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Social Studies

Black Boogeyman

By Vincent Williams | Posted 9/2/2009

I'm writing this a week before Whitney Houston embarks on an image-rehabilitation tour, going from talk show to talk show, culminating with her appearance on a "very special" Oprah, but I'm pretty sure I know exactly how the various interviews are going to go. On the heels of her schmaltzy new inspirational anthem, "I Look to You," Houston's handlers are putting the finishing touches on the singer's ready-made storyline. Oh, she's been troubled, but she's been able to climb out of the hole she was in because of Jesus and the support of family and friends and blah, blah, blah. Most importantly, she and her supporters will celebrate the fact that Whitney has removed herself from the toxic influence of Bobby Brown. Oh yeah, the fix is in. When the smoke clears, Bobby Brown is going to be solely blamed for the troubles Whitney Houston has had over years. When in doubt, just blame the brother.

It shouldn't be hard for Houston's team to put that plan in motion, because everyone's wanted to blame Bobby Brown since the very beginning. If you ask the majority of Houston's fans, Bobby Brown was never good enough for her. He was much too ghetto--because, y'know, Houston is from the rarified air of Newark, N.J.--much too loud, and much too, well, Bobby. The fact that America's pop princess even deigned appear anywhere with R&B's loudest bad boy rankled many fans for years. And when she began to spiral out of control, the conventional wisdom was always, "Well, you know Bobby's bringing her down."

And that's part of the reason why I still love Being Bobby Brown, the couple's 2005 reality series. The camera doesn't lie, and while it revealed that Brown is indeed the fool-ass we all thought he was, the King of R&B wasn't the only fool up in that camp. Oh, hell-to-the-naw. Whitney Houston showed the world exactly why she and Bobby Brown were together: They were two gully peas in a pod. I hope you DVR-ed it, because Clive Davis and company will make sure that's one series that never makes it to DVD. If we're making the narrative "it's Bobby's fault," we can't have something pesky like the complicated truth getting in the way.

It's also darkly appropriate that this forthcoming promotional tour will end on Oprah, because I would argue that another appearance on Winfrey's show launched a theme that we've been revisiting over the past few weeks: Joe Jackson is monster. Although stories had percolated for years about Jackson's disciplinary actions within his famous family, it was Michael Jackson's breakdown on Oprah that launched the meme into the public consciousness. Joe Jackson is not a man who had limited resources and found himself thrust upon a stage that, frankly, he was never ready for. No, Joe Jackson was a monster.

And Michael Jackson? Michael maybe-touched-some-kids-drug-abusing-multiple-plastic-surgery-having Jackson? The man whose life was the full-blown circus from the moment we met him to this exact second when we don't know the paternity of the kids or who gave him the drugs or what kind of money his estate is worth? The biggest American spectacle of fame, drugs, sex, and excess since Elvis died on a toilet? What in the world led to Michael Jackson being Michael Jackson? The destructive nature of show business? The corrupting forces of young celebrity? Centuries of racist values leading to the most public case of self-hatred in American history? Is Michael Jackson's life one of those learning moments President Obama is always talking about ,where we can take a good, hard look at the culture of race and class in America and make some sobering but necessary assessment? Well, of course not. Joe Jackson is the sole reason Michael Jackson was the way he was. And he's keeping Bobby's seat warm right next to him.

It's all so nice and neat, isn't it? If we can limit the humanity and pin blame on Bobby Brown or Joe Jackson (or The Color Purple's Mister, or the moustache-twirling villains in most of Tyler Perry's work, or the equally fictional black men in Susan Smith and Bonnie Sweeten tales of woe . . .), it lets everyone else off the hook. And, no matter who the president is, it never seems to gets old, does it? A couple of people will complain about it, but another case always seems to pop up. I guess it just is what it is. Boo.

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