Moonwalker: A Superstar’s Burden

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When I was a kid, “Moonwalker” was on constant rotation on our VCR and for ninety minutes, it kept me and my brother quiet and out of my mom’s hair. As brothers prone to fighting and bickering, movies are what usually kept us shut, especially since we couldn’t even afford basic cable back then. Around the time “Moonwalker” came to VHS, we knew perfectly clear that the movie itself was nothing but a promotional tool for Michael Jackson.

Back then, Jackson ruled the world and was considered the most iconic person on the face of the Earth. He was pretty much a God, so we didn’t care that the VHS was just nothing but a commercial for Jackson’s incredible abilities, we just wanted Michael Jackson. Pretty much in the same way we didn’t care “Kriss Kross: Jump” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Making of the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour” were just tapes intent on promoting a product, we didn’t care” Moonwalker” was just for Michael Jackson’s publicity team. It was our fix of the popular Jackson, and we loved it.

For many years, the video was pretty much just a running joke, a movie that eventually became a much mocked video game for fans all around the world. Years later, looking back at “Moonwalker,” in retrospect, I should have known it was so much more than just a promotional movie for Jackson and his career. If you pay attention to “Moonwalker,” you’ll see that the movie is autobiographical and in many ways a cry for help from Michael. “Moonwalker” begins as a young innocent man finding fame, and turns in to a man battling the evil forces trying to destroy his innocence. People often wonder where the inexplicable children came from in the middle of the movie, but that’s clearly indicative of Michael Jackson’s entire state of innocence as a child.

The spider’s web is Michael eventually being lured in to the trappings of fame, the movie turns in to a thriller with Michael basically discovering the rotten core of his life, and soon must figure out a way to destroy the people that seek to destroy him. The shockingly out of place musical number of “Smooth Criminal” is also a message from Jackson.

While it’s often taken out of context from the film and used to be shown during the old days of music video channels as a beaming moment in Michael Jackson’s music video gallery, within the context of the film it’s even more of Jackson’s fears. “Moonwalker” is Jackon’s fears, delusions, paranoia, egomania, and sheer psychosis at work, on display for everyone to watch and gawk at. Jackson is suddenly a mysterious intruder in a dark place filled with black and dark suits (executives and publicists perhaps?), and he walks lightly through this odd room where gorgeous women lurk about. Jackson spends most of the video defending himself and dodging attacks from everyone at all corners, and even spends most of the video maneuvering around creeping shadows that lurk behind him trying to bring him down.

“Moonwalker” jumps from scenario to scenario and makes no logical sense as a story because it’s not supposed to. “Moonwalker” is supposed to be nonsensical, because Jackson is giving much of his messages to the audience about the woes and ills of being famous. Take for example the wonky visit to the studio lot where Michael is trying to outrun and evade an endless horde of salivating and mad tourists, all of whom want a piece of him. Jackson, for all his fame, loathes and fears his fans, because they don’t love him, they just want a piece of the man, when all is said and done.

Though the scenario is mainly played for gaffs, it also has a darkness to it. Especially how the tourists are so anxious to chase him down and take pictures of him, a la Princess Diana. He even has to make it past a huge group of robotic paparazzi who lack an actual face, and do nothing but buzz toward him with menacing clicks of their cameras. Later on the paparazzi wait for him holding their cameras like guns, prepared to shoot him with angry gleams in their eyes. There’s also the moment where the Statue of Liberty turns to Michael declaring “Land of the Free, Home of the Weird.” Basically a summation of Jackson’s fan base.

Fans of any kind, can and often have been weird when at their most rabid. Jackson isn’t just a hero, he’s a fugitive who simply can not be himself. Only when Michael masquerade as the devious bunny can he truly escape from his pursuers. But damn it all, when he finally unclothes himself, the bunny comes to life and even wants to be Michael, preparing to take over for him.

