A friend of mine has been championing the idea that there’s a difference between Art and Propaganda. We have differed over where to draw the line between the two, but I have been considering the idea of the distinction. The difference between Art and Propaganda is a subset, or a consequence, of the difference between Reality and Ideology. In short: Art mirrors Reality; Propaganda mirrors ideology. It is with this distinction in mind that I’m considering Childish Gambino’s runaway hit This Is America.
To properly consider this, we need to distinguish the response to the video from the video itself. We are culturally primed to respond to propaganda, and even if we disappoint our programmers sometimes, the society as a whole retains its quality as a propaganda magnifier. As marketers, advertisers and people in the business of news have all learned, the game is played by framing things in such a way as to threaten and feed insecure people terrified that they don’t belong. So, just because everything tends toward propaganda within our culture, that doesn’t mean that thing itself is propaganda.
Of course, the media industries are virtual ministries of propaganda, existing in a vast labyrinth where intelligence agencies cavort with creative dreams and a more mundane hunger for obscene wealth. (Sybaritic treats are the lingua franca in this economy.) So, it seems to me overwhelmingly likely that This Is America is Propaganda, in that it mirrors an ideological vision of the world, rather than the complex, black-and-white-defying, reality that is.
I have other stuff to do, though, so I’m not going to try to decide the case – at least not right now. You’re welcome to do so in the comments.