Abstract: One of Michael Jackson’s short films for his song “They Don’t Care About Us” recently achieved one billion views on YouTube. In this month’s MJ Studies Today column, our columnist Kerry Hennigan discusses the significance of this latest landmark for Jackson’s legacy and the impact the filming of the video had on the people and locations in Brazil where it was shot. She also looks at the continuing relevance of Jackson’s lyrics considering recent tragedies and injustices around the globe.
Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a student of Ancient and Medieval History, Archaeology, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has a Certificate in Archaeology from Cambridge University.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXXIX: ‘Some things in life you just don’t wanna see.’ Michael Jackson’s latest video milestone: 1 billion views for They Don’t Care About Us.” (14-05-2023). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 9, No. 4 (2023). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxxix/
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“Some things in life they just don’t wanna see.” Michael Jackson’s latest video milestone: 1 billion views for They Don’t Care About Us. By Kerry Hennigan
Collage © Kerry Hennigan
Thanks to the concerted campaign by Michael Jackson fans, “They Don’t Care About Us” (Brazil version) recently became the second of Jackson’s short films (that’s music videos to everyone else) to score one billion views on YouTube, the other being “Billie Jean.” Jackson is the first solo artist to have two 20th century music videos with that number of YouTube streams. His committed following is already focused on the next candidate for the one billion target – “Beat It,” followed by “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” respectively, based on their current viewing numbers.
One of the driving forces behind the recent campaign is a group of fans from Brazil, the country where celebrated director Stan Lee shot one of the two films for the single, a track from Jackson’s 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1. Jackson’s visit to that country remains fresh in the minds of many of its citizens old enough to remember it, and those who have learned about it more recently. Whether it is the Santa Marta favela location in the hills behind Rio de Janeiro, or Pelourinho Square (a UNESCO site) in Salvador, Bahia, visitors are reminded that Michael was once there. A fan made video tour of both locations uploaded to YouTube in 2022 gives a fan perspective of the sites and the people who live in them. Both locations are important tourist attractions, drawing fans from all over the world (including this writer).
The tragedy of “They Don’t Care About Us” (TDCAU) in this third decade of the 21st century is that the song itself remains incredibly relevant to situations endured by so many people at home and abroad. It’s no wonder TDCAU is appropriated by those protesting injustice. Pull out any part of the lyrics and a recent news headline probably comes to mind… including one that is still relevant to Michael himself (or rather, his family, Estate and legacy). “Situation, speculation, everybody, litigation.” Probably most damning in light of recent events in the US is “Bang bang, shot dead, everybody’s gone mad.” Or simply the way some people are discriminated against because of who or what they are: “Am I invisible ‘cause you ignore me?” 
To some it may seem that Michael Jackson lived a life of wealth and privilege – what would he know about being ignored, or treated as invisible? But Jackson’s success came as a result of years of hard work and always striving to do better. His success was earned, he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. As a child playing the clubs with his brothers, he saw how some people were treated. As he grew and became more aware of what was going on in the world (coupled with being an avid reader) he would have become very aware of what some people suffered at the hands of others, in particular those rendered powerless by the system or specific authorities. Being an individual noted for his sensitivity, it was probably inevitable that he would one day write a song that talked about all those things.
TDCAU is unique amongst Jackson’s songs to have (now) not one, not two, but three official short films, known respectively as: the Brazil version, the Prison version, and a special 2020 version put together by Spike Lee to celebrate Michael’s birthday that year. This most recent edition features some footage not included in its predecessors but remains faithful to the spirit of the song. First screened during a live-streamed internet party while many countries were in COVID lock-down, Spike Lee said of the song, “Great protest songs can’t get old, stale or non-relevant because the struggle still continues. That’s why ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ is the anthem during this chaotic, pandemic world we are all living in.”
It is more than ten years now since I stood on the balcony where Michael stood, overlooking the ramshackle homes of Santa Marta where many of the people who worked in the city below actually live. Known amongst the tour guides as “Michael’s lookout” it is only because he was here that this favela attracts visitors. Going in the company of a local guide who knows the area and its residents is mandatory. A bronze statue representing Michael stands with arms raised and fists clenched, as he stood in the TDCAU short film, and across from it, Britto’s large mosaic portrait of Michael adorns a wall.
The statue, erected on the site following Michael’s death in 2009, has endured having its sunglasses stolen (and subsequently returned) and has suffered unintentional vandalism from fans who have hung off Michael’s arms or around his neck, their weight weakening the base where it is attached to the concrete platform. Each time it has been repaired because it is an important attraction for the area. Santa Marta has few claims to fame – but it does have its memories of Michael Jackson, and the place where he stood and cried out his defiance of discrimination wherever it exists.
14 May 2023
 Beyond the Saturday Sun. https://www.youtube.com/@beyondthesaturdaysun. A series of videos documenting the planning and execution of the making of “They Don’t Care About Us” in Brazil in 1995.
 IvainTures. “Michael Jackson’s Iconic Filming Locations in Brazil – See Where All The Magic Happened! https://youtu.be/s6VUmR8RWnY
 Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XX – Michael Jackson’s lesson of inclusiveness in a discriminating world (14-08-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 4, No. 1 (2017) https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xx/
 Jackson, Michael. “They Don’t Care About Us.” © 1995 and 1997 Mijac Music USA.
Artwork: “speculation…litigation” collage compiled by Kerry Hennigan. No infringement of original photographic copyright is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.