avatar for James Hill

James Hill

James Hill is a PhD student (Religious Studies) at Northwestern University. His research draws upon a multidisciplinary array of scholarship including necropolitics, race, performance studies, and cultural studies in the Americas and throughout Atlantic geographies. His work also engages questions of class, gender and sexuality, diaspora, and coloniality with particular emphasis on how creative artists destabilize modern notions of the proper location of politics and religion.

"I’ll Be Grotesque Before Your Eyes: Black Religion, Michael Jackson, and the Monstrosity of Racial Performativity" 
Am I amusing you
Or just confusing you
Am I the beast
You visualized?
And if you want to see
I'll be grotesque
Before your eyes
            This presentation examines the themes of gothic science fiction, gender, racialization, and religion within the artistry of Michael Joseph Jackson. Countering reductionistic tropes of Jackson’s aesthetic transformation, I argue that Jackson’s terpsichorean engagement with the grotesque was, above all things, an indictment of masculinist interpretations of selfhood mediated through Christian-colonial-modernity. Building upon James Baldwin’s claim that Jackson signified the archetype of the freak, this presentation analyzes how his abominable treatment at the hands of mainstream society was grounded in the reality that Jackson was a human being whose enfleshment echoed, deep within many, their most profound terrors and desires. As one who embraced the monstrosity of freakhood, Jackson used music and short films to unsettle the governmentalities of the biopolitical racial state and the conventional notions of the political, the public sphere, and civil society that depend on the exclusion of Blacks and other nonwhites from meaningful participation and their ongoing reconstitution as raw material for the naturalization of modern arrangements (Iton, 2009). More than an unsettling of cultural norms, this presentation analyzes how Jackson’s transgressive public performance also constituted a heterodoxical freedom-act unfettered from the mores of his staunchly conservative upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. By examining short films such as Thriller, Black or White, Scream, and Is It Scary, this presentation analyzes how Jackson’s utilization of the mediums of film and song discomposed religious fundamentalism as well as inspired a generation of gender non-conforming artists to boldly enflesh the Briarean vectors of Black spirituality in a world dominated by cisheteropatriarchal White supremacy.