EC HACK: This is America

This is America – Childish Gambino (2018)

Released earlier this year, Childish Gambino’s song This is America was held up as a profound criticism of the American issues of racial tensions, police brutality, and gun violence. What made the song stand out especially was the shocking music video released along with it.

As previously stated, this song alludes to a multitude of modern problems, first beginning with a mention to the level of gun-carrying in the U.S., as well as a statement about the police.

This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ up (ayy)
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry ’em

Continuing on, it becomes very clear that the song is meant to reflect the reality of African Americans today, who are just trying to make their way as anyone else would, but are often criminalized for it:

Grandma told me
Get your money, black man (black man)
Get your money, black man (black man)
Get your money, black man (black man)
Get your money, black man (black man)
Black man (one, two, three, get down)
You just a black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a black man in this world

07-childish-gambino-2.w710.h473What made this song such a statement was the music video that accompanied
it, which puts a lot of the lyrics in context. In the past few years, the news has been flooded with stories about unjustified police brutality against African Americans, in many cases even fatally shooting them without proper cause, and mass shootings on a rampant scale. The music video reflects this in multiple ways. On more than one occasion, at the end of verse, Childish Gambino pulls out gun, murders one or many people in cold blood, and simply drops the gun and walks away, and continues on with the song while the violent scene is cleared. This is a very stark commentary on the way the media handles gun tragedy, among slain individuals and mass shootings. There is a massive shock and an overwhelming call for something to be done, but is dropped a few days later in pursuit of what’s happening next. The insertion of the casual violence in the music video is a direct reference and criticism of this behavior. It’s rather shocking to watch, but completely mirrors the dismissive nature of the media covering these problems. Throughout the video, there is almost always some level of rioting and violence, even involving the police, occurring in the background. It is always out blurry and distant, while the focus remains on the lighthearted dancing and performance of Childish Gambino, yet another commentary on the lack of attention given to the real issues occurring daily.

There are also many clear references to race. The most notable and famous being the stance taken right before the first shooting occurs.Screen-Shot-2018-05-07-at-1.12.12-PM-1525713156-640x469.pngThe stance imitates that of the original Jim Crow, a character from the 1800’s that was created as a caricature of a dimwitted and clumsy slave. Laws were later implemented and known as the Jim Crow Laws, that institutionalized the mistreatment and neglect of the black community in America. Despite these laws being removed decades ago, the systematic oppression and mistreatment of the African American community is something still felt today, and is even put on display by the outrageous number of unjust police brutalities. The closing scene of the video is a frightened Childish Gambino being chased out through the dark by the police, another tribute the fear felt from the force that is supposed to protect and serve

choas

 

Andrews, Evan. “Was Jim Crow a Real Person?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Jan. 2014, http://www.history.com/news/was-jim-crow-a-real-person.

Glover, Donald. “Childish Gambino – This Is America.” Genius, 6 May 2018, genius.com/Childish-gambino-this-is-america-lyrics.

Murai, Hiro, director. Childish Gambino – This Is America (Official Video). YouTube, YouTube, 5 May 2018, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjWnS4cMY.

Featured Image: https://medium.com/@halliwax/three-lenses-for-childish-gambinos-this-is-america-2cdd33989242

Image 1: https://www.vibe.com/2018/05/decoding-childish-gambinos-this-is-america-video-list/

Image 2: http://www.vulture.com/2018/05/what-it-means-when-childish-gambino-says-this-is-america.html

Image 3: https://catharsismagazine.com/2018/05/17/review-childish-gambinos/

HACK 5: Keep Ya Head Up

Keep Ya Head Up – Tupac (1993)

As denoted by Karin L. Stanford in “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Politicallifebuzz-0dc818156887bfebdc0feb1b854c683b-limit_2000.jpg Perspective of Tupac Shakur”, rapper and actor Tupac Shakur was an adamant political activist, and utilized his platform as a performer to share the issues that he and his community faced. In his 1993 song “Keep Ya Head Up”, Tupac acknowledges a lot of the problems faced by his own disadvantaged community, and envisions a society in which the African American community  are not held down by societal constraints.

His lyrics make many references to the struggles of his African American community, and insists they have a lot to offer, and despite the unfair treatment and lack of attention their issues receive, he still cares:

Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots
I give a holler to my sisters on welfare
Tupac cares, if don’t nobody else care
And uh, I know they like to beat ya down a lot
When you come around the block brothas clown a lot
But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up
Forgive but don’t forget, girl keep your head up

The second verse brings to light a large set of issues; gangs and violence, poverty, and drug use. Still by the chorus, he sings to “Keep ya head up, ooh, child, things are gonna get easier…Keep ya head up, ooh, child, things’ll get brighter”.

