I’ve never been particularly fond of Valentine’s Day, but I do like the great sales on leftover candy afterward.
While I am pro-love and pro-romance, the idea of a commercial holiday intended to boost sales of candy, flowers, and such has long bothered me. After all, the message we are sent is that love is demonstrated by material goods and that more money spent = more love. My view is that while gifts are nice, love is better expressed in more thoughtful and meaningful ways.
Of course, only a fool would fail to get something for his woman on this day:
Gal: “So, what’d you get me?”
Dude: “Well, baby, I realized that spending money on candy and diamonds is to give in to commercialism. That undermines the true nature of love.”
Dude: “I intend to express my love in more thoughtful and meaningful ways.”
Gal: “Uh huh. Well, you’ll be ‘expressing your love’ alone tonight. Throw some blankets and a pillow on the couch-that is where you’ll be sleeping.”
Dude: “I was just kidding. Here are some chocolate covered diamonds.”
Gal: “Now that’s love!”
Christmas is supposed to be the time that people come together and exchange gifts. But, one gift has served to create division.
Chip Saltsman gave out music CDs featuring the parody song “Barack the Magic Negro” as presents to members of the RNC. Not surprisingly, this has not gone over well with some people.
Political satire has a long tradition in the United States and can often be regarded as harmless or at least acceptable humor. Both the left and the right have put out multitudes of comedy songs over the years mocking the other side. It is all part of the game of politics and a legitimate avenue for comedy.
Naturally, there is little (or no) outrage or media drama when comedy songs mock white male politicians. However, the “Barack the Magic Negro” song has stirred up things quite a bit because the song is about Obama. Some folks on the left are outraged because, of course, the left is supposed to be outraged about such things. Some folks in the Republican party are also expressing their outrage at this song and Saltsman’s decision to distribute it.
No doubt, some of the Republicans are honestly upset about the song and Saltsman’s decision. After all, the song can be seen as racist and hence Saltsman could be seen as expressing racist views (or at least bad judgment).
Also without doubt is the fact that some folks in the Republican party are exploiting this for political advantage. Not surprisingly, Saltsman’s political rivals in the party have been leading the charge against him in this matter. After all, this situation provides an excellent means for them to gain an advantage over Saltsman. There is, of course, a certain irony in these Republicans exploiting a situation created by a song popularized by Rush Limbaugh. It is also ironic that Republicans are using racial sensitivity as a piece in a political game.
This situation also raises the issue of whether the song is racist or not. On one hand, the song does include references to race and parodies both Al Sharpton and Barack Obama. The gist of the song is that Sharpton (in the parody) is saying that people will vote for Obama because he is a “magic negro” and not authentically black like Sharpton. As such, the song could be seen as racist and Saltsman’s gift could thus be seen as racist in nature.
On the other hand, the song is relatively tame and could be seen as bringing up the matter of race in a way that is legitimate political satire. In fact, a case could be made that the song is mocking the left for being so concerned about race. If so, it is ironic that some Republicans have become so suddenly concerned about the matter.
I recently heard a bit on the radio about comedy and Obama. The point was raised that white comedians are tending to avoid making fun of Obama out of fear of seeming racist. It was also said that the Obama victory has helped bring greater opportunities for black comedians-they will be needed because they can make fun of Obama without seeming racist. This does raise interesting issues about race and comedy.
I teach a class on Aesthetics and have included a discussion of race and comedy for the past several years. Naturally, when I teach the class this spring we will no doubt be discussing this issue as it relates to Obama.
The general consensus in the class has been that race is quite relevant when it comes to the question of who can make fun of whom and in what manner. Content is, of course, relevant and presumably any comedian could cross the line into racism. Put roughly, I’ve found that the majority of students think that comedians can “mock up and across”, but that “mocking down” is not acceptable. “Mocking up” means to make jokes towards those who are seen, as a class, to have more power. Or, as one student put it, “towards the oppressors.” For example, women making fun of men could be seen as “mocking up” as could blacks making fun of whites. “Mocking across” is to mock other groups that are seen as being at the same level. Obviously, one’s own group would be included here. For example, a Hispanic comedian making jokes about Hispanics or blacks might be seen as “mocking across” because Hispanics and blacks are seen as being oppressed by whites. “Mocking down” has often been seen as being unacceptable by my students, mainly because such humor can be seen as part of the tools of oppression. For example, it might be regarded as belittling or condescending.
In contrast, “Mocking up” can be regarded as an act of defiance against the oppressor classes and “mocking across” could be seen as comradely. Obviously enough, this sort of view takes the notion of oppressors and oppressed very seriously (even in comedy).
This view does have some plausibility. However, the fact that Obama is the President elect does change the power dynamic. Any comedian making fun of Obama would be “mocking up”, unless the comedian also happens to be a world leader as well. In this case, she would be “mocking across.” As such, it would seem to be fine for white comedians to make fun of Obama.
