The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Great Michael Jackson Incident Of 1983

My high school is in “Trivial Pursuit.”

No, it really is. And it’s all Michael Jackson’s fault.

The vast majority of my blog readers are significantly younger than me (about 15-20 years younger) and therefore they don’t remember the Great Michael Jackson Incident of 1983; hell, half of them weren’t born yet. So get comfy, settle in. I’m going to tell you the story of how a single white glove divided teachers, students, parents, and administration in a very small town in New Jersey, all those years ago.

In 1983, I was a junior in high school and worried about what all juniors worried about: Would I pass my driver’s test? Would I get my license? How was I going to do on the S.A.T.’s? Would I get into a good Ivy League school? Oh, and yeah…was I ever going to get a date? With an actual boy?

It was also my third year of repertory, and I was pretty much calling the shots. Although Joe was nominally in charge, he didn’t actually do anything and left most of the fundraising and publicity and news articles to me. This annoyed me, but since I was so in crush with Joe, I forgave him.

Two important things happened in 1983. The first was that our repertory was finally asked to attend a very prestigious competition held at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. It was by invitation only, and for years Victor had been trying to sneak our way in by blatantly lying to the board of directors and telling them we were a “prestigious private school located by a serene babbling brook.” I don’t know if the board just got so sick of Victor’s whining or if they just finally gave up, because they finally caved and we got our invitation. There was much rejoicing.

It was a very long competition—four days. We would be leaving Thursday evening, competing over the long weekend, and the awards ceremony was scheduled for Monday morning. We’d all be back in school by Tuesday morning, each of us only missing two days of school. Because we were all exemplary students, none of our teachers had a problem with this and said we could make up the work any time.

Now, while all this was going on, something else was brewing in 1983. And, if you’re anywhere near the age of 40, you will remember it as: “The year Thriller came out.”

Even if you weren’t even cognizant of music in 1983, I’m sure you all know all about Thriller. Along with the title track, there was, of course, “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Girl Is Mine,” “Want to Be Starting Somethin’,” “Pretty Young Thing,” and the list goes on and on.

I should say at this point that I never actively disliked Michael Jackson, I was just more of a Bruce Springsteen girl (hey—I’m a Jersey girl!). In fact, graduation from my high school was contingent on how loudly you could scream “BRUUUUUUUUUCE!” at top volume.

Now, apparently, here’s what happened. During the long weekend the repertory had been away competing, the Grammy awards had happened and Michael Jackson won every single award that he could possibly win. At that time, he was starting to dress a little oddly—remember those weird military-type ensembles with the red sequins and the gold fringe? Yeah, that. And there was something else, too.

He wore one white glove on one hand. That was all. It wasn’t flashy, and I was never clear as to what it stood for. But apparently, over the weekend, the entire high school went insane and decided to start showing “support” for Michael Jackson by wearing one white glove to school.

And then the madness started.

Tuesday morning came and I strolled into French class for first period. My French teacher asked me (in French) how I had done in the competition and I replied I had done tres bien, mais je suis tres fatigue. There were only six students in French IV, and by the time we were all there, chaos had erupted out in the hall.

There was a thunderous sound of students running. Bright lights flashed in the halls. There was yelling. My French teacher, terrified there was a fire or something even worse, fought her way out of the classroom.

Way down at the end of the hall, we saw huge, glittering klieg lamps, television cameras, microphones, headsets and Extremely Famous Newscasters. Keep in mind—I had been away and had no idea what was going on. I shanghaied my friend Cheryl who was coming out of the biology lab and asked what it was all about.

Before she could answer, the fire alarm went off. All the teachers emerged from their classrooms and shooed us out onto the front lawn where I was finally able to get the truth from several trustworthy teachers.

It seemed that the previous Monday, an enormously large group of students wanted to pay “homage” to Michael Jackson’s Grammy upset by wearing his trademark one white glove to school. The principal, a senile, alcoholic (but previously fair) man had decided that “such attire was inappropriate for school and that all students sporting one glove in honor of Mr. Jackson would be sent home immediately to change.”

You think I’m kidding. But I‘m not.

Well, you can imagine what happened. The pro-Jackson camp had called up the local town rag and insisted the principal’s edict had violated something in the Bill Of Rights, and because Michael Jackson was very big news at the time, the story immediately went out over the wire to the national news. I’m talking ABC, CBS, and NBC here—the real heavy hitters.

The godawful part, though, was when the reporters interviewed the students, who fell apart at the sight of a TV camera in their face. Ironically, a lot of the girls being interviewed were simultaneously trying to dress like Madonna.

I sat in front of my TV that night, watching in horror as Honor Roll students—Ivy League tract students—tried desperately to explain that wearing a glove wasn’t going to cause gang violence, or a turf war, or make people bang heroin into their arm. And it wasn’t just the news—this crap was in the paper for weeks.

I got my say in, though. When a well-known female anchor asked me, “do you, BeowulfGirl, as a high achieving student, think that a point was being made here?”

To which I replied: “I’m not sure. I was out of state, winning actual awards for the glory of my school.”

So…yeah. We’re in “Trivial Pursuit.” When you pick the “Entertainment” Category and you get the question, “What high school went under intense scrutiny in 1983 when its students attempted to emulate Michael Jackson?” The answer is, “BeowulfGirl’s.”

If they don’t accept that as an answer, screw ‘em.

Next week: Searching for my grandfathers.


  • At 7:52 AM, Blogger Aithne said…

    Hey! I'm under 40 and remember "Thriller". :p Your HS on the other hand, no clue. ;) But I'll be extra set the next time we play Trivial Pursuit!

  • At 6:15 PM, Blogger suealoha said…

    I was home sick when Mr. Donnelly wouldn't allow the kids to wear the white glove.

    It seemed like such a fuss over nothing.

  • At 9:10 PM, Blogger Cat said…

    I do remember "Thriller", darnit, despite being under 40! I suppose I could research to see which high school it was, but it'd be more fun to give "BeowulfGirl's HS!" as an answer. :-D

    (*waves nervously* Hi, I'm your shy net stalker; I lurk on Snopes and have been following the Charming, Disarming and Alarming saga with many cheers. I love your writing style.)

  • At 9:44 AM, Blogger suealoha said…

    I tried to PM you, but as a new registrant on the forum you frequent, I guess I need to be "approved" by a moderator.

    Until then, my identity is still a mystery (although I'm sure you can figure it out).

    Let's say that I'm a fan, and I've enjoyed reading your blog. I found it because I googled Victor's name.

    More from me when I can PM you (unless you give me an email address to email you at).

  • At 6:16 PM, Blogger Daphodil said…

    I'm way over 40 and remember it very well :). It would have been cool if all the kids had danced like the ghouls in the video while the cameras were there. It would probably be more popular than the Singapore prisoners.

    Daph (from Snopes). Hi!

  • At 7:50 PM, Blogger Rob D/Blackwolf said…

    One of your imaginary friends here. I love your blog and the love story on the forum. Keep up the good work.
    And as suggestion: Team up with Brad from Georgia to write a story, you two would be hilarious together.

  • At 11:28 AM, Blogger BiPolarBear said…

    That's so cool BeowulfGirl! Nothing that interesting ever happened at my highschool.

    Your friendly neighborhood RiotGirlHeather


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