jueves, 5 de mayo de 2011


Lots of things have been said about Michael Jackson. The man who walked over the moon became the most selling artist in all time. The complexity of his personality can only be exceeded by his legacy. Frank Sinatra said one “The only male singer who I have seen besides myself and who is better than me is Michael Jackson.” Like Alexander the Great, Michael Jackson wanted to be remembered forever. This obsession leads him to break all the limits, not only in his music but also in his entire persona. He wanted to last forever so he became a human being that was above from race, gender, age and time.
“To me, ballads are special, because you can have a pop song that’ll be known for three weeks and then you’ll hear nothing else about it. Nobody else will record it and it’ll just be gone. But if you do a good ballad, it’ll be [in] the world forever”
Michael Jackson, Havenhurst, Encino, California, October 8, 1972

“What I really want to do more than anything is film. Film will last forever. I can go on tour and it’s exciting, but when it’s done, it’ll be lost to the world. But if I do a movie, it’ll be there forever, that’s what I love about film: it’s something captured, a moment captured that’ll be there for eternity. The stars die, like Charlie Chaplin—he’s gone, but his films will be here forever. If he did Broadway and plays while he was alive, he would have been lost to the world”
Lisa Robinson, Interview with Michael by phone from Encino, California, September 4, 1979

From the very beginning of his incredible career, Michael Jackson was very determined to do something big in the world, as he said once to the Vanity Fair journalist, Lisa Robinson, he wanted to use his talent to make people happy and be remembered forever. And that is what he did; he became a myth, the greatest entertainer of all time and above all a grand inspiration for millions of people around the world. He pushed all expressions of art to the next step and his music broke down cultural, racial and generation barriers.

However, Michael Jackson is not only going to be remembered by his music but also by his peculiarities. There are lots of evidences that can lead us to think that his obsession guided the construction of his persona. At the very end of his life, after years of constant transformation of his physical appearance, Michael Jackson became an undefined being, fragile and ethereal. As angels he seemed to have no gender, no age, no race and a childish and angelical voice, and we all know that angels are indestructible.

Lots of things have been said about his queerness. There have been some speculations about Michael trying to turn into a European woman from a black man. However, this transformation goes further than gender or sexuality. Michael thought that as an supernatural being he believed he was, he could derided biology. Paul Burston and Colin Richardson say that the project of Queer is to “attack” the very “naturalness” of gender and, by extension, the fictions supporting compulsory heterosexuality. However, Michael Jackson was even queer inside the queerness. His performative acts made his heterosexuality uncertain; nevertheless, he refused several times to be homosexual.

Lisa Robinson. Do you go out with girls? Any dates?
M.J. No, I don’t date, no. I’m not really interested right now. I like girls and everything, but [laughs] … Oh, you think I’m one of those? No! I’m just not that interested right now.

Interview with Michael by phone from his home in Encino, California, February 1977
Michael Jackson seemed Judit Butler’s devout apostle; he invented his own gender and his own identity. If we analyze one of his latest public appearances during some of the rehearsals of what it was going to be his last world tour “This is it” we can clearly witness his peculiar appearance, neither male nor female. Big and dark sunglasses, exaggerated shoulder pads, skinny pants, shiny precious stones stuck around his outfit, unnatural figure, indescribable facial features, ageless voice and innocent eyes…Michael Jackson does not seem to be a human being. Even his paternity is surrounded by a mystery halo. Prince Michael Joseph Jackson II was artificially conceived and there are some who label Michael Jackson’s paternity of Paris Michael Katherine and Prince Michael Jackson I as dubious. That is Michael Jackson avoiding natural rules again.

Another key aspect in the creation of this unnatural character that has created a great controversy during the last two decades is his constant skin’s whitening. Truth or not the vitiligo disease, this process has helped to fed up the mystery around his legend. A monster for some, a magician for others, Michael Jackson changed the color of his skis, he literally break the racial barrier in his won body. Was he renouncing to his blackness? If he wanted to renounce to his blackness he would also got rid of the black influences in his music and performing. Couldn’t this be another way to show the world that he is above race, that “he is not like other guys”, as he says at the beginning of his “Thriller” music video?

