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We constantly hear news of our planet’s decline. Whether it be climate change, famine, rising sea levels, wars, or another species of animal becoming endangered or extinct, we are made aware of them almost, if not, every single day. These issues aren’t new to us. They are happening in every country and on every continent. One of the world’s most famous musicians in history, Michael Jackson, would consistently mention these important subjects through his songs, music videos, live performances, and interviews. The subject matter of one of his lesser talked about pieces “Earth Song”, included on his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I, was based on the condition of our world at that time and I would say his words are still relevant almost 24 years later. He argues that we have forgotten that our planet and its life is fragile, and we need to take action and better our world. Just by reading the lyrics to the song you can understand that Jackson wants us to realize there are so many devastating events and choices we are making as inhabitants of this planet that have negative effects. Identifying Jackson’s use of rhetorical appeals can help us understand and side with him and his argument.
In the song and music video, Jackson wanted to shed light on the situations mankind had and still continues to put itself in. He covers and showcases the destruction we have caused to the earth from destroying the rainforests, pollution, poaching, and nation’s wars. To use ethos, Jackson filmed the music video in four different locations to showcase some of the destruction he sang about to further build his credibility. He wants to put the message in our minds that we have to be aware of what kind of irreversible damage our actions can cause. Jackson wants us to think about our actions because usually, we can all be oblivious to the aftermath of them most of the time. Humans tend to go through our everyday routines without realizing these issues he’s pointing out to us.
The beginning of the song features a soft and haunting melody to accompany Jackson’s powerful lyrics. The moving melody, lyrics, and visuals of these topics appeal to the audience’s emotions. Throughout the song, Jackson uses the words “we” and “us” which demonstrate ethos. He also demonstrates ethos by highlighting his good character by choosing this particular subject to sing about and display to his audience. He is making his audience aware that he wants to make a positive impact on the world with this song.
To continue to back up his argument, Jackson begins by asking the audience questions throughout the entire song. These questions add to his pathos appeal by creating an emotional response from the audience. In the video, he shows a tribe looking over the deceased body of an elephant with its tusks missing. It’s a very disturbing but powerful image that introduces the reality of poaching. Jackson asks, “What have we done to the world? Look what we’ve done”. He wants the audience to think about the consequences of their actions and the impact they have on the planet.
Jackson’s logos appeals were included in the pathos appeals. By displaying footage from the deforestation Amazon rainforest, a war zone in Croatia, and the animal poaching in Tanzania, he presented facts. These are events that were and are currently still taking place in some parts of the world. Although Jackson didn’t provide any numbers or statistics he did provide footage so his logos appeals were still present.
Towards the end of the video, Jackson makes an even stronger pathos appeal. The end of the video is filled with extreme emotions as he shouts the lyrics, and a thunderstorm begins to sweep over the entire planet simultaneously. To continue to appeal to the audience’s emotion, Jackson continues asking the audience more questions. “What about us?” is a question that is asked through the entire end verse of the song. He says, “What about forest trails? Burnt, despite our pleas” which reflects the main setting of the video, where most of the time he is walking alone through what appears to be a forest that was burned down.
As Jackson shouts the last lines of his song, he shows the deforestation, death, and pollution being reversed. The ending of the video demonstrates all three rhetorical appeals being used. By asking so many questions to the audience throughout the whole song, he continues to display his knowledge of the subject, and he is establishing his credibility which further adds to his ethos appeal. He also continues to appeal to the audience’s emotions with his lyrics. When asking “What about children dying? Can you hear them cry?”, Jackson wants the audience to think about the futures of the children in the world by creating a sympathetic image. Many innocent children who live in these war zones, like the one in Croatia that Jackson showed us, end up dying in the name of war. By mentioning that, he further added to his pathos appeal. Showing the audience that the damage we are inflicting on the planet can be fixed if we realize what we are doing strengthens his logos appeal.
Jackson begins and ends the video by showing and telling the audience how much damage we are causing to the planet. The audience is able to feel Jackson’s emotions about what he is singing about from everything that he presented with the music, lyrics, and video. By using ethos, pathos, and logos appeals, he was about to back up his argument effectively when talking singing about such a serious topic. Being able to identify an author’s use of rhetorical appeals can make understanding their reasoning for making their arguments.
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