Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Supplemental Post #1: "My 6-year-old son is obsessed with Michael Jackson"

Michael Jackson's ambiguous relationship with race is a complicated struggle that mixed-race people know very well and though he is dead, the legacy of his star career lives on. This is illustrated greatly in a Buzzfeed article by Mira Jacob titled "37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son", in which Jacob wrestles with the incessant questions of her six-year-old son who is "obsessed" with Michael Jackson. The article deals with the difficult positioning of a mixed-race child in the American pop culture landscape as he learns how to navigate his own identity through the lens of Jackson's experience.


Supplemental Post #3 How Stars Reflect Our Values - Justin Bieber

Last Monday night I went to a Justin Bieber concert at the Staples Center.  This was a weird experience for me because although I like Justin's music, leading up to the concert, I was not excited.  Of course I was very appreciative for the opportunity to see such a talented performer in person, but the thought of being surrounded by thousands of screaming, bratty young girls was not something I was looking forward to.

When I got to the concert, my dread was reinforced by the fact that looking around, I saw clones.  It seemed like everyone was wearing the same outfit- leather jacket with ripped jeans and white vans- or a variation on this.  But then I looked closer and realized the majority of people in the venue were not young girls, they were people my age and older.  There were even multiple couples on dates.  They were not the annoying, screaming, bratty girls I imagined.  This shows that Justin's fan base has really evolved along with his star image.  When I later learned that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian were in the audience it made me think about how there is no way Kanye would have gone to a concert of the old Justin singing songs like Baby and Love Me.  

The celebrities we like reflect our own values.  If we liked Justin in his Baby days, that used to mean we were 12 year old girls who wanted Justin to marry us and had no real taste in music.  But now supporting Justin associates us with his new star image of quality music and quality actions.  This means that Kanye West can enjoy a Justin concert without criticism or shame and it is harder for his fan base to be bratty girls because Justin does not (or at least tries not) to demonstrate bratty behavior.

The moment that finally got me excited was when Justin's manager, Scooter came on stage and gave a small speech on homelessness in LA and said that a dollar from every ticket sale was going to help the homeless. This is an issue I really care about and this speech made me feel content knowing that my values were being reflected in the celebrity I chose to give my time and money.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Core Post #3 Michael Jackson: Ambiguity and Mass Appeal

It was no surprise to read in SID that someone would describe Michael Jackson as sexually ambiguous. Mercer states the obvious when he addresses MJ's androgynous appearance, mannerisms, and mystique surrounding his overall image. But I have to admit the term "racial ambiguity" was new to me. At first I thought it meant that we couldn't tell if he was black or white, but that was a superficial interpretation. I don't even think it means that we're supposed to wonder if Michael Jackson is white or black. I think it means MJ's image is not 100% or even 50% a reflection of a particular race or culture. With his music, dance, and image, MJ is able to embody, embrace, and reflect the races and cultures who embrace him.

I watched and listened to MJ all the time when I was a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, but I never once wondered "is that a boy or a girl?" or even "is that a black man or a white man?" He was simply his own category of human. Michael Jackson.

In a way, I think MJ transcended a lot of boundaries with his ambiguity, which is why he had such mass appeal. He is a sex symbol without muscles, but his physical ability drops jaws. No one really knew what was going on with his skin/face, but the voice that came out of his mouth was the same no matter what he looked like.

As eager as our culture is to slap labels on people (male/female, black/white, gay/straight, whatever) no label seems to stick to Michael Jackson. Such a wide audience can find a piece of themselves in him, that I might be so bold as to argue that he is one of the most 'related to' artists of all time.

It's possible that in all this ambiguity, MJ himself couldn't self identify except as a private and public version of himself. He will always be an enigmatic pop culture icon, even if we can't quite put a finger on exactly what/who he is.


Black masculinity can range from a plethora of human identities depending on the time and the person. Perhaps one of the greatest and most notable identities of black masculinity can be observed in Michael Jackson's star persona. Early on in his career, Jackson and his siblings performed in The Jackson Five, inventing "the genre of ‘teeny-bopper’ pop cashed in upon by white pop idols" (Mercer 305). Like many cases throughout American history, black accomplishments and conventions trickle into the mainstream only to be usurped and credited to white people. 

Moreover, Jackson's appeal was rooted in his "racial and sexual ambiguity (306). He became an icon for his fashion choices which began to penetrate youth culture, both black and white. The classic song Thriller, especially its accompanying music video serve as a reminder of the outcast status black masculinity used to hold in Hollywood: "MTV maintained an unspoken policy of excluding black artists" (307). Perhaps, it is because of Jackson's "ambiguity" that he was one of the "first to penetrate the racial boundary" (307). 

Still, Jackson's strides elevated not just black masculinity but black identity as a whole into the mainstream: "his success has popularised black music in white rock and pop markets" (308). According to Mercer, Jackson did this through staying within the glitzy aesthetic parameters that market pop music. His fashion, dance moves, and of course vocals had all the makings of a pop star, and was enough for audiences and studios at the time to look past his skin and accept his music. 

