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I Know I Am Someone: Michael Jackson, Thriller, and American Identity Open Access

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This thesis addresses the cultural phenomenon surrounding Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller and uses it as a lens through which to view and analyze the development of a distinct American, primarily youth, identity in 1983 and 1984. It is structured using a three-prong approach that first analyzes the sonic work of the music of Thriller, second explores the characteristics of Michaelmania and the youth identity being constructed within the Michael Jackson pop explosion, and third analyzes the backlash from both the white and African American communities against Jackson in that time to illuminate his subversion and danger to the status quo. I argue that Jackson's act of profound crossover during the Thriller era triggered within the American youth an equally profound act of identity formation that transcended racial stratification in America's past and created a foundational part of our contemporary identity that moves slightly beyond America's troubled racial history. Using both the voices of his fans and his critics to tease out the work his person and his music did in the early 1980's, I advocate we keep Jackson and his work foregrounded in our study of popular culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as his pop explosion fundamentally and permanently effected how Americans understand ourselves and our relations with each other.

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