Inner Michael » What’s in a Little Ghosts story?

What’s in a Little Ghosts story?

Michael Jackson is quite the changeling in Ghosts, his epic video that is filled with irony, spirituality and messages. In his many forms Michael delights in his material fantasies as the children delight in his mischief and magic. But there is a serious message in Ghosts and a lesson for all of us.

The scene opens with a mob marching up the road to an old mansion and we see that they are carrying torches. This is a startling reference to history and to mob mentality and lynching; mobs used to carry torches to lynchings. The Klu Klux Klan marches resemble the march up the hill in Ghosts; watching torches approach from a distance would have struck fear in the hearts of anyone and especially a Black someone. The mob carried out extrajudicial punishments against black people in the form of hangings, burning at the stake and shootings. Their trademark warning was to burn a cross on someone’s lawn or to throw rocks through windows. 

The lynch mob of history, devoid of reason and employing a frenzied and militant collective mentality marches to capture an offending Black person, usually male, accused of some crime and supposed guilty. Runaway slaves, Black men accused of touching or even looking at a White woman, or any trumped up offense was used to mete out justice for the perceived wrong. It also was a clear warning message and a social control mechanism that spelled out a clear caution to any other would be offenders who dared to violate the social norms enforced by white America and particularly the South. Eliminating men in the Black culture also had the natural effect of reducing the number of potential births of babies thereby reducing the Black population. The period after the Civil War in America saw the lynchings of more than 5,000 Black people from 1860 to 1890 after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that abolished slavery. Segregation went into effect and every attempt at making lynchings illegal was met with resistance especially by the South.

In Ghosts, the person’s crime (A Black person) is being a “weirdo” and there is no place in “Normal Valley” which as the sign says, is populated “with nice regular people” The villain (Michael) also “lives up here all alone.” Is that a reference to being lonely at the top or being too high up on the social ladder for a Black person? Those Blacks who “did not know their place” in the social hierarchy were called “uppity” and were not tolerated. “Uppity” refers to social status but it’s racially motivated underneath. White society liked to remind them of place and to “take them down a peg or notch” which meant to humble or humiliate the individual. Public floggings or placing someone in the stocks which were wooden yoke-like restraints accomplished this same humiliation. Successful or famous Black men in the sixties would have been prime targets for a kind of social lynching- the message being “don’t get too uppity.” Some claim that this social lynching is still very much alive and operating in culture.

The marching mob is invading “Someplace Else” or another reality which is the target’s own domicile; it is invasive, an invasion of privacy and territory. The authority figure berates where and how he lives. And the simple “You’re weird, you’re strange; you’re a freak and I don’t like you” is supposed to be justification enough to harass this person and run him out of town?

The ring leader (Michael in costume playing the “Mayor”) seems the stereotypical middle aged stodgy, indoctrinated, opinionated and rigid mind-set that doesn’t leave room for what is innovative or different. The sixties generation would have labeled him “the Establishment.” This E-Man does not seem to be able to tolerate diversity or differences or anything that does not fit into his proprietary definition of “normal.” He accuses Michael of “scaring these kids” in their nice normal town with normal people and normal kids. He appears the personification of intolerance and ignorance, unable to assimilate differences that bring a level of discomfort that is, in actuality, veiled fear. Humanity often seeks to destroy that which it does not understand.

There is a brief appearance of a crow and the crow swoops down past the crowd in the grand room. Crows were considered omens and they did not portend kindness or goodness. They were viewed as the harbingers of darkness and evil. Who is the crow warning?

Michael makes numerous attempts at making light of the whole thing indicating that the kids love the games which their eager and smiling faces seem to punctuate. Each attempt at levity brings more anger from the E-Man. He continues his forward assault as Michael tries to diffuse the situation with levity. Instead of seeing the ridiculousness of his position (ironically Michael makes a face which the E-Man calls “ridiculous”) and backing off with his aggression, he begins name-calling Michael with the epithet “freak.” Michael’s ability as a character actor is stunning. The look on Michael’s face tells the complete story. No words needed.

Michael has attempted reconciliation multiple times but is not getting through. He begins to ramp up the conflict by speaking the E’man’s language. (Sometimes people do not hear a peacemaker who is attempting to make peace because their experience and language is familiar only with conflict and war.) Good teachers are sometimes like alarm clocks– irritating and harsh. Harsh is needed sometimes to get attention. Michael then purposefully distorts and disfigures his face. (His face! Which was the biggest point of contention for much of what assailed Michael through his career.) He even goes so far as to remove his face revealing his skull and holds the limp discarded face up for inspection almost saying “OK, here: do you like this better?” He then shatters the illusion of the skull and reclaims his original features.