"In ‘Thriller’ it is the ‘grain’ of Jackson’s voice that expresses and plays with this sexual sub-text" (310). As aforementioned, one of the cornerstones of Jackson's appeal was his sexual element. This edged sexuality into the identity of black masculinity in Hollywood, using Jackson's "ambiguity" as the mold for years to come. This trailblazer the way for future black artists like Prince and more recently Bruno Mars, who exemplify the same conventions Jackson did decades earlier. His masculinity has trickled down to our era, influencing artists of today to tap into the same form of masculinity to promote their music. 


Supplementary Post #7: TV's Lovable "Bitch"

I came across an article on Salon called "The 'bitch' we come to love: Summer's 'O.C.' evolution taught me to appreciate this kind of TV heroine" because I noticed the picture had Tyra from Friday Night Lights in it and I loved that show and Tyra in particular, despite her non-traditional role as a likable character. I always found myself rooting for her regardless of what trouble she may have gotten herself into because ultimately, she always held her own and from her original appearance on screen, she was not overshadowed by anyone, not even the dreamy Tim Riggins. In fact, despite hooking him, Tyra easily moved on from Tim and despite perhaps coming across as the "bitch" character referenced by the article, I had immense respect for her. It has been a long time since I watched The O.C. but I certainly recall Summer as a character and her complexities which moved far beyond the typical. I've only seen a few episodes of Mad Men, but I knew right away that Joan's character was against the grain in many ways. I found this article intriguing and important in terms of female character analysis in the realm of television today and it left me championing the next so-called "bitch" character to grace our screens.

Core Blog Post 5: The Boundaries for Paul Robeson and Black Actors Today

While watching Show Boat, I was utterly captivated by Paul Robeson, a figure whose name I have heard my entire life but whom I had never actually seen in a performance before. Hearing his remarkable voice and witnessing how he dominates the screen, it immediately made sense to me why I have always heard his name and why he remains such a famous Black figure. Yet, despite how impressed I was with his talent and performance, I was still cognizant of the role he was playing. Despite having arguably the best voice of anyone in the film and extreme acting chops, the character he was playing was minor and lowly. Robeson’s Joe was lazy and inactive, clearly uneducated and pretty irrelevant to the story altogether, leading me to wonder why he would have taken on such a role at all. I also recognized Hattie McDaniel in a similarly unimpressive role and thought of her future achievement at the Academy Awards for her role in Gone With the Wind, which is evidence of her own acting abilities. Both of these unbelievably talented Black actors were in roles that were in no way doing them justice.

After watching Here I Stand and learning that Paul Robeson only accepted the stereotypical role of Joe in Show Boat after circumstances surrounding contract negotiation, his presence made slightly more sense. The Heavenly Bodies reading directly addresses the paradox of well-educated and intelligent Robeson in a role which undermines Black progress and portrays Black people as less than respectable, referencing the artificiality and that “Robeson as Joe was not a case of natural emanation but something that had to be worked up, learnt, produced as a particular image (and then resisted as an image)” (Dyer 76).  

The resistance to this image is still an issue in Hollywood today. Black actors continue to struggle to find roles that portray them as more than simply their race, if even that. Many of the roles which Black actors receive are for characters that could not be played by non-Black actors or their roles portray Black characters as subservient, suffering, or villainous. This is particularly evident in the roles Black actors are recognized for in the Oscars and other award ceremonies. Hattie McDaniel won her Oscar for playing a caricature of a maid, Halle Berry won her Oscar for playing a character in Monster’s Ball with controversial racial circumstances and Lupita Nyong'o won her Oscar for her role as a slave in 12 Years A Slave. I wish we had made more progress since Robeson’s day, but the screens show us we haven’t.

Supplementary post: Amanda Bynes

To my dismay, this post is not a star sighting, but a post written in response to a conversation I had with a few friends at dinner. The question was what made Amanda Bynes go so suddenly so insane? Half of the table believed that mental illness was looming inside of her for her entire life, and simply reared its head later in her life. The other half believed it was a Brittany Spears style temporary breakdown, and she would come back into sanity and relevance in good time.
But one thing no one blamed it on was the way our society and media treats celebrity, and how the constant speculation and lack of privacy could drive anyone to a breaking point. Is paparazzi stalking and blatant lies in tabloids a fundamentally immoral part of our lives as Americans, or is this something that should be protected by the right to free speech and satire of a public figure?

Core Post #2: Cinematic Jackson: Crossing Racial Lines

The fact that Michael Jackson's music videos from the Thriller LP were the first to "penetrate [the] racial boundary" in MTV is important to both his success and black masculinity (Mercer 306). According to Mercer, MTV, the primary platform for the popularization of music videos in the US, had an unspoken policy of excluding black artists since its inception. It's hard not to connect the dots between Thriller's enormous commercial success globally, Jackson's fame and immense popularity, and his crossing the racial line with the music videos from his Thriller LP. In other words, it is worth asking the question: how much did the dissemination of these videos contribute to Jackson's success, popularity and legacy? How did his success change or define black masculinity?

However, Mercer actually explains that the videos did not serve to promote the songs themselves, because the LP was already a 'monstrous' success before the release of the title track as a single; instead, it "celebrates the success the LP has brought Michael Jackson by acting as a vehicle to showcase its star" (Mercer 308). Therefore, it is important to note that what the videos did for Jackson had little to do with his music, but more about giving him a "movie-star" like quality.

