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Unfinished BusinessMichael Jackson, Detroit, and the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization$
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Judith Hamera

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199348589

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199348589.001.0001

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The Labors of Michael Jackson

The Labors of Michael Jackson

Transitional Deindustriality, Dance, and Virtuous(o) Work

(p.21) Chapter 1 The Labors of Michael Jackson
Unfinished Business

Judith Hamera

Oxford University Press

Chapter 1 establishes Michael Jackson’s deindustriality, which is too frequently ignored in favor of white artists like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or Bruce Springsteen. Jackson is the exemplary transitional subject of the deindustrial; his popularity peaked as manufacturing sector contractions became increasingly visible as national problems. His racial assertiveness and virtuosic dancing marked his own extraordinary social mobility while conjuring an industrial imaginary that was both fictively racially inclusive and apparently in the process of collapsing. Jackson simultaneously incarnated the trope of the human motor—one of the defining figures of industrial modernity—and offered a compelling, cruelly optimistic spectacle of the exceptional individual’s ability to glide away from this collapse with pleasure, precision, and hard work. The chapter also offers a theory of virtuosity as a relational process linking performers to audiences and, in Jackson’s case, accounting for his status as an icon of deindustrial mobility.

Keywords:   Michael Jackson, race, dance, deindustrialization, transitional subject, virtuosity, human motor

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