Greed, Destruction, Despair: Where is the Love?

Michael Jackson’s Earth Song tells a sentimental tale. Jackson shows th viewer how human’s, sometimes, are selfish, greedy and so caught up in our own wants and needs that we seldom realize the damage we’re doing. Systemically, in nature, with others, and even the way we treat the world and its natural resources, humans don’t deserve what we have been given. We take for granted and we don’t appreciate enough what we have, we destroy for personal gain, and disregard other’s around us, regardless if they’re human or not. “Earth Song’s” music video encapsulates the entire essence of sad truths in our world today. Jackson even talks about them in a few different songs of his, not just this one, such as Scream and They Don’t Really Care About Us. Michael Jackson’s Earth Song shows us how greed for money and power, the continuous destruction of Planet Earth’s natural resources and wildernesses, and the despair from war after war in this world is destroying not only the Earth we live on, but mankind as well. Earth Song’s music video is widely viewed as one of the most powerful performances Michael’s ever done, signifying worldly struggles with vivid imagery, a song that feels simple but is layered with detail, texture, and nuance, and a message that helped propel a worldwide environmentalist movement.

Jackson’s “Earth Song” draws out how money rules the world and how people suffer from greed and lust of power — enhancing its relatability with its listener. As elaborated in his music video, Jackson displays how people abuse power to gain material possessions — even animals’ parts from poaching. Most of the things we consider valuable in life, especially inanimate objects, come with a price. Either on the tag to sell with, or morally within ourselves, human’s tend to put a price on almost anything. Poaching and the greed that comes with high priced animal parts such as tusks and skins, along with the trophy of the animal, is seen as a rampant tragedy that continues to sweep our world. Elephants killed for their tusks, baby seals killed for their fur, and dolphins captured in the wild, all are scenes that we are shown exhibiting the harsh realities of in our world, all surrounded by greed. In an article online from The Michael Jackson World Network, “Clips from the film showed the deaths of vast numbers of elephants from Tanzania, which had massive effects on the human population.” Michael specifically states in the song the lyrics “What about the greed? Where did we go wrong?” Jackson calls attention to how species of animals are breaching the level of extinction and how entire demographic and geographic locations of our world are being jeapordized and diminished all because some humans can’t get over their obsession with money and power- death and profit. Our world is becoming a cold place, and it is up to us to change that, the change we want to see in the world starts with change from within. From the words of the famous Notorious BIG, “We can’t change the world until we change ourselves.” “Earth Song’s” music video, while heart-breaking and eye-opening, really shows the viewer some harsh realities of the world today, making it one of Michael Jackson’s best music videos throughout his entire career.

“Earth Song” visualizes how our planet is worth saving — it’s beauty, vastness, and plentitude wanting to resist destruction, turmoil and human interference on a daily basis. The video exhibits droughts that were leaving parts of the world barren, massive deforestation, and vast wildfires were some events that were showcased in the video. Natives of these areas were shown stricken with famine and loss of their environment, suffering greatly because of the destruction and chaos that humans incorporate in these areas every single day. Jackson’s methods of displaying these shocking images create emotions that speak to its audience, calling attention to the neglect that persists. The song and its idea came about during the 1980’s, when Ethiopia was going through a massive famine due to drought, a complicated civil war, and a corrupt government. One of the largest sections of the video Michael uses to propel this awareness is in part due to this severe famine and droubt, leaving hundreds of thousands of people, including young children, starving and destitute. Michael Jackson was quoted from his rehearsal for his This Is It movie:

“I respect the secrets and magic of nature. That’s why it makes me so angry when I see these things that are happening, that every second, I hear, the size of a football field is torn down in the Amazon. I mean, that kind of stuff really bothers me. That’s why I write these kinds of songs, you know. It gives some sense of awareness and awakening and hope to people. I love the Planet, I love the trees. I have this thing for trees — the colors and changing of leaves. I love it. I respect those kind of things. I really feel that nature is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the planet. Because the planet is sick, like a fever. If we don’t fix it now, it’s at the point of no return. This is our last chance to fix this problem that we have, where it’s like a runway train. And the times has come, This Is It. People are always saying: ‘They’ll take care of it. The government’ll–Don’t worry, they’ll–‘ ‘They’ who? It starts with us. It’s us. Or else it’ll never be done… We have four years to get it right. After that it would be irreversible. Let’s take care of the planet.”

