Reproduced here with the explicit permission of the author, Elizabeth Amisu.
(c) 2014 E. Amisu
Author of the upcoming book, The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson (Praeger, 2016)
‘study the greats… become greater’ - MJ
Before doing anything else you must study. In Jacksonism that means watching films, listening to albums and reading books, articles and journals. This is because the defence comes in the form of a learning tool. The maestro’s scope is too wide, his canvas too broad to be tackled with a small blurb and some extended platitudes. You have to see it and experience it for yourself. I can’t tell you how Billie Jean sounds any more than I can explain the moonwalk.
So the first thing to do is to keep a small diary, an ‘MJ Diary’ of the art and discourse as you encounter it, week-by-week, song-by-song, page-by-page. This will be your own personal patchwork of discoveries and ideas. It should be unbridled, unconstrained and brutally honest.
All readings are indicative. Read as much or as little as you wish. Feel free to skip ahead to chapters that resonate with you and come back to others later. Though this course is designed to take twelve weeks, some may choose to complete it in five and others in a year. It’s the art that matters. Not the time you take.
There’s an odd preconception that Michael Jackson didn’t write much about being himself. This is thoroughly untrue. The reference list at the back of this book boasts at least 120 sources of books, notes, albums, short films, films and interviews which form the essence of who Michael was. Often painfully honest with himself and his fans, he always responded to questions with both humility and grace. He was the reason he became so successful. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that he had a rare wisdom and an equally rare ability to put himself in other people’s shoes. When we study Shakespeare, we look at his words. When we study Jackson, we will do the same. If you look for it, you will always find a primary source. That is always the first place to start.
The following reading for this week focuses on Michael Jackson, as person. Its aim is to present to you, the academic, the idea that Michael Jackson’s representation fissured over time. Now, where we lay blame for this fissuring will forever be up for discussion. However, one thing was true. In opening several doors for people of colour and musicians in many ways, he also found himself embroiled in the most swift and severe backlash in recent media history.
How this happened is of great concern to you. How you understand the artist will fundamentally determine how you perceive the art. Before you go through the online readings, print them out and annotate them, say what you agree and disagree with and make sure to answer the questions in your MJ Diary.
Week 1 Readings:
Primary Readings – Essential
1. Invincible. Michael Jackson. Exec. Prod. Michael Jackson, CD, 4951742000 (2001): Speechless, You Are My Life
2. Blood on the Dancefloor: HIStory in the Mix. Michael Jackson. Prod. Michael Jackson, CD, 68000 – EK/ET/EM (1995): Morphine
3. HIStory Past, Present and Future Book 1. Michael Jackson. Exec. Prod. Michael Jackson, CD, 59000 – E2K/E2T/E2M (1995): Earth Song, HIStory, Stranger In Moscow, Tabloid Junkie, Childhood
4. Dangerous. Michael Jackson. Exec. Prod. Michael Jackson, CD, 45400 – EK/ET/EM (1991): Heal the World, Why You Wanna Trip On Me, Keep The Faith
5. Triumph. The Jacksons. Prod. The Jacksons, Vinyl, EPC 32366 (1980): This Place Hotel
6. Destiny. The Jacksons. Prod. The Jacksons, Vinyl, EPC 83200 (1978): That’s What You Get (For Being Polite)
7. ‘Heal the Kids’ Speech, Oxford Union. 6 March 2001
Secondary Reading – Advised
8. Vogel, Joseph, ‘Second to None: Race Representation, and the Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson’, Featuring Michael Jackson: Collected Writings on the King of Pop (Baldwin Books, 2012), pp. 7-14
9. Colby, Tanner, ‘The Radical Notion of Michael Jackson’s Humanity’, Slate.com, 24 June 2014, ‘slate.com’ [accessed 25 June 2014]
Extended Reading – Optional
1. Moonwalk (London: Doubleday, 1988), pp. 5-64
2. Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections (London: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 14-15
3. Amisu, Elizabeth, ‘Throwing Stones To Hide Your Hands: The Mortal Persona of Michael Jackson’, 11 June 2014, ‘elizabethamisu.com’, [accessed 17 June 2014]
4. Carlson, Jan, ‘Case Study: The Caricature’, Words and Violence (3rd ed.) (2013), [accessed 28 June 2014]
5. Stranger in Moscow, dir. Nicholas Brandt (1996)
6. Childhood, dir. Nicholas Brandt (1995)
7. Earth Song, dir. Nicholas Brandt (1995)
8. Scream, dir. Mark Romanek (1995)
9. Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies (Fox Television Network, 2003)
10. Michael Jackson: The Making of Ghosts. VH1. 1997
In the light of all the reading you have completed this week answer the following questions in your MJ Diary:
In your own words, who was Michael Jackson? (100-500 words)
What, if anything, was his message? (100-500 words)
If you had the opportunity for his level of acclaim, would you take it? If yes, why? If no, why not? (50-300)
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