Indeed, Jackson's music videos not only helped him cross racial lines in MTV, but they also helped define and elevate the form itself by tying them closely with cinema. Many of Jackson's music videos share the same 'narrational' quality that the Thriller video embodies. "Bad," "Beat It," "Remember the Time," "The Way You Make Me Feel" all incorporate cinematic storytelling that accompany the song, and they all became iconic music videos not just for Jackson, but all of pop music. In addition, a number of legendary music video and feature film directors have directed Jackson's videos, including Martin Scorsese ("Bad"), David Fincher  ("Who Is It") and John Singleton ("Remember the Time"). These credentials suggest Jackson's status as a movie star without necessarily being in a movie.

The power of the "Thriller" video also lies in the heavy intertextuality with cinema. The title of the song/video is a movie genre, and the storyline plays with tropes of horror movies; in fact, Mercer claims that it is a parody of horror films. The video also begins with cinematic shots that set up the story ("long panning shots on a car driving through woods at night") instead of the song's music notes (Mercer 312). Mercer goes on and analyzes the video from its special effects, song's lyrics, acting, and sexual subtext in order to suggest its unique connection to the form of cinema. Examining Jackson's music videos, one can make the connection between cinematic imagery and his stardom, even for a star that is primarily not associated with cinema.

As such, Jackson is already an icon that revolutionized the art of the music video for artists of all races. The fact that he is a black artist confirms his crossing the racial boundary in pop music and pop culture. However, his effect on black masculinity is questionable. In fact, I doubt if people are very conscious and aware of his racial identity, especially because of the way he is universally idolized. Mercer argues that his racial and sexual identities are ambiguous, citing plastic surgeries that made Jackson look more European. Unlike other prominent black artists who dominated in the genres of Jazz, Rap or Soul Music, Jackson also makes primarily pop music, a traditionally more "white" genre.

A recent casting of Joseph Fiennes, a British white actor, as Michael Jackson in a comedy has stirred up controversy, understandably, and it tells us something about Jackson's ambiguous racial identity. This is obviously problematic, but it also sheds light on how black masculinity is perhaps completely or at least partially detached from Jackson. Was it his "crossing the racial line" that made it acceptable for him to be played by a white actor? What does it mean to black masculinity that the biggest black superstar is not perceived as that black?

Core Post 3

Although I missed the true era of Michael Jackson, I remember being fully fascinated with him ever since I was a kid. The way he floated between different racial and even some gender stereotypes was something I couldn’t comprehend or even consciously realize at that age, but was interested in nonetheless. I think this, his originality, is what made him such a sensation.
As SID explains, Jackson is deeply rooted in soul music, but was able to appeal to the mainstream through his originality,  his sensual style, rock and roll dress, and ambiguous racial features. This ability to dance in the in-between and skirt the line between black and white, masculine and feminine, and sexual and asexual is what perplexed me and interested me so much. Perhaps it was the contradiction that made Michael Jackson such a once in a lifetime star. People love to revere and criticize what they don’t understand, and Jacksons bizarre, even sometimes-insane actions on top of his unusual image could be what created what was one of the most constantly speculated stars of all timeOftentimes black stars are viewed as being sexy in terms of their strength and masculinity, but Jackson refuted this stereotype with his slender body, nearly feminine looking features, and high pitched voice. Despite this, he was still looked at as emanating sexuality through his performance. This originality that he was able to create is probably what put him from being a star in the soul music genre to being an international mainstream superstar. 
It is no question that stars are stalked by the media and talked about so often by their fans that they are sometimes driven into insanity. We’ve watched stars like Brittany Spears and Amanda Bynes’ minds unravel in front of the entire world, and Michael Jackson was no exception to this. Perhaps it was his originality and his ability to be different that lead to his eventual loss of sanity. While my parents viewed him as the adorable young kid who was loved by so many and able to break down so many racial barriers, I was unlucky enough to see him at his worst. Unfortunately it seemed his stardom and his inability to be understood by the masses made him a spectacle, and it is too hard for most people to live under that type of microscope. After studying him further than just the people magazine I pick up at the grocery store, I hope to remember him for his talents, rather than the many bizarre spectacles he created later in his life.

Core Post #2: Michael Jackson, the persona or the talent?