Throughout this entry into the story and arrival at the core conflict, the crowd that accompanies the ring leader E-Man wavers at times. They try to reverse direction, make excuses, diverge from the E-Man’s objective, declining to participate in violence or real harm. It is clear that some, if not all, regret their participation. Some want to leave and go home. Is this a reference to complicity? To those who did not necessarily participate in lynchings but who were complicit by their lack of intervention or condemnation of it? This is a reference to an act of complicity which does not perpetrate but supports, condones or ignores what is being done to another human. The tag along characters in this story outnumber the most violent member of their mob yet they do nothing to intervene or stop his aggression. They continually look to him for direction and stand behind him throughout. Not one raises an objection to his intrusiveness and aggression toward someone who appears harmless. Is this a Michael reference to the his lynching at the hands of the media mob? And the fact that nobody protested then.

While harmless certainly, Michael has mastered some powerful abilities along his path to spiritual attainment. The setting and action comes out of Western Esotericism with its theosophical and perhaps even Platonic references to a “dark and stormy night” and potentially “the dweller on the threshold” or dark figure who emerges from the shadows in a doorway. Many esoteric traditions have made reference to an initiation by this figure. The dweller on the threshold brings the concept of mirror for the soul to reveal its depth warts and all; and that includes the dark side. Meeting the dweller on the threshold is an invitation to awaken from the slumber of the unawakened and the mundane world and step thorough the doorway and into the spiritual portal and path.

The dweller on the threshold demonstrates for the seeker the dark aspects of his soul as they gather around him. This certainly takes place with the E-Man as the darker aspects in the form of ghouls dance around him preventing his escape.

The spiritual seeker who in his course of study passes through initiations that bestow unusual abilities as he penetrates and interprets the world of spirit, later becomes the adept. The adept can command elements, bring forth matter from the empty ethers and assume a variety of forms with a myriad of powers. In the Hindu tradition an adept can shape shift much like a shaman into a variety of forms or manifestations by using Siddhis or powers which are not sought actively and solely for their use, but are actually side effects a human experiences along the path to enlightenment.

In Ghosts, Michael proves he is powerful and with powers beyond the normal range of human abilities. He is able to command the elements in this short film- the lightening, the sound, the space and he is able to change his size (Madalasa Vidya) and enter the body of another (Parkaya Pravesh) Traveling distances in the blink of an eye (Vayu Gaman.) Michael would have known about the Siddhis because he studied Indian poetry and philosophy and explored the concept of humans flying which is accomplished with the Vaya Gaman Siddhi. These Sidhis or powers are natural side effects in a life of prayer and devotion during human experiences that are dedicated to and found along the path to enlightenment. In the film, Michael is able to command the elements, manifest matter from nothing as Gurus do, and command fire, the lightening, the sound, the wind and the space.

The dance floor in Ghosts is geometric and all manifestation arises from and is based in mathematical formulas and sacred geometry. The floor certainly detracts from the characters and moves the eye away from them. It competes for attention in the film, because it is a prominent feature. Had it been important to showcase the characters in a pure environment, the floor would have been a solid color. The pattern and the floor are significant because Michael certainly had the money to change it to whatever he wanted. Sacred geometry forms the foundation for all life so the geometric floor as the foundation is yet another layer of message.

At some point, the rhythm of the dance changes and his ghostly characters begin dancing on the ceiling. This is a reference to Fred Astaire whom inspired Michael and someone he admired as a talented dancer. Astaire did a seminal piece where he was dancing on the ceiling. The ghouls also circle around Michael and change into floating angels signifying a change in consciousness perhaps? Did you happen to notice how one of them looks amazingly like Prince? And one looks like Michael himself in Dangerous? Did the ghoulish figures drop to the floor because it was important to say that they are not real beings but are just projections of the self onto others?

Does Michael’s suddenly becoming naked and skeletal by removing his flesh as one would remove clothing say, “I can lay bare who I am for you; I am more than flesh? I am a human with flesh and a face and a heart but if you can’t see that, I will be what you see—a figure that is not quite human, not made of flesh and blood and heart?”

The entry into the body of the E-Man through the mouth is significant. The mouth is an important orifice in Tibetan Buddhism and in the Ancient Egyptian alchemical and mystery schools. The mouth is where a shaman may merge with another to cohabitate for shamanic purposes. We see this same feat in Ghosts.

