The 8th grade (middle school second grade in Japanese) English teacher I work with this year used Michael Jackson's Thriller in his relax-before-summer classes last week. (Summer starts a couple of days early this year.)
I was watching, and remembering dancing to it way back when. And I was thinking, man, this is chauvinistic.
Well, okay, it was Michael Jackson, struttin' his stuff, being his version of the alpha male. I would have liked it better if his date had been dancing with the ghouls during the credits. (Maybe she was? Too dark to tell. Who was she, anyway? Ah. Ola Ray, and, no she wasn't dancing in the credits. Darn.)
Working through the lyrics,
Cause this is Thriller Nightisn't bad grammar after all. I remember the lyrics always felt bumpy in my head, but I don't remember whether I figured out back then that the lyrics were saying it was thriller night at the theater. Half-memories there.
The Japanese translation we were working from missed the jokes, and plays it, near as I can read it, as straight horror. The line,
To terrorize y'alls neighborhoodis translated with the familiar form of "you", kimi, but ignores the southern sense of neighborliness in the word. (And Vincent Price did such a good job slipping into the drawl and back out.)
And then there's the give-away stanza,
And whosoever shall be found
without the soul for getting down
must stand and face the hounds of hell
and rot inside a corpse's shell.
that just gets completely lost. The "getting down" is completely missed, and the rest is mixed into other places, as if the translator were looking for some relative/conjunctive pronoun and reference that just isn't there.
It isn't there because this is it, the reference, right here. This is the verse the whole thing pivots on, the lines that bear out Michael Jackson's initial assertion that it isn't intended to encourage a belief in the occult.
David Bowie said it more directly, but this is what the whole video was all about:
Let's dance.And the difficulty that young men have getting that invitation into words.
Well, one of the problems with horror as a genre is that it is usually misunderstood. Much like the rest of art.