By Christopher Torrenueva

Music Video Review: Rhythm Nation (1989) by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson’s black-and-white, military-inspired music video, titled “Rhythm Nation,” was released in 1989 as part of the Rhythm Nation 1814 Film. Fast-paced and bold, viewers become hooked to the catchy tunes and soulful sounds of the groundbreaking dance video. It is of the new jack swing musical genre, which incorporates the styles of hip-hop with the urban contemporary sound of rhythm and blues. Songs of this genre typically utilize keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines. Jackson’s voice can be described as passionate and powerful, and is accompanied by harmonizing vocals in certain parts of the song, particularly the chorus. Producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis composed the music, which features a sample from Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 song “Thank You.”
Famous for its dynamic choreography in an abandoned factory, “Rhythm Nation” sheds light on the problem of apathy, which is common among young people today. The dancers in the music video are representative of social activists and the empty surroundings stand for the indifferent attitudes in society. By featuring entertainers that appear to be making a change, viewers are encouraged to be more involved with their community. In addition, with lyrics like “People of the world unite / Strength in numbers we can get it right / One time / We are a part of the rhythm nation,” they become aware that by being ambitious, idealistic, and politically active, fighting the good fight will never be impossible.
Most of the men and women in the music video are dressed in black, cadet-style costumes that cover the entire body except the face. They can be seen wearing black leather gloves and military hats. Jackson and some of the other female dancers are wearing an earring on each ear with a key attached to each one. About the same number of men and women are featured as professional dancers, promoting gender equality in society. With the exception of the segment near the end of the music video that includes freestyle dancing, most of the video consists of Jackson with background dancers performing a synchronized dance routine. Judging by the serious facial expressions and vigorous body movements of Jackson and her dancers, the men and women in “Rhythm Nation” are confident, courageous, and display unmatched conviction.
Jackson composed the empowering lyrics for “Rhythm Nation” in an effort to promote racial unity and harmony among nations by stating, “We are a nation with no geographic boundaries, bound together through our beliefs. We are like-minded individuals, sharing a common vision, pushing toward a world rid of colour lines.” Evidently, Jackson was conscious of the issues that the world was facing, and wanted her music to not only entertain, but to educate others about social injustice.
Because the music video preaches justice and equality, having a fair representation of different races would make sense. Evidently, the video features dancers of African-American, Caucasian, and Asian ancestry. Occasionally, a fairly young black male would observe Jackson and her dancers after going through a time of mental anguish. Janet Jackson, the lead vocalist and dancer, is an African-American who is known for breaking existing racial stereotypes specifically toward African-American women. Due to the stereotyping of black women in the media, it is sometimes believed by several ignorant individuals that all women of African-American ancestry are submissive maids, sex kittens, or obnoxious complainers. Jackson, on the other hand, proves that she is a socially responsible citizen with dignity and grace.
Although there are no sexually explicit lyrics or messages in “Rhythm Nation” that would be obvious to audiences, there is a short scene two minutes and thirty eight seconds into the music video that is somewhat sexual. During that scene, Jackson and her male and female dancers, placed their hands behind their head, and then pushed the front part of their body forward twice. It is debatable whether the scene was meant to be sexual or not, but it definitely caught the attention of music critics and viewers alike. Other than that, the music video is very different compared to many mainstream videos today. Instead of using sexual elements to attract audiences, it portrays the strong bond between entertainers and social activists with a common goal.
Even if one of the main purposes of the media is to promote the goods and services of various companies, Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” does not seem to endorse any particular product or brand name in the lyrics and visual aspect of the music video. However, Jackson once said that she drew her inspiration for the video’s choreography and technology from brother Michael Jackson’s Captain EO with his permission. Contrary to popular belief, the video states that wealth is not defined by the amount of money one owns or what social class one belongs to. Instead, it is defined by our ideologies and instincts because as Jackson said, “In complete darkness, we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us.”
If the “Rhythm Nation” music video were given a different title, “The World Today” would be an appropriate title. Although world issues such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, violence, and global warming continue to exist in this generation, no other generation in the history of humankind has globalized culture, commerce, and technology. More than ever before, the increased familiarity with mainstream media, communications, and technologies has made it possible to change the face of the planet for the better. All it takes is one hopeful individual and the will of the people.
Personally, Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” is one of my most favourite music videos ever made. It speaks particularly to young people and encourages them to be the leaders of tomorrow. Jackson passes on the message of social activist Mahatma Gandhi who once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think is the meaning behind the title “Rhythm Nation?”
2. Do you think the music video does a good job in getting the message of the song across?
3. Has viewing Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” had a positive impact on you as a person, student, and citizen?
4. Jackson is not the only cultural figure who preaches racial equality. Many other musicians, movie stars, and humanitarians talk about the injustices in the world. Do you think their goal to end discrimination will come true?
5. Jackson once said, “In complete darkness, we are all the same. It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?


