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Tirade of the Week


2.7.99

A Good Face Forward?

I haven't yet seen the new WB claymation comedy THE PJs, but given all the controversy surrounding it, I feel I have to watch it now. Yes, THE PJs is the new target of political correctness, and anything that's not PC has my vote.

Co-produced by Eddie Murphy, who also does voice work on the show, THE PJs is said to be (I say "said to be" because I haven't seen it yet) a gritty and raucous comedy set in the projects. According to an AP story, the show features, among other things, a crack addict, an elderly tenant who eats dog food, and much consumption of malt liquor. And, oh yes, the characters are mainly black. Some would say the show honestly depicts life in the projects yet finds humor in it, too. After all, it's a comedy.

Others are not so sanguine. Spike Lee has said, "I'm not saying we're above being made fun of...but it's really hateful, I think, towards black people. Plain and simple." Jesse Rhines, assistant professor of political economy at Rutgers, said "I don't think it painted a very salutary picture of African-American culture. I don't know whether or not this series could serve to benefit blacks or push blacks toward improving their condition -- except the ones who are tied to the program and are profiting from it financially."

Not having seen the show, I still need to say to these guys, "Chill the fuck out." It's a television show. It's a Claymation comedy. Jesus. I could see if the show were done by all white people, but it's by and large a creation of black people. So...what's the problem? Black artists fought white people for the right to free expression; now they have to fight other black people too?

I'm white, so I may be out of my depth here, but I look at it this way. Sometimes you just wanna sit down and fuckin' laugh. Stereotypes? Who cares as long as they're funny and have a grain of truth in them? (The grain of truth makes it funnier. Stereotypes that aren't based in anything real are offensive.) If I were a black writer with an irreverent sense of humor, I'd be saying, "Why can't we have our own BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD? Some brothers are just ignorant-ass motherfuckers sometimes -- why can't we show that?" And I would resent Spike Lee or Jesse Rhines -- or Bill Cosby, for that matter -- expecting me to Uplift the Race. Fuck that! I just wanna make people laugh after a hard day at work, so have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up, nigga! Yeah, if I were an irreverent black guy, that's what I'd say.

Bottom line. Not every single work of art or entertainment made by black people is obligated to "push blacks toward improving their condition." I mean, how limiting is that? Did THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY serve to push white people toward improving their condition? No. But whenever the black equivalent of THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY rolls around -- whether it's THE PJs or BOOTY CALL -- it gets jumped on, held to a higher standard than any other entertainment. Isn't that just another kind of racism? Black entertainment has to be a good face forward; it should help black people be all they can be; it should always be polite and dignified ... basically, black entertainment should be a butler?

And this extends to other oppressed people trying to do their art honestly. Gay writers are zapped by gay activists for perpetuating queeny stereotypes. Female writers are hammered by feminists for putting feminism back thirty years. (If someone like Ellen Cleghorne comes out with a black ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, will Toni Morrison lambaste it?) Asians and Hispanics have tried to do stuff on TV, but sitcoms with Paul Rodriguez and Margaret Cho felt so cautious, as if pressure groups were combing each script, that they weren't all that funny.

There are serious people of all races, creeds, genders, sexual orientations. And to counter them, there are also silly people. Class clowns. People who love to laugh and love to make others laugh. These people bug the shit out of the serious people. Spike Lee used to be something of a class clown himself -- remember Mars Blackmon? Or his glue-sniffing thief in CROOKLYN? Bill Cosby has attacked many black sitcoms, but I'd love to hear him defend LEONARD PART 6 using the same standards he expects other black entertainers to rise to. It's, "My shit is funny, your shit is hateful toward black people." Yeah, whatever.

If you are not free to laugh at yourself, then you are not truly free. Maybe that's the deal.