Monkeys and American Gothic: A Response to Art N Wordz and Their Racist Michael Jackson Socks

By Jamie Bergen

We’re all familiar with the term “Wacko Jacko” and its racist origins. But just in case you’re not, here’s a quick history lesson:

This is what Michael Jackson had to put up with most of his adult life. It’s disgusting and infuriating, and those of us who defend Michael are so fucking tired of seeing it. Twelve years after his death and NOTHING has changed. Case in point:

What… the ever loving FUCK? Do you see that? Do you see the word above Michael’s head?

The word Monkey. In the same image as a black man. Right above his head.

Twitter user Mister Stip saw these socks in a shop window in Amsterdam last week. But when he went back to complain, his concerns fell on deaf ears.

(Their customer service sucks, by the way.)

Mister Stip’s tweet was pretty widespread, so there’s a good chance you saw all the drama unfold. But if you missed it, here’s a rundown of the main points.

Art N Wordz

The name of the company that produces the socks is Art N Wordz.

I decided to Google them to see if they have a website and they indeed do. I found their page for the socks and this is the title they have for the listing:

A tribute. A fucking tribute! In what universe is this a tribute?! It’s insulting and ugly. Who in their right mind would create something like that thinking it’s a tribute?? No, this is more like something a hater would make to taunt us with. I’m having a hard time processing the possibility that someone who likes Michael could actually produce a piece like this and call it a tribute!

It looks like Art N Wordz sell the socks themselves, but many retailers do, too. Walmart, Kmart, Amazon, eBay, and a store called Socks We Love. Of all those places, Socks We Love appears to be the only one that took them down.

Well done, Socks We Love. I guess. I mean, they only removed them from their store after receiving a ton of complaints, so I’m not sure I even want to give them credit.

Seriously, they shouldn’t have had the socks for sale in the first place. What were they even thinking? They actually looked at them, right? They had to have seen how problematic they were! Why didn’t they??

Anyway, there’s more about Art N Wordz that I want to address, but I’ll save that for later because it’s… a lot. Right now, I want to go over the artwork itself, starting with American Gothic.

American Gothic

Impavidus1’s tweet above mentions the classic painting American Gothic, which is what the print used for the socks rips off is based on.

Now, I never knew the woman in the painting was the old man’s daughter. I always thought she was his wife. I guess I never looked at it closely enough. Anyway, when I saw that fact in Impavidus1’s tweet, my immediate thought was, “Wait. If they put a monkey’s face on the man’s daughter… are they referring to Paris with that?”

I’m… not even going to get into that. Let’s just leave it at, “How dare they!” and move on so I don’t get MJJForum sued.

Now, onto to the print used on the socks.

Original “Artwork”

There are some differences between the original print and the socks. Let’s see if we can spot them!

Now look carefully. What’s on the socks that isn’t on the original print? Yeah, that’s right, Art N Wordz added “Monkey” to the socks.

To make matters worse, this is their “philosophy”:

“We match the top words to the artwork and the artwork to the paper so everything you see is there for a reason!” Right, so they knew what they were doing when they placed “Monkey” above Michael’s head, and “MJ” above the monkey’s head. It was entirely intentional.

And yes, the “artists” behind Art N Wordz are both white. Shocking. Here they are talking about an Elvis piece they did.

Elvis? The King of Pop?? Invented the modern day music video?? It’s the erasure for me.

Another difference is the dictionary page in the background. There seems to be two variations of the print with different pages. The one above is basically innocuous, but the following… is not.

Conclusion? All versions of this “artwork” are trash.

Art N Wordz Again

After finding Art N Wordz’s website, and the listing for the socks as a TRIBUTE, I decided to head over to their Contact page to complain. This is my message:

Could I have been a bit more nuanced? Yeah. Probably. Okay, definitely. But I was LIVID and let that fuel my brief words, which is my usual course of action. I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just what I tend to do.

Within a couple of minutes, I received a reply. The speed in which this reply arrived in my mailbox told me that, (a) it was a copy and paste job, and (b) mine was not the first complaint they’d received.

Here is their response in full:

Wow. Okay. Fine. If that’s really the hill you want to die on, then you go ahead and do that.

But allow me to make a few points.

“You don’t know me.”

You’re right. I don’t know you. Thank God.

“You don’t know the OTHER art we have created to pay tribute to him.”

Well, you know, I didn’t when I first read this reply. But I do now, and I have to say, it’s not much better.

What is that??

Yeah, it’s part of a musical note, but the placement of it is… really bad. We all know what it looks like, so I won’t say it outright, but if this is also your idea of a “tribute”, you can seriously FUCK OFF.

“I am one of his biggest fans”

No, you’re not. Don’t even try me with that bullshit.

“the original of this piece I donated proceeds to help one of his foundations.”

“He was the king.”

But you said Elvis was the king…

“And whoever told you to come harass us for no reason truly upsets me. This is way off base. So please who ever told you to do this please go to the site etc and be sure they know they started something for noooo reason.”

First of all, no one told me to “harass” you. I sent you a complaint of my own free will because I was furious about what I’d seen. Second, “no reason”?? If you hadn’t created such an offensive piece of… art, then altered it so it’s even more offensive and put it on a damn pair of socks, I never would have complained in the first place! Noooo, there was definitely a fucking reason.