 Aiyyo, I remember Marvin Gaye, used to sing to me
He had me feelin’ like black was tha thing to be
And suddenly tha ghetto didn’t seem so tough
And though we had it rough, we always had enough
I huffed and puffed about my curfew and broke the rules
Ran with the local crew, and had a smoke or two
And I realize momma really paid the price
She nearly gave her life, to raise me right
And all I had to give her was my pipe dream
Of how I’d rock the mic, and make it to tha bright screen
I’m tryin’ to make a dollar out of fifteen cents
It’s hard to be legit and still pay your rent
And in the end it seems I’m headin’ for tha pen
I try and find my friends, but they’re blowin’ in the wind
Last night my buddy lost his whole family
It’s gonna take the man in me to conquer this insanity
It seems tha rain’ll never let up
I try to keep my head up, and still keep from gettin’ wet up
You know it’s funny when it rains it pours
They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor
Said it ain’t no hope for the youth and the truth is
It ain’t no hope for tha future
And then they wonder why we crazy
I blame my mother, for turning my brother into a crack baby
We ain’t meant to survive, ’cause it’s a setup
And even though you’re fed up
Huh, ya got to keep your head up

In the final few lines of the verse, “We ain’t meant to survive, ’cause it’s a setup”, alludes to the disadvantages felt by Tupac and the African American community, and a large part of the reason for his involvement in political activism. In a 1991 interview, while discussing his newly founded group, the Underground Railroad, Tupac says his goal is, “to get my brothers who might be into drug dealing or whatever it is that’s illegal or who are disenfranchised by today’s society – I want to get them back into by turning them onto music” (Stanford 13). Stanford states that in this era of his life, Tupac used, “his professional, and its accruements to support and implement his political ideas” (12) and by 1993, he was still utilizing this form of activism, but could also be regarded as a “cultural worker” (15). He is especially active when it comes to issues facing the African American community, and is proven true by the forming of his Underground Railroad group, as well as his long standing alliance and participation with NAPO. Through the activism shared through his music, he does prove that “Tupac care, if don’t nobody else care” about these problems.

 

Stanford, Karin L. “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22., doi:10.1177/0021934709355122.

Lyrics: https://genius.com/2pac-keep-ya-head-up-lyrics

Image: https://icreative.am/61455.html

Big Yellow Taxi

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell (1970)

Starting in the 1960’s and carrying into the 70’s, the American public became widely concerned with environmental issues. Released in 1962, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring brought attention to the widespread use of toxic pesticides including D.D.T., and the detrimental effects they will have in the future. The first observance of Earth Day was on April 22, 1970, when around 20 millions protesters marched against environmental pollution. That same year, Joni Mitchell released the song “Big Yellow Taxi”.

The lyrics clearly draw attention to the need to protect the environment, “Don’t it always seem to go, That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone, They paved paradise, And put up a parking lot”. The lyrics also make a plea to “Put away the DDT”, an extremely toxic pesticide, and that “I don’t care about spots on my apples, Leave me the birds and the bees”, people are willing to make small sacrifices to protect the environment’s future.

 

earth-day-founder
April 22, 1970 protest for environmental conservation at Fairmont Park, Philadelphia

 

Image:http://time.com/5242190/earth-day-founder/

Hack 3: Cultural Appropriation in Fashion

In it’s Spring/Summer 2016 fashion show, Valentino put an “Africa-inspired” line down the runway, and came under heavy criticism. The issue isn’t so much that Valentino drew inspiration from another culture, but the way it is portrayed to a massive consumer audience. One of the biggest problems with appropriation, according to Deborah Root, is that “culture itself has become a commodity… today as many in the dominant culture are increasingly uneasy about the emptiness and commodification of mainstream, ‘white-bread’ culture, there are attempts to look elsewhere for meaning and cultural and aesthetic integrity – hence the interest in other cultural, aesthetic, and spiritual traditions”. Producing a show that is described by its own notes as primitive…spiritual, yet regal’ collection was inspired by ‘wild, tribal Africa’”, is problematic because how it is commercialized to a Western audience. All 10 models in the show were white, and wore cornrows. By putting designs heavily influenced by African cultures onto white models, that inspiration becomes commercialized. This show is watched annually by top brands and designers, whose market is consistently the “white-bread”, Western culture that has no real connection to the African culture at all. This show is done for sale, not appreciation of the culture.

