The labors of Michael Jackson: Virtuosity, deindustrialization, and dancing work

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BY ANY OBJECTIVE CRITERION, MICHAEL JACKSON IS THE CLOSEST thing to a consensual virtuoso performer that late- twentieth- century popular culture produced. Sales figures, fans' affective investments, the acclaim of virtuosic peers, the foundational contri- butions and innovations for which he is credited-all attest to his command of the central paradox intrinsic to virtuosity: the ability to appear path- breakingly original in a way that is collectively obvious. Further, if all virtuosity can be described as "precarious excellence," Jackson's was more precarious than most: veering spectacularly from an indefinably pleasurable surplus (more talented, more charismatic, more "something" than his brothers) to equally indefinable and un- toward excesses (too many strange stunts, too many surgeries and antics with boys, too much of too much). The narrative arc of his virtuosity was always already entangled in multiple overlapping narratives of difference, including raced and gendered histories of American popular performance, the possibilities and limits of the mutable self, the bedrock or millstone of family, the pleasures and perils of spectacle, and the permissions and constraints of celebrity. These narratives have been picked apart in the popular press and, to a lesser degree, in the academy, while another issue remains largely unexamined: the relationship between Jackson's virtuosity and the changing political economy of American work. Scholars have commented on Jack-son's discomfiting ability to straddle multiple binaries: man/woman, gay/straight, black/white, child/man. Yet one underlying binary remains unremarked except, as the first epi-graph indicates, by those in his hometown: that of Gary/Neverland-the seeming fixityof industrialization versus the neither- here-nor- there fluidity of neoliberal globalization or, in broader terms, Zygmunt Bauman's "solid" versus "liquid modernity" (6-8). Jack-son's virtuosity cannot be understood apart from these conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-765
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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