Here are a few more today. Tomorrow I will try to post all of the remaining essays from my Alabama A&M students, as well as my Books and Coffee presentation on Dancing The Dream. Next week, I will begin posting responses to the video from my Calhoun College students.
Aminata Mboob, Alabama A&M University:
The emphasis on racial standards is quite evident through one of pop culture’s most prominent videos, “Black or White.” Composed by the late pop artist Michael Jackson, “Black or White” succesfully presents the theme of racial oppression.
The meaning “racial structure” is emphasized by everything from the video’s diverse cultural settings to the simple yet meaningful song lyrics. Examining one of the video’s scenes, one may conclude that Jackson fiercely affirms cultural hybridity. He goes from an apparent West African dance scene to a reenactment of a Native American slaughter. By doing this, Jackson is able to embrace victims of such racial “construction” through imaginatively and self-consciously constructed cultural acts. After these and additional cultural scenes, he once again demonstrates his affirmation by breaking through a symbolic wall of fire composed of burning KKK flags.
In addition to the symbolic setting, Jackson adds depth to the bigger picture-Equality-by the use of his direct lyrics. “I ain’t scred of no sheets” clearly symbolizes Jackson’s agreement with “Negroes” towards the KKK. Also lyrics like “Ooh when the going gets rough” also makes this song highly relatable, being that everyone has rough times. This also makes the meaning of Equality more versatile. It can pertain to race, gender, or age.
One of the most important scenes in the video is the “metamorphic” scene. Being shown images of racist graffiti, Jackson changes into a Black Panther, again symbolizing Negro oppression. This final scene was so powerful that it was banned from some television broadcasts.
This video plays a vital role in the racial history of America. Larger global forces are influenced by this as well. Given the nature of “Black or White,” Jackson is not only entertaining, but he is taking a stand.
(As a sidenote to Aminata’s essay, I wanted to add that, at first, I was inclined to take a bit of issue with her reference to the video depicting the “slaughter” of Native Americans. Of course, we do not actually see any such slaughter. But what we dosee is a scene enacting a Native powwow, while all around the happy, celebratory dancers, there is gunfire from a surrounding cavalry. The scene is, of course, reenacting the old time Hollywood “cowboys vs. Indians” scenario, but on a deeper and more symbolic level, the cavalry gunfire does symbolize the mass slaughter of Native Americans at the hand of the U.S. government, and I believe this symbolic “massacre” is what Aminata is referring to. Even though we do not actually “see” the massacre, the implication is clearly there-Raven).
Serena Johnson, Alabama A&M University:
Michael Jackosn’s “Black or White”-Change
The world we live in is not precious but changes are developing at a slow rate. In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White,” the main theme is to unite people from different aspects to form one nation. The most important symbol in Jackson’s “Black or White” video is the scene where two adorable infants are sitting on top of the earth. This symbol gives viewers an idea that change does exist.
Michael Jackson’s music video has changed the world’s perspective. His video helped convince audiences that racial discrimination or harsh racism is not the way to live an everyday life. According to the essay “Black and White and Proud” by Barbara Kaufmann, “Michael dances with all ethnicities: African, Asian, Native Americans, and with the United States’ greatest politcal enemy, Russians….” This shows that Jackson believes that every human being should be treated with equality and respect. In our world, us Americans have been in difficult situations. Back then, we had experienced wars with other countries, racism, religious clashes, and so much more. These experiences had an effect that helped Michael Jackson create “Black or White” as an announcement to make a change.
Vorri Zanders, Alabama A&M University:
In Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, after viewing it, one would have a series of things running through his/her mind. The video is so powerful to the point that many were not able to correctly interpret its meaning. Jackson does a series of things throughout the video that was abnormal to see during that particular time. Symbolically speaking, the theme portrayed in Jackson’s “Black or White” video is to destroy the racial barriers among pretty much any race.
Although the video shows many racial backgrounds, the biggest problem at the time between races was with black and white people. Jackson’s incorporation of other races such as Asians was to show the bigger picture. He wanted to get the point across that people can be friends with someone regardless of ethnicity or the color of their skin.
