I promised you more student essays on “Black or White” and “Earth Song” and here they are. (Not to mention, these are easy posts to do while I am recuperating from a particularly vicious flu bout). As always, I find it fascinating to glimpse how Michael’s work is viewed through the eyes of the current generation, although at least one essay I will include today is from a student who was old enough to remember the “Black or White” premier.
Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. My students do visit here from time to time, and they always appreciate the feedback on their work.
The Cry of a Star by Sierra Adams, Eng 102 Sec 402
Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video premiered on MTV, BET, and FOX on a Sunday night, the main time families around the world view television together. Millions tuned in to see the “King of Pop’s” new hit. The eleven minute video had people buzzing all over the world. The first seven minutes showed Jackson dancing and singing of equal rights for all races, but the last four minutes is what created the upheaval. Jackson turns from a black panther into a human and provocatively dances, grabs his crotch, and smashes out car windows. The overall question is did Jackson decide to come back into the limelight with a vengeance, or was he really creating a statement about racism?
Jackson’s “Black or White” video was his reemergence back into the industry. It was a teaser for Dangerous, Jackson’s first album in four years. Dangerous later became Jackson’s third number one hit album in a row. The video was so overwhelming and provocative that it created an uproar, and many people developed a suspicion of his intentions. Critics questioned Sony and the producers about the video being a publicity ploy, and they defended Michael’s actions explaining that when he gets into the music there is just no stopping him. MTV, BET, and FOX also participated in creating an appetite toward the music video by airing Jackson specials and replayed old videos in the days preceding it. Some sources from MTV and FOX said that they were obligated to refer to Michael as the “King of Pop” in ads promoting the video before they were allowed to show “Black or White.” Michael Jackson and his producers bluntly stated that the ending of the video was not a publicity stunt, but was part of the overall message of racial harmony. I believe that Michael’s video was meant to shock viewers and get their attention. I do not think his intentions were a hundred percent fixed upon making a statement against racism, but I do believe it was his main focus.
“Black or White” was a marketing tool for Jackson, but it was also used to bash racism. Jackson basically kills two birds with one stone by acting over the top to get attention on racism, but it backfires because some viewers miss the point. The Black Panther dance-the reason he turns into one-is because it is the same name as the civil rights activists (The Black Panthers). At the time, his skin color had changed but he was making a point that he was still black. The bits edited out are when he smashes the windows with a Nazi symbol, “KKK Rules,” and “Nigger Go Home” graffiti on them. He’s going against any kind of racial, religious, or cultural hate. A perfect statement for the “Black or White” video, but TV propaganda meant it was all edited, so he could not get his message across. But this was an awesome way of self expression, and he looked very sexy. Jackson’s point was overshadowed by the small minded people of America. When you tie his ending of the video to the beginning, he was saying that it should not matter if we are black or white. We are all created equal, and he ended it with the dance that shows his hatred of each racist group.
Michael eventually apologizes to viewers stating, “I deeply regret any pain or hurt that the final segment of ‘Black or White’ has caused children, their parents, or any other viewers.” Jackson’s pride was hit hard when critics bashed his new video without realizing the deeper and darker meaning. Jackson was not a dumb man. He knew that it would create a ruckus, but he still wanted to get the point of hating racism across. He was rebelling against racism and he wanted to do it with a bang. He was not going to tolerate racism and hatred against another person’s ethnic background or nationality. Unfortunately, his point was overlooked and eventually the video was edited to only show the happy and cheerful first seven minutes. Michael Jackson was ridiculed throughout his entire life. The media criticized him about his skin because they believed he was trying to become white. In actuality, he had vitiligo (the loss of brown skin pigment). This made Michael very self conscious. Michael had to visit therapists to talk about how he viewed himself and learn to love himself for who he was. I believe his lack of self-esteem stems back to how he was raised. Jackson’s father was a failed musician and he became obsessed with making his children successful. He made them practice for hours, and the Jackson children often felt inadequate for him. When they did become successful he tried to control their careers even as they became adults. Michael was slammed and bad mouthed by the media constantly, but he still found ways to be positive and help others. I think we can all learn from him because not every person we encounter is going to love us. The important thing is that we stand up for what we believe in even if it means being hated for it.
