Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white’ ?

Minstrel in 'black-face'The software giant Microsoft has recently created controversy by crudely editing an image appearing on its Polish business website so as to replace the head of a black man with that of a white man. Whilst the apparent intent of this action was to better reflect the reality of the Polish ethnic mix, it has been widely denounced as racist. This mirrors the converse situation, where a photo of a white family appearing in a Toronto guide was likewise ‘photoshopped’ in order to appear more ethnically diverse.

Although such ‘politically correct’ image manipulation may be readily satirised, it raises the important question as to the degree to which such images should reflect reality, as opposed to depicting some idealised goal. Such debate as to the morality of image fabrication is complicated by the fact that even unmanipulated promotional images are commonly taken from a photo library, and so do not feature genuine examples of the people they supposedly represent.

Similar transformations of ethnicity can also be seen to occur within a number of scenarios involving ‘real’ people, as opposed to images.

Whilst the racist parody of the ‘black-face’ minstrel is now unacceptable, many contemporary films continue to feature white actors playing black characters, as well as vice versa. In addition to providing popular entertainment, such transformations have also been utilised within revealing social studies exploring racism.

More recently, this topic has been highlighted by the case of Michael Jackson. Whilst he claimed his progressive skin-lightening was caused by the medical condition vitiligo, other sources have attributed it to a deliberate attempt to change himself into a white person. In that case such action can been seen as a form of social mobility, enabling transfer from a disadvantaged out-group to a privileged in-group.

Square-eyeMicrosoft ‘photoshopping’ story from the BBC

Square-eyeMicrosoft ‘photoshopping’ story from the Telegraph

Square-eye£1.99 - smallPearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F. & Gaertner, S. L. (2009). The Nature of Contemporary Prejudice: Insights from Aversive Racism

Square-eye£1.99 - smallTuffin, K. (2008). Racist Discourse in New Zealand and Australia: Reviewing the Last 20 Years

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Individual’s influence on culture: What does Michael Jackson’s story tell us

Micheal JacksonFive days after the death of Michael Jackson the on-going worldwide discussion and mourning fully demonstrated the influences of an individual, especially a culture icon, on cultures in the context of globalization today.

As the speed of globalization accelerates, world cultures are more closely connected to each other than ever before. Traditional research in both cultural and cross-cultural psychology has focused on culture-based effects by identifying the influence of culture on the individual. However, the reverse relationship has attracted increasing attentions over time: individuals influence culture by the creation of institutions, symbols, and practices that carry and validate particular cultural meaning systems. Icons have been called “magnets of meaning” in that they connect many diverse elements of cultural knowledge (Betsky, 1997). Particularly, cultural icons demonstrate an incredible individual influence on culture – an influence stretching across boundaries of race, class, gender and nationality.

Michael Jackson is the best case. His music and clothes, his dance moves, and his massive live concert tours not only significantly influenced the pop music, but also “projected to the world the sense and the promise of a multicultural and tolerant United States”. Like him or not, a cultural hero or a freak, for a long time this singer was considered as the “face of America” and the defining figure of the global pop culture.

Learn more about cross-cultural psychology and globalization The article about “America’s global face”

Learn more about cross-cultural psychology and globalizationLearn more about cross-cultural psychology and globalization

Learn more about cross-cultural psychology and globalizationIcons: Magnets of meaning

Learn more about cross-cultural psychology and globalizationLearn more about social psychology research on culture