In the article “Black and White and Proud” the author mentions how Jackson was a panther as a symbol for the group “The Black Panthers.” When the panther first appears it is seemingly just a panther until moments later Jackson himself evolves from the animal. Jackson also breaks the window of a car. That action could mean he’s breaking racial conflict or to display his anger towards racism.
Throughout the video, one has to analyze the meaning of some of his actions and try to read between them. In the ending part of the video the pop star consistently grabs his male parts, which struck a hoard of controversy. The groping of himself offended many of his viewers. In an interview with Oprah, Jackson claims the music makes him do it. Nothing sexual is supposed to be taken from that.
Michael Jackson was a very talented musician. He made legendary music. His style and personality was like none other and many people found that hard to accept. People made many rumors about him such as “he bleached his skin to make himself appear white.” People did a lot to tear Jackson down when all he wanted was for everyone to get along. Everyone was really what he wanted because he didn’t exclude men, women, white, black, Asian, Chinese, and especially children. Jackson had a love for people that most did not understand. “Black or White” shows this upon carefully examining it.
In the past, I have shared with you some of my student essays written in response to the “Black or White” video. I would like to continue that tradition but with some new elements.This semester, I also added a study of “Earth Song” to the unit. Students were given a choice to write on either “Black or White” or “Earth Song.” Students were also permitted this time to write their essays outside of class, resulting in longer pieces that were substantially more in-depth. Every student granted permission for their work to be featured here. I will publish these periodically over the next several weeks and months, and will try to include at least 2-3 essays per installment.
Just as with any student body, my students represent a wide diversity of many different backgrounds, and many different levels of writing. As always, I am presenting their essays unedited, just as they wrote them (which, to give fair warning, may include warts and all in some cases, as these run the gamut from “A” to “C” level papers) but it is important to allow their voices and their thoughts to come through, unhampered by any attempts on my part to “clarify” their ideas or intent. My purpose here isn’t necessarily to showcase only the “best” essays, or only the ones that necessarily received A pluses (some will be “A” papers; others not) or even the ones that I necessarily agree with (in every case) but rather, to illustrate a mosaic of many different views, opinions, and “takes” on Michael’s work as seen through the eyes of a generation who, for the most part (with a few exceptions) did not experience his cultural impact first hand.
Taken as a whole, I am very proud to say that I think many of these essays rank right up there with some of the best academic writing currently available on Michael’s work; certainly those who did earn “A’s,” for this was no lightweight assignment! But these are also very young voices, for the most part, unhampered by the concerns of academia. They are fresh, honest and inquisitive insights into what made Michael Jackson such a unique artist. I may have taught them the material. But the way they chose to internalize and interpret the material is their own. And, ultimately, so are their views. I am proud to say that a few even chose to go a step beyond and to write on additionalJackson works for their final project, when they could have written on anything they wanted. I will feature these as part of the series as well, which included a wonderful analysis of “The Fish That Was Thirsty” and “Smooth Criminal.”
To kick things off, I am selecting three essays from my Eng 102 Section 401 class, Wendy Templin’s “The Future,” Joshua Perry’s “Control: Earned or Privilege,” and Morgan Shaquille Drake’s “Looking Through A Whole New Set of Eyes.”
“The Future” by Wendy Templin
Michael Jackson was a very inspirational song writer and entertainer. Michael’s songs and videos were filled with symbolism and deep meaning. Michael Jackson did not only write songs for the dancing and pop hits, he also wrote because of his desire to attempt to change the way people thought about race, nature, and the importance of saving the planet from destruction. The song “Earth Song” is an excellent example of his strong caring and fear for the world.
Michael Jackson reached out to millions of not only his fans, but his critics as well. Michael never swayed from his character or his own style of getting his messages to humanity and saving the earth across to most of the world. The song “Man In The Mirror” is yet another example of Michael trying to get all humanity to look out at our own actions and how they affect the earth.
