Over the past few days, there has been lots of hype about the new song/video called “This Is America,” by artist Childish Gambino [Donald Glover]. Within this hype, there are dozens of stories, where the song is being analyzed.
Find the hidden meaning.
Learn what this song is about.
5 Things You Missed In The Video [the worst click-bait].
You get the idea. It’s a bunch of “news” outlets that want to tell the audience what the song and video means, and what it’s about.
If people want to read these articles and videos about it, then they can do it. Just beware of the comment sections, which are full of horrible things.
However, I will not be reading any more of these articles or watching these videos. In this afternoon’s entry, I’m going to discuss why I will not be participating in these offerings.
If you have not yet seen the video, then you can watch it below. For those who are unaware of the contents, it does contain graphic violence. Although the violence is not gratuitous, I think it only fair to warn readers who may not be in the demographic of this artist.
LIFE BEFORE MUSIC VIDEOS
Before music videos, I would hear a song and then attach that song to my own thoughts, opinions, and experiences. As a result, the song would make a lasting impression on me.
INTRODUCTION OF MUSIC VIDEOS
After music videos were introduced, I’d hear the songs and instantly think about the videos. Songs would sometimes still get attached to personal details in my mind, but not so often.
TODAY’S NECESSITY OF MUSIC VIDEOS
For me, this song actually NEEDS the music video. I have watched it several times, but I don’t really see myself putting it on my phone and playing it. In this instance, the visual representation has become more important than the song itself.
This is not a criticism of Mr. Glover’s work. He’s a respectable multi-media artist who has created something incredibly thought-provoking. More about that later.
WHY I AM AVOIDING READING AND WATCHING ANALYSIS OF THIS VIDEO
The items mentioned above provide some of the reasons. All of this comes to a head for me in a discussion that can be found on the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Exorcist.
Included in the extras, there is a discussion between William Peter Blatty [the author of The Exorcist] and film director William Friedkin. In this discussion, they’re having a bit of an argument about an edit to the film that Mr. Friedkin made.
Specifically, Mr. Blatty was lamenting the fact that Mr. Friedkin cut a scene at the ending, where two priests are having a discussion about Regan [played by Linda Blair], the girl who was possessed. The basic purpose of this discussion is to tell the audience that “the girl will be alright.”
In the inner-circles of media, this is known as “pipe laying.” It’s spelling things out, which is an insult to the intelligence of the audience.
As Mr. Blatty shows concern about how he does not want people to believe that evil won, Mr. Friedkin interjects his own reasoning for why he cut that scene.
“I am not in the business of telling the audience what to think.”
Mr. Friedkin goes on to note that people will get out of the movie what they bring into it. If they believe that evil is superior and that evil will win, then they will be satisfied with the outcome. HOWEVER, if a person believes in their heart that good will always triumph over evil, then this is what they will get out of the movie.
Since the audience was not told what to think about the movie, everyone who went to see it walked away with exactly what they wanted from the movie.
My dad took me to the day-after-Christmas screening on December 26, 1973. As we were leaving the theater, I heard a woman say, “I don’t know why they did not turn off the cameras and get that poor girl some help. Monsters!”
I have no doubt that everyone got what they wanted.
THINKING FOR ONE’S OWN SELF
I could have just written “think for yourself” and left it at that. The irony in doing such a thing is that it would be a case of me telling you what to do.
Instead, I decided to share some history, anecdotes, and observations, so that you’d have some information available. With this information, you can then make an informed decision.
ADDED THOUGHTS ON “THIS IS AMERICA”
As I mentioned earlier, I think that the song really needs the video in order to have impact and make sense. The lyrics are relatively simple, as are the “trap” elements of the song.
Within the context of music, the reason why rap has no specific melody is the same reason why country music has three primary melodies. The lyrics are more important than the backing tracks. Trying to listen to lyrics while listening to a melody can result in words being misunderstood.
Blinded by the light…
Both rap and country are forms of folk music.
Taking this philosophy one step further in order to make it more modern, I would suggest that the primary reason why the lyrics are relatively simple in this song is because the video is more important than the song. This is a rather logical step in our modern multi-media age, so this is an observation, and not a criticism.