The life and work of Michael Jackson have always enthralled me. We are of a generation which didn't see him at his best, but rather at his oddest: his skin whitening, his nose falling off, accusations of him being a pedophile and having sleepover parties with children, his multiple in-vitro children. Jackson was mostly a pop culture joke in our youth, yet when he passed away and HIStory came out posthumously, I don't think many people would've disagreed that he had mountains of talent, and was perceived as the product of a traumatic and repressed childhood where his talent was as praised as his otherness was oppressed by his own family and by society.
It is interesting that Mercer's study begins with noting how even as a child, Jackson's voice and dance was sensual, considering how blackness is often relegated to an eroticized and fetishized otherness in our culture, already defining him within what she later calls "the context of black masculinity". Of course, this would change as Jackson got older, and I'm not sure after his complete physical transformation that he was still defined by black masculinity. Yet, even in '86, as Mercer says, Jackson had grown more effeminate and whiter with his slicked back hair and changing features.. I now wonder whether this 'ambiguity' she describes was one of the things that prevented Michael Jackson from blending into pop culture and allowed him to stand out on his own? Was his lightening skin, his slimmer features and his slicked back hair as a young man helpful in entering into the public consciousness of mass pop culture, mostly filled out by white performers, instead of just his talent?
Equally fascinating is that in 1986 Mercer already explores the Myth of Michael, encompassing some of the first things which come into my mind when I think of his portrayal in the media. She acknowledges that the media, and thereby the viewers who witnessed his life, were captivated by the twisted account of how he lived his life and why he came to be the way in which he was portrayed. She quotes a business partner of his that recounts how the media just tended to make up rumors, and again, I wonder if the paparazzi and the tabloids just took what they saw and made up lies to fill in the blanks? And if so, to what extent? Was some of what they crafted responsible for his eventual supposed depression and overdose? This quote, in particular, struck me: "Neither child nor man, not clearly either black or white and with an androgynous image that is neither masculine nor feminine, Jackson’s star image is a ‘social hieroglyph’, as Marx said of the commodity form, which demands, yet defies, decoding." By his 'innate' otherness in his blackness, and then constructed otherness in the odd ambiguous space he came to occupy, Michael Jackson always left the public curious and searching in an entertainment world that was and still is predominantly white.
It makes sense, after Mercer says it, that Thriller was meant more to showcase Michael than to promote the song. Jackson is the star of the music video, in the midst of a storyline and choreographed dance that even today pervades pop culture. His quote about his love for acting during The Wizz shows how he seriously he took his craft, even if it was possibly his persona that gripped the media, a seriousness that he displayed for the rest of his life and which is very visible in HIStory. That Thriller is much more than just a pop song, with it's double meanings and how Jackson interpreted it with his specific vocal "grain" and body movements, is a testament of his talent and his ability to invoke something beyond what is easily read or heard. It is sad that icon status is often entwined with tragedy, but I hope that the more time that passes, the more that Michael Jackson comes to occupy a deserved place in media history for the work he produced, rather than for the persona we believed he was.

Social Hieroglyphs & the White Interpretive Horizon: Michael Jackson and Paul Robeson

It seems gratuitous to centre the white imaginary in discussing Michael Jackson and Paul Robeson, in attempting to delineate differences created via the ways white media and racial decoding inflected their commercial viabilities and artistic merits. There is also very little material for me to understand how my own interpretations are engendered by my subject position -- a brown person who grew up in non-Western nation. Representations of blackness in India are funneled through Hollywood gatekeepers; there is no room for critical self-reflection of how black bodies are disempowered and vilified in my own culture, neither is there space to examine coterminous racial identities to build on solidarity between darker-skinned people. 

I grew up with a 'white gaze' towards all non-Indian, non-white identities (complicated by the ways white media sold stereotypes about my people back to us.) The only people who where afforded dimensionality in the popular cultures I grew up with were those who looked like me and white Westerners. It is with this understanding that I do want to examine Jackson and Robeson's individual and intersecting relationships to white capitalism and white-media, even as I acknowledge that this deconstruction, this constant focus on how white people see black people, follows an insidious logic of placation and consumption. 

Dyer stresses on not reducing white and black views on Robeson to binaries, even as his argument depend on the dichotomous discourses created by black and white viewers and scholars. Stardom for the racial other is contingent on their appeal to a normative white interpretation. Both were trailblazers embedded in white environments, environments that were capitalist, industrial, intent on sensationalization, and vampiric in their consumption of blackness and alterity.  Jackson and Robeson both relied on and manipulated the narratives that would be ascribed to them: Jackson star image was a 'social hieroglyph' while Robeson's was "crossing over" (a bridge?)
"Robeson brought with him the complex struggle of white and black meanings that his image condensed...this is significant not so much at the level of script and dialogue, as at the level of various affective devices that work to contain and defuse those black meanings to offer the viewer the pathos of a beautiful, passive racial emblem." 
While Robeson was blackness was never contested, even though the possible meanings of that blackness and the immediate ecosystems it was embedded within offer polyvalent meanings. The very site of Michael Jackson's body, on the other hand, was contested: "neither child nor man, not clearly either black or white and with androgynous image that is neither masculine or feminine...a commodity form that demands, yet defies, decoding."

Robeson could be immediately reduced to familiar coordinates of black masculinity, and reactions to that image, whether by him or by other black perspectives were set up against the norm, while Michael Jackson's very being was articulated by ambiguity. These different significations also exist within temporalities in which they propelled change: was pop culture the same after Robeson? After Jackson? Has the white imaginary changed, or is it the positionality of blackness that has changed?

