From Throne to Wilderness: Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’ and the Foucauldian Outlaw

From Throne to Wilderness: Michael Jackson's 'Stranger in Moscow' and the Foucauldian Outlaw by Karin Merx

Abstract: In 1993, a horde of Californian ‘police and prosecutors spent millions of dollars to create a case whose foundation never existed’.1 Their fruitless efforts were to incriminate Michael Jackson, a black artist who was the most commercially successful in the world. Jackson, who was in Russia on his Dangerous tour, wrote the song, Stranger in Moscow, in response to the severity of his accusations, the eagerness of the media to sensationalise them and the willingness of the public to believe them. This essay examines how Michael Jackson’s Stranger in Moscow, relates to philosopher, Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘power’.

Essay by Karin Merx BMus, MA, editor of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies, and author of  A festive parade of highlights. La Grande Parade as evaluation of the museum policy of Edy De Wilde at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam published with academic publisher Eburon.


Merx, Karin. “From Throne to Wilderness: Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’ and the Foucauldian Outlaw.” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 1, no. 4 (2015).

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From Throne to Wilderness: Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’ and the Foucauldian Outlaw
By Karin Merx

‘Where there is power, there is resistance.’ – Michel Foucault

Some fifty-six years ago, in Gary, Indiana, the life of a little black boy started out like a fairy-tale. He was very talented and enjoyed dancing and singing so much (and did this so well) that he was allowed to sing with his older brothers in a group. Soon, he was the lead singer, and by the time he was a teenager, a veteran in the entertainment industry. His adult solo career started out perfectly with his 1979 album, Off The Wall, followed in 1982 by the best-selling record ever, Thriller.2

Michael Jackson revolutionised the music industry completely with his compositions, dance, clothing, concerts and most of all, his short films.3 In his autobiography Quincy Jones wrote, ‘the truth is, many of the videos that became trademarks of MTV imitate “Beat It,” “Thriller,” and “Billie Jean” – it’s Michael’s choreography all over the screen, even today. His videos made a sensation in tandem with the rise of video as an art form. He helped define the music video in terms of style, dance ensembles, and overall performances.’4 In addition, Jackson was also a great humanitarian, who would give generously, but never boasted about it.5

Jackson’s accomplishments brought him, like Elvis Presley before him, the rightly-earned title of ‘king’. As ‘king’ Jackson was humble, intelligent, very talented and extremely hardworking. However, every medal has two sides, and for Jackson constantly being in the public eye, although it granted him great renown and success, also made him the centre of gossip and ridicule. Jackson wrote in Moonwalk that because of his success with Thriller, the constant exposure to the public made him weary and as a result of that, he was resolved to live a more private life. Because of his ensuing withdrawal from the public referred to as, ‘the most spectacular disappearing act since Halley’s comet’, academic, Joseph Vogel writes: ‘by 1987, Jackson the human being no longer seemed to exist to a public fed on sensationalism and hype.6 However, Jackson’s lifestyle choices, like hiding the vitiligo from the public, his provocative art and possible public relations faux pas (such as the photo in the hyperbaric chamber), may have played a crucial role.

In the mid-eighties the slanderous British tabloid, The Sun, famous for its topless ‘page three’ models, gave Jackson the moniker, ‘Wacko Jacko’ and fostered ‘his Wacko Persona which, ironically, was mostly born out of a lack of any real news about him at all.’7 It was predominantly white journalists, who consistently used the nickname ‘Wacko’, and in doing so were able to completely deny Jackson as a person and as such didn’t have to acknowledge him as artist. This utter disregard and disrespect was even worse than the underlying racist implications Jackson had to endure in his life.8 Academic, Elizabeth Amisu writes, ‘the more famous he became, the more he became a target of vicious attacks by the press.’9

Jackson’s public persona was akin to artists like Bowie and Warhol and he, as they did, broke all the codes of ‘normality’. ‘Bowie was blurring the lines between genders with his staged androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust (1970), displaying gender ambiguity through posture, hair color, clothing and make-up.’ And visual artist Andy Warhol’s ‘art, lifestyle, distinctive wig, humble beginnings in Pittsburgh and ‘superstardom’ were a calculated combination of media manipulation, determination and talent.’ How were Jackson’s art, lifestyle, ‘humble beginnings’, his wigs, makeup, outfit, ‘superstardom’, determination and talent different?10

