Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 7--MJ!!!


  • Cynthia Fuchs (1995) “Michael Jackson’s Penis,” from Cruising the Performative: Interventions into the Representation of Ethnicity, Nationality and Sexuality, ed. by Sue-Ellen Case, Philip Brett, and Susan Leigh Foster


  • MJ, "In the Closet," "Beat It," "Thriller"


Angela said...


What records, if any, do we have of Jackson's "quiet times" when he escaped from the public eye? What might have happened during those times?

Artifact Discussion:

Michael Jackson’s “In the Closet” seems to demonstrate many of the aspects that Cynthia Fuchs was describing in her article. Jackson’s feminity was very prominent in this video. He has great facial similarity to women, and his body is slim/slight. He does grab his penis several times in the video, but it is important to note that around 4:53, when the girl bends down and slowly moves up Jackson’s body, there is no visible penis. One would think that a typical male would be rather excited by the seductiveness of the woman and by her moving up his body sensually. Furthermore, the way Jackson strokes and rubs his body is very similar to the way the woman in the movie rubs her own body. At the end of the music video, Jackson’s silhouette is seen dancing in the doorway, but without knowing that it was Jackson, it would be difficult to identify the sex of the dancer. Although he does execute some jerky movements and turns, overall his dancing is very smooth. We have talked in previous classes how smooth movements are usually associated with “nonmasculinity.” This seems to be the case here. Finally, the song title “In the Closet” could have some deeper meaning. Although the apparent meaning behind the words is to keep the love affair secret, it could have another meaning as well, as though Jackson has a secret that he is not ready to let out yet.

The “Thriller” video, on the other hand, portrayed Jackson as more masculine. He had darker skin in this video than he did in the “In the Closet” video. His face looked manly, and his voice was a bit deeper. Jackson even demonstrated the manly coarse voice (e.g. around 6:20 or so, Jackson uses a coarse voice with the words, “I make you see…”). In this video, Jackson’s dancing seems manlier, as it includes more jerky movements. Overall, Jackson in “Thriller” seems manlier than Jackson in “In the Closet.”

Athira said...

I watched these videos while hanging out with my friends; one of them said, "when I think of Michael Jackson, I think of the fact that he was accused of child abuse even before I think of the fact that he was a musician." How did the child abuse allegations affect his public perception, particularly the formulation of American masculinity that he fit into?

Artifact Discussion:
"Black masculinity" is not the first thing I think of when I think of Michael Jackson. It might be that the first image of his face that comes to mind is always white, emaciated. As we talked about on Tuesday with Miles Davis and with other black male artists, "black masculinity" seems to be associated with aggression, dominance, and a large, muscular form. In the rare interviews he did, especially the one with Oprah, he came across as so gentle, timid, quiet, and assuming -- Michael Jackson is the opposite of what most people would think of as "dominant male." I remember hearing LaToya Jackson, his sister, saying in an interview recently, that she thought his anti-masculinity was a reaction to having such an abusive, violent, and terrifying father figure. So, I would agree with the Fuch's assertion that "physically reconstructed, he publicly rejects his past and maintains a nearly anti-masculine voice and demeanor." (Fuchs 17)

My friends commented that they don't remember seeing much of Michael Jackson's body except his face. Not only that but, the image of Michael Jackson in the "Thriller" video with dark skin, is much less familiar to me than an image of Michael Jackson with whitened skin. Although it seems unclear whether this was a result of vitiligo or a purposeful modification on Michael Jackson, it does seem to suggest that his race, gender, and overall image are sort of "unknowable." As Fuchs says, "Black or white, male or female, young or old, sexed or not, Jackson's image refuses knowable, previously constituted subjectivities" (Fuchs 17).

Spence said...

Why was Michael so obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor?

Artifact Discussion:
I found the article so confusing and loquacious that I began to stop reading and listen to Michael Jackson’s earlier tunes. And I feel like my reaction is an interesting but typical reaction to Michael Jackson. A fan could get caught up in whether or not Jackson is a re-representation of himself, a drag, a transgendered person, a pinnacle of sexuality, a femme, etc. or they could relax and enjoy his music. Maybe I need to read the article again, but I am curious about what others gained from it. It seemed contradictory, confusing and inconclusive. Although it is hard to understand who or what Jackson is, I do not need a wordy intellectual piece to tell me that; that fact is quite obvious.
In Thriller that inherent contradiction is quite visible. Jackson seems to play the sweet high school boyfriend, but that role continues to get twisted. First he becomes a werewolf and then a zombie. Even when he is a normal human being he does not seem to focus attention on his date. He ignores her when she asks to leave and dances around her while looking forward, not at her. The high school boyfriend stereotype is completely shattered and it seems like Jackson does not seem to have interest in this girl whatsoever. She is almost a joke for him to toy with. Thus, his masculinity and power over her are on display, yet he has no sexual interest in her. This seems to be a typical analysis of Michael. He performs some gender roles, but he may or may not espouse to them.

Emily Chang said...

Discussion Question:
In what ways did Michael Jackson’s father impact his life positively and negatively, and how different do you think that Michael would turn out without his father’s urging and guidance?

