White Belgian youth who copied Michael Jackson | Education | The Guardian
Making the Mickey
Marc Abrahams on the long-jawed white Belgian youth who looks just like Michael Jackson
In 1997, a 24-year-old Belgian male requested that his head be reconstructed to make him resemble the singer Michael Jackson. Three plastic surgeons granted his wish. Their report about it, published in the journal Annales de Chirurgie Plastique et Esthetique, is a lovely read. The loveliness is partly in the detailed technical description, monochromatically in the set of before-and-after X-rays of the facial bones, and memorably in the medically stylish photographs that show the young man before and after his course of treatment.
The doctors are Maurice Mommaerts, Johan Abeloos, and H Gropp. Mommaerts and Abeloos are based at Hôpital Général Saint-Jean, in Bruges, Belgium. Gropp is at Diakoniehospital, in Bremen, Germany. This is how they describe the patient's challenge to them: "His quest was to obtain the facial features of Michael Jackson, his idol that he imitated professionally."
This was an unusual demand. The doctors explain that "normally, patients strive for an ideal, beautiful, normal contour [of the facial bones]. We were confronted with a patient who requested a three-dimensional overcorrection."
This was no ordinary young man. He impressed the doctors with the firmness of his desire, yes, but also with his detailed knowledge of his own craniofacial anatomy (especially his gonial angles and malar prominence).
This task, the doctors decided, was something they could do. "After thorough discussion and psychiatric analysis, we agreed to morph him in a way that all changes could be undone and that the tissues were not at risk for considerable permanent damage."
The case was both easy and hard. The surgeons immediately saw simple ways to rearrange the young man's chin and also his cheekbone arches. But how to achieve the desired posterior-mandibular augmentation? That was the puzzler; solving it would be a medical first.
The doctors rose to the posterior-mandibular augmentation challenge. They conquered it and, in so doing, made medical history. Two rounds of surgery did the trick. Full details are in their report.
But for non-specialists, the important thing may be a simple and comforting piece of knowledge. Yes, we now know, it is possible to surgically morph a long-jawed white Belgian youth so that he looks just like Michael Jackson.
And yet, a prominent institution that houses that particular type of individual suddenly has, at least potentially, a big problem. Hordes of people want to see him, touch him, admire him, maybe even serve legal papers on him. I found no reports of that happening with this Belgian doppelganger.
I suspect that is because the surgeons kept up with the medical literature, and had learned from a 1996 report in the journal Hospital Security and Safety Management. That instructional article, written in the wake of Jackson's dramatic collapse on a stage in New York City, is called: "Michael Jackson at Beth Israel: handling press, fans, gawking employees."
· Marc Abrahams is editor of the bimonthly magazine Annals of Improbable Research (www.improbable.com), and organiser of the Ig Nobel Prize