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Vice: Don't Meme Childish Gambino's 'This Is America'

Vice: Don't Meme Childish Gambino's 'This Is America'

In a sad and desperate attempt to dictate what people should say, a Vice columnist recently demanded folks don’t meme a music video. It went over as well as you’d imagine.

I’m sure many of you have already seen (or heard about) Childish Gambino’s latest music video “This Is America.” The video hit the Internet this month, and pop culture blogs have not stopped talking about it. For those unaware, Childish Gambino is the pseudonym of actor/comedian Donald Glover.

His latest video is packed with controversial and thought-provoking imagery. More than once the artist executes defenseless black people. All the while repeating the refrain “This Is America.” Many, many people have weighed in on the message of the video. My thoughts? I think the artist is deliberately provoking conversation. That’s what artists do.

But as with every piece of art, people online have been dissecting it. There are those that have put it on some ridiculous pedestal. Others have criticized it, accusing the video of creating more tension among black Americans. Some have been quick to connect the video to Kanye’s recent statements, as if Donald Glover is the new Anti-Kanye. Not sure what that means.

Then there’s the vast majority of Internet users. They have their own way of expressing their thoughts on “This Is America.” And it has everything to do with memes.

This is America Avengers meme

Memeing is a part of our modern culture. It’s a way for people to play with existing material. It’s also a way people can express their own commentary on a subject matter. When most effective, memes can be brilliant satire. But most of the time they’re just funny.

Apparently, some people don’t agree. Vice recently published an article berating everyone for making memes out of Childish Gambino’s latest music video. “For the Love of God, Don’t Meme Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ Music Video,” attempts to rebuke the Internet for making silly, often childish, memes of this very important video.

Childish Gambino's work has always been easy fodder for the web. His career was built on early YouTube stardom. His Billboard Top 20 hit “Redbone” became a meme by virtue of its catchiness alone. And hell, his sophomore album was literally titled Because the Internet. But what of his latest, the new Hiro Murai–directed video for “This Is America,” which the Atlantic has already hailed as, “extending a tradition spanning 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' to Get Out,” and which the New Yorker acknowledged as, “a powerful portrait of black-American existentialism"? Surely, given the video's serious tone and capital "I" Importance, it would be spared, right? Wrong. (Vice)

Uh, you’re talking about the guy who played Troy on Community, right? The guy who once wanted to play Spider-man? Now he’s being celebrated as some kind of avant-garde revolutionary? Suddenly his work is too important to touch?

I’m all for Glover expressing himself. If he wants to make a controversial music video that provokes conversation (perhaps argument?) more power to him. But as with every other piece of art, it has become part of the culture that it is criticizing. Memes are themselves a modern form of creative thought and yes, at times, criticism. But the social justice elites at Vice feel dictated this particular piece of art is “too good,” for the lowly masses to criticize. It goes against the point Glover was trying to make, so we should all just feel bad and leave it at that.

Vice’s hectoring, nanny attitude comes through in their tweet for the article.

Obviously, Vice stepped in it this time. They seem to have forgotten that, when you tell people not to do something, they’ll go ahead and do it. This time at Vice’s expense.

They go on from there. Vice knew people would react like this. Yet they still wanted to tell us what we could or could not say.

Had the meme economy paused for a second and thought about the meaning behind the video, it might have realized that memeing its most brutal moments proves the exact point Glover is trying to make. (Vice)

It seems like Vice is asserting that because people aren’t engaging with Glover’s art the way that he may have intended, it somehow means that they don’t take the broader discussions around violence and inequality in America seriously either. That they are missing his point. I don’t think that necessarily follows.

Glover’s contribution to this discussion is an important part of our cultural dialogue, but as weird as it may sound, so are these memes. Even when (and perhaps especially when) they are antithetical to the ideas and arguments of the original piece of art. Everyone deals with difficult issues in a different way. Relegating all of this behavior to mere irreverent shitposting that somehow undermines the art is itself is a simplistic view.

Culture is a complicated thing, and we gain nothing by trying to make it so that some parts of it are off limits.