For the past few years, I have been listening to the outrages of the elephants and the donkeys on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, all over social media, the internet and the traditional media. You know, ironically, I am now outraged over the outrageous outrages of these movements, and in general how it has affected the collective culture worldwide and in particular how it has plagued my beloved entertainment industry, and I want to say: MeToo. True to their nature, the big ears of the elephants mean they don’t listen to anything, and whatever you say to the donkeys all you get is a screeching “hee-haw.”
What, and who, is the latest victim, or should we say the perpetrator Who other than the famous Dave Chappelle. The African American Muslim stand-up comedian, recipient of the annual Mark Twain Prize in 2019, five Emmy Awards and three Grammy Awards, among other high honors from the entertainment industry, has stirred up quite the controversy if you can believe it.
Thanks to his latest Netflix stand-up special, "The Closer," Chappelle has angered most of the internet it seems, at least those who are usually loud on the internet. The online transgender community and LGBTQI+ members have been outraged at Chappelle's comments and his set of jokes.
But, what in reality did Chappelle say The online community has strangely shied away from putting forth any concrete arguments: just brand the man a trans-hating bigot, and let's be on our way. Chappelle has actually produced numerous talking points that need to be addressed but, unfortunately, that has flown over the heads of the triggered online crowd.
"For the past several years, comedian Dave Chappelle has been locked in a vicious cycle of anti-cancel-culture standup comedy," writes Vox's Aja Romano. "It’s a fatiguing ouroboros." You hit the nail right on the head there Romano, I will give you that. But, as you go on in detail explaining how Chappelle's commentary and brand of comedy have breached the lines that are under protection by the "joke" classification and how his incendiary material is set to incite violence in the real world against the communities he mocks, I believe you cannot wash yourself clean of the same self-eating-tail serpentine cycle.
You may not agree with Chappelle's sentiments, or his style of pushing-the-envelope anecdotal comedy, but what I don't agree with is slandering a man who has been described as one of the greatest of all time by the best of the best and has not lost form for nearly three decades now, without providing solid arguments. The internet has turned blowing things out of proportion and creating storms in teacups into its own art form.
Chappelle has not incited violence. What I believe he has tried to do, and what he has been trying to do since his triumphant comeback, is to start a conversation. Of course, that message was covered by hardcore, over-the-top and on-the-edge jokes, because at the end of the day, he is a comedian, that is his style of comedy and it is a comedy special.
That is the theme of my elongated, unnecessarily complicated, digression-filled, at times maybe factually suspicious or inconsistent – I am no expert I confess – and at times maybe haranguing piece: Conversation and Dialogue.
Before we move on, there will be a lot of quotes throughout this piece particularly from Chappelle, because, firstly his own quotes explain and defend him much better than I ever could. Secondly, and most importantly, in every article I have read about this controversy the writer picks only a few lines from Chappelle's material that they wish to drill into and cut out the context from the content of those statements, leaving them without roots and without roofs, hanging from a thread to be readily criticized. I still may not do his arguments justice – and this surely is not an objective, academic article, it is still my subjective opinion which I do not purport to be fact – but all I want to do is be fair and reasonable, and have a discussion if such an idealistic concept still exists in the virtual reality.
"This is going to be my last special, for a minute." That is how Chappelle opened his show. It seemed to me that he was self-aware of the reaction that his hourlong material would provoke, aware of the state of the media – social and otherwise – and aware of how his jokes and statements and commentary would most likely be interpreted, but he kept on going, jokingly warning along the way that it was going to get much worse. Why Was it because he is a transphobic, homophobic, LGBTQI+phobic, sexist No. I believe it was because he truly was trying to have a dialogue. He even laid bare the chief – as far as I can tell – grievance early on at the start of the show.
"In our country, you can shoot and kill a nigga, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings," he said. "This is precisely the disparity that I wish to discuss."
"You think I hate gay people, and what you're really seeing is that I am jealous of gay people." That was one of the obvious cores of that night's discussion I believe. "We Blacks, we look at the gay community and we go, 'Look how well that movement is going.' And we have been trapped in this predicament for hundreds of years, how are you making that kind of progress"
Is there not a discussion that needs to occur on this precise issue The African American cause seems to have stalled in the post-modern era, or rather not stalled but sullied. The issue – as far as I can tell – stems from the collective bundling together of groups as "minority." As minorities, everyone is grouped as equal under the same umbrella, the umbrella of the oppressed. But how is it rational or sensible that the African American minority is equated to the homosexual minority In fact, how is it rational or sensible that the LGBTQI+ cause has surpassed the African American cause in terms of loudness on social media, in terms of its holier-than-thou attitude that continues to shut down most discussions and in terms of becoming a focal point of celebration.