Yet, the majority of the press, including music critic, Dave Marsh who ‘portrays the elements of his [Jackson’s] otherness as grave defects in an attempt to deny him credibility and agency,’ and Marcus Greil (impact more commercial than cultural), judged Jackson on presumptions and accordingly tried to purposely destroy his character by naming him ‘weird’ and/or a ‘wacko’.11

In her dissertation, ‘Indications of Negative Attitude with Words Denoting Mental Illness and Low Intelligence in Dictionaries’, Joanna Nyrke writes that the ‘associations between mental illness and funny behaviour have existed for long, and many expressions in this semantic area are humorous, and openly make fun of the topic of mental illness or low intelligence. Such terms include fruitcake, nuts, wacko, bonkers and bananas, to mention only a fraction.’12 However, there was no humorous side to the use of ‘wacko’, it was used to degrade and dehumanize the most influential black artist in the world; it was simply contempt disguised as humour.

Vogel also writes about the use of ‘Jacko’ and the racist implications of the word, I would agree that the word ‘Wacko’ – often in combination with ‘Jacko’ – was ‘used by the tabloid and mainstream media alike with a contempt that left no doubt about its intent’. Jackson loathed this epithet.13 But Jackson was a phenomenon with a major cultural impact and ‘in the making of Thriller and its aftermath, Jackson mirrored trends of the eighties and set new ones.’ Not only had Jackson a significant impact on culture, he was also powerful in profitmaking sense by acquiring ‘ATV Music, which held most of the Beatle’s songs,’ and ‘he acquired the copyrights of the Presley collection.’14

The ongoing resonance of the ‘Wacko Jacko’ moniker begs the question: who in society decides what is seen as ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’? Philosopher, Michel Foucault researched the origin of what we now consider ‘normal’ behaviour. He started his study with the seventeenth and eighteenth century where madness was banned from daily reality and brought together with morally reprehensible conduct.15 ‘Foucault argues that contemporary society is based on medical notions of the norm, rather than on legal notions of conformity to codes and the law.’16 The knowledge about what we consider ‘normal’ is obtained by completely excavating ‘abnormality’.17 And for that matter, whiteness is defined by degrading blackness, which was another layer added to the so-called ‘abnormality’ of Jackson; after all, he was a black artist.

Foucault explained: ‘if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal, then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing.’18 Artists, according to Foucault, are by definition, and through centuries, able to ascertain the border of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’.19 And those declared ‘abnormal’ had to be disciplined. But isn’t it exactly the power of the artist, to be able to think out of the box? However, if the power of the artist is undermined, it calls for resistance, a point that will be picked up later.

The knowledge about ‘normality’, gained by excavating ‘abnormality’, also bears power, and if knowledge is power than that means that the ones who collect this knowledge are also able to construct a dominant ‘truth’, and in doing so, they simultaneously decide what is good or bad, in other words they also create morality. The ones who construct this truth are able to propagate it in such a credible way it becomes accepted as ‘universal’ truth.20 In Jackson’s case the tabloid press had a certain power. They manufactured a ‘truth’ based on rumours that many people tended to believe. Some of the tabloid press’ manufactured truths were: that he bleached his skin, slept in an oxygen tank and bought the bones of the Elephant man, to name a few. The actual proven facts were: Jackson had a hereditary skin disorder, vitiligo; he donated the money he got from his serious burns during an infamous Pepsi commercial to the Michael Jackson Burn Centre, at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, California. Finally, he was interested in the Elephant Man’s (John Merrick) story, as Merrick had been considered a ‘freak’ in the Victorian era. He visited Merrick’s remains and felt he understood the suffering of this man since he himself also had to endure public scorn, derision and laughter.21

But Jackson never made enquiries to buy the bones, however, establishments and private collectors have collected human remains for centuries to fill their precious cabinets and museums. Some of the (surreptitiously obtained) remains of Hottentot Venus were on view for the public till 1974 in the Musée de l’Homme Paris. Hottentot Venus (Sarah Baartman), a black African woman, endured similar humiliating treatment as the Elephant Man during her life. She was ‘displayed in England and France in the early nineteenth century as a curiosity, her breasts, buttocks and hypertrophied labia aroused considerable interest, both prurient and scientific.’22 After she died, anthropologist George Cuvier dissected her corpse, an act for which she never gave permission. She was denied a fitting and respectful burial for many decades and no one ever declared Cuvier, or assistant curator Philippe Mennecier, wacko. Instead the argument posed was that these ‘remains were an important treasure.23

