Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Pop Heard Round the World.

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.


  1. So cute! My daughter is a big time Michael Jackson fan -- ever since we were taught the Thriller dance on a cruise ship (I even posted a blog entry about it called "Emerson's Big Thriller"). And I have students this year who have been introduced to the King of Pop since his death and the subsequent media craze, and now they are huge fans. It's pretty amazing!

  2. While I didn't care to follow all the stuff surrounding his life and dramas, I did find him to be very innovative. And I remember his appeal as I think back over different periods of my life in which family memories are entwined with Michael.

  3. MJ - an amazing entertainer. I agree with Corrie Howe, his life was quite a drama series. Not sure how I felt about that part. But I still remember when I first saw that Thriller video....WOW

  4. Today I received an award and was told to pass it on to 7 other blogs that I thought deserved recognition. I'm new to the blogworld so I didn't know enough bloggers for that! Of course I started going through the lists of blogs that the people I'm following follow (did that make sense???) One of those lead me to your blog and I decided right away that not only did I want to read more but I would definitely like to pass that award on to you if you'd like to drop by my blog and pick it up :)

  5. I was a MJ fan from the Thriller time on till the early ninties. I don't know what made me lose interest, his problems still hadn't been aired yet.

    As an entertainer his was real good.

  6. At 10-13 yrs of age, I loved Michael Jackson (not as much as my cousin who had a posters all over her walls - like panaramic ones).

    The Thriller video premiere, historic!

    Now, once he started the plastic surgery, Neverland Ranch, all the rumors, and children....well.....I just don't know. Seemed really mental to me and like you....SAD.

    My 15yr old daughter saw the movie and really liked it - didn't know much about him. So I think that speaks for his legacy.

    One thing is for those children, his music makes you want to get down!

    :-) Too cute about the dance off!

  7. Love him or hate him...there's no denying that he's touched millions all over the world! I just adore your blog and writing style!

  8. MJ really left his mark, but I'm not an obsessive fan.
    'Sambousas' never heard of them either. I wonder what they are.
    lol @"MichaelJacksonese"

  9. Wonderful post Kristen. The very first concert I ever went to was a Michael Jackson concert in Toronto. I think I was only 7 or 8 and I remember being mesmorized by the show. Dance, music, love, laughter ... these really are international languages to be treasured.

  10. I love hearing how everyone has their own Michael Jackson memories- even if they weren't a fan, he was such an icon that he seems to have made an impact on everyone in some way!

    Clandestiny, thank you so much for joining my blog and for the award! It means a lot to know people really are appreciating my writing. : )

  11. I grew up in the 80's and wasn't particularly interested in Michael Jackson. What cracks me up is that my 15 year old son and his friends were so interested in him. When he passed away I happened to be on the phone with my son while booting up the computer and their on the news page that is my homepage, was the news. I mentioned it thinking my son wouldn't know who he was. He freaked. Then he was telling the group he was with and they were all tweaked.

    Sambousas, never heard of them, either, but your description sounds good. I may to go find a recipe.

    I know I'm a bit late in saying this, but thanks for swinging by my blog and leaving such a nice comment.

    Have a great day! Can't wait to read more of your blog.