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Pop Video: Michael Jackson's ‘Thriller’ and ‘Race’

Peter Childs

in Texts

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780748620432
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748671700 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748620432.003.0005
Pop Video: Michael Jackson's ‘Thriller’ and ‘Race’

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One of Michael Jackson’s hit singles has the consistent line in its chorus, ‘It Don’t Matter If You’re Black Or White’: the statement of an ideal rather than a social fact. In Western society, white has been generally portrayed as a norm against which blackness is positioned as aberrant – threatening and perhaps even monstrous. As well as telling a mini-story familiar from teen horror, Michael Jackson’s music video for his song ‘Thriller’ invokes a number of discourses about ‘race’ and race relations in the US. Riffing on 1950s horror movies, it divides small-town America between respectable cinemagoers, fascinated and appalled by celluloid monsters, and unseen street zombies who re-colonise the night. By drawing on the xenophobia of cold war America and its continuing segregationist racial policies, ‘Thriller’, like many 1950s sci-fi movies, preaches both a fear and acceptance of ‘the Other’ outside and within society. Jackson’s own troubled relationship with chromatism forms a further context for readings of the video, as does his position in both black and white popular music.

Keywords: ‘Race’ Studies; Michael Jackson; ‘Thriller’; music video

Chapter.  4001 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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