Michael Jackson's Image: What It Means

Michael Jackson: Full NPR Music Archive

Michael Jackson sits outside Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London.

Michael Jackson sits outside Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London. Dave Hogan / Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dave Hogan / Getty Images

In this commentary that originally aired on All Things Considered on July 7, 1984, writer Vertamae Grosvenor says that while counts herself a longtime fan of the musical Jackson family, she doesn't plan to attend to see what the Jackson brothers, and especially Michael, have created.

The one glove doesn't bother me. Compared to Boy George, that's conservative. He doesn't do drugs, he's a vegetarian — that's healthy. He's kind to animals, he's a Jehovah's Witness: according to Rolling Stone, he goes to meetings at Kingdom Hall three times a week. Usually I don't open the door, but if Michael rang my bell I would by a watchtower.

I will not go to a concert; can't afford it — thirty dollars a ticket. Before ticket $120 computer idea was a stink bomb to the fans who made the Jacksons.

My girls were among the millions who grew up loving the Jackson 5. They were crazy about Tito, had a crush on Jackie, wanted to marry Jermaine, and fought over Marlon and Michael. They tore pictures out of Jet and Right On magazines. The Jackson 5 was a household word in black homes.

But like my grandfather used to say, by the time white folks get a cold, we've had pneumonia. The Jackson soul act became the Jackson pop act. And that's okay. Five months ago we all celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Beatles tour of America.

At the same time, CBS threw a record party for Michael at the Museum of Natural History in New York. TV clips of The Beatles' arrival showed crowds of screaming white girls. When Michael arrived at the museum, he was greeted by crowds of screaming whites and blacks, boys and girls. That's progress.

I'm not upset by the change in their music. Hey, everything changes. I am disturbed by the cosmetic change. When Michael was with the Jackson 5 soul act, he was a fine looking, sexy teenager, with his afro — we called it a "natural" — and his natural nose.

Now, like a growing number of black performers, Michael has had his nose fixed. He's exotic, non threatening. Seems to be the way to go to crossover. It's the kind of sexuality, America likes her black stars, especially the men, to have. More power to the Jacksons, though their bumps and grinds ain't the Wilson Pickett kind.



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