Well, I bet you have not read any articles connecting Michael Jackson and research in string theory before. No, even though I spend a lot of time and effort trying to bring science into everyday conversations people have about the broader culture, I cannot claim credit for this one. I was reading an excellent article* in the Village Voice written by Greg Tate, and to my surprise, there it was. It is by far the most thoughtful and insightful of any of the articles on Michael Jackson that I’ve read, and I’d already concluded that before noticing any mention of physics. I strongly recommend it, especially if you don’t know what all the fuss is about, or if you think that the fuss is only about some pop music.
Tate examines not just the impact of Jackson on the culture, and where he sits in the pantheon of black people who have made such impact (he’s mostly focusing on America), but also the role of adversity and struggle in focusing talent in a way that produces people who create at such a high level and which such seismic effect. He talks about the role of the ‘hood in creating the hunger that incubates this creativity, and what will come if the ‘hood disappears. (I don’t subscribe to the view that adversity and struggle is the only way to give rise to such heights of creativity, but I do know that they, in one form or another, can be major components.) Tate talks about what might come next, and briefly notes (with more imagination than most writers about popular culture, especially black culture):
[...] Next stop: hip-hop—and maybe the last stop, too, though who knows, maybe the next humbling god of the kulcha will be a starchitect or a superstring theorist, the Michael Jackson of D-branes, black P-branes, and dark-energy engineering.[...]
Excellent. He gets it. He’s not contributing to that tired cliche of separating creativity in the arts from creativity in science, and he’s also recognizing that we can get to a place where a black kid in the ‘hood can hear the message, so drowned out by the focus on sports and entertainment being the “way out”, that they are perfectly allowed be a scientist too. I dearly hope that Tate’s parenthetical remarks above might get a some readers googling those terms, digging a little out of curiosity. Who knows where that might lead. Every little bit helps. (Read about one of my own related forays into the hiphop world here and here.)
*Thanks Anne McKnight.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):