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The Impact of 20th Century Social Injustices on the Creation of Man in the Mirror

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Introduction

As humans, it is common for people to want to place literal meanings on things. But even though art may seem fairly straightforward, has a deeper meaning that goes beyond the literal. This larger interpretive meaning is emotional rather than intellectual. Art, whether it be a painting, sculpture, dance or a song, has the ability to come in contact with your emotions and convey a very powerful message. Throughout the course of history, there have been various events and turning points that inspired people to create artwork. ‘Man in the Mirror’ by Michael Jackson, for example, may just seem like any other 20th Century pop song, but when you dive deeper into, it tells the story about discrimination that people faced during and following World War II, solely due to their race, religious beliefs, and sexuality, and how these people made a change by standing up for their rights (Civil Rights Movement Paragraph 5).

Michael Jackson as an Activist

Michael Jackson was a musical prodigy born in Indiana in 1985 who entertained audiences for nearly his entire life. When he was young, his singing and dancing skills were remarkable, and before long he became the outstanding voice in the Jackson 5 (Biography Paragraph 2). However, occurring simultaneously with his birth and early career was the dawn and rise of the civil rights movement. Growing up during a time period of such hatred and division eventually made Micheal fed up with the world, and inspired him to use his voice to bring attention to the societal injustices that were occurring at the time. As the King of Pop, he had an immense following and a huge reach, so his music had a great influence on the public. He wrote songs various songs like this such as “They Don’t Care About Us”, “We are the World”, Heal the World” and ‘’Black or White”. Another example is his 1988 motivational song, ‘Man in the Mirror’ which tells the story about discrimination that people faced during and following World War II, solely due to their race, religious beliefs, and sexuality and how these people made a change by standing up for their rights (Civil Rights Movement Paragraph 5).

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The Problem of Dscrimination

Throughout the 1900’s, African-Americans faced repugnant discrimination simply due to the color of their skin which was arbitrary and outright wrong (Carson Paragraph 2). Additionally, during the 20th century, it was apparent that people of various religions – especially Jews- were discriminated against and treated terribly during the time period, only because their religion was a minority where they lived. Another social injustice that the song was inspired by was how members of the LGBTQ community were deprived of their rights due to their sexuality (Cristensen 1). The music video, published in 2010, tells the story of these people not through performance, but through powerful images of oppression, homelessness, hunger, police brutality and other ills of the world, as well as events and leaders of the 20th century whose work is reflective of the song’s message to ‘make that change.’

The Message of the Lyrics

The lyrics of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” display the struggles that all the people who went through these social injustices during the 1900s. The song’s overall theme shows Michael Jackson’s view of how unfair the ills of the world were at the time. In the song, he says things such as “who am I to be blind?”. By saying this he means that although he was a wealthy, famous person who wasn’t directly affected by poverty, police brutality or discrimination, the more well-off people like himself need to help the less fortunate because everyone should be treated equally. He is trying to convey that ultimately, everyone is in this together and people should be bringing each other up instead of being by-standers and watching the world tear down others. This especially applies to the historical situation at the time where it the economy was down and there was a lot of homelessness and poverty – but more importantly – ignorance and hatred. Through this song, Michael is trying to convince the limousine liberals (wealthy liberals) to stop being so ignorant and to make a change by “Starting with the man in the mirror” as he says he will also do himself. So basically, he is saying that if you are passionate about something and want change, you need to start with yourself and make a difference, even if it’s a small one, because he is sick and tired of waiting around for someone to make a change (MichaeljacksonVEVO).

The Music

Not only do the lyrics of the song display the struggles all the people who went through these social injustices during the 1900s, but the music itself contributes to the overall tone and mood of the song and its message. (Man In The Mirror by Michael Jackson Songfacts Paragraph 3). The song starts off rather quiet, starting off at “piano”, meaning soft. As it gets to the most important part (the chorus) about starting with the Man in the Mirror, there is a crescendo, or an increase and volume to forte. Additionally, the pace picks up into your average pop song. As mentioned earlier, Jackson’s songs were appealing to such a large group of people, so it was important that this song not only got the message across to the listener, but that it was also a good, catchy, classic pop song. It turned out that the song did in fact become a success and people wanted to listen to it on repeat which allowed for its message to spread. So, in keeping with the lyrical message of ‘Man in the Mirror,’ the composition of the music itself also helped in conveying Jackson’s message to the World.

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