Vincent S. Moore Presents:
Aaron McGruder Is A Complete And Utter Sellout And No One Can Convince Me Otherwise
Once upon a time, I enjoyed reading The Boondocks comic strip. It was one of the funnier parts of my daily rounds of the Internet. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me think.
Now, when the animated series was announced, I wasn’t particularly interested as I had the comics to read. I knew that the core of the strip--the willingness to bite whatever hand came near its mouth--wouldn’t survive the translation onto the small screen. But I had to the comics to read, so the TV show could come and go as far as I was concerned.
Then came the hiatus Aaron McGruder took from the producing the strip.
And I was in trouble.
But , no worries, I thought, McGruder wouldn’t be gone for too long. He’d be back.
Unfortunately for me, he hasn’t returned as of yet. And may never return.
I had avoided really watching or paying much attention to the TV show during its first season. As a personal protest against the tempting away of what I felt was a creative genius and a brilliant social commentator. And out of my fears of what the TV show would be.
Fears that were realized when I dared to watch the second season opening episode.
This is a moment out of a stand-up comedy bit, where you want to open up with a line like “You know you’re getting old when . . .”
I felt a million years old within one minute of watching the season premiere of The Boondocks, a charming episode entitled “Or Die Trying”. I felt as if I would die trying to watch.
Not that parodying gems of cinematic history like Soul Plane isn’t a good thing, mind you. But is it too much to ask that the parody itself not be more offensive than that which is being parodied? I wanted to rip my eyes out of their sockets and fill my ears with concrete. And in that moment I wondered if I had finally, finally become an adult. I wondered if I had finally developed a good sense of decency.
I only continued to watch out of a spirit of not wanting to give up so soon. That maybe, just maybe, some actual entertainment value would appear upon my TV screen, to make up for the life-scarring minutes I suffered through watching a fake Soul Plane 2 commercial that served as the opening teaser. I continued to watch and hope. Only to have my hopes dashed and stomped upon.
In many ways, I was reminded of a moment in time when I made one of my studio partners watch a German porn tape he had purchased yet had never seen before he bought it. I made him watch as scenes of caning and other graphic sexual violence played themselves across his TV screen. Simply because I felt that he should have known what he was buying at the time. The sense of being visually assaulted and raped that he had became my own as I continued watching The Boondocks.
The premise of the episode itself, of The Freemens sneaking into the local cineplex to see Soul Plane 2, was a simple affair and one that resonates with me as being part of my personal experience. Yet that resonance faded into the distance as I watched.
Now, I must say here that I grew up listening to Richard Pryor records. I have most of them in my CD collection to this day. I find his use of a certain word to be funny and profound and magical. But hearing it over and over again on The Boondocks was excruciatingly painful.
And in that moment of clarity brought about by the pain I understood in some way what all the fuss in recent months--the firing of Don Imus, the march to remove a certain word from the American lexicon, the vilifying of hip hop artists--was all about.
See, the word ‘nigger’ will never fully disappear from the American language because it is a magic word. It is the only racial epithet to used by its intended target race. It is the only slur thought to be capable of redemption by the very people that it is used against. Almost as if using ‘nigger’ on a regular basis would act like some kind of societal immunization, preventing the illness of prejudice against African Americans to subside or vanish altogether. A situation which is not the case, as the wonders of You Tube have shown recently, showing for all the world to see a group of white college students covering their faces in mud as blackface and saying “Nigger, nigger, nigger” like some ritual chant. In truth, I feel that the only way for the so-called N-word to finally disappear off the face of the Earth would be for other racial slurs--such as gook, kike, spic, mick, wop, honkey, cracker, wetback--to enter common usage like nigger, to the point where the mainstream society would wake up and say that enough is enough. I’m not even sure if that last sentence will make it into print intact, but I hope my meaning is clear.
By the end of my self inflicted torture, when the credits rolled, there was only one thought running through my mind. Actually, it didn’t wait until The Boondocks was over to start racing around; it was there the moment I saw the name of the executive producer of this misanthropic bit of dreck as well as the name of one of the co-writers of this particular episode.
That one thought was this: Aaron McGruder is a complete and utter sellout. No one can convince me of any other option or opinion.
And I mean sellout in its truest sense.
McGruder has sold out himself, his once brilliant comic strip, and his own people.
For in creating The Boondocks TV show as I witnessed, Aaron McGruder is doing in fact what Spike Lee once played with as fiction: returning the minstrel show to a seeming eager American viewing public.
And yes, they are eating it up. After all, this was the second season opener. That has to mean the first season was a smash hit, right?
Yes, I was upset, even angry at what I saw. Not only because it didn’t merely find humor in my people; it took every opportunity to savage my people. I’m sure when this idea was tossed around the writers room, the feeling of those involved was one of really poking fun at Hollywood and the kinds of movies it offers us poor black folks, all while also poking some fun at those black people who complain endlessly about the movie going experience all the while doing whatever they can to effectively steal movies. I am not saying that there wasn’t any truth on screen. What I am saying is the truth was drowned by the hatred, self and otherwise. I am saying that The Boondocks is part of the problem and definitely not, in my opinion, the solution.
The problem being how black people, how African-Americans are portrayed by various media and how those portrayals shape the perceptions of my fellow Americans of my people.
When there are no heroic images of black men and women on either big or small screens. When there is little to no mention of black writers of fantastic fiction going on in public discourse. When the images of gold-toothed rappers and dancing hoochie mamas are everywhere but a healthy and happy black family is practically nowhere, I find myself feeling lost and alone in the wilderness.
Maybe I’m just getting old.
I mean, my 40th birthday is nearly a year away. But I feel old and tired and out of place in this world. A world where my grandfather marched with Martin Luther King on Washington D.C., so that I could watch cartoon black characters say nigger more than a bunch of Klansmen at a KKK rally ever could.
More than feeling old or even feeling angry, I feel sad. Sad that one of the best comic strips in recent years is gone. Sad that its replacement has none of the willingness to bite all kinds of hands. Because at the end of the day it is those hands, especially the white ones, who are feeding the producers and writers and animators behind the scenes. And if that isn’t the fundamental definition of selling out, I don’t know what is.
But some good may come of this.
For weeks now, I’ve been teasing Marc behind the scenes of a series of columns I had a mind to write. My personal musings on race and comics. But I hesitated somewhat, out of a fear of looking like a fool and making an even bigger ass of myself. Then I watched The Boondocks and saw not so much a TV show as one of the reasons why I would never see truly heroic black women and men produced by mass media. Because how can you see a people as heroic when all you see them as is foolish?
So, starting next week, in a hopefully more coherent fashion than any column I’ve written to date, will be the gauntlet I intend to throw at the comics industry and beyond.
Starting next week will be A Mule And Forty Acres Of My Own.
I hope you folks will join me for this. I promise it will be a bumpy ride.
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