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Monday, June 19, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Michael Jackson's Much-Hyped `History' Is Mired In Controversy

AP: Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Draped in controversy as often as epaulets and his lone glove, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, the Sovereign of Strange, has moon-walked into still another publicity-maker, this time about alleged anti-Semitic lyrics in one song of his new album.

Jackson apologized Friday for using an anti-Semitic slur in a song and said he will include a statement with his "HIStory" album explaining his intentions.

"My intention was for this song to say `no' to racism, anti-Semitism and stereotyping," Jackson said in a letter to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.

"Unfortunately, my choice of words may have unintentionally hurt the very people I wanted to stand in solidarity with . . . I apologize to anyone who might have been hurt."

Jackson used the phrase in the song "They Don't Care About Us," which appears on the "HIStory" album due in stores tomorrow. Hier and others had condemned use of the terms.

Albums that haven't already been shipped to stores will include a statement from Jackson "so that no one can listen to my music and misconstrue my intentions," the pop singer wrote Hier.

"The letter is very nice and contrite," Hier said Friday. "I know that Michael Jackson is not an anti-Semite or a racist. Under the circumstances, the fact that he is going to reprint that apology goes a long way to putting this to rest."

"I am truly surprised, shocked and deeply hurt at the unforeseen reaction that the lyrics of `They Don't Care About Us' have caused," Jackson said. "I want everyone to know how strongly I am, and always have been, committed to tolerance, peace and love."

Singer `angry and outraged'

Following addiction and allegations, crotch-grabbing and body altering, a lifestyle that's had everyone querulous and a marriage that has had everyone wondering, what to make of this newest tumult is difficult to know.

The Anti-Defamation League had called on the producers and marketers of the Epic Records album, "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I," "to speak out against this language and for Mr. Jackson to issue a commentary attached to the album and video." Jackson's statement Friday was apparently in response to that.

In a statement given to The New York Times Thursday, Jackson elaborated on his intentions in the album:

"The song is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems.

"I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead. I am the Jew. I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking. It is about the injustices to young people and how the system can wrongfully accuse them. I am angry and outraged that I could be so misunderstood."

Promo's Nazi icons questioned

The controversy comes amid an intense promotional campaign for the new album, a campaign which itself has raised eyebrows.

The four-minute, $6 million promo being used to sell the new more-defiant Jackson and his album makes use of the same techniques pioneered in the 1930s by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite filmmaker.

"What could Jackson have been thinking, using something like `Triumph of the Will' (a Riefenstahl documentary that glorified Hitler) as a model?" asks film instructor Susan Tavernetti, who uses Riefenstahl's documentaries in her classes at San Francisco State University and De Anza College. "Riefenstahl caressed Hitler's face with her camera. Jackson goes beyond this. There are many more close-ups of his smiling, angelic face, followed by goose-stepping Nazi look-alikes and screaming followers."

Jackboots on parade

The "HIStory" promo - shot in Budapest with the full cooperation of the Hungarian army - opens with jackbooted soldiers on the horizon. These images are intercut with shots of an iron foundry and muscular workers swinging sledgehammers in unison.

As the sound of boots on cobblestone intensifies, hundreds of brown-uniformed soldiers march into view. At their head is Jackson in armband and uniform, waving merrily to fans, many of whom swoon at the sight of their leader.

Telephoto shots of boots give way to more Nazi-propaganda icons - red banners and standards, Grecian columns and at least one stone thunderbird, the insignia of the Wehrmacht during World War II.

This show of military might is suddenly threatened by enemy helicopters, reminiscent of the gunships in Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."

The children in the street panic and disperse. They're saved by a 300-foot marble statue of their hero, its fists clenched and chest crisscrossed by Rambo-like ammo belts.

As the choppers turn tail, at least one little boy is caught in heart-wrenching close-up, yelling, "Michael, I love you!"

"Is taking Nazi propaganda techniques and using them to sell records in bad taste?" wonders Stanford University communications Professor Henry Breitrose. "Answer: Absolutely. But the motion picture and music industries are market-driven. They're the purest form of capitalism. And this sort of material tends to pay dividends."

Barbara Lippert, in a recent Adweek column, went further, accusing the gloved one of turning "the trappings of Hitler" into a "massive misunderstanding of world history and insensitivity to human suffering."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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