I grew up in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Which means that I should be a total Michael Jackson fan. My home was a fairly conservative one, however; we didn’t even have a t.v., except when our neighbors would go on vacation for two weeks in the summer and loan us theirs. Then we would rent “Anne of Green Gables” on VHS and, every four years, soak up the summer Olympics.
But I didn’t live under a rock. Probably even the Amish have at least heard of Michael Jackson. I was certainly familiar with his music and I can recall seeing the “Thriller” music video for the first time on MTV at a friend’s house, and being completely freaked out.
But a lot of my exposure to Michael Jackson has been since I reached adulthood, as he faded, both from reality and in the public’s opinion. The small amount of brain space that I’ve actually devoted to Michael Jackson has primarily been used to draw my own conclusions about what went wrong with his life and to feel sad for him.
One thing that I’ve always gotten a kick out of, though, is the fact that the entire rest of the world seems to adore him. I’ve shaken my head in amusement at the news stories and magazine articles that mention Michael Jackson’s popularity in third world or restricted nations, and I’ve assumed that they must just be twenty years behind the times.
A few weeks ago, I watched a biography about a young girl growing up during the revolution in Iran. Sure enough, even amidst all the veils, the lead character gets in trouble for wearing a Michael Jackson patch on her jacket, as you can see in this trailer for “Persepolis”.
A few months ago, I watched hundreds of inmates of a Filipino jail reenacting “Thriller” in this youtube video.
But the moment that has made me come to really appreciate the talent and widespread international appeal of Michael Jackson just took place a few nights ago. I had the delightful and unanticipated pleasure of seeing for myself just how far-reaching Michael Jackson’s appeal is.
I had stopped in at a new friend’s home for a visit. My friend and her family are new to the U.S., they arrived from Africa just a couple of months ago. She had been astonished to learn that I’d never eaten sambousas (she was so astonished that I didn’t dare tell her I’d never even heard of them, prior to that conversation) and declared that she would give me a call the next time she made some. The next time she made some happened to be last Saturday evening so when she called me I ran right over to pick them up while they were still hot. (Might I mention that, in spite of my prior ignorance, I am now a fan of sambousas, which turned out to be the African cousin of Asia’s spring rolls and Latin America’s flautas. They are delicious.)
Throughout our visit, her children and the three neighbor children visiting from the apartment upstairs broke out in song several times, mainly in an attempt to coax the 15 month old to show me her dance moves. As the visit went on, the older kids got inspired, and silly, and started showing off a few of their own moves. Let me mention that though these kids can fluently speak French, Arabic, and Somali, they’ve only had the opportunity to master a few English words, as of yet. Dance, however, is an international language, and they’d certainly mastered MichaelJacksonese. The singing that accompanied mainly consisted of “I’mbad, I’mbad,” but really, the head twitches, shoulder shrugs, spins, and hip thrusts, were the main event. I laughed and laughed, mostly because the kids were just that entertaining and partly because witnessing an M.J. dance-off in this Muslim home just felt so darn surreal.
The performance continued until it began to deteriorate into complete silliness and my friend, having seen one too many crotch grabs, declared, “No more English!” Apparently French and Somalian music is safer.
On my way home, I pondered the possibility that perhaps the rest of the world wasn’t twenty years behind on the times. Perhaps I’d just managed to miss something big.