One of the perks of having this blog is that I get asked to review a lot of stuff-books, films, and so forth. Awhile back, I was contacted by a film company in Atlanta, who have put together a documentary series on Michael, “The Love You Save,” After viewing the film and coming to the conclusion that I could not give it an absolutely positive review, in light of some of the film’s content, I wrote them back to say as much. I felt it was only fair to give them warning, since after all, they did contact me. I really didn’t expect to hear anything back. However, much to my surprise, I received a very genial response that expressed genuine interest in some of the points I raised. They assured me that not only did they want me to run my review, warts and all, but that they would love to interview me for a future installment to counter some of the inaccuracies and views expressed here! That sounded like a fair offer, and since I will be in the Atlanta area at the end of the month, I said I would be happy to do it.
But first, some things to keep in mind about this documentary: It is a small and independent “labor of love” project. They do not have a huge budget to work with, nor do they have the endorsement of the estate. That automatically means there will be much that is missing-namely, Michael’s music, for starters. And we have seen from past endeavors of this sort how difficult it is to truly do justice to Michael Jackson when the one most important element of all is missing-the music that made him so great in the first place. It is the very thing that kept other projects of this type, such as David Gest’s ambitious “Life of an Icon” from being as enjoyable as they might have been. In this case, the producers do an admirable job of getting around that troublesome issue for the most part, but like the proverbial white elephant in the room, the viewer is always acutely aware of this lacking. That isn’t to say there isn’t any music at all. Like the spirit of Michael itself, the music is all around, and still manages to become an ethereal presence throughout, whether it is being sung by fans, or given to impromptu chants by street kids. And so in its own way, even without estate permission to use the actual recordings, it still manages to give us the perfect feel of just how magical and timeless Michael’s music is, and perhaps in a much more intimate way than we might have gotten with the use of the actual recordings. And, in the absence of the music, we often get something else that is just as valuable-Michael’s own words, taken from various interviews and public speeches, inserted at pivotal moments to provide the insight that only his own words can provide.
However, the fact that this is a project being done mostly at local level, on a low budget, means that we won’t be getting a lot of high profile celebrity interviews from people who actually knew Michael or worked with him. That, too, is a much needed ingredient that simply isn’t there. The producers do an admirable job of attempting to fill that gap with fan interviews, archival footage that isn’t owned by the estate, and interviews with various analysts and psychologists who attempt to “deconstruct” the Michael Jackson myth. The film’s promotional blurb reads:
Michael Jackson was locked in a cage his whole life. He held the key to escape but never knew how. This underground documentary deconstructs the complex psychological and emotional profile of a poor African-American kid from Indiana who became a music pop icon in an era when race mattered most.
Therein for me, however, lies part of the problem, and I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Read that blurb closely again. Yes. Somehow these words-“psychological,” “emotional,” etc- always become closely linked to anything about Michael Jackson, even too often, projects like this that are intended to be positive. It really begs the question: Why must it be necessary to approach every analysis of Michael as if he is a subject in need of being poked and prodded from a psychoanalytical perspective? I “get” that Michael was a complex human being, and I understand that part of the modus operandi here is to deconstruct some of the tabloid myths. But the problem I found, far too often, is that the documentary often feeds into those myths as much as dispelling them, and in the end, viewers are really left with no clearer idea of who Michael Jackson was at the end than at the beginning. The interviews with the so-called psychological “experts” do nothing to clear these issues. Like so many of their ilk, from Dr. Drew to Dr. Phil, they can do no more than offer up opinions about a man they never even met; for whom they never even sat down and had a conversation. Like so many, they have formed an opinion based on tabloid caricature or perhaps a few hastily read books from less than stellar sources. When their own knowledge of Michael Jackson is so obviously limited-the average fan will know far more than they do-it really begs the question of why they should be given a platform to offer half-baked theories of who Michael was or the forces that motivated him. At least with people like Schmuley Boteach, we know they knew Michael intimately enough to have an informed opinion. That isn’t the case here. And, too often, the constant need to offer up some kind of psychoanalysis of Michael Jackson, often at the expense of in-depth discussions of his art, only plays into the already tired and cliched’ narrative of Michael Jackson the Genius who Nevertheless Was One Screwed-Up Individual. The problem is that even when such approaches are intended to be sympathetic, they really offer nothing that is revelatory or that hasn’t already been hashed out a million times before. I think it is time for a new approach, one in which the complexities of his artistic genius can be discussed on equal terms with his complexities as a human being. Yes, we may surmise that anyone who has been raised from the age of five in the spotlight’s glare may have “issues.” Michael himself was forthright in telling us the damage that comes to children who are forced to take on adult responsibilities too soon. But the “damaged child” trope is already a well worn one, and there simply isn’t enough new insight brought to the topic here to warrant its inclusion. If any of those people would but pick up a copy of Dancing The Dream, or would but take the time to closely listen to the Dangerous and HIStory albums, they might be surprised to learn that Michael was already quite adept at self-analysis. Through his own art-often quite brutally and honestly-he had long ago stripped away most of the masks and illusions, and had allowed us to see him in all of his naked vulnerability. I guess I have simply become rather blase’ about the whole topic, but I am much more interested these days in how Michael’s own self analysis helped to create and inspire his art. For those who still find some lingering romanticism in the story of “Michael Jackson, Tragic Hero” perhaps they will find something of interest here. But for me, there’s just not enough that is new, and for others, it will still leave many of the most burning questions lingering uncomfortably.
The first episode begins mostly as a grassroots tribute to Michael, comprised of various street interviews with fans, shots of various memorials that sprang up in the aftermath of his death. and footage of the Carolwood house. This segment is interesting, even if we aren’t really seeing anything that hasn’t been done in other similarly formatted documentaries such as “The Way He Made Us Feel.” However, this film gives us a broad spectrum of fan reactions, and some are quite revealing in their own way, such as the James Brown lookalike in Episode 1 who says he wishes he had known Michael because if he could have been a friend to him, “I think he’d still be here.” The comment is touching, but raises another interesting question about the psychology of fandom (which may, also, have been part of the producers’ intent). There are so many of us, like this gentleman, who seem to feel that we could have somehow “saved” Michael, by being that one, true friend we often imagine he never had (this, too, is part of the romantic trope that clings to Michael’s “tragic” image, as a kind of sacrificial lamb who never had one, true friend he could trust). It is mostly myth, of course. In reality, Michael did have many close friends who remained loyal to him to the end, but then, we have also seen how many of them, over time, showed their true colors, whether in his lifetime or afterward. So while it may be in part a myth, it is not a myth totally without merit.
