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 2005 Reed Business Information.
Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jefferson considers entertainer Jackson from many angles: with regard to his family, within the black and the larger entertainment arena, as an artist, and as an entertainer in postslavery America. Raising the specter of Jackson's possible mental illness, the book loosely tracks his life from childhood through the 2004 child molestation trial; at one point he is "a new kind of mulatto-one created by science, and medicine, and cosmetology." Jefferson examines "Jacko's" relationships with fellow child entertainers, characterizing some as surrogate parents (Liz Taylor, Diana Ross) and others as surrogate children (Macaulay Culkin). Much also is made of Jackson's morphing from entertainer to both "producer and product, the impresario of himself," much like showman P.T. Barnum. Andrea Johnson's mellifluous, soothing narration complements Jefferson's writing perfectly, imbuing it with perfect clarity. The author demurs final damnation or martyrdom of Jackson, portraying him as both tortured artist and pop singer freak show. Though lacking interviews or primary source work, this is recommended for libraries with large popular culture collections.-Douglas C. Lord, Connecticut State Lib., Middletown Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jefferson offers her sensible, outraged two cents on the sad plight of the beleaguered pop star. A child star and a freak are often one and the same, Jefferson smartly illustrates in this extended essay-note the plight of Tom Thumb, Jackie Coogan and Shirley Temple. Jefferson delves into the early days of Jackson's career with the Jackson Five, arguing that those performances are evidence of a kind of publicly condoned pedophilia (defined as "sexual desire encouraged in adults for children"). She covers the early Midwest home drama, involving Jehovah's Witness mother Katherine and the philandering, abusive father Joseph, and she emphasizes the early traitorous dealing with adults that later prompted Jackson to entomb himself in Neverland, perpetually in the company of children. Child stars, Jefferson asserts chillingly, never forget they are performers, and "whatever their triumphs, they are going to make sure we see every one of their scars." The last chapters are a journalistic report from Jackson's recent Santa Barbara trial on charges of attempted lewd acts with a child under 14, among other counts. Jefferson gives a look from the sidelines into the motivations of the principal characters, especially the various mothers involved, and offers a scornful consideration of the clamorous media and their collective "portrait of absurdity." Cool and ironic, she ends with a rather touching summation of a damaged, mentally ill character who "compulsively reimagines the violation of his own innocence."A righteous journalist tours the Jackson freak show.
"Stimulating.... Incisive, intelligent.... Engaging, well written and consistently on target."
—The New York Times
"Jefferson writes...with elegance and attitude....One closes the book hungry to hear her take on other talented but troubled celebrities."
—The Washington Post
"Sparkling....Eloquent and provocative.... Watching Margo Jefferson's mind at work is as pleasurable and thrilling as seeing Michael Jackson dance."
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Hers is a dazzling act of sustained vivacity and wisdom. Margo Jefferson brilliantly illuminates both Michael Jackson’s psyche and his art, giving us in the process a fascinating broader picture of American pop culture. Shockingly, Jackson turns out to be as representative as he is singular."
—Ann Douglas, author of Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s and The Feminization of American Culture
“Margo Jefferson, an unfailingly shrewd and eloquent cultural critic, finds in Michael Jackson a paradigm for probing the ambitions, desperations, triumphs, and sacrifices of an artist who stakes everything on a crown. Beyond palace intrigue, she explicates the meaning of show business masks, of racial and social determinants, of spectacle on stage and in the courtroom. She is compelling.”
—Gary Giddins, author of Weather Bird and Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams