Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Just About Gave Me A Heart Attack

Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Just About Gave Me A Heart Attack

A screaming horse hurtles into an oil drum, creating an explosion that engulfs us all. That, Donald Glover says, is entertainment.
Neal Pollack
By

As America’s foremost white authority on African-American culture, I was duty-bound to watch Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video the second it appeared on Vevo, a YouTube channel that I once predicted would “transform the way we flagellate ourselves through music.” Upon gazing upon the shirtless Gambino, I cried more than I did when Paul Simon announced his farewell tour, because I knew that our society would never be the same.

Then I watched the video a second time, and I found myself having heart palpitations. The third time, I fainted dead away, and my beleaguered manservant Roger had to take me to the Boston General emergency room, where several other white people were also being treated for “Gambino-induced shock.” The video was playing on repeat on the hospital TV, which didn’t help.

Upon returning home at 5 a.m. with my usual Vicodin and Xanax cocktail, I watched “This Is America” 77 times in a row. I freeze-framed it at key moments so I didn’t miss any of the horrors that were taking place before my eyes. Finally, after hours of highly educated thought, I think I understand what Gambino (born Donald Glover to save us all from ourselves) is trying to say.

If you squint closely at the video, you’ll see, in the background, scenes of impossible violence that are exactly what the average American sees, but ignores, on the way to get Korean fried chicken or eye drops. A feral old lady squats on the floor of a warehouse, eating the entrails of a live rabbit. A gun-toting anarchist throws a half-dozen babies into a sack and beats that sack against the wall. Hundreds of well-meaning suburban teens go to a Childish Gambino show so he can sneer at them and call them racist. A screaming horse hurtles into an oil drum, creating an explosion that engulfs us all. That, Donald Glover says, is entertainment.

By adopting the stereotypical dance postures of Stephen Fetchit, author of “The Red Badge of Courage,” Gambino calls into question everything about contemporary culture. Blackface has been used to demean African-Americans, and detract from their plight, by thousands of entertainers over the years, from Al Jolson to Miley Cyrus to Ted Danson.

If I read his intent correctly—and I always do—Gambino challenges our notion of what blackface actually means, and expands its definition. If we simply enjoy performers from Nat King Cole to Michael Jackson to Bruno Mars to Beyoncé, white people are participating in the oppression of not only black people, but of ourselves. Every time we listen to Louis Armstrong, we are literally machine-gunning a church choir to death. By consuming culture, we’re biting from the apple and participating in original sin. We must say six Hail Marys and watch “This Is America” 100 more times.

Without exception, we have a duty to write about the video and post about it so people will know that we, too, are aware of the creeping horrors of contemporary America. We cannot stand idly by and let Glover take all the credit for being woke.

So as a response to this video, I’m making my own video about people watching the video on their phones. Like Childish Gambino, I’ve chosen to use my success and artistic genius to remind the rest of the world that they’re idiotic sheep who are sleepwalking through a second Holocaust. It’s the least I can do.

My video starts innocently enough, but soon everyone is sobbing at Whole Foods. The entire scene descends into mayhem as I shoot a nice man in the face then get run over by a truck that’s on fire. At one point, I stop my dissonant ranting to take a cheap shot at people who like to buy nice shoes. Meanwhile, I prance about like an angel. My sexy shirtless dancing in the video recalls the dancing of oblivious Jews in the shetl just before the Cossacks raided their villages. What high-stepping fools they were!

But none of this should detract from the transcendent genius of Childish Gambino’s new song, which, like all great works of avant-garde art, was revealed to the entire world during “Saturday Night Live.” At the end of the video, there’s a secret smaller video in the left-hand corner that’s actually just Donald Glover being skinned alive while smoking a joint.

This is violence at a level never seen before in our media, and it reminds us that he isn’t here to merely entertain us. He’s here to stun us out of our consumerist complacency. Glover’s work reflects the universal cultural concerns of ordinary Americans who were staff writers at “30 Rock,” stars of a popular NBC sitcom, the world’s most famous hip-hop artist, creator of an award-winning TV show, and Lando Calrissian. Hopefully, we can all heed his warning.

Neal Pollack, The Greatest Living American Writer, is the author of many semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction. He also cohosts the podcast Extra Credit on Audible.com with his teenage son Elijah. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

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