June 30, 2009
“Oh, God! That boy moves in a very exceptional way. That’s the greatest dancer of the century.” – Fred Astaire
“I didn’t want to leave this world without knowing who my descendant was. Thank you Michael!” Fred Astaire (shortly before his death)
“The only male singer who I’ve seen besides myself and who’s better than me — that is Michael Jackson.” Frank Sinatra
Michael Jackson died unexpectedly on Thursday, June 25. The suddenness of his death came as a source of shock to all.
Some have used the occasion to present a contemptibly narrow view of his personal struggles. But as the months and years roll by, it is the contribution of his musical genius that will be written permanently in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Even now, the greatest of his peers have recognized him as one of the most gifted and accomplished musical artists of the last century.
Few artists have used their talents to uplift mankind as vigorously as Michael Jackson. Though lean in stature, he stood firmly against social and political forces that seek to diminish the integrity of the human spirit. He uplifted individuals struggling to be free. At the same time his voice spoke a message that went far beyond the rights of the individual. Michael reminded us that personal dignity and individual freedom can only be perfected in the warm embrace of human solidarity.
It was the human family that stood foremost in Michael’s mind. “We are the world,” he said. And against this backdrop, he challenged freedom-loving individuals to act heroically for the betterment of all. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change,” he said.
Thus Michael Jackson was no spokesman for narcissism, despite the fact that he often sought refuge there. At bottom, his music was driven by the ancient dream of the brotherhood of man. He saw redemption in a bonding of all individuals in simple humanity. Human solidarity — Love — was for him the foundation of Justice and the meaning of Life!
Armed with this simple vision, Michael set about to dedicate his life to others. As a young boy, he burst onto the world’s stage like a bolt of lightening and, once there, he inspired youth, and the youthful, to act on behalf of justice and the human community. He created a powerful synergy with his audiences and through this confluence helped generate a moral force that over time would bring the world to a better place.
It is not commonly recognized how much Michael Jackson contributed to U.S public diplomacy during the last decade of the Cold War. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Michael’s music inspired young people in captive nations to take chances on behalf of freedom and democracy. With his dramatic style, he electrified youth and stirred them to unite in common purpose. In response, they rallied moral forces against fear and set about to challenge the ubiquitous brutality of totalitarian regimes. The collective energy Michael and other artists inspired became a critical factor in bringing about the political collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire. “We are the world!”
Surveys taken by the Voice of America during the 1980s demonstrate his appeal. Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, and Billy Joel were the preferred pop artists for VOA listeners behind the Iron Curtain. The music they provided offered a unique challenge to the fundamentals of Soviet totalitarianism — fear and isolation. It enabled listeners to dream of freedom and dignity, and it filled their hearts and minds with a practical determination to seek a brighter future.
But, among all American pop artists, it was Michael Jackson that towered above the rest. His popularity achieved the highest ranking by VOA listeners –more than 50% approval.
I recall myself and a friend crossing the border into East Berlin before the Wall was torn down. As my friend maneuvered our rented VW to the checkpoint, I pulled back the sunroof and rolled down the windows. Earlier I had cued a tape to play Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” As the guard approached, I hit the play button and turned the volume way up. The guard, who was carrying an automatic rifle, asked for our passports. Instead of responding directly, I said over the top of the music: “Do you like Michael Jackson?” He looked nervously at the guard house and then quickly nodded in approval. For a long moment, his face was covered with an unforgettable smile. But more than signaling his approval, the guard had broken military decorum.
Similarly, when we returned to the West through Austria, the guard stationed there responded to my question by first placing his machine gun on the ground. Then he grabbed my closest hand with both of his and said: “Yes, oh yes. Michael Jackson!” Not far away, hidden in a clump of bushes and trees, I saw the dark, sinister presence of Soviet tanks.
Michael’s creative imagination enabled him to craft a music of freedom, a music replete with a crisp defiance of injustice and unjust authority, a music deeply tinged with respect for the essential dignity of the human person. In a world whose temptations breed isolation and aloneness, Michael’s music gave voice to our common need for love, compassion, understanding, and mercy. It gave succor to those struggling to belong and unleashed a willfulness to labor against the forces of spiritual alienation. In a world dominated by fear, his music gave transcendent purpose and the hope of future redemption. In short, Michael’s artistry was an energy that inspired resistance against all forms of cultural and political repression. It was a music whose vitality cried out for a liberation of the human spirit.
