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M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance by [Stillwater, Willa]
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M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance Kindle Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Length: 390 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled Page Flip: Enabled

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1948 KB
  • Print Length: 390 pages
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004WDRVP8
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,288,485 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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I found 'M Poetica: Michael Jackson’s Art of Connection and Defiance', a fascinating and enlivening read from start to end. Stillwater’s doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being “written” on our bodies, which is explored in great depth in her book. One of the most exciting comparisons and connections Stillwater makes in this book lies between Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol, a connection I found so intriguing it warrants further analysis and discussion. This can of course be found on ‘Dancing with the Elephant’, Stillwater’s analytical blog with several thousand subscribers.

When it comes to writing about Michael Jackson’s lifetime of art one of the single most comprehensive sources available is ‘Dancing with the Elephant’. This website is a veritable Encyclopaedia Britannica of sources, seminars and discussions interlaced with relevant and rare video footage, book excerpts and contributions from readers the world over. 'M. Poetica' is a wonderful book, and I look forward to being inspired by it many times more in the future of Michael Jackson Studies and research.

– Elizabeth Amisu, author of THE DANGEROUS PHILOSOPHIES OF MICHAEL JACKSON: HIS MUSIC, HIS PERSONA, AND HIS ARTISTIC AFTERLIFE and editor of THE JOURNAL OF MICHAEL JACKSON STUDIES.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Michael Jackson often said that he was misunderstood, that the media often protrayed him as strange or weird. This book is a response to those claims and sets out to show us his work from the prespective of the artist, not just a popular singer and dancer.
After reading this book I felt I could understand that as an artist, Jackson was attempting to change our views of life, challenge our prejudices and to connect with his audience. His art was also a defiant act against the media and the allegations made against him.
If you want to know more about his art, not just the man, then this is the book you should read. I found myself listening to his music and watching the videos from a different perspective.
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This is an excellent book that looks at MJ's work in depth.Ms Stillwater has obviously researched this book thoroughly.It gives a whole new insight into MJ's genius.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars 21 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you Dr. Stillwater! 2 July 2011
By J. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Michael Jackson has been called the `Greatest Entertainer' the world has ever known. As such, he has been examined from every angle known to man, very few of which had anything to do with who he really was ... until now. Enough has been written about him to fill the Library of Congress ten times over. Sifting through the outright lies, insane innuendo, unverified rumor, unapologetic laziness of our media representatives and unauthorized biographies is, in itself, a full-time job.

Any serious study of Michael Jackson has to begin and end with his artistry, because he was ... and remains ... the consummate expression of his own artistic vision. It has to place him within the racial, cultural, political, national and religious contexts of his times; and it has to show those same contexts as he changed them. Because change them he did. It also has to examine our society's reactions to Michael Jackson and how they changed over time as he progressively gained autonomy over a forty-year career in the sometimes jaundiced public eye. This, Dr. Stillwater has done masterfully.

Dr. Stillwater has picked through all the garbage and gotten to the heart and soul of Mr. Jackson with the same kind of compassion for which he, himself, was famous. She has revealed the entertainment value of his music, discovered the added `punch' of dramatic narrative underlying his short films and hinted at the long-lasting influences other, less intelligent authors completely ignored in favor of repeating the tabloid-esque sensationalism that is ultimately responsible for his demise.

Within the pages of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance one meets the ultimate prankster only to find that the joke was always on us, Michael Jackson's audience. My thanks to Dr. Stillwater for an intelligent, well-thought-out, articulate analysis of one of the most under-rated human beings society has ever ignored. I hope that she will continue her analysis with others of his short films and songs in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thoughts 4 July 2011
By lmat - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dr. Stillwater: Haven't read your book yet as I just now learned of it. Am
very pleased to hear that you have written in depth about Mr. Jackson and look
forward to your analysis of his art. I did read an article that you wrote and
appreciate your insightful interpretation of his cultural significance. Mr.
Jackson had no choice as far as his vitiligo was concerned and Ms. Faye has
stated that he tried to hide the affliction from her for a time. However, that was an exercise in futility and, as we know, the treatment he chose was to even
his skin tone...
I truely believe that we as a culture have barely scraped the surface of his
artistic genius and I hope publishers will one day realize that there is a real
hunger for books such as yours. Thank you.

