MJ Studies Today XXXIX

Abstract In this month’s column, Kerry Hennigan discusses the latest controversy and the ongoing negativity in the media surrounding Michael Jackson. She asks why is it that the pop idol is constantly “persecuted” and his integrity attacked years after he was cleared of any wrong-doing.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXXIX (15-03-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 3 (2019). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxxix/.

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Michael Jackson: Judged by a different set of values – the ongoing persecution of a global icon. By Kerry Hennigan

When the latest controversy erupted over the life and activities of Michael Jackson, we were reminded yet again that he, among the pantheon of popular icons and international celebrities past and present, is subject to judgement by a different set of social values than the rest of us.

This has been the case since Jackson achieved unprecedented international success in the 1980s, despite Article 7 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which states “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” [1]

In his native country, “home of the brave, land of the free” Jackson was, and continues to be, readily vilified and condemned in the media – a view that has spread beyond national borders to critics elsewhere who are quick to explain why we should not celebrate the King of Pop.

They call him a monster – a label he experienced while he was alive, and which has surfaced again posthumously thanks to regurgitated and freshly embroidered details of alleged criminal behavior, and without a thought for the impact it may have on his living descendants. [2]

Without any actual evidence of such behaviour being presented, there have been calls for Jackson’s music to be removed from airplay.  I’m hoping no-one is taking this seriously.

However, in the first months of 2019 we have already seen him omitted from Billboard’s list of its top Super Bowl half time performances for the first time, and his much-lauded performance of Man in the Mirror at the 1987 Grammy awards ignored in a compilation of best Grammy performances by that same publication.  A Grammys’ Motown 60 television special neglected the Jackson 5, Michael’s historic first public performance of the moonwalk on Motown 25, and merely featured him in the “In Memoriam” section. [3] [4]

But this is nothing compared to the cacophony of “noise” from the tabloids, social media and television channels rushing to ride the current tide of negativity.  Few demonstrate the ethical judgement of Jesper Andreasen, Administrative Director of Denmark’s Rødovre Centrum shopping mall where a wax model of Jackson was removed from an exhibition, and subsequently reinstated after complaints from his fans.

“There are many and very different opinions about Michael Jackson, who was never found guilty of any of the accusations that were directed against him. That is why it was an overreaction to remove him from the exhibition” Andreasen said. [5]

What is it about Michael Jackson that makes him so harshly and unfairly judged by others? Why are some happy to believe the worst they are told about him, yet pay no heed to the many words of support from his genuine friends, family and colleagues?  Engineers, musicians, even members of the medical profession (leaving aside the obvious one or two) have all stated categorically that Michael Jackson was not the kind of man to harm or mistreat a child.

Many believe there is a large element of racism in the anti-Jackson contingent which has resulted in him having his basic human rights disregarded.  If this is indeed the case, then it is a shameful indictment of modern society in general.  However, I believe author Susan Woodward says it best when she refers to Michael Jackson’s “otherness” and “power”:

“Two reasons have typically been given by Jackson fans for the negative media responses to Jackson: racism and deep discomfort with his “otherness,” meaning his supposed eccentricities and his fluid identity signifiers.  While these reasons have seemed to me to be obviously true, I had the persistent feeling that there was something else going on.  After studying hostile writings about Jackson, I began to see that there was another factor to which journalists were reacting, with distrust or even fear: a perception of extraordinary power.” [6]

Being unique and successful does not make one an object of admiration for long – people soon get tired of you, become jealous of your success, and project their nightmare fears and own faults and failings on you.

Long ago, it seems, those who were envious of Michael Jackson’s success, embarrassed by some of his (albeit innocent) behaviors, unwilling to forgive him any errors of judgement, or simply infuriated that they could not control him personally or creatively, decided that the only option was to destroy him.

Perhaps we should just give them Michael’s advice (itself based on an oft-quoted Native American proverb) to not judge a person until having walked a mile (or “two moons”) in their moccasins.  All it takes is for them to recognize Michael as a fellow human being – perhaps not just like them, but at least deserving of all the same unalienable rights.

The only things “monstrous” about him were his talent and generosity.


[1]  United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

[2]  Smolensky, Kirsten Rabe “Rights of the Dead” in HOFSTRA LAW REVIEW Vol 37:763 p 770 https://law.hofstra.edu/pdf/academics/journals/lawreview/lrv_issues_v37n03_cc4_smolensky_final.pdf

[3]  Billboard @billboard “Critic’s Picks: Best Grammys Performances” https://twitter.com/billboard/status/1094620757672497153

[4]  Showbiz411 “’Motown 60’ TV Special: Smokey, Stevie, Diana, But Nary a Mention of Michael Jackson or the Jackson 5 Plus Lionel Richie Drops Out”https://www.showbiz411.com/2019/02/13/motown-60-tv-special-smokey-stevie-diana-but-nary-a-mention-of-michael-jackson-or-the-jackson-5-plus-lionel-richie-drops-out

[5]  MJ Vibe “Michael Jackson wax work back in the Danish mall” https://www.mjvibe.com/michael-jackson-wax-work-back-in-the-danish-mall/

[6]  Woodward, Susan Otherness and Power. Michael Jackson and his Media Critics Blackmore Books 2014 p 2

Related Reading/Listening:

“An Interview with Susan Woodward.” Interview, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 2, no. 3 (2016). Published electronically 21/05/16. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/an-interview-with-susan-woodward/

Basheer, Nada. “Academic Book Review of ‘Otherness and Power: Michael Jackson and His Media Critics’ by Susan Woodward.” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, no. 3 (2016). Published electronically 28/12/16. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/academic-book-review-otherness-and-power-michael-jackson-and-his-media-critics-by-susan-woodward/http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/academic-book-review-otherness-and-power-michael-jackson-and-his-media-critics-by-susan-woodward/

Hennigan, Kerry “Book Review: ‘Otherness and Power. Michael Jackson and his Media Critics’ by Susan Woodward” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/book-review-otherness-and-power-michael-jackson-and-his-media-critics-by-susan-woodward/