Reading Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson is a complex cultural text that provides critical insight into U.S. and global history, politics and society. A popular child singer in the 1970s, a global superstar in the 1980s, Jackson was eventually ridiculed and criminalized in the 1990s. What is the meaning of Michael Jackson? To what extent is Michael Jackson a social construction? How have discourses about Michael Jackson changed over the last fifty years? Why? Michael Jackson’s work destabilized ideas on gender, race, sexuality, popular art and news media. His music, a mix of rock, pop, soul and world music weaved West African, South American, African American and Anglo-American inspirations. His choreography fused the artistry of Fred Astaire, James Brown, Marcel Marceau, Jackie Wilson, and Jerome Robbins. His filmography combined the influences of film noir, horror, science fiction and Broadway musicals. Through an in-depth analysis of Jackson’s music, concerts, filmography, writings, interviews, and press coverage, this course will explore theoretical frameworks such as postmodernism, situationism, psychoanalysis, constructivism, globalization and neoliberalism to help students critically read Michael Jackson as a cultural phenomenon. Themes explored will include:  Black Vernacular practices, the Chitlin’ Circuit, the Great Migration, Blackface minstrelsy, crossover entertainment, race music, music videos, the music industry, MTV, and soft power.  Interdisciplinary in nature, the course will investigate scholarly debated in African American popular culture and global popular culture with materials from a diverse array of academic disciplines including, history, literature, philosophy, musicology, sociology, and media studies.