A two-day conference event at Yale University, 24-25 September 2004.
Sponsored by the African American Studies Department and the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies
Organized by Uri McMillan and Seth Clark Silberman
“I’m not like other guys.”
—Michael Jackson, in the video for “Thriller”
Understatement is Michael Jackson’s forte. Michael has always refused his own artistry. As he explains, his songs come from dreams. He insists that his dancing comes instinctually: he just becomes the music. He loves the magic of performing. Only onstage is he comfortable. Yet his highly orchestrated public appearances demonstrate anything but naïve or spontaneous wonder.
Michael has grown older and deliberately stranger in front of the camera. His projected image blurs the Michael we think we know with the Michael he wants us to think we know. Confusing the two has been the design of the mass marketed Michael Jackson™ since Michael was able to wrest control of it from his father and the Motown machine responsible for his childhood fame. Some assert that now, twenty-two years after the release of his crowning achievement, Thriller, Michael has lost it. For them, the King of Pop’s December 2003 arrest and the increasing din of speculation about his impending bankruptcy threaten—at last, as media reports sigh—to implode his self-delusional reign. Of course, the press has been reporting Michael’s impending doom since Thriller landed him so squarely on pop culture’s center stage. Michael has long been a focal point of our collective imagination and distress about the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.
Regarding Michael Jackson will examine the calculation, autobiography, and collective fantasy of Michael Jackson™ that continues to entice and threaten. Panels will explicate Michael’s music, videos, media presence, and public performances for their cultural significance and their knowing manipulation of celebrity culture. Participants will also assess his changing body for the difference Michael has dangled long before the well-publicized presentation of his third child to fans from a Berlin balcony in November 2002.
Panels and papers could explore, but should not be limited to, the following:
Michael and the remix: courting black and gay club culture
Michael in black and white: plastic-surgery and cross-over “passing”
“Have you seen my childhood?”: the spectacle, expected adolescence, and belated independence of childhood stars
“Man in the Mirror”: race, technology, and visual culture
Michael and the dance: black corporeal and cultural politics
“I am not a homo”: denial, and the enigmatic “family” man
Transforming Michael: horror movie conventions, make-up, and make-believe
“I’m not like other guys”: Michael performs black masculinity
Michael and paranoia: selling celebrity culture
“I am Peter Pan”: courting, distorting childlike wonder
Paper abstracts of no longer than 300 words should be sent to or by 10 May 2004 at 12.00 p.m. Accepted panelists will be notified by 17 May 2004.
Seth Clark Silberman
Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies
African American Studies
100 Wall Street, WLH Room 320
PO Box 208334
New Haven, CT 06520-8334
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