Individualism: An Analysis of Michael Jackson’s Song that Motivates Individual Action to Bring Changes
“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change,” taken from Michael Jackson’s song called “Man in the Mirror”. This song is about a man who notices many racial and hunger situations in his society which leads him to change the world. He comes up with the first resolution: to alter himself and his attitudes, which can be a strong tool for him to make positive changes in the world. Generally, the themes of this song are self-introspection and individual’s betterment as a contribution to improve societies; the best place to start a change is to begin it with oneself. This song directly targets the audience who “pretend to not see” the needs of the society; the needs here are referring to the need of food, peace, equalities and shelters. “Man in the Mirror” sang by Michael Jackson, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garret, and its music video directed by Donald Wilson successfully convinces the audiences who “pretended to not see” the needs of the societies that individualism, an ideal of democracy, can bring positive changes in the society. The song successfully conveys this message, utilizing strong motivating title, metaphors, wealth’s juxtaposition in the lyrics, and old news footage to appeal emotionally to the audience.
In “Man in the Mirror”, the writers, Glen Ballard and Siedah Garret, used the title of the song to motivate the audience, who ignore the needs of society, that individuals could bring changes to the society. The title of “Man in the Mirror” is identifying as the motif of self-reflection, self-understanding, and individuals’ strengths. This title has been used repetitively in the verses of the lyrics in order to emphasize the importance of self-understanding and self-improvement; when a person has more conscious about himself and his needs, then he could bring a positive improvement to himself. Ideally, if each and every person could change their actions and attitudes in favour of the society’s development, then as a whole, their individual actions are contributing to the society. In relation to the tile, “Man in the Mirror”, the “man” here is referring to the singer himself, Michael Jackson. Michel Jackson’s voice is being used as an influential mean to promote individual action to the audiences, who ignore the needs of their societies. Through his vocal messages, he plays a role as a person who is struggling with his internal challenges, and also as a person who has started to bring a change within him. For example, as the lyrics states, he changed himself by singing, “I’m going to make a change for once in my life.” He started to bring change as an individual, and realized the needs of children and street people who do not have food and where to sleep. In his life beyond this song, he did raised funds and took an individual action to help those in needs. Overall, the title of “Man in the Mirror” is being used as the theme of self-reflection to promote individual action that could improve the society.
Furthermore, Glen Ballard and Siedah Garret effectively used metaphors in “Man in the Mirror” to inspire the audience to self-reflect and to take individual action as the contribution to the society. In the lyrics, the authors used various metaphors such as the collar, a broken bottle top, and a willow. In the lyrics, “As I, turn up the collar on my favourite winter coat, this wind is blowing in my mind, I see the kids in the street”, the word “collar” here, literally means a band of shirts or coats that fit around the neck. Metaphorically, the collar is associated with the lack of freedom or space because when a collar is too tight, the neck cannot move freely in term of physical barrier. The authors wanted to imply that Michael Jackson could solve his struggle with the collar on his coat by turning the collar upright, and right after removing his struggle, he started to see the need of the street children, which led him to take action by himself. To sum up, when Michael Jackson noticed his own struggle, and then he also started to see the needs of others, even though the needs are different. Simply, the purpose of the authors’ decision to put “collar” as a metaphor here was, because they wanted to emphasize that only individuals could understand clearly about their own struggles, and that understandings will enlighten them to recognize the needs of others.
Another metaphor that Glen Ballard and Siedah Garret used in the song is “a broken bottle top”. In the lyrics say, “a summer’s disregard, a broken bottle top and a one man’s soul they follow each other in the wind you know” Literally, “a broken bottle top” means, if the bottle of water has no cap, then the water from the bottle is easily to spill out. According to Jones Quincy’s interpretation of “a broken bottle top”, he said that the hopes of people in needs are falling apart. In short, the use of the metaphor of “a broken bottle top” intentionally wants individual’s audiences to be empathetic and to take action to help people who are in need in terms of shelters and hope.
Last metaphor used was “a willow” in the phrase of the lyrics that say, “A willow deeply scarred, somebody’s broken heart and a washed out dream.” Literally, willow is one kind of trees that grow in a temperate climate, living next to water and has narrow leafs. According to the lyrics, somebody was marking a heart shape that associated with a loss of hope on a willow tree. Metaphorically, a willow tree is a representation of healing place where hopeless people could trace a mark on it in order to heal their pain. The purpose that this metaphor is being associated as a healing place, because the authors want the audience, who ignore the needs of people in poverty, to take action as an individual to help the hopeless people and be their willow tree.
Glen Ballard and Sedan Garret effectively used wealth’s juxtaposition in the lyric to provoke the spirit of individual changes and to alert the audiences, who do not realize the needs of people in poverty, to be more conscious in taking action to help the poor street children. This alertness would allow them to fulfil the ideal of American dominant society. In the lyric, the wealth’s situation of Michael Jackson and the kids in the street are being used as juxtaposition. For example, Michael Jackson was a Pop King, and he earned a lot of money with his songs and concerts. He had plenty of food to eat and comfortable place to sleep. However, the children in the street do not have enough food to eat, proper beds to sleep and they even do not have any place or home to go. The purpose of wealth’s juxtaposition is to enhance the spirit of wanting to bring changes individually to the society such as instead of spending huge amount of wealth buying fancy coats, let’s spend some money to uplift those people who live in poverty. This action will allow the audiences to fulfil the ideal of American dominant society where rich Americans tend to be very helpful and life saviour. The purpose of being juxtaposition between Michael Jackson and the street children is for the audience to take action in helping those kids.