In the most touching segment of Episode 1, a child reads an autobiographical narrative of Michael for a school project. His report, spoken from Michael’s perspective, begins with a boy who is born poor in Gary, Indiana but later buys a place called Neverland that is made into an amusement park and consists of almost three thousand acres. This essentially becomes the theme of Episode 1, and like the story of Elvis Presley-who went from poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi to the wealth of Graceland-it is a story deeply woven into the American fabric; the classic tale of The American Dream. However, we know that for both Elvis and Michael, achieving “The American Dream” didn’t bring with it automatic fulfillment. For Michael, especially, it would become a kind of hollow victory, for unlike Elvis he had yet another hurdle to overcome-racism. This is a topic I really would have liked to have seen the film explore in more depth. Perhaps instead of two more caucasion psychoanalysts attempting to deconstruct Michael’s psyche from their perspective of white privilege, we could use more African-American expertise on what happens to a black child blessed with enormous talent when he learns that everything he accomplishes is going to have to be “in spite of” having been born in his skin.
For me, the documentary’s main strength is in exploring fan reactions and the “cult of celebrity.” Where it is lacking is when it attempts to explore more controversial aspects without providing the much needed contexts. Yes, we know if you interview enough random people on the streets, you are bound to get a mixture of reactions, both positive and negative. There will be some, as shown here, who still have ambivalent opinions about the allegations and other issues. I have no personal qualms with acknowledging that there is, indeed, a whole other side to the Michael Jackson mythos, including those who have doubts. What I find more problematic, however, is in giving a platform to these views without offering anything substantial either in the way of context or refutation. The problem, of course, is that these people being randomly interviewed on the streets can’t be expected to have those answers. They obviously only know what they have seen reported in the media; they don’t know any factual information about the cases. If those issues are going to be raised; if they are going to be alluded to in any way, then they should at least be followed up with a rebuttal by a knowledgable individual on those accusations. But too often in this film, these controversial issues are raised and the uncomfortable fallout simply left to settle as it may. Perhaps that was part of the intent, but if so, it would seem to defeat the film’s overall purpose of gaining further insight into either who Michael was, or the forces he had to swim against. In other words, if the viewer is still left with a bigger question mark than before, then one might ask, What’s the point?
Overall, my biggest impression is that the film is uneven. There are moments of very insightful commentary (the man from Zambia interviewed in Episode 2, for example) who provide much needed insight into what Michael Jackson means to his fans of the world. But then, too often, these jewel moments are followed up by glaring inaccuracies that form a distorted picture. I was especially enraged at the segment where a woman, also from Zambia, goes on and on in an uninterrupted interview for several minutes espousing her views on why Michael “didn’t want to be black.” This was problematic for me because the interview was conducted in 2010, a full year after Michael’s autopsy was made public, confirming that he did have the skin disease vitiligo. It’s even more puzzling that the producers not only allow her views to stand unchecked, without rebuttal or the offering of counter information, but never even mention that he had vitiligo (even more puzzling, the complete omission even of the claim of vitiligo, which was so often cruelly referred to in the media as Michael’s “alleged” skin disease”). I don’t think his vitiligo is even mentioned until, in a much later episode, a fan being interviewed casually mentions it. But for viewers who may catch only this isolated episode, they may form the opinion (especially since the interviewee appears reasonably informed and assured of her views) that hers is the correct view. So again, a controversial issue is merely raised, with no real attempt to address the issue or counter it. However, this is an ongoing series, so perhaps those issues will be addressed in upcoming episodes. I certainly hope so, At any rate, they have demonstrated a fair willingness to allow counter perspectives, so we’ll see.
Overall, I found the general structure and chronology of the series a bit confusing, too. There does not seem to be a real narrative focus, and I’m not sure if this is intentional, but it’s a quality I usually expect from documentaries. Rather, it seems to drift rather haphazardly from point to point, while the viewer may be left unsure how a current interview fits into the overall context, or even what that current context is supposed to be. At times, it seems as though it is trying to be too all-inclusive, and that may be part of the problem. The scope of Michael Jackson’s life, career, musical impact, and social impact is simply too vast to be adequately covered in one project, and it means that no matter how you slice it, all are apt to get short changed in the process. This, too, was an issue with David Gest’s “Life of an Icon,” which became a bit unwieldy at times, but to his credit, Gest managed to maintain a strong narrative focus throughout that held the entire, two and a half hour project together. “The Love You Save,” however, feels very disjointed at times, with no real sense of thematic connection.
There is, of course, much to commend here and I do feel it is a genuine product of love made by people who want to shed some light on the Michael Jackson mystique, while maintaining a balanced perspective. And there is something to be said for its very genuine, grassroots approach. The main problem may be that, for diehard fans, there isn’t going to be enough here that is new to them, and for those with only a casual and passing interest, there simply aren’t enough of the tough questions that are truly explored or, more to the point, satisfactorily answered. This is the same conundrum that has so often plagued many well-intended, but ultimately misguided, projects on Michael Jackson. However, what it does offer-and where its strength lies-is in the obvious sincere devotion of the fans as expressed in those street interviews, showing a microcosmic view of just how Michael and his music impacted so many lives. I also like how they compared and contrasted the street views from 2004 (at the height of the Arvizo scandal) with those of today. These provide an interesting glimpse of how the public view and perception of Michael Jackson shifted from 2004 to 2009 and beyond, and help to serve an important historical function in the study of how public perceptions of celebrity can be shaped by the media and how those perceptions can be altered over time, especially as the media itself continues to evolve. Also, the fan views are interesting because they are not one sided, but rather, run the gamut from the truly zealous to the bitter rants against the media, America’s racism, and the hypocrisy of those who ragged him in life only to embrace him in death.
I will certainly look forward to the opportunity to add my own views to this series, and judging from the response I received, I believe the producers really wanted to put the word out on this series and to get feedback from the fan community. This is, after all, still a work in progress and I believe they are sincere in wanting our input, so please, by all means, let them know what you think.
Here is the link to the first episode; from there, you can access the rest of the episodes.
As promised, here is the final installment of student essays for this semester.
Sorrow for Human Responsibility by Paul Reising
Michael Jackson, perhaps one of the most widely known artists of all time, wrote and produced many pop hits and famous videos. He was most famous, however, for his controversies and meanings behind his works. Many such works pale in comparison to “Earth Song.” This work is most famous for being his last performance, and also for showing his true stance on how we as a race, treat and respect our planet, Earth. Michael Jackson was famous for his socially conscious music, but “Earth Song,” his big, bold environmental call-to-arms, is often overlooked (Pasternack). While the vast majority of his songs and videos were focused on relationships and pure entertainment, this particular song took a dark, somber, and more serious tone. The fun aspect was replaced by stark, graphic, and overall disturbing depictions of the effects of human irresponsibility, recklessness, and exploitation. “Earth Song” portrays Michael Jackson’s true convictions toward mankind’s misbehavior toward the planet they walk upon, the creatures they step on, and themselves through the imagery, symbolism, and lyrics.
