Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Mike vs. Mike

Wednesday’s Afternoon Inquisition always comes courtesy of the previous week’s Comment o’ the Week, which was SpiralArchitect:


At heart I am a sports fanatic. I listen to sports radio on my way to work, I play Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Football (explained as RPGs for sports fans at the Chicago Drink Skeptically meetings). I love sports.

Thursday, a question was posed on The Dan Patrick Show, which goes beyond the realm of sports. It involves 2 icons and how they have impacted the global landscape. The icons are Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan.

I think if I polled anyone age 25 to 50 (possibly even older), the majority of the people responding will have tried to Moon Walk at least once. In the same respect, if I showed those people a red leather jacket and a diamond-studded, white glove, the response would come quickly as to whom they belong. There is no doubt, Michael Jackson is a global icon.

Michael Jordan is a global icon as well. With the exception of possibly Tiger Woods, is there another more recognizable athlete globally? Although, if you were to play name the logo, I guarantee more people know the Air Jordan logo than the Woods TW logo. I would go as far to say the Air Jordan logo is more recognizable than the Nike Swoosh. In addition to brand recognition, Jordan globalized the game of basketball. The Euro leagues would be no where near the size if not for the influence of Jordan. And without Jordan, do you think we Yao Ming?

With all of the aforementioned said, I would like to pose the same question, which was posed to The Dan Patrick Show listeners Thursday, to the readers of Skepchick today:

Who has had more impact globally, Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan [ED: or the Michael of your choice]?


That’s what I get for awarding COTW to a sports blogger. I added the ability to choose another Michael entirely, to open up the field a bit. Mwa ha.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. While I don’t think there any any Michaels who are more famous than Jackson or Jordan, one could argue that through political engagement Michael Moore ultimately has had and will have more long term impact on the every day life of more people (for better or for worse, depending on your political skew).

  2. Globally? Michael Jackson. I say this as someone who lived in Europe when both were at their peak. Nationally, maybe Jordan beats Jackson recently, but overall I think Jackson’s still got it except among sports folk themselves.
    Personally? Jordan beats Jackson, as far as I’m concerned, even if their shared music video was incredible awkward.

  3. Since Michael Jordan masses at least twice that of Michael Jackson and can jump considerably higher I would say Michael Jordan has the biggest impact on the planet.

  4. No contest, the Michael that has had the greatest impact on the world is Michael Faraday.

    He was showing his stuff to the Queen, who asked him what use it was, to which he reportedly replied “of what use is a baby”.

    When William Gladstone, then British Chancellor of the Exchequer asked him what was the practical use of electricity, he said “one day sir, you may tax it”.

  5. Being a Michael myself, I’ll have to say… me. I’ve never spoken to anyone who could honestly say they’ve never had some kind of interaction with me (including that conversation, of course), so of the sample set I’ve encountered, that’s 100% in the pro-me camp. I don’t think all of those people had conversed with Jackson or Jordan, therefore I win.

    I’m as surprise as you are, believe me, but the maths is pretty solid… I think…

  6. Jackson, by far. Jordan is a SPORTS icon, but Michael Jackson has literally transcended generations. Since the 60s. I know teenagers who are devastated over his death.

    Jordan doesn’t even come close.

  7. Meh. Jackson certainly changed the game when it came to music videos, but did his music really change anyone’s life? I can appreciate his talent, particularly in his early years, but he became increasingly irrelevant.
    Jordan undoubtedly inspired a generation of young sporty types. Frankly I was shocked to hear that basketball has overtaken football as the world’s most popular sport. Personally I don’t understand it but it’s in the newspaper so it must be true.

  8. Yes, they did work together briefly in this video

    I’d say whichever has done the most charity work. A few quick Google searches show that both have given quite a bit, so I’m not sure how they would compare. From what I can tell, Jordan’s charity has mostly gone to US recipients, while Jackson has given more outside the US.

