Making Sense of MJ
I find much of what is being said in the British media about Michael Jackson to be, generally, analytically superficial and shallow at best, and which tends to feed the pervasive culture of ignorance, and celebrity-worship cum self-diminution. I was expecting more from them given their 'professional' status, but I suppose having a queen would tend to compromise their ability to appreciate the thorns founding the crown.
This article is a response to their celebrity-worshipping nonsense.
“Michael Jackson's art was astonishingly innovative. No one could dance like him, until he showed them how, and then they were never as good as he was. His concept of the dance was utterly 20th century, extravagantly multi-dimensional, and not in the least middle class.” – Germaine Greer, Guardian
If ‘Genius’ is 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work, we could say that the masses ought to be credited for the latter in the production of the phenomenon of Michael Jackson. - ed
(one of the reasons why the concept of Intellectual Property strikes me as an Intellectual Impropriety)
I have said quite a bit on MJ’s dance style in a previous article, and which is excerpted here for its relevance.
His dance and music was of the genre of ‘juvenile self-assertion’. The quick definite movements, the angularity of it, short spurts of multidirectional movements, and complemented by a style of singing with it's yells, 'hooos', sharp in/exhalation, self-confident and semi-aggressive facial contortions, says as much and little besides. You could say that, in this, the masses' self-assertive propensities were directed away from anti-establishmentism and intellectual inclinations by way of self-assertion being presented without any intellectual or confrontational qualities. And with him, amongst others, serving as cultural icons, the juvenile masses didn't have much of a reason to seek beyond them for something more. And whatever energy that was diffused amongst the multitudes found articulation through the socio-economic system since it didn't have an ideology or a direction to begin with - unlike in the 'hippie' 60s. You could say that MJ, amongst others, served as the element within the spirit of the 80s that enabled the overthrow of any semblance of anti-establishmentism that was inherited from the 60s and 70s.
Just a bit more on this...
Now you think, amongst other writers in various global newspapers, MJ’s dance style was invented or afforded much innovation by him don’t you. Well, that’s not entirely true.
Michael’s dance style has, amongst others, three significant sources.
The first, and most obvious source, is from the street culture in California and New York City in the 60s and early 70s which includes, amongst others, Breakdance styles such as ‘popping’, ‘locking’, ‘wave’ and the more aggressive, ‘uprock’. Other assertive street styles were also integrated or incorporated into what one of the pioneers of the Universal Zulu Nation, Africa Bambaataa, termed, ‘hip hop’. And the famed ‘moonwalk’ itself can be traced back to James Brown and Bill Bailey, the latter of whom, by the way, was one of the first documented artistes to do the ‘moonwalk’ in 1955.
The main reason why MJ became famous for ‘his’ dance was that fame was already coming his way with his stint in the Jackson 5 and his later solo career. This served as the stage wherein he could expose 'his' other talents such as dancing. You could say that MJ used his relatively prominent position to be one of the first to bring in street dance, as opposed to inventing it. Hence, as he was already becoming popular, the global mass of fans were at the ready to credit him with everything that was of non-MJ origins or state that he was, amongst others, ‘astonishingly innovative’ where appropriative might be more apt – just like ideas not being appreciated unless it issues forth from a renown figure even though it has existed for quite some time or in more insightful form amongst unknowns. He was prominent, so all he had to be was ‘good’ at, for instance, dance, for it to be construed as ‘great’. The prominence of the artiste, hence, served as the Midas touch as opposed to Michael simply ‘being the best’. But,on the downside, once a celebrity appropriates the culture of the masses of unknowns and exhibits what s/he has a preference for, it has the effect of reducing the masses to mere reproducers and innovators. In this, the 'celebrity' does much in regimenting the vibrancy upon which s/he emerges.