I also consider his dancing very symbolic. By far, he was one of the greatest dancers in history. His rhythm, coordination and movements did not seem to be from this planet. Moonwalk, the dance technique that he brought to the widespread in 1983, presents the illusion of the dancer being pulled backwards while attempting to walk forward. It is also meaningful that his most representative dance technique or his autobiography are called “moonwalk”, another reference of him as an out of earth being.

I am totally aware that my thesis can be completely wrong, unfortunately the mysteries that surround the legend of the genius will never be reveal. If be remembered was one of his main purposes he totally achieved his commitment. He create a magical and mysterious being, an angel for some ( especially the thousands of people he helped; The Guinness World Record Book claims that he is the artist in history who has donated to charity the most quantity of money), and a monster for others. However, nobody can escape from death, neither you Michael.

lunes, 16 de noviembre de 2009

Porn Capitalism

Sigmund Freud defines the id in his structural model of the psyche as the uncoordinated, instinctual trends of human beings; it is the most primitive part of our being. Our society has been fighting against its own “id”, imposing a super ego model full of taboos. Sexual and sensual expressions have been hidden from the public eye during the last centuries. Lust, sensuality, transgression have always been present in the different artistic trends. Dadaists and Surrealists started introducing sex and eroticism to burgueois circles, however sex was still something oppressed and forbidden. During the 50s, the 60s and the 70s the Beat Generation first, and the Hippie movement later, transgressed the public sphere with the sexual revolution. However, what started as the most subversive social movement has ended up as another part of the capitalist system.

One of Dick Hebidges methods to restore “subcultures” into the dominant culture consists of taking the subcultural signs and converting them into the dominant culture. The capitalist system knew how to take that subversive cultural expression and convert it into their own system. Sex is now a product, another consumer good held to the demand and offert laws.

We can consider Britney Spears as a great example of this phenomenon. Why the girl who started at the Mickey Mouse Club is now singing out loud about threesomes and stating that living in sin is the new thing? Britney Spears' transition to a sexualized image has been on of the most rentable marketing plans of the last decades. Everything was planned from the start. While she was swearing about her virginity, her lyrics and movements started to be more provocative little by little. Even her non sexualized image was part of this whole plan. Why was she talking about her “virginity”? Did she really have to? While her sexual life became part of the market, her products, her music and her performances started to include more implicit sexual content. But Britney is no the only artist who has suffered this transition. As Adorno claims, the “standarization”is proper of the capitalist system. Once one pattern has been proved successful, it is exploited to commercial exhaustion, culminating in the “crystallization of standards.” Britney is just the first one in a long list like Christina Agulera (remember her “dirty” époque), Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and why not? Miley Cyrus, (her skirts get shorter every day).

The consequence of this process can be considered as a “standarization of sexuality”. Sex has been separated from every religious, moral or spiritual meaning. The capitalist system has converted it into part of the market. It is true that sex sells. It appeals to consumers’ id, to their most primitive parts of their beings. In the public sphere the id has defeat the ego. I do not want to make a moral critique about this issue; however, I would like our society to think about this process. What is the next step? What used to be transgressor twenty years ago is now normal for 8 year old kids. How are media conglomerates going to sell their products when sex becomes not enough?

domingo, 15 de noviembre de 2009


“La faraona ha muerto” (The Pharaoh has died); these words covered the front pages of all the Spanish newspapers May 16, 1995. The death of Lola Flores, a gipsy flamenco singer, was the turning point of a cultural process that ended with the ignorance of the gipsy folk culture in Spain. Currently, Spanish pop music is riddled with a wide amount of music groups that have sold their gipsy influences to the tastes of the mass audience. A few years ago, it was inconceivable that thousands of mindless screaming teenagers would pack football stadiums to see their gipsy idols. Groups like “Andy y Lucas”, “Los Caños” or “Fondo flamenco” with a clear gipsy and flamenco influence constitute a huge pop phenomenon in Spain. Other artists such as Sara Baras and Joaquin Cortés sell tickets to their shows for more than two hundred dollars all over the world, and they have exalted flamenco as a “high” cultural expression. Is this dialogue between the mass audience and the gipsy folk an enriching experience or is just another consequence of the capitalist standardization?