  9. Personally, I’d say Michael Jordan had the most impact on me, but since we’re talking globally, it’s probably Michael Jackson. The only moonwalking I tried to imitate was the moonwalking done on the actual Moon by the Apollo astronauts, and Michael Jackson’s “moonwalking” was nothing like that.

  10. Personally, I’d have to say Jackson, and I suspect outside of North America that would be the answer for most people.

    I just looked at an Air Jordan logo and can honestly say it’s the first time in my almost 30 years on the planet that I’ve seen one.

    As for the idea that Jordan is one of the most recognisable athletes on the planet, there are at least one billion people in India who would recognise Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni ahead of him (and Tiger Woods for that matter). And I’m sure that most Americans have no idea who those two people are!

    Here in England, I suspect most people would recognise David Beckham, Andrew Flintoff or Johnny Wilkinson ahead of Jordan… you get my point…

    Other famous Michael’s… I’d agree with Faraday. I’ll also throw Mick Jagger in there too.

  11. @Gammidgy: If Michael Jordan inspired sprty types, then Michael Jackson inspired those who wanted to succeed in music.

    Justin Timberlake, Usher, even Michael’s own sister Janet would not be where they are today if it weren’t for Michael Jackson. Hell, pop music as a whole wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for him.

  12. @Gammidgy: Also, basketball is far superior to (American) football. (American) Football is boring. Basketball is fast-paced and fun.

    Granted, I love baseball which many find boring, so you may not want to listen to me. ;)

  13. I think the premise that SpiralArchitect starts with, that sports figures are roughly equally well known to everyone, is a faulty one. I’m vaguely aware of who Jordan is, though I couldn’t have told you what sport he plays and don’t recall hearing of him in the past decade or so. And I’m American. Granted I’m an American who has zero interest in sports, but I still keep fairly current on the news. Outside of America that name recognition would plummet dramatically. Basketball is simply not as popular outside the US.

  14. @Zapski: I can’t find the article that explained it much better than I could, but suddenly, when Michael Jackson came on the screen, here was an African American artist that EVERYONE — white OR black — could like. And suddenly there was this African American artist that white girls could fawn over and yell at and cry and no one thought it weird. And he was the first African American artist that sold albums and concerts like CUH-RAZY.

  15. My vote for a Michael that had the most global impact would be, the leader of the club made for you and me: Michael “Mickey” Mouse.

    I’m serious. Show anyone anywhere in the world a picture of all three and see who gets the most recognition.

  16. @marilove: And I especially like this:

    I like Off the Wall and Dangerous better, but I can’t help but think about Thriller’s massive socio-cultural impact. Rev. Al Sharpton referred to Michael as a pre-Obama Obama-esque figure in that he’s a black man who knows how to make millions of blacks and whites fall in love with him. He’s an integrationist, a racial unifier. He made two pop songs as overtly about race as anyone’s ever made: Ebony and Ivory with Paul McCartney and Black or White. He was a Motown guy, after all. But he left Berry Gordy’s house and went to CBS/Epic, a big-time label, to forge an adult solo career. CBS pushed his record as hard as they did their huge white stars and Off the Wall was a huge crossover success: young Michael was established as not an artist for black fans but an artist for everyone at a time when that was rare. Four years later, when Thriller came out it broke the radio color barrier: black and white stations played its singles until MTV, which had not previously played videos by black artists, had to play Michael. For a while they played Thriller every hour at the top of the hour. Back then he was MTV’s Jackie Robinson.


  17. So basically, he changed MTV completely. Before him, they didn’t play videos from black artists.

    Jordan is a great icon in his own right, but he’s no Michael Jackson, and I bet he’d agree.

  18. @MiddleMan: How could I forget Mickey Mouse? Ah the amount of times I put Michael Mouse on sign in sheets at university in a poor attempt at humour. And Mr Mouse is recognisable from his ears alone. As is Jackson from his nose I guess… I just got a horrifying image of a composite Michael – Jackson’s nose, Jagger’s lips, Mouse’s ears, Jordan’s height, Faraday’s hair from this picture:

  19. @marilove: Ah, thanks for the link. I hadn’t looked at MJ’s racial influence from that perspective and so had missed it. I’ve always been color blind in that respect, and I never really pay attention to celebrities at all.