As someone who takes a special interest in the fashion industry, it is disappointing to admit that this is something that myself and countless others succumb to often. The accusation of cultural appropriation is something that comes up a fair amount, and designers make the argument that their inspiration must come from somewhere, and that it isn’t necessarily wrong that they draw from other culture’s unique designs. This Valentino show, however, is a poor example of that defense. The blatant description of the line itself, as well as the portrayal of on it on exclusively white models in order to sell to a white-dominated fashion industry, just can’t be overlooked. This isn’t to say that the “tribal-inspired” trend wasn’t played into by consumers, but there is simply no way to defend that these pieces weren’t stolen from a culture and commercialized to appeal to a base that would buy them. I definitely agree that this doesn’t play with the line, it certainly goes too far, but as a regular consumer of fashion I also could be more aware of when it happens on more minute levels, like the recurring trend of tribal patterns for example.

 

Valentino SS16 collection
 A model from the SS16 Valentino show
africa-kenya-masai-mara-july-2-masai-woman-is-showing-traditional-CNRH3P
A Masai woman dressed in traditional garments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chung, Madelyn. “Valentino Accused Of Cultural Appropriation For Its ‘Africa-Inspired’ Fashion Show.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 7 Oct. 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/10/07/valentino-africa-fashion-show_n_8259468.html.

“Conquest, Appropriation, and Cultural Difference.” Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, and the Commodification of Difference, by Deborah Root, Westview Press, 1998, pp. 67–97.

Featured Image: https://www.harrods.com/en-gb/style-notes/shows/paris-fashion-week/valentino-ss16

Image left: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/paris-fashion-week/valentino-spring-summer-2016-collection-pictures/

Image Right: https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-africa-kenya-masai-mara-july-2-masai-woman-is-showing-traditional-47846842.html

Early American Cinema: The Kid

In his debut to dramatic comedy, Charlie Chaplin directs and plays “The Tramp” character in the 1921 hit The Kid. A baby, abandoned by his ashamed mother (actress Edna Purviance), is reluctantly adopted into the Tramp’s care. Over the years, the kid, played by Jackie Coogan, and the Tramp develop their own family, getting into all sorts of antics. All the while the mother who has since shot into stardom, seeks to correct the regretful mistake she made years earlier and tries to track down her lost son. Being so early in the 20’s, the film is largely influenced by the remnants of 1910’s culture, but also gives a preview for what is to come later in the decade. The Kid plays into the lingering remains of Puritan values with a strong emphasis on family, while also setting the stage for the “rags to riches” story that became so popular in the 20’s and furthermore synonymous with the American Dream.

Film of the 1910’s reflected the American Dream as one of self-sufficiency as opposed to one of luxury and wealth. For many, “the American Dream was about stability”4. This version of the dream carries into the culture of the very early 20’s, and into The Kid. The abandonment of the child presents an initially unstable situation. As Chaplin’s character adopts and forms a close fatherly bond with the child, the stability of the situation big_The_Kid_after-separation__457x640_increases, and the audience is allowed to enjoy the comedic antics of this unlikely family. The dramatic element is introduced when the the pair is forcibly separated, creating a once again unstable situation. Stability is brought about once again when they are reunited, and then even more so in the final scene of the film, where the Tramp and the Kid enter the mother’s beautiful home together, seemingly as a traditional family. This escalation from the lowly lifestyle the pair began with to the wealthy ending is also reminiscent of what the American Dream would become throughout the 20’s, the “rags-to-riches” story. As the American economy boomed, “By the mid-1920s many in the working classes experienced modest upward mobility”4, which was largely sensationalized by celebrity culture. Magazines told stories of actor’s humble beginnings, which were rewarded with wealth through hard work. This theme became prevalent throughout the decade, and even in films as early in the 20’s as The Kid. Chaplin, deciding to endure the hard work of raising a child on his own, is eventually rewarded. The film ends with Chaplin and the Kid entering the Woman’s home, but it is assumed by the audience that they live on to have a luxurious life together as a family.

Interpreted in modern context, the three entering a home together doesn’t necessarily insinuate that they all lived a family life together, the boy simply could have been reunited with his mother and that was that. In the context of early 20th century culture however, which is still riddled with pieces of old religious influence, this represents the coming together of family. In short, the conclusion of the film is happy because this is the way a family should be. During what came to be known as “the sexual revolution” of the 20’s, the masses were concerned with the changing roles of women, who were gaining new opportunities in the rising film industry. The lingering Puritan values emphasized self-restraint, especially among women, stating it was even their “biblical duty”1 to care for their husbands and family. Along with the growing concern that, “the sexual revolution encouraged women too much to focus on themselves rather than their family”1, it is only fitting that the female role in the film finds herself back in a TheKid30traditional family setup after her recent launch into stardom. It reaffirms the notion that women should still be women of the family, as opposed to self-seeking. An idea published as early as the 1790’s was still a mass concern, that “Novels not only pollute the imaginations of young women, but likewise give them false ideas of life, which too often make them act improperly; owing the romantic turn of thinking they imbie from their favourite studies”2. The role of The Woman serves as a positive model for women of the time. Despite success in her personal life, she is lost without a completed family, and needs to return to that role in order to complete her happy ending.

