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Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

“The Man in the Mirror...”

Bewildering Stories Review Board discussion

The Man in the Mirror and the Monster in the Middle” appears in this issue.

[Review Editor 1] This is quite an interesting analysis of Michael Jackson’s famous and brilliant music video. Most of what the author says about the video itself seems valid.

However, it’s a big jump from Jackson’s art to his life. Aesthetic analysis is one thing, but Freudian analysis and moral condemnation are something else again. When the essayist abandons analysis of the video altogether and declares his indignation at Jackson’s person, it comes across as cheap shots, as in the opening:

“By the end of his life, Michael Jackson had become a monster. He transformed himself over the course of decades from a handsome young man into a pallid homunculus, secluding himself from humanity like Frankenstein’s creation or the Phantom of the Opera. Many believe he even committed monstrous acts...”

The essay could have been truly brilliant if the author had refrained from the psychoanalysis and stuck to the “text” of the music video.

[Review Editor 2] John Landis is quoted in Griffin’s article as saying that Jackson “wanted to be turned into a monster, just for fun.”

I don’t think it has to be any more complicated than that. Rosen strives mightily to connect Jackson’s supposed personal life with his screen persona in the video but completely misses Jackson's reputation as a big kid who liked to play. Movie monsters are scary and fun, and what could be more fun for a superstar than a big, splashy Halloween production?

Speculative overreaching — sometimes called “analysis"’ — is some critics’ version of the same thing.

[Managing Editor] And some critics’ idea of fun can be even scarier than a Halloween film. Best to take it with a grain of salt lest, as the French would say, we drown in a glass of water.

Perhaps Mr. Rosen intended to cite a popular perception of Michael Jackson as a “pallid homunculus” or a mysterious, even sinister creature. If so, we can chalk up the paragraph to a point of view error.

Unfortunately, the paragraph leaves little leeway for such spin. The sentence beginning “Many believe...” smacks of tabloid journalism. The disclaimer offered by one hand — “although he was exonerated by the courts” — is taken back by the other: “rumors and speculation will surely persist.” The suspicion of pedophilia is implicitly left open.

And I’m left a little confused. The author dismisses with a snort Pastor Joe Schimmel’s allegation that Michael Jackson was somehow “demonic.” But by the end of the article I have to wonder whether Mr. Rosen doesn’t secretly sympathize — barring the pastor’s nonsense about the occult — with Pastor Schimmel’s point of view. I think, rather, that the fairest interpretation is that Mr. Schimmel takes literally what Mr. Rosen interprets as a metaphor.

I would agree that the biography and the film critique are best left separate. But as as long as we have both, I think the biographical portion of the essay would benefit from a definition up front: What is a “monster,” exactly? And why did Michael Jackson think he was one — assuming it can be proved that he did?

Michael Jackson’s career and personal style were certainly eccentric even by the standards of celebrities in the worlds of film and music. And he apparently had parental problems. All of that may have been spectacular and, in combination, even a media circus, but it was not really outlandish. Rather, Michael Jackson was a master not only of performance art but also of publicity.

To answer my own Challenge question, the most general audience for articles about Michael Jackson and his works is people who know nothing about Michael Jackson or his works. In that regard, the author does the readers a great service in his discussion of Thriller as a work of cinematic art.

Speaking from the point of view of posterity, I want to know what the film does, how it does it, how it fits into the art of its own time, and what it means today. Michael Jackson the person is a topic best left to such specialists as historians and biographers.

Copyright © 2012 by Bewildering Stories

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