In conclusion, Michael was an amazing artist that brought more to the table than just good music. Later in his career, he decided to lash out on inequality and the wrong people do to the world. “Black or White” was a song to bash racial inequality and promote equal rights for all. His point was not interpreted well in the beginning, but after analyzing the video many begin to see his purpose. The video also helped him achieve publicity and sell Dangerous when it hit the shelves.
Symbolism of “Earth Song,” by Robert Price, ENG 102 Sec 401
In Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” video there are many points to which symbolism is displayed. Most of the symbols seem to drive home the same point. The basis of the video and song are understood easily by the majority of the population that enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music. Michael Jackson was in fact one of the most successful musicians in modern history and could be remembered for all time for his contributions to music. Michael Jackson was not just as a musician but as a self-proclaimed artist it is only logical that he would put as much of an imprint of himself in his work as possible; however, not knowing Michael Jackson personally leaves many unanswered questions as to some of the symbolic meanings of his work “Earth Song.”
The video starts off with different settings from around the world, it seems. Each area has been negatively affected by some factor. The factors seem to be somewhat displayed but could this be swaying the opinion of the audience? The African group that is looking over the corpse of an elephant who has been killed for what it seems for no more than its tusks, yet there is no indication as to where the cause of the problem stemmed from. The group that lived in the forest also experienced a life and cultural changing event. The forest was shown as being cut down by man, but no reason is given as to why the forest is being cut. The family in what seems like a European setting is clearly affected by war, but why? All of these events show how negative things can happen to this world, but none of them clearly point to the cause or motives for the action. The causes for all of these events make it appear that the people directly affected by the acts were innocent bystanders, but what if the tables were turned and these people were the direct cause of these problems? Would people have a different feeling about the song? Let’s say the African tribesmen overhunted their lands or made money off of European big game hunters. Would it change anyone’s perspective? Even though the video does not show a single exchange of money, it seems to display that the cause of greed is to blame for these horrible acts.
The video allows the viewer to see a variety of cultures, sexes, and ages. It does not limit the pain and suffering to a single group. From the African plains to the European village the video shows that problems are not just limited to one part of the world. The problems are not limited to a single age group. The problems are not limited to males or females. These problems are portrayed on a larger than life scale which affects all walks of life. Does this drown out the emphasis of the problem or amplify them? It seems that in all fairness, one, being Michael Jackson, would not want to single out any one group for threat of a protest against his work, but at the same time not want to sacrifice the integrity of his work. The point could be a message in itself or a mere pleasing notion to calm the mass viewer’s opinions.
The display of corruption is not shown in the video, which leaves the mind to wonder as to why the problems have truly erupted. There is not a display of wealth really shown anywhere in this video. From the clothes everyone is shown wearing in the video, it would suggest that the affected people have not been truly indoctrinated into the twentieth century. The closest display of modernization would be the family affected by war but almost suggests that the acts have already been committed. Could the video suggest that all of the problems these people are facing have been committed by their predecessors? Could the attire by the cultures express a meaning of purity before the modern age? Even though the clothing may truly be a display of a timeless collaboration of eras, it only shows one aspect of those times. One thing the video is missing from each group it focuses on is wealthy people. In some way it may seem that the rich are immune to such suffering and pain. Maybe it is an indication that the cause of these problems is because of the rich society. Even Michael himself is shown wearing torn and tattered clothing. Not a single dollar bill or gold coin is exchanged. This may suggest that these problems do not stem from greed alone but possibly from human nature. The absence of wealth from the video could very well be an indication as to the cause of many of these problems or just seen as a clutter and less driven of a depiction.
The storm in the video has to be one of the single biggest mysteries of the entire production. Where did it stem from and what is its purpose? All of the different groups drop to their knees and grab the soil in what seems like an attempt to revitalize mother earth. While it may be conceived that all of these groups could be attempting to revitalize the earth, it could also be perceived that these people could have given up all hope and be digging themselves a shallow grave upon which they could join their now deadened world around them. Shortly after the storm begins Michael Jackson started saying “what about us” as if the storm is a way of the world doing an entire reset on the pain caused by its inhabitants. The storm shows the world restoring to its previous state as the trees are being put back in place and the wild animals begin to roam once more. With the world resetting itself, does this point give everyone a chance to correct the problems that got them to this point, or does it give a chance to do it all over again?
