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On Michael Jackson Hardcover – January 10, 2006

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Book Description
Margo Jefferson’s On Michael Jackson is a lucid and elegant cultural analysis of the rise and fall of the King of Pop.

An award-winning cultural critic, Jefferson brings an unexpected compassion as well as her sharp intellect and incomparable insight to Jackson’s 2005 trial for child molestation, startling us with her erudite illumination of a media-drenched circus that we only thought we understood. As only she can, Jefferson reads between the lines of Jackson’s 1998 autobiography as well as published accounts of his childhood, his family, and Motown--where Michael and his brothers first made the Jackson 5 a household name--leaving us with provocative and perhaps unanswerable questions about Jackson, child stardom, and fame itself.

Margo Jefferson on the Life and Death of Michael Jackson

Pundits love to talk about the crises and cultural flashpoints that give Americans the chance to grow up and think outside of the usual dualities: this is good, that is evil; we hate her, we love him. Michael Jackson’s death gives us yet another chance.

Talent, scandal, sudden death, and a 24/7 media cycle make us very worshipful or very cynical. We can do better this time around. We don’t have to sneer or be pious. We know Michael Jackson was a genius, and we know he became a tortured soul. The first three days after his death were our grace period. We watched videos, replayed our favorite songs relived our youth, and waxed nostalgia about the good old days when all we had to deal with was his enormous talent. And though I never much liked the song, "we" were definitely the world--crowding onto streets, into theaters and parks, dancing (or at least swaying) to his music. North and South America. Europe. Africa. Asia. Only Antarctica and most of the animal kingdom stayed uninvolved.

Then the nasty stuff started creeping out again, like the ghouls in Thriller. Drug reports, rumors of custody wars, tours of an empty Neverland, memorial extravaganza plans; the sight of Michael’s father hustling family unity along with his new record company; the statements and counter-statements of siblings, lawyers, ex-employees, companions and bottom-feeders. And, of course, the three children. Whatever we don’t know about them, we do know they’re worth their weight in gold records and posthumous business deals. And it’s only just begun.

But we can live with the damaged life and the great work: both of them, all at once. We have to. So much of Michael Jackson’s damage reflects the worst in our culture, and so much of his talent reflects the best.--Margo Jefferson

(Photo © Brent Murray)

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer-winning New York Times critic Jefferson collects her meditations on what may be the oddest show-biz figure of all time. "Freaks" is the title of her first essay, and she notes Jackson's attraction to Barnum as well as the strangely apt imagery of his best-known video, "Thriller." Born in 1958 to a bullying father and a mother who was a Jehovah's Witness convert, the youngest member of the Jackson Five quickly became its VIP. Child stars are never "normal," and Jefferson glances at Buster Keaton, Jackie Coogan, Sammy Davis Jr. and, of course, Shirley Temple, the only one of them even more famous than Jackson, unless you count Elizabeth Taylor, Jackson's "best friend," who supplanted Diana Ross as his apparent role model. Jackson, Jefferson believes, is a "sexual impersonator," imitating, at times, a gay man, a white woman, a "gangsta" and a "pop Count Dracula." His bizarre looks and behavior drew literally thousands of cameras to his 2005 trial for child molestation. Jefferson concludes that Jackson may be a "monstrous child," but that he is, to a degree, a mirror of us all. Her slim, smart volume of cultural analysis may remind readers of Susan Sontag's early, brilliant essays on pop culture. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (January 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375423265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375423260
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By s.d. on December 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
I borrowed this book from the library. I'm 3/4 of the way through, and thank God I didn't pay for it.

I have to be honest, I don't think I've ever read an MJ bio with so many inaccuracies and armchair psychology wrapped around pseudo-intellectual speak. The inaccuracies are minor but abundant; some examples are wrong song lyrics, messing up Katherine Jackson's maiden name, and attributing the wrong songs to music videos. The author uses the messes up the name for one of the TV shows she mentions. Even someone who knows about the Jacksons in passing can point them out without have to use Google. The sad part is that this book could have had some potential in terms of studying MJ's psyche, and had some good points about child stars, how they are sexualized, used up and spit out by the industry. But all of this gets loss in the problems I mentioned earlier, and writing that doesn't flow or holds my interest as a reader. The only thing keeps me from putting the book down in MJ himself.

