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When Michael Jackson's Thriller Was Dangerous

 I know that everyone knows that Michael Jackson's Thriller was a big deal. Everyone has read about it being one of the best selling albums of all time. Everyone has heard about what a massive star Michael Jackson was. But unless you were alive at the time, I'm not sure you could appreciate how big a cultural phenomenon this album was, especially at a time before social media. Many at the time didn't even have cable yet. But when MJ moonwalked on the Grammys you could almost hear the pop culture paradigm shift. People lost their goddamned minds. Overnight everyone was learning how to moonwalk. The single white glove became as iconic as the ruby slippers, the granny glasses and the red windbreaker. At times it almost felt like a mass hysteria, equaled only by the backlash that inevitably came. 

Thriller came out on November 30, 1982. I had been 7 years old for a little over a week. I remember hearing Beat It and Billie Jean and really liking them. But then the moonwalk happened. Every kid at school had to try it, and each was worse at it than the last. But it became such a craze that there were moonwalk contests. I remember going to the mall with my family. We were trying to get to the K-Mart at the end of the building, but there was a moonwalk in the main court. It was the largest crowd I had ever seen to that point. I got separated from my parents and felt like I was going to be crushed by this mob of people. I freaked out a little bit. But my mom bought me a He-Man, so it worked out in the end.

Later MJ released the video for the song Thriller. For those who weren't there, it may come as little surprise that it was a huge hit. But the video was not without it's backlash. Many religious groups decried it for it's "occult" content. Living in one of the tighter notches in the Bible belt, my mom was of course privy to this information. So it was decided that I was not allowed to watch it. Of course, this only meant that a slight interest was changed into a burning obsession. I wanted nothing more in life than to watch this video.

Then one fateful summer day, I proved just how much I wanted to see this video. My mom was at work, but my much older sister was there babysitting me. We lived in a trailer park, There was a girl in the trailer next door who was a couple of years older than me in age, and a decade older in attitude.  I was 8 or 9, so she was maybe 10 or 11, 12 at the outset. In retrospect this was another instance where I see the hallmarks of abuse . She was very sexual for her young age. She smoked and talked about a lot of things I did not understand. 

On this particular day we were playing vampire. I was obsessed with old horror movies (something that hasn't changed) and had an old black cape from a Halloween costume. I was chasing her around and she fell and I pounced on her. I bit her lightly on the neck, and she told me not to stop. She told me to suck a little. I was young and inexperienced, but this didn't stop me from getting terribly excited. Then my sister popped out of the front door of the trailer and yelled that they were about to play Thriller on the t.v. When I rose up and my sister realized I had a girl hidden under my cape she gave me a very suspicious stare. But she didn't say anything. I forgot all about my vampire games and ran in to watch the video. In my haste to sample the forbidden fruit of pop videos, I didn't even invite the girl inside to watch with me. 

And I finally saw it. It was great, of course. I didn't understand what all the hubbub was about as far as it being "satanic". It was no worse than the horror movies I watched on television on Saturday nights.  I thought the effects were pretty cool. By the time it was over the girl from next door had gone inside. There were additional games that summer , but nothing that approached the intensity of that neck sucking vampire game. Yet it never occurred to me to question if I had made the right choice. It seemed obvious to me that I had. There would be lots of girls whose necks I could bite (I was proved oh so wrong on that score) but that might be my only chance to see this infamous video (wrong again bucko). Not until I saw The Exorcist some 5 years or so later was I to get such a thrill (no pun intended) of the forbidden. Oddly in my mind at the time the video seemed more taboo than sucking a girl's neck, which just shows you how much I had to learn. In a short time I had learned enough to know to invite a girl in so I could suck on her neck while we watched t.v. together.


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