February 13, 2010 Posted by | Entertainment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Race Against Racism: Fighting for Diversity, Justice, and Equality

The Race Against Racism

The Race Against Racism

Racism is based on the idea that the character and capabilities of an individual are determined by the race to which they are thought to be a part of. It is the belief that some races are inherently superior to others, whether physically, intellectually, or culturally. It causes certain people to be judged and discriminated against because of reasons such as skin colour, interests, or religion. This mentality of superior and inferior racial groups has led to some of the most tragic events in human history, including beatings, murders, and even attempts to obliterate an entire race. “Racism has been to human relationships what cancer has been to human existence. It is a disease that eats away at the very fabric of humanity itself” (Gifford, 6). Its effects on the mindsets of members of society can be irreversible, causing racial tensions to inevitably result from such narrow-minded attitudes. Proper knowledge is the key to escaping from the prejudice, ignorance, and bigotry in the world.

Prejudice can be described as the preconceived feelings, opinions, or attitudes, usually regarding a racial group in an unfavourable manner. A prejudiced person is likely to hold on to their views even when presented with evidence that disproves their judgements. Racially prejudiced people believe that they can revert to conclusions about the character and personality of an individual through reasons such as the common religious beliefs within the people of the racial group that the individual belongs to. In the 1925 novel, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Adolf Hitler wrote that it was the Nazi Party’s mission “to promote the victory of the better and stronger [races] and demand the subordination of the inferior and weaker” (Gifford, 15). It foreshadowed the massive genocides of millions of German citizens who did not fit his category of the “master race” (Ibid). The Nazi Party’s attempt to gain superiority over the “lesser races” shocked communities all over the world. Eyewitness accounts and real-life stories of victims of the tragic event spread from one country to the next, emphasizing the horrific consequences that can result from such negative stereotyping. Consequently, it is apparent that prejudice limits how a person sees others and themselves and reinforces the flawed belief that not every culture deserves equal respect. It weakens the public’s interest in multiculturalism where the perspectives and ideologies of various racial groups are embraced as fundamental elements of a unified society.

Another component of racism is ignorance; lack of knowledge, information, and exposure to a particular culture. People who are racially ignorant express very little awareness on the meanings, beliefs, and values of other races and ethnic groups. This lack of awareness can make some racial groups feel justified in treating other peoples as subordinates of the human race. From around the 1500s and on, European empires like Great Britain, France, and Spain colonized areas in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific (Gifford, 12). Arriving colonists made little to no attempt to understand the civilization of the native peoples, and mistreated hundreds of communities (Ibid). The age of European colonialism marked the beginning of the belief that European civilization was the greatest the world had ever known (Ibid). As a result, it is evident that ignorance blinds us from seeing the beacon of light that is engraved within every mind, body, and spirit of all races. It has the possibility of lessening the equity and moral rightness of society, as well as the maintenance of distributive justice around the globe.

Furthermore, bigotry can be characterized as the complete intolerance of a certain group that differs from one’s own. It has served as the foundation for segregation primarily between whites and nonwhites, as well as institutional racism. By 1896, the Supreme Court in the United States ruled that “separate but equal” facilities were allowable by law, where separate schools, businesses, and community functions would be established for the white majority and African-American minority (Gifford, 24). Although racial segregation has been abolished from most of the world, racial discrimination is still in existence. In a 1989 study of employment agencies in Canada, 94 percent of employers confessed that they had discriminated against job seekers on the basis of skin colour (Gifford, 19). Therefore, racial bigotry, whether in the form of segregation or discrimination, supports the ideology that “the more a civilization became mixed racially, the more it lost its creativity and value” (Gifford, 8). It essentially is a meaningless, political concept, negating the fact that there is no scientific evidence proving that the groups of mankind differ in their capacity for intellectual and emotional development (Ibid).

Racism can be considered a disease that destroys the path of human relationships from reaching their full potential. Inhumane and uncivil events have resulted from the notion of the “higher race” and “lesser races.” They have formed stereotypes and false misconceptions about certain people because of personal, physical, and cultural attributes. Such generalizations and statements surfaced the belief that some races are more talented and capable than others. Though it is natural that belonging to an ethnic group, culture, or race generates an idea of an individual’s character and capabilities, the richness and diversity of the multiracial world should be celebrated as entities of the spectrum of human dignity.

