blog

Feature Menu

Dude it's cool, he's ethnic

You know what, stereotypes are damn funny, and so is making fun of celebrities. The difference here is that one type of humor jabs at an individual, while the other just panders to the most basic, simplest choices of social signifiers, like skin color or eyelids for a quick laugh. Never mind diet.

Then there’s the issue of authority and license, and proprietary humor, and all that jazz. We still play up stereotypes. They’re just delivered by people deemed acceptable to kid around with the material, those we’ve entrusted to re-appropriate the humor, striping much of the tension away so everyone can laugh. Thank god one of them is Fred Armisen, the Portlandia guy who does a wicked Obama impression on SNL. But even he caused a stir initially, playing a darker man. A lot of people don’t know this, but Armisen is not, how do they say it in the census, completely Caucasian. He’s half Venezuelan, and pretty good at playing that up when he needs to. He’s also a quarter Japanese on his father’s side. I’ve never seen him play a Japanese man, but it’s hella funny when he plays a Harujuku chick visiting “Coffee Land”.

Freddy had me dying when I saw a recent SNL skit of Beyoncé (played by the gorgeously mixed Maya Rudolph) and Jay-Z accepting famous visitors eager to meet Blue Ivy. Armisen played Prince and I cried as he stood next to the baby’s crib like a crazed, ephemeral egomaniac, starring out into nothing and everything at the same time. Dearly beloved, is it cool for people of mixed race and ethnicity to caricature other people of color? Kinda, yeah.

Western culture has a spotted past with regards to cultural sensitivity (minstrel show anyone?) And if a bunch of brave souls in the middle of the twentieth century hadn’t decided enough was enough, there’d probably be a lot more ignorant and degrading racial insensitivity going around today.

No one batted an eye when Dave Chapelle played a white newscaster on his deeply missed series. Some people may feel slighted or confused by the fact that, for now, race is still a delicate subject that requires everyone to think before they joke. And not everyone can get away with the same type of humor. But we’ve made a lot of progress, with still a ways to go. Just look at Rob and its horrific and thinly veiled stereotypes of Latin Americans (on second thought, don’t). It’s so not Chico and The Man. In fact, the show’s portrayal of Latinos (often by Latin-American actors) is crude, and rather minstrel, in its own right. Let’s just hope the learning curve is quicker this time around. Maybe we’ll evolve past caring about who spoofs whom and just love our fellow man. And when no one is looking begin to adopt children of various race and ethnicities from impoverished countries around the globe because it’s trendy and they’re the chicest accessory one could ever procure.

In other words, if you can’t get away with race jokes, you’ll always have celebrity mockery. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.