The song portrayed a lone man walking through what looked like a deforested wasteland. The man, who was Michael, preached his sadness for what had become the state of the planet. Imagery such as: a forest being systematically cut down, a mutilated elephant, a dried up lake without living animals near, a war-torn town, a seal being slaughtered, a trapped dolphin, a graphic display of industrial pollution, sorrowful natives for their loss of lively-hood, and tank heading straight for the camera. Deforestation was, and is, a menace to the well-being of the balance of nature. Michael shows to be weeping for the falling trees and hurts when they hit the ground. A dried up lake in the video goes back in time to its perfect original state of harmony, showing lifelessness and human calamity. A gruesome sight next to the dried up bed of water was a dead elephant with its tusks removed by poachers, also, with a dead calf next to it. This depicts the ongoing illegal exploitation of nature and its resources for a profit, as does the seal being killed and the dolphins being trapped. The destroyed village depicts a distraught, displaced family about to search their crumbling home in search for their child, only to find a wrecked bike. A quick yet impact heavy scene depicts an industrial complex spewing and flooding the atmosphere with toxins and unknown gasses, which gives an ominous feel and we know to be devastating to ozone level. Natives of several places, including Africa and South America are shown to be weeping over their destroyed land and lively-hood. And finally, a tank rolling towards the camera gives a graphic reminder of the ongoing presence of unwelcome warfare. These scenes and images provide a myriad of painted pictures, showing how Michael felt about the wrongs of mankind.
Michael uses the images, however, for a deeper, more meaningful purpose of showing his true, underlying feelings in the symbolism. Michael’s full black outfit throughout the video represents his emotions while singing. It shows his sorrow and dissatisfaction with the current state of how mankind is treating its home. The wasteland surrounding him show what effect humanity had on that particular area and how far it is willing to go in exploiting nature. The hand being repelled by the oncoming chainsaw on the tree symbolizes innocence and good intentions being overthrown by greed and lust. The home of the war-torn family was shown to have a kid, but all that was known from the destroyed house was that a destroyed bike was all that was left. The bike is a symbol for innocence and it being destroyed represents how it was lost to the horror of war.
A selection of cultures from around the world were shown weeping and bowing submissively, scooping up dirt and pleading for salvation. This shows the extent of desperation for a positive change. A tank was shown heading straight for the viewer in one scene, and this symbolizes the part of humanity that is unstoppable and unrecoverable, just like the image of that tank. This aspect would be greed. Finally, the large gusts of wind blowing across the surface of the earth represents the much wanted cleansing and renewal of Earth and all its resources. These symbols reveal and punctuate Michael’s true opinion on how Earth is being treated by its inhabitants.
Although symbols and images reveal a lot, the lyrics come straight from Michael’s heart. There were three main lines that made the most impact. In “Earth Song,” “What about the peace you pledged your only son?” questions god as to why he allows suffering or it could mean he is questioning mankind as to why we have not been able to end and resolve means to warfare. “I don’t know where we are,” shows Michael’s belief that humans have altered Earth to a state where it could no longer be recognized. The repeated use of “What about us?” indicates his concern about our uncertain future. His lyrics come straight from the heart and show his love of Earth.
“Earth Song” as a whole portrays someone who loves the Earth dearly and hates the changes to it based on humanities’ shortcomings and mistakes. It uses imagery to paint the picture of sorrow. It makes use of symbolism to show a deep understanding of his feeling for Earth. Finally, the lyrics emphasize his feelings about humanity, Earth, and its future. Michael Jackson was a person who deeply loved Planet Earth.
Themes and Symbolism in Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” by Jacob Slaughter
Like a great many of pop singer Michael Jackson’s works, “Earth Song” and the music video released with it is packed with symbols and deeper meaning. The third single from his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, “Earth Song” was all about humanity destroying the beautiful planet on which we live on. The video opens in an apocalyptic wasteland, with scorched earth as far as the eye can see. The video sheds light on the cruelty of humanity.
While “Earth Song” eventually became the highest selling single of all time in the U.K. and garnered much acclaim throughout many European countries, it never got near as much praise in the United States. Its unusual blend of blues, gospel, and hard rock was perhaps something that American audiences weren’t used to hearing. Hits like “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” and “Man In The Mirror” garnered much more acclaim in Jackson’s home country because of our tendency to lean more towards more pop-oriented music.
One of the many sad parts of the video includes an African family looking on at the remains of an elephant and her baby, killed by poachers. The environment changes from having dead grass and dead elephants to being full of life, with a crystal clear lake and a whole herd of elephants gallivanting around and having a great time. This is perhaps Michael saying that he thinks whatever damage we have done to the Earth isn’t entirely unfixable.
In Joseph Vogel’s Excerpts From Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, Vogel sums up the overall tone and message of the song perfectly:
“The six and a half minute piece that materialized over the next seven years was unlike anything heard before in popular music. Social anthems and protest songs had long been part of the heritage of rock-but not like this. ‘Earth Song’ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a modern-day “sorrow song” haunted by voices of the past; a lamentation torn from the pages of the Old Testament; an apocalyptic prophecy in the tradition of Blake, Yeats, and Eliot.” (4)
While I wouldn’t exactly call it an apocalyptic “prophecy,” I think Vogel’s description of the message that the song is trying to convey is perfect. Songs like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and NWA’s “F*** Tha Police” are counterculture anthems that challenge listeners to stand up for their rights against authority; songs like these have always been common in mainstream rock music. “Earth Song” is similar in that it is trying to convey a message to its listeners, but it is something a lot deeper. “Earth Song” doesn’t challenge social issues of a particular race or region but rather contains a meaning that everybody can relate to: the gradual destruction of Planet Earth by its inhabitants.
About halfway through the music video of “Earth Song,” a storm begins to ravage the landscape, tearing up houses and creating dust storms. This is perhaps symbolic of God or Mother Nature’s wrath against humanity. In the Biblical book of Genesis, God was more than a little displeased with the way His people were behaving and the way they were treating the beautiful planet that He had created, so he flooded the Earth, killing everything there was and starting anew. The storm in the video is perhaps a second “purging” of humanity by God.
Another symbol found in the video is the people scooping up dirt with their hands. While I’m no expert on symbolism, I look at this as humanity admitting its wrongdoing and asking for Mother Earth’s forgiveness. In the second verse, Michael asks “What have we done to the world? What have we done?” Michael sees that we have treated the Earth with utter negligence and change needs to happen soon.
