Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Monday, May 14, 2018

This is America, So Lose My Number

Donald Glover (as Childish Gambino) put out a song and a video that blew up the internet, called "This is America". You've probably heard of it.

It details visually, musically, and lyrically, the way that America destroys black lives and then covers up the damage with entertainment.

A few days later, a mash-up video put the first few minutes of the video together with an earworm from the early oughts called "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen. And then THAT blew up the internet.

I'm not linking to that video, because it's radioactive as fuck. If you haven't seen it, you're probably an adult, you can find it.

That being said, I do have some thoughts on it. 

It seems like there are several different reactions one could have to this video, only some of which are legit.
  1. "This is hilarious." Full stop. These people are likely missing the point of the original video.
  2. "This is awful. The people who think this is funny are missing the point of the original video." As we can already see, reaction 2 has a basis in truth, see reaction 1.
  3. “This is hilarious BECAUSE it is awful.” Another way of phrasing this is: "This is hilarious, because it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.” This reaction is responding to the way this video simultaneously seems to undercut the message of the original video and then reinforces it by the juxtaposition of the banal and the serious. Note that this reaction is very difficult for others to distinguish from reaction 1, because it’s both difficult to explain (and remember that any joke you have to explain is explicitly NOT going to be funny to the person you explain it to), and difficult for others to accept in good faith if they are already are in pain from feeling trivialized by reaction 1. It’s also difficult to express because people having reaction 3 are VERY leery of being lumped in with people having reaction 1, and so they’re already starting out from a position of defense. Understandably so.

Reaction 1, while understandable, because this is cleverly and skillfully done, doesn’t fly. I doubt anybody here just thinks the mash-up is straight up funny in its own right. 

Reaction 2 is completely valid: there’s a lot of pain being expressed in the original video, and anything seen as trivializing that is like a slap in the face.

Reaction 3 is also valid, but difficult (and somewhat dangerous) to express, and harder to justify. Laughter that comes, not at the expense of others, but at the existential horror of suffering, is a tough sell to those who are in the midst of suffering.

The laughter that comes from watching somebody fall down an open manhole and die is qualitatively different from the laughter of reaction 3, but that’s not going to make somebody having reaction 2 feel any better.

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