This is America – a phrase often use to describe negative feelings depicted upon ordinary situations or to illustrate the chaos from the divided nation we currently live in. Childish Gambino released the “This is America” music video on May 5th, 2018 that sparked controversy and shock of reality for viewers. Lyrics alone will not fully illustrate Gambino’s impacted message to viewers; the video evokes sympathy and awareness of how vulnerable Americans are to joy and destruction alike. Childish Gambino utilizes his fame to create an erratic performance to demonstrate how Americans are blinded to the despicable truth of America.
The music video outlines the themes of the power of pop culture and gun control through tactics and references to traumatic events to strike an emotional response from viewers. In the opening of the music video, Gambino presents a juxtaposition between sweet melodies and gun violence; a man is in a chair playing a guitar of African melodies while Gambino switches between religious dances. The first turning point of the video begins when Gambino shoots the same man, who is now tied up, in the back of the head. When the lyrics stated “dance and shake the frame”, the tone is now shifted to a dark and aggressive tone as Gambino begins to alter his facial expressions and dance moves after leaving the scene. Dance moves are influenced by African American religious dances, distracting viewers from the chaos that begins to emerge in the background. (Berman). Another reference to gun violence is portrayed by the choir singing melodies just before Gambino grabs a shotgun and murders them all; the scene alludes to the recent mass shooting in Charleston, where nine African Americans were killed during a service in church. Once again, Gambino is able to walk freely from the scene to continue his dancing and shifting facial expressions. The power of pop culture is revealed in both scenes when Gambino shifts the viewers’ attention away from the chaos in the background with him dancing with school children to portray a mockery of media and illustrate them as uncaring. Scenes may be pertained as uncomfortable in order to express Gambino’s message upon America’s current situation with gun violence.
Two powerful scenes allude to history and religion to be presented as logic to enhance a much more powerful performance by Gambino. In the first scene were Gambino shoots the innocent man, the stance chosen by Gambino while holding the gun embodies an eerie resemblance to the famous caricature, Jim Crow (Gajanan). The Jim Crow character was created by Thomas Dartmouth Rice, as a mockery and degradation of African Americans (Pilgrim). It was based upon slave stereotypes as a public theater show that become popular and adopted as a term for segregation. The reference may also suggest America is going in reverse and repeating the unfair treatment similar to the past. In middle of the video, a dark dressed man is riding upon a bright white horse from one end to another. The reference is to a biblical verse of the apocalypse stating “… and behind a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him”(Ferber). The hell being the chaos and destruction happening in our everyday surroundings from the actions of politics or racism. Gambino wanted to provide a godly symbol to strengthen his message of an urge for a fixture in America. Each symbol cuts deeply to beliefs as background information to exploit that America has not made effort to become a more positive environment.
Gambino carefully chosen every item to represent bias and assumptions among different viewpoints of Americans. Gambino strictly wore only gold chains, pants and shoes for the video with no change whatsoever. The gold chains represent Americans in the consumerist culture they currently live in today (Ferber). Today’s society relies heavily on materialistic items to represent ourselves as a whole. The one article of clothing Gambino chose to wear oddly embodies Confederate soldiers’ pants (Berman). In 1865, Confederate soldiers were in war to stop the enslavement of African Americans but ultimately lost. The pants represent recent controversial actions of Americans’ claims of traces of slavery as well as the removal of historical monuments. Between each shooting contained similarities to represent the assumptions of Republicans’ point of view on gun control. After Gambino used the weapon, each time the gun was obtained with red cloth, red for Republican Party, in a gentle manner to present guns as more valuable than the lives lost. The issue remains today as gun control is still protested against while more mass shootings continue to occur. All factors of the objects illustrate the society that is lived in today.
