IX DANGEROUS Jackson and P.T. Barnum: The Greatest Show on Earth

Meet His Majesty Prince Humbug

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover 1991 P.T. Barnum

Michael Jackson is known as the greatest entertainer of all time, P.T. Barnum is known as the greatest showman of all time. It is said that Phineas Taylor Barnum, born in 1810, invented show business.
In 1991, entertainer Michael Jackson featured Barnum in the show of his album cover called DANGEROUS.

Dangerous Album Cover 1991. Painted by Mark Ryden

P. T. Barnum on Jackson’s DANGEROUS album cover 1991, SONY Music Entertainment. Painter of the artwork is named „King of Pop“ (Acryl on wood 82” x 74”) is Mark Ryden. The original of the painting is exhibited in Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 Tenth Ave., New York, NY 10001. source

P.T. Barnum is immortal on DANGEROUS

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover 1991 P.T. Barnum

Barnum is legendary, a „Mr. BIG“ in the industry and the most serious object of the DANGEROUS cover by Michael Jackson. Barnum is the very business looking man in the suit in the symbolically dark area of the painting.

Michael Jackson granted showman and manager Barnum a special place on his album cover DANGEROUS: within the EXITUS area that is, so to speak inside the „kingdom of death“ on DANGEROUS.

In 1891, Barnum had died.
In 1991, exactly 100 years later, Michael Jackson immortalized P.T. Barnum, the genius of show business, in the kingdom of EXITUS on the DANGEROUS cover.

Jackson and Barnum, manager of the „Greatest Show on Earth“

Barnum was the mastermind behind the most famous circus company in history. Barnum was a publicity genius and a master of marketing. The exploitation of humans and animals was as much part of his philosophy as his illusions and hoaxes to entertain his audience. The press was already instrumental in Barnum’s circus more than a century ago.

king dog queen bird on MJ Dangerous Cover 1991 with P.T. Barnum

In the course of his career, Phineas earned himself the title „Prince Humbug“. On the DANGEROUS album cover, this makes him aristocrat number three alongside the King of Pop in the guise of the dog and the Queen in form of the bird.

Barnum and the circus around „Living Curiosities“

Dangerous cover 1991 white elephant with clown on it

 White elephants in the circus of the DANGEROUS cover source

Barnum commercialized everything in his arena to the „greatest sensation on earth“. In his show he presented white elephants as well as people who were different from the others. The „normals“ called them „freaks“ and outsiders of society.
Barnum sold people as „living curiosities.“ Giant and short people, women with beards, the heaviest people in the world, men with two heads, dark-skinned people with the skindisease vitiligo. A mermaid and George Washington’s 161-year-old amme were also exhibited by Barnum, who created a kind of Guinness Book of World Records in the circus arena. Barnum made a lot of money from it because he gave the people what they wanted and the crowds came to gawk.

Dangerous Cover 1991 Mark Ryden

Jacksons DANGEROUS Cover 1991. (Painter Mark Ryden/SONY Music)

Via circus director Barnum, DANGEROUS becomes a circus poster with dogs that don’t look like other dogs and birds that are different from other birds. Due to Barnum, DANGEROUS becomes somehow a circus with Michael Jackson as the main attraction in the „Greatest Show on Earth“.

Barnum and Jackson and marketing

Barnum understood marketing, he knew how to create a hype around his show, in which he offered a different kind of entertainment. Michael Jackson, who never denied the reputation of being the greatest entertainer of all time, took Barnum as his role model. It is said that he handed out Barnum’s philosophies to his own management as mandatory reading:

„This will be my Bible, and I want it to be yours as well“.

Michael Jackson, reportedly to his employees. 1

„I want my whole career to be the greatest show on earth.“

He succeeded in doing so.

Barnum and Minstrel and the „art of moneymaking“

Barnum entertained the mass audience not only with typical circus attractions, but also with white actors pretending to be black. Minstrel was the name of this entertainment with blackface masks. Those masks with painted black faces. Minstrel humor is made at the expense of African Americans, has its roots in white fear of blacks, and is very American. It wasn’t just Barnum’s audience that wanted to have a laugh over minstrelsy, this type of „entertainment“ was popular for a long time. And has made it into today’s film industry. 2

Barnum’s real focus was on the „art of making money“. He was a man of principle, and because the public demanded it, swindling was part of the business for him.

„There’s a customer born every minute.“

was one of P.T. Barnum’s words of wisdom.

How were the receipts today at the Garden.“

These were the alleged last words of the businessman P.T. Barnum.