The Romani people, most known as “gitanos” (Spanish word for gipsy) migrated out of the Sindah, Rajasthan and Punkjab regions of the Indian subcontinent into Europe during the eleventh century. Although this is true, their life and their culture was highly influenced by the Moorish, Arabic and Sephardic Jewish traditions. All over the ages, political institutions in Spain have ignored the gipsy community and their culture. For about three hundred years Romanis were subject to a number of laws and policies designed to eliminate them from Spain as an identifiable group.

In his article “Publics and Counterpublics”, Michael Warner presents the counterpublic as the group that is conflicting with the dominant public; they are fully aware of their subordination to the dominant class. We can clearly consider the Spanish gipsy community as a counterpublic due to the centuries of social, economical and cultural marginalization. Warner also states that the counterpublic is a self-organized group where the members feel a sense of belonging. The gipsy community has always cultivated some distinctive signs from the rest of the Spanish society; for example, they usually call white Caucasian Spanish people “calés.” The idea of their racial and cultural differences is very important to them. The gipsy community has used their own signs to use a particular style. For example, they consider that only gipsy people can properly dance and sing Flamenco; white Caucasian people do not have the ability to perform it; they don’t have the “duende” as they say.

However, during the last decades we have witnessed an integration process of the Romani culture into the popular Spanish culture. Dick Hebidge presents two methods to restore “subcultures” into the dominant culture. The first method is the most effective in a capitalist society; it consists of taking the subcultural signs and converting them into the dominant culture. The second one consists of having dominant, authoritative groups identify any short of deviant behavior.

If we analyzed the musical characteristics of the now so-called “flamenco” groups (“Andy y Lucas”, “Los Caños”, “Fondo Flamenco” or ”Kiko y Shara”) we cannot tell the difference between this music and regular pop music. These groups’ music, apart from some of the classic flamenco guitar harmonious or some gipsy slang, has no difference from some other pop international groups. In fact, the quality of this music is low. Their lyrics tend to be cheesy and the melodies repetitive. We could take the structure of an international famous pop song, add some guitar harmonious, some clapping and a little bit of audible footwork and we would have a pop flamenco song. Nowadays, that is the formula for creating music hits in Spain.

Although they consider themselves as the new flamenco representatives, they have sold their roots to the trade interests. Flamenco and gipsy patterns have been widely simplified in order to satisfy the demands of screaming teenagers. Their music is a great example of what Adorno calls the “standardization” proper of the capitalist system. Once a musical and or lyrical pattern has proved successful it is exploited to commercial exhaustion, culminating in the “crystallization of standards”. Some rhythmical, catchy flamenco patterns and some outlines of the gipsy traditions that have proved successful are repeated again and again by these groups.

This success that some of these Romani artists have at the moment in the pop music industry in Spain could lead us to the conclusion that social and racial boundaries have been overcome. However, this repetition of conformed patterns and attitudes just help to build wrong stereotypes of the gipsy community. Although these stereotypes have nothing to do with the image that the white Caucasian community of Spain use to have centuries ago, the general acceptance of the “gitanos” has improved a lot during the last decades. There is still a general idea about what gipsy people can do. People think that the only thing they can do is sing and dance Flamenco. They have the role of entertaining the rest of the population. This stereotype is being fed by the capitalism and mass production of standardized flamenco music. If the industry sells pop Flamenco new star as a gipsy singer it will for sure have more success than if he is not sold as a gipsy, even though this artist has not gipsy background at all.