“Earth Song” can be seen as a “return to bliss” because if all of the world would try to fix even half of what his heart is screaming about in this song, then the world would be blissful and more like The Garden of Eden. On the other hand, his song can be viewed as a scathing lament to God because all of the happenings in this song are an injustice.
I view the song and video “Earth Song” as a sort of religious outcry to God for allowing all of the pain and confusion in the world to continue to happen. Michael’s background chorus constantly says, “What about us,” which reminds me of Jesus on the cross crying to God'”Why have you forsaken me?”. The happenings all over the world, to me, have always happened and most likely will; until Man decides to look at what each one of us can do individually to improve our surroundings and earth. I also believe none of this can happen without God in our hearts and soul driving us to make these changes.
Michael Jackson always seemed to have a personal crisis in his life, without even trying like other pop stars do for attention. Michael had so much love in his heart that he did not want to be like “grown ups.” I admired that in him because to be child-like, but not foolish, is what the Bible says is more appealing to God.
Michael also seemed to have a spiritual crisis for most of his life. It was sad to me. He always helped the wrong people, who in exchange for all of his love, caring, and financial help-made what I believe to be false allegations against him.
All of these things added to his extreme loneliness because of his stardom, put Michael in his own world so to speak. He could not just run to the movies or even a grocery store for any of his life without being hounded by fans, so he grew to make his own earth in his home. I believe when someone spends that much time alone, it does make them see things that others are too busy to see or notice in the world.
The symbolic act of the characters in the video grasping the dirt in their hands was an act of trying to hold on to whatever is left of this earth and cherish it before it is gone also. The video is like the earth is looking up at us crying at all the pain and damage we have caused it over the years.
In summary, I believe Michael Jackson is a genius who was very misunderstood and in emotional agony. The song “Earth Song” was his way of expressing his feelings about how mistreated the earth, all of the earth and every living thing on it, must feel if it could only talk. Michael was the earth’s voice. Michael will forever be a voice in the subjects of the world which matter the most. Michael Jackson had a very strong opinion of the way we should treat the world and those who live in it, including animals and the seas. I view Michael as an inspiration of how to treat the earth. I see his song “Earth Song” as a map of what is wrong with our earth, and his cry for all of us to try and make it better.
“Control: Earned or Privilege” by Joshua Perry
In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White” he uses many different and sometimes difficult to understand symbols. These symbols are of racism, politics, and control over people and their ideas or free thought. This video is just as controversial now as it was when it came out. One of the biggest and strongest symbols is the element of control. This is evident from the very start and remains a prominent theme throughout the video.
Jackson starts the video out on what is his main focus for much of the video-control. He illustrates this by using the young boy up in his room with the boys’ parents downstairs in the living room watching television. The boy has his music up loud enough that the boy’s father has to get up and yell at him to turn that “crap” off and that it’s “too loud and it’s too late.” It is here that we as the audience see the true meaning of Jackson’s video. The boy then responds to his father’s demands by essentially one upping his father and bringing the larger than life speakers into the living room. The boy then plugs in his bright red guitar, which is in itself a method of control, and “blasts” his father into another continent. Thus, the father losing control of himself and his son.
At this point we get the first look at Michael Jackson as he proceeds to dance with many different nationalities of people ranging from Africans to Indians to Russians. The significance of this is that all of these people were at some point, if not still, under the rule or control of a tyrannical governing body. At one point Jackson compares all human beings to all others and says that essentially we are all the same and that the only difference is the color of skin pigmentation. Jackson goes on to be dancing in a group of Native Americans and incites a riotous behavior and seems to make the Native Americans to challenge the authority of those in power over them. In all of the groups that Jackson is interacting with there are historical transgressions against each and every one of them. For example, the Africans had one of the most brutal punishments or acts of betrayal that has ever been placed on any faction o f the human race, forced sell into slavery. These transgressions were always kept in order by someone in power who could by law or victory punish those peoples it had “enslaved” as conquered people. These “rulers” as it were, used the threat of death, heavy taxes, and many other harsh punishments to keep “control.” In this video, Jackson bucks the normal trends of society just by associating with these people; showing that no matter the race or nationality one should always be proud of one’s self and should be allowed to live free from control and fear of too harsh a punishment.
