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Michael Jackson (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series) Paperback – 19 Sep 2012
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'... offers a captivating overview, detached and critical, it highlights and revisits in an illuminating way the narrative layers of a postmodern artist...'. Volume! (translated from French)
About the Author
Christopher R. Smit is Associate Professor at the Department of Media Studies, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan in the USA.
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But while on the surface the book seems "intelligent" and complicated, in many cases I found the essays hollow and lacking substantial meaning. Maybe in part this was due to my language barrier, but a lot of this also had to do with topics raised and approaches chosen. While the book offers a range of new perspectives on Jackson, most of them seem somehow artificial.
For example, one of the essays takes a bunch of random works of art depicting Jackson (some of them are openly hideous) and tries to attach some sort of significance to them. Another essay tries to offer an analysis of Jackson's 3D Disney film "Captain EO" as a utopian piece. Well, I guess technically one could interpret the film like that and draw parallels with the Cold War etc., but at some point you feel the author's got carried away. After all, "Captain EO" was conceived as a kids' attraction! One more essay presents Jackson's persona itself as a cyberpunk text, a specimen of the genre. Umm... okay, but what sense is this supposed to make in relation to the human being? Among other essays the book includes chapter "Freaks" from Margo Jefferson's "On Michael Jackson". If you are familiar with that work, this book continues its traditions, only the writing is more complicated, and the point is often even more obscured.
It feels like the authors are building these colossal, elaborated constructs on abstract, feeble foundations, at the same time ignoring other, more interesting and real topics about Jackson and his work that deserve to be pondered and covered. What's even more upsetting, the authors take on dissecting Jackson's persona and phenomenon knowing seemingly little about Jackson himself. One author, for example, builds a whole argument on the notion that the rap section in song "Black or White" is performed by "guest artist L.T.B. with perceptibly African American voice". Well, if the author had done a little research, he would have known that "L.T.B." in "Black or White" is a pseudonym of white producer Bill Bottrell, the same person who wrote the rap section. Another author states that "We cannot know the truth" about whether Jackson really had vitiligo - even though his disease had been publicly confirmed by his doctors and, finally, in his autopsy report.
The last part of the book redeemed it somewhat in my eyes; I found some food for thought in essays focusing on perception and reactions of the society caused by Jackson's persona. The most meaningful essays, in my opinion, are: "Michael Jackson and the myth of race and gender" by Julian Vigo, "Dancing with the Elephant Man's bones" by Raphael Raphael, "Cultural anxiety surrounding a plastic prodigy" by Julie-Ann Scott and "We are going to see the King" by Diana York Blaine. I didn't care much for the rest of the articles.
I probably can recommend this book to those interested in scholar studies on Jackson - if nothing else, it'll serve as an evidence of how and from what angles Jackson's phenomenon is being approached these days in the context of re-evaluation of his cultural significance. Or, maybe you'll actually understand these studies better than I did and find them insightful.
To the majority of fans and curious readers who are interested in understanding Michael Jackson, I would rather recommend Joe Vogel's excellent work "Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson". It is undoubtedly THE most comprehensive critical study of Jackson's art and personality that exists today. It is written in vivid, accessible language and is, in essence, much more about Michael Jackson than the present collection.
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