From Thriller to Captain EO: Michael Jackson On Film

In his enlightening dissection of the Thriller music video, titled "Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson's Thriller", Kobena Mercer outlines the importance of music videos in the creation of 80s pop personas. While the "Thriller" video, as Mercer notes, is divorced from the economic context of many other music videos because of the previous success of the LP, it is important for more aesthetic purposes. Firstly, Jackson's entry into the MTV canon was unprecedented for a black artist due to the channel's "unspoken policy of excluding black artists" (SID 302). Mercer attributes this groundbreaking success to Jackson's ambiguous racial and sexual identity. Initially introduced to pop culture as an Afro-sporting motown artist as a member of the Jackson 5, Michael would slowly undergo a transformation over the course of his solo career, first trading in his afro for "a shock of wet-look permed curls" and eventually undergoing a series of surgeries to ultimately become indistinguishable from a white person. This muddling of boundaries, both racial and sexual, is not lost on Mercer, who writes, "He may sing as sweet as Al Green, dance as hard as James Brown, but he looks more like Diana Ross than any black male soul artist" (301). Jackson's image, which reached its height of popularity at a time when masculinity, both black and white, was hardening with the monumental success of the blaxploitation genre in the early to mid 70s and the growing popularity of action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the early 80s, is resolutely soft, defying stereotypes and conventions to affect the mannerisms of a "lonely 'lost boy'" whose "biggest thrill is taking trips to Disneyland" (Mercer 301). However, while Jackson's image was both soft and ambiguous, it never ventured into "cross-over" territory like the work of Lionel Richie, whose "middle of the road" approach to music left him resolutely on the side of white radio stations. Jackson, like Prince, skirts a fine line, operating in a number of contexts which allow him to popularize "black music in white rock and pop markets" (Mercer 303). The second aspect of the video's aesthetic importance is its unconventional approach to "story-telling or narrational direction" (Mercer 303). Jackson's video is more of a short film, showcasing the actor/singer's range while he dances through a number of horror tropes with a crew of zombified backup dancers. Jackson's music videos are unlike anything else on the market, excluding perhaps those done by Duran Duran, whose special effects spectaculars still never approached the narrative cohesiveness of a Jackson video. Jackson's use of a Hollywood director like John Landis is echoed in his sci-fi parody short film, Captain EO (1986), produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Coming full circle, Jackson was able to create an attraction for his favorite place on the planet. Promotional materials for the attraction note Jackson's heavy involvement in the filmmaking process and his eagerness to be involved with image-making, a sentiment echoed in Jackson's own statements on acting recounted by Mercer, "I love it so much. It's escape. It's fun. It's just neat to become another thing, another person. Especially when you really believe it and it's not like you're acting" (304). What Mercer calls the "neutral eroticism" of Jackson's dancing style, a trait borrowed from Fred Astaire, is amplified by Jackson's role in the Disneyland film. Surrounded by aliens straight out of a Star Wars movie, there's not a single human in sight until Jackson frees the mechanical subjects of Anjelica Huston's Supreme Leader. The dramaturgy of the two videos is similar, a loose genre-parody frame is interrupted by a dance number that showcases Jackson's talents as a stage performer. This form was reused in 1988 for his feature-length film Moonwalker, which was really just a bunch of unrelated music videos collected into a single film. Jackson's free use of genre is reminiscent of the excesses of camp, which he uses to separate himself from the mainstream view of black masculinity as violent and hypersexual. As Mercer writes, "If we regard his face, not as the manifestation of personality traits but as a surface of artistic and social inscription, the ambiguities of Jackson's image call into question received ideas about what black male artists in popular music should look like" (314). Jackson's popularity as a mainstream star is heavily indebted to his constant, and often-controversial, blurring of lines, both black-and-white and male-and-female.

Supplemental post: activist-microcelebrities

   How is celebrity constructed in the social media activist sphere? In spaces that seem to defy such engendering, that have been idealized as decentralized cyber-utopias?

The constituents of activist microcelebrity rely on metrics similar to general celebrity -- commercial viability, attractiveness, relatability, etc. all of this leads to: how is attention useful to activists? how does it hurt?

"How do activist attention and celebrity work on social media? Have we moved from the celebrity activist to the “networked microcelebrity activist,” who is more beholden to the movement than the mass media?"
rob: And I think the focus on attention makes it seem as if all you have to is pay attention to something to become a part of it
That sort of economic framework frames something collective (activism) as a matter of microdecisions of individuals, which I know some people insist on, but seems to me to import the sort of individualism many activist movements are explicitly trying to change 

nathan: let’s look at something the paper starts to do: distinguishing between those using activism to get attention from those using attention to further their activism
rob: if they can distinguish themselves
nathan: the former is a microcelebrity, according to boyd and Marwick, while the latter is a “networked microcelebrity activist” according to Tufekci. the means and ends are swapped
rob: of course they are always blurred, though
nathan: of course
but as “ideal types” — conceptual categories useful to think with — i think this distinction helps clarify things
rob: I think the more one is conscious of oneself as “celebrity” or “attention seeker,” the more those ends and means get blurred.
nathan: agree, though there is less blurring in more repressive regimes. Zainab is an activist first, that is clear. in the U.S., microcelebrity and activist do blur more. in fact, Tufekci has another paper that makes a similar argument
that Occupiers maybe got too into identity politics of “being the change” they wanted to see and thus were structurally ineffectual


Core Post #5: Masculinity, Black Men, and the Anomaly of Michael Jackson

I remember exactly where I was when I found out that Michael Jackson had passed away. In hindsight, I knew very little about him. I knew he was a "troubled" star and had fallen victim to drugs, alcohol, and plastic surgery, and I also knew that he was an iconic pop music star and celebrity figure. In many ways, his tragic story is similar to those of other troubled stars such as Amy Winehouse and Marilyn Monroe. But in the context of Black masculinity and celebrity culture, Jackson is an anomaly.