Many of the symbols displayed are just what viewers would expect from a quality piece of artwork and that is unanswered. So many of the points portrayed could be interpreted in a different way and that is the way Michael Jackson would have wanted it. To be a true artist, one has to be a magician and not reveal the secret of the show. The more points one person makes the more questions another person will have. The answers to the riddles will now forever be sealed in the memory of the mastermind. Could all of these symbols actually be purposeful and carry true in-depth meaning, or just a lucky decision in an attempt to make a quality production? The work may have very well been an attempt to make the world question its intent, and if that is the case, the intent was met extremely well.
Michael Jackson: Much More Than The King of Pop by Steve Hardiman, ENG 102 Sec 402
Michael Jackson’s life and legacy remain a constant debate amongst the public. Depending on the source, Jackson could be depicted in many different ways. However, what cannot be disputed and what differentiates him from other pop icons was his commitment in helping those less fortunate and tackling social issues. Throughout Jackson’s career he used his status as “The King of Pop” to bring significant cultural problems to the forefront of mainstream dialogue. Although the same can be said for a handful of other singers and songwriters, no one could match the effectiveness of his delivery method. Filled with provocative gestures, over the top theatrics, and an unparalleled ability to dance, Jackson was not only the King of Pop, but a devoted activist with the largest platform in the world. The best example of Jackson’s prowess as an entertainer and activist is the song “Black or White.” In “Black or White,” Jackson looks into the lifelong struggles he and so many other African Americans endure to their race. Jackson also mentions the escalating gang wars in the United States and ongoing territorial disputes in the Middle East, due to ethnicity or religion.
On the surface, much of Michael Jackson’s dancing and antics may seem like a show or a cheap tactic for attention, but this was far from the case. Michael understood that in order for his message to reach beyond the pop music genre, he needed to be innovative, bold, and controversial. Jackson knew that he needed to create a persona with limitless reach, establishing the largest platforms for his performances and music videos. If Michael was a conservatively dressed, mildly theatric artist, his ideologies would most likely have ended at the music fringes. Recognizing this, Michael spared no expense creating grandiose concerts and compiling his music videos. Using his natural abilities and all the theatrics, Michael’s reach and influence stretched far beyond a pop star. While the conversation may have started about his controversial antics and videos, the curiosity and debate led people to the lyrics, and from the lyrics they would inevitably consume the message he was trying to convey.
“Black or White” is one of the most watched videos of all time. Most people would be hard pressed to find someone who hadn’t seen it, or at minimum, knew the chorus. In this song, Michael Jackson makes a loud statement, not only for African Americans, but for all sects and nationalities. The chorus and the initial theme of the song are seen as a plea for equality. However, upon looking deeper into the lyrics, or coupling them with the video, it is apparent that Michael isn’t asking for equality, he is demanding it. Not only demanding it for him, but for all races, and all people. In the line, “I ain’t scared of your brother, I ain’t scared of your sheets,” he takes a direct shot at the Ku Klux Klan and racism in general. When he says, “Protection for gangs, clubs, and nations/causing grief in human relations/it’s a turf war on a global scale/I’d rather hear both sides of the tale,” take aim at gang wars in the major cities of the United States and the constantly disputed territory of the middle east. Jackson is pushing for patience and understanding rather than jumping into wars. Michael’s bold video for “Black or White” removes any subtleties that, however unlikely, might exist from the radio or lyrics. With each verse, sometimes with each line, there is an incredibly blunt, unapologetic image from the video. From the faces changing from black to white by flashing through all of the races in between, to the dancing with indigenous peoples in the jungle, tap dancing, crotch grabbing, destruction to the streets, all the way through Michael morphing in the shape of a black panther. There is a lot written about the various images, their meanings, importance to the song, and deeper subliminal intentions of Michael. Of course the black panther and cat, in some way, represents The Black Panther organization. Clearly the burning cross was about the KKK and coincided with the line “ain’t afraid of no sheets.” His edgy dance moves and tap dancing could mean any number of viable ethnic messages. However, while there is a slant to his message due to his particular race, the intended message is the one that’s easily remembered. Just like the title says, it doesn’t matter if you are “Black or White” or anything in between. Organizations that do not stand for equality should not be tolerated, be it a country, gang, police, or sect. Every word and image was chosen for a specific reason, some of them apparent, others are debatable. More importantly, the idea of equality is force fed to the viewer by the sights and sounds. Opinions ranging from good, bad, or indifferent, as long as people watch, listen, and discuss the song, Michael’s objective was met. Years later, in 2013, we are still at it. Debating and analyzing the song, keeping the idea of equality in our thoughts.