As Chappelle explains:
"'Will you stop punching down' Whenever someone says that to me I know they have never seen me for themselves, they just repeat what they have heard. Any of you who have ever watched me know that I never had a problem with transgender people." He concludes: "If you listen to what I'm saying, clearly, my problem has always been with white people."
"Go back, watch every special I did on Netflix, listen to everything I've ever said about that community. I'll go through them: I said how much do I have to participate in your self-image, I said you shouldn't discuss this in front of black people, I said I know (expletive) in Brooklyn that wear high-heels just to feel safe."
And the hard-hitting punchline: "I asked you: Why is it easier for Bruce Jenner to change his gender than it is for Cassius Clay to change his name"
"If you listen to what I'm saying: I'm not even talking about them, I'm talking about us, and they don't listen."
As I see it, the core issue that Chappelle is trying to get across is not that the transgender cause is false, just that it is inflated.
"Is it possible that a gay person can be racist" Chappelle asks, and that is a question that genuinely needs to be answered. If you point out the racism of a gay person, are you now homophobic Of course not, but you may be branded as one all the same. You cannot criticize anyone that is gay, lesbian, transgender, female, especially when talking about the entertainment industry. If you didn't like Captain Marvel, if you criticized it, you are automatically grouped together with sexists.
Even though you are not criticizing them as individuals, you are not criticizing their gender or sex, and you are just trying get across the fact that the characters, the plot and the story were really low-standard, lackluster, underdeveloped, heavy on nonorganic superficial social commentary, it does not matter. Because the trolls came out of the woodwork and spoiled the party for everyone. But for some reason, it does not go both ways. The same groups that have elevated themselves above criticism are critical of everything and everyone.
Criticism is a concept of the past – name-calling is the name of the game today.
We have come to one of the biggest and most contentious points in the special.
"Now we get to the core of the crisis: What is a woman" Chappelle had asked previously in the special. He expands from that point on to discuss some of his beliefs.
"Gender is a fact." The infamous quote that has made numerous headlines. The infamous quote that has gotten people outraged all over the interconnected web. The infamous quote that has stood alone with no accompanying lines that came before or after it.
So, here is what came after: "Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact." So far, so transphobic it seems. "Now, I am not saying that to say, that trans women aren't women," round comes the curveball.
"'Gender is fact' seems to be Chappelle’s way of implying that gender is binary and biologically determined. Science says otherwise," says Vox's Romano. This is why context matters, because in the context of what comes after, I believe Chappelle is trying to say the exact opposite, as per The Associated Press (AP) article that Romano so kindly links as proof of the said science. This article, which may I add is a gross over-summarization and simplification, is too narrow and not even scientific but rather just a Q&A with a pediatrician unable to hold water in the name of science on this particular matter.
As per that AP article that separates "sex" from "gender" and assigns the former to anatomy and claims the latter to be beyond biology, I see Chappelle trying to do exactly the same thing – only if he had said "sex" instead of "gender." Let us differentiate the anatomical and the biological from the personal, he seems to say. Now, I don't want to put words into his mouth, but I interpret this as: Live your life as you please, you may be a transgender woman or transgender man, and I accept you as woman or man, but do not deny me the fact that only anatomical women can give birth. There needs to be some concession from both sides, let's agree that "sex" and "gender" are different concepts, and live together happily ever after.
"I am not indifferent to the suffering of someone else," Chappelle says, emphasizing that he is not trying to ignore their pain, and I do not doubt his sincerity. At a different point he says: "This does not mean that I feel like another point of view can't exist." Sorry Dave, but the other point of view does not believe your point of view can coexist with it, so it had to come to this.
The factuality of his argument can be debated – is there such a thing as gender, is there such a thing as sex, are they malleable or genetically coded, does anatomy even matter anymore in this post-modern frenzy It is the age of bubbles. I'm sure you can find countless "scientific" articles from each side that conforms to your point of view – and some of these are discussions that I wish to cover in the future with my own facts. The point is, I don't see any underlying malice, hatred, violence in Chappelle's argument, it is just his belief and subjective opinion that he wishes to express.