Black men are celebrated as being overly masculine. Stars such as LL Cool J, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, and Michael B. Jordan are all depicted as strong, muscular, fit, and physical men. They represent the ideals of the black male community. In "Heavenly Bodies," author Richard Dyer points out that early black male celebrities were celebrated for their physicality and their relationship to the "stereotypes of the white imagination." Esteemed black male actors often portrayed slaves or subservient roles to whites. Although this isn't necessarily true today, black male actors are still held to a standard of physical muscularity that white actors are not. For example, Ryan Gosling, a teen-heartthrob, is celebrated for his typecast of romantic, emotional roles. There is no black male actor equivalent. In the media, black men are not supposed to be emotional. They are seen as purely masculine figures.

In contrast, the "Stardom: Industry of Desire" reading states that Jackson was seen as masculine in relation to his music and sex appeal. While other black male figures were seen as sexual because they fulfilled traditional stereotypes, Jackson was seen as equally (and in some respects, more appealing) because he fulfilled a different kind of fantasy: the pop star boyfriend. The reading analyzes his "Thriller" music video as a case study in breaking down its aesthetic and thematic elements. Jackson and his music, as portrayed in this particular music video, embodied the postmodern aesthetic of style over substance: it's a very flashy video that appeals to spectacle over the lyrics itself. In doing so, Jackson created a new kind of masculinity and sex appeal that wasn't bound to the physicality of traditional time periods and conventions; he created a new standard for male musicians that didn't fit the overly masculine type.

Jackson also broke away from traditional "Black" music, which was jazz and folk. He is largely recognized as one of the first major pop stars, who rose to fame as a child and continued to create record breaking music through adulthood. However, his image towards the end of his life was largely plagued by controversy. His personal life was notoriously controversial, and the lack of clarity surrounding it only drove the public more crazy. Jackson unintentionally fed his celebrity image and star power until his tragic death.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Supplemental Post #6: Nick Young...

Former USC basketball player and current LA Laker, Nick Young, has had quite the eventful couple of weeks. Interestingly, just on March 5th, I saw him at our Galen Center, supporting our basketball team at their last home game. My friends and I were admiring him as he interacted with fans and came across as an attentive father to his adorable young son. We were fairly quick to be impressed by his seemingly normal behavior in consideration of his status as a famous professional athlete who is additionally engaged to rapper Iggy Azalea.

However, just a few weeks later, Iggy and Nick announced their decision to postpone their wedding. Still, all seemed generally well and I still viewed Nick as possibly unique in comparison to other professional athletes. Yet, up next for Nick were claims of sexual harassment . At this point, my perception of him had changed and with the latest news on Nick involving him casually admitting to cheating on Iggy with a 19-year-old when he was 30 in addition to his attempts to connect with Amber Rose, I was pretty disappointed.

What I took away from this was a fascination with how the media works. Nick Young is famous, but he's not that famous and yet, through the use of the entertainment media and social media, his image has been completely altered in my mind despite the perception I had of him based on in-person observations. It was on Instagram that the woman alleging the harassment claims made her experience known and it was through social media that D'Angelo Russell exposed Nick as unfaithful to his fiance. The capacity to affect a person's public image through social media is astounding.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Supplemental Post # 2: Starstruck by a Nun

This past week I had the opportunity and privilege to meet Sister Helen Prejean, an activist, spiritual advisor for death row inmates, and author of Dead Man Walking, which was later turned into a film. She was portrayed by Susan Sarandon, who won an Oscar for her performance.

I'm an alum of Biola University so I get email notifications of conferences, concerts, and other special events. I heard Sister Helen was coming to speak at the school as part of the #LoveNoMatterWhat Conference so I bought a ticket.

She's not really a star or a celebrity in the traditional sense, but I felt the same way meeting her as I've felt with other celebrities I've met. I had to work up the guts to approach her and say hello and ask her questions. Considering I paid an extra $50 to go to the VIP reception where she'd be mingling, there was a little voice inside my head (that sounded a lot like my mother) that told me I needed to get my money's worth.

When I finally worked up the courage to talk to her, I realized I was speaking with kindness and mercy incarnate. While I don't agree with her position on every issue, she is someone I admire and legitimately stand in awe of.

She was humble, gracious, and willing to share her experiences with anyone who asked her to. I realized, had she not told her story in a book, she wouldn't be famous. As a writer, I was particularly touched by that. She didn't tell her story to be famous. She never sought celebrity. She just wanted people to know what she had experienced in the hopes that it would get people to talk about an issue that was important to her. I think sometimes as spectators of the celebrity/star status, we don't often see people use their celebrity platform for a cause as much as we see them for their particular art, craft, or antics.

