Two important cultural events happened last night. One, the actor, writer, singer, rapper Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) released the video for his new track "This Is America" while hosting Saturday Night Live; and, two, Glover's role in the Saturday Night Live skit "A Kanye Place," a spoof on the box office hit A Quiet Place. The two are connected.
The music video, which Hiro Murai—a Japanese director who has worked with Glover and other cutting-edge black musicians—directed, addresses the state of black America today. Unchecked or unpunished police brutality, mindless materialism, mass shootings, and the hyper-commodification of black creativity and black forms of joy, the large profits of which almost never return to the producers. Glover's whole body and manner of movement recalls that of Charlie Chaplin's, in that Glover seems to be receiving shocks from his black-hating and money-mad society. (The theorist Susan Buck-Morss described this kind of movement as a “mimetic shock absorber.”) This is a body that can feel no rest in America; it's constantly agitated: "This is America/don't catch you slipping..."
The SNL skit, of course, shows that the end of Kanye's surprise support of Trump is to make him a part of what appears to be the only game in town, Trump TV. This show currently dominates two major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. It has made a rock star of Rachel Maddow. The purpose of Trump TV is to mop up as much attention as possible. And if one sees the show in this truer light, there's no way one can say it has been a failure. Far from it. Few shows in our age are as spectacular as Trump TV. Indeed, a whole labor revolution in Red States has been missed by the American public because of this 24-hour show. And that's the point of "A Kanye Place." Americans can't focus on things that matter, and this constant state of distraction has made their democracy vulnerable.
In the "This Is America" video, there is no distraction. What is important isn't only in the background but also in the foreground. One must match Glover's words with the ever-changing expressions of his face and body. His message is simple: this shit was here before and, the way things are heading, will still be here after the end of Trump TV.