Honestly, I don't see how this book made it to print without a fact checker. And this is from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author? This book was published three years ago, how did this make it into print?

If any publishers are reading this, I'm out of work right now, and if you're hiring fact checkers, I'll be happy to send my resume.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Judith Coyle on May 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a very well thought out book - musings - on the life and work of Michael Jackson. It is especially fascinating on child stars and what we ask of them.

Research-wise, she does lose sight of the facts surrounding MJ at times and chooses supposition over evidence on occasion. For example, she does not seem to give much credence to his vitilgo yet he first consulted a doctor about it in 1981 or thereabouts, long before the public had any idea of it. A picture exists of him from the early eighties which shows what he looked like with out make up to cover the patches.

She also makes out that Michael dismissed Debbie Rowe when hed had enough of her - but I believe this was not the case. She twists the facts somewhat.

But on the whole this book is worth reading by anyone interested in fame, our celebrity culture, race, gender.

Some MJ fans won't like this book and I'd say it is aimed at the general reader, the curious or the fan who is open minded. Though her language may seem harsh, on reflection, Margo Jefferson does come down on MJ's side in the end.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By adam on January 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
the author is extremely poignant and fascinating in her analagous prose concerning the star; however one wonders why so many of the dates listed for songs, videos, loss of afros etc. are wrong.

it is in stark contrast to her incredibly succinct descriptions of M.J.'s songs, taste in clothing, etc.

i've never read such articulate descriptions of certain aspects of the man's music, past and present. she seems to have a very intimate knowledge of the stages of his life and what they represent visually and culturally, but given that level of erudition, why would she totally miss the mark with the dates and years when she gets the meat of the matter at hand so successfully?

she goes on in great detail about when he loses the globular afro but claims he got rid of it in '77 when he clearly didn't lose it until late '79. (rock with you video)he still had it for months after the OFF THE WALL album was released in '79

jermaine's "word to the badd" is given a date of 1980, but it didn't come out until '90 or so.

she gives too much short shrift to some of the siblings.rebbie for example has done a little more than release some albums in japan.she did have a top 40 hitwith "centipede" in the states.

jermaine had a considerably more successful solo career than she let's on.

she describes the glitter outfit he wears in the "rock with you" video from '80, but cites the song as "show you the way to go", which is a jackson group effort from the '76 album "the jacksons"

it just makes me could she get THAT wrong?

don't try to say bad editing, cuz this is obviously her mistake.

other than that a truly fascinating read with some compelling historic references dating back to the early ninteenth century.

highly, highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Meh on September 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
This Pulitzer prizing-winning author has an elegant way with words and a turn of a phrase. She strives to place Michael in the center of what was culturally happening at the time of his ascendancy and subsequent decline (at least in the press; his fans remained loyal). However if someone is looking for a book of Michael this is not the one. This book is "about" Michael or rather on how Michael affected, was perhaps affected by, and perceived by the culture in which we live from the standpoint of how our society has always treated the freak, the oddity, the thing that is different from the "norm". This very slim book is a good and quick read. One complaint, the author got a couple of her facts wrong and for me that takes a little away from the book. Especially, when they were facts that are well-known and easily checked.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful By O. Guthrie on March 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a nicely written, succinct review of the Michael Jackson story from the time he was pushed on stage by his father until he was found not guilty of child molestation. Why should anyone really care about him? Well, if you are at all interested in what can happen when society puts a young boy on a pedestal, sexualizes him at an early age, allows him to earn millions of dollars, and then watches voraciously as he descends into madness, this is a book that will not only hold your attention but will give you more questions than answers when you finish it. Is this black/white, man/woman an innocent who loves children or is he a clever child molester? Is he a victim or a perpetrator? You will have to make up your own mind. There are no easy answers in this book.
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