Friday, April 23, 2021

"Michael Jackson and the Stasi – 'Bad' in Berlin, 1988 and the 'subversive' influence of pop culture"

I've been thinking about the Stasi and snitch culture far too much to be healthy.

From Kerry Hennigan on Wordpress (a real Michael Jackson fan), November 28, 2017:

“Between 1949, when Germany was formally divided, and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, more than 3 million East Germans “voted with their feet” by moving to West Germany. The East German ruling party never enjoyed popular support, and the regime never trusted its citizens. Refugees left East Germany for economic as well as political reasons, and this “brain drain” of young, educated workers had a destabilizing effect on the East German economy. The only way to stop the flow of refugees was to close the border between East and West Berlin” – Professor Mary Beth Stein [1]

After separating families, friends and the city of Berlin for three decades, on the evening of 9 November 1989, demolition of the Berlin Wall was begun by the people of Berlin themselves.  The Wall had been a symbol of the repression of social freedoms for a generation of German citizens whose great city had been bombed, occupied and divided amongst the Allied powers following World War II.  The movements of those in the East had been restricted, then the borders had closed, and finally the Wall was erected to prevent further mass exodus to the West.  Many risked death and, indeed, many died attempting to cross to freedom.

The East German government viewed the Wall as protection against ideals they considered the antithesis of Communism.  They actively discouraged the penetration of western influence on the citizens of the East.  But by the 1980s, the popular culture of the West, including its music, had become all-pervasive.

From June 1987 to January 1989, Michael Jackson toured Japan, Australia, the US, Europe and the UK with his ‘Bad’ world tour.  On 19 June 1988, he performed an open-air concert  in front of 50,000 fans on the grounds of the Platz der Republik, facing the Reichstag, in West Berlin.

Only a year earlier music fans in the East had amassed on their side of the Wall during a concert by Genesis, David Bowie and the Eurythmics.  They had begun chanting “Down with the Wall” and “Gorby, Gorby” in support of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy reform in favour of openness (“glasnost”).  On that occasion they had been beaten with batons and scores were arrested.  Now, in 1988, the Stasi (East German secret police) were very concerned that a concert by the biggest international music star of the decade would cause similar or worse political unrest in East Berlin.

Following Michael Jackson’s passing in 2009, it was discovered that the Stasi had kept a file on him.  It contained a report that stated: “Youths are prepared to go to any lengths to experience this concert around the area of the Brandenburg Gate [next to the wall].”  The report added that the aim of the clash was to “test the limits of the security organ”. [2]

Time reports: “In the minutes of a preparatory meeting of Stasi officials, dated May 4, 1988, the Stasi notes discussions that it was having with the head of the West German company that was organizing the concert. The names are blacked out in the report. According to the report, the organizer ‘together with Jackson’s management is willing to build the stage at such a height that it is not visible from Unter den Linden’ — the boulevard on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — ‘and to position the speakers appropriately.’ The plan also involved broadcasting the Jackson concert in a stadium in East Berlin with a two-minute delay, so the East Germans could replace the live performance with a videotape of a previous performance should Jackson make any undesirable political comments.” [3]

But there was no stopping the Jackson juggernaut.  In fact, some of the hype was intensified by local TV station SAT who hired a Jackson look-alike to visit Checkpoint Charlie – the famous crossing point from West to East at the heart of the divided city – to see how the public would react....