It was just refreshing and I thought I'd share it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Instafame and Self-branding in an Age of Social Media


A pretty interesting article centered around how social media is shaping our perceptions of ourselves and of others, especially among teenage girls seeking to resemble their most admired celebrities. Does Instagram propel young women to sexualize themselves for money, popularity and likes? Is it going too far to say that Instagram could be propelling a digital form of self-induced prostitution?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Supplemental Post #5: Thank You, Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed has a few pieces which I find extremely valuable because they delve deeply into the public persona of certain stars. The first one I came across was Angelina Jolie's Perfect Game, which I immediately sent to my sisters because I thought it was a fascinating study of her image as a celebrity. A few months later, I came across How Taylor Swift Reversed Female Opinion To Become The Most Famous Pop Star In The World, which was a complex study of her fame trajectory complete with numerous pictures and other pieces of media evidence, furthering the value of this analysis of celebrity culture. The particular piece that prompted this blog post was How Jennifer Garner Went Full "Minivan Majority" , which is an impressive and complex study of Jennifer Garner's persona transition in relation to her role as Ben Affleck's wife and a mother to three children. I find it brave and intriguing that Buzzfeed has taken on these topics, especially when they are known for their short lists and things that are fast and easy to read. I'm thankful that they encourage complex analysis of celebrities because a lot is going on behind the scenes that we don't necessarily consider. These pieces are the type of content I hope to create and distribute one day as a cross-over between Pop Culture and Academia.

Star sighting: Ron Jeremy

So maybe he is less of a star and more of a porn star, but if you watched as much Vh1 as I did in high school you're probably just as excited as I was. I nearly bumped into the guy while heading to baggage claim at the airport, and had to stifle a giggle.

Although Ron Jeremy's work in film is not particularly riveting or inspirational in terms of class topics, I did find myself wondering how someone someone so far outside the constructs of societies view of an attractive man was brought to fame in the sex industry. I do realize the man was *ahem* well endowed, but I did wonder why most women who are sexualized in porn tv, or advertisements are inherently beautiful, but that Isn't always the case conserning men. It seems as though a woman's worth is often weighed through her beauty, but a mans worth stretches further past this.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I see Marlon Brando everywhere!

This has been a weird spring break so far in that Marlon Brando has randomly populated my horizons, both virtual and real. Three Brando-related events and some Brando-related trivia.

1. What twitter is abuzz with: gossip

2. This zine I found at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco!

3. On a recent documentary on Brando:

"Spontaneity and authenticity are the hallmarks of Method acting, and, in many ways, they have become the de facto way that we discuss the strengths of a performance. At the time of these recordings, Brando was rallying against the cookie-cutter brand of acting that had long reigned supreme: “Your Bogarts and your Coopers gave you the same performance in every film,” he tells us at one point. The star system all but required it. But with Brando and his explosive Stanley Kowalski, the Method went supernova. In accord with the principles of pop psychoanalysis, Method acting promoted, as Krasner writes, “the idea that there exists a deeper, perhaps subconscious self, one more real than the social self.” In doing so, it fostered one of the greatest shifts in acting technique of the 20th century."


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Core Post #2: White Trash Culture and Blackness

In “King of White Trash Culture”, Gael Sweeney details the properties of White Trash culture and what space it occupies in the United States, as well as Elvis Presley’s relationship to it. In the essay, Sweeney argues that being poor and white or specifically White Trash (which she separates from the rest of poor White America by allying it with the South) is the worst social group in America to occupy. She does so by stating that being poor and white suggests a failure at achieving whiteness. She believes that White Trash is hated by whites more than Black people because whiteness imbues them with the special ability to succeed.

While I agree that poor white people/White Trash are perceived as less white than the middle class or upper class white people, I whole heartedly disagree with the belief that poor white people are more loathed than Black people. If anything, poor whites profit off anti-Black sentiment by believing their saving grace is that they are white. This is explained by poor whites’ tendency to vote for conservative candidates and policies even if it hurts their quality of life. They cling to the notion that their whiteness will elevate them in social class and one day they too will become middle class or upper middle class.  Sweeney’s  reminder that the KKK was originally formed by white people and not poor whites that have joined the clan is racist in its submissiveness of poor whites complicity in the KKK.
She argues that Elvis Presley was feared for his forward sexual nature that was coded by his White Trash upbringing and White Trash’s proximity to Blackness in society. She believes this White Trash coloring created a sexuality that created fear in white parents and allure in white teens. However, she does not comment on the benefits of his whiteness, just that people were confused by a white man being able to sing “black”. Here I would like to comment that despite being White Trash, Elvis’s white privilege allowed him to profit off of Black musical traditions. His cover of “Hound Dog” effectively erased the original by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, the Black woman who released the song to success in the R&B charts. Elvis was afforded the crossover appeal because of his whiteness. Not only that, his ability to sing black music was given more credit than given to Black people because his ability to do so was exceptional compared to the natural ability Black people were seen to have. He became known as an originator of Rock n’ Roll when Black people had been engaged in the genre years before.

