Thursday, March 09, 2006

Good for you, Dave Chappelle

No, I'm actually not talking about Chappelle's return from the wilderness, but rather his decision to no longer use the "n" word in his comedy (and in general, I'm presuming). According to this article on Campus Progress, Chappelle told Oprah that
he was concerned that in using that term and other provocative material in his sketches he was playing the buffoon to his large white audience.

Also, according to the article,
In the interview, Dave distanced himself from some of his edgier racial comedy that caused the dropping of thousands of n-word bombs over the past years.

I say bravo to Dave for a number of reasons. First, I have always been uncomfortable with the use of this deragatory term that has in the past been used by racists. I understand the argument for using the term is so to "reclaim" it from those who disseminated it in the first place, but such campaigns inevitably alienate and divide. Take for instance the small uproar that occurred here at Northwestern last month when the student group who performs the play Vagina Monologues put fliers throughout campus on which there were various unflattering words for vagina written in big, bold letters. Rather than inspiring otherwise like-minded feminists to embrace the word, as was intended, we were divided amongst our ranks, as some made the valid point that the free use of these words legitimizes their use by in this case, men. Also, the Vagina Monologue people opened themselves up for criticism from the right, as can be seen here.

Secondly, I just support the principle that we should not call ourselves epithets which we wouldn't want others of a different race/ethnicity/gender to use towards us. Here's an example from that Campus Progress article of the effects of bring the "n" word back into the lexicon:

Recently, a white teacher at Valley High School in Jefferson County, Kentucky, referred to a black student as a “nigger” or, as the teacher claims, a “nigga,” while asking him to sit down in class. The alarmed student responded by calling the teacher a “nigga” as well. The teacher, who is currently appealing his ten-day suspension, defended his linguistic decision by explaining that the use of the “nigg-a” ending as opposed to the “nigg-er” ending prevented the term from functioning as a racial slur. He went on to argue that several students at the high school use the word as a term of camaraderie and he was using it within that context.

I know that the integrationist ideal can be hard to put faith in when considering our country's history of race-based injustice, but if we look at the policies and people which have most contributed to increased racial harmony, it have been those who encouraged integration. This is to say that integration by no means should mean assimilation (though I believe, for instance, when one immigrates to a country, it is in their own interest to assimilate in certain ways, like learning their new country's language, etc).

Finally, I think shock value comedy has run its course. It's not only those like the old Chappelle who maybe meant well in trying to reclaim a word by uttereing such insulting epithets as part of shock comedy, it's utterly tasteless people like Andrew Dice Clay who employ insulting epithets because supposedly it shocks people and thus makes them laugh. Remember when people had to be clever to be funny (or, make steam come out of your ears, if you were the Three Stooges)?


Anonymous said...

"shock value comedy has run its course" ~ well put ~
i heartily agree with everything you say in this post.

~ harriet

Elaine said...

Thanks, and thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

i respectively disagree. I think shock value comedy has it's time and place, and sometimes people are insensitive and just asshats that pick the wrong time. I, ymyself, often dabble in absurdism. As a waitress it helps the transition between our exchanges less awkward, more friendly, and more smiles.

Thanks for the comparison of the "n word" to the Vagina Monologue incident. It helped put it in perspective for me.