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The Labors of Michael Jackson: Virtuosity, Deindustrialization, and Dancing Work

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

Michael Jackson, arguably the most notable popular-culture virtuoso of the late twentieth century, cannot be understood outside the economic moment that produced him. This essay examines relations between his virtuosity as a dancer and the trajectory of American deindustrialization in the period 1983–88. Through the trope of the human motor, Jackson's virtuosity produces nostalgia for a vanishing industrial past, while barely containing the contradictions and exclusions endemic to the industrial modernist project, especially those involving race. This trope is activated by the intersection of his movement vocabulary and his recurring invocations of hard work. Jackson's dancing in this period reveals a neglected aspect of virtuosity in dance more generally. As an allegorical presentation of idealized relations between the body and work abandoned by the relentless motility of capital, Jackson's virtuosity allows audiences to view these disappearing modes with a romantic backward glance.

Type
Special Topic: Work Coordinated by Vicky Unruh
Copyright
Copyright © 2012 by The Modern Language Association of America

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