Michael, merged with the E-Man shows him the whimsical side of dance and how he might feel should he loosen his stoicism and enter the dance and the dance of life. As the E-Man resists his own magic and his awakening, Michael’s hand holding the mirror emerges from the E-Mans third chakra. This is a direct message that Michael is the mirror for this man’s projections. He then is treated to a full tour of his nastiness via that mirror by growing more and more grotesque. This is the crescendo and teachable moment.

Michael’s spirit leaves and he bows for his part in the performance. Still the E-Man has no appreciation for the gift he has just been given by the merging and the mirror. He has glimpsed his own soul and has been given an opportunity to change its essential nature.

He apparently still has not learned from the mirror and Guru right in front of him. So when Michael asks “Do you still want me to go?” he foolishly answers “yes.” So Michael changes his atomic structure and crumbles to dust under his own volition. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust. Changing one’s atoms is another shamanic trick. He is saying “you see, I crumble under your pressure, your projections. ” Is this also a reference to pieces of the soul crumbling or being eroded by people’s demands and projections?

He then disappears completely, dissolving and blowing away until there is no trace of him and no evidence that he ever existed. The children keep looking back for that trace of his existence and it is gone. The looks on their faces tell what has been lost. There is deep sadness yet the crowd still follows the lead of the E-Man as he rounds them up with his words to leave and they still do not protest, but follow obediently.

Just as he says “I showed that freak” Michael returns larger than life and it is too much for the E-Man who jumps out the second story window.

The conversation that follows references the game that has just been played about what is scary and how people project their own soul shadow onto others. He asks “but did we have fun here?” He is saying it is only a game. Yes, life is a game. Yes, a high game we play.

The loudest message in this video is the mirror because it tells an important truth: What we see as determines what we will see. When we speak of consciousness, we sometimes speak of mirrors. There are two kinds of mirror metaphors for consciousness. One is that the mirror sees exactly what is there. It reflects. It does not describe, define, label, judge. It is present with things exactly as they are. That is the mirror of consciousness spoken of in many works from spiritual teachers. That kind of mirror consciousness is to see God or see as God sees. The moment a label is applied the whole thing unravels and becomes something else. And that something else is from your mind, not from the world.

Ghosts teaches about another mirror of consciousness. It is the mirror that says if you want to know who you are, look around you. It teaches about judgement and making someone “other” for reasons that are not real but are only from the mind that decides. Making “other” is a tribal activity and tribalism serves only to divide peoples and create conflict, violence and wars. When a culture decides someone doesn’t fit, it is engaging in tribalism. That sentiment comes from fear not from love. Love embraces all and makes no distinctions or separations.

Ghosts is both autobiographical and Universal in its message. It is a gift from a brilliant artist and adept teacher. Namaste` Michael.

© 2010 B. Kaufmann

*Note: This has been an examination of the Semiotics of Michael Jackson’s Ghost and is a part of the series in progress: “Michael’s Work.” It is also truly a work in progress and reveals more as it is explored and allowed to simmer. The lyrics from Ghosts are also very revealing in their message and that is for next time.

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  1. lmt said . . .

    Thank you for explaining this so well, Barbara. I understand much better about the mirror of consciousness and Michael being that mirror. That concept is slippery for me–and I understand about the mirror reflecting the grotesqueness of the soul–just dawned on me that MJ inhabited the mayor and held up that mirror of the guy’s soul–he was right there—“…here you go, old sour mayor, this is what is present inside…is it scary?”

    Actors talk about inhabiting their roles–becoming the character they play–Michael’s face in that one shot is painfully and clearly revealing his anger, fear, pride, disgust, vulnerability, innocence.. I see all of that…one expression reveals so many feelings–remarkable.

    So many subtle meanings and messages; Michael’s work and art cries out for deep examination and explanation; like you do, Barbara. How will folks become aware of who this man was and what he gave us? There is so much more to reveal and learn. Wow.

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 2:00 am | Permalink
  2. Suvie from India said . . .

    A Big thank u again! Its amazing! For me the Part 4, in which they show the making of the “Ghosts”… I got another shock when I discovered that Michael plays the “Mayor” too! In Hindu philosphy Advaitism (I know a bit of it), there is NO other…there is Only ONE. So you are the KILLED and the KILLER…the SEEKER and the SOUGHT (exact same words are there in one of David Nordhal’s painting of Michael called “The Triptych”) By choosing to play the part of the “Mayor,” is Michael not demonstrating this understanding of “There is NO Other in the Room?” That the creative energy manifests in all of his beings? PS: I particularly remember this response of Michael to the criticism of his lyrics in “They don’t really care about us”… “I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man.”

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  3. Anne UK said . . .