Later in the video Jackson has many disturbing images that have been used by those that would seek to control those they deem lower than them. These images are those of a Soviet tank firing and of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. It as at this point that Jackson almost seems to try to attack these groups by using such lines as, “I ain’t afraid of no sheets…” This could be seen as Jackson’s way of attempting to stand up for what he believes is right and just. This could also be an attempt to get people to condemn this type of behavior against others. Jackson states that the world is in a global turf war for the future of mankind. This video leads the viewer to believe that it should not matter what color your skin is but rather it should matter how “good” your actions are, and that defines who you are, not skin color.
In the last part of the video Jackson contradicts his previous statement by appearing as a black panther and then transforming into himself. Jackson then uses a series of tap dancing sequences that all lead to different racially motivated themes. Jackson uses the car that he smashes to represent the hate shown toward the Ku Klux Klan and others like that. The car represents the perceived hate towards the blacks and Mexicans. Jackson wielding a crow bar and smashing the window is his way of trying to rid the world of “evil.” Jackson further states that race should not be a factor by having the sign of a hotel in Chicago, where the race riots took place, explode into a shower of sparks and thus effectively putting an end to perceived racism.
In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White” the theme of control is very prominent throughout. Jackson uses many good stand ins for many of the symbols of hate. He uses symbols to show that control is a privilege and not a right.
“Looking Through a Whole New Set of Eyes” by Morgan Shaquille Drake
Every day millions of people change their religion or personal beliefs. When a tragedy occurs people can lose their faith and stop following a spiritual path they have been on their entire life. No one knows what will become of us after death although there are many theories and everyone assumes their religion is the correct one. In Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” he speaks of dying children and a crying man, wondering why these tragedies are allowed to happen without no interference from God. In the music video you can see nature has been destroyed completely and there are people on their knees grabbing dirt and crying which makes you think they are upset the way God has allowed the Earth to be destroyed or how we have destroyed it ourselves.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to celebrate birthdays or holidays but when you see the look on Michael’s face when he celebrated his first Christmas, he was like a kid who had just gotten the toy they had been wanting all year. I believe that this also was a new start for him spiritually and emotionally. Some of what I read in an article by Joseph Vogel talks about Michael always questioning his church’s elders about the Jehovah’s Witness’s doctrines because he found them unfair and because of this many years later he resigned from the faith. In another article by Joseph Vogel he writes that Jackson visited the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican, in which I believe he was trying to rediscover himself after leaving a faith he had learned, known, and dedicated himself to since he was a child. One must think after resigning from a religion that you have believed your entire life, people feel like they have lost their way and are very vulnerable in terms of finding a new belief. Some people become atheists and stop believing in anything at all. Everyone has a different faith and some spend a lifetime trying to determine what they truly believe in, whether it’s God or not. While one belief may allow you to celebrate birthdays and holidays like Christmas because it is the day of Jesus’s birth or Easter because it is the day Jesus arose, other religions don’t celebrate them at all. In many instances people forget what Christmas is, in which it is not about the presents you get. It’s the time you spend with your family and enjoying each other’s company. I feel I was blessed to be able to spend time with my family on Christmas and birthdays because other children didn’t, and will never have the memories I have.
A lament is a cry or plea to right an injustice; so many people have experienced this in some way. Michael characterized this in “Earth Song” as showing how we have destroyed nature, and that there are starving children and sick people, but what is unclear is who we blame. While some people blame God others blame everything they can come up with except themselves. No one stops to think about recycling, riding a bike, walking, and how all of these can contribute to a better world that we live in. What will it take for people to open their eyes to what’s really important in life, like what happens after death, will you see your loved ones when it is your time, or a truly beautiful kingdom waiting for us just beyond the clouds where all people who have obeyed God will get a chance to enter? If with all the religions we have that exist no one knows I’m sure everyone would like to think we could spend an eternity in Heaven and maybe Michael Jackson has already made it there so now in death he finally has all of his answers.