Barnum had the greatest successes with his circus, but he longed for recognition from society’s upper classes. At one point he even very successfully managed a Swedish opera singer, who definitely belonged in the area of „higher art „, but nevertheless he was denied recognition.
Today, the biggest attraction of his show is considered to be the man P. T. Barnum himself.

The public conviction of Michael Jackson and the „Barnum – Effect“: Accepting claims as fact without critically questioning them

Barnum’s methods of exhibiting mermaids and fossilized giants and making everyone believe his hoax have gone down in psychology as the „Barnum effect.“ This describes our tendency to accept assertions as facts without questioning them critically and objectively. The „Barnum effect“ in the public condemnation of Michael Jackson is particularly interesting here, since there is a tendency among the public not to question obscure statements about Jackson in the first place.

Barnum on DANGEROUS with Peter Pan in the hair …

Peter Pan hidden on Jackson´s Dangerous Cover 1991

Peter Pan in Barnum’s hair. That’s magic. And Michael Jackson stands fully behind it. Not only on his DANGEROUS cover from 1991. source youtube Disney Peter Pan
Barnum was cheeky, calculating. And entertaining. So it’s no wonder that the cheeky, calculating and entertaining Peter Pan, of all people, is hiding in his hair. (In the bottom right of the image, Disney’s version is inserted here only for comparison purposes).

Peter Pan on Michael Jackson´s Dangerous Cover

A short introduction: Peter Pan

Cheeky Peter Pan entered the world in 1901, when Scottish author James Mathew Barrie created him. Peter Pan is the boy who never grows up. Walt Disney turned him into a cartoon character in 1956 and once again made him famous round the world.
J. M. Barrie’s creation of Peter Pan manipulates people as he pleases. He even makes them fly, but only to make them follow him wherever he wants. Because Pan is a leader. Pan is a fighter. If necessary, he kills and once he has destroyed his victims, he forgets about them.

Tinkerbell on DANGEROUS 1991

The necessary „magic dust“ for his purposes he gets from his ancient buddy, the fairy named Tinkerbell. Sometimes in a violent way.

Where Pan appears, entertainment is assured. Author Barrie produced plays with Peter Pan and became a superstar as a result. The mixture of P.T. Barnum and Peter Pan is therefore highly explosive: Both are not always so particular about the truth, they are showmen of the highest order, ambitious leaders and illusionists.
And they are all part of the personality profile of the man Michael Jackson, who is called the greatest entertainer of all time.

Michael Jackson and Barnum over the years

1972: „You’ll be a part of the world of make believe“

Michael Jackson, as the greatest entertainer to come, recorded a song called THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH at Motown Studio as early as 1971 when he was just thirteen years old.

„You’ll be a part of the world of make believe

sings the boy Michael Joe prophetically at the top of his lungs. 3. The song is part of the album called BEN. BEN is the song by Michael Jackson in which he sings about a real friendship with a rat of the same name.

Ben the rat in gondola on Michael Jackson Dangerous cover 1991

This rat seems to be pictured in the gondola on DANGEROUS.

1978: Barnum and Jackson in „The Wiz“

In 1978, twenty-year-old African American Michael Jackson played the minstrel character „Scarecrow“ in the musical THE WIZ. Scarecrow is a young man who wants to free himself from the cross of Southern racism and has to realize that politics in the promised land of the Northern states is nothing but a show that promises illusions. And not reality.

Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute.

then Scarecrow sums up in the film. 4

1991: Jackson immortalized Barnum in EXITUS on DANGEROUS

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover 1991 P.T. Barnum

In 1991, on DANGEROUS, Michael Jackson once again made showmaster P. T. Barnum the focus of a gigantic circus event exactly 100 years after his EXITUS, his death in 1891. Perhaps as his student Michael Jackson stands on this occasion closely behind him. In any case, Barnum received something like eternal life through Jackson by the release on DANGEROUS. (see above on this page) And also the immortal, eternal boy Peter Pan is very close to Barnum in the EXITUS on DANGEROUS. This area n the painting that represents death and the past.

Jackson and Barnum and „General Tom Thumb“

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover 1991 P.T. Barnum and General "Tom Thumb" standing on his head

Among Barnum’s exhibits was a short-statured man who went by the stage name „General Tom Thumb“. Barnum made him a star and his audience included Queen Victoria. His tours took him all over the world. The „General’s“ marriage to a woman who was also of small stature became the cover story of the American gossip press in 1863.5

On Jackson’s DANGEROUS album cover, Barnum holds „General Tom Thumb“ on his head, this man who had been gawked at as a curiosity since he was a child being sold as a freak by Barnum.


