Saturday, January 17, 2015

Donald Glover's Sober: Pinnochio's Perspective

Donald Glover, known more widely by his stage name Childish Gambino, recently released a music video for the single “Sober,” on his Kauai EP and I am ecstatic. Glover, who is also a former writer and actor for the NBC comedy Community, flexes his creative liberties in the simple yet compelling visual. What's resulted is an off-putting display of boy meets girl with an eerie and thought provoking question posed to the audience and artists alike.
I had a very personal connection to the piece initially but it wasn’t apparent to me why it had affected me so deeply. After describing the piece to my colleague however, the subconscious perspective poured out organically without much effort of my own.
In the very beginning, while the setting is being revealed to us in a slow pan you may notice that we’re back in a diner just as we had been in Gambino’s Sweatpants video back in 2014. Although, the two diners are of vastly different interiors with the Sweatpants diner being furnished with nice leather booth seats and classic countertop tables, the restaurant in Sober is simple, barren.  The leather booth style seats have been traded for plastic chairs and tables placed merely for formality's sake since this isn't a place for dining in. This specific change in setting indicates to me, a sort of breakdown or shift in direction, which may reflect the artist's state of mind at the times of production. 
The direction of this particular work is set as soon as our two protagonists, Gambino and the young woman, come into frame. We watch him arise from his seat across the diner to garner her attention any way he can. Gambino mimes the lyrics, using his hands to depict the bounce in the melody, as this very entertaining micro-drama ensues. He dances for her, awkwardly yet effortlessly. It’s as if his joints are attached to invisible strings that tug at their own will. Here he is: a puppet for a woman he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to notice is completely uninterested in his attempts to entertain her.
Does this dynamic not sound familiar?
Don’t most artists who are seeking “success” drive themselves to entertaining a world of uninterested bodies who believe wholeheartedly that it is our purpose to entertain them? 
Don’t most artists believe they wholeheartedly want to entertain (even if they aren’t entertainers)?
After dancing, singing, and attempting something similar to magic tricks, Gambino is finally able to get a rise out of the object of his affection. She’s acknowledged his existence by smiling and stepping to his beat for just a short moment validating his creativity, before simply walking out of his space entirely. This short lived relationship exhibits some parallels to the relationship between the creator and his audience. Once you’ve had your 15 mins of fame (or 15 seconds now thanks to Instagram) the audience you've worked for disappears as if they had never been there at all, robbing you of the fulfillment you were seeking all along. An artist’s relevance could plummet at any moment that someone new enters the scene; but what are we to do?
What’s interesting to me is that Gambino handles this by placing himself back in the position from which he can always repeat this process. At the end of the piece, he returns to his original seat and slumps back into the skewed posture that he had sprung from; a stance that many of us are currently molded into, ourselves. 
How does one cope with impending career death? What if your career is the one thing that you love most? What boundaries do you think you could cross if your dream was at stake?
Perhaps Childish Gambino has figured it out. Maybe the secret is to continuously make yourself available to the world: sitting slumped in the same place where you found your audience originally. It may be abandoned most days but at some point some pretty young lady has to walk in and lend you the eyes you had so patiently waited for all along.

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