“Earth Song” is a beautiful anthem that carries a very crucial message: if humanity does not get its act together, it just might be doomed. However, while it is a rather dark song, it does provide a sense of hope and redemption (at least in the video). While we humans may be a rather stubborn species, we can all pull together and do our best to prevent any more devastation than we have already caused.
What makes a great musical artist? There are many ways to measure what makes one great, such as the duration of his or her career, number of hit songs, critical reception, impact on culture or album and ticket sales. One artist that possessed all of these things and more was Michael Jackson. Often referred to as the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson was a driving force behind modern pop music. Throughout his career, Jackson won 23 American Music Awards, the most of any artist, as well as 13 Grammy awards (CNN Library). Michael was also a very active philanthropist and advocate for change in the world. He wrote and performed several songs to draw attention to causes he felt were important. In 1995, Jackson released his single “Earth Song” which was accompanied by a dramatic music video. Jackson wrote “Earth Song” to try and convey his interpretation of how the Earth was suffering, and that the suffering was caused by the actions of mankind. The video is an allegory, and as such it is brimming with symbolism and different thematic elements.
The video to “Earth Song” opens to a lush forest teaming with wildlife. There is a drastic change to the setting however, as the viewer next sees a bulldozer moving steadily through the trees. Then, the viewer sees Jackson wearing tattered clothing and walking haltingly through a devastated forest that has been razed and left aflame. This opening scene sets the tone for the remainder of the video which is very somber and despondent. The ruined forest which Jackson is walking through is also very symbolic. The large trees are all cut down to nearly the same height, and flames can be seen across the entirety of the horizon. The destruction of this forest was obviously caused by man, and not by a natural event which is evidenced by the cut marks left in the stumps of the trees. Through this scene, Jackson may have been trying to convey this eventuality of our world should we not change our ways and stop our incessant destruction in the name of progress.
Jackson’s disheveled attire in the opening scene is also symbolic, and clearly done with purpose. He is wearing a jacket and pants, both of which are in poor condition. He wears a dark shirt underneath the jacket, it too is in poor condition with apparent tears and holes in the fabric. While the devastated forest is meant to show the destruction caused by mankind, Jackson’s clothing appears to show that the condition of man is attuned to that of the Earth and that mankind cannot survive without the Earth.
Later in the video, there comes a scene with Jackson falling to his knees and grasping handfuls of dirt. This is followed by groups of people from various cultures across the planet, with each group falling to knees and grasping at the earth as Jackson did. After each group of people is shown to the viewer, it is quickly followed by an example of destruction caused by mankind. These images may represent the actions of those specific cultures that precede them. This scene serves to show that all of mankind serves as steward for the planet, and every person and culture is responsible for protecting the Earth.
Another example of symbolism in this scene is the commonality of every culture descending to their knees. The action of dropping to one’s knees is common in many religions around the world. Resting on the knees is also often associated with the act of prayer. The scene could be intended to represent the people of the Earth all repenting for their destructive ways and seeking forgiveness.
Religious themes are not foreign to Jackson, and “Earth Song” has clear Gospel music influences. The religious overtones are further confirmed in Joseph Vogel’s book Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus where the author writes, “Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, he was taught to believe in a God that was rigid and demanding (including the commandment not to celebrate holidays or birthdays). The main purpose of life was to prepare oneself for Armageddon, which Witnesses believed was imminent and futile to try to delay or prevent. The goal, rather, was to become one of the elite righteous members (the 144,000) that would survive and preside over the earth once it was cleansed of wickedness” (25). If Jackson truly believed as Vogel claims, then Jackson’s motivation behind the next scene of the video becomes more clear. In the scene following the groups of people grasping the Earth, a powerful earthquake begins to assail what appears to be the entirety of humanity. The earthquake is followed by a great storm which seems to reach every corner of the world. This terrible storm is reminiscent of the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible, and the story could be the inspiration for Jackson’s storm. The storm represents the cleansing of the Earth, and a return to its natural state. The final scene of the video shows a single man standing in a forest, which could also represent a fresh start similar to Noah.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is a desperate cry for change. The song is a lamentation for what has beset the Earth, as well as recrimination for man’s fault in destroying both the planet as well as atrocities committed against mankind. Many musicians have had their ambitions sated by monetary earnings or fame, but Jackson was not satisfied with simply playing music to the masses. He desired for his music to have greater meaning and have a positive impact on the world. Nowhere is this desire for impacting the world more evident than in “Earth Song,” and if we heed Michael Jackson’s words, perhaps the world will be the better for it.
Earth Song is a cry out not only to God, but to humanity in general. Struggling with his leaving the religion he grew up in, Jehovah’s Witness, Michael Jackson is trying to understand why God is allowing our planet to be destroyed and why mankind is destroying it. Released November 27, 1995 the song about the destruction and rebirth of Earth was accompanied by a video that was filmed in four geographical regions of the world, the Amazon Rainforest, a war zone in Croatia, Tanzania and New York. (contributors)
The song “Earth Song”, brings a lot of truths about the destruction, that is happening all over the world, to planet earth and the destruction that was yet to come if things did not change. As with many songs, it takes people watching the video to get the full effect of the song. In “Earth Song”, the lyrics are hard to understand through much of the song. Reading the lyrics while listening to the song helps to understand what Michael is trying to get across in his song, while watching the video makes one not only understand the song, but to actually “get it”. The video to” Earth Song”, could get the point across even without the words being said.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jeremiah is a voice in the wilderness, known as the weeping prophet, that “cries out to the people to change their apostasy and return to God”.-Excerpt from Michael Jackson’s Love of Planet Earth, pg.41 (Veronica Bassill) Michael Jackson seems to be portraying Jeremiah in the video of ”Earth Song”. He is seen pleading with God throughout the whole video. The video begins in what could be the Garden of Eden from Genesis, but the first scene that Michael appears, seems to be a scene from the end of the world as told about in Revelations. He is crying out with is arms raised towards the heavens seemingly looking to God for answers. At a complete loss, he along with many other people from different nations hit their knees pounding the ground, running the soil through their fingers and praying for earth, praying for change.
