The controversy stirred by Michael Jackson’s use of the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Kike’ in his song They Don’t Care About Us resulted in his being forced by Sony to mask the offending terms. He did this by utilising what was tantamount to a sonic scribbling out; and in the act of making these alterations so very obvious, he managed to explicitly express his distaste at the enforced censorship. Footage emerged shortly afterwards – apparently shot during the sanctioned re-edit – showing a silhouetted Michael Jackson angrily throwing equipment around a recording studio. Ensuing variations of the track – released on later compilations – involved replacing the ‘trashing’ sound with an equally auditory jarring repetition of the lyrically arrhythmic word from the first part of the line – “Kick me, kick me / Don’t you black or white me.” The song is thus forever both scarred and sanctified by this intentional lack of proper rectification. Or – to paraphrase Michael’s adlib at the climax of said track – “it’s there to remind us.”
During the subsequent Diane Sawyer interview, in which was shown the “vainglorious” HIStory promotional video (that borrows heavily from the Nazi propaganda piece, Triumph Of The Will), Michael defended his use of the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Kike’ with the retort that he was merely utilising the imagery to illustrate the extent to which he himself had become a victim – as in, how the Jewish race were victims when subjugated to the atrocities meted out upon them during the Holocaust. Indeed, the word ‘Kike’ is derived from the hebrew word for ‘circle’ – a derisory term given to Jewish immigrants as a result of their being required to draw a circle instead of a cross in order to mark their identification, upon their arrival in America after escaping the World War II atrocities.
And – certainly – Michael Jackson had also been marked and victimised.
However, he was also the man that wrote the words: “God’s a place for you / Oh, Palestine / I believe in you / Oh, Palestine, I will die for you”. So, as far as being “a victim” is concerned, one cannot ignore Michael’s stance on the criminal violence flaunted by the Jewish nuclear power state of Israel upon the displaced people of Gaza. A situation Michael laments in another HIStory track, Earth Song, with the words: “What about the Holy Land? / Torn apart by creed.”
Michael liked to highlight social injustice – wherever it was, and in whatever form it took. He shone the spotlight on instances of bullying. In fact, almost two decades prior to the furore forged by the deaths and social disharmony resultant of Brazil’s efforts to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Michael Jackson’s They Don’t Care About Us video (‘Brazil Version’ – in which he performs both the Black Panther salute and the Nazi goose step), had already strived to focus the world’s attention on the injustice of the wealth divide there: a division starkly illustrated in the opening sequence of the video, as the statue of Christ the Redeemer pans into view – omniscient and omnipotent, as it towers majestically over the ramshackle slums that cower in its shadow. A voice plays over the footage, imploring in Portuguese, “Michael, they don’t care about us.” The location of the actual shoot – the Rio de Janeiro favela, Dona Marte – held historical significance with its having once been slave quarters, where slaves had been publicly flogged. By 1996, it had become a drug baron’s dream. Claudia Silva – the press officer for Rio de Janeiro’s tourist board – later exalted Michael’s positive influence on the area by saying, “This process to make Dona Marta better started with Michael Jackson… There are no drug dealers anymore, and there’s a massive social project. But all the attention started with Michael Jackson.”
Later in the Diane Sawyer interview, Michael went on to say “Some of my best friends are Jewish” – listing Steven Spielberg among them, in spite of their recent falling out over a reneged deal concerning the fledgling Dreamworks venture, and despite Spielberg being the driving force behind the imposed alteration of the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Kike’ (claiming Michael had resurrected the latter term from practical extinction and brought it back into common usage). Yet – as true as Michael’s statement regarding Jewish friends may or may not have been – it’s about as cliched a statement as one can make in any defence against accusations of bigotry. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that Michael’s bonafide advocate Elizabeth Taylor was also Jewish, as is the mother of his two eldest children (as well as her employer: primary Dr. Feelgood, Dr. Klein). Also, Michael begins the song They Don’t Care About Us with the words “Skinhead, dead head” – which is a blatant and direct rebuttal of Neo-Nazism. Other lyrics in the song include the unclear reference to being “In the suite / On the news” – words easily misheard as “Innocent / On the noose”. As part of the Chandler settlement agreement, Michael was prevented from using certain words with which he could directly vindicate himself, so this was his method for overcoming any potential legal backlash. (Michael also used this technique in another HIStory track – the Tom Sneddon diatribe D.S.) Another ostensibly surreal lyric in They Don’t Care About Us is “Everybody dog food.” It’s open to interpretation, of course, but ‘dog’ is another particularly derogatory term used against Jewish people.
Michael namechecks both Martin Luther and Roosevelt in They Don’t Care About Us. The only question is: which of the namesakes is he referencing? The other famous Martin Luther – the one prior to the celebrated black luminary – was a notorious antisemite who authored a book entitled ‘On the Jews and Their Lies’. And – whilst one of the two presidents that carried the surname of Roosevelt is revered as a unifier – the other remains under suspicion as being less than sympathetic towards the Jewish plight. However, this ambiguity is seemingly clarified in the ‘Prison Version’ of the They Don’t Care About Us video (where an incarcerated Michael is portayed as the vulnerable human he was, sweating armpits and all) - in which the images used are of the publicly palatable examples of the Martin Luther and Roosevelt namesakes.
Who can truly know what Michael’s perspective was? As ever, he courted controversy and demanded debate. Still. They Don’t Care About Us is track two on Michael Jackson’s HIStory album. This Time Around is track four. On track four, he incorporates a word with just as contentious connotations: ‘Nigger’.
The media response? Not a squeak.