Works Cited

Gifford, Clive. Racism. North Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2006.

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September 5, 2009 Posted by | Persuasive Essays | , , , | Leave a comment

Higher Learning (1995) – Question the Knowledge

Higher Learning (1995)

Higher Learning (1995)

Higher Learning is a 1995 drama film, directed and composed by John Singleton. It starred an ensemble cast including Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Michael Rapaport, Jennifer Connelly, Ice Cube, and Laurence Fishburne. The movie also featured supermodel Tyra Banks, whose appearance became her first performance in a theatrical movie. The University of California, Los Angeles, otherwise known as UCLA, filled in for the fictional Columbus University, the setting in which the story took place. The soundtrack to the movie included performances by Ice Cube, Tori Amos, and OutKast.

This Columbia Pictures film examines the personal, political, and racial issues of freshman students as they begin their first semester at Columbus University. Malik Williams (Omar Epps) is an African-American student who starts his post-secondary studies believing that his athletic abilities would compensate for his lack of interest towards academics. He soon begins to lose his self-confidence when he experiences financial problems in regards to his track scholarship. Malik eventually forms a relationship with Deja (Tyra Banks), who would also become his school tutor. In addition to his worries about schoolwork, finances, and his new girlfriend, Fudge (Ice Cube), who has been attending Columbus for several years, befriends Malik and challenges his views on systematic racism in America. As tension rises within the multicultural atmosphere of the campus, Maurice Phipps (Laurence Fishburne), Malik’s political science professor, informs Malik that he will not be graded on a different standard simply because of his ability to run quickly or the fact that they are both African-American. When Malik realizes that his success at university does not lie solely on his individual talents and cultural background, he ventures on a journey of self-examination in which he battles the prejudice, bigotry, and racism in the world.

Meanwhile, Kristen Connor (Kristy Swanson), a somewhat naïve, young woman from an upper-middle class family in California, enters Columbus University with education as her top priority. However, as Kristen gets more engaged in the social happenings at campus, she becomes influenced to think and act in ways that differ from her personal ideals and values. She then meets a boy named Billy (Jay R. Ferguson) after drinking too much at a party and becomes a victim of sexual abuse. To help her overcome the distressing incident, Kristen joins an organization called “Students for a Non-Sexist Society” which Taryn (Jennifer Connelly), a junior, invited her to become a member of when she first met Kristen. As Kristen gets to know more about Taryn, she discovers that she is a lesbian and finds herself becoming attracted to her. Kristen then expresses the importance of embracing the genders, sexual orientations, social backgrounds, races, and cultures of all people by hosting a Columbus Peace Festival.

Furthermore, Remy (Michael Rapaport) is a quiet, young man from the Midwest who feels out of place in the highly populated campus of the university. He is approached by Scott Moss (Cole Hauser), a member of a movement that believes in white superiority, and persuades him to carry out his group’s violent plans to dehumanize ethnic minorities. Remy inevitably stirs up racial tensions among the staff and students at Columbus, causing a ripple effect throughout the community.

John Singleton’s Higher Learning is an insightful and thought-provoking story about university students who face intolerance, harassment, and peer pressure, among the many, common issues that individuals undergo throughout their lifetimes. It is a realistic portrayal of members in society who have experienced and are still experiencing discrimination and exploitation, including ethnic minorities, women, and homosexuals. This being said, the movie does have a few shortcomings, including the lack of portrayal of Native people, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Singleton should have incorporated more major characters of these racial backgrounds in order to produce a complex and captivating plot that is more universal. Because the movie has several elements of alcohol and drugs, sex and nudity, violence and gore, profanity, and frightening and intense scenes, some young viewers may not be emotionally stable enough to handle its mature themes. Thus, some audiences may not appreciate Higher Learning and describe it as inappropriate and unsuitable for viewers. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend this 1995 motion picture to those who are willing to see true to life examples of the destruction and confusion that can result from such ignorance and narrow-mindedness. With its captivating storyline and breathtaking performances, it proves to be not only a movie, but a glimpse of the real world beyond our doorsteps. Therefore, Higher Learning is an invitation to the deeper human emotions, influencing audience members to develop a forward-thinking perspective on themselves and society.

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July 16, 2009 Posted by | Entertainment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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