Throughout “Earth Song”, Michael Jackson asks thirty-eight questions beginning with “what about sunrise?” The sunrise symbolizes the beginning of a new day, which is what he is wanting for planet earth, a day that the earth is not being destroyed by trees being cut down, flowering fields being destroyed, forest trails being burnt, animals being trapped, tortured and killed, and children dying from starvation, or war. Ironically, the next to the last question in the song is “What about Death?” It begins with a fresh start and ends with death, just as any living thing does. The song covers so many questions that every human should be asking. Twice in the song, he asks “Did you ever stop to notice?” Most people do not stop to notice. As long as they have a roof over their head and food to eat, they do not think about what is going on around them. Millions of people are homeless, hungry, or sick, but as long as it is a stranger, and not someone they know, people do not notice. This planet is home to billions of people and it is slowly being destroyed a little more each day. The final question in the song, is the strongest and most important of all. “Do we give a damn?” Do people care and are they willing to do what it takes to make changes for the future of planet Earth?
Michael Jackson did give a damn and that is obvious in this song and video. Jackson said, “I remember writing ‘Earth Song’ when I was in Austria in a hotel, and I was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the planet earth. And for me, this is Earth’s song, because I think nature is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the Earth.” (Paternack). The song and video have made a difference in how many people view the treatment of Earth, but obviously it was not enough because destruction is still happening every day. Unfortunately the Earth cannot repair itself as it does in the video and one man cannot make the whole world a better place, but Michael Jackson tried. This song was special to him and it is ironic that this was the last song that he ever sang before his death on June 25, 2009.
Michael Jacksons Earth Song is a cleverly composed ballad of our reality and influence on the world and people around us. The lyrics are well composed and clear however, they are not the only message in the song. The use of visual symbols gives one a focusing point that reinforces the spoken words. It gives means for the viewer to relate beyond the sound they are hearing. Earth Song contains symbolic imagery hidden in plain sight if one just looks deeper into the meaning which itself is a hidden meaning that is also a warning.
The opening of the video shows us common images of the world we see around us today, the sun is shining and the trees are green, monkeys are hanging out in trees and, nothing is abnormal here right? Suddenly a drift of smoke is seen and a brush clearer comes slowly ripping through the forest and the scene cuts to a devastated cut up forest across a vast land scape. This is reality, the real world in a clever twist Michael has gained our attention. He himself appears wearing tattered clothes a reflection of the environment surrounding him. This segment is highly focused our destruction of the nature aspect around us. Michael’s accusations are clear. Through deforest station and toxic air we destroy the very environment that supports us. Eleanor Bowman said in a Dancing with the Elephants segment. “To me, Earth Song is both a lament and an accusation. Michael Jackson’s lament is not only for what we are inflicting on nature, but for what we are doing to each other and what those in power are doing to the less empowered” (Stillwater and Bowman). This is not some possible future this is now today. Next images of dead elephants are shown, their ivory tusks cut out and the rest left rot having no value. This speaks of the impact that greed and desire for rare possessions and the lengths at which people will go to get them. It also reflects the impact we have on wild life. A quick flash is seen where the world turns back and we see the elephants in a herd alive and surrounded by life showing us perhaps what once was.
Meanwhile while the events are going on we see various people of different lifestyles looking on sadly affirming that our actions not only affect the world around us but also ourselves and our fellow man. The forest that is being cleared out may have been the home of the Amazonians looking on as trees are cut down. The elephant may have held a tribal or spiritual meaning to the Africans who stand before its mangled body. More images are shown of animals running freely without human intervention and then a small section of a tribesman walking beside a herd of elephants though he is not hunting or hurting them he appears to live peaceably beside them. This shows us that we can co-exist with the creatures that live besides us and everything is more peaceful. Flashing over a family is walking through a small destroyed town with soldiers all around them. It appears there has been some conflict that has affected the lives of this family. Michael is saying that we destroy each other’s lives as well as our animals and environment. Soon we at the rise of the song we see everyone fall to their knees symbolic of admitting defeat or recognizing the outcome of their actions. They scoop dirt up into their hands like an affirmation of the inevitable. Covered in the “blood” of the earth it seems as though they are crying from rage for justice, but a storm is coming.
The storm is a very interesting aspect of the video. With the storm comes a reversal of everything that has happened. One could see two potential aspects from this, one is the storm brings new life. Rain brings water to end the drought and regrow the trees. The storm is an energy that is unleashed upon the world to inflict a positive change upon the world in a natural event in nature. Another aspect of the storm is its relation to how people should go about making the changes to help the environment and things around them. They should be tenacious and powerful about healing the world and their voices thunder upon the ears of all. With the reversal of all the damage Michael is saying it’s not too late we can prevent this future now. He is saying act now not later. The wind has a very heavy effect in the video as well as it seems to be the driving force of the turning back. This perhaps symbolizes the winds of change. Regardless Michael is saying we need to get together and start making some changes before we end up hurting ourselves and our home the earth.
Michael’s song goes beyond the spoken lyrics it is a call to action. The Dedication he put into the song shows us his passion for his beliefs. A powerful song that send a clear message earth song is full of imagery that conveys to us the dire situation we are in and the repercussions of what will happen if we do not change our ways. Michael used his status as a music icon to get his message across to his listeners. Earth Song contains symbolic imagery hidden in plain sight if one just looks deeper into the meaning which itself is a hidden meaning that is also a warning to stop our destructive nature and heal the world and its peoples, that we need to take care of each other and our planet Earth.
When Michael Jackson wrote “Earth Song” he was changing spiritually and emotionally to the world around him and what it had become. He sees all the harm we are putting the earth through and he wants to find a way to make everyone aware of it. He creates this powerful piece of music that pulls us forward realizing what harm we have caused the earth. He even creates this music video where it shows us what might happen. like he is predicting the future of our earth and people did not really like that.
“At the time, climate change was still a relative seedling of an ecological crisis to many (and the science of greenhouse gases doesn’t lend itself easily to the pop form). Still, heard by millions, “Earth Song” was pop music’s biggest environmental song, and probably the first ecological eye-opener for millions of young fans.”(Pasternack) During what seemed like the millennial ages people where bustling around everyone was getting cell phones, computers were starting to become the norm and even MTV getting bigger by the minute most of us did not stop to think about what was happening to the earth we lived on. Jackson brought us to that reality and no one seemed to care for it but once the music video was released it was a number one hit. People started to look at the world in a different way. As Michael would perform the song on stage he would create this whole theatric motion to symbolize how he felt. “Jackson performed “Earth Song” at the 1996 World Music Awards in France, backed up by a choir of young children and cheered on by a crowd of crying fans.” (Pasternack)
Jackson’s music video to “Earth Song” was a looking to “…scenes of environmental destruction and war…Jackson wandering across a landscape of drought and fire, before he does his yell-through-the-wind thing, undoing all of our ecological damage…” (Pasternack) I think his wind in the video was the symbol of how God is going to cleanse the earth and rid us of all the bad things we have created. Not only is he talking about the environment but he is also talking about wars we have going on and how they are affecting people. He is taking about the racism that is still flooding the earth and how the wind will come in and make everything right again. The wind in itself could be the people of the earth and how we need to make the change for the better so that we can have somewhere to live. Slowly that wind has come because now as a whole nation and as a world united we are seeing the global warming effects and we want to make a change for the better. It might be a long journey but we are slowly getting there. Now I don’t think that the earth will be getting anywhere make to the point of just trees and jungle everywhere but I think that we will be in a much greener earth that will be more aware of are global footprint. Now in Jackson’s video I think he is portraying more of a God like figure coming down on the earth and reversing everything that has happened over the years. He is even bringing back people who have died in the war and even animals who have been killed because their environment was ruined.
