MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2021
The Way We Look to Others: Long ago and far away, we knew future comedian Dave Chappelle, if only the tiniest tad.
He was still a high school kid performing at open mike night. We were the most gigantic star the Washington area had ever seen. We're fairly sure that our recollections are accurate in these ancient matters.
Helen Lewis lives across the pond; she writes for The Atlantic. In her latest essay—an essay about Dave's latest "controversial" special—she actually has the nerve to remember and mention this:
LEWIS (10/13/21: Artists tend to be annoyed when critics grade their work on its political content rather than its technical and creative choices, and yet responding to The Closer any other way is hard. The special draws its energy from one of the hottest debates in popular culture, about competing claims to victimhood. Its jokes about LGBTQ people have led to boycott threats, calls to remove the special from Netflix, and even the brief suspension of a transgender Netflix employee who protested the special. In GQ, the writer Saeed Jones declared, “I feel like a fool to have rooted for Dave Chappelle for so long.”
I find myself startled by some of this reaction. I loved Chappelle’s Show, which ran from 2003 to 2006, but here’s a typical punch line from one of its most beloved recurring segments, “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories”: “Bitches, come over here and show Charlie Murphy your titties!” And here’s another: “Bitch, come over here and have sex with Charlie Murphy.” Was this what Jones had been rooting for? Did none of the recent critics of The Closer notice the way Chappelle has always talked about bitches—sorry, women? And yet that tone never stopped me from enjoying his comedy—or acknowledging that his jokes about white women came from his perspective as a Black American man...
We'd actually be less accepting than Lewis—but in her essay, she has the nerve to adopt a nuanced approach. She also has the nerve to mention the types of things Dave has frequently said on the comedy stage, with large numbers of people watching and with young people drinking it down.
On this side of the pond, our own tribe—the Utterly Faux Highly Principled Tribe—has agreed that we must never remember or mention such things. Instead, we'll agree to pretend to be deeply, passionately upset—but also, to be shocked, shocked—about and by the formulations which appeared in Jon Gruden's childish and unfortunate but private and personal emails.
One guy is lionized for saying such things out loud in front of millions of people. The other guy is assailed for saying unfortunate things in an undisclosed number of (private) emails, which no one saw until the peeping Toms (as opposed to the Uncles) chose to go nosing around, as we Dimmesdales like to do.
This is the opening chapter in a long-running "story" called The Way We Look to The Others. Will your lizard allow you to see the way our horrible tribe sifts facts and plays these utterly stupid, wholly unprincipled, self-defeating games?
Will your lizard allow you to see that? Because everyone else can see us when we're doing these things, and this helps explain why some of The Others vote for Donald J. Trump.
By the rules our tribe has established, one guy gets to say certain types of things; the other guy does not. Can you see The Way This Looks? Will your lizard allow you to see it?
Fuller dislosure: We don't mean this as a knock at Dave, or as a knock at Gruden. By our lights, it would be better if Dave—and a million other people—hadn't said those types of things, especially in public, and if our tribe, clownishly self-impressed as it is, wasn't so clownishly phony.
Meanwhile, can you see The Way This Looks to Others? How hard can that possibly be?
Final point: Your lizard will tell you to thrash around in search of some sort of distinction...