The Sexist

Michael Jackson Date Rape Anthems: Too Soon? Edition

Michael Jackson's death at 50 from cardiac arrest has inspired the entire world to revisit the King of Pop's body of work. And though I'm a huge MJ fan, I'd be remiss in my role as Pop Culture Fun Killer if I didn't point out some defining characteristics of Jackson's music videos: rapey, stalkey, and victim-blamey.

Off-screen, Jackson's sex life was notoriously tortured—rumors in the press pegged Jackson alternately as a lifelong virgin, a pedophile, and a freak. In his music videos, we saw Jackson play with sexual violence and physical domination in order to portray the image of complete sexual control.

Michael Jackson Date Rape Anthem: "The Way You Make Me Feel"

Relevant Lyrics:

The way you make me feel
You really turn me on
You knock me off of my feet
My lonely days are gone

Why It's So Rapey: Here, Michael Jackson presents an interesting contribution to the Date Rape Canon—one that defies lyrical explanation. The words to "The Way You Make Me Feel" only convey that the object of Jackson's affection "really turns [him] on." The song's undertones of sexual violence all come courtesy Jackson's notoriously specific body language. The music video makes clear the way the woman makes Jackson feel—like stalking, verbally harassing, and physically intimidating her into loving him.

Meanwhile, Jackson's female victim repeatedly fails to verbally dissuade Jackson from terrorizing her. The woman in the video, who attempts to evade Jackson's advances through the darkened night streets, remains silent throughout. The disconnect between Jackson's physical and verbal messages, and the woman's inability to articulate opposition, mirror the unspoken nature of much sexual violence, which often goes unidentified and unreported. But it's not the only MJ jam to play on the stalking theme:

Michael Jackson Date Rape Anthem: "Billie Jean"

Relevant Lyrics:

For forty days and for forty nights
The law was on her side
But who can stand when she's in demand
Her schemes and plans
'Cause we danced on the floor in the round
So take my strong advice, just remember to always think twice

Why It's So Rapey: In the "Billie Jean" video, a rogue Michael Jackson sneaks into a woman's bed at night as he's chased by a band of police. The woman, obscured beneath the covers, shows no sign of being awake, or in fact registering Jackson's presence at all! The sheets nevertheless erupt into a metaphorical flash of light, signifying doin' it. Then, Jackson vanishes into thin air, underlining the song's assertion that Billie Jean is totally lying about all of this. Tragically for MJ, charges of sexual assault weren't relegated to the fictional sphere: Jackson was acquitted of sex abuse allegations in 2005.

Michael Jackson Date Rape Anthem: "Thriller"

Relevant Lyrics:

They're out to get you, there's demons closing in on every side
They will possess you unless you change that number on your dial
Now is the time for you and I to cuddle close together, yeah
All through the night I'll save you from the terror on the screen

I'll make you see

That this is thriller, thriller night
'Cause I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a
Killer, diller, chiller, thriller here tonight

Why It's So Rapey: In "Thriller," a young man attempts to scare his date by taunting herwith horror film phantoms—and insisting that she needs to come home with him to avoid them.

There's a domestic violence lesson to be learned here: The guy who insists that you need his protection in return for sexual favors (implied) is actually much more dangerous than any of the shit he's claiming to protect you from. (" I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try.") In the case of "Thriller," the bogeyman keeping the girl close to Jackson takes the form of ghouls, blood-seeking creatures, and "the thing with forty eyes." In real life, the phantom dangers abusive men use to make women stay include "never being able to find a guy like me again," "being unhappy forever," and/or "doing it for the kids."

  • Coleman

    My rapey fun is dead! You killed it!

  • anon

    kinda reaching at this point

  • anonymoose

    There wasn't anything close to rape in any of that. This was more poorly contrived than Transformers 2.

  • Q

    I agree with all of you. Amanda, let the man get buried first, then mention this stuff. Besides, your song selection is weak. You'd find better examples in P.Y.T., In the Closet, Give Into Me, and others.