Reflecting on the 1980s and early 1990s, one labors to imagine a more heroic episode in history’s hard march against tyranny. Liberty sprang up amidst a near bloodless convulsion, and took a daring but peaceful step forward. It was in the intensity of this revolutionary fervor that the artistry of Michael Jackson towered as a beacon of light for those struggling to be free.
In the YouTube video below, listen to Michael perform “The Man In The Mirror.” Hear his words. Watch the imagery. Reflect how deeply he pleads for each individual to dedicate their lives to the reconciling impulses of Justice and Love. In a world that continues to be much too cold and brittle, Michael Jackson has established himself a much-needed prophet for our age.
Biography of Gerald L Campbell
Gerald L. Campbell was a senior staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1976 to 1985, the Director of Policy and Research for the National Security Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1977 to 1980, the Senior Advisor to the Director of the United States Information Agency from 1985 to 1990, and the Special Assistant to the Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs, at the U.S. Department of Justice from 1992 to 1993.
From 1997 to 2001, Campbell was the Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of Health for the State of Texas. Until recently, he was President and a member of the Board of Directors of The Impact Group, Inc., a non-profit education foundation located in Washington, D.C. and Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.
In June 1990, Campbell began to inquire into the nature, root cause, and the spiritual dynamics of socially dysfunctional behaviors. He spent nearly five years exploring the streets of Washington, D.C., associating with and befriending the homeless, violent youth, and substance abusers.
With camera and tape recorder in hand, he took black and white photographic images — and recorded the personal stories — of many of these individuals. He also recorded the stories of many teenagers who had been incarcerated for capital crimes.
A senior member of President Reagan’s Domestic Policy Council said of Campbell’s work: “He has captured the image and voice of the homeless — their own voices — in ways that are instructive to us all. On film and note pad he has recorded what they confided to him. Campbell finds in their stories and existence a message for the nation, a message about the importance of bonding in simple humanity. He is their camera, not their filter; he is ‘Boswell'” to their ‘Samuel Johnson.'”
Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has written about his efforts: “Your work with and on behalf of the homeless in Washington, D.C. is a model that should be emulated across the country. The isolation and the loneliness felt by the destitute, the poor, and the hungry is the same isolation felt by virtually every American at some point in their lives.”
A member of the Arts Education Advisory Panel of the Washington, D.C. Council on the Arts and Humanities said: “The artistic merit of Gerald Campbell’s photographs are unparalleled in quality. The technical skill is flawless and the subject matter has the emotional substance that competes with the subject matter of Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters.”
The Curator of the Washington Center for Photography said: “I am stunned by the intensity and compassion expressed in your body of work. It has been a long time since I have seen portraits which combine spiritual presence and strength with technical accomplishment. I see what Eugene Smith was searching for within your images: the ability to see past skin and culture and see the true individual within.”
The photographic images and personal stories displayed on this web site are representative of the artistic portion of his work.
Campbell is persuaded that the nature and root cause of socially dysfunctional behaviors can only be discovered through the stories people tell about themselves. Personal stories, together with photographic images that capture the interior presence of a person, create a unique synergism that generates a more insightful understanding of the origins of human problems than any other methodology.
Unless Americans reach out and forge a spirit of solidarity with one another, it will not be possible for the nation to reduce the incidence of substance abuse, youth violence, and homelessness. Why? The reason is as penetrating as it is challenging. For only through qualitative relationships such as love, compassion, understanding, and mercy can the person alleviate that “unmet need to belong.” And the existential “need to belong” constitutes the causal headwaters of all socially dysfunctional behaviors.
Gerald L. Campbell was educated at Gonzaga University (Philosophy), St. Louis University (Philosophy), Georgetown University (Philosophy), and the Catholic University of America (International Relations).
The photographic image on this page (above) shows Campbell (right) testifying as an expert witness before a committee of the United States Senate.
Bio source: http://geraldlcampbell.typepad.com/about.html