In Ghosts, a thirty-nine minute music video created in 1996, Michael Jackson is challenging the society that labeled him a monster or freak – namely Tom Sneddon, Santa Barbara District Attorney who was so obsessed with hating Michael Jackson that he eventually brought him to trial eight years after the making of Ghosts, falsifying evidence in a court of American law. I shake my fist at the injustice that Michael endured in a court of “law.”
In light of Halloween, I watched and am mesmerized by the genius of Ghosts. Michael Jackson plays five parts including Mayor Ghoul, SuperGhoul, Skeleton, the maestro of the castle and mayor of the town, Tom Sneddon, who decides the maestro must leave because he’s not “normal. Ghosts is Michael’s take on not fitting into any label or box. It’s Michael’s way of standing up to the bullies that tried to torture him.
Michael was fascinated with what Edgar Allen Poe called “the terrors of the soul.” From fear, horror, paranoia, transformation, the supernatural and the grotesque, MJ was called the first gothic megastar. From his cryptic Neverland castle to his androgynous identity he truly was a gothic hero-villian.
The ghosts and ghouls are psychological but the visceral terror and paranoia is real. The ghosts function as metaphors for the real world intrusions he had to live with:
There’s a ghost down in the hall
There’s a ghost up on the bed
There’s something in the walls
There’s blood up on the stairs
And it’s floating through the room
And there’s nothing I can see
And I know thats the truth
Because now it’s onto me.
How appropriate that this dark, socially pointed film shows us mainstream America’s tendency to marginalize and fear anyone who is different. And Michael’s anger continues to reveal himself.
And who gave you the right to shake my family tree.
And who gave you the right to scare my baby, who needs me.
Michael’s heart was always open and compassionate about anyone who was treated like an outsider. When Michael Jackson was a little boy, his mother Katherine said he saw starving children in Africa on television and vowed to his mother and himself “Mother, someday I’m going to do something about this.” I love people who honor their word.
Ghosts begins in black and white as MJ was a lover of the 1930’s and 1940’s films Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Michael/Maestro is shown living at his castle at the far edge of town. The mayor has decided that Maestro is a bad influence on children.
We want you out of town. We have a nice normal town. Normal people. Normal kids. We don’t need freaks like you telling them ghost stories.
It’s well documented that Sneddon was determined to make MJ leave his one and only home as an adult; Neverland.
Michael is showing us themes of identity and how our society condemns those they decide are freaks. I love when the mirror comes of out Sneddon’s stomach, forcing him to look at the real monster.
Who’s scary now? Who’s the freak now? Freaky boy. Freak, circus freak. Who’s scary? Who’s weird now?
When Michael’s face crumbles into dirt I am saddened beyond reason because I know in his heart he felt many wanted him to disappear forever. It’s common knowledge that Michael loved B.T. Barnum and the circus he created. If we cannot classify someone’s race, gender, sexuality, age, we ask questions. What have we here?
Sneddon humiliated and dehumanized Michael Jackson for decades and I believe the anger Michael felt at the injustice he suffered propelled him to create some of the best dancing of his career in Ghosts. As my dear friend Brauna always has believed, “anger is transformational”.
Neil Strauss said his dancing was “like the elephant man, screaming that he is a human being.” I feel Michael Jackson’s pain in this video and yet, as pure Michael, his artistry is phenomenal. Underneath his pain was a hurting soul. Who gave anyone the right to trifle with any soul?
I love how Michael is able to be in a double position: not only is he the object of the spectacle but he’s also witness to his own injustice and comments on it all at once. We went so far as to ridicule Michael because the pigmentation of his skin changed color. What type of animal inflicts such cruelty on his brother? It makes sense that Michael had compassion for John Merrick where he shouts in The Elephant Man, ‘”Leave me alone! I’m not an animal. I’m a human being!” Michael Jackson reminds me of Benjamin Button – he was old as a child and become younger later on as he tried to create and experience the childhood he never had.
Michael gave up his childhood for his art – his dedication to his craft was fierce. In return for his dedication to his dancing, singing and unwavering support of children, we caused him to leave his home in Los Olivos, California. I say we because we didn’t stand up to the injustice he suffered. Why? Is it because we don’t stand up to our own injustices? Are we so beaten down that we can’t stand up for honesty and what is right? Part of what I love about Michael Jackson is he stood up for injustice. As performing is what he knew from the time he was five years old, it’s almost as if his lifetime motto became “Let the show begin”. In Ghosts, his artistic expression culminates with leaving us to look in our own mirror and he does so as he entertains. Why did Michael Jackson fascinate and anger people? Was it because he refused or was unable to blend into societies neat little boxes?
I don’t know how Michael Jackson managed to live in Suburban America with all its rigidities and hypocrisies.He became a commodity by the prejudice of the United States. I believe that is why when the trial was over and he was acquitted, he fled his beloved home, his self created Neverland, his United States of America, wandering throughout Bahrain as a nomad for three years with his children. He returned in 2008 with a need to earn money for his children and for his children to see him dance live in front of his fans. We all know how that ended.
Watch a genius at work: