No one should be blown away by the fact that the massively viral music video for “This Is America” and the Emmy Award-winning TV show Atlanta have a lot in common. After all, they share a star, Donald Glover, and a director, Hiro Murai. But, as seen in this new video from YouTuber Thomas Flight, these pieces of media share so many stylistic and subtextual similarities that they may as well be two parts of a larger work. That larger work exemplifies what Glover and Murai do best—use their art to both entertain and convey a social message.
Ultimately, the biggest element these two have in common is their use of juxtaposition. As we’ve previously written about, “This Is America” positions celebratory entertainment on the same stage as violent mayhem, while drawing the audience’s focus only to the former. Throughout Atlanta, humorous situations are placed in the context of the characters’ dangerous surroundings, particularly in the more violent Robbin’ Season. By putting these two tonal opposites side-by-side, both the show and the music video force the audience to think about their enjoyment of one (dance memes, jokes) and conscious ignorance of the other (racism, police brutality).
Similarly, the surrealist moments and dream logic that have become synonymous with Atlanta are used to break the audience out of their comfort zone and force them to mentally reframe what it is they’re seeing. Surrealism is more common in the music video format, but that doesn’t make the use of it in “This Is America” any less jarring. In the end, what Glover and Murai manage to do is fix the exact problem they see in America—our short attention spans. By presenting their social commentary in new and interesting ways, they draw audiences in and force them to make the connections themselves.
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