From the Voice Archives: Scott Poulson-Bryant Reviews the Michael Jackson/Michael Jordon Collision That is “Jam”


In honor of Michael Jackson, we’re raiding our archives. Below, Scott Poulson-Bryant’s review of the Michael Jackson/Michael Jordan convergence that was the video for “Jam,” first published in August, 1992.

Be Like Mike

By Scott Poulson-Bryant
August 4, 1992

You’ve been ruminating on Black Beauty. Not the horse, but the concept. Especially since you’re about to jet off to L.A. for the fab beach party that everyone’s told you about. And especially since music videos are again a part of your life. And especially because Michael Jackson has debuted a new clip that takes your blackboy breath away. But first a haircut.

You’re accustomed to Diamond Kuts, the banjy palace of blackboy camaraderie and cosmetology, where Das EFX pumped from a big fat boombox and you first heard tell of some crazy new Barcelona stylee Air Jordans. But here you are at this new barber shop because Diamond Kuts shut down and all you can think is, why are black barber shops always smack up next to take-out Chinese joints? But then you get in the chair and the barber who’s never cut your hair before asks you what you want and you say you want a close Caesar fade, tight but not bald, cause you’re self-conscious about that deacon roll at the back of your fat head. And a part, curved up the left. And your meager goatee shaped up. What you’re really thinking, though, is give me the crazy shave-off ’cause I want to look just like that baldy I saw on the Uptown who looked just like Michael Jordan and probably pulls mad honeys of all persuasion just ’cause he can.

“That,” as Michael Jackson says to Michael Jordan in his new video “Jam,” “is what creates the illusion.”

Repeat after Michael: the illusion. You realize that this is why you’ve always adored Michael Jackson, even when your esteemed colleagues were writing him off as a manufactured maniac trapped in the playground of self-hatred. You realize that he has always been grist for your cultural theory mill because he seduced you into wanting to visit that playground, to see if maybe Black Beauty and its metaphors still grew in the reconstructed wilds of his face and skin only makes him seem like he’s trying harder than he actually has to. Because Michael is a blackboy–whatever the illusion tells you. Crossing over with Dangerous–back to black people, that is–Michael peppered his videos with African-diasporic all-stars: Iman, Eddie Murphy, and Magic Johnson in the John Singleton-directed “Remember the Time”; Naomi Campbell (or at least the come-hither parts of her that got the most camera time) in “In the Closet.” These videos had a vague, contrived feel to them; finally surrounded by blackness, Michael seemed like the blackboy at prep school who turned his head away when another black person waked into the room, but partied hearty with black folks when no white folks were around.

No such hijinks in “Jam.” How beautiful it is to see a fallen blackboy rediscover the possibilities of play in the playground of self-love. Ruthlessly plotless, “Jam” is the secret history of the fop and the jock who befriends him, played out by two of the world’s most famous eternal adolescents, Michaels Jackson and Jordan. You know the story well: you teach me how to meet girls and play ball, I’ll help you with your homework. You jerk me off, then I’ll do you. Not that there’s anything remotely sexual in the video, unless the sight of Michael Jackson jumping on Michael Jordan’s back or crawling (several times) between his legs turns one on.

And it does turn you on: up there if not down there, above the neck if not below the waist, because this kind of blackboy-love (on tape, at least) is, indeed, a rare sight. From the opening shot of a globe-painted basketball landing splash in a muddy puddle (fuck “We are the World”; this is some stylized ghetto shit here) to the final shot of a baby B-boy dribbling said basketball away; from Michael Jordan’s star entrance down a shadowy corridor, to the hip-hop hooray of Heavy D., Naughty By Nature, and Kriss Kross, “Jam” cuts both ways. It not only recasts Michael Jackson’s relationship to and deviations from the butched-up antic of black entertainment from hip-hop to sports, it also recontextualizes Jordan’s “Be Like Mike” campaign. Watching Jackson teach Jordan how to Moonwalk (“That’s what creates the illusion…”) and watching Jordan fake out Jackson on the court, you see where a space is created for black media superheroes to piss on their crossover capes and ignore the damsels in distress. And check out the beautiful man in somebody else’s mirror.