A long time ago – well not that long ago – Dave Chappelle portrayed Black Bush, in which he used colloquialisms of Black culture to convey what he would do if he were President George W. Bush. We guffawed. We marveled at Chappelle’s talent. Most of all, we were reminded of the dubious decisions Dubya made in the Oval Office. The only complaint I heard about that skit from Black people was that it wasn’t long enough, or that it wasn’t that funny. But nobody within eyesight or earshot said it made Black people look bad.
What Chappelle, and many other satirists, do so well is that they take what’s going on, analyze it and present different angles (or hypotheticals if you will) about the facts on the ground. Limits are removed, boxed and drop-kicked into the ether. When Larry David made a mockery of Jesus and the cross on Curb Your Enthusiasm, many were stunned. But people still kept tuning into the show because…that’s Larry David.
(Personal Aside: My father, one of the most religious people I know, didn’t even get offended at David’s irreverence. He dropped his head and laughed. Made sure to express his disagreement, but still religiously tuned in to the show thereafter. Why? Because…that’s Larry David.)
We’re exposed to parodies all the time, but still get the purpose of parodies tend to get misconstrued. Parodies is an artist’s interpretation, of mirthful nature and informed by mimicry. It often takes on serious literature, but is mainly today fueled by political missteps and pop culture.
For a parody to work, it must:
A) Make the object of imitation or ridicule obvious.
B) Expose a raw nerve.
C) Be rooted in truth.
Baracka Flacka Flame nailed all three. Comedian James Davis’ makeup, voice and mannerisms picked up where Marlin Hill, Rand Paul’s voiceover guy, James Peele and Jay Pharoah left off. And in many respects, Davis’ impersonation was more impressive.
He took the president out of his political milieu and cozy white office and placed him in the hood around those who are affected hardest by the economy. In the process, he parodied a guy who portrays an image of what Black parents, to be honest, don’t want their children growing up mimicking. Parody can be lighthearted and generally agreed upon. It can also be a bloody sport.
As it turns out, putting Obama out on the porch patting pit bulls on the head, eating ribs, dancing and liberally using niggas and expletives is indeed a bloody sport.
But what makes Head of the State more controversial than Dave Chappelle’s Black President skit?
Chappelle’s performance depicted a Black president in the abstract. Then, nobody (even the Obamas I’m sure) thought there would actually be an African-American president. But time moves and…there is a Black president sitting in the Oval Office right now. There’s no need to recap the adoration the 44th U.S. president has from the Black community. It’s as palpable as the sun in July.
When said community sees mainstream media continually placing Obama under a constant microscope, it’s easy to become defensive. There is enough material in the public space placing the President in an unflattering light. A big question that many barbershops and social cliques lob around is Obama’s Blackness. I know, I know, we’ve been here before. Those questions aren’t as loud now, but the thought of him being in an arena where Blackness is turned up to the max was unknown, if not funny, territory.
James Davis gave the world that.
The public outrage is understandable. Many see Davis and the minds behind “Head of the State” as a group trying to “get on” by disrespecting the President. Many see the video as a pawn in the subversion of the first Black president. To them, this video is proof that Fox and Wall Street Journal and numerous others aren’t the only ones tearing Sasha and Malia’s father down. It’s the Black community as well.
Along with many people, I found it more than laughable that the progenitor of the video didn’t approve. To me, however, it wasn’t funny because Waka Flocka isn’t exactly, say, Malcolm X. It was funny because – based on his comments – even he didn’t quite know what to make of it.
Ever been among a crowd of friends and you are zoned out, watching TV or listening to music or whatever…then suddenly you hear your name and everybody starts laughing? That’s Waka right now. His aloofness to the true nature of the video is as awkward as trying to defend it to a room full of Generation X Obama supporters.
The reaction from many is predictable: The video is embarrassing to the President of the U.S. Never mind the fact that Bush jokes never get old or how Clinton launched a slew of comedians’ careers. It’s something profoundly hypocritical to appreciate fun at another President’s expense while failing to see the humor in Baracka Flacka Flame.
Because we know that all aspects of Black culture is so refined. That all aspects of any culture is so refined. Instead of seeing the character as a blend of two different worlds, many take it to represent something far more. We still cling to the antiquated belief that the actions of a few Black people shapes the view of the race as a whole, even though that is as irrational as believing that all Jews take what Larry David has to say seriously.
Parody spares nobody. The Pope gets clowned. Jesus comes up in skits. The best art comes when artists are totally unbound by social mores and constraints. As Mark Twain wrote, “sacred cows make the best hamburger.”
James Davis isn’t the problem. His video bares little difference from what BET shows on a daily basis. Yet many of the very people – and their kids – upset about this video still, if not watch BET on a regular basis, allow BET to run its content without any resistance.
It’s the notion of “White people seeing us making our President look bad” (actual text message) that seems to serve as the deepest disappointment. We hope and wish other races would perceive us in a better light, despite a mass wave of historical and current propaganda working against us. As a result we’re still insecure, afraid of “acting out in front of White folks.”
All it took was a well-executed video about a majestic Black figure to expose that.