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TextsContemporary Cultural Texts and Critical Approaches$
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Peter Childs

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780748620432

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748620432.001.0001

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

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

Approach: ‘Race’ Studies

(p.40) Chapter 4 Pop Video: Michael Jackson's ‘Thriller’ and ‘Race’

Peter Childs

Edinburgh University Press

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

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