There are even mythological meanings behind “Earth Song.” “In the legends of ancient Greece there are tales of punishment for those who reject being earth’s loving children and instead become earth’s destroyers. In one tale, a wealthy man cuts down the trees in a grove sacred to Demeter, the Earth Mother, in order to build a hall for his feasting. His name is Erysichthon, which means “one who tears up the earth.” Demeter punishes him by giving him an insatiable appetite. He even eats the food intended for his children, and so they starve. In our desire to have a “feast hall” for ourselves, we too are literally starving our children, stripping the nourishing capacity of the planet for profit, destroying ecosystems and species, and hoarding the wealth of the planet for a select few. As Jackson knew so well, thousands of children die of starvation every day. In fact, 25,000 people, including 16,000 children, die of starvation-related illnesses every single day.” (Bassil) This story even shows us that back in B.C people believed that there was a God or Gods sent down to punish the people for what they had done and even to this day we are still paying for it in different ways. Jackson’s wind is the symbol of hope to people that the change is coming and will come soon in order to save us.
Even though Jackson’s performances are a little theatrical he gets his point across to the audience and makes them see what our world is. He used symbols and children to call upon the things that are wrong in the world and how it is affect are future children. Wind is ever changing so even though it might have been blowing in the wrong direction when Jackson’s “Earth Song” came out we are starting to see a change in that direction of wind. We heard the message and we started to act on it. Not all of it has been settled or gotten better but we are more aware of how things are in the world and what we need to do in order to save it. Jackson wanted us to know that the change starts with us and we have to be the ones who make it or no one else will.
Michael Jackson was known not only for his musical talent but also the messages that are placed in his songs. He liked to throw messages that related to the world he grew up in and that he was living in now. For instance the song “Black or White” talks about how it doesn’t matter what color or ethnicity you are we can all live together in peace. One of Michaels crowning achievements is the song “Earth Song”. He wrote this song while going through the biggest transition of his life. He was stepping away from the faith that he had grown up with and followed for most of his adult life. He undoubtedly had a lot of emotions moving inside of him and he didn’t know how to deal with them. One of these emotions was a sadness for the state of the earth that we all live on. It seemed to him like no one cared what we were doing to our planet. Even though it is not in the lyrics one of the biggest symbols in this song is when the tank and soldier crash on stage during his live performances. The soldier gets out and points his gun at everybody then lowers his weapon and begins to weep. I think that this is about how the soldier doesn’t do what he necessarily wants to do but what he has to do because that is what he is told to do.
The soldier blasts onto the stage after Michael has finished singing all of his lyrics. After a pause he emerges from the tank looking very frightened pointing his gun all over the stage. He goes to the people standing on either side of the stage. After they cower in fear it he realizes they are no threat and points his gun at Michael. They hold this stance for a while until Michael, who is visibly in a lot of emotional pain, lowers the gun by it’s barrel. Michael bends over and faces the ground while the soldier removes his helmet and goggles and begins to cry. At this point I believe the soldier is meant to have seen all the destruction that the war he has been fighting has caused. He is truly moved and sorry for what he has done to these people. Next the little girl comes over and gives the soldier a flower. She realizes that what happened is not his fault, that there is a higher power that decides what the soldier must do. The piece ends with the soldier standing next to Michael who is spreading both arms to the crowd. This gesture can be interpreted for the soldier saying, “Look, here are people who understand and don’t hold what you’ve done against you.” There were a lot of people who were greatly offended by this whole scene that Michael created. They saw it as an insult to the military. Being a supporter of the military I can see why they thought this. The main theme of this part is that war is destructive. I one hundred percent agree with this statement. It is the most destructive thing that we have ever done to this planet. Personally I think that sometimes it is necessary for certain situations but destructive none the less. The other part of this piece is pointing a finger, not at the soldier but at the one leading the soldier.
It is no wonder that Michael was on the FBI watch list. This is just one of his many not so subtle messages about the government. Mostly he was on the list because the government had no idea what he might do, how far he might be willing to go. But this shows great courage for someone who is in the spotlight to take a stand that may not have been to poplar and that would give a lot of negative feedback from people in authority and for that I applaud him.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is one of the most influential and successful songs of the century: an anthem dedicated to the preciousness of our environment and the harmonic balance in our ecology. His love for Mother Earth shines through this song with emanating light. The song’s message is so powerful; it has sold over ten million copies in over fifteen countries. In Jackson’s music video for “Earth Song”, we see images of destruction with fire and drought and a barren land. “What about sunrise? What about rain?” These questions in the song, and many more, are asked in desperation as to why Mother Earth has had to come to this point through human irresponsibility and carelessness. Jackson is addressing the important issues of what we have done to the Earth and also, that we need to make a change and nurture a sacred place that also nurtures us. He is trying to bring awareness to the population of the world, for we are the only ones who can change it. Climate change, war, drought, over-fishing, pollution, and deforestation are the themes that are very clear in this song. Instead of caring for the Earth, as it does us, we have been destroying it. Once we start making a change, the Earth will mirror our actions. In the music video and the music itself we see symbolism including the pain and suffering brought onto the Earth and its inhabitants, the realization of the way the Earth is responding to the way it is being treated, and also the reversal of the affects of human’s destructive power.
Jackson’s powerful song is sung with the crying and the weeping of the people and it’s Earth. “Ahhhh” “Ohhhhh….” This is not for the dramatic effect of making a good or catchy song, but is used to make the Earth and its’ people voices heard all around the world. All of the pain and suffering is loud and clear and tugs at the heart strings of the people who realize what is happening at this very moment. The song is full of sorrow and is a cry for help. Towards the end of the song the tempo quickly picks up and the Jackson makes the “ahhs” and “ohhs” much more intense. “What about us?” also is symbolizing not the people as a whole, but the Earth and all the innocents that have been caught up in the destruction of it’s inhabitants. Humans are naturally selfish people and only think of themselves, when the real issue is the fact that we need to start thinking about others and and the things that are most important to us and the affects we have on them. For example: the planet in which we reside should be very important to us, and we should be very concerned of the status of its well being. We have to think of the Earth and us as a whole, as one, finding the problems within ourselves which would help us with the problems we face outside, and gear us towards finding a solution.