    Re: the notion that MTV didn’t play videos from Black artists – At its inception MTV’s format was basically what the radio biz calls AOL – Album Oriented Rock, and it really didn’t play much Pop music at all. It was a format choice that didn’t pan out, since there weren’t other channels that could represent other genres. I think they made a choice to broaden their appeal and violate the traditional Radio format idea that they had started with. I doubt Jackson was much more than in a right-time-right-place position there. It certainly was a good move for both Jackson and MTV though, and they profited mightily from it.

    Still though, I wish the regular news outlets would stop reporting on him, and let it go back to the world of E! and other gossip outlets. News is news, and celebrity news should be short-lived and left to gossip outlets.

  20. @Zapski: “I doubt Jackson was much more than in a right-time-right-place position there. ”

    I don’t know if I agree with that. MTV HAD to play Michael Jackson videos because radio was playing him. I guess it’s kind of circular, though, you know? But Michael Jackson was really the first nationally aclaimed African American artist.

    And perhaps one reason (of many) why you are able to be “color blind” in that respect. :)

    I’ve heard from a few biracial people (on comment boards) that said they were very, very personally touched by Michael Jackson’s video/song “Black and White”.

  21. @Kaylia_Marie:

    Not necessarily. A lot of what influences culture depends on a mix of what the influencer does outside of his or her milieu.

    For example, there was a long period from the late 1960s to, I don’t know, recently where Ali was the most recognizeable and beloved person on the planet. Certainly he was a great boxer, and that had something to do with it, but he was many other positive things outside the ring that drew people to him.

    (For the record, I don’t think Jordan has been the same kind of person off the basketball court. I think he’s just mostly recognized as a great athlete. And the interest Jackson generated for himself that is unrelated to music, well, it gets people interested in the same way they are interested in a freak show.)

    So I wouldn’t say a music man automatically trumps a sports guy in global influence, simply by virtue of the area of his success.

  22. I’m going with Michael Jackson on this one, but only based on my personal experience. I have no idea what the air Jordan logo looks like. However, when I was in the fifth grade (around the time of Thriller) I adored Michael Jackson. I remember fantizing about learning to dance like him and was very upset that my parents wouldn’t get me one of those red zippered jackets. I did spend hours trying to moonwalk and wearing one glove.

  23. @Sam Ogden: It must be a matter of opinon… but for me, it seems like music and the pop culture that goes along with it have more of a long lasting influence / impact on the world than a sports figure. So, not always and not in every time period… but right now? Yes, I think Jackson had a bigger influence than Jordan… partly because his area was music/po culture… that that seems to touch more people.

  24. RE: Jackson and MTV. MTV did not play any black artists at the time. They had a fair amount of dance music they played, so it’s not like they were strict AOR (Duran Duran was hardly rock). I’ve read a ton of books on the history of [music industry|MTV|music videos|censorship of popular music]. The generally accepted story is that MTV refused to play black artists and Sony said “Well, if you won’t play Jackson, you can’t play any artists on Sony or any Sony subsidiary label”. And that was pretty much that.

  25. @marilove: And perhaps one reason (of many) why you are able to be “color blind” in that respect.

    That’s certainly possible, as well as have been being raised on Duke Ellington, and other jazz greats. ;)

    It’s interesting to browse MTV’s video Yearbook – there are a few Black artists in the top video lists (Prince, for one) that predate Jackson, but according to them there were only two years of MTV before Thriller. He certainly dominates after that though.

    That’s some nostalgia there!

  26. @marilove: “But Michael Jackson was really the first nationally aclaimed African American artist.”

    I disagree with that. What about Louis Armstrong back in the 20’s? Black people and white people loved his music, even while segregation was still a problem. If you really mean to look at nationally acclaimed black artists, the earliest are from then, around the dawn of radio.

