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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Joke That Flew Over Their Heads

I don't watch television often, but I do, on occasion, watch the Daily Show.  For those of you who aren't aware, the Daily Show is a news program relies on satire.  It approaches things that most people avoid in polite society.  It paints the serious, terrifying occurrences in our world with humor meant to help the viewer recognize how insane most political 'dialogue' is.

Many people don't like the Daily Show because the jokes require thought, objective reasoning, an awareness of people besides oneself, and a dedication to dark humor that is beyond some people's capacity.  That was the case with this particular episode segment.


Reading the comments section of this particular clip unfortunately led to a long analysis about the state of our culture, racism, sexism, and lack of awareness.  On the internet, many people are their worst possible selves, the most honest because they think there will be no repurcussions.  Because the comments sections on a few websites featuring the clip, I started to examine the things said using my knowledge of statistics, psychology, and experiences with racial prejudice. 

Most of the majority that claimed that the episode wasn't funny, that the new correspondent "should be fired", and called the segment "awkward and painful" were White males.  I wasn't surprised because it has been statistically proven that those with privelage in a hegemonic power system are more likely to be inter-culturally insensitive.

There was also a number of people who passively didn't get the joke, but defended the comedian.  The, "Give the guy another chance." sorts of folks.  Many of them were of minority backgrounds or women, but there were also still, a decent number of White males- which is commendable in its own way.

But, there were only a few people who not only got the joke, but where also able to defend the Daily Show and the correspondent properly...about 5% of ALL the commenters who responded to this clip on the digital media websites I visited.  Of that 5%, all of them were minority or minority AND female.  Ok.  Most of them were minority AND female.

That's what bugs me.  In this day and age, many Americans are quick to label themselves 'color-blind' and 'humanist'.  They claim that they don't see the differences between minorities and women as a problem.  However, this blindness isn't to the insignificant details that make people different, like skin-color and hair texture or gender.  The blindness that people are creating is a culturally enforced insensitivity that is fueled by stereotypes, ignorance, and entitlement.  They think that because they don't actively say and do horrible things, they aren't racist.  However, they continue to dwell in the offensive, bias, and close-minded stereotypes that make life for minorities and women difficult.  It's this sort of blindness that causes people to believe that dressing up in blackface, that telling a woman to go back to the kitchen is funny, and that using the N-word is fine because we now have a Black president.  It's insidiously evil.

Why?  Because it makes it ok to ignore the things that make us different and worse, allows racial biases and harmful stereotypes to perpetuate and defend themselves with 'you're being hypersensitive', 'Well, I have ____ friends you  know!', and the ever dreaded, 'I'm not trying to be racist/sexist but...'.    All of them seek to diminish one's right to be offended by someone applying stereotypes to others.  They make it impolite to insist that one isn't being treated fairly by claiming 'blind'.  They make it wrong to be upset when things like, 'you're so well-spoken for a _____ person', 'You're into robotics? I thought you'd be into, like fashion design.', and 'Who are you?  O-oh..  From the phone interview I was expecting you to...uh...' come out of people's mouths. 

And that is why I'm going to explain the joke of this particular Daily Show clip, so we can do away with this particular bit of color-blindness and move on with being truly accepting of one another and appreciating good humor and a satire of the values we claim, but have not actually achieved.

Michael Che is one of 4 black comedians invited to act as correspondents on the Daily Show since the show's pilot.  1 of 4... out of nearly 100.  Might I remind you that the Daily Show began airing in 1996.  The others performed in expected comedic fashion- buffoonery, self-depreciating jokes, etc.  But Che delivered his well-informed report in complete deadpan, with all seriousness, in a truly professional, flawlessly polished demeanor.  Jon Stewart and especially Aasif Mandvi immediately reacted by being uncomfortable and even stated that Che's obviously the most informed person there and that he should 'stop making the rest of us look bad'.  He's told to 'lighten up' and 'make it funny'.

That was the joke.  The joke wasn't the deadpan delivery or even the fact that this comedian 'failed' to deliver the news like all the others. The joke, was in the spirit of the Daily Show's dedication to irreverently using satire to expose biases.  It took one of the most damaging of all stereotypes and ground it right in the viewer's face.  It drew it out and let them marinate in it until it made the whole thing viciously uncomfortable.  Because that's how you feel when you're faced with that kind of situation.

For those of you who aren't aware, African Americans are among the least likely to be hired for professional jobs because the stereotype is that they're are lazy, violent, and unreasonable.  Those who manage to claw their way into these positions do so by being impeccably polished at all times or by pretending to be completely stupid.  There are even some minority bloggers who have advised that you keep your smarts to yourself to avoid being seen as a threat and becoming the black sheep of the office.  They squeeze themselves into a non-threatening mold made of educational accolades, work experience, and copious references, or they dumb themselves down to keep people from being scared of them. Women have to do the

They become chameleons, turning off their culture to appeal to a 'color-blind' world.  In the instances where this drive motivates Blacks and other minorities to exceed expectations, it becomes another sort of dangerous game.  You can't outshine your majority counterparts too much or they'll start to see you as a threat and say, 'You're making us look bad,' 'Lighten up', and 'make it funny'.

That was the joke.  A professional minority male in a position where he expects that he must be twice as good to be as good and he's thrown a curveball as his co-workers reveal themselves to be a bunch of light-hearted goofballs who have no clue why he is the way that he is.  They aren't mean about it, they just don't understand it and more importantly, they want him to STOP... because he's making them look bad.

The sad thing is, that the effects of stereotyping are not restricted to just African Americans.  Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and many others suffer similar struggles as stereotypes label their dark skin as 'bad' or 'ugly' and seek to pigeonhole them in little boxes of 'acceptable careers' for their particular races.  We all know of these stereotypes.  Our lives are influenced by them every single day.  When we become color-blind, we become unaware of when malicious people use these stereotypes to bar our neighbors from jobs, opportunities, and fair treatment.  We become blind to the malice that sexualizes certain races and creates expectations that are unreasonable.  We become racist...without knowing it.

There's also an unexpected, secondary joke at play as well.  The fact that the majority of the people who understood the joke ... were female.  Society is quick to tell us that women aren't funny.  Women aren't witty.  Women are supposed to sit there and laugh even if it's not amusing.  They are supposed to never outshine their male co-workers.  You can either be a bitch, overlooked, or a ditz.  There's no other option for women.  Sad, considering that women have proved that they can do the things that men can, sometimes better- even humor.  It was mostly women who got the joke, found it to be funny because it is a truth that they have lived, and could express compassion.  Think about that.

When I saw the individuals who didn't get the joke and thought about those few who did, I wondered if, in some small part of their hearts, they simultaneously gave a cry of anguish in light of their reality and breathed a sigh of relief because they saw that they weren't hypersentive and that their experiences were real.

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