Another form of symbolism is shown in the music video regarding to the indigenous peoples, and Michael Jackson included, scooping the dry dirt of the Earth into their hands and trying to hold on to and grasp it. There is no more moisture and no more life within the dirt and it slips right through their fingers. They have begun to realize the affect of our actions and are now grieving over the lifelessness of Earth. I believe he uses the indigenous peoples as an example of how we used to treat the world including the animals. They treat it with love and compassion for nature, and not industrialism and destruction. They cannot grasp the dirt because everything nutritious about it has been taken away. It has no water, no plants, and no life. It also symbolizes the future of Earth if we continue to destroy it and take advantage of it the way we are doing today. We need to become aware of the actions that we take as a whole that shape the condition of the place we live. When dirt is dry with no moisture it cannot contain the essence of life, for it needs nurturing and watering. That is the way the Earth works. We need to keep it fulfilled with what it needs instead of stripping it away of the very resources we need to survive. It is impossible for us to live without it. Like the characters in the video, we literally need to try and hold on to or grasp what is left of the loving Mother Earth we have so irresponsibly been looking out for.
Lastly, another form of symbolism in the “Earth Song” music video is the storm or strong winds that sweep through at the very end, reversing everything that has happened to the Earth. All of the destruction, war, climate change, drought, over-fishing, deforestation, and pollution have been taken away and restored. This part of the video symbolizes the affects our actions would have on Earth if we were to change the way we take care of it. If we become more aware of the present issues, more people would realize what is actually happening throughout the world. Only we can stop the destruction since we are the ones creating it. The Earth is crying out in desperation and the measures we take could save all of humanity. Michael Jackson is promoting and causing awareness throughout the world with this song and I believe through that, a mighty storm of conservation and ideas would sweep through all of humanity and change the way we do things forever. Our destructive power does not have to succeed over our progressive power. We can make a change, and Jackson’s storm symbolism in this song is one way of helping ourselves believe we can.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” has changed the people who have heard it and viewed the video by giving them more awareness of the prevailing actions of people today. War,destruction, drought, pollution, and many others are a main outcome of the way we have been treating our Mother Earth. Jackson has helped with our consciousness of our environment and ecology by symbolism shown within the song and video. He shows us the outcries of the people and the Earth, the recognition of the destructive power we have over it, and also the reversal of such destructive power and how we can change the Earth and also ourselves.
As Joseph Vogelstates in his book “Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus,” “’Earth Song’ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a modern-day “sorrow-song” haunted by voices of the past…” We as a whole need to takeresponsibility for the destruction we have caused and use our awareness to our advantage and change the world forever.
Jackson’s Trials and Tribulations Portrayed Through “Earth Song” by Amanda Harris
In Michael Jackson’s song “Earth Song” a lot of his own insecurities are laid out on the line and depicted metaphorically. “Earth Song” was first broadcast in 1996 in many other countries but not in the United States. Even though it wasn’t first released as a single on Michael’s album it became one of the most popular and moving songs he will have ever written. During the time of “Earth Song’s” release Michael was going through his own crisis in his life; growing up a black man, questioning his religions, and not knowing who he really is was enough fuel not only for disaster but also for greatness.
Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana in August of 1958. He was born into a black working class family who had the dreams of being stars. Michael and his four brothers were signed to a record label by the time Michael was 10 years old surpassing any dreams these families ever wished for. For Michael this was just the beginning to a lifelong career that would change his life forever. In 1973 Michael started his solo career while also being a part of the Jackson 5. In the early eighties Michael was beginning to become a completely solo artist.” Jackson went on to become one of the most internationally famous award-winning solo pop sensations to date” (Bio) In 1996 when “Earth Song” first came to be known this was around the era Michael was facing turmoil. He was accused of molestation in 1993 and then faced the divorce of his first wife in 1996 and would then go on to remarry within that same year. Michael was losing his persona, and he needed to regain who he was. Some could say that around this time he was suffering a midlife crisis.
“What about the holy land (What about it) Torn apart by creed (What about us) What about the common man (What about us) Can’t we set him free (What about us)” (Jackson). These few words out of the entire songs draw me in and make me feel what Jackson is going through in a way. Jackson was a man of religion but seems to be confused over which path to follow. Also in a way it seems to me that he doesn’t differentiate between race he just sees a man and wants to know if he can be set free. But what man isn’t free that lives in our country. Yes we are bound by laws and yes he was raised in a time of segregation but this was 1996. Is he talking about himself? Can he as an individual be set free? Is he hostage in his own mind of being able to make the right decisions or make any decision at all?
Jackson went on to be one of the most successful music artist of all time only to end up dying at such a young age. He had such a wide array of a fan base and was supported by so many, but in reality Michael seemed lost. In 2009 Michael made the announcement that he would be doing a series of concerts known as his “Final Curtain Call” that would kick off in the summer in London. He would be able to see his shows sell out before he ended up passing due to an overdose that his doctor would serve a four year sentence because of. Jackson’s life was very well lived even through all the ups and downs that he faced he ended up pushing through and even coined the name “The King of Pop”.
In “Earth Song” Jackson says, “I used to dream I used to glance beyond the stars Now I don’t know where we are Although I know we’ve drifted far” (Jackson). Jackson state of mind is best related to these lines. He knows that he has come a long way from where he was but he doesn’t know who he is anymore or where he is headed. ”Earth Song in my opinion can be best described as “a modern-day “sorrow song” haunted by voices of the past” (Vogel). He was dealing with living and at times that can be the hardest thing anyone can ever do is just push through their own life.
Jackson had to deal with racial issues, struggles with religion, though he never lost his faith, and an identity crisis that I don’t believe he would ever regain. Jackson was a superstar and regardless of all the accusations that he dealt with those are not the things he is remembered for. He is remembered for his stardom, for being that ten year old little boy who stole our hearts and for being the man who wrote and sang “Earth Song” which “ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal” (Vogel). Jackson poured his heart and soul into his music and each and everyone of us got to see a glimpse into the life of Michael Jackson who is no longer with us but who will never be forgotten.
Earth song is a song written to express to everyone on how the world is not what it used to be. This song shows tough times in many different cultures to show everyone that people are not so different. Michael expresses in this song that everyone has lives and the simplest things can take that innocent life away from that person. He wants the people to stop hating one another and instead he wants everyone to start loving one another. By loving all kinds of people and stop discriminating, the faith in this world may finally be restored. The symbolic act when all the people scoop the dirt into there is the sign that their faith in this world along with themselves was beginning to restore and the world as we know it was beginning to change.
