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That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

1,436 words

This morning I woke up to the news of another casualty in the culture war. A dusty, 20-year-old skit of late-night comedian and SNL alum Jimmy Fallon donning brown makeup and a wig to mimic African racial features, in a Chris Rock impersonation, went viral. And just like clockwork, Fallon is on Twitter performing the self-flagellation ritual that is demanded of him by the anti-racism Sanhedrin

My first instinct, as I suspect is natural for a race-conscious white male, is to roll my eyes and complain about the hypocrisy of it all, and to wish away the toxicity of “cancel culture” and political correctness. Like most of you reading this piece, I am usually not the least bit offended by humor that parodies white racial stereotypes. Indeed, it is a flaw (yes, I said flaw) of the European character that we are able to laugh at such mockery.

As a matter of fact, this weakness has been exploited for decades by one of the “standard-bearers” of modern western humor, the NBC program Saturday Night Live, the very archives from which the controversial Fallon blackface skit was “uncovered.” It is also no small cohencidence that SNL is produced by one Lorne Michaels, born Lorn David Lipowitz.

When I read the news of the social media outrage directed at Fallon for his transgressions, my thoughts immediately went to the famous whiteface SNL skit that Eddie Murphy performed back in the 80s, “White Like Me.” The humor was irreverent and undeniably funny — perhaps most notably and brilliantly for the way it poked fun of both blacks and whites for stereotypes that underly just enough truth to make them uncomfortable, but at the same time, expose absurdities and assumptions that stretch the truth beyond rational limits.

Allow me to summarize a few highlights of the skit, and illustrate why it cuts both ways. In one scene, our hapless undercover character, “Mr. White,” is seen boarding an NYC bus. In his whiteface stealth, he is accepted as just another busy white New Yorker, and is accompanied on the bus by only one other black. Everyone on the bus is well-behaved and polite, keeping to themselves and following typical white social protocols. The black man gets off at a stop, and when the bus is absent of any blacks other than our hapless “Mr. White,” the white commuters break loose and start dancing to disco music, and one woman removes her stuffy garb to reveal a cocktail waitress outfit and offers Mr. White a drink that he uncomfortably accepts.

In another scene, Mr. White visits a newsstand and offers the appropriate pocket change to the attendant in payment for a newspaper. Alone, without any suspecting blacks to hinder the exchange, the newsstand attendant beckons Mr. White to take the paper without payment, insinuating that this is what whites always do when blacks aren’t around. Again, taken aback, Mr. White leaves the newsstand a little bit wiser to the supposed “privileges” that whites extend to one another in private.

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In another hilarious scene, Mr. White haggles with a black loan officer at a bank over his loan application. No credit, no collateral, no stable work history, the black loan officer is explaining why he must deny Mr. White the loan. Overhearing the exchange, a white bank executive excuses the black loan officer from his desk, and tells him to take a break. When the “coast is clear,” the executive offers Mr. White as much money as he needs, and even tells him there’s no need in paying the loan back.

Of course, all of these interactions are incredulous and absurd. White people don’t get free stuff when blacks aren’t around, just because we are white. Our whiteness doesn’t relieve us of the need for collateral or solid credit history when dealing with a bank. A room absent of blacks doesn’t automatically turn into a cocktail party.

Eddie Murphy artfully used racial humor in that skit, not just to poke fun at stiff, stuffy, prim and proper white society, (in itself a trope) but also to take digs at black assumptions about whites by using extreme, unlikely scenarios that many blacks halfway, if not completely, believe to be true.

But I digress, because I’m allowing for an intellectual and unbiased review of the skit, even offering a positive critique, when my enemies do not afford Jimmy Fallon even the slightest bit of wiggle room. The usual suspects claim that the two skits are incomparable, because “reasons.” The main reason offered is because the Murphy skit was “hard-hitting social commentary,” which of course absolves Murphy of any culpability. Fallon’s skit, along this line of reasoning, was pure hatred, most certainly crafted from the deepest and darkest layers of unfettered bigotry. Because of Fallon’s privilege, he must repent before the altar of social justice, and because of Murphy’s oppression, he must be hindered by no restrictions on his comedic commentary.

A rational (or perhaps naive) mind might question this and suggest that Fallon was being light-hearted, and that fellow SNL alum Chris Rock (who was heir-apparent to Murphy’s role as irreverent black humorist) probably approved of the skit, because it was all in good fun. One might consider that Murphy’s supposed “hard-hitting social commentary” undermines the true purpose of racial humor, which is to trivialize stereotypes instead of politicizing them. Or one might decide that this is all bullshit, and that politicizing either skit or either comedian is a bridge too far.

But this is one area where white people fail miserably and why GOP-approved conservatism is in its death throes. We laugh uncontrollably at Jewish-written-and-produced racial satire such as “The Jerk,” starring another SNL alum Steve Martin (and produced by Rob Reiner’s father, Carl and co-written by Carl Gottlieb), while they rake in millions by attacking white racial weakness, which is our ability to laugh at ourselves. Yet, when the chips are down, who gets dragged through the mud? Will Carl Reiner, his son Rob, or their kinsman Lorne Lipowitz ever suffer or be made culpable? Will they ever offer up their millions as recompense for the harm they’ve caused?

It is becoming ever more clear that we are fighting a losing strategy by “whining” about political correctness. In a perfect world, we would be allowed to laugh at the Richard Pryors, the Dave Chappelles, and the Wayans brothers of the world, without having to sacrifice the Robert Downey Jrs. and Jimmy Fallons on the political correctness altar. But as long as these age-old tribal grievances exist, we will not be afforded that luxury.

Therefore, it is time to stop complaining about political correctness and cut straight to the heart of the matter. Every comedic stunt that mocks whites is a racial attack on whites, even when the comedian performing the gag is white him or herself, or “white,” as it were. We should be unrelenting in our demands that these tropes be disallowed. We should not afford our cultural enemies one inch of ground when they use our weaknesses against us.

This is one area in the culture war where we are sure to lose if we don’t start coming together with like minds. Every stereotype about southerners, “Karens,” Trump voters, incels, etc etc is an attack on white people. It may feel feigned and disingenuous to attack anti-white humor, but is it not obvious that this attack on Fallon is feigned and disingenuous? Isn’t pretty much every “viral” trend on Twitter that galvanizes the Internet “Justice League” a feigned and disingenuous response to the event that transpired?

Every “wow just wow” tweet decrying the oppression of minorities is being proliferated over $1000 smartphones via the WiFi and comfort of an upscale urban coffee shop. Every candid video of a “racist” interaction is recorded with the prior knowledge that the supposed “victim” will be celebrated while the supposed perpetrator will lose their job, their friends, their reputation, and possibly their family.

How can we win this culture war if we continue to rationalize the very weakness that has been weaponized against us?

We can’t. And we must simply stop allowing it and fight back.

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