Addendum: 5 days later and I have finished this book. It is difficult to put into words how Dr. Stillwater's analysis and discussion of Mr. Jackson's art has affected me. She brings light to a whole different plane of understanding him and the genius in his life work. I highly recommend 'M Poetica' to anyone with an interest and desire to learn more about perhaps the most important artist of the last century. Just elegant.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant insights mixed with over-the-top deductions 15 Jan. 2013
By wts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The absolute best part of this book is Stillwater's insightful reading and interpretation of MJ's music films. The films she analyzes include Billie Jean, Dirty Diana, The Way You Make Me Feel, Beat It, Bad, Jam, Blood On the Dance Floor, Stranger in Moscow, Ghosts, Scream, Earth Song and Smooth Criminal. Her analysis skillfully decodes the imagery and choreography of the films, revealing how they are loaded with multiple layers of meaning and signifiers and considering their deeper performative and transformative effects. Often, viewers are so struck by the sheer brilliance, energy, beauty and sensuality of MJ's dance and singing that they fail to see beyond the magic, and so miss the underlying messages that MJ sought to convey through his work. Stillwater's analysis gives us vital keys to understanding the full vision and power of Michael Jackson's musical film legacy and its intervention into hard-to-tackle issues like race, misogyny, environment and violence.

One criticism I have of Stillwater's reading is that she did not contextualize the songs enough. At one point, she even admits that she wants to "draw a bright line between the artist's public performance and their private life and say we have no right to know anything beyond what happens on stage," but goes on to acknowledge that "knowing an artist's personal experiences lead to a much deeper understanding and appreciation of their work." The case in point which she mentions is the song "Why" that MJ sang with his nephews, which gained in meaning only after she read about the boys' mother's death in the newspaper. I would say that this applies to all of MJ's songs, and some of the autobiographical contexts of these songs have been documented elsewhere. Stillwater's reading would be deeper and more authoritative if she took into account such pertinent facts that relate to MJ's personal life and the genesis of the songs, instead of just providing a textual decoding, however brilliant. This criticism also applies to the over-simplistic way in which she sometimes used data. (At one point for e.g., she quotes something Lisa Marie Presley said, without contextualizing her remark within the complex dynamics of MJ's relationship with his ex-wife which has also been documented elsewhere online).

Stillwater writes from a double position as an academic (she has a Ph.D. in English Literature) and a fan. The abrupt changes from an academic reading of the films to an autobiographical voice, which happens several times throughout the book, create awkward transitions in the text. As a fan, she devotes a long chapter to considering the accusations and court cases, but I found this long defense quite unnecessary as this has been done better elsewhere. She also devotes a long chapter to considering the question of MJ's supposed face surgeries, in an attempt to prove that he did not surgically alter his features as drastically as claimed by the media. I think she succeeds, but took too much space in which to do it. The defense reads like a detour, one not adequately tied to the consideration of MJ's artistic vision and interventions, which the title suggested was the main theme of this book.

Stillwater strongly advances the thesis that MJ deliberately and coherently set out to present a changed appearance (a grotesque face supposedly altered by surgery) in order to provoke a larger discourse on race, difference and perception. She claims that this was MJ's project after 1993, in an "eccentric oddities" phase of his life that stretched till his untimely death, as a response to hostile media representation and public perception. She uses lyrics in "Ghosts" to make the case that MJ was deliberately fueling media obsession with his eccentricities and that he fanned those fantastic stories himself, all with a larger (socially conscious) goal in mind. I find this thesis untenable. Based on a few lyrics, Stillwater attributes to MJ a coherent and incredible intentionality that supposedly underwrote all his actions throughout more than a decade. But such grand intentionality is not supported by other evidence.