Moreover, in the music video of “Man in the Mirror”, the director, Donald Wilson, effectively used news events and historical events’ footage to gain emotional appeals from the audiences to make them consider changing their own attitudes and start taking action as a contribution to end poverty, inequalities and wars in world. In this music video, Donald Wilson was continuously added many old news footage such as the hunger in Africa, the homeless in America, the racists of American and German, the war in Vietnam, and the inspirational people that had been played on television programs to draw the audiences’ attention on the issues by making them see the news footage from different perspectives. For instance, the first heartbreaking event that this video has done successfully in creating emotional appeal is portraying famine in Ethiopia. Children and elderly in Ethiopia faced the war of hunger. This music video shows skinny children, big head children, dead children and the disabled old man with walking stick. It depicted closely on a child who is longing a drop of water, and the sick children who eat the porridge that lack necessary nutrition to create emotional appeal. This imagery conveys the message for audiences to think deeply that they should change their own attitudes toward hunger and poverty. At the end of the video, Donald Wilson purposely provided an example on how an individual person could take action toward this kind of situation by highlighting the humanity action of Bob Geld, which was when he was working on raising aid to fight the hunger in Ethiopia, Africa. Even thought, Bob Geld is seemed to a representation of white dominated man who is trying to save the lives of African children in Ethiopia, but his individual stand allowed him to save million children’s lives from hunger. Simply, the director, Donald Wilson, synthesized the image of hungry children and the humanity action of Bob Geld to build emotional appeals on the audiences to take right action as an individual person.
Another footage that Donald Wilson used in the music video, “Man in the Mirror” to build pathos is the homeless in America. This music video featuring the homeless people walk hopelessly on the street with their wheel carts and has no food to eat, and featuring the poster that said, “We need real home”. These images create a strong emotional appeal to the audiences, especially the Americans. This strong emotional effect will lead Americans to think more deeply about their nation’s citizens. Before planning to help other nations, Americans should at least take a look at their own nation and take an individual action to improve the homeless people’s situation.
Additionally, Donald Wilson also used the American and German racist footages in the music video to create emotional appeal. For example in the video, it is featuring the white policemen hitting the Black protesters during the civil rights march in Washington to show the cruelty of white policemen on that time and how desperately those African American want their freedom. The video is also two supremacists’ groups in history of racism who were trying to eliminate the mixing of races. One is the Ku Klux Klan, who is trying to eliminate the black citizens in America. Another one is Nazism leading by Adolf Hitler who was trying to eliminate Jewish people. Just seeing the features of the Ku Klux Klan and symbol of Nazism, it triggers the audiences mind to be emotional appeal toward the people who were being oppressed by these groups. These images convey the message that individual people should be open minded and accept the difference of people with different color skins. Here is as an extreme example of Adolf Hitler. If Adolf Hitler did not have the hatred on the Jewish people and if he tried to change his attitudes and perspective toward Jewish people, then the holocaust might not happen. Similar manner to the situation in America between color and white people, the director of the music video used the footage of the Ku Klux Klan to simply make the white people feel guilty toward the black people because they have been discriminated to the black seen history.
Moreover, Donald Wilson also used the war in Vietnam and other violence in America to create pathos which alerts the audiences to take individual action, especially self changes. The music video has featuring Vietnam War of soldiers with guns and plane throwing bombs, and the video also portraying the slogan that says, “Make love not war.” How many American Soldiers and young men die during Vietnam War? How many family that losing their sons in this War? How many sisters losing their brothers during this war? ”. This clearly shown that the video is calling for peace. It wants to emphasize that War causes annihilation to the societies. If an individual country could prevent itself from war with other countries, then there will be less destruction and damages.
Lastly for emotional appeals in the music video, “Man in the Mirror”, Donald Wilson created pathos through inspirational people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. For instance, this music video shows Martin Luther King with his pathetic facial expression while giving the speech. This image intentionally is trying to make the audiences feel empathetic and guilty, especially the white people in America, toward African American. They would have felt so sad and guilty when they realized how racist they were to the African American people during that time. Based on historical context, even though the African American people have equal rights as the white people in paper, but in reality they have not. Therefore, the message of this video’s footage wants the American audiences try to change their individual belief. Hence, here is what the video intended to convey its message that, Martin Luther King Jr. was a person who personally takes a right action as an individual to bring the change his wanted to have in the society. In similar fashion, this music medium is also featuring Mahatma Gandhi with men in England. Following by that, the video added the footage of Mother Teresa when she was helping children with her teams. In general, this music video is trying its best to reveal that individual action could bring changes in society.
In conclusion, the song “Man in the Mirror” successfully used the motif of the title, metaphors, juxtaposition of wealth, and the emotional appeal of the major news events to allow the audiences “who pretend not to see” the needs of the society to reconsider about individual change that could make different in the society. In this music video, it suggested the subjective audiences to take individual action in order to make difference and bring changes to the society. The contribution of every individual action could bring positive changes and could make the world we live in an ideal one.
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