Laurie Toby Edison


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James Baldwin on Michael Jackson

Debbie says:

I was thunderstruck to find this quotation from the late, brilliant James Baldwin’s essay “Here Be Dragons” (originally titled “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood”). The whole essay is in The Price of the Ticket:

The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael.

All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair–to all of which may now be added the bitter need to find a head on which to place the crown of Miss America.

Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated–in the main, abominably–because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.

Thanks to whittles for posting it first.

6 Responses to “James Baldwin on Michael Jackson”

  1. Carolyn says:

    I am glad you posted this. I do find it so very interesting to see the reactions about the situation – and realizing they have so little to do with the man/artist that was Michael Jackson.

  2. Shelly H. says:

    Thank you for posting this.
    Today on Democracy Now! Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson, quotes some of this essay. J. Baldwin never ceases to continually amazing me w/ his preternatural insight! Link to DM!:

    Thank you,

  3. eileen says:

    James Baldwin comments are right on; he is a very wise man.
    I would like to say as a whole the world embraces a “cult of personality” way of looking at things. Sad to say we put people on thrones of our ideals by the roles they play.
    I met Michael Jackson at his sixteenth birthday party; back then he seemed very “shy” and sweet we spoke breifly. Back then i was about eighteen years here and i thought he seemed nice. The thing is we NEVER really know who someone is; this is especially true for a public person. We all have our flaws we are human; the truth about Michael Jackson is we will probably never know all his deep inner demons. He is a tragic person; a person that grew up with some sad family issues that (sad to say followed him and it seems his other siblings as well) through his life. He was a very talented person; and very tragic in how he handled his personal life. I believe that we need to see things as they really are and not live in the fantasy of what we want to see. He was flawed he was human; we need to stop worshipping flaws and be more truthful. We need real heros not people that are so flawed that they harm others with their flawed behaviours.
    He had a harsh childhood; however he had no business dragging other children to suffer simalar situtations. This is not to say that his children are suffering in the same way. This is to say that these children were being raised by a parent that paid money to buy them (that is what supposedly happened), and he was a drug addict.
    I know from personal expeirence that drug addicts do not make good parents. So now he is dead and we are putting him on a pedestal instead of being honest that he was a great talent and very flawed person. The real sad thing is how many lives did he possibly harm as well as himself? Why is it that we are so driven to make “heros” of people that really are just human with some big issues.
    At the end of the day i see a person that had a messed up childhood and became a talented egocentric and manipulative adult that unfortunately had the money and power to buy anything he wanted including his own kids. He is a person that could act, oh so sweet; and under it all was manipulation. He was not the victim he wanted people to see, he was smart and calculating. Look what he did to Paul McCartney and the Beatles music; he took advantage of his friendship with Paul and bought the Beatles music when he knew Paul wanted to buy back his own music. Also he exploited all those animals at the Neverland Estate and then abandoned them.
    That is the action of total dysfunction; he just took what he needed and did not care if he hurt anyone. He kept telling Paul “don’t take it personal, it’s just business” ; Paul was his friend. In my book you don’t rip off your freinds.

    That to me is just sad.
    i wish that people would just say; Michael was a big talent ; it is too bad he was such a mess. That is at least the truth.

  4. Sabine says:

    Eileen, speak for yourself. You started off well, but then your judgment came in and took away from the validity of what you were saying.

    Who are you to call someone a “mess”? Are you perfect?

    As you correctly stated, Michael had deepseeded issues, many of which arose from the public insatiable desire for his talent.

    We in many ways made that monster, it’s kind of irresponsible to now want to turn our backs and condemn him. Especially when every single one of us is also riddled with flaws.

    We just don’t have a magnifying glass over our lives so that people can see it.

  5. Sabine says:

    Also inform yourself, Eileen. Paul has the right of first refusal on the Beetles catalogue and he didn’t want it. It was business. Paul made a bad business decision. He needs to put on his big boy pants and get over it.

    Everything else you said about Michael that is negative is in large part your own projection of your negativity. I suggest you start looking at the woman in the mirror and MAKE THAT CHANGE.

  6. Marian Haddad says:

    I find James Baldwin’s comment/commentary on Michael Jackson and his fame actually a support for what Michael Jackson had to deal with . . . not so much about Michael at all but about the people in America . . . when Democracy Now aired this, they took a short portion of the quote that had to do with Michael, and I think that if a portion of anything is offered up alone, it can create a multiplicity of form and meaning/s . . . when I went to the essay to read it, as I am interested in the genius, and most prolific body of work, innovation, business saavy and philanthropy/humanitarianism and environmentalism, three areas of Michael’s life that many critics fail or hesitate to mention . . . when I went to the Baldwin essay, I took his warning to Michael as SYMPATHETIC to the fact that this fame could eat him up, not that MJ would be come narcissistic and greater than life and beyond reprimand, but that he would then be on the table for people to dissect him and cast their own aspersions on him.