Sweeney approximates whiteness relationship to Blackness, but does not work deeper into how White Trash can profit from it. Another example of this profiting off White Trash’s closeness to Blackness, is Eminem and his success as a rapper. While some parents find his music threatening both for its content and its genre, as many parents did with Elvis. However, Eminem has been very successful as a rapper. Part of this is his success is his whiteness. Listeners can listen to rap without engaging with Black people. Additionally, Eminem’s whiteness makes his ability to rap exceptional, unlike Black people who are expected to be able to.  Again the case with Macklemore, who won the Grammy for best rap album despite his lesser skill in comparison to other nominees. Whiteness allows poor whites to profit from traditionally Black music traditions, pushing themselves up the social ladder by leveraging themselves against poor whites.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Supplementary post #2

Shortly after the conversation held in class on racism and white trash culture in the south, a friend sent me a link to an article Atlantas major newspaper on the man in my neighborhood who flies a Klan flag. Apparently they are now going to be holding cross burnings and actual Klan meetings on his property now. He truly seems to think of his land as a religious sanctuary for klan members. The article is pretty interesting and I would recommend having a look:


Monday, March 7, 2016

Core Post #3: The King

  This week's reading was all about the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis. Elvis was and always will be known as music royalty, hence the nickname. He has maintained a cult following long after his death and remains to be one of the most well known celebrities of the past few decades. But what was it that caused such a massive following and extremely loyal fan base? Sure he had a good voice, sang some catchy music, and starred in some cheesy, albeit entertaining [for some] movies. However what people remember of this iconic figure is often rooted in his image. Elvis' voice would not have had the same impact on his fans if not paired with his gyrating hips, killer good looks, and voluminous hair. His image created the entire package, and this importance of a celebrity's image still exists today. You could have all the talent in the world, but without the look to go with it, you're just another dreamer hoping to make it big in Hollywood.
  I also found the notion of "seeing" Elvis quite intriguing, or any musician/singer for that matter. Like the reading said, when we talk about going to concert, we often, "talk about going to 'see' Sting or Prince or Madonna." When it comes to musical talent, we often forget to focus on just that, but rather the image or spectacle of the star and that's just how it is. This image is based on both the physical image as well as the social image that the star puts on both on and off the stage. It is this which Elvis is so remembered by; his ability to both make his fans swoon with emotions one has on their first crush with both his hips and his face, to his ability to make them feel comfortable with his generosity and self giving, this is all that fans of Elvis see because this is the image he portrayed for so long.

Supplemental Post #4: Elvis, Spring Break and More Midterms!?

Elvis is The King of Rock n' Roll, a heart throb... 

and a good ol' southern boy who loved his mama, but most of all, although he was a celebrity that started a literal cult following, the dude was also human. 

In celebration of his life and in coordinance with USC's spring break being around the corner here is The King's narration of how USC students will be feeling this week. 

TUESDAY: Only four more days until spring break. You may have a midterm coming up — no worries — Elvis wasn't that smart either.

WEDNESDAY: Happy Hump Day! Three more days until spring break. 

THURSDAY: Two more days until spring break.

FRIDAY: OMG spring break!!!!

Remember, your midterms are now over, so kiss USC goodbye and say hello to your well-deserved mini vacation.

Core Post #1: Elvis, Elvis and more Elvis (Insert screaming girls here)

The readings for this week discuss the role that Elvis played in popular culture throughout his life. During the 1950’s, Elvis was not only a music star, but also an actor and a sex icon — his sexual depiction resonating with many lifelong fans and impersonators alike.

Celebrities and trends may come and go, but very few obtain a cult following that is still celebrated to this day. Sure, every generation has its fix, but in terms of absurd amounts of stardom — and fandom for that matter — Elvis Presley was in a league all his own. Elvis started “fan-girling.” He was the reason why girls during the fifties and sixties would faint and get in hysterics — his rapid hip movements, movie star good looks, yet “boy next door” persona not only made him relatable and “the perfect guy” but his agents and representatives saw him as the perfect moneymaking enterprise. Unfortunately for Elvis, his personal goals were not necessarily met. Sure as a musical artist and entertainer he was revered around the world, but like any pop star, there comes a point in his or her career, where they want to be taken seriously. In Elvis’ case, he aspired to be a great, dramatic actor like Marlon Brando — his “people” felt it would be a more lucrative idea to appeal to his young, female audience and star in musical films with Presley as the lead. However, the appeals to his audience did much more than just get a bunch of teenage girls excited about sex and rock and roll — his popularity started a movement that not only would change the course of music history, but would change the way academics view celebrities of the Elvis degree.

The White Trash Aesthetic is one of the repercussions of Elvis’ popularity. Unfortunately, Elvis’s southern roots created a new class of people that would be viewed as lower class than African Americans. In our nation’s history, I don’t think anyone predicted that that would happen. Gael Sweeney’s paper “The King of White Trash Culture: Elvis Presley and the Aesthetics of Excess,” he talks about how the idea of why White Trash individuals are so much less desired than the whole African American race. Apparently, acting like someone who is black is worse than actually being black; essentially, acting black is racist, but of course saying that acting black is racist is in fact racist, so we have a never-ending catch-22 that our country so kindly created, oh so many years ago.