He goes out of his way to say that others may have different opinions and they may be equally valid. He is not going around, trying to enforce his perspective onto society. He is presenting his side so that you can present your side and thus produce dialogue.
I won't even delve into detail on the heart-wrenching finale of the special where Chappelle discusses the suicide of Daphne Dorman, a trans woman who had befriended and defended him in 2019 when Chappelle was again receiving backlash from the transgender community for his then-latest special "Sticks and Stones." I don't believe that I have seen a man grieve on stage as Chappelle did when he talked about Dorman, and I don't think it warrants further discussion. I do not understand how anyone could see that part as inciting any kind violence or hatred – unless those words now mean empathy.
"One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don't share a common baseline of facts," said former President Barack Obama as he appeared as a guest on the first episode of David Letterman's new Netflix talk-show, "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman," which aired on Jan. 12, 2018.
That is the core of the crisis, but one must remember: It goes both ways. On the right, and on the left one can find misinformation by the bulk. Worse than that, they create their own facts out of thin air.
"We are operating in completely different information universes. If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet," Obama said on the same episode, interrupted by the applause of the audience before he completed the equation, "Than you are if you listen to NPR."
So, one is dumbfounded by the lack of consistency in outrages. This fact-less universe has created an arbitrary line of trigger, and those who champion the freedom of speech often become the very abusers of that concept who turn it into the freedom of silencing. Those same critics who have labeled Chappelle's comedy as hate speech and inciting violence have lauded the abomination that was the "Cuties" as art and pushed back against the outrage against that film. Why does the "art defense" which shields "Cuties" in the eyes of these critics not protect Chappelle when the audience is laughing so hard, as if to suggest that his act might actually consist of jokes – and funny jokes at that – I wonder.
Now, if we take a moment to breathe the air outside the Matrix, things are not so gloomy in reality – except climate change-induced catastrophes, wars all around, poverty, terrorism, corruption, death and K-Pop and Kanye West – you know, we still have a few sunny days ... before the apocalypse. Alright, now that I have depressed you, let me expand the reality of hope and the hope that radiates from reality.
Chappelle details an anecdote while on stage, long before the "gender" issue about how a woman approached him in a parking lot and said she believed that he hated women. He responds: "It's art, and you're free to interpret this art however you like. But I can tell you as the maker of this art, I don't believe I feel that way." When the woman pushes further he says: "Where did you see me Did you buy a ticket to a concert I did I doubt that. Or maybe you watched one of my specials on Netflix. Or did I follow you to your car and do my act" He concludes: "Keep it in the comments section, this is real life."
"Twitter is not a real place," says Chappelle.
That is a message that I can preach all day. The virtual world is more polarized than ever. It is filled with people that refuse to communicate with each other, refuse to speak like humans opposite one another, but rather opt to film themselves yelling at the opposite side, shouting them down into silence simply because it makes them feel that they have achieved something by getting a few likes on Facebook. It is a world of extremes, and reason lies within the middle, the center, the moderate.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that human touch remains vital. In real life, human interaction still matters. A person can befriend a Republican and a Democrat at the same time. You passionately discuss politics with your friend who has the opposite view from you, but you don’t go to his office and yell at his boss to fire him. No, reality is not Twitter, and it needs to remain like that.
"Empathy is not gay. Empathy is not black. Empathy is bisexual. It must go both ways," says Chappelle, and that is where I would like to deposit my two cents on the subject. Dialogue is imperative, conversation is how we progress as human beings, and dialogue can only be truly produced with empathy, that all too human emotional capability.
So, to conclude let's take a line from the book of Mr. Warmth. "I make fun of blacks, whites, Jews, Italians," the master Don Rickles quips, "Well, Jews... We’re the chosen people, we had a few bum breaks – the Red Sea trick."
"I laugh at everyone," he explains while laughing, "But if you don’t laugh back it’s not funny."
Let's try to laugh with each other, not at each other. I wish to see days when more dialogue is created between people, rather than just more shouting. Maybe not on Twitter, that might be a lost cause, but in real life. Hopefully before the heat death of the universe.
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