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On Michael Jacksonby Margo Jefferson
Synopses & Reviews
Michael Jackson was once universally acclaimed as a song-and-dance man of genius; Wacko Jacko is now, more often than not, dismissed for his bizarre race and gender transformations and confounding antics, even as he is commonly reviled for the child molestation charges twice brought against him. Whence the weirdness and alleged criminality? How to account for Michael Jackson's rise and fall? In On Michael Jackson — an at once passionate, incisive, and bracing work of cultural analysis — Pulitzer Prize?winning critic for the New York Times Margo Jefferson brilliantly unravels the complexities of one of the most enigmatic figures of our time.
Who is Michael Jackson and what does it mean to call him a "What Is It"? What do P. T. Barnum, Peter Pan, and Edgar Allan Poe have to do with our fascination with Jackson? How did his curious Victorian upbringing and his tenure as a child prodigy on the "chitlin' circuit" inform his character and multiplicity of selves? How is Michael Jackson's celebrity related to the outrageous popularity of nineteenth-century minstrelsy? What is the perverse appeal of child stars for grown-ups and what is the price of such stardom for these children and for us? What uncanniness provoked Michael Jackson to become "Alone of All His Race, Alone of All Her Sex," while establishing himself as an undeniably great performer with neo-Gothic, dandy proclivities and a producer of visionary music videos? What do we find so unnerving about Michael Jackson's presumed monstrosity? In short, how are we all of us implicated?
In her stunning first book, Margo Jefferson gives us the incontrovertible lowdown on call-him-what-you-wish; she offers a powerful reckoning with a quintessential, richly allusive signifier of American society and popular culture.
"Pulitzer-winning New York Times critic Jefferson collects her meditations on what may be the oddest show-biz figure of all time. 'Freaks' is the title of her first essay, and she notes Jackson's attraction to Barnum as well as the strangely apt imagery of his best-known video, 'Thriller.' Born in 1958 to a bullying father and a mother who was a Jehovah's Witness convert, the youngest member of the Jackson Five quickly became its VIP. Child stars are never 'normal,' and Jefferson glances at Buster Keaton, Jackie Coogan, Sammy Davis Jr. and, of course, Shirley Temple, the only one of them even more famous than Jackson, unless you count Elizabeth Taylor, Jackson's 'best friend,' who supplanted Diana Ross as his apparent role model. Jackson, Jefferson believes, is a 'sexual impersonator,' imitating, at times, a gay man, a white woman, a 'gangsta' and a 'pop Count Dracula.' His bizarre looks and behavior drew literally thousands of cameras to his 2005 trial for child molestation. Jefferson concludes that Jackson may be a 'monstrous child,' but that he is, to a degree, a mirror of us all. Her slim, smart volume of cultural analysis may remind readers of Susan Sontag's early, brilliant essays on pop culture." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]his is one smart little book." Booklist
"[H]er book manages to be almost as fresh as it is entertaining....Recommended..." Library Journal
"[P]rovocative and insightful....[Jefferson's] arguments are remarkably compelling." Seattle Times
"Jefferson writes the way Jackson, in his prime, used to dance — with elegance and attitude." Washington Post
"[T]he book seeks to explain rather than exploit the pop star." USA Today
"By the time I finished this slim volume, I found that Ms. Jefferson had won me over with her erudite compassion for this fragile circus figure, this tragedy dressed as a comic-opera field marshal." Kyle Smith, Wall Street Journal
"Jefferson's critical arsenal is impressive, but she never quite hits a bull's-eye." Chicago Sun-Times
"With On Michael Jackson, we have a book closer in spirit to a performance by the King of Pop himself — something graceful, capable of moves both liquid and percussive..." Newsday
"While the book is engaging, well written and consistently on target, I sometimes found myself wondering if it really added up to more than the sum of its very sad, discrete parts." Martha Southgate, New York Times
About the Author
Margo Jefferson has written for the New York Times since 1993 and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Her reviews and essays have also appeared in the Nation, Vogue, Grand Street, the Village Voice, American Theatre, Dance Ink, and Harper's Magazine. She lives in New York City.
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