(PRWEB) September 30, 2004 –
The conference, “Regarding Michael Jackson:Performing Racial, Gender, and Sexual Difference Center Stage” brought together scholars from many disciplines for two days at Yale University, Sept. 23-24. Michael Jackson has both a private and a public personae. The Yale conference focused on Jackson as he presents himself as a public figure and in his artistic production. In a sense, the conference was a preview and a validation of the many ways he will be studied in the future as a cultural force, as someone who has pushed the limits of not only music, dance, video and film, but also the limits of the right to self-expression within a cultural framework.
The papers, respondents and discussions focused not on speculations about Jackson’s motivations for personal and artistic choices, but on how those choices have altered the terrain of performance, music, and culture itself. His cultural influence can be seen in the multi-disciplinary nature of the conference, drawing people from musicology, fine arts, English, culture/media studies, critical theory and photography. Each presenter brought a different optique within the context of a thorough knowledge of and appreciation for the significance of Jackson’s work.
The papers fell into two broad categories: 1) Jackson’s cultural influence as he has tested boundaries of stereo-typical, cultural conceptions of race and gender through his self-expression, and 2) analyses of Jackson’s music, videos and films. Uri McMillan’s paper, “White Ambition: Michael Jackson, Racial Erasure, and Aesthetic Surgery” was not a discussion of specifics about Michael Jackson and plastic surgery, as the title suggests, but comprised a historical view of the uses of plastic surgery by various races and ethnicities as a strategy for coping with prejudice and seeking economic mainstreaming.
Musicologist Jason King discussed Jackson’s vocals in his earlier, adult music, comparing them to others of his contemporaries. Nora Morrison presented her readings of themes of racial tension in Jackson’s films (Beat It, Thriller, Smooth Criminal, and The Wiz), as in each of these pieces, Jackson subdues unruly crowds through music and dance. Rose Theresa’s paper, “Michael Jackson, the King of Melodrama: Innocent until Proven Guilty,” was enlightening about the theatrical genre of melodrama, which was explored through Jackson’s short film, “Ghosts.”
Todd Gray’s paper was an exception to the two categories, in that he brought personal knowledge of Jackson to his presentation, as Michael Jackson’s personal photographer for many years, (and designer of the “feet logo”). Gray showed installations and imagery of exhibitions of his photographs of Jackson. He said that Jackson had specific ideas about how he wanted to be represented to the public, and exerted full editorial control over each photograph that was published.
The A.P. report by Diane Scarponi was inaccurate in saying that the legal case against Michael Jackson was not discussed. K. C. Arceneaux’s paper, “Michael Jackson: Media and Mythologies,” presented facts about the child-molestation case against Jackson that have been suppressed or omitted by media, and explained how media taps into mythologies in order to raise ratings and “sell” the news. Refreshingly, the conference did NOT concern gossip about Jackson’s personal life, nor mention tabloid stories, nor rumors. Instead, the conference was a serious look at Jackson’s work and his vanguard position within culture by scholars who were thoroughly familiar with his artistry. It should be noted that popular culture, as a kind of ongoing, contemporary history, is a frequent topic in university classes, seminars, and conferences, and that other celebrities have also been the focus of serious study as they take their places in the history of art, music, and theater. This kind of serious study is a needed, balancing counterpoint to the often inaccurate media coverage of Jackson.