    Dear Rev Barbara,
    This has been a total enlightenment for me.”Ghosts” has always been my favourite short film of Michaels. In it he shows wonderful acting skills and Ive always thought this short film actually far superior to “Thriller.” It never seemed to have the praise that I felt it warranted. I also felt that Michael thought so too. After reading what you have written today I have realised that what I thought were Michaels acting skills were in fact something far more inspirational. What you are saying makes so much sense, you have revealed his thinking, his teaching and his heart once again to us. How I pray that eventually the whole world will come to realise what an amazing teacher he was and that he will get the recognition that he deserves. I so agree with Imt when she says that Michaels work and art cries out for deep examination and explanation. Tonight I shall sit and view my copy of “Ghosts” with a totally new perspective. Thank you Rev Barbara, this is the most wonderful journey that I am lucky enough to be undertaking. I’m learning so much along the way. Much Love Anne xx

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  4. Diana52 said . . .

    What is amazing is the depth of your understanding of Michael and your ability to put it into words. You must have a direct link to Michael. What you write helps me to know Michael so much better. It is also amazing how intuative Michael was and how much knowledge he had of what was happening when he was so alone or was he? Please never stop being the voice for Michael. There are really so many of us with you. For everyone who loves Michael there are two beautiful tribute songs–The day you left by Enoch and I’ll always be missing you by Judith Hill–go to to hear them. they will make tears flow. Again thank you…

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  5. Anne Mette Jepsen said . . .

    Thank you Rev. Kaufmann. I’ll watch “Ghosts” very carefully again. Looking forward to more education from you on Michaels work. You’re very much appreciated, I hope you know that 🙂 Lots of LOVE and GRATITUDE from Anne Mette, Denmark

    Posted July 26, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  6. gertrude said . . .

    “He apparently still has not learned from the mirror and Guru right in front of him. So when Michael asks “Do you still want me to go?” he foolishly answers “yes.” So Michael changes his atomic structure and crumbles to dust under his own volition. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust. Changing one’s atoms is another shamanic trick. He is saying “you see, I crumble under your pressure, your projections. ” Is this also a reference to pieces of the soul crumbling or being eroded by people’s demands and projections?
    He then disappears completely, dissolving and blowing away until there is no trace of him and no evidence that he ever existed. The children keep looking back for that trace of his existence and it is gone. The looks on their faces tell what has been lost. There is deep sadness yet the crowd still follows the lead of the E-Man as he rounds them up with his words to leave and they still do not protest, but follow obediently.
    Just as he says “I showed that freak” Michael returns larger than life and it is too much for the E-Man who jumps out the second story window”
    How PROPHETIC was this? Is this not a nutshell of what has infact happened? Michael was bullied to death, the E-people think they’ve won, the rest of us are in grief, many of us are fighting back, MICHAEL is more powerful than he has ever been, and by God, he is going to have the last laugh. [I know. The irony evokes the gasp. We are the storytellers; we tell the end. ~Rev B]

    Posted July 27, 2010 at 5:20 am | Permalink
  7. Dalia from Mexico said . . .

    This is one of the analysis that I liked more! Excellent! Elucidated as you go, breaking up the message of Michael. At first glance, Ghost is another fantastic job but goes far beyond that … there are messages behind, and the messages tell me of a Michael exceptional. It is not simply an artist who makes excellent and impeccable work or a dancer with a special gift for dancing or singing, his ability and intelligence is there put into every job, every song written by him, everything has a message and that is what makes Michael extraordinary, unparalleled. Another lecture that I really enjoy is “Why the lightning rod? from the April archives. Brilliant! Thanks again Barbara.

    Posted July 27, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  8. jeanne said . . .

    I thought the gouls and ghost that drifted from the heavens were symbols of fallen angels and still do. This is the magic in Michaels creation and art. He will take each one and let them see what their eyes will see. We are different, we all see things differently. Our saving grace is looking in that mirror, and seeing the message, and yes making that change starting with that mirror. The things you see in a person that you hate are the things “you see.” I saw many messages in Ghost and it is one my favorites for many reasons. “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

    Posted July 27, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  9. LJ said . . .

    This is wonderful – everyone of your posts serve to awaken my soul. Thank you so much. I can’t begin to tell you how valuable your writings are to my life. I will watch Ghost with new eyes and heart. I do believe that this is my favorite video/movie of his.

    Posted July 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink
  10. Jan said . . .