The dishonest influence of the tabloid press was (and continues to be) so wide-reaching that the manufactured truth dominated the facts and haunted Jackson till the day he died and unfortunately, continue to haunt his family, most especially his children. Jackson’s life as a renowned black artist was completely excavated for no other reason than to downplay his importance. For the most part, few outside of his loyal fan community, made any attempt to listen to what Jackson had to say as a human being or as an artist – his truth was not heard. In his 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson summed up the experience, ‘the press has made up so much God-awful, horrifying stories, that are completely appalling and so far from the truth. If it’s told often enough, you start to believe it.’24

It is with good reason that Amisu writes, ‘we must consider a holistic representation of Michael Jackson, one which is not based on conjecture and tabloid sensationalism but hard evidence. It is the literary academic’s place and duty to write about Jackson, the artist. For this is what he was. Only through academic study of his life and creative work can we gain insight into his genius and innovation’.25 But since Jackson walked the tightrope between high and low art, neither side seemed to understand his work or take him seriously.

Slowly-but-surely, Jackson, once a king, was outlawed by society and left on the fringes. His persona was warped to such an extreme state that even he had ‘no idea people thought he was so weird’.26 In 1993 it went even further and while in Moscow on his Dangerous tour ‘he was beset by salacious false allegations.’27 It was there that Jackson wrote Stranger in Moscow. The distance between Jackson, the man, and Jackson, the freak, was so vast that while being presented as a criminal in the world’s press, the artist ‘had been sitting on the closet floor in his hotel room, crying, when the song came to him.28

It was not until 1995 that the song was released on the album HIStory – Past, Present and Future, Book I, which simultaneously serves as Jackson’s audio(visual) autobiography. In ‘”Stalin’s Tomb Won’t Let Me Be”: Michael Jackson as Despot’, by journalist, Owen Hatherley in 2009, Stranger in Moscow is seen as a ‘megalomaniac supplement to the megalomaniac They Don’t Care About Us, that aggressive, anti Semitic farrago….’ He mocked Jackson as ‘the persecuted despot’ who ‘rails against his enemies, those in the press, the courts or in record companies who dare hold him to ordinary human standards.’29 Hatherley, was blatantly drawing on tabloid publications for his wider knowledge on Jackson’s life and art, and refused to acknowledge Jackson as artist, opposed to more artistically recognised white artists like Warhol or Bowie, who’s behaviours also were not according to the ‘ordinary human standards’.30

Unfortunately Hatherley chose to follow the footsteps of ‘some white critics who don’t [didn’t] understand (or care) where the song ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ comes [came] from.’ ‘As he [Jackson] is addressing both black and white (including Jewish) audiences, he bravely has made prejudice sting at the precise, necessary moment of rollback racism.’31 In continually addressing issues of racism and social injustice ‘Jackson followed in the spirit of Paul Robeson, a black American singer.’ The song was ‘about marginalized people all over the world.’32 The lyrics of ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ are ‘some of Jackson’s most compelling and provocative.’33 According to Willa Stillwater, ‘the lyrics are actually confronting anti-Semitism, not endorsing it, and that should be obvious to anyone who listens to the lyrics.’34 And so are the lyrics of Stranger in Moscow that also bare a form of protest, as we will see later. But Hatherley obviously had not listened at all. With just a little bit more effort, he may have come to a completely different, and far more realistic conclusion. But this critic is part of many. It looks that ‘in The Resistible Demise, none of the writers seem to have a firm grounding in the actual facts of Jackson’s life’.35

