How Michael Jackson Groomed the World

Kitanya Harrison
11 min readMar 7, 2019

Michael Jackson’s sudden death in the summer of 2009 affected me. I was surprised by how much, given that I was never one of his super fans. I’d grown up on his music, though, and if you were a child when any of his seminal solo albums were released, he’s grafted onto our memories in a way that’s difficult to explain. When that white coroner’s van pulled away with Jackson’s body inside, it felt like a connection I hadn’t even known was there had been severed. I didn’t realize it, but I was a part of his “hive.” In hindsight, of course I was. He’d dominated the pop culture landscape throughout my entire childhood too much for me not to be. It’s difficult to explain just how famous Jackson was at his peak to anyone who didn’t live through it. There’s no parallel today that makes sense. Every comparison collapses. No one’s music videos are premiering during prime time and being consumed by every demo. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to be that famous anymore. The world is more connected, but it’s also more fragmented. In the simpler communications landscape of the 80s and 90s, Jackson towered above his peers. He was almost a demigod, a grandiose role he embraced.

In the aftermath of Jackson’s death, his legacy was examined. The outpouring of grief and remembrance all over the world spoke to the power of it. I was living in New York City at the time, and my sister and I went up to the Apollo Theater, where others had gathered to sing along to Jackson’s hits and write notes on a wall. My sister took a photo of a double rainbow that appeared in the sky as we were heading back downtown and posted it to her Facebook, dedicating it to Jackson. For at least a month afterwards, whenever we’d talk on the phone, there would be a pause, and one of us would say, “I can’t believe Michael’s gone.” Such was the power of his art. Even so, as the media discussed what Jackson meant to his fans and sought to measure his influence (incalculable), there was a fly in the ointment: the rumors that he was a pedophile, who had sexually abused young boys. When they were interviewed to share their memories of Jackson, some of his friends and family were confronted with the allegations. They continued to insist that Jackson was innocent, the victim of attention-seeking liars who were after the star’s money. The issue wasn’t pressed (it probably felt gauche to some to delve into it…

Kitanya Harrison

*squinting in Nanny of the Maroons* | Read my essay collection, DISPOSABLE PEOPLE, DISPOSABLE PLANET: | Rep: Deirdre Mullane