The Relevance of Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us”

Me and MJ statueMJ muralMichael Jackson stencil

It’s been just about a month since my last post, and in that time plenty has happened. How to talk about so many things without writing a novel? Good question. It’s hard, but I’ll try. I’ve got plenty to share, but I don’t want to get carried away. In any case, what I can offer is a quick glimpse of the some things that have been bouncing around in my head the last few weeks.

The common denominator is Michael Jackson, so let’s roll with that.

About three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to check out Dona Marta. That’s the neighborhood in Rio where Michael Jackson filmed the “They Don’t Care About Us” video that came out in 1995. Before I got to Rio, I didn’t even know about the video, but once I found out, I had to check it out. The song and video don’t rank up there with MJ’s top hits, but it’s not bad. It does contain the usual yelling and crotch grabbing you’d expect from his other videos, and I have to admit I laugh so hard at it because, well, it’s just so silly, but like I say, overall the song isn’t that bad. If fact, it’s catchy to a certain extent. It’s got a slamming beat, and it’s cool to see the whole crowd of people in the video feeling the music with MJ. In the end, it conveys a positive vibe and a sense of togetherness that I’m definitely down with. And for that, I’ll even do an MJ shout, “Hoooooooooooooo!”

Dona Marta is a favela that was pacified about 6 years ago. Before pacification, it was controlled by drug traffickers and was a dangerous place to set foot in. But nowadays it’s quite different. It’s even a tourist attraction. Part of this is related to the fact that after Michael died in 2009, a mosaic mural and statue were installed in his honor. There are also small gift shops, where you can find memorabilia too, even DVDs of the music video if you’re dying for a copy. It’s definitely a bit of an adventure trying to find the exact area, especially if you don’t have a tour guide, but it’s checking out. I never thought I’d be so pumped about anything MJ related again after I beat “Michael Jackson’s Moon Walker” on my friend’s (What up Bruco!) video game emulator during the winter of 2012/13 – I mean, does it get any better? –  but here I was making it my top priority to get a photo with that statue! And I did. Mission accomplished! I even bought a souvenir MJ magnet! “Hoooooooooooooo!”

I have to be honest, the excursion up to Dona Marta has enhanced my recent musical good vibrations. I’ve been in a good writing rhythm, finding inspiration in all kinds of topics, and I’m having sufficient time to develop them. I’m in the groove, you could say. But standing next to the MJ statue and mural took things up a notch higher, like going up to 11. It was a good reminder of just how big he was and how much his music means. In general terms, we all know how important MJ is in music, but I don’t actually think about it all the time, and unless you’re writing a biography on him or performing in a Michael Jackson cover band, I bet you don’t dwell him either. Or maybe you do. If so, that’s cool. In any case, for me it was great having that reminder. It was very positive. And now I have a cool magnet to remind myself more often as well.

Oddly enough however, the song, “They Don’t Care About Us,” is very relevant today, and even more so in the last week. From a U.S. perspective the video draws attention to the people in the video, i.e. the inhabitants of Dona Marta, leading us to believe no one cares about them. Although the people are Brazilian, I think we know that they aren’t the only ones. They aren’t alone. There are plenty more people in our world that “they” don’t care about. There’s a lot of “Us” on planet earth, in the Middle East, in Africa, even in (insert your preferred location here). And if you’re following the news in the U.S. lately, you know that “Us” is in Missouri too.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not qualified to comment or make a deep analysis on the situations in Missouri, the Middle East, or in many other places, but I did want to draw attention to the relevance of this song and video. While it’s easy to think that the only thing relevant about Michael Jackson in 2014 might be his hologram at the Billboard awards, I think if we have a look and listen to “They Don’t Care About Us,” we can see he’s relevant in a much more meaningful way.

What can we take away from all this? You, as the reader, may or may not agree with me, but this is what I get out of it:

1. If you live in Rio, or if you ever have the opportunity to visit, check out Dona Marta and the Michael Jackson monuments. They’re pretty cool.

2. Enjoy the Michael Jackson song and video “They Don’t Care About Us.” Enjoy the beat, enjoy the catchy refrain, and even enjoy Michael’s yelling and crotch grabbing. “Hoooooooooooooo!”

3. Most importantly, though, give a care. Wherever you are, give a care about the people around you. AND give a care about the people not around you, too, because, after all, we’re all human beings. If we do that, we won’t need to talk about “they” so much, and together we can be a stronger, more united “Us.”

~JN

Small photo gallery from Dona Marta:

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