Most artists, myself included, use their life experiences as source for their creative output and also return to their childhood, either because of (good or bad) experiences or to ‘nurture their creativity’, and Jackson was no different.36 Several of his songs (Stranger in Moscow, Heal the World, We Are The World, I’ll Be There) represent autobiographical material, as he mentioned in an interview with VH1 in 1995. And ‘the lyrics [of Stranger in Moscow] are totally autobiographical’.37 To his friend, also a child at the time, Frank Cascio Jackson allegedly said: ‘I don’t think you realize […] I have the whole world thinking I’m a child molester. You don’t know what it feels like to be falsely accused, to be called ‘Wacko Jacko’. Day in and day out, I have to get up on that stage and perform, pretending everything is perfect. I give everything I have […] Meanwhile, my character and reputation are under constant attack. When I step off that stage, people look at me as if I were a criminal.’38

It was this false allegation that ‘would carry his representation into its most destructive and pervasive Monster Persona.’39 This story of alleged abuse ‘became a frenzy of hype and unsubstantiated rumour, with the line between tabloid and mainstream media virtually eliminated.’40 His Neverland Ranch was ransacked by the LAPD and he was ‘forced to a dehumanizing and humiliating examination by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff and the LAPD’.41 The King was condemned to “Outlaw”, everyone was entitled to judge him, to ridicule him and to viciously attack him in what could be qualified as a public torture, described in Foucault’s terms as ‘a certain mechanism of power’.42 The tabloid media persecuted Jackson because he broke the code of their ‘ordinary human standards’. Based on the rumours that already consisted and the false allegations, Jackson was judged and convicted by the press. But eventually, this form of power was not ‘productive’. As Foucault suggests ‘there is always the possibility of resistance no matter how oppressive the system’, and Jackson showed resistance through almost all his songs and short films.43

When the album HIStory – Past, Present and Future, Book I came out, music critic Patrick Macdonald wrote in the Seattle Times, ‘Strangely, for a man who has just gotten married, after what must be assumed was his very first love affair, there are no outright love songs, except for perhaps “Stranger in Moscow,” a pretty ballad interspersed with sounds of rain.’44 Yet, the song and with it the short film are as distanced from a ‘love song’ as they can be. Macdonald made Jackson a joke; ‘abnormal’ in his critique, by assuming Jackson was slow in his emotional and sexual development, smearing his marriage at 36 with his alleged ‘first girlfriend’ (without proof of that fact), reducing the album for not having ‘love songs’ and totally misconstrued Stranger in Moscow. Why was Jackson’s marriage at 36 any different from other celebrities that married late, like actors Vince Vaughan and Jerry Seinfeld, who married at age 40 and 45 respectively? Armond White wrote that Stranger in Moscow was Jackson’s finest track since ‘Billie Jean’, and Vogel writes that, although ‘it never made any greatest-hits collections’, it is one of Jackson’s ‘most impressive artistic achievements and, over time, will no doubt be recognised as such’.45 I couldn’t agree more.

Stranger in Moscow is shot entirely in monochrome (black and white). The beginning and closing segments of the short film Bad, were also shot in the same style and both seem to represent a combination of ‘real life’ and ‘imagination’. For those who may have not seen the full version of the Bad short film, it begins with Jackson in the role of Daryl, a black teenage boy from an impoverished neighbourhood who attends a posh school, who returns home to find himself under attack from his former friends. Jackson, as Daryl, becomes an ‘outsider’ in his own neighbourhood because he attends a prestigious school. Amisu writes, ‘what Daryl loves: books, music, the speakers of a sound system. This, in many ways is also the artist himself: a man who modelled his Thriller album on his abiding love of
 Tchaikovsky and was so well educated 
that his library boasted ten thousand
books, self-educated in a world that
 neither appreciates nor acknowledges his

In spite of that, the visual motif of black and white, employed by Bad’s director, Martin Scorsese, famous for his dark films Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, has even more to do with an expressionistic representation of alienation, ‘Daryl immediately seems sad to be going back home, which raises a narrative enigma – where is home?’ and ‘Daryl, however, is going from safety to conflict […] is not really part of their world. The train has transported him from fantasy to reality but he is still a visitor.’47 If we look at Stranger in Moscow, this feeling of being a visitor, the feeling of alienation, estrangement, is what the short film reveals. The film shows a dark gritty city, the streets are wet from the rain; people walk hastily and car’s drive by. The city depicts the wilderness, where Jackson the outlaw was abandoned to, where he was lost within a sea of faces.

