By Susan Bonicillo
Illustration by Holly Randall
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 27, 2004
I'll never forget the first time I saw Michael Jackson. It was in his "Black and White" video. He was dancing in the way that only Michael Jackson can while studio-simulated winds blew through his silky, jet black hair, which lightly caressed his unblemished porcelain skin.
I thought he was the most beautiful white woman I had ever laid my eyes upon.
But then he opened his mouth and sang, and the masculine voice that came out confused me.
Indeed, it turned my young world upside down as I tried to understand how such a strong, manly voice could issue forth from the mouth of so delicate and feminine a creature.
It would be years later that I would find out that Michael Jackson was neither white nor a woman.
I haven't been the same ever since.
Indeed, from the first time he performed onstage with his assortment of brothers to the present day, in which his surgically altered face makes us wonder, "What exactly does he do with his excess body parts?," the world has had to re-evaluate the accepted notions that it had regarding race and gender.
Perhaps you could blame his eccentricities on his success and riches - that having all that money causes a severe lapse in sanity.
The grueling schedule and pressure of a performer's life may have taken a toll on his fragile psyche.
Or maybe, deep down inside, once we get past the hype and fame, he's just a really, really weird person.
Whatever reasons explain his erratic behavior, one can't deny that Jackson's role as a cultural figure and his actions in upending societal norms have become fodder for the masses.
It is exactly this type of stereotype-busting behavior that sparked a conference last week held at Yale University, "Regarding Michael Jackson: Performing Racial, Gender and Sexual Difference Center Stage."
For two days, scholars from universities across the country gathered together to discuss everything Jacksonian, from the content of his music videos to allegations of pedophilia.
However, considering the fact that he keeps Macaulay Culkin, Elizabeth Taylor and Bubbles the Chimp as his close confidantes, I doubt that a two-day conference can even begin to do him justice.
Nevertheless, whether you despise him, love him or look at him with the perplexed, head-tilted-to-the-side expression that a puppy gives you, Jackson and his impact are important in our culture.
Interesting because of all the talk regarding diversity and acceptance, especially in light of last week's Writing on the Wall Project and the UA Discusses - Diversity event, Jackson's entire life can be construed as one huge attempt to question society's definitions of what it means to be male or female or to belong to a certain race.
In this culture all you need to do in order to assert your identity - in terms of race and gender - is to check the appropriate box.
It seems that - especially in a place like America, where the course of one's life is determined not by one's birth or social status but rather by one's own strength of will - Jackson's life should be condoned, if not commended. After all, this is a country where the notion that fate is self-determined is instilled in us from birth. This independent attitude does not exist only in terms of career decisions, but also in the way we choose to present ourselves to the public.
It's the reason why we see white girls with braids in their hair, why those of Asian descent choose to get eyelid surgery in order to rid themselves of that distinctive slant and the reason why men and women dress in drag.
It's not a matter of them trying to escape who they are, but rather their attempt at to step outside the boxes that society has placed around them.
And in Jackson, we see the extreme of someone attempting to escape any and all accepted ideas.
Though he profoundly skewed my childhood images of race and gender, I have to thank Mr. Jackson for what he has done to expand my limited ideas.
Though it would be easy to dismiss Jackson as little more than a freak, his bravery in defying the norms can't be ignored.
Susan Bonicillo is a junior majoring in English who has given up on ever learning the moonwalk. She can be reached at email@example.com.