Artifact Discussion:
Prior to doing the readings and listenings for this blog post, I have been a fan of Michael Jackson. I was not the biggest fan who knows the details of his life and discography, but I knew facts about and appreciated his music enough to be called a fan. Now, when analyzing his work from an academic perspective, it is interesting to note several things that came up in the videos for “Thriller” and “In the Closet”.
First of all, Michael Jackson reminds me of Elvis in that he chooses to emphasize his masculinity through pelvic movements. Although Elvis’s dancing involved pelvic gyrations, Michael Jackson often would clearly use his hand motions to direct attention towards his pelvic area. His infamous “choreographed crotch-grabbing” – which is referred to as a “sign of autoerotic sexuality” by Cynthia J. Fuchs – is his style of flaunting his maleness through music (17). Both Elvis and Jackson would swing their hips (and occasionally their arms) in their dancing, though the latter takes his dancing to a new extreme by exaggerating his motions more than the former does. Such dance moves were evident in “Thriller”, in which Jackson and his back-up zombie dancers not only swing their arms but also sometimes make suggestive hip motions; similar hip movements are also present in “Beat It”. In “In the Closet”, Jackson touches his body and moves his hips in a way that suggests a masculine male wanting to attract a mate, which in this case is Naomi Campbell in the video. The way they whisper and converse with each other also is reminiscent of the talk that lovers would exchange.
In addition, Michael Jackson also establishes his masculinity with respect to women in the two music videos mentioned. In “Thriller”, he poses as the boyfriend of a pretty young woman (which raises his status as a man) and then morphs into a frightening, beastly creature that intimidates people (something that men would like to do). In “In the Closet”, he and “his woman” dance seductively, with the flirting and chemistry definitely connecting the two through their flirtatious glances and hip swaying. Overall, I find it interesting that Michael Jackson draws attention to his dancing and the figures around him in his music videos to establish his masculinity.

Austin Kelly said...

Question: Why do think that Michael chose to use less people (back-up dancers) in the video "In the Closet"? I feel like thriller and beat it were vastly more entertaining than "In the Closet" mostly because when I think of Michael I envision him with several back up dancers doing what he does best.

Discussion: As I sat and watched the thriller and beat it video I couldn't help but smile and think about how good Michael really is. Although, I didn't get the same satisfaction out of watching "In the Closet", but I knew that his transformation throughout the years contributed to my dissatisfaction. The music industry had never seen anything like Michael Jackson. His unique voice and dancing ability set him miles apart from any artist in the music industry. Because the world had seen no one like him his popularity was that much bigger as a result. What I remember most about Michael Jackson was his legal troubles and more specifically his child molestation accusations and what he did to change his image. I think that its unfair to both Michael and his fans that the greatness that he provided on stage throughout his lifetime will be in the shadows of his legal troubles and image transformation.

I think early in Michael Jackson's career his style was authentic in every sense of the word and I think that the fact that he was authentic and provided audiences with something new is responsible for his popularity and the success that he achieved throughout his life. People often forget that Michael Jackson is a BLACK MAN. Everything he did to change his image to essentially become "perfect" didn't change the fact that he is black. Does this change take away from his authenticity because he no longer wanted to be or look like his original self? He was still dancing and singing like he was before he changed his skin color, so does the fact that MJ made himself appear white discredit the Michael that brought us "Thriller" and "Beat it"?

Harold said...

Question: Michael Jackson has elements of femininity and masculinity. However, sometimes the masculine parts of his persona seem contrived. How can we ever tell an artist’s true character? By their work? By their personal items?

Artifact discussion:
When I look at the music videos posted I find many contradictions between the music, the actions in the videos, and Jackson’s personal life. There are so many gray areas of gender that Jackson can be considered a transgressive artist. First, in Jackson’s video for “In the Closet,” the contradictions are present from the start. For example, the title of the video is normally associated with being gay, however the video starts off with a woman speaking seductively to either Jackson or the audience. Moreover, Jackson’s feminine physique is like the female’s in the video and his clothes and long hair are also somewhat feminine. However, his dancing is very aggressive and precise – there is something very masculine about it.

The video for “Thriller” also seems like Jackson is trying to be too masculine. From making himself to grotesque and the pitch of his speaking voice, one cannot help but to notice these contradictions. Furthermore, the use of the girlfriend in both the movie-in-the-movie and the actual video itself seem acted and not genuine. You cannot help to think of the Fuchs article as Jackson does his signature crotch-grab move. Lastly, the “Beat It” explicitly discusses how to be macho. In “beating it,” you stick it to the man or whoever has issue with you. While juxtaposing the voice of Jackson with his dance moves, Jackson seems to put a spin of what is masculine through dance. Lastly, the guitar solo in “Beat It” seems to resemble the virtuosity we saw in Hendrix and van Halen. With this virtuosity as a sign of overt masculinity, it is interesting that this particular guitar solo, with all of its caprice, is in the song.

Jessica said...

I’m curious as to how, if at all, Jackson’s public image would have changed had he not died before accomplishing his big come-back European tour. Would our generation have seen him in a different light? Do we instantly recall the bad press surrounding his last few years because these stories were truly that scarring or because he wasn’t performing as much anymore, and so we only got to see him in a negative light?

Artifact Discussion:
I find it interesting and agree with the point that Michael Jackson was as ambiguous as it gets. I’d always seen Jackson as kind of an enigma, but I’d never really considered the idea that maybe he was purposefully trying to exist outside of societal norms. I think this makes him much more likeable, as it gives his oddness some deeper meaning beyond him just being weird.
In the video for “In the Closet,” Jackson’s ambiguous image is much more in-your-face than in the videos for “Beat It” and “Thriller.” I’m assuming the fact that this video was made later in Jackson’s career had something to do with it, as he strayed further and further from any specific categorization as he got older. However, something I found interesting was that even though he became less identifiable, his ‘love interest’ became more ‘feminine.’ In the video for “Thriller,” he is shown with a pretty girl, who is supposed to be his girlfriend. She is definitely an attractive, feminine woman, and yet she pales in comparison to how sexualized his love interest in “In the Closet” is. The woman in the latter video is very curvy, dressed in revealing clothing, and constantly touches her body in sensual ways. This difference might have to do with the different songs. Regardless, it’s interesting how as Jackson becomes less male, the women in his videos become more female.