That the public's perception of Jackson has changed in a profound and positive way isn't just a casual, anecdotal opinion. According to Brand Asset Consulting's quarterly survey of more than 16,000 Americans, after his death, Jackson's relevance increased 125%, and his esteem increased 32% from the previous quarter the survey was administered, prior to his passing. Jackson's brand asset rank also doubled from quarter to quarter, rising from 314 out of 2,519 brands to 165 out of 2,577 brands.
While there were a number of explanations offered for the shift, a few stand out and were mentioned several times by experts interviewed for this story. The success of the film "This Is It" helped drive the brand forward by presenting Jackson not as a bizarre and spectral recluse, but as a talented
artist, dancer and even a workaholic.
Closer to home, the sight of 11-year-old Paris eulogizing her father at the memorial service--"I just wanted to say ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," she said simply- helped to humanize Jackson and to counter the perception of him as a neglectful, unfit parent.
Prior to his death, only a handful of people had ever seen Jackson's three children--Paris, now 12; Prince, 13; and Blanket, 8--and they were best-known for being covered when they were outside (or, at one point, dangled off a balcony). But now here were these grieving children who appeared polite, pleasant and normal. In interviews after his death, insiders emphasized that Jackson's children were well cared for and well raised, and the video and photo evidence released by the family in the past year seems to bear this out.
"Anyone who had doubts about Michael's ability as a parent, those were erased at the memorial," says Randy Taraborrelli, a Jackson biographer who had known the star since the '70s. "Seeing those kids gave some people a sense that they had misjudged him, that he was a good parent." Diane Dimond, a journalist who has covered Jackson for many years and who broke the story of the 1993 molestation allegations against the singer, says Jackson's family is being savvy about the children's exposure. "The family is smart to put them out there every once in a while," she says. "The Jacksons are masters of PR, and it sends a great message to show the world these nice, normal kids."
Jackson's most damning scandals centered around inappropriate behavior with children, and thus his own seemingly well-adjusted offspring serve as a sharp rebuke to the allegations of sexual abuse that plagued Jackson for much of his adult life. But the fact that Jackson was judged on his children also speaks to another issue--the feminization of Jackson, both before and after his death.
Sarah Churchwell, author of "The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe," says that as with Monroe, death rewrote Jackson's story. And unlike other gone-too-soon celebrities like Elvis Presley or James Dean, Monroe and Jackson are seen as victims, unable to defend themselves against the public's ravenous appetite
"Both Marilyn and Michael, and to a certain extent Princess Diana, are seen as falling prey to the manipulations of others," she says. "They don't really have any agency when it comes to the problems that ultimately led to their demise--no one wants to blame them for making bad decisions and mistakes, because it protects the mystique. People see them as being childlike and want to protect them."
Churchwell adds that larger power dynamics are also at play. "If Madonna died tomorrow, the grief would be different," she says. "She is a woman who is seen as being very powerful and in control--she's not a tragic figure. If you are sufficiently powerful, the public doesn't love you in the same way."