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Is the King of Pop losing it?

October 14, 2004

BY MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporter

In the history of music industry dust-ups -- and there have been plenty -- the current Michael Jackson/Eminem flap rates pretty low.

As you may know, Slim Shady's new video for his (purposely?) lame Jackson-dissing tune "Just Lose It" appears to have replaced federal prosecutors as the central source of Jacko's ire.

"The video was inappropriate and disrespectful to me, my children, my family and the community at large," Jackson fumed Tuesday on "The Steve Harvey Morning Show" in Los Angeles.

As a result, Jackson has called for a total TV ban of the Eminem spoof, in which the rapper dresses as Jackson and makes child molestation quips, among other inflammatory statements. But so far only BET has yanked it off the air, "out of respect for our long-standing relationship with Michael."

Apparently, though, Slim Shady is equally sensitive about his own image.

"Last year, Eminem forced me to halt production on the video for my 'Lose Yourself' parody because he somehow thought that it would be harmful to his image or career," says pop song satirist Weird Al Yankovic. "So the irony of this situation with Michael is not lost on me."

Still, why all the hoo-ha? And make no mistake, there is hoo-ha.

Eminem -- it's no secret -- is a shameless self-promoter (as are many celebs) with no qualms about lyrically mocking fellow musicians, most notably Christina "little bitch" Aguilera and Britney "retarded" Spears. But if their careers are faltering (and they certainly seem to be), it's through little or no fault of his.

Michael Jackson, also a shameless self-promoter and still immensely popular here and abroad for his catchy tracks and swell moves, no longer possesses the degree of unwavering respect he once did, thanks to numerous media-perpetuated scandals and bizarre public behavior. (Recall the hotel-balcony-baby-dangling incident, for starters.)

"I think Michael's greatest fear is becoming irrelevant," Vibe magazine lifestyle editor Hyun Kim told "He's constantly trying to remind us: 'Hey, I'm still around. I'm still the King of Pop.' "

Perhaps most significantly, music videos have declined in popularity from their heyday in the 1980s. There was a time when fans waited with bated breath for Madonna's latest socio-political-erotic scorcher. No more.

"Music video is now just one of many forms of popular culture," says Elizabeth Bird, a pop culture/ media expert and anthropology professor at the University of South Florida. "In that great era of Michael Jackson in the 80s, it had a tremendous impact because it was just so different and novel and it was speaking directly to that generation. Now it's there, it'll have an impact, but I don't think music video is anymore seen as cutting edge, where new and exciting things are happening."

Bottom line: Jackson needn't fret much about how Eminem's barbs might further besmirch his name. If, that is, further besmirching is possible.

"I think all along, his strategy has been to portray himself as a victim of everything that's happened, that he's been a victim of these young boys' parents who've been out to get money from him and that sort of thing," Bird says. "And I think he's been somewhat successful in the way some of his fans have stood by him. And maybe this is another way to do that, to make it seem as if he's being attacked unjustly and is a martyr."

However, thanks to Jackson's outrage, Bird notes, "Just Lose It" is known by a far wider audience than it would be otherwise. In publicly expressing his feelings, she notes, Jackson is unnecessarily fueling the fire.

Her advice: "He'd probably be better just to ignore it."


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