Jackson used this song as basically a way of showing everyone that by hating him and hating certain people, this world would be run to the ground. Jackson wanted every last human being to realize what they were doing with the life God had granted them. He wanted them to ask themselves why they were being the way they had been acting towards certain types of people. God wants all of his children to love one another and that is what Jackson was trying to fulfill as if it was his soul duty to fulfill God’s wishes. This question could play a substantial role in bringing the act of being civil towards one another back to the world. This in Michael’s eyes could symbolize a civil act being started and everyone pitching in to love one another for once. This was Jackson’s entire goal for writing this song. His hope that people will stop to hear and listen to what he is really trying to say throughout this song will hopefully change the world to becoming a much better place. This perfect place that Michael wanted to build was a place of peace where everyone loved each other and no one could ever hate another person. This was also God’s wishes to have all of his children to be together and to love each other more than anything.
In his video, it shows many people destroying the world and Michael’s “job,” was to restore and rebuild the once cruel world to basically a utopia. The turning point in the song was when Michael threw his hands into the ground and scooped the dirt into his hands. In Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth by Veronica Bassil, it uses a phrase “Jeremiah, a voice in the wilderness, known as “the Weeping Prophet,” cries out the people to change their apostasy and return to God.” What this could be interpreted as is Michael is the prophet and he is crying out to the world to change hence he threw his hands into the ground and scooped the dirt into his hands. This resulted in all the people scooping the dirt into their hands and reestablishing faith in this world and faith in humanity.
Michael through this song had a substantial effect on the lives of so many. This song had such great power and depth, I believe that people were starting to change their ways because of how this song took to them. Granted he was not able to change the entire world, however, he did manage to reestablish the long lost faith in this world and eased up so much hate in people’s lives. This was one of his many goals that he tried so hard to accomplish. He did not want any more selfishness from people. He wanted everyone to stop and think that because of their greed that this world would begin to fall until there was no longer a world to live in. Michael would never want this world to fall apart, and because of this he wrote this song to try and stop the hate and start to love people. He tried to use this song as a civil acts movement so that he could move the people and bring their mindsets to an understanding.
Earth Song was not just his last song. This was his last chance to get people to change and love rather than hate. He tried so hard through his career fighting through all the prejudicial people and hatred until he managed to cry out to this world. Thus, Earth Song was his way to cry out to this world in an act to rebuild the world we live in to something truly great. Jackson left us after his last performance of this song hoping that the people had heard and believed him that it could be done. Earth Song had done its job in its great emotional moment.
“Earth Song” is a song written and performed by Michael Jackson. It took Jackson seven years before he was ready to present this song to the world, and even after that it continued to change through a variety of performance choices. (Vogel 4) “Earth Song” is an emotionally raw cry to God. It is a cry of grief, indignation, and hurt which is born out of Jackson’s own experiences of the world being filled with hate, destruction, and manipulation. This song asks of God, why? Why is such evil and pain allowed to continue if there is a good God in heaven? Jackson also uses this anthem as a call to restoration. But one can not get a full image of Jackson’s intentions for this song without seeing the music video for it. The themes of “Earth Song” including the themes shown in the music video, are the question of whether or not God cares about the plight of the earth, the belief that it is up to people and not God to change the world, and that the world will eventually be restored either by itself or by the hand of God. This paper will discuss the song and its music video as a lament for the planet, a theodicy, and a Biblical Jeremiad.
This song is a lament for the earth which starts out directed toward God, but as the song unfolds it becomes clear that the song is also meant to call out the people of the world. The first verse of the song is completely focused on God “What about all the things that you said we were to gain.” Jackson asks the question “Did you ever stop to notice?” He points his finger at God for all the pain and suffering he sees. The second verse is still directed at God, but he starts it by giving the blame to the people of the world. The chorus of the song is a cry of sorrow that is universally recognizable around the world. (Vogel 5) The third short verse turns from God to a more introspective direction. Jackson laments the dreams and wonder he once had to only be replaced by confusion and a feeling of being lost. The music up to this point has been in the tone of an epic blues or rock piece, but after the third chorus and a key change, the tone becomes more like that of a soulful gospel song. Jackson then goes into a long line of questions about the plights of the earth with back up singers repeating over and over the question “What about us?” What started out as a sorrowful song turns into a passionate cry to be seen. In this final long section Jackson laments everything from war to poaching to man’s own apathy. The music video gives the visible change that can be caused by mankind’s conquests. A forest changed to a desolate wasteland, a city being reduced to rubble, and a herd of elephants being poached to nonexistence are a few of the visuals given in the video.
This song is loaded with Jackson’s emotions and his own struggles to know who God is and why He allows such evil to take place on earth. This song should be considered a theodicy because of where Jackson focuses his anger and pain. Jackson questions God’s legitimacy and worthiness based on the problems of the world. He sees so much death and so much destruction of the earth’s ecosystems that he needs someone to blame. But the song and its music video show that Jackson knows that it is the people of the world who have let all this evil happen. The final section of the song comes across as a call to action. Both a petition to God to bring change and a calling for all the people of the world to stand up and do something. The back up line of “What about us?” can be taken as an indictment toward God or as a statement that it is people’s responsibility to make a positive difference in the world. In the video all the people fall to their knees and begin clawing at the dirt which shows their desperation and brokenness; they seem to be praying ‘God, are You even there?’
A Jeremiad is different than a lament in that it calls for a change in action and it foretells of the consequences of not changing. “Earth Song” should be considered a Jeremiad because it calls people out for letting the world get as bad as it has, and he makes the impression that it can not go on like this forever. Something has to change. In the music video Jackson is dressed in tattered clothes walking through the wilderness. He seems to take on this persona of a prophet crying out for the earth to see a change. He laments the damage to the earth and its inhabitants, and then claws at the ground with the rest of the people praying for God to see their plight. Then a storm comes bringing restoration to the earth. During the storm, Jackson’s soulful gospel tone comes across as victorious and not broken which reinforces his image as a prophet seeing the change he has been looking for. This storm symbolizes a change either supernatural and complete or man made and temporary.
Jackson’s “Earth Song” should be considered a lament for the planet, a theodicy, and a Biblical Jeremiad. This song is an anthem for change, but is it even possible for humankind to effect its own change? Or is it only by the hand of God that global change can occur? After all it was mankind that caused all this harm to the planet in the first place. Jackson brings an indictment before God, and then he seems to believe people are the ones will have to make the world a different place. What if it is both? What if God’s plan is to change the world through people like Jackson, who will speak up for what they believe?