There was massive studio criticism when Chaplin first presented the idea of The Kid, but was incredibly well received by its audience3. In addition to being a tear-jerking comedy, the film is an excellent transition of what the American Dream will become as it transition from the 1910’s through the 1920’s; a story no longer of subsistence, but a story of earned success. The alignment with the ever-shifting American Dream of the time made The Kid an instant classic.

Sources

  1. Christineodonnell95. “Family Values.” History 110 Group 2, 2015, history110discussion1.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/family-values/.
  2. Contesting Popular Culture. 2018, blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-4113610-dt-content-rid-82662254_1/courses/HUM370-01-Summer2018/Creating%20An%20American%20Culture.pdf.
  3. The Kid. Dir. Charlie Chaplin. Janus Films (The Criterion Collection), 1921. Kanopy. Web. 19 Jul. 2018.
  4. Sternheimer, Karen. Celebrity Culture and the American Dream: Stardom and Social Mobility. Routledge, 2015.

Featured Image: http://www.movingimage.us/visit/calendar/2012/09/22/detail/the-kid

Image 1: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/films/1-The-Kid

Image 2: http://www.asharperfocus.com/TheKid.html

Hack 2: Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil – September 11, 1998 (USA Release) – Directed by Orson Welles

Touch of Evil, directed by the critically acclaimed Orson Welles, explores the tumultuous racial tensions on the U.S. and Mexican border. When a car bomb explodes on the U.S. side of the border, police agents on both sides are forced to cooperate with one another. Mexican detective Miguel Vargas, played by Charlton Heston, suspects the American police captain Hank Quinlan, played by Welles, of planting false evidence. His suspicion uncovers a long history of corruption in Quinlan’s department, and he must ultimately pay the price.

This overarching theme of this movie is the racial tensions between the officers across the border, so the film is dominated by seemingly good, well-to-do police officers, always dressed in a uniform or suit. The two women that are in the film contrast each other drastically, and their physical appearance makes a comment about the racial disparities the film revolves around.

Susie, played by Janet Leigh, is Vargas’s soon-to-be wife. She is a blonde, pretty, all
American girl who very well embodies the “good girl” persona that Williams discusses. Her facial features are very delicate, like she could hurt no one at all. During the horrific touchofevilphonescene where she is unconsciously tied to the hotel bed by Quinlan, she awakens to see the body Quinlan has just strangled with his bare hands, and screams much like one would expect from a horror film. She is the only character in the film that becomes frightened in such a way, which corroborates with Williams claim that “the female victim shares the spectacle along with the monster”(5), when it comes to terror. She is framed for the murder of the man who was dead in her room when she awoke, thus victimizing her even further.

Tanya, by contrast, would take on the “bad girl” persona. Played by Marlene Dietrich, Tanya runs a brothel in the Mexican town right over the border. Her hair and skin are much darker than Susie’s, she is always smoking and wearing heavy eye makeup, and always appears to know a secret, but very self-possessed and overall a pretty strong
female character. Her association with a brothel implies a certain deviancy and “dirty” touchofeviltanyaside that doesn’t appear in Susie. The contrast between the female characters is meant to play on the discrepancy in perception of American and Mexican women. The good and bad girl personas are expertly utilized in this film because that is exactly what the audience wants to see.

Both women can be considered what Williams would call passive characters, neither make take any significant action to alter the story. Susie is kept at the whim of the men around her, which makes her appear subjective, a key feature of horror victims. She is the only woman to wear lingerie or expose skin in a seductive manner, but she is still considered the American “good girl” in the film. This would make a character in another film the “bad girl”, but not in contrast to the other female role. Tanya remains in her coat and jewelry throughout, she is still a passive character but a strong stable character nonetheless, and yet is the “bad girl” due only to her business association. This forces one to consider race at the deciding factor, contributing to the film’s initial goal.

 

Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess
Author(s): Linda Williams
Source: Film Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Summer, 1991), pp. 2-13 Published by: University of California Press

 

Featured Image: http://thefilmspectrum.com/?p=18546

Image 1: http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/2007/07/a-touch-of-jane.html

Image 2: https://www.filmcomment.com/article/touch-of-evil-orson-welles/