Stranger in Moscow introduces five people who are equally alone or abandoned by society: a man stands behind his window looking outside, a woman in a cafe sits alone on a table staring at her hands, a beggar lies in a corner looking up to passers-by, a teenager watches children play baseball from a distance and a neatly dressed man sits on a bench staring into the nothing. The world, at first, seems to float by in real time, but as soon as the strumming guitar sets in, and the woman in the cafe turns her head and looks out of the window, she sees people passing by in slow motion. Right after this shot, Jackson is introduced as the sixth person, walking the street where no one seems to recognise him.

What we see is the world in slow motion; it is Jackson’s point of view and depicts how abandoned he feels. On the one hand, the slow motion has the function of magnifying emotion, and on the other hand it shows two different worlds and the distance between those two worlds. All six ‘characters’ are excluded, possibly ‘dogged’, and clearly not feeling at home. For them their world is a prison. For Jackson, the ceaselessly public prying eyes had always felt as a ‘prison’ or ‘fishbowl’, which can be referred at as the Panopticon, used as a metaphor by Foucault for a world of surveillance to discipline, a model that is present within all social relations.48 But for Jackson, anonymity was never a reality, and his ‘magically’ cinematic outlawing is a form of liberation, and as in Bad, this fantasy was born out of a lack of recognition.

Even though the six estranged people seem to have something in common, Jackson is still the outsider. He doesn’t appear to belong to them either, dressed, not in stage costume, but in a black trench coat, black trousers and heavy boots. His face, on the other hand, is so white, it is glowing, in a state that reminds us of the glowing tiles and feet in the short film Billie Jean. Although, in Billie Jean the glowing tiles represent a repressed kind of magic: Jackson supernaturally escapes the photographer who is stalking him. Throughout his art Jackson depicts his battles against stalkers, journalists and photographers, the paparazzi who he had to escape from on a daily basis.

Despite Jackson’s glowing face in Stranger in Moscow, the real ‘magic’ is that the people in the street do not seem to recognise him, ‘take my name and let me be’. Perhaps Stranger in Moscow presents a dreamlike reality where Jackson was never famous or a world where his real form is the most convincing disguise. Returning once again to Bad, there is also a tight close-up of Jackson’s face described by Amisu as ‘an act of defiance’, since there was so many speculation about his face in the tabloid media.49

The difference is that the provocative act of the extreme close up of his face in Bad, is nowhere to be found in Stranger in Moscow, it’s the difference between the ‘my face is my own’ mask and ‘see me simply as a person’ mask. The latter, is the way Jackson tries to escape from the constant attacks, the constant feelings of being watch and judged. It is also what brings the utter mood of loneliness and that is what he shows us in Stranger in Moscow. ‘How does it feel?’ We from the world of ‘ordinary human standards’, we have no clue at all.

Russia, at that time, was mainly struggling with domestic reforms, trying to become more democratic, but Russia wasn’t so much the problem for Jackson, or was it?50 Jackson, as a very rich American from the West, could have been easily seen as danger as the closing lines of the lyrics imply, ‘Why have you come from the West? Confess! To steal the great achievements of the people, the accomplishments of the workers?”51 However, the real danger came from his homeland, America. Upon his return, he found his house ransacked and he had to endure humiliating inquiries. He was already convicted. Where was the innocent until proven guilty? A civil right one might expect from a civilised country?

Vogel refers to ‘Stalin’s tomb won’t let me be’ as metaphor for Jackson as trapped in a hotel during his tour.52 However, I take this a bit further and refer to it as the metaphor of concrete remnants of a system where millions of people were killed, and civil rights ruthlessly overrode. For Jackson, and black people in general in America, that wasn’t any different. Jackson was falsely accused and dogged by the FBI /‘KGB is doggin me’/, who tried to convict him with a racist law; his own country was belittling him/‘Kremlin’s shadow belittlin’ me’/ -which also has a racist implication-.53 Jackson couldn’t openly express his anti-American sentiment, but he was a master of disguise. He was well aware of the position of the two superpowers at the Cold War and their history. Stranger in Moscow, illuminates the features they share, the lack of civility and civil rights that Jackson was subject to. Subject matters of a very well educated black artist; subjects not that often seen in commercial work. Perhaps that was the reason music critics couldn’t comprehend it, for how could you acknowledge that a black best selling artist was also highly intelligent?