Indeed, the wacko and freakish representation of MJ started soon after 1984, long before Ghosts was released. MJ always stated his clear distress and obvious disgust at such media portrayals of him, and repeatedly told about how pained he felt when called "Wacko Jacko". He pleaded for his humanity, asking the media to desist from such name-calling. Would this guy then go out and deliberately adopt actions designed to make the media call him freakish? To say that MJ himself fueled and fed the media representation of him as a freak is perpetuating another media myth that has often been repeated, including on the wiki site about MJ, one that suggests MJ effectively dug his own grave. The fact that MJ's changed appearance fueled a discourse on race, color and difference does not mean that MJ deliberately set out to change his appearance so as to start such a discourse. Throughout her book, especially in the latter half, Stillwater repeatedly attributes to MJ a grand intentionality and an omniscience that is not warranted. A lot of her arguments and conclusions are in fact presuppositions. Stillwater should have used words like "might have", "maybe", "perhaps", "it can be suggested that", but she presented her interpretations as if they were literal facts and The Truth. Consider also that when discussing MJ's changing color, his makeup artist revealed very casually that at first, they tried to cover the light patches with dark shades but eventually it became easier to cover the dark patches with light shades as the vitiligo spread. Here, we see no grand and deliberate intentionality behind MJ's changing color over time. It just so happened that way due to the natural progression of a disease and the decisions made along the way about how best to even the color out.

If Stillwater's claim is right, then she is effectively saying that MJ was ultimately the victim of his own grand prank (by pulling the provocative trick of deliberately changing his color SO AS TO stir up talk on race), i.e. he was a heroic fool. I don't think that's her intention, but that's what she ironically ends up implying. Such an argument totally relieves the media of their responsibility and their agency in branding MJ a freak. In fact, Stillwater's failure to adequately consider the media's sustained persecution of MJ since 1984 is a serious oversight, and she also mistakenly presumes that MJ had this unexpected over-arching control over media representations of him which, as history has unfortunately shown, is not the case.

I agree that MJ was not this hapless victim of media and public misrepresentation, that he in fact exercised marvelous creative control in his films that managed to play on, mirror back and re-script media misrepresentation and public perception of him, but to say that he orchestrated and encouraged media misrepresentation outside of his music and films is a clear case of over-statement. All considered, this particular aspect of Stillwater's argument lacks nuance and sophistication, and might be as inaccurate in its portrayal of MJ as the paparazzi and mainstream media's. I would also like to point out that some of Stillwater's arguments contradict each other. For eg, she effectively proved that MJ's face changes drastically according to angle, light, makeup and a variety of conditions. But if that is the case, there is no need for MJ to go out his way to change his face, if the varied conditions of filming and photography (which are not really under his control) was enough to make his face appear very different at different times.

Stillwater overstates her case in many instances. To say, for e.g. that MJ's face was to him simply a black canvass that he altered solely as an artistic intervention is the other extreme to saying that he was so uncomfortable with his face that he had to continually change it. Surely the psychology behind MJ's facial changes was complex and multi-layered? He was a very shy guy, and rather insecure off stage. He would even block cameras when they tried to shoot him from the side and ask them to shoot from the front. He was clearly nervous about his appearance, the roots of that insecurity stemming from his childhood. Stillwater fails to consider the many psychological roots of MJ's relationship to his appearance, even as she goes to great length to debunk stories about his multiple surgeries. I feel when Stillwater does this that she is working out her own psychological responses to MJ's changing faces. We are reading not so much about MJ, as about Stillwater's reaction to MJ. Again this autobiographical element runs throughout her book. Sometimes it provides valuable insights (e.g. into the history of race relations in US as experienced by a young white girl) and sometimes it just gets tiresome (who is the "we" that she claims to speak for anyway?).