The 2nd source of MJ’s dance style was founded on the increasing burst of juvenile predominance in culture, and with pop culture being weeded off its ideological content as it was in the mid-60s up to the mid-70s. Self-assertion without ideology or what I would term, intellectual individualism and depth, would then be well prepared to descend and manifest itself in more abstract forms such as breakdancing amongst other ‘hip hop’ styles that can be crudely perceived as ‘self-assertion and vibrancy without a brain’. I’m not saying that these cultures are problematic. But, when subconscious vibrancy is not articulated through the mind, its next refuge would naturally be through dance, amongst others. It is then that it becomes a problem as it serves as a ‘compensatory mechanism’ that is activated to allay the discomfort ensuing from the human persona not being able to express itself in more deeper forms. One could say that when popular intellectual individualism or/and depth is at a relatively higher level, dance forms usually take on deeper forms. In that, such dance forms complement intellectual individualism and depth as opposed to serving as compensation for not having it. Hence, with the decline of intellectual individualism and depth, or the masses perceiving it as beyond their sphere of rightful interest through socialization in the ‘modern’ understanding of ‘youth’, or as economic units, the stage will be set for the emergence of the likes of Michael Jackson as a ‘star’ and the ‘fans’ necessary to serve as its stage and spotlight.
(I don’t actually feel entirely comfortable with this statement as I too was a ‘breakdancer’ back in the 80s with my own ‘crew’. It really made me feel alive as it still does now. But I do know that if I had not been underdeveloped by my social and class experience and location, I may have engaged in activities of greater intellectual individualistic depth. But if intellectual individualism and depth could be achieved, that does not mean that this dance form would melt away. Rather, this dance form could then serve as primitive fuel for greater ventures. But where intellectual individualism and depth is not achieved or derisively perceived as the ‘obsession’ of ‘psychobabblers’ or ‘know-it-all academics’, such a culture would serve as ‘compensation and distraction’ and work toward depoliticising the citizenry.)
The 3rd reason for Michael’s evolving dance style is the adoration paid him by the global congregation of ‘fans’. Michael’s self-doubt will be decreased along with an increase in his sense of self-efficacy. And with the sense of self-importance amplified within him by swooning ‘fans’, the self-assertive qualities of the dance style of the streets would become more pronounced by his own increasing sense of self-worth. That is why we can see that MJ’s dance style became increasingly self-assertive from the 70s through to the present. From the dance complementing the song in the 70s, it mutated into the song and dance complementing him, the ‘King of Pop’. The posturing became nothing less than megalomaniacal in proportions along with the titling of his albums that moved ‘off the wall’ to ‘bad’ and to a grossly narcissistic, ‘History’. He began to cease to ‘second guess’ or doubt himself and just developed this megalomaniacal dance style to the extreme as seen by the increasingly self-assertive posturing that became the dance. And the masses, already living vicariously off his transfigured grandeur, whilst they lived as mere ‘fans’ and cogs and wheels within a socio-economic system over which they had no control, fell hook, line, sinker, and titanic for the increasingly potent opiate that was MJ, and which served well, and correlated with, their increasing diminution as truly individualistic and cogitating modern citizens.
‘Youth’ was given a new identity. You weren’t here to make a change. You were just here to make a megalomaniacal stand – and the system stepped in to appropriate this valuable mindless resource. That is when what was 'cool' moved from creating your own style to following it. MJ, amongst a host of other factors, along with the socio-economic system, paved the way for the mutation of the masses to the grossly self-absorbed, ignorant, incorporated and arrogant people that they are today. He distracted the attention of the global mass of youth from the foundations of civilisation and ushered them into the superstructure. One could quite plausibly state that MJ was the final and decisive push against the intellectually individualistic ‘hippie’ definition of youth. These ‘stars’ finally became the Gods of the masses, keeping them supple and compliant for the use of the elite. And thereafter, even saw some of these 'stars' taking on roles within the UN, amongst other organisations, and forwarding initiatives for the resolution of problems they, in no insignificant way, helped in creating and perpetuating.
The popular stage shared between singers and philosophers in the ‘hippie’ era, and was itself one of the reasons why it was undermined, was predictably evicted of the latter in the 80s as self-gratification was more immediate when singers were turned into deities as opposed to the relatively lengthy and less-‘entertaining’ observations of philosophers. Hence, as one of the most significant deathblows, MJ, amongst others, and all that he stood for, delivered to the establishment youthful vibrancy without a mind. And insofar as they became fodder, thus they now render fodder of all.
The Devil’s a genius.