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College Humor Blows This Whole “Racism” Thing Wide Open

Gabe Delahaye | January 26, 2009 - 1:11 pm

College Humor put out a new video today that is just terrible. It’s a “gangsta” version of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, because, you know, FINALLY!

The video has ushered in a race-based Tumblr critique. MadeUpMemories writes:

I feel like this comes from a really bad place, and I don’t respect it. [I’m not calling anyone at CHTV a racist; what I’m saying is that they know not what they mock, and are doing it in poor form.] Gangsta rap is so easy to make fun of – just look at how funny they are with their guns and rolled-up pant-legs, their ridiculous ‘bling’ and anti-white talk! – and yet, the gang at CollegeHumor manages to screw it up so badly…and with so little charm. It is a caricature of a caricature of black culture from 1991.

This is no Lazy Sunday, which worked so well because Magnolia cupcakes and nerd-movies would’ve been so foreign to someone like Eazy-E and, yet, Parnell and Samberg rapped it with the same conviction as the LAX-con. This, however, is a two-minute refresher course in blackface, with stereotypes presented as jokes. There’s no nuance here. No thought, either. It is, in essence, a LOOKIT THE BLACK MAN DANCE FOR US video.

To which MoneyCashHos responds/adds:

I agree with what Jeff says, and while it’s easy to dismiss this sort of race-based criticism as people being oversensitive or taking a joke too sensitively, that also seems like a really easy cop out that’s meant to justify some shortsighted thinking.

I don’t think anyone’s accusing CHTV of bringing back Black face or whatever, but moreso that there was probably a way to execute something like this without having to make a play on these stereotypes that people have of Black culture that, although there might be some truth to, aren’t ones that need to be mocked in this way. Especially considering that for a lot of the CH audience, unlike the people who create the content, a lot of the kind of “Black people are so ___, and that’s why this is funny” opinions are probably more sincere and mean spirited, and this only provides confirmation to them that the way they think is ok.

I agree with both of these bloggers! But what’s striking to me about this discussion is the NERVOUSNESS that they share about calling something racist. There seems to be a lot of anxiety on the internet these days about being accused of over-sensitivity, or extreme political correctness. The idea is that if you find something unfunny and (more importantly) in poor taste, the problem is not the insidiousness of racism or the tendency of bigotry to work its way into lazy comedy, but rather the critic’s inability to take a joke.

A: False.

There’s a particular brand of apology that springs up around racist humor that I actually find more insulting and dangerous than the comedy itself. Sloppy, ill-conceived, RACIST humor can be criticized and moved past, but the cultural tendency to try and dismiss said ill-conceived, racist humor as “just a joke” suggests a societal disinterest in even dealing with the problem, as if we’re somehow passed it, when we are clearly not.

Obviously, the situation is complicated. And both MadeUpMemories and MoneyCashHos correctly acknowledge that the debate over modern American race relations does not begin, much less end, with this mostly-just-unfunny-more-than-it-is-damaging web video. We’re not dealing with the root of the story here. But it actually isn’t trivial to be talking about this stuff. Especially considering that a certain segment of the population (12-year-old girls, mostly) spends the majority of their day sitting in cubicles searching for the next distraction where they’re being bombarded on a nearly constant basis with messages both overt and implied via the internet. So why wouldn’t we talk about them? Why would they somehow be beneath or outside of critique?

I’m sure that I’ve kept this all in proportion.