Michael then has to compete with the bunny to remain top man and keep from being replaced as the King, and wins. Incidentally it’s the only time he really has fun doing what he loves, which is dancing. When he loses himself in his love for dancing, he’s penalized by an officer who won’t let him enjoy himself without an autograph. He has to pay for doing what he loves, and can’t really protest it. The only time Michael is in reality is during his archival footage as a young boy thrust in to fame by an overbearing father and complacent mother. “Moonwalker” explores his rapid rise from obscurity to immense fame, and how he is incapable of handling any of it. The wonderful re-creation of the “Bad” video (featuring an excellent performance from young Brandon Quintin Adams) is basically the facade of Michael Jackson trying to be a bad boy, when in reality he’s nothing but a child like persona.

The whole sequence is Jackson trying to force his angry menacing persona on audiences, but he can’t quite pull it off no matter how hard he tries because he doesn’t believe it himself, and is much too unassuming to be bought as a gang member. Perhaps it’s Jackson’s own admittance to the audience, or just a response to criticisms and mockery that Michael Jackson would be hanging with a group of gangsters led by Wesley Snipes, of all people. What’s indicative of this small profession is Michael’s run in with a director who transforms in to a monster and screeches “I ask for a bad guy and they give me Michael Jackson!” to which one of the actors beside Jackson blame him for potentially ruining his career. Jackson not only has his own career to worry about, but everyone else’s around him.

Maybe it’s based on his experience during “The Wiz”? How to handle such pressure? “Leave Me Alone” was always my least favorite portion of “Moonwalker” because it was always the least entertaining. The song itself it pretty much Jackson’s plea to be normal. He’s taken the ticket and now he wants off of the ride.

Bombarded with tabloids, and cameras, and gossip, Jackson is a man who simply can not get off of from his life no matter how much he wishes he could, and now he wants it all to stop all around him. “How could anyone hate being famous?” I thought at the time. It’s yet another unusual segment in a film that really doesn’t gel together until you connect the dots in Jackson’s intent to connect to the audience on his dilemma as a superstar. The ending is not only Jackson trying to overcome his empire, but the people around him that, he thinks are trying to corrupt the world and his fans. The drugs are basically the products and music Jackson shills, while the enemy Frank Lideo is an anagram for Jackon’s manager Frank DiLeo.

When Jackson dares to defy his plans for world domination, Lideo sends an army after Jackson to murder him. More paranoid delusions from Jackson, perhaps? Once again, he’s someone on the run from dark forces struggling to keep his sanity, and the finale is merely a demonstration of his egomania at play. He views himself as a god, a superhero, and a martyr. Tragically he’s bought in to his own hype, and he uses that very notion to destroy his enemies. The power of Michael’s legend is what brings down corruption and saves innocence.

In the end, the kids traveling with Michael get to go to his concert, and Michael performs at a distance, leaving behind his innocence, giving in to his own superstardom, and destroying a Beatles classic in the process. Thus began the slow and long decline of Michael Jackson that was a long excruciating and unnecessary look at the fall of a pop deity. Who knows? Perhaps “Moonwalker” was Michael Jackson’s world. It was confusing, scary, overwhelming, and it was filled with people that either resented Michael or wanted to destroy him.

Perhaps Michael just loved children, or perhaps he was a sexual offender. Perhaps Michael hung around with children in hopes of living vicariously through them or he just wanted to take advantage of them. Maybe at the end of the day Michael hung around Macaulay Culkin as a means of becoming his mentor. Macaulay Culkin was also a young child star thrust in to stardom with a troubled family who inevitably faded in to obscurity and a decline in public opinion. Maybe Michael viewed himself as the hero. And perhaps that’s why Michael was brought down in the end and died a shell of the icon he used to be. Michael was and still is an enormous artist, and “Moonwalker” is an important look at the life and psyche of the man who had so much in such a short period of time and he no idea how to comprehend or collect his thoughts. Everyone wanted a piece of him, and in the end, he was all alone.