HIStory’s anger was primarily personally motivated, although it also tied ‘his anguish and outrage to larger social issues such as media sensationalism, discrimination, and alienation.’54 ‘On “Scream,” for instance, Jackson, assisted by sister Janet, attacks various facets of “the system,” with the perception that certain morally corrupt individuals in positions of power have maneuvered against him to mastermind his fall from grace.’55 At the same time the short film Scream, has an affinity with its monochromatic theme and isolation as is shown to us in Stranger in Moscow. ‘The use of mobilization in the video [Scream], leaving earth on a spacecraft, may signify Michael’s fears of alienation and an attempt to free himself from the world.’56

Although Stranger in Moscow, mainly reveals his sadness and loneliness, Jackson wouldn’t be Jackson if he did not stand up to start fighting again even on Stranger in Moscow. As Foucault stated, if the power of the artist is undermined, it calls for resistance. Jackson, the outlawed king, would not let himself be disciplined by the system. During Jackson’s memorial Rev. Al Sharpton said, “Michael out-sang his cynics, he out-danced his doubters, he out-performed the pessimists. When they knocked him down, he got back up. Every time they counted him out he came back in. Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped”.57

These last repeated phrases from Sharpton: ‘Michael never stopped’, resonate the ostinato rhythm that is at the base of the song. Ostinato is a musical term for a persistent phrase or rhythm. Vogel refers to it as ‘dull’, but you can also say that the ostinato in Stranger in Moscow resembles stubbornness. This stubbornness I would describe as the sound of defiance.

When it starts to rain people run away while the outsiders step into the rain one by one. Even Jackson, who at first shields under an awning, steps out into the rain. It will not be long before he starts to fight. The king who was abandoned, who was treated with utter contempt, and not taken seriously as an artist screamed, “We’re talking danger baby!”, danger that came from his homeland, due to false allegations. However, Jackson knew he was innocent, and he would fight back. The rain washed off all loneliness and represents the biblical cleansing or baptising; the ostinato keeps going till the bitter end. ‘Michael never stopped’.

On this point we return to the basic question of this essay how Stranger in Moscow relates to Foucault’s concept of power. The song was written out of pain, anger and grief. Pain is a source for an artist to base his work on. Artists think out of the box, it is what they do; it is what they are good at. They can take us into a world we never visited before, they are able to expand our vision. Isn’t that what we want from an artist? But if we demand an artist to act as what we think are ‘ordinary human standards’, he will resist, he will provoke. And so did Michael Jackson.

Jackson was the black artist, who broke the code of ‘normality’, but that was never accepted as such. He was received with unmitigated contempt, and never acknowledged as the artist he was. Jackson, who was falsely accused, wrote a song that revealed his anguish and his utter loneliness, but at the same time bore a layer of intransigence, a form of protest in the stubbornness of the ostinato and in the disguised lyrics. In Foucault’s terms a very ‘productive’ form of power opposed to the so-called repressive moral power of the tabloid press, and music critics alike.

Jackson was outlawed by society. On the other hand he also estranged himself, and he took that position on purpose. It was a form of escapism that he needed to create his work, as any artist who takes his work serious, but it was also an attempt to withdraw from the public prying eyes. However, the latter was not really a reality for Jackson and therefore he used his art to create dreamlike escapes. We have seen this in Bad, Billie Jean, Scream, and in Stranger in Moscow.

Jackson’s resistance was not always subtle; he often was very provocative and took things to the edge of what we consider decent, or exceeded that border. That caused a lot of the negativism around his person. However, the condescending way the tabloid press portrayed Jackson will, in time, be reduced to nothing more than a minor footnote in the history of a renowned very talented black artist. Their lies will be washed away as a footprint in the sand on the edge of the tide line. Michael Jackson’s art, however, his unprecedented influence on culture, music and short film, will live on forever.

