The tabloids and the judicial system are no longer the only ones scrutinizing Michael Jackson.

“Jacko” has become not only a media darling, but an object of academic interest. The department of African American Studies and the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies are sponsoring a conference entitled “Regarding Michael Jackson: Performing Racial, Gender, and Sexual Difference Center Stage” that began Thursday and continues today.

Although the subject of the conference is a sensational figure, the conference is a serious examination of Jackson’s career and persona. Over the course of two days, 18 panelists with a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from architecture to gender studies present their interpretations of the man and the myth.

The presentations, with such titles as “White Ambition: Michael Jackson, Racial Erasure, and Aesthetic Surgery” and “‘Michael as Monster’: From Embodying Thriller to Pedophilia,” explore all facets of Jackson’s controversial life.

“As far as I know, this is the first conference of this kind,” said Seth Clark Silberman, a professor visiting under