Donald Glover’s new music video feels iconic and is understandably receiving a great deal of attention.
Why does it feel so iconic? And what is it about?
To me, it feels iconic because of its simplicity, depth, and universal archetypal themes grounded in a specific time and place. There is a strong contrast between the violence and the joyful song and dance. There is a simplicity in that it’s in one setting and mostly shot in one take. It has sincerity, depth, and urgency. The theme is clear but it leaves the interpretation and reflection up to the viewer.
And what is it about? Most obviously, both the violence and the joyful song and dance reflect Black history in the US, and also the current Black experience in the US. Both are part of their history and lives. Beyond that, it’s part of the US culture as a whole, human civilization, and each of us as individuals. It reflects our human experience. We contain and experience both.
It’s interesting that the sequential nature of the video suggests different ways of relating to this. We can bring fleeting attention to the drama of violence and then move on as if nothing happened. (As US society and media seem to do with the current gun violence, and as we as individuals sometimes do in our own lives.) Or we can acknowledge both as part of our history, our lives, humanity as a whole, and us as individuals, and engage with it more intentionally and responsibly and do something about it. Both of these are relatively privileged ways of relating to it.
There is also a third way of relating to it, which is – I imagine – is the reality of many black people in the US. They live with both, and compartmentalize the violence and pain so they can move on with their lives.
Again, it’s a very simple theme. We all know that humans are capable of terrible things and wonderful things. We know both are part of our lives collectively and individually. We know that we often ignore the unpleasant things and move on to the pleasant ones. We know that can be fine in the short run but creates problems in the long run. And yet, we often act and live as if we don’t quite know. And that’s why these reminders are so important, especially as they ignite reflection and discussion as this video is doing right now.