In conclusion, Michael Jackson’s impact on the world could not be overstated. He sold millions of albums; he remained at the center of pop music from the “Jackson 5” and even after his death through the present. He lived a flamboyant, controversial, but most of all, impactful life. Although his merits did not receive the same publicity as his controversies, Michael Jackson, through his stardom, shed light on so many prevalent issues, he spent countless hours visiting terminally sick children and financing their procedures. Throughout his life he spent untold amounts of money helping the less fortunate. As seen through “Black or White,” Michael did not fear the scrutiny he endured from his outspoken and divisive convictions. If there was an important issue to be dealt with, Jackson gave all of himself to combat it. Jackson used every avenue to express himself and his messages: images, lyrics, dancing, and his attire. Michael Jackson made so many songs, produced bestselling albums and performed on the biggest stages. Throughout Michael’s adult life, he developed and harnessed his immense popularity and wealth, directing it towards helping the needy and the environment. For all his accomplishments as an entertainer, he was equally important as an activist.
Black or White”: The Mystery of the Panther Dance by Tanya Stallworth, ENG 102 Sec 402
I remember sitting in front of the television back in 1991 waiting for Michael Jackson’s new video to premier on MTV. People were talking about it because it had been years since he had a new song. I was just excited because I was a big fan. I was only ten years old but I loved his music. So sitting at my Dad’s we patiently waited for the video. Finally the video came on. I had a million questions for my Dad and he explained to me about the meaning behind the video. He said Michael Jackson was showing us that racism was bad and we should all love one another. A simple answer that was understood by my ten year old self. We were dancing to the song and having a great time and when we thought the video ended, there was Michael in the alley morphing from a panther. This is where the video got interesting. I always loved his dancing so here I was in front of the television watching him then I got confused because he started screaming and yelling and breaking things. As a ten year old I was utterly confused. As an adult I have a better understanding of what is going on.
In the beginning, Michael morphed from a panther to himself. The panther symbolizes the Black Panther party. I believe he was a strong follower of their beliefs for the equality of black people in America, being a civil rights activist. Cats also are very independent and they move with stealth and grace. In the original video I didn’t remember graffiti on the windows that were broken by Michael Jackson in the video, then later I found out they were added due to censoring issues after the video was aired originally. The graffiti that is added basically shows that Michael was angry about the racism that is going on around us. Honestly, even before they added the graffiti, if you understood Michael’s work you would know he was against racism. He was always talking about loving one another. The dancing, oh the dancing! Michael Jackson is an artist plain and simple. He expresses himself through his music, which is his art. He was also a dancer. I remember the Oprah interview where he said he just moves to the beat. In this particular situation there was no music. So since there wasn’t any music I believe he was doing a dance interpretation of how he felt about the situation at hand, racism.
There was a lot of criticism about the fact that he touched his crotch. Honestly, I have no answer for that because Michael Jackson always touched his crotch when he danced. I think he did it because he knew it would make someone angry. Now I have to agree with Rev. Kauffmann when she spoke of the statement of contempt that he portrayed when he zips his pants during the dance sequence. As an African American I always hear things about “the white man this” and “the white man that” so I can relate to the fact she said that he was basically saying that whites wanted blacks to be quiet and not propagate. I think he was telling them you can’t shut me up! I have learned about the history of tap dancing in Black history classes that I have taken over the years and as fantastic as the form of dance is, the origin is an interesting one. Dating back to slavery when the slaves were on ships and transported to America they were forced to exercise by dancing. Over time, it evolved by being fused with European dance styles into tap dancing as we know it today. So I believe that he used tap dancing to symbolize slavery and racism.
There were also different symbols of events in black history. One that stands out the most is the one that is stated in Rev. Kauffmann’s essay about the riots in Chicago after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in the 1960’s. In the end Michael Jackson morphed back into the black panther, walking away an independent, graceful and stealthy black man into the wild-or as we know it, America.
