How do we describe a video that juxtaposes merry dancing with brutal violence? Listening to Childish Gambino sing
This is America (woo, ayy)
Don’t catch you slippin’ up (woo, woo, don’t catch you slippin’, now)
Don’t catch you slippin’ up (ayy, woah)
Look what I’m whippin’ up (Slime!)
in a music video that received over 10 million views less than 24 hours after it was released.
Keith Boykin tweets:
Mesmerizing. Disturbing. Violent. Beautiful. Tragic. Materialistic. Melodic. Chaotic.pic.twitter.com/jET1KfgRvx
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) May 6, 2018
Yes to all that. Also the words smart, poignant, and complex come to mind. Childish Gambino is calling our attention to the violence in American culture (especially as seen from a black man’s viewpoint) and how it’s mixed with joy and frivolity. Charles Dickens famously wrote:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Shamefully, this is how America looks. But it’s not how it has to be.