    I love the “Angel Choir” floating down from the ceiling. Between one beat and the next the ghouls change from menacing to angelic. He planned to use the same concept in “Thriller” in “This Is It” with the heavy beat of “Threatened” encroaching on the melody of “Thriller”. And the look in his eyes as this “Angel Choir” floats down from the ceiling – one eyebrow cocked and liquid pools of emotion, as if to say, “you see … it’s all in how you perceive it. It’s all illusion. How do you see me? Examine why and you will know me … and yourself!” The same situation can be frightening to one person and loads of fun to another, depending on the filter through which they view the event. For example, my children love to go on amusement park rides like roller coasters and scramblers. I view such things with horror and would rather be boiled in oil than go on one because I get motion sickness easily (even from some movies if filmed from a certain perspective)! Michael is so right in this. Perception is everything. If we can just change our perspective, we can eliminate a lot of the conflict and pain we cause each other in our world and in our lives. Every scene has a lesson if we are perceptive enough to catch it. And the fact that he plays all the major characters reinforces this moral. That kind of genius is so hard to grasp. That kind of vision is so hard to share. Maybe that’s why we (the collective) had to make it “other” … because we couldn’t share it, we were afraid of it and fear made it hard for us to watch. I am really sorry this film didn’t get the attention it deserved in the U.S. Europe and Asia and the rest of the world have a jump on us in this. It appears they are more open.

    Posted July 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  11. gertrude said . . .

    I know it’s selfish to post twice but I have to say that I LOVE THIS ARTICLE SO MUCH, am re-reading it several times and have been thrilled from the top of my head to the tips of my toes and beyond re-watching Ghosts, thanks to this article!. you ROCK, Barbara!

    Posted July 29, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink
  12. Unfortunately, Michael is an inexhaustible source of raising money for many people. His name, misused, represents all the vices and the shadow of Humanity. So Michael is the mirror (as I’ve learned reading Barbara’s texts) The projection onto Michael (the mirror) is an operation through which people are expelled from each other and focus emotion on the flaws of others that they don’t recognize in self. This is an excuse that accompanies man from the origin of humanity. This feeling of rejection causes the exclusion of others and discrimination in the social collective life. It’ a way to project flaws onto other people and to externalize everything we don’t want to see in ourselves. Barbara, very good job! Your connection to Michael is very strong and so we perceive. So you are very important for us. “Ghosts” is full of wonderful and smart metaphors and you have explained for us perfectly. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and kindness. I love you more! Michaeling in Spain, Silvia

    Posted July 29, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink
  13. Dalia said . . .

    I still haven’t had a chance to see the whole video; there is a message in the first part that caught my attention as mother. Sometimes mothers like me, unwittingly incur erroneous attitudes with their children as the mother who beats his older son in the head telling him “do not hit your brother.” That stupid attitude is punished by Michael with a blow to react this erroneous behavior, is like saying “wake up! What you do is wrong, you should not correct your child with violence.” [Don’t you just love the contradicton in hypocracy? Especially in role modeling? And that the retaliator blow is invisible? And here this mother is– part of a crowd striking a blow against a man who advocates and demonstrates harmless “scary” fun with children. ~Rev. B]

    Posted July 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  14. Isabella said . . .

    Yes…Barbara and in the film he becomes dust and after he comes back greater as ever… it seems to me that that is what actually happened after his passing… isn’t it? I often wonder how many You Tube tribute videos are out there, how many web sites are dedicated to him, how many people are now linked to each other in new friendship through their love for him, how many are trying to make positive changes in thier life, how many are starting new charity project in his honour, how many of the ones who really knew his heart are speaking out the truth… I wonder…

    Posted August 2, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  15. Kim said . . .

    Thank you once again Barbara for your wonderful insight. I too will watch Ghosts with different eyes and heart. As I continue my spiritual studies, I feel as I have a little better understanding of Michael. As I read your interpretations and insights on Michael, I learn more about how much he was aware, in tune, conscious, however you want phrase it. His gifts reached far beyond the stars (no pun intended as I really mean “beyond the stars”.:-)). I am truly amazed. I look forward to your next post about Ghosts. Thank you.

    Posted August 2, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  16. marga1961 said . . .

    Your explaination of Ghosts is great. When you watch Ghosts the first time you get amazed. There are so many subjects Michael touched. All is there, discrimination, ignorance, racism etc. I watched the short film on YouTube several times and every time I see more details. But Rev. B. thank you for talking about this film. All comes to life: even Fred Astaire, whom I allways admired although I was born in the 60’s! It’s such a pity Michael left us, he would become a great filmmaker, real movies. He was planning that with his nephew but it was not to be unfortunately. Michael SAW things and FELT things. Are we sure he was from this Earth? He was SPECIAL. Rev. B. again Thanks. I read your articles with an awe! Marga

    Posted August 9, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

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