Sunday, March 27, 2016

ALL Lives Matter, Chris Rock

Even though it's been a while since I've posted on here, there's something that's been nagging at me for a while, and it's worth discussing in any case.  And that's last month's Academy Awards ceremony, and its handling of the controversy surrounding the lack of African-American nominees.

In the context of controversies such as this one, I'm not a huge fan of boycotts.  To me, boycotts only have power when they have the effect of taking power out of the hands of the people whose actions you are protesting.  That's why, for example, economic boycotts are the most effective kind, because they hit people where they can hurt the most--in their pocketbooks.  On the other hand, boycotting an event, such as an election (Bernie Sanders fans, take note), simply means that you're not there to influence an outcome you may have to live with for a long time.  It's less of a meaningful protest and more of a temper tantrum.

So I was glad the Chris Rock was going to host this year's Oscar telecast.  Better to have someone there who can take on the controversy with no-holds-barred jokes and satire, than to have someone who would try to largely paper it over, so that the only meaningful sign of the controversy at the event is a few empty seats.  And, on that count, Chris Rock did deliver.  And, for the most part, the live audience at the ceremony loved it.

Unfortunately, with Chris Rock or, for that matter, with any comedian who lives to push the proverbial envelope, the envelope sometimes gets shredded.  Take, for example the segment in which he interviewed moviegoers coming out of a multiplex in a largely African-American neighborhood, and asked them about various nominated movies and people.  The joke was supposed to be that none of these people had ever heard of them, based supposedly on the larger "truth" that blacks go only to "black" movies, while whites only go to "white" movies.

Really, Chris?  You've been to every screening of "Brooklyn" and found not a single African-American? You've been to every screening of "Straight Outta Compton" and not found a single white person. When it comes to our moviegoing, we're all just trying as hard as we can to re-create South Africa in the old days?  Says who?  Based on what?  Do you even understand that you're just doing more to divide us?  Aren't we divided enough without that?

And, as if that wasn't enough, there was that ridiculous skit involving the introduction of "auditors" from Pricewaterhousecoopers--three Asian children, one with a Jewish name.  Great.  Not only do we have, trotted out for our amusement, the stereotype of super-smart-in-math Asians, but we get the Jewish "moneychanger" stereotype thrown in for good-or-bad-measure.  And Chris, seemingly aware of how squirm-worthy the moment was, made it more so by saying that, if you were uncomfortable with the joke, just remember that kids like these build your cell phones.

Which made his shouting out of the "Black Lives Matter" slogan at the end of the telecast utterly powerless.  Black lives matter, ultimately because all lives matter.  You can't fight the hard bigotry that African-Americans face with the soft bigotry of so-called "positive" stereotypes about other ethnic groups.  Stereotypes of any sort demean and debase us all, by preventing us from looking at individuals and treating them with individual respect.  Not all Asians or Jews are good at math, just as not all African-Americans are good at basketball.  And yes, we do watch movies outside of our experience--because we are all hungry to learn more about the experiences of others.

Shame on you, Chris, and the writers who thought that these jokes and skits were funny.  They were not.  They did not bridge the awful divide in this country that only seems to get bigger with each passing day.  I fear that they may only have helped to make it larger.

But come back next year and try again.  And next time, try to find ways to make all of us laugh at the same time.

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