I should note that this does not mean one should disregard the lyrics, as the few words that are used do make statements. The lyrics are just not the end-all to what is being delivered.
The secondary reason for the simple lyrics is so that they sit better with an audience that has a lower attention span for reading, listening, and general media consumption. Much like a political bumper sticker, it gets to the point of the matter, except that it says infinitely more by saying relatively little.
It works to speak to you in your own language and context.
Although these elements are simple, there is nothing simple about the video contents and the messages. The video carries at least half a dozen different critiques about America’s past culture, as well as our current culture.
If I go any deeper than this, then I will be guilty of giving you my own analysis of the video. Then I would be committing the same offense that I noted in the writings and videos of others who do a break-down or analysis of it all.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEIR ANALYSES
While I will not be reading these articles or watching these videos, I did read a few. One of them was a basic copy-and-paste of comments on Reddit about the video. This is mindless, takes no effort, and gives the reader relatively little to think about.
Another one took a simpleton’s approach to it, leaving behind ideas that focus on unimportant elements. This destroys the various levels in the video that serve to make a variety of different points.
It keeps the video viewer from diving deeper into what the video is all about, or what it can be all about. They show you the surface and then, by omission, suggest that there is nothing to see below the surface.
When someone breaks it down and tells you what the video and song mean, they are not only telling you how or what to think and/or feel about it, but they’re also blinding you to other points that you’ll end up overlooking because you’re too busy agreeing with their point. That is to say, these points can make sense, but they poison the well.
It’s like that song that used to remind me of my girlfriend in high school, until the music video came out and ruined that.
THE BIGGEST TRAGEDY
As I mentioned, this video touches upon a wide variety of concerns. In our age of social media, this could be the perfect catalyst for inspiring or instigating discussion about these things that do need discussion.
The tragedy of it all is that our society is generally not yet mature enough to have this discussion on the internet.
There was a comment on the video, where a woman is asking how something was done. It’s something that appears to be a special effect. Her question was about the technical film making aspect of it.
People were so emotionally charged by the video and what it said to them, that they were giving her answers to other things that she did not ask. It resulted in a series of online fights, where there was NOTHING presented that would typically instigate a fight.
When we have discussions in-person, there is a social pressure to be on our good behavior and to listen. Plus, we see a person in front of us, so there is no mistaking any of it. There are people out there who think that what happens online is just words on a screen, and that there are no real people behind it.
With online discussions, we miss out on body language, voice inflection, eye contact, and the ability to express quick, real-time clarification to correct misunderstandings. When this information ends up missing, our brains fill in the gaps with what we think, what we feel, or even what we may fantasize about.
What does not help matters is that people tend to become more aggressive online, as a result of the absence of these physical, psychological, and social pressures.
THE GOOD NEWS
There are some people out there who are having successful discussions as a result of the inspiration provided by this video. The problems that prevent these discussions will sadly not be solved in my lifetime, but knowing that others are rising above it gives me some hope.
IN THE END
This video may speak to you in one way, it may speak to you in a few others ways, or it may not speak to you at all. Not everyone can watch this, just as The Exorcist is not for everyone. Hard issues and cutting observations do not usually inspire gentle feelings.
That’s where the success of this video comes into play. It inspires you to feel something. Whatever that feeling may be, it was inspired, and it is there. This could lead to other thoughts.
For me, I understand some of the ways in which it spoke to others. It also spoke to me in other ways, and maybe someday I’ll share those. Should I do that, it will be after the atmosphere surrounding the video cools down a bit.
Chances are greater that I would discuss it in-person than online, since there are still people out there who can read words and then still completely miss the point that one is attempting to make.
The world can be a frightening place. Hard issues and biting observations command that equally hard and biting art be delivered to inspire inspection and reflection. Whether you look into that mirror now, or do it later, or not at all, I have no judgment or ill will toward you. Wanting people to have understanding is reasonable, but getting angry at them because a method does not speak to them is not.
For now, I am going to click the Publish button, and then go do something truly horrifying. I’m going to sit alone in the darkness, in complete silence, alone with my own thoughts.
If you thought that The Exorcist was scary…