Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ creates an uncomfortable feeling to say the least. Addressing the country’s notorious gun violence and racialised police brutality, it acts as a visual representation of how pop culture has desensitised us from the trauma and violence caused by the weapons. We discover the insights behind the music video and understand how purposeful pop is helping America wake up to its social problems.
Set in an empty warehouse, the video opens by showing Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) dance to a happy-go-lucky song accompanied by a man playing a guitar. The video takes a sinister turn, however, when Glover stops dancing to remove a gun from his back pocket and shoot a seated man who’s wearing a hood. As the video unfolds, chaos ensues. The background of the video – which is slightly out of focus – is where the action really takes place. We see a reference to the Charleston shooting where nine African Americans were massacred at the hands of a white supremacist, cars being burned, and armed riot police running back and forth like a scene from the Ferguson protests. All the while, Glover and a group of schoolchildren appear to obliviously enact a number of minstrel-esque dances that have seen viral success through ‘Black Twitter’. Each vignette represents how the black community is forced to carry on in destructive environments moulded by gun violence.
Racking up up more than ten million views within 24 hours of its release, the video lashes out at America’s spiralling gun problem, particularly within the context of the ‘black experience’. In a country where there were 20 school shootings in the first four months of 2018, and where there are more homicides by firearm per person than any other developed country in the world, it’s an issue that many people are taking on themselves – whether that’s by joining national protests or buying bulletproof clothing. Glover expresses America’s contradictory stance on gun ownership through lines such as “Guns in my area… I gotta carry ‘em,” which highlights how people often carry guns for protection from others who carry them.
At a time of polarised opinions, people expect brands, influencers, and public figures to express their values. And those who don’t feel well-represented by the establishment often look to popular culture to express values they can get on board with – hence why Lana Del Rey gave up nostalgic American imagery in protest of rising nationalism. Glover has made his opinions about gun control and racialised police brutality clear through the easily-digestible medium of a music video. Meanwhile, Gucci made its stance on gun control clear through it’s $500,000 donation to the March For Our Lives campaign, while Dick’s Sporting Goods – one of America’s largest gun sellers – announced it will no longer sell assault-style rifles in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in February 2018.
Mica Anthony is the editorial assistant at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She’s passionate about uncovering the newest electronic music producers, re-living questionable ‘90s fashion trends, and building her Depop empire.