids, at a time when few others did, bringing the subject to more awareness and compassion. Diana used to live her life much as Michael did – alone a lot of the time and slipping out in the evenings to visit the homeless and sick, unpublicised, because she cared. She gave time unnoticed to many charities and humanitarian causes. So what if she also didn’t have much else to do, she could still have not done it, she could have had endless massages, gone sailing, horse riding, parties all the time, but she didn’t, not as much as she could have. The fact she didn’t have very high self esteem and didn’t boast, of course she would be self deprecating and say she didn’t have anything else to do with her time, but it doesn’t make that the case.
    Diana started her adult life as a child care worker in a nursery, she cared about children way before she got involved with royalty. She was also an insecure shy girl from a broken home, married from convenience to an idiot of a man who didn’t love her and carried on an affair even when on honeymoon and yes also all this in the public eye – not an easy thing for anyone to deal with.

    I am not sticking up for her because I idolize her or even specially admired her – but out of a sense of fairness, its not fair to say she didn’t do anything special. she did.

    As for David Cameron – interesting you like him Annie – why would that be, I cannot imagine. He is a wealthy ex public schoolboy who is destroying the National Health Service and other public services but who won’t have any problem paying for his own private medical care. But I don’t think I noticed him even mentioning the wedding let alone assisting in whipping people into a frenzy to support it like puppets. at one point he was criticised that he wasn’t going to wear traditional wedding clothes, just a normal suit. There is no way anyone supported the wedding because of David Cameron, thats laughable. and he is down in the polls.

    However bringing up Diana also reminds us of Bashir. In reading a paper of the wedding coverage, I read an article written by her former secretary – he remembered her telling him she had done the Bashir interview. he was horrified and she was reassuring him that it would be fine, it was going to clear the air and make everything better – clearly what bashir had told her it would do. and we all know it did the opposite. it precipitated the decline in relations. If only Michael had had him checked out first. Then again, why didn’t his manager or publicist check him out anyway? surely what he should have done.


  4. Dialdancer permalink
    May 12, 2011 4:13 am

    Thank you Deborah I will use your words here to help me keep my balance and to soothe me during trouble times. I will direct others here so this may tell them just who we are and why we are here.


  5. ares permalink
    May 15, 2011 12:41 am

    Thank you for this post Deborah. You, and other people here, always have a way in writting things that it’s like reading my mind and telling the things that i want to say but unfortunatelly can’t due to lots of reasons. By the way i would like to ask you if you heard the Joe Vogel interview in blogtalkradio and how did you find it?


  6. Deborah Ffrench permalink
    May 23, 2011 12:24 am

    I appreciate every single comment here, and will add this:

    My feeling is its a mistake to write off Diana’s humanitarian work simply because she was from a prominent English family.

    Further, surely the fact that Diana and Michael themselves found such resonance and sympatico with each other says a great deal about the level of respect each of them deserves. I think it’s important to remember one doesn’t have to diminish one to appreciate another.

    Something to think about.


  7. Karisma Tic permalink
    June 29, 2011 4:11 am

    Thank you for this great article. I miss Michael so much. It’s also very unfortunate all the greedy exploitation that’s going on around him. And notably coming from his own dad and his new, flimsy partner Julian Rouas,


  8. July 7, 2011 12:49 am

    Another lie which has unwound. Remember Bashir subtly snide comment about the house furnishings and Michael’s taste in Art? Others commenting Michael’s talent as an artist was mediocre?

    “appraiser Eric Finzi, a certified member of the International Society of Appraisers, wrote in a document obtained by the magazine. “I do not think we have begun to see the true value of this fine art yet.”

    ““rare intact major collection” was valued at a whopping $902.52 million, with “an… invaluable pedigree…. for future sales in the international art market.””

    “Complicating matters, the source close to the Jacksons said Dr. Tohme has refused to swear an affidavit confirming the letter was true.”

    We keep finding out that Michael did not spend HIS money as frivolously as long reported, that he like any other wealthy person understood assets would safeguard against future financial trouble. It is only middle class mentally which believe keeping large sums of dollars not working for you in a bank is a good thing.

    The police really should have investigated Thome more thoroughly a very long time ago. Why is Michael’s property not been spoken of by this man before? Shy of a billion is one heck of a motive.


  9. August 4, 2011 6:20 pm

    I appreciate every single comment here, and will add this:

    My feeling is its a mistake to write off Diana’s humanitarian work simply because she was from a prominent English family.

    Diana and Michael themselves found much resonance and sympatico in each other, and that in itself says a great deal about the level of respect each of them deserves.

    My feeling is: I think it’s important to remember one doesn’t have to diminish one to appreciate another.


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