Rivkah Writes…

July 10, 2009

Man in the Mirror: Michael Jackson and Dorian Gray

In his 19th Century novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde created an ingenious metaphor for corruption – a portrait of untarnished innocence slowly perverted by evil. In the beginning of the novel, Dorian Gray, the subject of the portrait, declares he would rather die than grow old and ugly, and makes a wish that the inevitable toll of life be visited on his portrait, rather than himself. Dorian’s wish comes true, albeit not quite as he intends. For Dorian doesn’t just grow older, he also loses his innocence. And, each step he takes down the path of degradation incrementally distorts and disfigures his picture, until it becomes a loathsome representation of Dorian’s ruined soul. When Dorian finally confronts what he has become, he recoils from his beautiful face, knowing full well what it conceals. Determined to destroy the picture, aka, his guilty conscience, Dorian stabs it. Yet when his servants hear Dorian cry out, they find the body of a man with a monstrously evil face sprawled beside his portrait – which once again depicts him in all his youthful innocence.

In many ways, we can use “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to understand the tragedy of Michael Jackson. As the beautiful, irresistibly talented young man soared to the heights of fame, his oddities seemed to grow apace. And, as the rumors of his behavior grew more insidious, the beautiful face grew increasingly distorted, plasticized, artificial, surreal. Unlike Dorian Gray, however, Michael had no painted doppelganger to absorb his disfigurements – he had to deal with them in the flesh. While the causes of Michael’s facial changes are well documented – vitiligo, plastic surgery, drugs, etc. – from a literary perspective, it seemed the alleged perversions of which he was accused had slowly turned outward, destroying the perfection of the once beautiful, mischievous – but for all that – innocent face. The change began innocuously enough – no longer a child sensation, Michael strived for more edge. In the process, though, the whoops of joy became whoops of anger, the handsome male, a handsome anomaly, the fluid movements, an exercise in jerky, twisted virtuosity. Ultimately Michael’s dead eyes, waxy-pallor, and frozen features became a parody of the dancing eyed, adorable dimpled, enormously talented man we knew. The adopted eccentricities – masks, veils, etc – served only to emphasize this irrevocable transformation.

Forced to bear his physical and moral disfigurements in life, in death, Michael has been given a second chance. And, as Dorian Gray’s death restored his portrait to its innocent perfection, Michael’s demise has restored his reputation. In our minds and in our hearts, he is the joyous, good humored, beautiful young man we remember him to be. And in memory of that man, we deal kindly with the poor, ruined face of the Man in the Mirror.

For more on the Michael Jackson tragedy from “Rivkah Writes…” see Thrill Seeker.


  1. Rivkah:
    This is a very poignant portrait of Michael Jackson. Your comparative essay is apt and actually makes sense of Michael’s complicated life and death. I enjoyed reading your essay mainly because you did not condemn him but, instead, made a constructive comparison of his life to that of Dorian Gray’s.

    Comment by Brenda Henry-Offor — July 10, 2009 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

    • Hi Brenda – thanks so much for your comment – it really means a lot coming from you!

      Comment by rivkahwrites — July 11, 2009 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  2. This well developed analogy plays out in the life that was MJ in a firghteningly perfect way. I would never have thought of the story by Oscar Wilde to describe Michael Jackson, but it does thoroughly describes the child/man who chose not to grow up and thusly went from cute little boy to in many ways a sad and sometimes freaky man very well.

    I think that his children will finally in the end re-humanize him to the world more than simply his death which did remind us of who he use to be, but left so many holes as to who he was – a monster of our creation, or a blinded man who didn’t know who he was in real life.

    Comment by clbro — July 11, 2009 @ 12:41 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for your comment, Christi!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 11, 2009 @ 10:16 pm | Reply


    Thank you for your discussion on MJ and DG. It was so insightful, I talked about it this evening in my class and the instructor commented “wow” what a great comparison with literature. I said, you would expect nothing less from Brooklyn College alumni.
    Keep up the great writing!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:23 pm | Reply


    lol – wow, I’m honored, Wayne – thanks for your support!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:24 pm | Reply


    As a former English teacher, I already understood that life imitated “art”. Wonderful comparison essay demonstrating that literature is timeless. Immediately sent the link to my former colleagues in academia.

