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UC Riverside Scholars Ready to Discuss Michael Jackson

UC Riverside Scholars Ready to Discuss Michael Jackson

The global fascination with the pop icon is apparent as jurors reach a verdict in the manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray.

(November 7, 2011)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Jurors in the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s physician have found Dr. Conrad Murray guilty of causing the pop icon’s death. UC Riverside pop culture experts Deborah Wong and Derek Burrill are available to discuss the continued fascination of a global audience with the singer’s life, and death.

Deborah Wong, professor and chair of the music department

Michael Jackson grew up in the public eye, and his career paralleled, and drove, the development of music video and MTV. The public has had two parallel fixations with Michael Jackson: admiration, adoration, the joy taken in his extraordinary dancing and singing; and disgust and suspicion.

The trial offered the public intimate glimpses into Michael Jackson’s ambiguities: his race, gender, sexuality and age were all disturbing because they weren’t clear! He was Black but not Black; a man who became increasingly androgynous; either asexual or a pedophile; a man-boy.

Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies

Michael Jackson represents the child-genius that is to be protected from himself and the world. It is often difficult to process his age at the time of his death – 50. His record sales jumped 80-fold by the next month, signaling how important he was, but also how we grieve as a culture.

The fervor over Michael Jackson’s death has everything to do with the total-access nature of our current mega-media system. Google thought it was actually under a hacker attack shortly after the news was released, and Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger and Wikipedia reported crashes approximately 45 minutes after Jackson was pronounced dead. Within an hour, nearly 1 million people visited Jackson's webpage on Wikipedia. During the next weeks, ABC, NBC and CBS newscasts devoted approximately 30% of their time to the topic.

Michael Jackson’s life and death also hint at how we, as a culture, obsess about our bodies. If someone as rich and famous as Michael Jackson can't find a way to extend and maintain his youth, his everlasting child-like qualities, what hope is there for the rest of us? Maintaining our health and safety has become a type of national symptom of our inability to comprehend and accept aging and our own demise.



The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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