Laughter and Oppression
New York Times, July 6, 2033
by Janae Acharya-Ramirez Bhae-Bher Cohen*
Dr Cohen directs the Historical Rectification Program at Harvard University’s School of Justice and Reconciliation
Every elementary school student knows the role of the minstrel show and blackface in maintaining White Supremacy in Old America. The pernicious effects of minstrelsy are still evidenced today, as we struggle to finally render economic equality through the Justice and Reconciliation Act of 2030.**
Thus the inherent problemicity in minstrelsy’s satirical revival as the popular “cracker show”, which has become the single most popular tent show attraction in the North American Consumer Region (NACR).
Licensed under arcane laws regulating “tent shows, circuses and carnivals” as old as the original tent shows of the late nineteenth century which they loosely parody, the productions operate entirely outside of Department of Inclusion regulatory purview. It might come as a shock to the average person, but the tent shows can virtually say or present whatever material they want, without fear of penalty.
The new tent show is born out of similar necessity as the original: in the middle of the nineteenth century, before the advent of air conditioning, summertime heat made indoor entertainment unbearable.
Now it’s the power grid crisis and electricity rationing driving people out of sweltering micro-apartments, away from the now unreliable electronic entertainments to which they’re accustomed–and into a cultural and legal limbo, where much of the Universal Law on Hate, Racism and Antisemitism does not apply. UHRA administrators are actually powerless over this growing form of entertainment.
The long, hard-fought process of bringing the internet under hate regulation is being threatened by our inability to maintain the power grid. People are seeking alternatives, such as the tent show, existing outside of vital regulatory limits and controls. The power grid crisis is thus an equity crisis. Yes, since racial representation came to the energy industry criticism of it and its regulators is inherently racist–whiteness dies hard, as they say–but, counter-intuitively, the continuing rectification of history, justice itself depends on something as mundane and unromantic as keeping the lights on. In the meantime, the Cracker Show has done us a service, identifying holes in the fabric of equitable unity that need to be sewn up.
Of course Energy Minister Happy Magoye-Kenyoba Bhe-Bhim’s charge that racism motivates the accusations of his incompetence and corruption must get a full hearing before the initial charges against him can be addressed, but it’s been two years, and with the increasing length Congressional investigations of racist intent take it will be another two perhaps before the original charges against him can be addressed–assuming no finding of racist intent moots them and triggers legally-mandated counter-prosecution of his accusers. I call on the government to move with all due speed.
In the meantime the Cracker Show needs to be brought under regulatory control.
This author, like most academics and public figures, has in the past praised these shows as firmly in the tradition of the political satire of the late twentieth century, satire which was invaluable in de-legitimizing White Supremacy through exposure, trivialization and ridicule.
Most academics still see the Cracker Show as the next stage in what I’ve termed the “restorative art” component of historical reconciliation. Yet, like everything it seems in our period of historical rectification, it isn’t as simple as that.
You might ask–and virtually all of us have attended or seen one of the shows–what problem one could have with shows portraying supremacist era whites in mocking caricature. One problem is the characterizations have softened over time to become less caricature, and less mocking. It seems an inevitable process: an audience comes to feel affection for the familiar foil. The inept bumbler is a trope that acts to de-demonize whiteness.
The original minstrelsy dehumanized Blacks in Old America; today’s minstrelsy humanizes the whites of Old America. They are equally pernicious.
I contacted Michael Silver-Gruben, producer of “seven or eight” shows in addition the nation’s most popular, “The Genuine Old Cracker Show”, to ask if the shows are guilty of normalization of whiteness.
“I see our role as instructional and fun at the same time. I categorically reject the shows normalize whiteness or whitism. I fail to see how ridicule equates to normalization in any context. We’ve never sought to present whites or whitism in a positive light.”
He’s also quick to point out a fundamental difference between the new shows, in which white performers portray whites, and the old shows, in which white performers in blackface portrayed blacks.
