I found writing this inquiry entertaining. I was excited to watch a YouTube video every time I had writer’s block. Picking to write about “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” was an easy decision. Out of the possible topics that I considered writing about, this was the only one that I felt actually worked as an advocacy piece on me personally when it first came out. I think that my familiarity with the project in the past made is easy for me to pick out what made it so successful. In my research on the producing of “WATW 25 for Haiti” I was surprised to find that it received negative feedback. I felt that with the nature of the project being so positive and for a charity cause that critics would be more receptive. Looking through the negative feedback, I found the trend that if people were unsatisfied, it was most often when they compared the video to the original “We Are the World” (1985). I think that comparing the two projects too closely is not a fair assessment. In my paper, I argue that “WATW 25 for Haiti” is effective and deserving of a spot in pop culture based on its own merits. I feel that negative criticism towards the project is a misguided attempt at criticizing what’s wrong with today’s culture compared to that of 1985. The hardest part of writing this paper was cutting material that I had pulled together for the heuristic for rhetorical analysis. I felt that it was important to focus on the biggest things that made this project a success instead of including too many details. After analyzing this piece, I think that my view on activism has altered slightly. I think now I view it as more common place. I no longer associate it as much with people wearing business casual as they giving speeches.
The keys of a piano are lightly tingled. Suddenly, an accompaniment of brass horns sounding out a battle cry begins. Goose bumps run down your arm as a deep sounding drum beat joins in and footage of Haitian people surrounded helplessly by their fallen communities, now piles of rubble, flash across the screen. Chart topping recording artist Justin Beiber is shown next wearing a trendy leather jacket in a dimly lit recording studio as he begins to add words to the battle cry started by the horns. The soulful voices of Jennifer Hudson and Nicole Scherzinger take over and the music consumes you. The baton is passed to even more vocal artists spanning across multiple generations and genres of music. More images of a desolate Haiti are interlaced with 1985 footage of Michael Jackson singing his multi-platinum song “We Are the World” and with footage of 85 top musicians currently in the industry swaying along to the same music you find yourself now bopping your head to. Between the heart wrenching images of Haiti and the effort of trying to pick out all of the famous faces in the chorus an intense overwhelming feeling ensues. The next 7 minutes pass and you are awakened from a peaceful trance only after the screen blacks out and a residual positive feeling of hope and charity lingers. The video you have just watched has performed its function; you are ready to make a difference in the world by becoming an active participant in the rebuilding of Haiti after a devastating earthquake. Every aspect of the production and release of the video has been calculated in advance and successful activist efforts follow.
“We Are the World 25 for Haiti” is a song and accompanying video created for the purpose of raising awareness for charity efforts supporting the rebuilding of Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island nation in early January 2010. The song asks its listeners to become more socially aware of what is occurring in the world outside of their own lives and to take steps to make the world a better place. Though this production is a remake of work originally made 25 years earlier by Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and other popular vocal artists of its day, its timing, its presentation of a selfless message and its added modern characteristics allow for it to make a place in present day culture of its own right.
The timing of the production and release of “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” played a large role in what made the project such a success for more than one reason. The most obvious reason the timing was so import was that it was created within a month of the earthquake that crippled Haiti. The terror of the tragedy was still fresh in the minds of the audience and in the hearts of the people of Haiti. This provided the sense of urgency to the situation that drove it to be organized and created so quickly and for the audience to want to contribute to such charitable efforts.
Another reason that the timing of “WATW 25 for Haiti” supported its effectiveness was because it came close to two special anniversaries. It was recorded days after the 25 year anniversary of the original “We Are the World” video, which sought to aid in famine relief in Africa. It was also released just months after the death of Michael Jackson, who was a large contributor to the original project. These events provided the project with a platform to advertise its own novelty. According to executive producer Randy Phillips through an interview with billboard.com, a recut of the original song was planned to take place on the 25th anniversary, but these plans were not carried out because of a feeling from others involved in the process that a recut would not live up to the iconic work that had been made so many years ago (Waddell, 2010). However, the urgency of the situation in Haiti and the proved effectiveness of the original in aiding in famine relief in Africa made a total remake of the project the most logical solution. A remake would ensure that the popularity and energy of the original would be present yet a new generation of activists could be reached by using current vocalists and sounds. The video was also viewed as a tribute to Michael Jackson. The circumstances surrounding his death were still trending in the media and his involvement in the project was another reason for a larger audience to take an initial interest in “WATW 25 for Haiti.”
