Michael Jackson does, Fred Astaire never did

Mike Royko

February 10, 1993|By Mike Royko

Having seen every Fred Astaire movie, I'm qualified to say that not once did Fred Astaire grab his crotch. It's possible that he grabbed his crotch in the privacy of his home or dressing room. But that would be of no concern to the public.

I mention this because Michael Jackson, the alleged super-duper star of show biz, has been described by many dance critics as being the Fred Astaire of his generation.

While I'm no expert on dancing, I watched Jackson perform during half time of the Super Bowl, and I saw little that reminded me of Astaire, other than being skinny.

Their dance styles are not alike. Astaire was always smooth, no matter how fast the dance. But Jackson appears to be suffering from a severe spastic disorder.

Astaire had a bony face that bordered on the homely, but when you looked at that face, there was no doubt he was of the male persuasion.

But when the camera zoomed in on Jackson, I tried to figure out what he looked like. Then it came to me: He looks like an aging female movie star who's had too many face lifts.

That's not a bad way for an aging female movie star to look, but it's unusual for a 34-year-old man. Especially since he selected that look. Either that or his plastic surgeons were goofing around.

The single biggest difference, though, is that Jackson grabs his crotch. As I said, that's something Astaire never did. And from what I've read about Astaire, he wouldn't have grabbed his crotch even if the movie director gave him a direct order. He was not that kind of guy.

Nor did Gene Kelly. Nor did Donald O'Connor, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, "Peg Leg" Bates nor any of the other legendary dancers. "Peg Leg" Bates never even grabbed his peg.

I watched the Super Bowl with several friends, and the first time Jackson grabbed his crotch, Harry said: "Why did he do that?"

"Maybe the poor kid has got the crabs," Tony said.

When he did it again, Hank said: "Boy, if he's got them, it must be a bad case."

But Harry said: "No, it can't be the crabs because he's not scratching, which one normally does when so afflicted. He's just grabbing, which does little to ease the discomfort brought on by those little beasties."

"Then it must be something else," Tony said. "Maybe he has to go to the john real bad."

We thought about that for a while, then Mitch said: "No, if he had to go to the john real bad, he would cross his legs. But he's bouncing up and down and twitching and flapping his arms like a duck. You don't do that when you have to go to the john real bad. It would just make the situation worse. So maybe he is reassuring himself that it is still there."

"What is still there?" Tony asked.

"His crotch," Mitch said.

"That does not make sense," Harry said. "A crotch is not something you misplace or lose, like your wallet or car keys. If his crotch was suddenly gone, he would know it. Such a loss would surely cause considerable pain."

"As well as embarrassment," Mitch said.

"I think I understand why he is doing it," Hank said. "He has a worldwide audience at the moment, so he is using this opportunity to send a message. He is making a social statement."

"Ah, of course," Harry said. "But what statement is he making?"

"I'm not sure," Hank said. "He could be saying: 'Look, world, I have a crotch.' Or in philosophical terms: 'I grab, therefore it is.' "

"Could be," Mitch said. "Or is he rebelling against traditional sexual inhibitions by saying, through that gesture, that it is OK to grab your crotch in public."

"Actually," Tony said, "if you did that around a schoolyard or on a street corner, you'd get arrested. If you did it in my favorite bar, you'd be tossed out the door. And if you did it in front of my wife, I would hammer you in the chops."

"Yes," Harry said, "but maybe that is his point. It is a victimless crime. Nobody is harmed by his grabbing his crotch."

"Neither is sticking your finger in your nose," Mitch said, "but I wouldn't go on TV in front of a billion people and stick my finger in my nose."

Just then, we were joined by Shawn. As you can tell from his name, he is a member of the Baby Boom generation. Thus, he is attuned to popular art and culture.

So we asked him for insights on Jackson's crotch-grabbing.

"Oh, that's quite common, the thing to do," he said. "If you watch MTV, the odds are that someone will be grabbing their crotch. And Michael Jackson isn't the first. Rock performers have been grabbing their crotches for a long time. "Nor is Michael Jackson the most renowned crotch-grabber. Madonna is much more widely hailed for that art form. And the audiences are thrilled. Just listen to the roar when Jackson or Madonna grab their crotches. It might be the highlight of their shows."

We pondered that for a while, then Tony said: "We live in a strange world when the most popular male star and the most popular female star get their biggest cheers for grabbing their crotches."

And Mitch said: "I guess it's true -- there's no business like show business. So maybe I will stick my finger in my nose."

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