On the other hand we have the so called elite of gipsy artists, Joaquín Cortés, Sara Baras, Falete, Farruquito artist that have managed to perform in some of the most famous and prestigious theatres around the world and have exalted flamenco as a “high” cultural expression. Tickets’ prices can vary from 200$ to 500$. In my opinion, it is important to recognize their talent and the importance of the export of the gipsy culture; however, they also standardize these artistic expressions in order to make them more accessible to a wider international audience. For example, although Joaquin Cortes’ talent as a dancer is undeniable his performances tend to give more importance to the visual or audible aspects of the performance rather than proper Flamenco patterns.

In conclusion, I think that it is important to analyze the relationship between an ethnic group and a cultural expression and how this art can influence the social position of this ethnic group. If we want to understand real flamenco we should not look into fancy theatres all over the world or the last summer hit list. We have to search the streets of Andalucia and look at the way gipsy people dance or sing before these cultural expressions are totally contaminated by capitalists principles

viernes, 9 de octubre de 2009


It all began in New York City in 1969. An opportunity for expressing the sexual freedom for some, or just a meat market for others, the Gay Pride Parade has become one of the most complex and controversial popular manifestations in the last four decades. From an objective perspective, a superficial analysis of these events show it is understandable that a fierce opposition to Gay Pride events has appeared both within the LGBT and the mainstream population. Drag Queens, music, glitter, floats with semi-naked hyper-muscular guys, and all kind of outrageous, tacky and freak manifestations assail the conscience of respectable citizens. Some of the Gay Pride detractors claim that these events clearly damage the public image of the gay community and promote a commonly linked identification between gay and lesbian people and sex and promiscuity. . This identification fuels the stereotype of “gay, promiscuous citizens” in contrast with respectable citizens. Even within the gay community people have differing views on these events, those who support these events (are considered promiscuous) and those who do not accept this behavior (considered regular end respectable gay citizens by the rest of the population). However, do they have the same opposition to the attitudes showed by the wide majority of the assistants to carnival events? Obviously no, so that may entails that those who in order to “defend” the gay and lesbian rights attack these events have some deep motivations like (why not?) disguised under political correction homophobia.

Let’s analyze all the elements that take place in these parades. First of all we have to take into account that it is a parade, in other words a manifestation of something. Glitter, color, noise, techno music, banners, feathers, performances, drag queens…the aesthetic character of these elements is more than obvious. There is a common visual and sensual component in all the elements that come together in these events. Surrounded by a festive atmosphere these elements widely appeal to human emotions, included sexuality in order to spread their real message. That is why common sense tells that this is no more than an empty, superficial celebration; a tribute to sex and lust. However, all these components share a common style that has deeper social, cultural and political implications. These flashy and exaggerated characters appear as a natural reaction to thousands of years of invisibility for the gay and lesbian collective. They demand their place in a society that has been thought of as strictly for heterosexuals. Above all, the components of gay pride parades share communicative goals. They want to express something by sparkly colors, noise and exaggeration.

Is this the correct way to fight for the normalization of gay and lesbian rights? May be not, but it is the natural reaction to the oppression suffered not only in third world countries but also in “tolerant” and “developed” societies by the gay and lesbian collective. This festive, colorful atmosphere also hides years of pain and resentment. I completely agree with those who claim that these events are tacky exaggerated and obscene. I would like to see the moment with these tacky manifestations are not necessary, however, that moment has not arrived yet.

miércoles, 7 de octubre de 2009

The Beatles, part of the capitalist machinery?

A critical review of the music video “Rain”

No way. That is the first thing that comes into my mind after reading this: "The Beatles did about as much to represent the interests of the nation's young people as the Spice Girls did in the 1990s." I cannot stop shaking. Posh Spice can be compared with John Lennon? No… Things get worse when I find out who has talked about such nonsense, David Fowler, a renowned Cambridge University historian. A cold sweat comes over my forehead.

Fowler supports the idea that The Beatles exploited fan worship, mindless screaming and nothing more than a passive teenage consumer, as away of gaining acclaim and notoriety. They were part of the capitalist machinery and their success was a result of the economic abundance that favored this passive consumption.