Karin Merx, BMus, MA is the cover artist and illustrator of the first comprehensive academic book on Michael Jackson,  ‘The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife. Merx is founder and editor of the world’s first peer-reviewed academic journal on Michael Jackson’s art, life and work, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies and she is co-presenter of the acclaimed podcast, Michael Jackson’s Dream Lives On: An Academic Conversation, mentioned in iTunes as ‘New and Noteworthy’. Merx is an artist and academic. She studied at the Academy of Music in Amsterdam, and is alumna of Conservatorium van Amsterdam and the Open University, Netherlands and holds qualifications in Art History. For The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies, she wrote the well-received article: ‘From Throne to Wilderness. Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’ and the Foucauldian Outlaw‘ and a book review on Dangerous by Susan Fast. This review is also translated in German and Italian. Find out more at

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1. Mary A. Fisher, Was Michael Jackson Framed? The Untold Story That Brought Down A Superstar (iBook 2013) 73.

2. Quincy Jones, Q The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (New York, London 2000) iBook, 290-291: ‘Off the Wall was the biggest-selling black record in history at that time’; The Editors, The Accomplishments of Michael Jackson (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2009) 7: ‘Off the Wall sold over 20 million copies worldwide’; [accessed 12-05-2015]

3. Sara Tenenbaum, I Know I Am Someone: Michael Jackson, Thriller, and American Identity (George Washington University 2011) 47, 64-65.

4. Jones, Q. The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, 239.

5. For an extended list of humanitarian work see: [accessed 12-05-2015] and Joseph Vogel, Earth Song. Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus (New York 2012) 11; For a list of awards see: [accessed 12-05-2015].

6. Michael Jackson, Moonwalk (New York 2009) iBook, 226; Joseph Vogel, Man in the Music. The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson (New York 2011) 105.

7. Elizabeth Amisu, ‘Bad (1987)’: Genius. The Short Films of Michael Jackson 1/12’, Michael Jackson Academic Journal 1 (2014) [accessed 10-05-2015].

8. Conversation with Academic, Elizabeth Amisu, 26-04-2015; Quincy Troupe, ‘Michael Jackson Bad 1987’, Spin [accessed 10-05-2015]: ‘Many of the attacks came from white rock critics who suddenly seemed to resent his unparalleled success […] Jackson represents a black cultural heritage that white rock critics either don’t know about or would rather appreciate nostalgically from someone who’s dead.’; Armond White, Keep Moving. The Michael Jackson Chronicles (New York: Resistance Works 2009) 106; Joseph Vogel, ‘The Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson’s Music’, The Atlantic [accessed 10-05-2015]; Susan Fast, Dangerous (London, New York: Bloomsbury 2014) 5-6.

9. Elizabeth Amisu, ‘Throwing Stones to Hide Your Hands: The Mortal Persona of Michael Jackson’: The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson 1/12. Michael Jackson Academic Journal 1 (2014) [accessed 10-05-2015].

10. [1] Jida Al-Husami, Why We Dress Like We Do Case: The Androgynous Look – Gender Identity as an Aspect of Identity-formation, 8 [accessed 11-05-2015]; [accessed 10-05-2015]; more about the life of Andy Warhol see: [accessed 11-05-2015]; More on gender ambiguity Michael Jackson: John Izod, ‘Androgyny and Stardom: Cultural Meanings of Michael Jackson’, The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal 14 (1995). [accessed 10-05-2015]; Susan Fast, ‘Difference that Exceeded Understanding: Remembering Michael Jackson (1958–2009)’, Popular Music and Society 33 (2010) 4.

11. Susan Woodward, Otherness and Power; Michael Jackson and his media critics (Blackmore Books 2014) 22.

12. Joanna Nyrke, Indications of Negative Attitude with Words Denoting Mental Illness and Low Intelligence in Dictionaries: A Comparative Study on Dictionaries and Language Corpora (School of Modern Languages and Translation Studies English Philology, Tampere University 2010) 18.

13. Joseph Vogel, ‘How Michael Jackson Made ‘Bad’’, The Atlantic 10-09-2012 ( [accessed 10-05-2015]; See also the interview of Michael Jackson with Barbera Walters in 1997: [accessed 10-05-2015].

14. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West, The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country (New York 2000) 326-328.

15. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison, translated by Alan Sheridan (London 1977); Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization. A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, translated by Richard Howard (New York 2006).

16. 2007 [accessed 10-05-2015].

