His stardom is not only the story of a black family's pursuit of fame and fortune in one of the few idioms permitted by corporate America, but also the story of the white West's regulation of race.
Michael Jackson's triumph was contingent on his reconstruction in the image of a white celebrity. His solo career, his shift from soul to pop and thus to a white market and megastardom has been shadowed by his flight from his family. Here is a man who now could not look less like the father he says he feared, who mocked and beat him. 'It was difficult to take being beaten and then going on stage,' he told Oprah Winfrey in February.
He endows black scholarships and insists he is proud to be 'a black American', yet he wears white make-up. He has cut himself, starved himself. However, his surgical exorcisms have only emphasised his transition. What is at issue is precisely his skin, his nose, his lips, his hair - the evidence of his ethnicity.
We watched it happen. His self-effacement has been endlessly recorded - fans' record collections and pop photographs preserve the evidence. He has all but lost his lips, his nose, the very infrastructure of his face. What is clear is that ethnicity is
The Jackson family was ruled by an autocratic, abusive, philandering patriarch. Joseph Jackson has denied his children's allegations of physical and sexual abuse, though he admits punishing them.
The current debate about Michael's secrecy, and his preference for the company of children, is not raising new information - all this was already known. The controversy lies in these known facts being reinterpreted. For instance, J Randy Taraborrelli, in his book Michael Jackson, The Magic and the Madness, refers to the star's fascination as a 20-year-old with the issue of child abuse. What could have been a clue about the pain of his past was merely noted as another eccentricity.
Celebrity protected Jackson's privacy. The image was of him as the man who wanted to be a boy, the boy who refused to grow up, a prisoner of fame, a Peter Pan, whose pleasure in childhood was a revolt against adults, whose whispering squeaks were the songs of innocence, who cried when challenged, whose theme-park home was a fantasy for children.
This carefully protected persona apparently stripped him of sexuality, of his identity as a man.
But Michael Jackson was not a child. And he was more than merely a man. He was an economic emperor, who ran his manor, his staff and his security systems as a regime that was described by one former member of his staff as 'a radiating circle of fear'.
Recently, as his private detective has acknowledged, the emperor forfeited his vaunted privacy and moved into the crowded home of a boy he had befriended. This is the boy who has alleged that Jackson not only shared his bed, but also his body.
His control over his relationships with children was cemented by 'official secrets' contracts with parents and his household cavalry, binding them never to speak of their life and times with Jackson.
The point is, this extraordinary level of access to children that he gained was an open secret. He appeared at his finest hour in the music business, the 1984 Grammy Award ceremony, clasping a 12-year-old boy. During his 1988 'Bad' tour, his constant companion was a 10-year-old boy.
The history of Peter Pan as a play may shed some light on the history of Michael the man. Professor Jacqueline Rose, in her brilliant book The Case of Peter Pan, or the Impossibility of Children's Fiction, tracks Peter Pan's emergence 'out of an unmistakable act of censorship'. Peter Pan's genesis was in a novel written for adults, as a story told to a boy whom the storyteller was trying to steal, a story that implied a chase, a seduction. Peter Pan's metamorphosis into a play for children purges the text of its origins, which lie in desire and disturbance.
Michael Jackson's organisation, his domain, his reputation, froze both man and boys in a frame of innocence.
Although Jackson denies sexually abusing children, he does not deny sleeping with them. His own private eye, Anthony Pellicano, raised more questions than he answered when he ventured that if the latest revelations had concerned the behaviour of a 35-year-old paedophile, then the connection between sleeping and sex seemed 'obvious'. 'But because it is Michael Jackson, it doesn't mean anything.'