Okay, okay, I’ll concede that maybe the original piece wasn’t intended to be racist or offensive. But the socks? You ADDED the word “Monkey” over Michael’s head. THE WORD “MONKEY” OVER MICHAEL’S HEAD! What the hell else were we supposed to think about that?? If you’re such a big fan, you would know the history of “Wacko Jacko” and wouldn’t even consider doing something like that!

Actually, you know what? I take that back, I don’t concede anything. Even without “Monkey”, you put a chimp’s face over the daughter’s from the original painting. You strategically placed a musical note above MJ’s lip in another piece. You stated that nothing is random in your pieces. You called Elvis the “King of Pop”. You don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. At all.

“This piece was commissioned as a tribute to him in hopes he is in a better place w bubbles. So there thats that.”

Um… Bubbles is still alive?

Not only that, he’s thriving with his friends in their sanctuary, the Center for Great Apes. He’s producing artwork of his own, which, I gotta say, is a hell of a lot better than anything you’ve done.

“Not to mention we were commissioned to paint the original by a producer who worked with MJ.”

I call bullshit on this one. Someone who worked with Michael would know better. Someone who worked with Michael would respect him enough not to have something so hideous created as a “tribute” to him! Unless it’s Quincy Jones, I wouldn’t put this past him at all, actually.

“And the prints were donated to one of his foundations.”

Which foundation?? Do you even know the name of it? Do you have proof anything was donated to this mysterious foundation?

“Sooooooooo I guess opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one but you don’t have a clue why this piece reallllllllly existed.”

You know what? I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care who commissioned it. I don’t care what intentions you had while making it. I don’t care that the proceeds were donated to charity. I don’t care you think it’s a tribute. All of that was canceled out by one word.


So here are two more words: Fuck. You.

What an utterly ridiculous response this is. A smart person would have said something like, “I’m sorry for any offense this piece may have caused, it was not my intention.” Instead they went with, “I’m not the problem, you are!!” AKA, gaslighting.

Another Twitter user, Sandra Kallmeyer, also decided to complain. Of course, her message was much more eloquent than mine.

The response she received was the complete opposite of eloquent.

While this person seems to be an expert at gaslighting, they sure have a poor grasp of the meaning of the phrase “damage control”.

See, this is what racists do when they get called out for their bullshit. They double down. They gaslight. They play the victim. They blame everyone/everything but themselves. They deflect. And when none of that works, they start with the threats.

We’ve Had Enough

It’s 2021. The age of social justice and Black Lives Matter. So why is racism against Michael Jackson still being perpetuated? And I don’t just mean the socks, I’m talking in general. Whether it’s Leaving Neverland, or making fun of his vitiligo, or trying to diminish his accomplishments (usually in order to lift those of a white artist), why is it still happening? Because the media has dehumanized him so much that people no longer see him as an actual human being. So when they see something like Leaving Neverland, they’ve already been programmed to believe it.

Let’s take a look at four recent virtue signalling tweets.

Now let’s take a look at their bios.

You see what three of them have in common, right? Yep. Black Lives Matter. Except Michael Jackson’s, of course. They wouldn’t dare say anything that disparaging about anyone else, but Michael Jackson is fair game because the media gave them the okay. So much for critical thinking.

So where did this all originate?

None of this would be happening if he never bought that damn ATV catalogue. That’s what I believe, anyway. But think about it. While there were some negative pieces in the media prior to the purchase, the racist agenda against him that we’re witnessing today didn’t begin until AFTER the catalogue was his. Michael knew that himself. He spoke about it in 2002.

“How dare a black man be successful and rich enough to be able to purchase a beloved white band’s music!! AAAAAAHHHHH!!!”

Not to mention the “Michael outbid Paul and stole his music from him!!” narrative still survives today, thanks in part to Paul’s continuing bitterness and “poor me” act, even though we’ve known for a long time that’s not how it happened at all (see video above).

Michael bought that catalogue in 1986. 35 years ago. It’s goddamn time the media just got the fuck over it. Michael’s gone. Sony has the catalogue now. Paul made a deal with them. Everything worked out well for everyone except Michael. What fucking more do they want??

This is so exhausting and we’re all just fucking over it at this point. We’ve had enough, for sure. But we have to keep fighting. We have to keep calling out racist bullshit, like these socks, every time we see it. The media isn’t going to let this go any time soon, and neither are the haters. But our crusade is working. More and more people are discovering the truth, thanks to advocates on Twitter, documentaries like Square One, Lies of Leaving Neverland and Loving Neverland, and websites like The Michael Jackson Allegations and Vindicate MJ.

One day, Taj will finish his documentary and it will blow the media’s disgusting narrative straight to hell. I really, really believe that. But until that happens, we must keep going.

I truly hope that one day we will live in a world where the allegations and the lies and the racism are nothing but a brief footnote in Michael’s history. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m nowhere near being ready to give up on that hope. In fact, these dumbass socks have kind of invigorated me. Fury is the source of my power, you know.



One thought on “Monkeys and American Gothic: A Response to Art N Wordz and Their Racist Michael Jackson Socks

  1. Everywhere I find them online, I’ve made it known that I’m disgusted by the racist tone of thier Merchandise. So far, the items are being taken down. Some within a few minutes. If I see these in person anywhere…. I’m going to lose my shit…. COMPLETELY!!

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