This week has been dominated by the debate over Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video which – after the Kanye disaster – offered a mature way to raise awareness and be controversial at the same time.
Since last Friday, the internet has been flooded with analysis and attempts to discover the multiple hidden messages behind the video. If we add to the mix his brilliant performance as host and musical guest of Saturday Night Live, it’s clear that Mr.Glover – unlike Kanye – has definitely accomplished his mission.
In this very moment, many communities are living in a horror movie. Death is right around the corner, guns are revered. Chaos and destruction in the background are barely noticed, just like the biblical warning running wild among cars on fire.
But if in the past the media coverage played a decisive role for Civil Rights Movement – from Emmet Till to Selma’s Bloody Sunday and Birmingham – today the process of normalization of violence has reached grotesque levels.
As we swipe down to refresh our favorite social media, we browse through a shooting and a make up tutorial, and it seems like the only feeling we are allowed to react to both is a .
This shocking juxtaposition has become the norm to our shortened attention span. Our threshold is gradually adjusting, and as horrifying as it can be, we are inclined to think that an eighteen-year-old kid in prom clothes, held by the neck and slammed to the ground by a police officer is not the worst scenario we could have witnessed in a case like this. We can’t help but being uncomfortably relieved. Because, after all, he survived the incident.
Donald Glover’s face, with that nervous glitch that turns a smile into a grimace, is the perfect emoji to express this absurdity.
“This is America” has already been celebrated as a great pop culture moment and the huge amount of fan art, memes and gifs emerged this week only, will surely make this moment last longer.
Ironically, the main topics of the video are also synthesized by the SNL sketch “A Kanye’s place”. In this parody of a horror movie, the characters are killed one by one by a monster (oops, spoiler) every time they indulge in a distraction, represented in the sketch by Kanye’s tweets. Glover himself gets caught by the monster, the second he realizes that a catchy poopity-scoop “kinda grows on you”.
Whether a comedy or a soothing funk anthem, the power of his message remains untouched. Glover’s multifaceted talent allows him to be consistently on point. The shape of his art is fluid, but the content will hit you like a brick.
This is America is a post-apocalyptic minstrel show, a jolly package that hides many layers of complexity and, just like minstrelsy, seems to serve many functions.
With this video, Childish Gambino is masterfully daring the audience to draw a line between entertainment and distraction, questioning the role of whole entertainment in our society. The objective is not to provide answers, but to shake the listeners up.
Enough to finally make us uncomfortable again with injustice, violence, and death.
Many thanks to Renee Abaroa for the gorgeous illustrations.