I can only imagine what it is like to be Michael Jackson’s publicist. Needless to say, it must be an extremely busy job. Arguably, this is the most famous figure in pop music, the “King of Pop.” Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Jackson sits with a select group of artists who remain timeless. But what Jackson was most known for in the years before his death was his controversial and strange public demeanor. Since the 1980s, Jackson’s personal life has always been fascinating to the public. But, is Jackson just a victim of scrutinizing media, or was he feeding the fire himself?
In the late 80s, he began changing his face significantly with plastic surgery and his skin became lighter and lighter. There were rumors that he tried to buy the bones of the “Elephant Man,” and a picture of him sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber became tabloid fodder. E! News reported in its “True Hollywood Story” program, that it was Jackson who circulated the pictures and made up the rumor of purchasing the bones. He dangled his son “Blanket” over a balcony to hundreds of fans gathered outside, in what I consider to be a desperate attempt at publicity. Why would such a young artist, beloved by millions of fans, want to show the world this strangeness?
We will never know the true motives behind what Jackson did. The media frenzy surrounding his death was enormous and continues to grow rapidly. I can only predict that this will be the biggest entertainment story of the year, similar in scale to the Anna Nicole Smith child paternity controversy or Princess Diana’s car accident.
An interesting character to emerge out of Jackson’s posthumous media surge is his father, Joe Jackson. Three days after Michael’s death, Joe Jackson attended the B.E.T. awards and walked the red carpet like a star. He spoke with CNN reporters briefly about Michael, but focused most of the interviews on his new record label. Not typical grieving behavior if you ask me. Joe Jackson was seen standing outside of his Encino, Calif., home in the days after his death, talking with Rev. Al Sharpton and taking interviews with reporters. Many speculated that Joe Jackson was trying to capitalize even more off of Michael’s public attention and garner profits.
How do you represent someone who receives so much negative publicity? There had to have been times when his publicists or managers wanted to help him seem less bizarre. As a publicist or PR practitioner, it is your responsibility to help clients maintain the best public image for their field. PR representatives can and should counsel their clients about the long-term implications of their choices and behaviors, but in the end, it’s the client who must live with those choices.
In representing someone like Jackson, I can imagine that there’s no telling him what to do. Famous by the age of nine, Jackson was used to getting whatever he wanted. Had Jackson listened to someone with knowledge of PR, perhaps the world would have recognized him as the amazing artist and innovative performer he was while he was living. Only after he died did the world seem interested in the music that made him famous.
by Cara Cramer