By Ariyana Hossain, Year 12
Now unless you’ve been in total isolation for the past month, you’ve definitely seen, if not heard, Childish Gambino’s (aka Donald Glover) latest track ‘This is America’. Having nabbed the #1 spot on Youtube trending for days, the music video offers a timely insight into race relations and today’s fragile political climate. Through its meticulous detail it showcases how mainstream pop culture and the internet are often used as tools to divert and distract audiences from the confronting reality that is America; whether it be regarding race relations or gun reform.
In short—it’s an absolute masterpiece.
As a complex and somewhat unsettling insight into the black American experience, its reception thus far has sparked widespread debate into ‘meme culture’ and whether that’s appropriate for this particular track.
Many viewers have argued that Glover’s intention was to expose the ignorance surrounding the suffering of America’s black community due to pop culture, and that therefore, creating memes or parodies out of the video is simply ‘missing the point’. Which is fair to say, especially since many of the segments from the music video are testament to that. The contrast between the children on the balcony being too preoccupied by their “cellys”, capturing all the chaos unfolding before them as passive bystanders is probably one of the best examples of this.
The other side of the debate does largely agree with the overarching purpose of ‘This is America’ and the issues it encompasses, but they really don’t see an issue with all the memes and parodies. For the most part their argument is that memes are a necessary by-product of the time we live in, and that since they’re inevitable, we should be embracing them as they can help reach a wider audience.
Furthermore, like any other popular song, ‘This is America’ has already been recreated and reworked into a range of different parodies. One particular version that’s been making rounds on the internet is controversial Youtuber Nicole Arbour’s parody which many have called ‘tone-deaf’. Now, Arbour’s intent in making the video was to rework it into a song that focused on the plight of women in contemporary society. Though it was well intentioned and she does make some good points, her mistake was the erasure of black women from the narrative, especially when considering the core message of the very song she was parodying. Also it probably didn’t help that she called a South Asian woman a prude mid-way through.
Not all parodies of Glover’s single have been controversial though. Some are purely innocent and typically have little to do with the subject matter; whilst some are created for the purpose of being more ‘socially conscious’, such as another recent viral parody called ‘This is Nigeria’.
Now regardless of where you stand on the debate surrounding the ‘meme-ing’ of the song, there’s a poignant message that should be gained through ‘This is America’. As a society, we have an issue with forgetfulness and ignorance; and Glover reminds us that it is this ignorance that largely fuels repeated incidents of gun violence and the increase of hate crimes against minorities. As informed citizens of such an interconnected era we can’t fall prey to ignorance and indifference. So by all means, meme away, but just don’t let it serve as a distraction from the bigger picture.
· Lee, J. (2018). If You're Sharing Childish Gambino's "This Is America" Memes, You're Missing The Point. [online] PopBuzz. Available at: https://www.popbuzz.com/music/features/childish-gambino-america-donald-glover-memes/ [Accessed 23 May 2018].
· Nelson, N. (2018). 'This is America' Memes are America. [online] Popdust. Available at: https://www.popdust.com/this-is-america-memes-2567692227.html [Accessed 24 May 2018].