There is no one that can argue that the earth has not changed in the past few decades. The question that remains is: how much and in what aspect? In the particular case of global warming, scientists, organizations, and other individuals all have their own take on this issue: global warming does exist, it doesn’t exist, it does exist but the cause is not this particular source… etc. With all these positions, the pop-star Michael Jackson let his position be known in 1995 by producing Earth Song and its accompanying video with Nick Brandt: climate change has caused the world to turn for the worse.
Michael Jackson was one of the most famous musical artists in the world, known as the King of Pop. He had previously written other songs regarding world problems, such as We Are the World. The songs that address international issues are credible in that the songs emerge after the issue has been revealed to the world. Following his death, the Guinness World Records remember him as the philanthropic pop-star. In his lifetime, it was estimated that he donated 500 million dollars to charities. As he was one of the most famous artists and cared about the welfare of others, his influence on issues is powerful and he used it so in Earth Song.
Earth Song’s logical argument follows a chronological sequence of events. The video sets out in a scenic shot, no signs of industrial disturbance. As the video progresses, the world becomes more corrupted to the point of regret. When this point is reached, the video plays a rewind as a storm sucking all the corrupted things away, leaving the happier times shown in the beginning. This chronological order of events allows the audience to see a bleak future that is undesirable in comparison to the beginning. After a certain number of events, the corruption of the world becomes clear and feelings of regret and despair are portrayed to the viewers. The storm is used to represent the force of the actions society could take now to prevent further exploitation of the Earth’s resources.
Earth Song captures the topic of climate change as its video portrays images and shots that stir emotion within the audience. The video starts off as a beautiful, sunny day in the jungle. A panoramic shot captures multiple animals in their habitats, enjoying the sunlight and green canopy. The tranquility of the scene is abruptly disturbed by an unnatural smoky haze. This fog foreshadows the entrance of a rusty colored tractor that ploughs through the trees, doing its job of deforestation. The sudden appearance of the inorganic object produces feelings of intrusion. Something that so obviously does not belong in a scene will make anyone feel uncomfortable. The shot of the tractor moves closer to the audience until it runs the camera over. This is the very start of Earth Song’s video; no lyrics have been introduced and the only music heard is the sounds of nature and the roar of a machine.
After the tractor runs the camera over, giving an impression of running the audience over, the scene fades to black and transitions to a burning field of dead, cut-down trees. The view only consists of warm colors, but the association with these hues is something akin to hell. With just the colors, Brandt has created appealed to the senses in a way that would make the audience feel overwhelmed with heat and incensed, especially with the stark contrast with the previous scene of cool colors and a calming effect. The trees are blackened from the fire that still burns across sizzles the ground, and a dark pillar of smoke rises in the background. Michael Jackson makes his entrance here, starting his song with, “What about sunrise? What about rain? What about all the things/That you said we were to gain…” In the very few lines of his first stanza, Jackson criticizes a “you” figure, questioning the existence or state of simple things the world used to enjoy. The implications of the last completed phrase indicate a broken promise of gain, when in fact “we” experienced a great loss in a previous leisure provided by the environment.
The burning field gives way to a view of a dead elephant in a dried out field of sickly yellow. The view expands to include a dead baby elephant alongside the previous one and a nomad group surrounds the carcasses with expressions of sorrow. In this shot, the image of a familiar dead animal is a shocker. The rough, gray skin had peeled away from where the elephant’s ivory tusks were taken to reveal the vulnerable red underneath. As if in anticipation of some apathy, Brandt expands the view to include the dead elephant’s equally dead child next to it. This inclusion provides a relatable factor for all parents in the audience: the well-being of children. If the climate change has been so severe that it’s affected families of other animals, what’s not to say it won’t affect human families?
After the scene with the elephants, the camera zooms in on one man as he looks off into the distance with dread. As the camera returns to Jackson, it only briefly stays on his face before the shot is panned upwards from the burning field into clouds of smoke, above which holds the beautiful blue sky and green canopy before it’s switched back to Jackson staring past the camera where the audience sees the jungle again with the nomadic group. However, instead of the lush trees from the introduction, the trees shown here are in sparse numbers and in unhealthy condition as one of them falls near the nomadic group. The gaze of the man and Jackson rather than at the camera provides a feeling of the two thinking of times other than the present. For the man, staring off into the distance indicates a pensive thought for the future. While accompanied with the expression on his face, the anticipation of this future is filled with dread. Jackson’s gaze upward implies thoughts to the past, before the invasive tendency of humans had corrupted the environment.
Progressive shots lead up to a grayscale scene of dejected looking citizens walking away from their reduced-to-rubble homes. A man sees a blackened, destroyed bicycle in the midst of stone and flashes back to a green field of laughing children and sunshine. He falls to his knees and the scene synchronizes with the nomadic group as they fall as well. The groups that fell are in despair, clutching at the dirt as Jackson vocalizes with aggravation. The sorrow tugs on the heartstrings of viewers as the video has shown the hardships they have endured. After the vocalization, Jackson starts with “I used to dream…” The scenes change to a blackened sky from industrialization, animals trapped and slaughtered which end in Jackson’s continued vocalization that leads up to the storm that reverses time.. The quick-changing clips prompts shock and disbelief as the time for each shot is short, giving no time for the audience to process what they were just shown. In anticipating the storm, the song goes through a key change up to intensify the music. The storm rages on as Jackson’s lyrics change to his accusations and questions of “What about us?” Through the storm, all that was corrupted is slowly brought back to its natural state. To tie the video in a circle, the elephant in the beginning is brought back to life with its ivory tusks intact as Jackson screams his last sentence “Do we give a damn?” The placement of these three lyrics are to impact the audience (etc)
Joseph Vogel, in Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, stated, “In place of nationalism, it [Earth Song] envisioned a world without division or hierarchy. In place of religious dogma or humanism, it yearned for a broader vision of ecological balance and harmony. In place of simplistic prop-aganda (sic) for a cause, it was a genuine artistic expression. In place of a jingly chorus that could be plastered on a T-shirt or billboard, it offered a wordless, universal cry” (Vogel, 5). This book was Vogel’s perspective on Michael Jackson’s development of Earth Song and Vogel’s own analysis of the lyrics. With his quote above, Vogel asserts that Earth Song is not just another one of those advertisements that could be taken lightly. Jackson’s artistic expression leaves an impact that cannot quite be duplicated. The song and video combination is so moving that nothing but its own entity can give the same message.
Global warming and climate change are big topics that most of society has at least heard about. Many individuals advocate their differing opinions, Michael Jackson, expressed his thoughts in music. Jackson’s argument in Earth Song provided a visual impression of the world’s corruption. Brandt utilizes a chronological argument to maximize logic and the swirl of emotions by the end of the video. By contrasting themes and different color palettes, Brandt is able to appeal to human emotions of anger, sympathy, empathy, discomfort, and many more that elicit a feeling to promote change. Together, Jackson and Brandt have created an impressionable artistic piece that speaks out against climate change.
Brandt, Nick, dir. Earth Song. Perf. Michael Jackson. 1995. MJJ Productions Inc. Web. 10/28/12.
Vogel, Joseph. Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus. United States of America. BlakeVision Books. 2011. Print.
Earth Song. Dir. Nick Brandt. Perf. Michael Jackson. YouTube. YouTube, 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAi3VTSdTxU>.