  27. @daedalus2u: I heartily second, or third (whatever) Michael Faraday. Totally trumps some pop icons. Besides, radios and TVs are much easier to design so that we can hear songs/see videos or b-ball games if one understands electromagnetism.

  28. Quote from post 41: (marilove)
    “I’ve heard from a few biracial people (on comment boards) that said they were very, very personally touched by Michael Jackson’s video/song “Black and White”.

    … Must learn to use handy “preview” button…

  29. Jordan played basketball. America and a few other countries might be obsessed with it, but most of the rest of the world is too busy with football. And by football I don’t mean the type where you wear a helmet. I’d wager that David Beckham is more recognizable than Jordan globally.

    Pop music on the other hand is rampant everywhere. Jackson wins hands down.

  30. Honestly, I don’t think either Michael has had a REAL impact on the world. Jackson was avant garde 20 years ago, but, for the last 10, has been irrellevant. As far as Jordan, do they still make Air Jordan shoes? While they may have been on everybody’s lips at the time, the public has a short attention span. Even the might Madonna, while she pushed the envelope in her time, has had her power wane. Honestly, I really can’t think of a Michael who has had a REAL impact-REAL impact being defined as someone who has had a lasting change on the world. This includes our beloved Mr. Shermer. While most of us are big fans of his, has he REALLY done something to change how the world works? I’m not being disparaging, by any means, but, for me, the bar for having a REAL impact on the world is a pretty tall order. People who I think qualify include MLK, Susan B. Anthony, Albert Einstein, and Issaac Newton. These people made a REAL impact on the world, and the only come around once every few decades.

  31. Unfortunately work got in the way of things today, so I am just catching up now.

    I understand what everyone is saying about Michael Jackson, and most have gone to Jackson over Jordan. I think on Dan Patrick, the number was well over 75%; high number for a sports show.

    Although, Dan Patrick’s producer Paul made a great observation. Michael Jordan’s presence in the NBA helped globalize the sport of basketball, but Michael Jackson did not globalize Motown.

    I think Jackson is more widely recognized globally, but as far as impact is concerned, Jordan has been far more impactful globally.

  32. @infinitemonkey: I actually sort of agree with you here. Jordan hasn’t been relevant outside the world of sports really ever, he isn’t particularly well known outside of the U.S. and only by people old enough to remember him as a basketball player. Jackson has had a larger world wide following but his relevance as waned in part by his eccentricities amongst many other things. The only reason I would say that I agree only in part is because impact is impact, all are real, the question is will it be lasting. I know you defined real impact as being lasting, I just don’t think that linguistically speaking they can be said to be equivalent. I could be wrong, maybe Karen Stollznow could hop in here and correct me. So yeah, Michael Shermer has had real impact, but only time will tell as to whether it is lasting. Also defining lasting impact is difficult. Consider that while Darwin is given most of the credit for Evolution, if it wasn’t for Alfred Russell Wallace, he may not have published when he did or ever at all. It was because there was another who had the same idea and was planning on publishing his results that helped push Darwin to publishing. That’s pretty lasting impact though Wallace isn’t well known. The people you mentioned are both famous and had a lasting impact in their various areas, I would add to that list The Beatles, Elvis and the lesser knowns who inspired both as also having a lasting impact. Also there have been many that have made lasting impacts and they come around more frequently than you think.

  33. Jordan. He’s a huge brand, still, now, everywhere. He built Nike single-handed. He personally sold me a package of Hanes Boxer Briefs at Target, then lept from the store to fight intergalactic criminals armed with nothing but shoes and will. The laws of the state of California may not have applied to Jackson, but the laws of physics do not apply to Jordan.