True enough this video has been interpreted many ways by many people over the years and will be for many years to come. What I can honestly say is that when Michael spoke, everyone listened. Years after his death people are still listening. Now let’s hope they hear his message. Stop the hate, love one another, and heal the world.
A True Lament by John Estes, ENG 102, Sec 402
A look back at the history of mankind reveals all the problems and injustice we have endured on this earth. While various religions and groups of thinkers have tried to make sense of our sad history, it seems that individuals who are burdened by these things are the ones who really lament the times we live in. Someone who laments is someone who is sad about the present circumstances they live in and who uses their words to attempt to bring about change. Every age has had someone who sees injustice or other wrongdoings and stands up to address these issues and stop them. Even the words of a song can have the power of a lamentation and a desire to change the world. Changing the world might seem ambitious, but that is what Michael Jackson was. Never was this truer than in Michael’s epic masterpiece “Earth Song.” While none of Michael Jackson’s songs are ordinary, “Earth Song” is especially significant to him on many levels. “Earth Song” is a true lament in every sense of the word.
The first thing to notice about the song is how downbeat it is. It is very sad when Michael begins to ask questions about the various injustices that go almost unnoticed every day. The way he sings it is very beautiful but also haunting. He comes across as someone who is truly burdened by the state of the earth. He reminds us of how people are hurting the earth and each other. But Michael had to go through his own journey of revelation and spirituality before coming to this conclusion. He was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and was made to adhere to their rigorous doctrines. What makes this religion different from others is what they believe about “End Time” and the apocalypse. Michael was taught to believe that these events were inevitable and that God would take care of all the sin and problems on the earth when these events took place. As an adult, he began questioning these doctrines. As he saw the world with its many problems and social injustices, he also saw the beauty that we may one day return to completely. Of course, this was a very difficult time when Michael was struggling with his faith and the beliefs he had grown up with. Ultimately, he broke away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, coming to the revelation that if we want social change, we must be the ones to make it happen. These were the events that led to Michael Jackson’s lament “Earth Song” and to his newfound beliefs about the world and the change we could bring to it.
The song’s call for a change in these circumstances is also what makes “Earth Song” a true lament. There are several lines in the song that use the word “you” to directly address the listener. Michael is trying to get the point across that although we may be the ones who have let these problems happen, we are also the ones who have the power to stop them. In fact, this is not limited to just one country or one problem in particular. Michael has the whole world in mind when he calls for change. He is telling us that our acknowledgement of the sorry state of the world must also be accompanied by deliberate action to reverse course. When Michael lists these problems facing the world, all of the evil we have done to it seems so senseless. All of the war, destruction, racism, prejudice, death, and disease seem so out of hand and impossible to counteract. But what makes “Earth Song” a happy song as well as a sad one is that we do have the power to bring about change. This is what Michael wants the listener to grasp in this song. This is not merely some fun song to listen to, although it is very enjoyable on that level. But this is a song with a specific purpose in mind. Michael put several years and much hard work into this masterpiece, so it is only appropriate that we as listeners give thought to the words of the song and their meaning. It is especially important to fans because of its link to Michael Jackson’s own journey and spiritual struggle to arrive at these ideas. Toward the end of the song, Michael asks if we really do care about all of the injustice we see around us. He is putting his all into making us understand his lament. It should not be a personal lament, but one that we should share with Michael. The view of the world is one that we need to join. Michael always believed that we could accomplish great things if we tried. During his lifetime, he gave to charities and visited sick children in the hospital, doing everything he could to change peoples’ lives even outside of his music career. He truly practiced what he preached.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” should be considered a true lament. It is a song that laments the atrocities done on the earth and to it. Michael’s breaking away from his religion, his travels around the world, and his spiritual journey have culminated in this epic masterpiece of music history. Even after his unfortunate death, Michael’s song is still inspiring people to bring about social and environmental change. The song is not about preaching at its listener, but rather it is pleading with the world to heal itself. We do not have to wait on God to bring about apocalypse on the earth in order to change it; God can work through us and use us to heal the world. This is very similar to God giving his message to prophets about something that needs to change or bad things will happen. Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is certainly a message to show us about our actions. That is truly what makes it a timeless song for us to think about as well as to enjoy its beauty.