When Time magazine published a special issue the following year in which similar technology was self-consciously deployed, not to dazzle us with a series of metamorphoses, but to help us imagine the end to which they might be leading, the logic behind the Michael Jackson video -- as well as the singer's own career, many would add -- was laid bare with breathtaking clarity:Although this vision of technological miscegenation does not undo prejudices surrounding the literal sort, it certainly calls their basis into question. As my friend Ron Alcalay ably argued in his discussion of the "Black or White" video in a 1995 piece for Bad Subjects, the reminder that color is only skin deep that such morphing and merging conveys might itself appear to be superficial. But that doesn't mean that it is insignificant. "This is not bad, this is not dangerous; in fact, it's lots of fun, perhaps even therapeutic for a bigot who might ordinarily change the channel when images of racial others invade her home."
At the same time, it's hard not see the apparent breakthroughs that went hand in hand with the 1992 Presidential campaign and the early days of Bill Clinton's Presidency as a prelude to 1994. The backlash against his Administration and the hopes it unleashed, which was led by right-wing media personalities like Rush Limbaugh, was surely a backlash against the promise of morphing as well. The outrage they stoked over Clinton's initial pledge to redress the plight of gays in the military and his wife's attempt to develop a universal heathcare initiative was an outrage built on the foundation of several years of university-centered conservative resistance to "political correctness" and cultural theories that promoted fluidity, hybridity and heterogeneity in contrast to the fixities of yore. Nor was it a surprise that conservative complaints about excessive tolerance in popular culture -- think of Dan Qualye's attack on the character Murphy Brown's desire to have a child without having a husband -- translated into a critique of the Democrats' excessive permissiveness, whether in cultural or financial matters.