  • “BLANKET”

    UMMM LOOK U DIRTY BASTARD DONT TALK ABOUT HIM LIKE THAT IN THE SONG THE WAY U MAKE ME FEEL HE IS NOT STALKING HER AND ALL GIRLS DO THAT(RUN AWAY) BE CUZ THEY ARENT TRYNA SEEM TO EAGER... AND IN THE SONG BILLIE JEAN HE IS SAYIN SHE IS A HOE NOT HIM BEIN THE BAD ONE!! AND THAT SHE A LIAR AND THE SONG THRILLER WAS BASED ON A MOVIE THAT WAS OUT AT THAT POINT IN TIME...DONT TALK BOUT MY IDOL LIKE THAT I LOV EHIM SO MUCH AND HE DIDNT DO ANYTHING TO YOU HE IS NOT MOLESTER HE LOVES KIDS THEIR PARENTS WERE JUST AFTER HIS MONEY AND HE IS KIND CARING AND LOVING AND IF SOMEBODY NEEDED MONEY OR ASKED FOR IT I ELIEVE HE WULD GIVE IT TOO THEM I MEAN THATS THE LEAST HE CULD DO HE WA A BILLIONARE...

  • mdesus

    dude the way you make me feal is super rapey. he corners a lone woman on the street at night, and won't let her get away even when she starts to run.

  • DirtyDiana

    Yeah, I agree with Q, your song selections are pretty weak. You missed the obvious: Smooth Criminal.

    As He Came Into The Window
    It Was The Sound Of A Crescendo
    He Came Into Her Apartment
    He Left The Bloodstains On The Carpet
    She Ran Underneath The Table
    He Could See She Was Unable
    So She Ran Into The Bedroom
    She Was Struck Down, It Was Her Doom

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    DirtyDiana, I agree that many of Michael Jackson's songs are explicitly rapey. I see Smooth Criminal as more of a Rape Jam than a Date Rape Jam, however.

  • Q

    Well, Blood on the Dance Floor should provide some revenge don't you think?

  • http://www.sexmythsexposed.com Shele

    Hey,maybe you've got to look at the perspective of the artist. Was he writing about himself or was he reflecting upon society? Where did he draw his inspiration from for his song lyrics? And maybe, just maybe, the artist is giving the audience want they want. It's called marketing.

    You can read anything you like into visual imagery, the written text, what you hear, all depending upon your own personal perspective and what you are looking for from a specifically narrow point of reference.

    Take "Girls on Film" by Durran Durran, say you're coming from a morally constricted perspective you would see "Girls on Film" in an entirely different way to someone who has more openmindedness about sex/sexuality.

    What do you perceive "Midnight Summer's Dream" to be/represent from Shakespeare? Keep in mind that you just may see it completely different from what was originally intended from Shakespeare.

  • Fancy Lady

    Amanda, I totally agree with you. Watching the vid for "The Way You Make Me Feel" knocks me off my feet, and not in a good way, especially the part where he follows her into a car. The vid conveys the message that stalking is an acceptable way to pursue a woman, because eventually she'll just give in anyway.

  • http://none Tamara Ashford

    Hey!!! honestly i never thought of the songs that way! u guys are just perverted! and im pretty sure he didnt mean it that way either1 c'mon thriller??? wtf??? wtf does that have to do with date rape?? n as shy and sweet as he is im pretty sure he didnt mean it that way! any song like ego by beyonce can be misunderstood 'it's too big, it's too wide, it's too strong, it won't fit." I LOVE U MJ N THESE CRAZY PEOPLE R STILL TALKIN ABOUT U!! WHEN WILL THEY EVER QUIT???!!! ENJOY HEAVEN! I'LL SEE U SOMEDAY!:)

  • snobographer

    The video for "The Way You Make Me Feel" has always irked me. It came out when I was a teenage girl dealing with street harassment every damn day, so my reaction at the time, honestly, was "great, just what I need is Michael effin' Jackson and MTV (both the biggest entities in pop culture at the time) making that shit cool." And as I'd predicted, after that video came out, there was a huge uptick in the number of douchewads aggressively pestering me whenever I went out in public. The lyrics never bothered me much though. Just seemed like your typical poppy "girl, you're so hot I could plotz!" type song.

    Regarding "Billie Jean," ever notice how Jackson's most elaborately narrative songwriting was always about monster groupies coming to get him? Other examples are "Heart Break Hotel" and "Dirty Diana." I doubt he was exceptionally misogynist, but groupies scared the bejeezes out of that guy.

  • http://readingwatchingliving.blogspot.com danielle

    Isn't Billie Jean about this chick saying she has Michael Jackson's baby? This...is kind of witch hunting. Or just really poor examples.

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