The mid-late 1980s would represent the pinnacle of MTV’s music video popularity. Bands from across the world would gain an increase in global visibility.
In 1988, one such band, Midnight Oil, released their video titled “Beds are Burning.” The song was inspired by the band’s previous musical voyage across remote villages of their native Australian homeland. Their tour took them into an environment that was, “…a mix of calm desert beauty and broken down cars, dilapidated shelters, and stripped trees (cut down for firewood) that “turned the place into a dust storm…It was a life-changing event for all of us,” Hirst notes.” (McCarthy, S.)
Along the band’s journey, they would play for smaller, more intimate crowds, of indigenous desert people. Many of these people came from tribal groups that were losing their land and culture. Scores had been forced out of their native soil by the Australian government to conduct missile testing.
How did the band choose to display their musical message?
From the opening, the video strives to capture the attention through the use of extended silence, as the sun shines upon a slowly turning windmill. The silence breaks as the band recreate their tour across Australia. The ensemble plays and sings in a perfect and soothing harmony. Abruptly the chorus ends as the background vocalists fade to silence as the once soothing melody transforms into a dictatorial energy. The lead vocalist teams with this musical momentum as he reaches a full-throttled cry to “GIVE IT BACK!” At this precise moment, the viewer receives a brief glimpse of an indigenous fellow that is immediately followed by a bustling city.
These glimpses attempt to spur curiosity and to get the viewer to ask, “What’s that about?” and “Who is this fella?”
The mood of curiosity gradually transitions in an attempt to create compassion. To draw a complete distinction, the scenes quickly flicker between the indigenous people and the city. City/people/city/people this pattern continues until finally it is replaced with the emphasis turning to the aboriginal folk. The remainder of the video shows the populace as they dance, laugh and celebrate to display the love of their native land and culture.
“Beds are Burning” is a fun and positive attempt to solicit compassion to gain support in righting a societal wrong. The video efficiently attempts to appeal the viewer to action through establishing a human connection to the aboriginal cause.
Unfortunately, not all subject matter can be displayed as dramatically using such a “feel good” manner–as will be seen in the next example.