Here lies one general binary. We can consider The Beatles as part of the capitalist structure that established the patterns of the following commercial music trends or as a revolutionary band broke the structures of the common sense that ruled during the 1960s. In my opinion, The Beatles led a cultural revolution that broke the structures of society and the way music was understood. However, we can also tell that the Beatles imposed standardization in music that exploited successful musical features to commercial exhaustion (Adorno). I am going to analyze the music video “Rain” from the Beatles that was first shown in 1967. I am aware that during the 1960s music videos did not have the same aims that they started having after the 1980s but this video is one of the first conceptual music videos in pop music history.

The video starts with general shots of the members of the band walking around a green garden. They are all dressed in black modern ¨1960s styled¨ suits. These shots are followed by some close-ups and low angles of all the members of the band. The clip does not tell any story, it is just focused on the members of the group. The importance of the “stars” plays an important role in this video. I would also like to emphasize the great number of extreme close ups of some of the accessories of the members of the group (sunglasses, rings, anklets…). After reading Professor Fowler’s article, I cannot stop thinking about the commercial purpose of this video. These kind of video clips helped to establish a revolutionary fashion style that was followed by millions of young people around the world. This led us to the commercial purpose of the music video. Who were the interpretive communities of these kind of videos? Critical thinkers or just screaming and passive consumers?

I think that an infinite number of conclusions can be deduced from this music video. This is the beginning of a process that has led popular music to a wild consumption market where music producers only understand about profits and marking plans. Were the Beatles aware that they were founding this phenomenon? We will never know…however I will always enjoy listening to their songs again and again.

We aren't Van Wilder

If someone had asked me, one month ago, what the first idea that would come into my head when I thought about American University, I would probably have answered beer. Yes, I know I sound silly and that this reasoning is not true for all college students but I guess that I am another victim of American college films. Since John Hughes started making films like “Weird Science” or “The breakfast club” in 1985 a great amount of “acne-films” have helped to feed teen’s imaginations around the world. Why do we imagine an American college with beers and cheerleaders? Why do teenagers around the world dream of becoming the local football star and marry a blond cheerleader even if they have never played football before? I am aware that I am simplifying this fact (not every teenager around the world has the same stupid dreams), but these identifications do happen. Besides mediocre plots and flat characters, these films represent an interesting phenomenon in popular culture. Why does this Americanization of the ideal college happen? Why are these stereotypes made? What binaries work in these movies? There isn’t a unique answer for these questions, cultural studies work on a slippery field, however, I have analyzed a film called “Van Wilder” in order to provide an approach to these issues.

Van Wilder has been in college for more than seven years and he doesn’t want to graduate yet. From this common plot follows 90 minutes of easy gags and a fussy love story. Everything is stereotyped. Van Wilder falls in love with Gwen Pearson, the blonde but smart journalist who is trying to write an article about the life and the popularity of Van, however, the preppy Richard Bagg, Gwen’s boyfriend, is always trying to make things difficult for Van. There are constant references to sex and alcohol along the film. Two opposite binaries work in this movie; Richard and Van, they are both struggling to get the perfect girl. The two characters represent two different ways of life. On the one hand Richard wants to become a doctor and he is the leader of one of the most prestigious fraternities on campus, on the other hand Van is a party animal. The way fraternities are represented is immeasurably exaggerated: the clothes they wear, their hair, the way they treat freshmen students. They’re the rich bad guys. In contrast Van, although rich too (this is an interesting point) is the cool guy and the only thing he wants is to help his friends. I would also like to analyze another fact portrayed on the film, race. At a first glance this film tries to be politically correct and show a multiracial college community. Van’s best friends are a black and Hindu student. However, is this accidental? Of course not, this is not and innocent choice. Lots of American college films use black or latin actors as supporting actors, but they are just the white male main character’s best friend.

In my opinion Vin Wilder is a perfect example of how simplifications are made and how we just accept them. These kind of film just try to simplify a complex and rich environment like an American College, and they just help to fed the common topic that students just have sex and beer in their minds.