30 July 2009

Discussion in examination room 1: further thoughts on MJ

Discuss the claim that in order to appreciate the 'Jackson phenomenon' it is necessary to conceptualize his oeuvre 'post-colonially', attending to the multiple routes of transmission, flow and contraflow, followed by his work as it traversed and transversed the charged circuits of globalizing capital commodities paradoxically enabling acts of post-hegemonic resistant-recuperation in the form of hybridizing reappropriation. In your answer make specific reference to examples such as this:


Despite the widespread adoption of Michael Jackson (MJ) by formerly colonized peoples as a deified avatar of a pan-racial, brown-man-makes-good figure, his oeuvre defies the label 'post-colonial' and, I argue, embodies instead a shift in the locus of economic-political globalizing power from the center to the ostensible periphery, in which said periphery is simultaneously the media capital of Los Angeles, its racialized underbelly, and the (literally) self-effacing sculptural form represented globally by plastic surgery performance art (eg. Orlan), and particularly by the frisson effected by MJ's near-lifelike mask. This essay (in order to fulfill requirements of the hegemonic academic establishment) will address these issues in three parts.

First marker: 76 (solid first)

Second marker:
I concur with this grading. I particularly appreciate the way in which the candidate proposes to, as it were, 'get under the skin' of Jackson-ism, playing on the themes of the 'underbelly' and plastic surgery. Indeed, could we not say (should we? must we?) that in fact Jackson as performance artist renders his fleshly self a synecdoche for the late-modern-post-hyper-capitalist urban city; for Los Angeles itself? Adopting his own 'angelic' personae he remoulds and remakes the boundaries/borders of his city-self radically unsettling our dominant conceptions of the imperviousness of the border and exposing an unsettling porosity - even, daresay, a fungibility - inherent within the very instantating act of 'bordering' or 'emborderment'. Jackson's body thus emblematises and literalises sub-urban white flight, its own suburbs becoming whitened and lightened through the organised and commodified violence of the 'surgical' upon a body that then subjects itself to a kind of gang warfare, battles raging over the provenance and ownership of the territory as well as over the right to supply it with narcotics. Is this not the ultimate meaning of all Jacksonist phenomena and phenomenalising and summed up in that plaintive and quintessentially Jacksonist wail;

What about the crying man
(What about us)
What about Abraham
(What was us)
What about death again
(ooo, ooo)
Do we give a damn

I feel however that the essay was marred by a lack of consideration of the moonwalk.

Moonwalk: is this not just another moment of frisson, undermining physical and modernist norms (gravity, progress) in line with the larger remaking of the body/city/universe described above? Or, if you prefer (and I'm not sure I do), a kind of historical contextualism in which MJ relaunches the joy/imperialism of the 1969 moon landing in the conquering from below (literally, in terms of his feet) of the anti-progress, anti-modernist, decidedly enchanted moonwalk?

[hat-tip to Questioner, Candidate, First and Second Marker, whose names have been changed to protect, well, everyone. and no-one.]

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