“Earth Song’s” ability to highlight the devastation behind the destruction and neglect of the planet sparked global efforts towards preservation and conservation by millions of people towards what will probably be considered as one of the largest philanthropic movements in history.

When an audience watches “Earth Song,” they are enticed to feel the exact same way. It hurts: it’s painful and saddening, to witness such a beautiful planet that we take for granted, become wastelands and “killing fields” as Michael states in this song. Vogel states, “Saving the rainforests became a rallying call for the socially conscious in the late 1980s. It was both an environmental issue and a human rights issue.” (19) This video promotes change, encourages love, and pulls on the viewer’s heartstrings, making it a very powerful music video and song. Michael expressed often that he truly felt that this would be the most powerful song he’d ever compose. In Earth Song, Michael Jackson isn’t merely representing himself, or his career, but acting as a medium for a 21st century tragedy: the struggle of earth and its inhabitants for survival against increasingly overwhelming odds.

Famined and drought-stricken Ethiopian natives

The despair from war exhibited in Jackson’s music video, “Earth Song,” is displayed emotionally and shockingly to viewers. Wars have been fought on our planet for several centuries, affecting the world’s inhabitants and the Earth herself. War has killed more people in the world than another leading cause of death, including malaria and other diseases. War destroys familes, it destroys countries, and it destroys ecosystems all across the world. In “Earth Song,” we are shown in the video actual scenes from the devestation the war in Croatia had left on that country. Vogel desribes the martial effect: “Often referred to as the Homeland War, Croatia’s efforts to become independent came at a great cost: over 20,000 lives lost, 37 billion dollars in damage, and hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees.” Vogel, Joseph. Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion (pp. 55–56). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition. A family walks through barren and ravished streets, tanks and soldiers rolling through the towns, and they weep seeing their home destroyed by war. Michael talks in the song about children dying from war, “Did you ever stop to notice, all the children dead from war? Did you ever stop to notice, this crying earth — these wheeping shores?” His pain is seen and felt through his emotional vocals in the video, and in fact, while shooting the video, astonished the crew during rehearsals.

“One of the most remarkable moments took place that night in New York. I had a bunch of very cynical jaded New Yorkers for crew, for the part of the shoot that he was in. And they were just, ‘Oh yeah, Michael Jackson, da-da-da-da-da…’ But then when he started singing at the end of that song, and he’s just screaming out the vocals….you could just see, you just look around and everybody had stopped in their tracks and watching him, riveted. And he’d only give me one take from each angle because he was getting blasted by these wind machines and stuff was flying in his eyes. I mean, it’s really hard….And everybody was just electrified. He completely turned everybody around.” Vogel, Joseph. Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion (pp. 53–54). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

Michael Jackson knew how to move audiences, change perspectives, and influence others like no one else could, and did a phenomenal job of displaying that true ability in his music video for Earth Song.

Michael Jackson insisted on telling a story with his art. Through music videos, songs, and even short films, Michael knew how to pull the audience in to the story he wanted to tell. “Earth Song’s” music video told one of the strongest stories Michael ever told, and impacted millions of people across the world. Movements towards preserving the Amazon Rainforest, providing food and shelters for African natives that were famished and stricken with drought, and stricter laws towards poaching and animal rights lit up the philanthropic movement in the mid 1990’s. “Earth Song” told a story about issues that had been talked about before by other famous artists, but not at all in the same way form. The video shows how the destruction of the Amazon, mutilated animals, and impoverished nations due to famine and war tells a story about their lives, and how everything is connected. The movement back and forth in time and space throughout the first half of the video is intended to not only highlight connections, but also contrasts and consequences: the world as it is, and the world as it might be. One of Michael’s most powerful performances, “Earth Song’s” music video made an impact on the world that at that time, was unparalleled in the entertainment industry. In an article written by Karin Merx, film critic Armond White appraises Earth Song by placing it “among the most magnificent combinations of music and imagery in the centenary of motion pictures.” Is Earth Song a “good” music video? Was the production quality up to par? Did the video make a difference in people’s lives? Jackson’s emotions and expressions during the video illustrate what made Michael so powerful on screen. The emotions he is able to capture — the sadness, loss and despair — are truly remarkable. “Earth Song” is considered among the boldest videos to emerge from the 1990s and one of very few music videos to grapple with serious, global issues.

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