“We realized it would be degrading for a non-white to wear whiteface in any context.” He also rejected the charge the whiteface his white performers sometimes wear is a “violent re-enhancement of ghostly whiteness” in the words of the Reverend Foremost Coates Bhe-Bhim of the First African Methodist Church.
“I’m not sure what that means. Our performers wear whiteface in some skits only to complete the parody of the original.” Silver-Gruben says.
But, the problem of equivalence was always there–if these characterizations of whites today have any validity, people may assume those of old had some, regarding their characterizations of Blacks.
Add to this the prospect, the inevitability some would argue, that any portrayal of Old America’s norms and attitudes–the very stuff of white supremacy–eventually softens our view of them–familiarization is normalization.
Despite their portrayal as dishonest, boorish or ignorant, the stock repertoire of white comic foils–such as the “yuppie”, the “bro” and the “redneck”–become cultural figures of familiarity; and familiarity here breeds not contempt but a measure of fondness. We can’t help it. The characters make us laugh. We chuckle and shake our head as if at the antics of an eccentric relative, and before we know it we’ve humanized whitism.
Any treatment of this subject that isn’t informed by professionally licensed restorative justice experts is irresponsible and probably illegal.
This was demonstrated on these pages brilliantly last week by Professor Tanyika Balder-Dash Bhae-Bher** in bher essay “The Only Good Whitism…”, pointing out the shows, despite their comedic and ironic nature, are no less educational history than a course given in school, and as such fall under Office of Civility and Acceptance (OCA) regulatory purview.
Professor Balder-Dash’s recommendation for assigning an OCA regulator to every show is a good start.
A recent study out of Yale examined the content of the four most popular shows over the last two years and found the same pattern affecting all, one of gradual softening of the shows’ portrayal of Old America whites. All began with material duly and unambiguously contemptuous in its portrayal of historical whites; all ended the period with material, while still presenting them as the comic foil, portraying them in a somewhat more sympathetic light.
If that was the full extent of it, perhaps intervention wouldn’t be necessary, but shows appeasing audience tastes have taken to introducing more subversively innocuous caricatures, such as “the cowboy”, or “the explorer”. Overtly positive characters can’t be far away. Rumor has it one show is working on a character called “the astronaut”.
Certainly the content of the shows will eventually be brought under control; even the producers seem resigned to that. But is control of content enough? Is content really the problem? Some forms are inherently exclusionary and can’t be adapted to a modern view of justice. Isn’t satire itself at the very least a potent form that cannot be left unchecked in any culture? Couldn’t the same power it had to undermine Old America undermine New America?
Our experience with the new minstrelsy has revived Professor Balder-Dash’s call for “an end to satire as we know it”. I don’t share that view, as yet–satire, in the right hands, remains a potent weapon against a revival of White Supremacy. But I call on the authorities to establish a moratorium on new cracker shows until we can figure out what’s going on.
The good news is the shows are no longer escaping notice. Pastor Coates assures me bhe’s planning a national action soon to protest their continuing operation outside of regulatory scrutiny.
*Regarding the proper placement of the colloquially named “pronounerific”, here as “Bhae-Bher”, denoting “gender identity” (sex, with major complications; see “gender”) and eventually ethnic or racial type; introduced in the early twenties, its usage quickly spread and then almost as quickly shrank to eventually become an affectation allowed elites and discouraged among common people (its inclusion signified stature, like a hereditary title or an order; “Bhae-Bher” indicates a female of “black” (sub-Saharan African) ancestry and works as an implicit title of the highest rank): it follows the surname, unless the surname is preceded by a hyphenated pair of surnames, in which case the–properly named–proidentitatem follows the hyphenation and precedes the surname [Ed. from the future]
** The Justice and Reconciliation Act of 2030 attempted a massive and comprehensive “reconciliation” of wealth and resources to distribute them “equitably” (not to be confused with “equally”; see “equity and inclusion”); at the time of this writing a declining gross national product, the Act’s prompting of the flight of capital and resources away from confiscation creating the shadow economy and of course massive fraud meant the Act not only failed in its goal but hastened the final failure of the US economy through massive distortions. [Ed. from the future]
2 thoughts on “Revival”