  34. Personally, I always thought the Jackson was the most overrated pop star ever. Someone said he was avant garde?? He wasw a guy who had some hits. And he didn’t produce much, 4-5 LPs. Jordan did internationalize B-Ball, without him, there’d be no Yao, or any of a plethora of international stars, America would still win every Olympic game (other than Russia) 127-53, and there’d be no Grateful Dead Lithuanian tie-dye.
    As for recently departed rockers and their influence, I’ll take Sky Saxon of the Seeds, who were a big influence on the the 60’s garage rock scene and the 70’s punk scene over the world’s most famous molester outside of VAMBLA. Better music, too.

  35. @killyosaur42: On further examination of my own claim I do believe that both I and @infinitemonkey: are wrong here. Impact, whether real, lasting or other, is not defined by how well known the said person is (as infinitemonkey has suggested) but by what that impact has done to the very nature of culture, science, etc. Also he’s still wrong about the “once in a decade” comment. In the same decade as MLK we also had Malcolm X, the people of AIM movement, in the 1980’s we had Reagan, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and a host of others who made lasting impacts on the world either for good or for ill, at the time of Newton there was also Johannes Keplar. Impact cannot really be defined within a limited time span either, just because an impact hasn’t been felt yet, doesn’t mean it never will (think H.P. Lovecraft, his impact on horror fiction didn’t really come into fruition within his lifetime but some time after). also @teammarty: is correct about Jackson being overrated. Musically, the Beatles had more of an impact over all, hell Ozzy Osborne has had more impact on the world of music than Jackson actually has.

    So of the two original Mikes mentioned, Jordan has had the greater impact. He may not be currently relevant, but all that means is that he isn’t making a current impact.

  36. You know what? Since I have lost hours and hours of real news to this topic, I’ve decided Michael Jackson’s not dead enough by half.

    OK, he’s dead. Can we get some actual news on TV again?

  37. @killyosaur42: @killyosaur42: First of all, let me state that I never said that my list was all-inclusive. The list was generated to show what qualifies as having a REAL impact. These are all people who have changed the world works. Should I be docked for not including the inventor of the wheel? S/He made an impact that no other person on the face of the planet has/can make.

    Additionally, the “once every few decades” comment is not a statement of regular frequency. Look at the Renesaince (and I know I’ve misspelled that word). They were popping up like weeds. However, this was preceeded by a really long time without any major change to the world.

    Additionally, Alfred Russell Wallace or the inspiration for Elvis/The Beatles (which I will conceed did have a REAL impact, as they were architechs of rock) is somewhat irrellevant to the question at hand. These leser knowns didn’t have an impact in and of themselves, but simply facilitated the impact of another. They may have been a catalyst to the reaction, but, were not part of the reation themselves.

    And, yes, some people alive today, while their impact may not be able to be felt now, when humanity looks back 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now, MAYBE they will step back and say, “Michael Shermer had a REAL impact on the world.” However, for any one of us to make that claim now, well, that requires a lot evidence. Honestly, I think James Randi has had a bigger impact than Mr. Shermer, as, IMHO, for all intents and purposes, he weaved the skeptical movement, but that’s another AI altogether.

  38. @killyosaur42: If we really want to get philosophical about it, not only does someone not have to be famous to make an impact, but they don’t have to make a huge impact to make an impact.

    Little things do make a difference. *Everyone* has some sort of impact on the world…whether positive or negative.

    Even if someone’s only contribution is to believe and pass on the words of someone wiser, there’s merit it that.

    Here’s an example: Parents who don’t indoctrinate their children into any religion and teach their kids critical thinking skills. Will they get famous for it? Probably not. Will they cause the world to change overnight? Nope. However, they are, hopefully, populating the world with more rational people which will have an effect down the road.

  39. @ZachTP: Well, I guess MODERN nationally aclaimed, as in POP SUPERSTAR, which, no matter how awesome and popular Armstrong was, he was not. Armstrong wasn’t, for instance, on the same level as Elvish. MJ is/was.

  40. @infinitemonkey:

    Jackson was avant garde 20 years ago, but, for the last 10, has been irrellevant.