Then again, it might be the case that the direction of mocking (up, down or across) depends not on the individuals but the status of the classes they belong to. Since Obama is black, for white comedians to make fun of him would be “mocking down” because whites as a class are above blacks as a class on the power curve. So, until blacks and whites are on equal footing, white comedians will need to be careful in what they say about Obama (and the next black President).
Race can also be taken to matter in ways other than in terms of classes and power. I have heard people argue that it is acceptable for the members of one race to make fun of their own race, but not others. This has often been based on the view that a person cannot be racist to his own race. For example, David Alan Grier can present comedic pieces on Chocolate News based on black stereotypes without being racist because he is black. Some people extend this privilege to all minorities in terms of comedians from one minority making jokes about another minority. Not surprisingly, whites are fair game for everyone.
Of course, it seems obvious that a person can be racist towards his own race and that being in a minority is not proof against racism. This can easily be shown. Imagine you heard someone expressing all the hateful stereotypes about blacks and his hatred of blacks. You would no doubt think “what a racist.” But, suppose when you saw him, he turned out to be black. Would you then say, “well, I guess he is no racist after all”? Obviously not. Naturally, I have in mind the fictional blind black racist from the Chapelle Show.
In the case of why a minority can be racist, simply imagine that the white population became a minority and that people in the Ku Klux Klan and other such groups still held the views they do now. It would be absurd to say “well, since whites are a minority, the KKK is suddenly not racist.” Mere numbers, one suspects, is not a decisive factor in defining what is racist.
It might be thought that race provides a person with a special status that allows certain behavior between members of that race that is denied to others. An obvious example is the use of the N-word. I sometimes hear black students using that term when referring to each other and people generally do not take offense (there have been some rather notable exceptions). Obviously, if a white student started throwing the word around, things would be just a bit different. Perhaps the same applies to comedy.
Of course, the view that race grants such special comedic and language privileges does seem to be a bit racist. This is because it is based on the assumption that racial distinctions are real and that people are to be granted certain privileges because they belong to a particular race. So, to think that white comedians cannot make fun of Obama without being racist and that black comedians can safely do so because they are black would seem to be a racist view. After all, race would be the deciding factor rather than the content of the comedy. Obviously, there can be racist comedy-but the color of the comedian should not be the determining factor.
So, everyone should be free to make fun of Obama (within the limits of comedic taste, of course). He is the President of all Americans and we have a God given right to make jokes about whoever sits in that oval office regardless of race, creed or color.
The spring semester is just about to start and soon students will be asking the classic questions.
Q: “Do I have to buy the book?”
A: “Yeah, but if ethics is not a big thing, you can just steal it.”
Q: “Will that be on the test?”
A: “Yes. Every word I say will be on the test.”
Q: “Even what you said about having a husky named ‘Isis’?”
A: “There will be an essay question on that. The stuff I mention about running will be multiple choice.”
Q: “Do you fail a lot of people?”
A: “No. People fail themselves. I merely record that failure.”
Q: “Um, you’re kind of spooky.”
A: “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
Q: “Will that be on the test?”
A: “Yes. Yes it will.”
This past Sunday I woke up at midnight with that most wonderful of things-a sore throat. Not just a bit sore, but the sort of pain one might experience if a crazed porcupine decided to set up housekeeping in one’s throat. Well, perhaps not quite that bad, but rather bad.
Naturally, I had to teach three classes on Monday. If there is anything more fun than a having a sore throat it would be talking for a few hours with a sore throat. Of course, I turned to the healing power of modern medicine. Well, not really a healing power-more like a masking power. As far as I can tell, cold medicine works by confusing your body-you are still sick, but you just don’t care. I understand that is what is like to be a Republican, but I could be wrong.
Since I’m a professor and, in theory, am supposed to present coherent lectures, some might wonder what effect all these medicines had on my teaching. Here is how things have gone this week:
Student: “Do gay penguins go to hell?”
Student: “Is that bad for them?”
Me: “Yes. They are accustomed to the cold so the fires of Hell will be extra uncomfortable for them.”
Student: “That makes me sad.”
Me: “As well it should. But, the penguins only have themselves to blame.”
Student: “Should disobedient children be stoned?”
Me: “Well, the bible is pretty clear on that.”
Student: “That seems harsh.”
Me: “Well, look at it this way. Following that precept will result in fewer people. This means less time waiting in line or trying to find a parking space. Think about that the next time you’re waiting to check out a movie at Blockbuster.”
Student: “I find that intriguing. Tell me more about this idea.”
Me: “Hell, I’m hallucinating again…I’m still in my office and class is 20 minutes away.”
Student: “No, you’re in class now. Um, where are your pants?”
Me: “I think the penguins stole them.”
Student: “Then they should be stoned.”
Me: “You have learned well young Jedi.”
Me: “Thank goodness, it was just a dream. I’m still at home. Hey, where are my pants?”
Me: “Damn penguins.”
And so it goes.