With much fanfare, singer Michael Jackson showed up last week with a nose job, eye job, hairdo and $9 album. Some of the music might have been worth the wait, but it is Michael, not his music, who is going from bad to worse.
Even as customers line up to buy his recordings, they wince at what he has done to himself during the past three years since his 1984 Victory Tour.
"His nose makes him look like a werewolf, and he's too light," said Madeline Murray, a Jackson fan.
"It would be all right if he were born looking like that, but to change himself to look like that is weird. I mean sad."
In some of Washington's neighborhoods where the Jackson's "Bad" album posters hang on utility poles, the pictures have been mutilated with spray paint and knives.
"As far as I'm concerned, Michael Jackson engaged in a form of self-mutilation that was a rejection of his cultural self," said Na'im Akbar, president of the National Association of Black Psychologists. "The foundation of black mental disorders in America can be traced to self-rejection, and Jackson has elevated it to a science."
Akbar, a psychology professor at Florida State University, says Jackson has contributed to a "sexual identity crisis" that is being fueled by a shortage of positive black male role models and manifesting itself in rising criminal aggression and drug abuse.
Others argue that Jackson's looks are nobody's business but his own, that he is an entertainer whose creativity should not be restrained by the concerns of others.
But his creativity is being restrained -- despite help from producer Quincy Jones -- and it appears to be the result of advice from recording company profiteers if not that cast of cartoon characters and zoo animals that Jackson calls his "best friends."
Nobody ever expected Michael Jackson to continue wearing that cone-shaped Afro hair style that he sported on the way to blowing Donny Osmond off the charts. But where did this stringy, straight, watered-down, oil-drip look come from? His singing in those days was spellbinding, but nobody wanted to hear "I Want You Back" so badly that someone suggested he take female hormones to preserve his voice.
People point to Patti LaBelle's "peacock" look, or Issac Hayes' bald head and chains, and say that in the entertainment business you have to be a little different. Remember Boy George, they say.
"Boy George was just one of a large universe of white role models in the offering when he made his debut," Akbar says. "We are talking about a tremendous shortage of positive role models for black boys at the same time that there is phenomenal attention being paid to freaks."
Maybe Jackson did not think about this, which would be no surprise. At age 29, he is trapped in a fantasy world, a real life Peter Pan, for whom Disney World holds more reality than even Hollywood.
More dispassionate observers contend that Jackson does occasionally contact Spaceship Earth, and that his plans to start a music conservatory demonstrates a willingness to connect with real people.
"His video reminded me of the Edmund Perry story," said Sylvester Monroe, a writer for Newsweek and author of the prize-winning article "Brothers." "A ghetto kid turned Ivy League going back home to find out who's the 'baddest.' Add to that the messages in 'Beat It' and 'Billy Jean,' and it seems that Jackson is still able to touch reality."
But in this video age, where youngsters enjoy strong vicarious associations with their stars, Jackson's physical transformation has made it difficult for boy and girl alike to get a grip on him, to say nothing of whatever messages he may be trying to communicate.
Jackson says that he lives for his fans worldwide, and it is difficult to please them all. Surveys suggest that he now has more white fans than black fans, which may explain his decision to "Caucasianize" himself.
Some of them wonder what's wrong with Jackson having an Anglo nose.
I want to know what was wrong with the one he had.