Over-all, I think this book would have benefited from a good editor who could have edited out the overstating of arguments, and the awkward transitions between the academic and the fan voice. If we take these out, this is actually an excellent book that revealed many quite brilliant insights about MJ's artistic vision, his psychology as an artist and a man, the meaning and message of his music films, and his important artistic interventions into social life and artistic discourse. I give this book 4 stars and recommend it highly, while asking readers to keep in mind the points I made about MJ's intentionality. I urge the author to consider releasing a re-edited version in paperback. A better edited version of this book minus the problematic overstatement of intentionality would make this book a truly important contribution to the serious evaluation of M.J.'s artistic legacy, one that does not create another kind of mythological narrative about MJ in the process, as for example the "Completely Omniscient Social Reforming Prankster Extraordinaire".
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, insightful, innovative! 26 Aug. 2011
By B.Erika - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am currently on chapter 4 of this book, and I have to say this is one of the most amazing, insightful, innovative, and thought provoking books on Michael Jackson and his work I have ever read.
Before going on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for Michael Jackson books I might have missed and found Dr. Stillwater's book. I was skeptical, but thought, hey, for the price, what can go wrong.
Like another reviewer before me mentioned, I was at first questioning if the author was not maybe reading too much into the songs and shortfilms. I have always wondered, sitting through many literature classes in college, what they original creators would think of all the interpretations going on.
Having studied Michael Jackson both from an artistic as well as a psychological perspective for a while now, I have long ago realized that he used the "pop culture veneer" as a kind of glossy surface to much deeper ideas and concepts. Sure, you can take that surface and run with it, but you can also be rewarded further to let Michael take you on a trip deeper below the glitter, which, as Dr Stillwater points out can be "a scary" excursion into aspects of human nature, our society, and our culture that are not always pleasant to look at.
After taking us on a short trip down the rabbit hole of some of MJ's most popular songs, the author digs deeper and addresses the history of the 93 Chandler allegations. She uses original documents and quotes to show us what was always right there before our eyes. Then, with a deep understanding into Michael's psyche, she paints a painful picture of the impact of these charges on his worldview, his vision, and his psychological make-up. She offers one of the most likely reasons for the Chandler settlement I have ever read. As a clinician working with survivors of trauma, her hypothesis of impact of the strip search hit me in my gut. NOW it suddenly all came together for me!

Dr Stillwater, then addresses how Michael used his face as a canvas and she addresses, using amazing photographic evidence, the "surgery addiction myth." Next, she highlights how Michael challenged established social categories as well as psychological schemas such as race, sexuality, gender... She uses the concepts of "physical emotional impact" and how he uses his words and images to overcome barriers long established in our subconscious.

If you are a Michael Jackson fan, or not (and let me say,if you are not, I HIGHLY recommend this book, to challenge your own beliefs)- and if you have any interest in art, music, and psychology, I HIGHLY recommend this read. I cannot wait to read on and continue the amazing journey Willa Stillwater is taking us on!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and Original 3 Oct. 2011
By elign - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was a wonderful surprise. Expecting the usual view of Michael Jackson as brilliant but eccentric and incomprehensible, I was happy to find instead an insightful and compassionate portrait that reveals a deeper understanding of his work, his cultural relevance, and his humanity.

Looking primarily at his music videos but also lyrics and interviews, M Poetica provides a fresh and original analysis that examines and applauds an artist whose music and art led his listeners to see each other and the world with empathy and the insight only empathy can provide. Negating the sensational, even pathological, tabloid distortions that have severely limited our understanding of his work, this book reveals the very warm and wonderful Michael Jackson we all know from listening to his music, while illuminating a whole new dimension of his art.

I recommend this intelligent and well-researched book to anyone who is ready to move the discussion about Michael Jackson's enormous cultural and artistic contributions to another level and begin a wiser examination of this one-of-a-kind artist who has yet to be totally understood or appreciated.
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