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:26 pm | Reply


    Susan – thank you so much, Recognition from one’s peers is always especially sweet.

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:27 pm | Reply


    I read the entire article, and it is both interesting and very-well written.

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:30 pm | Reply


    Thanks Barbara – I had good teachers!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:30 pm | Reply


    I agree with Barabara – Rivkah, a fantastic piece. Let’s get together when I get back from the country–in the fall. Keep writing and sending. love, Roni

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

  11. The last two comments were from my former professors at Brooklyn College – Barbara Gerber-Krasner, Professor of Comparative Literature at Brooklyn College and Roni Natov, Professor of English specializing in childhood literature. Needless to say, I adore writing, adore literature, and adore my English professors, so praise from you is praise indeed. Thanks again!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 15, 2009 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  12. I’d been thinking a lot about this book, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, in the past few weeks in relation to Michael Jackson. I read it quite some time ago. I don’t think that Jackson ever really appreciated what we saw in him, he always seemed to be finding fault, looking for some totally idealized kind of beauty or perfection, literally trying to remake himself. But nobody can cheat the process of getting older, sickness, injury, etc – not even if you are Michael Jackson. And changing the outside cannot really change what is within. I guess that now he has achieved some kind of ‘immortality’, but at what a huge price to him personally! Thanks for your thoughts.

    Comment by Michelle — July 19, 2009 @ 3:16 am | Reply

  13. Your welcome, Michelle, and thank you for your response!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 19, 2009 @ 9:10 am | Reply

  14. Hi Rivkah,

    I chanced on your brilliant blog a few months back. It’s great pleasure reading your postings. The latest one about MJ has left me speechless! You have touched the soul of his existence, its paradox and contradictions in a brief and smart write-up.

    I (a senior journalist from India) salute and commend your marvellous efforts. Keep writing.

    Arindam Roy
    +91 9793302828
    Skype ID: arindam.roy3
    Twitter link: http://twitter.com/arindamroy2000

    Comment by Arindam Roy — July 21, 2009 @ 8:12 am | Reply

    • Arindam – thank you so much – I will indeed keep writing.

      Comment by rivkahwrites — July 21, 2009 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  15. I find your writing to be quite insightful. After watching the movie version of “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” earlier this evening, my stepmother and I contemplated the theme almost converse to the one of your essay, that Michael Jackson, through his plastic surgery, was trying to maintain his youth. We also noticed the eerie resemblance between Michael Jackson and the actor of Dorian Gray and wondered if Michael may have actually been trying to replicate Dorian the appearance of through his plastic surgeries. It is a widely known fact that Micheal wished to remain youthful through his obsession with Peter Pan, is it possible that Dorian was one another one of his “idols”?

    Comment by Mariah — August 30, 2009 @ 1:11 am | Reply

    • Hi Mariah – thanks for your comment. Literature allows for license, so anything that’s plausible goes (which is, incidentally, why I prefer literature to philosophy). This means that your reading and mine aren’t mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, they’recomplimentary; Michael Jackson may indeed have been trying to maintain his youth, but the combination of illness, plastic surgery, and make up made it appear as though the disturbing stories associated with him were metaphorically reflected in his face. Did he, in addition, know and/or try to emulate Dorian Gray? I guess we may never know…

      Comment by rivkahwrites — August 30, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  16. Wow! You beat me to it. I just finished an essay reflecting on MJ, Whitney, Madonna & Prince and part 2 of that essay I was thinking of working in quotes from Oscar Wilde and Paul Robeson.

    This was very well done.

    Comment by sonja moore — September 16, 2009 @ 2:49 pm | Reply

    • Thanks so much, Sonja!

      Comment by rivkahwrites — September 16, 2009 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

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