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We are all agreed: Michael Jackson’s death is a sad event. Firstly because he was young, secondly because he runs through our cultural DNA and thirdly because we never really managed to fully understand him.


Jackson’s life and work were wrapped up in the confuddling of race and the obliteration of its prerequisites for discussion. I am not talking only about his self-manipulated skin colour. I am talking about the fact he was accused of antisemitism for contested lyrics in the 1996 release They Don’t Really Care About Us and the fact he was accused of exploiting the poor of Rio de Janeiro for its music video.

This song is only one time Jackson was simultaneously cast as victim and perpetrator by the media and public all making use of his eccentricity to grind their own agendas.

The controversy led Jackson (for the only time in his career) to film a second video for one of his songs, taking his crotch grabs off the favela streets and into the prison chow hall. One or both of the versions was banned by MTV – I am not quite sure, but it doesn’t matter.

Jackson threw enough contorted imagery at these two videos to satisfy a life’s worth of political action. The prison version is a montage of famous photojournalist and media images; death, natural disaster, street brutality, Vietnam napalm, hate crimes, Rodney King, African pestilence, riots, nuclear detonation and the Ku Klux Klan?

I am undecided as to how Jackson’s convolution of imagery helps an informed debate on inequality in society. How much does a famine of the 80s in an unnamed African nation have to do with US urban riots?

It should be said, that for his manic prison tableaux, Jackson did accurately reflect reality in the casting of a disproportion number of men of colour.





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