„Freak“ is also the term used by the tabloid press to describe Michael Jackson. Journalists with Pulitzer Prizes are on the same level.6 As „inhuman“ do imaginative authors describe Jackson or also „monster“. They sit at their desks and ponder journalistic masterpieces like „creature of absolute soulessness“ or „genuine beast of the apocalypse“ or „auto-castrated asexual“. 7, 8
The „thumb-sized“ man on DANGEROUS, who had been described as a „freak“ in the entertainment industry, is holding a magic wand. The hand is wearing a white glove. The white glove is Michael Jackson’s trademark.

The painter of the DANGEROUS cover Mark Ryden remembered that he had talked with Jackson about mutual interests. The 1932 film „Freaks“ about the „otherness“ of some people was one of them. 9

1992. Barnum in the „Dreams“ of Michael Jackson: Pepsi Commercial DREAMS

P. T. Barnum and General Tom Thumb in 1992 Pepsi commercial Dreams Michael Jackson Dangerous Album Promotion

General Tom Thumb“ and „Barnum“ in Jackson’s DREAMS from 1991, the adverteising for the DANGEROUS Album

In 1992, Michael Jackson made a Pepsi commercial called DREAMS and devoted a large amount of space in it to General „Tom Thumb“ and his manager Barnum. In the film, Michael Jackson himself is seduced and becomes the center of this „world of make believe“. This illusory world for which Michael Jackson made advertising full of magic.

1995. Barnum, General „Tom Thumb“ und HIStory

Michael Jackson Dangerous cover 1991 P.T. Barnum with Charles Stratton and 1995 in costume of General Tom Thumb is Meszaros Mhaly

In 1995, Jackson wrote HIStory and the Barnum story becomes even more magical: „General Tom Thumb“ is back in real live. 10 Live. At the side of the greatest entertainer of all time. Here: Michael Jackson.

„1998“: Jackson’s announcement about the ending of the „Michael Jackson show“ on Barnum? HIStory was written

Michael Jackson Dangerous Cover 1991 P.T. Barnum with the 1998 on the lapel like Jackson Autograph

DANGEROUS shows a pin on Barnum’s reverse. It resembles a medal and is part of Michael Jackson’s signature, with which he has adorned his autographs since the 1980s: the number „1998“, underlined with an arrow pointing upwards. Below that, three dots. The whole thing reminds of a comet.

Michael Jackson Autographs with the number 1998

A comet, a star, the number 1998. Symbols that Michael Jackson used again and again from the beginning to the end of his career.

Did the number „1998“ on Barnum’s reverse somehow signify the end of the „Michael-Jackson-Show“?


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  1. Taraborrelli, J. Randy, Michael Jackson Die ultimative Biografie, 2010, Heel Verlag, Königswinter
  2. Taylor; Austen, Yuval; Jake, Darkest America – Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to HIP-HOP, 2012, W.W. NORTON & COMPANY, New York, London
  3. Jackson, Michael, Album BEN, Song GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, 1972.02, song written by: Mel Larson, Jerry Marcellino, Motown Record Company https://youtu.be/SM_iiEqv3n0 
  4. THE WIZ, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, 1978, Universal, DVD. Scarecrow: „Barnum said there’s a sucker born every minute.“ However, Barnum is more commonly believed to have said: „There’s a customer born every minute.“
  5. Webseite Son Of The South, Civil War Harper’s Weekly, February 21, 1863 – General Tom Thumb Wedding, 1863, https://www.sonofthesouth.net
  6. Jefferson, Margo, Über Michael Jackson, 2009, „At the same time, we express our lack of understanding of how anyone can voluntarily choose to mutate into a lonely freak.“, BvT Berliner Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, Berlin, page 171
  7. Website Dancing with the elephant, Conversation about Michael Jackson, his art, and social change, Michael Jackson’s Otherness and Power, Dr. Willa Stillwater, Joie Collins with Susan Woodward. 11.12.2014, dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/michael-jacksons-otherness-and-power
  8. Woodward, Susan, Otherness and Power: Michael Jackson and His Media Critics, 01.05.2014, Blackmore Books
  9. Ryden, Mark, Interview „One DANGEROUS Artist“ with MJFC, MJFC. 2001, https://www.michaeljacksonmasterworks.com , Interview with the Michael Jackson Fan Club Magazin, https://www.michaeljacksonmasterworks.com/michael-issues-12/
  10. Meszaros, Mihaly „Michu“, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/kino/kino-schauspieler-in-kostuemen-e-t-s-wahres-gesicht/6684742.html; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0582361/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm born 20.09.1939, Budapest. Hungarian actor who played the role of the alien „Alf“ in the TV series of the same name. With a height of 84 cm he was considered the smallest man in the world. In this role, Meszaros was a member of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michu_Meszaros

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