Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson is my Lord and Savior

For those who don't know, Michael Jackson's breakout moment came in 1983 when he performed at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever reunion. The moment the lights dimmed on his breathtaking solo performance, Michael Jackson was no longer just a multi-regional (not quite national) celebrity, but an international superstar, as well-known as Coca Cola, McDonald's, and Mickey Mouse the world over. No one had ever seen a person, let alone a scrawny young black man with a single white glove, move like that, sing like that, do that thing with his feet like that, and dance in a way that made you want to join him. Even though Michael was lip-sync'ing throughout the performance, it didn't matter, because the moment was his, and Michael Jackson was showing us the way:

On a personal note, I have actually suffered in the name of Michael Jackson. In grade school my parents enrolled me in a religious private school called Heritage Baptist Academy that to this day may still practice corporal punishment. Once a person in a position of authority determined you deserved to be punished, you were called as your classmates' eyes tracked you out of the classroom and into the principal's office, where usually one or two authority figures were waiting. You were told what you were being held to account for, that you were about to be spanked because the authority figure loved you, and then you had to stand, put your hands on the edge of a desk, bend slightly over, and wait for the adult, usually a teacher or someone in a position of authority, to swat you several times on your clothed buttocks with the flat surface of a large wooden paddle. Depending on who the authority figure was, the experience could be absolutely terrifying, or merely shameful. There was a teacher, Mr. Hilton, who we all suspected would smack your behind with the crack of a baseball bat because he was tall, strong, with glasses and hairy forearms, who proudly swatted his toddler daughter. Then you had to go back to class with a red face and watery eyes and try to make it through the day knowing everyone knew what had happened to you.

Well, one morning during recess I found myself trying to copy Michael Jackson's trademark moonwalk, and was spotted by a fellow student, who told an authority figure about my behavior. Soon I was called into the principal's office, and you know the rest of the story. As it was explained to me at the time, the figure of authority who was about to strike me was doing so because he loved me; Michael Jackson was a worldly figure, and moonwalking was dancing, and dancing is of the world, and since being worldly was a sure path to hell, and as Christians, in this world, we must behave as if we are not of the world, I would be punished for trying to be like Michael Jackson. Afterward, the authority figure prayed that God would teach me that the most dangerous way to be was like this worldly figure. In retrospect, it was probably good advice, since we all know Michael Jackson was reported to be involved in some very strange things, such as trying to buy the bones of the Elephant Man Joseph Merrick, hanging around with a chimp, sleeping with young kids in his bed, and trying to look like a white woman.

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