In the last century, we have seen a progressive climb out of the reaches of racist antics in our entertainment industry. However, like with every nation, there still exists racial discrimination and the constant ethnic stereotyping in many fields of entertainment, especially in comedy. This is something that will seemingly never go away but as an audience, how do we feel about the constant ethnic stereotyping in films, stand-ups, etc.? Are we still as sensitive as the past about what’s being said or are we getting closer to the point where we’re able to sit back and laugh at ourselves? Are these artists simply belittling other cultures or are they purposely trying to ease the tension on the barriers by showing that if we’re able to laugh, then we’re able to see past the hate? Or are we only making matters worse by making ourselves the butt of the joke?
There is no question that many of us find a bit of fun and pleasure when it comes to comedians and actors poking fun at specific ethnic groups, especially when they’re poking fun at the groups that they themselves are apart of. Fellow comedians and actors Bobby Lee (Mad TV), Russell Peters (Indian Canadian stand-up comedian), Dave Chapelle (Chapelle Show) and John Leguizamo (Summer of Sam, Freak!) are some relatively well-known members of the American entertainment industry who have thrived on making people laugh with racial/ethnic discriminatory material--whether light or heavy. Russell Peters is an emerging comedic artist who pours the ideas of multiculturalism into his work--when he’s making fun of his Indian ancestry or the accents of Jamaicans and the Chinese. Dave Chapelle, John Leguizamo and Bobby Lee are artists who mainly like make fun of their own racial/ethnic background with depictions of ethnic stereotypes as well.
But when we find ourselves crying out of laughter from these cliches, why don’t we feel hurt and unnerved? Have we gone into a stage where because we’re so multicultural today that we all understand one another and find it comfortable to laugh at ourselves? It seems we’re clearly now able to not take racial discrimination so seriously, even in a time where the government and the media try to be politically correct. However, there is always the context of how ethnic stereotypes are used.
I was watching Spike Lee’s early acclaim film Do the Right Thing, which is about a Brooklyn neighborhood on the city’s hottest day of the year. The film provides a multi story-line plot that touches on characters from different minority groups. The film is rich in detailing ethnic discrimination. Take for instance, a short montage of various characters, all with different backgrounds, literally looking at the audience blaring out racial slurs; The point of the scene, besides provoking certain emotions, is to make us understand that we need to stop hating; hating the color of their skin or the way they pray to another God or the way they run a store--it all must end because, as it is depicted later in the film, the good people get hurt and the good people will suffer and things of love and inspiration will crash and burn forever.
When you watch these short videos, think of how you react. Do you laugh? Do you find yourself despising the comedian or actors? What do you really think Spike Lee was trying to say in the short montages? Sure, it is best to have seen the film in its entirety but every scene has a purpose--what’s the purpose to you?
Video links -
1) Russel Peters
2) Carlos Mencia
3) Spike Lee's 25th hour
written by The-Camper, November 30, 2009