As published in The Jakarta Post
Michael Jackson, one of the most-beloved entertainers and possibly one of the most influential artists of all-time, left an indelible legacy in pop culture.
Jackson was hugely successful with his solo career, and his blend of impressive singing and dancing skills won him countless number of imitators.
Countless performers, from Usher and Justin Timberlake to Korean pop sensation Rain, have tried to carve out their own niche in pop, but no one has been able to replace the legendary Michael Jackson.
When the news broke of his untimely death last year at the age of 50, no fan wanted to let his memory go. In Indonesia, fans set up a community called Michael Jackson Indonesia (MJI) as part of their effort to keep the legacy of the erstwhile King of Pop alive — in the face of jeers from non-fans who derided Jackson’s bizarre lifestyle. This community is also the only avenue by which local fans of Jackson could come together in their love for him.
For them, June 25 is a sacred day, the day when the news of Jackson’s death shocked the world. Fans channeled their shock and grief on the Internet that day and the webcast of Jackson’s memorial service was one of the most-watched web-based events in the Internet era.
In the final chapter of his life, Jackson may have fallen from grace, but millions of fans still paid him the respect he deserved for his musical genius. Fans feel it is their duty to keep Jackson’s legacy alive.
The community was founded by two Jackson fans, Irwin Jackson and Abdillah Syukur. Both discussed the possibility of establishing the community after learning that there were probably millions of fans like them in the country.
Just like every new community, these people first went to the social networking site, Facebook. They set up an account on Facebook, and it did not take long for dozens of fans to sign up. By the end of 2009, Irwin and Abdillah set up a website, and billed it as the first local official website for Jackson fans.
Irwin said the website also transcends nationality, allowing people from all over the world to join, and “strengthen their relationships so they can nurture their love for the King of Pop.”
Today, the Michael Jackson Indonesia community has more than 9,000 members and counting. To keep track of its members, the community is in the process of distributing membership cards.
The community holds frequent events in which fans can meet and greet, and show their love for Michael Jackson. Members trade Jackson merchandise, from compact discs and posters, as well as replica jackets and costumes, from their collections.
Some fans may have more memorabilia than others, but they all share an unshakable affection for Jackson.
“Some of the collection may be incomplete, but I will never lose the dancing skills I learned from Michael,” Irwin said.
“We usually hold the event in Bandung, because the majority of the community members live there. We hold the event in malls, cafes and other places.”
Other parts of event programs include karaoke-ing to Jackson’s hits and theater performances as well as charity activities, in keeping with the humanitarian efforts of their hero.
“Last March we visited a village in Ciwidey, Bandung regency, West Java, after a landslide hit the village to donate clothes and money. At the event, we also sung Jackson tunes and staged moon-walking dances to entertain the victims,” Irwin said.
For this Ramadan, the community expects to hold a breaking-the-fast event among fans. “The event will also celebrate Jackson’s birthday on Aug. 29,” Irwin said.
For many of the fans, the birthday celebration will be the moment when they can contemplate the legacy of Jackson. Prior to Jackson’s death, the news media seemed to be focusing only on his bizarre antics, from plastic surgery that went awry, his animal menagerie that was the
Neverland ranch to child molestation scandals — but his true fans never doubted him.
And if the sale of his posthumous albums is any indication, Jackson is getting new fans by the thousands and the Michael Jackson community is more than happy to embrace them.
The community has also benefited from the sudden outpouring of love and renewed interest in the legend after his death.
“We had opportunities to perform on television programs, were interviewed by the media and struck deals for performances,” said Irwin, who is also an impersonator of Jackson. He is well-known for his ability to smoothly mimic Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.
In October last year, the community held an event called “Flashmob Beat It,” during which more than 200 Jackson impersonators and MJI members suddenly made appearances at a designated location, performing the dance moves from the wildly popular Jackson video Beat It at the Kelapa Gading Mall and and La Piazza in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.
The stunt was held to build up hype surrounding the release of This Is It, the last movie about Jackson containing footage from Jackson’s preparation for his final concert tour. He died shortly before its opening date.
“It was the most memorable and heartfelt moment we’ve ever experienced. We got coverage from both the national and international media. And this program was also sponsored by Jackson’s record label and an international retail bank,” said Irwin, who led the performance.
“We’re very proud of this. We really want to promote Jackson’s spirit, his dance, music, attitude, dreams and thoughts.”
Some of these fans have nurtured their love of Jackson from early in their childhood and as a result they could rehash some of their idols’ most difficult dance moves. Twelve-year-olds Caroline, Nadya and Samuel wowed the crowd when they donned Dangerous era costumes and sung and danced to the tunes from the album.
Costumes, the most important factor the business of Jackson’s impersonations, are not difficult to obtain for these kids. All they have to do is show their tailors a picture of a Jackson costumes and they will make them in no time.
The number of Jackson fans grew exponentially after his death.
“Before his death, we did not know that Jackson had that many fans here, and this community is to facilitate them. Now Indonesian fans can catch up with each other and we are more solid now,” Irwin said.
More than just imitating the legend, the community also aims to accentuate the positive side of Jackson.
Members of the community firmly believed that the accusations of child molestation were unfounded and designed to destroy Jackson’s reputation.
“To counter the accusation we shot videos and uploaded them on YouTube, presenting facts about him. We want people to know the difference between the truth and rumors and by presenting the fact, we want them to judge for themselves,” Irwin says.
Perhaps the most important message left by Jackson that the community tries to convey is the phrase from one of his most famous hits, Heal the World: “make the world a better place to live in”.
That is what they are trying to do, one dance step at a time.