Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’: Explainer Culture goes into overdrive

It’s never been easier to read way too much into things thanks to the modern web

Childish Gambino’s This Is America: on Twitter, we saw hundreds of long, detailed threads attempt to untangle all the symbolism and allusions in the music video

Childish Gambino’s This Is America: on Twitter, we saw hundreds of long, detailed threads attempt to untangle all the symbolism and allusions in the music video

 

Everyone knows the true joy of internet fandom is no longer just being exposed to culture you never would have otherwise discovered, it’s the near limitless potential it gives you to slalom into an endless spiral of fan theories, easter eggs and hidden details behind those things you already love. 

So, after catching a new song, movie or episode, we can shift our cursors one video to the right and click 6 Secrets You Missed or 13 Things You Didn’t Catch. There are also efforts like “Westworld The Man In Black Secret Meaning What You Need To Know” and their ilk, which are perfectly optimised wording for search engines, but sound like their author pitched the headline at gunpoint.

So popular now is the practice of fan speculation, that HBO staff reportedly scan Westworld subreddits just to assess their contents for proof of leaks or inside info.

Ed Harris in Westworld. So popular now is the practice of fan speculation, that HBO staff reportedly scan Westworld subreddits just to assess their contents for proof of leaks or inside info. Photograph: John Johnson
Ed Harris in Westworld. So popular now is the practice of fan speculation, that HBO staff reportedly scan Westworld subreddits just to assess their contents for proof of leaks or inside info. Photograph: John Johnson

Genius.com, once a standard lyrics website for hip-hop fans to quibble over exact wordings, is now a platform through which the collective hive mind – and sometimes the artist themselves – break beloved works down, line by line in incredible detail.

Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the numerous reactions to Childish Gambino’s This Is America, the video of which featured a shirtless Donald Glover sashaying – and occasionally murdering – his way around a warehouse, while chaos reigns all around him. Released during his SNL episode, it’s a perfect lens through which one can view the evolution of Explainer Culture.

Symbolism

On Twitter, we saw hundreds of long, detailed threads attempt to untangle all the symbolism and allusions, from the clear references to the Charleston shooting in the shot of a choir being killed, to more obscure pulls like his stance being similar to that of Jim Crow caricatures of the American south.

Viewed 80 million times in its first five days, This Is America was, more tellingly, the fastest song to ever reach a million Genius page hits. There, you’ll find no less than 18 separate contributors for the dense, richly detailed, section on its opening six lines alone.

Whether investigating an overtly symbolic work like This Is America or  the labyrinthine plot of a show that’s basically about robot cowboy sex dolls, Explainer Culture is the new internet. The urge to plumb pop culture’s hidden depths is unmistakable as it is unshakeable; when each click makes us feel like the dogged amateur detective, each scroll through our timeline another length of red yarn connecting the photographs in our garage.

It’s never been easier to read way too much into things. The trick of the modern web is to make us feel every bit the genius when we do.

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