It is morning in a Manhattan disco, and Michael Jackson — who owns perhaps the most scrutinized face in America — is smiling warily for a roomful of strangers. Jackson has come to New York for two weeks of near–continuous hubbub, which will include three sold–out concerts at Madison Square Garden and highly anticipated appearances on the thirtieth annual Grammy Awards program (his first television performance since the 1983 Motown 25 show) and at a benefit dinner for the United Negro College Fund. This morning, though, he is performing the one chore that he reportedly dreads most — he is standing still for the close attention of the media.
The occasion is a large–scale press conference, convened by Jackson's current tour sponsor, Pepsi, to commemorate a $600,000 contribution from the singer to the United Negro College Fund. But the philanthropy of the event is somewhat overshadowed by Pepsi's other purpose: namely, to première Jackson's flashy new four–episode commercial for the soda company, which will make its TV debut the following night, during the broadcast of the Grammy Awards at Radio City Music Hall.
All in all, it is an odd excuse for a press gathering, and Jackson looks rather uncomfortable with the stagy formality of the situation. Not surprisingly, there is little he is willing to say about the occasion, and he does not take any questions from the nearly 500 journalists who have gathered here. In short, like most Michael Jackson press conferences, this event is little more than a grandiose photo opportunity — and yet it has all the drawing power of a significant political function. In a sense, it is easy to see why. It is as close to Michael Jackson as most members of the press are likely to get, and though there may be some reporters here who are put off by the singer, they still find him fascinating and are quite happy to ogle at his transfixing, part–beautiful, part–grotesque countenance.
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