The final and most calculated advantage the timing provided in the success of the “WATW 25 for Haiti” was its premier date. A shortened video and song were released on NBC during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. This release ensured that the video would be broadcasted to a large audience. This also ensured that the video would reach an audience that was interested in world affairs. The purpose of the Olympics is to unify the world. Though nations are competing against each other in athletic events, similarities between countries are shown through the dedication that all of the athletes have for their respective sports. This setting provided a mindset that was ideal for the release of the campaign because it proactively brought together the audience of the Olympics and made them willing to support a cause that may not have affected them directly. The audience was given the mindset that helping a neighbor in need was not that big of a step beyond friendly competition with them through sports.
Appeals of We Are the World 25 for Haiti are presented through a selfless message. The audience is lead to believe that the cause is a noble one and that it is all about doing only what the individual is capable of, no matter the size of the contribution. This self-less image is generated primarily through the use of images of the destruction in Haiti. The focus of the cause is placed on those who exactly will benefit as the depth of need is portrayed. Haiti is shown at its most vulnerable and the audience is asked to feel a need to help those who cannot help themselves. Images of the Haitian people trying to live normal lives after the earthquake are also used. Haitians are shown working side by side with volunteers to provide food and clean water to the community, dancing together in large groups, and smiling as they listen to music on cd players. These images are powerful because they build a bond between the Haitians and the audience. These images show how similar Haiti is to the rest of the world and how easily it could have been any other country to be struck by the earthquake. Any other nation could have been torn apart and lost large numbers of its population, but unlike most other countries, the poverty that Haiti already possessed did not allow for self-reliance. The audience is reminded of the potential that Haiti has to make a strong come back, and with a connecting bond, the audience is more likely to help Haiti make that come back. These appeals to the audience play on the emotions of the audience and asks them to question what is the right thing to do in this situation and how far are they willing to help a cause that they are persuaded is honest in nature. By having so many well-known advocates participate in the creation of “WATW 25 for Haiti,” this testifies further the sincerity behind the cause. The audience looks up to many of the entertainers, and in this video they see the stars place their reputations behind the support of rebuilding Haiti. This allows for the audience to place a face with the cause and allows for them to feel as if they are working together with someone famous.
The style of presentation and use of modern editing techniques in “WATW 25 for Haiti” allows for a positive reception by a young, proactive generation. The themes of the video remain similar to the original “We Are the World” (1985). Similarities include showing taped footage of individual artists as they record the vocals for the song mixed with shots of all the artists coming together in a large group to sing the refrain. The concept of utilizing artists from multiple generations and genres of music was again used. Similar chord progressions and lyrics were maintained from the original as well. Even many of the same production crew returned. These similarities allowed for the reputation of the original to precede the remake and allow for “WATW 25 for Haiti” to already have a positive following. Though these similarities helped the make project successful, many modern aspects incorporated into the video made it more relatable to today’s audience. The first example of modern techniques being utilized is through the use of auto-tune, a voice editing system that adds a computerized, electronic quality to artists’ voices. Auto-tune represents a changing music industry where anyone can be made to sound good and is characteristic of a younger generation. A similar concept is applied to another modern aspect of the project. A rap section exists in the remake that was not present in the original. Rap music again represents a younger generation. The lyrics of the rap section are specific to Haiti and turn a song that could be viewed as applicable to any charity cause into a battle cry made especially for Haiti. Finally, the last mentionable modern aspect of the video is the personal styles of the artists. They all dress in trendy clothes and present themselves in a hip fashion.
The causes and timing leading up to the release of “We Are the World 25 for Haiti,” the appeals of a self-less message, and modern qualities throughout the project make it a success. Though some negative criticism critiquing the originality of the project exists, this analysis presents explanations as to why the project is successful in persuading world citizens to help rebuild Haiti. This analysis shows that “WATW 25 for Haiti” is representative of modern times, culture, and ways of thinking. It not only advocates for helping rebuild Haiti, but it promotes humanitarian efforts on a larger scale.
Waddell, Ray. “Producer Details ‘We Are The World 25’ On Eve Of Debut.” Billboard. N.p., 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.