Moonwalk and Goose Bumps [The Germany Files]

by Guest Contributor Elisabeth Schäfer-Wünsche

We, Carolina and I, very much enjoyed reading Carmen Kerckhove’s inspiring comment on Michael Jackson and the contradictions of race. Here in Germany, most people are probably even more at a loss with Jackson’s constant re-making of himself than in the U.S. Comments range from questions such “Why did he turn from a good-looking black man into a weird-looking white woman?” to outright insulting remarks about the supposed monstrosity of his facial features and his pale skin. There has been at the same time though a sincere sadness about Jackson’s death. The special editions of magazines – at least the ones I saw – seemed to be almost lovingly done, and that is rare.

Given the diverse reactions around me I do feel that it was Jackson’s incredible dancing which allowed him to defy physical boundaries in ways that race, gender, and age didn’t. Surely his dancing and his videos, along with his music of course, were able to link a global audience. Upon the news of Jackson’s death German MTV started to play his songs and show his videos for days. And men whom nobody suspected to be Jackson-fans were doing a fancy moonwalk for their wives and family. Kids were trying it on sidewalks. A white woman in her mid-fifties – truly into anything that has to do with beauty: hair, make-up, fashion, the ever-changing tasteful furnishing of her home, good food – came to my place and saw my daughter watching one of Jackson’s videos. When he went into one of his famous moves the woman just shivered and looked away and said: “Now that gives me the goose bumps.” She reacted in her body to the total perfection that at the same time looked like a crazy rejection of rules: gracefully moving forward, backward, and somehow even upward at the same time. I guess she saw something powerful she couldn’t name.

In the course of his life, Jackson went to all kinds of extremes. And his complex ways of dealing with race perhaps represented the most visible extreme. But in his dancing, this rejection of limits showed a magic creativity. I guess in many parts of the world and across the generations people reacted to that crossing of boundaries and admired him for it. During those moments of watching him sing and dance – in his videos or on stage – the other extremes were forgotten or considered less important. Encouraged by Stevie Wonder’s borderless music (it was incredible!), the millions around the globe who watched the memorial service at the Staples Center felt that they could connect.