17. Karin Merx, The words and the Infotomes (BA thesis Cultural Philosophy, Heerlen 2009) 6-7.

18. Michel Foucault, ‘Je suis un artificier’. in: Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, Entretiens (Paris: Odile Jacob 2004) 95; Interview conducted in 1975. This passage trans. Clare O’Farrell.

19. Onno Schilstra, Panoptisch verlangen, panopticisme en Foucault (2007) 11. (Dutch)

20. Ibid.

21. Vogel, Man in the Music, 105.

22. Sadiah Qureshi, ‘Displaying Sarah Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus”’, History of Science 42 (2004) 233.

23. Ibid.

24. Michael Jackson in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1993, [accessed 10-05-2015].

25. Amisu, ‘Throwing Stones to Hide your Hands’.

26. Adrian Grant, Michael Jackson: A Visual Documentary The Official Tribute Edition (Omnibus 2009) 159.

26. Amisu, ‘Throwing Stones To Hide Your Hands’.

27. Frank Cascio, My Friend Michael An Ordinary Friendship With an Extraordinary Man (William Morrow 2011) 61.

28. Owen Hatherley, ‘Stalin’s Tomb Won’t Let Me Be: Michael Jackson as Despot’, The Resistable Demise of Michael Jackson (2009) 198-199.

29. Susan Fast, ‘Michael Jackson’s Queer Musical Belongings’, Popular Music and Society 35 (2012) 298.

30. White, Keep Moving, 67-68.

31. Martin, Sylvia J, ‘The Roots and Routes of Michael Jackson’s Global Identity’, Society 49 (2012) 5-6.

32. Vogel, Man in The Music, 192.

33. Willa Stillwater and Joie Collins (et al.), ‘Some Things in Life They Just Don’t Want to See’, July 12, 2011, [accessed 13-06- 2015].

34. Woodward, Otherness and Power, 88-89.

35. Ibid., 44-45.

36. Michael Jackson in an interview with VH1, [accessed 10-05-2015].

37. Cascio, My Friend Michael, 63.

38. Amisu, ‘Throwing Stones to Hide Your Hands’.

39. Fischer, Was Michael Jackson Framed? , 51.

40. Michael Jackson Responds to Allegations of Child Molestation, [accessed 3-05-2015].

41. Michel Foucault, Punish, Discipline and Surveillance, 57.

42. [accessed 24-05-2015].

43. Patrick Macdonald, ‘”History” Lesson: Jackson’s Living On Past Glories’, Seattle Times [accessed 2-05-2015].

44. White, Keep Moving, 61; Vogel, Man in the Music, 193.

45. Amisu, ‘Bad (1987)’.

46. Ibid.

47. Peter van Zilfhout e.a., Denken over cultuur (Heerlen 2003) 49. (Dutch); The Panopticon was an architectural invention in the late 18th century from philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham. The purpose of the Panopticon was to discipline people. Whether it be prisoners, labourers or school children, everyone needed to be disciplined according to the morality of that time; Jackson, Moonwalk, 226; Shmuley Boteach, The Michael Jackson Tapes (iBook) 258.

48. Amisu, ‘Bad (1987)’.

49. Gerrits, A.W.M., ‘Het ‘nationale vraagstuk’ in Europa na afloop van de Koude Oorlog’ in: A.Bosch & L.H.M. Wessels ed., Veranderende Grenzen. Nationalisme in Europa 1919 – 1989 (Heerlen 1997) 510. (Dutch)

50. Hatherley, ‘Stalin’s Tomb Won’t Let Me Be’, 200.

51. Vogel, Man in The Music, 194.

52. Fisher, Was Michael Jackson Framed?; Charles Thomson, FBI File Reveals Attempt to Convict Jackson with Racist Law, 03-01-2010 ( [accessed 11-05-2015].

53. Vogel, Man in the Music, 171.

54. Rossiter, ‘”They Don’t Care About Us”: Michael Jackson’s Black Nationalism’, Popular Music and Society 35 (2012) 207.

55. Jason King, ‘Form and Function: Super Stardom and Aesthetics in the Music Videos of Michael and Janet Jackson’, Velvet Light Trap 44 (1999) 80-96.

56. White, Keep Moving, 105.


Merx, Karin. “From Throne to Wilderness: Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’ and the Foucauldian Outlaw.” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 1, no. 4 (2015).

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