    Um, no he has not. Just look at pop music.

    Justin Timberlake? Usher? Britney Spears? All here because of Michael Jackson. He is STILL having a huge impact on music today. Irrelevant he is not, not in the world of music.

  41. interesting AI:

    For one to determine who the superior Michael is, one must break down the tales of the tape.

    Michael Jackson- Thriller, an album where every song was a top ten hit single (something unheard of), wore gold medals, loved to grab his crotch while performing his trademark moves.

    Michael Jordan – The image of basketball, redefined how the game was played, won gold medals, loved to stick out his tongue while performing his trademark moves.

    So the tie-breaking factor of who the best is comes down to this: CAPTAIN EO versus SPACE JAM. Captain Eo was only in Disneyland, while Space Jam was in every cinema around the world. Winner= Michael Jordan

  42. Irrelevant being defined, in my argument as not having a current and active influence on culture. Michael Jackson, while he WAS relevant at one time, has stopped, and had only been making news for his bankruptcy, legal scandals, and children.

  43. I Skimmed the responses and couldnt see anyone mention a sports star who had WAAAY more impact on the world than Jordan, and was polled as the most recognisable face in the world (how reliable that is… meh but he is up there)

    Muhammad Ali…

  44. @infinitemonkey: But he still has a current and active influence on pop music and will for a long, long time.

    There is no way that Lady GaGa, for instance, would be as popular as she is without the help of Jackson (and Bowie and others, but Jackson too). Justin Timberlake has clear influences from Jackson, and Timberlake is hugely popular.

    His influence will be felt for decades. There’s no doubt about it.

  45. @marilove: while I agree with you in regards to Michael Jackson’s influence. Buuuut, we are talking about an influence that really slowed down from the album “Bad” all the way to his most recent effort.

    Take an artist like Prince (who I consider the real and much more talented artist of Pop and R&B), he has been making his style of music since 1978 and has actually become more technically and stylistically impressive with each release. While he will never get the renown or recognition as the more-weird Jackson, his quality never dropped off.

    If this AI was about young Michael Jackson and his impact on the world, then there would be no question that he is bigger than Jordan. However, Michael Jackson had become more of a wacky-dream parody of himself as the years went by, and as a result his significance on the world and his stature as “King Of Pop” was more a joke than anything. Yes he made THRILLER and OFF THE WALL, but what has he done that was significant in the past 15 years (besides playing the weird bleached alien man who has no grip on reality)?

    Michael Jordan on the other hand, bought a basketball team, has a son who recently decided that playing sports was less important than an education, and still is felt in a positive way globally (despite having retired from the game years ago).

    We all wanted to Moonwalk and wear that studded glove across the dance-floor in that white three piece suit at one time, or walk down the street lighting up the side-walk with each step, but ask anyone now which one they would want to be?

    Michael Jackson is no Prince, and Prince is really good at basketball. Prince is shorter than Tyrone “Mugsy” Bogues, and he and Jorday played some memorable games against each other when the Hornets were in Charlotte. Michael Jordan owns the new team in Charlotte. Old Michael Jackson is now white, and we all know white people cannot play basketball (unless you are Larry “The Legend” Bird), so therefor by my logic, both Prince and Michael Jordan are better than Michael Jackson.

    Plus, most every woman still wanted to sleep with Prince. So that also counts for something, while Michael Jackson seemingly didn’t know what sex he was.

  46. @Truckle: A boxer-having an influence. Imagine that! LOL

    No, I disagree, he was not a current acd active influence. He has not release a new album in many years. When his “best songs” are mentioned, they are from the 80’s and 90’s.

    Additionally, having an influence on American Pop is WAAAAY different than having a global impact. While his music was listened to around the world, so is Weird Al’s, and, while I’m a fan of his, I would not say he’s had an impact.

  47. @marilove: I’m not so sure about that. I mean, I’m not sure I could name 5 people who wouldn’t recognize that gravelly voice (though they might not know the name attached to it).

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