Sunday, July 25, 2010

Follow-up Fridays

So we're bringing back our old friend Follow-up Fridays. That's where I comment on your comments. Because like I said in my last post I have more to say about the Swagger Wagon video and some of the comments/questions that were posed. Maybe I should change the subtitle of my blog from, Thoughts on race and inequality in America to Thoughts on the Swagger Wagon commercial . Ha ha, just kidding.

So my white friend JD asked me,

What do you think of the white dude in SNL who plays President Obama? Surely there's some makeup involved, but it doesn't seem as offensive as the second video.

I don't have a problem with that guy. His Obama impression has definitely improved; would everyone agree? I wonder if he really does the best Obama, or if they didn't pick another white guy from the cast because it would have required more makeup. Or how maybe having more than one black person on the cast might give them more options when it comes to parodying black celebrities. Not much of a resemblance between Kenan Thompson and Tiger Woods, am I wrong?

But one thing that stood out for me when I was watching that minstrel show video was just how unoffended I was by those two guys. Which to me showed that for me, it's not really about the black's about something else. Another thing that I noticed was how I didn't know any of the people that they mentioned when they were talking about the great minstrel shows of yore (exception: Al Jolson,) it's like that part of history has just been erased and we (people my age,) know almost nothing about it.

My Asian-American friend weezermonkey asked me:

Did you catch the MTV Movie Awards? How would you classify Aziz's character Taavon?

To answer your first question: Of course I watched the Mtv Movie Awards! I am a pop culture slor!

For those of you not in the know, Taavon was a character that host Aziz Ansari created. He was a "swagger coach" and did a little tape piece and also accepted an award as this character. If you want to watch him in action, you can click on the video below.

To answer your second question weezer, I thought this character was really funny. There were two major reasons why. First, Aziz Ansari is not white. Unfair, I know-- but him being not white I think gives him more leeway. It's like, since he has probably experienced racism in his own life, he is less likely to perpetuate it than someone who never has. I'm not saying this is an actual true statement, it's just what my brain thinks.

The second and more important reason that I thought Taavon was funny is because I am familiar with Mr. Ansari and his comedy. I know that he appears to have a true appreciation of hip-hop culture, and that he also addresses a lot of racial issues in his standup. I also know from watching his standup that he has a google alert on his name, so maybe this blog post will come up the next time he checks, and then he can see this message: I'm a big fan! Leave me a comment!

But having this information about Aziz is important because it helps put the clip into a context. And I think it also helps to further pinpoint what the problem for me was with the Swagger Wagon video. With Aziz, it's like look how well I can imitate a person from hip-hop culture, whereas with the couple in the minivan video the whole joke lies in how poorly they were able to do it. It's like "Look at how lame we are--isn't this funny?"

I can see the point that both Moufbreatha and john C made about the juxtaposition between the uncool minivan and the coolness of hip-hop culture. And I agree that it can be funny to try to make something unhip hip by associating with something edgy. But what unnerved me was this element of mockery that existed in the swagger wagon video. There was no attempt to say, "Actually we are cool even though we drive a minivan and we do have actual swagger--watch us demonstrate it." Like with Aziz. Or to use an example with actual white people, the Lazy Sunday video from SNL:

Those guys are working it. It comes from an understanding of what they are parodying, and they are able to rap about cupcakes and matinees with conviction; just like Kanye West is able to rap about working at the GAP.

To use another example: The Beastie Boys. I don't really know what they rap about because I think they kind of suck, but they have had long careers and everyone would agree that they treat rap/hip-hop with some level of respect.

I have always wondered why white people laugh if a comedian of color talks about how uncool they are. Chances are, if a white comedian makes fun of people of color, the people of color are not going to be yuk-ing it up. Has anyone else ever noticed that?

This is what I told my husband: I think the reason that white people laugh so freely about being dorky is because at the end of the day, in our society being cool isn't really that important. What is important? Having enough money to buy a minivan. Going to college. Being happily married and having tea parties with your kids. And many white people are very good at those things, so it is easy to have a chuckle at your own expense when someone talks about how you have an overbite when you dance, or are a little too friendly with your dogs.

Remember those articles that I linked to about the disparities in so many important, significant areas of life (education, criminal sentencing, infant mortality) between blacks and whites? No one made any mention of them. I wonder what that's about? Those disparities are not funny, they're real. And not much has changed with them since those Amos and Andy guys were painting their faces mocking black people. As my favorite Kenan Thompson SNL character would say:

OOoooh Weee! What's up with that? What's up with that? What's up? With that?


  1. You are so on point re Taavon/Aziz! I think the distinction you drew between Swagger Coach and Swagger Wagon is absolutely correct.

    And, yes, I'm with you re a minority imitating another minority. I'm not sure how I can justify it, but I feel exactly the same way.

    BTW, Fred Armisen isn't your typical white guy. He's half Venezuelan, a quarter Japanese, and a quarter German.

    Thus, by the same logic above, I feel just fine re his Obama impressions!

    Of course, I like him because he guest-starred on one of the episodes of Parks and Recreation that my brother wrote. :)

  2. Anonymous7:36 PM

    I think your last paragraph (rather, second to last) deserves a full post to itself.

    PS Weezermonkey, interesting about Fred Armisen.

  3. While I never got the minstrel show vibe from the swagger wagon video (I recommend you watch all of those commercials), I DEFINITELY agree with you about the underlying meaning of "I'm white, therefore I'm uncool" jokes at large. I've always read it as a condescending way of throwing black people a bone, and relegating blacks to an area which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't matter. It's really saying, "OK fine, you're better suited to entertain us all. I'm too busy running things anyway."

    Conversely, anything that seemingly challenges that position of real authority is regarded as DEAD SERIOUS. That's when you hear terms such as "reverse racism" thrown around, and whites are portrayed as the victims of multiculturalism, dreading the rapidly approaching day when they are a minority.