The lyrics further emphasize the mockery and stereotypes of how individuals react when chaos or madness erupts across America. Gambino calls out the children witnessing the destruction by singing, “that’s a celly, that’s a tool”. The statement was made to point out the frequent nature of individuals filming every injustice rather than call for help. Cell Phones are the “tools” to provide evidence on any mishap occurring in the world. The song states “So fitted, I’m on gucci, I’m so pretty” to illustrate how individuals are drawn to expensive goods as a way to define our beauty. It is an commodification on pop culture and African American culture of their stereotypes (Ferber). The last scenes of the video allows viewers to witness Gambino using marijuana; first it is a peaceful atmosphere around old cars while the melody sings “Get yo money, black man!”. The lyrics indicate another stereotype on black man culture with the involvement of drugs as their only way of personal income. The scene also depicts what is the common felony committed by black men rather than murder. The video begins in end with fear and terror as Gambino runs away from what appears as a group of caucasians. The lyrics narrate the stereotypical images depicted upon Black men with “You just a black man in this world, you just a barcode”. The theme running through the ending is the run from innocence, for marijuana use was deemed heavy enough to convict Gambino, despite his murders. Each scene provokes stereotypes as well as fear for the consequences of Gambino’s actions depicted in the video.
America is in a period of time of disconnect, as the nation is divided for the first time in decades. Gambino desired to present modern day political issues to establish the reality that America needs help to be fixed together to bring peace; instead, Gambino pointed out the flaws of the nation’s currently corrupted system. With the factors of ethos, logos, symbols and lyrics, Gambino was able to project a powerful message in the matter of four minutes, long enough to shock the world and question the reality of important political issues.
Berman, Judy. “’This Is America’: 8 Things to Read About Childish Gambino’s New Music Video.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 May 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/arts/music/childish-gambino-this-is-america-roundup.html.
The article is about the microscopic analysis of the Childish Gambino’s music video “This Is America”. It provides a closer look at symbols overlooked or not fully understood to represent the chaos occurring in America right now. The New York Times published this with multiple references to establish credibility. I will use the article point out ethos, logos, and pathos appeals used for the music video.
Cornish, Audie, and Monika Evstatieva. “Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America’ Holds Ugly Truths To Be Self-Evident.” NPR, National Public Radio, 7 May 2018, www.npr.org/2018/05/07/609150167/donald-glovers-this-is-america-holds-ugly-truths-to-be-self-evident.
The article establishes are current situation in the divided nation we call America. Present issues such as gun control and references to mass shootings help Gambino develop as richer message to present the “ugly truth” about America. National Public Radio is more of an expertise in terms of the music industries. I will use the article point out ethos, logos, and pathos appeals used for the music video.
Ferber, Taylor. “11 Hidden Details In ‘This Is America’ That Fans On Twitter Can’t Stop Talking About.” Bustle, Bustle, 8 May 2018,
The article establishes the pathos appeal demonstrated in the music video to attract viewers to repeatedly watch the music video in order to interpret the main message. Hidden symbols are exposed throughout the music video, creating a deeper meaning behind it rather than a simple song. Bustle used references to credit the symbols used throughout the video. The article will help establish my logos appeal.
Gajanan, Mahita. “Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’: Breaking Down Symbols.” Time, Time, 7 May 2018, time.com/5267890/childish-gambino-this-is-america-meaning/.
The article digs into the central message about the gun and violence issue that is growing in America. The article establishes that every scene and objects used in the music video are all significant to developing Gambino’s message. Time magazine has had experts construct each component to further explain the meaning behind every symbol used in the video. I will use the article to establish the three appeals as well as tie it back to modern day issues.
Johnson, Tre. “Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America’ Is a Nightmare We Can’t Look Away From.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 8 May 2018, www.rollingstone.com/donald-glover-childish-gambino-this-is-america-video-visual-w519895.
The article establishes that Gambino’s music video is suppose to raise our attention to the fact that modern day in America is being depicted in the video. From references to mass shootings to marijuana control, shows behind ideals that America stands on today. Rolling Stone is a magazine that examines closely into pop culture overall. I will use the article to establish ties to modern day issues and why Gambino presented this powerful music video.
Pilgrim, David. “Who Was Jim Crow?” Are Negros Closer to Apes Than to Humans? – Letters to the Jim Crow Museum – Jim Crow Museum – Ferris State University, Ferris State University, Sept. 2012, ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/who/.
The article highlights historical times of African American past of segregation and belittlement. It establishes background and context behind the figurative and literal meaning behind the title of “Jim Crow”. The publisher is a state university that has references from historians that depict the important evidence from the past to support the statement. I plan to use the article to provide a deeper meaning behind one of the symbols used in the music video.