In her article “Kevin Spacey deserves to be scorned. But can I still watch House of Cards?”, Hannah Jane Parkinson delves into the uncomfortable question, how do we treat the art created by men in the entertainment industry who we know to have (sometimes allegedly) sexually assaulted people? It’s a big question. Some of my own favorite actors have been accused of sexual misconduct. Really, Morgan Freeman? For television streaming giant Netflix the answer seemed obvious. Fire them. Now. Cut all ties, condemn their behavior, and move on. To some, this may have seemed extreme, but it made it clear whose side Netflix is on…or did it? I would love to believe that this move by Netflix is an altruistic one however, few things are that simple. Following a series of missteps which included breaches of customer privacy, pay disputes, the use of ASD stereotypes in Atypical, and the questionable handling of sensitive issues like sexual assault and substance abuse, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Netflix didn’t want to leave themselves vulnerable by keeping actors like Kevin Spacey and Danny Masterson on their shows. But is this enough? For more on that, I encourage you to read Hannah Jane Parkinson’s article linked above. Afterall, firing these two actors isn’t the only link Netflix has to the #MeToo movement.
“Everything is funny until it happens to you.” -Dave Chappelle, The Bird Revelation, 2017
It’s no secret that the #MeToo movement has empowered women all over the world to speak their truth and hold accountable the men who have harmed them. No one with a halfway decent moral compass thinks this is wrong. The women of the #MeToo movement work hard to own their stories, standing with one another in solidarity. But where does that leave men, especially men who in the entertainment industry? Dave Chappelle has learned first hand that it can leave men like him between a rock and a hard place. In her article “Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement”, writer/comedian Jamie Loftus slams Chappelle’s’ latest comedy special on Netflix, The Bird Revolution. But is she being fair? Is she even being realistic? In his article, “Dave Chappelle Stumbles Into the #MeToo Moment”, writer Jason Zinoman shares a quote from iconic comedian Steve Martin, “Comedy is not pretty.” This is something I think we all need to remember when we choose to attend or watch a comedy show. If you don’t like it or find it offensive then don’t watch it. It would be no different if someone were to go to the Women’s March and then complain that they were bombarded with pro-feminist speeches, what do people think they are signing up for? A vast majority of comedy today uses offensive material and there is very little in this world that is off limits to comedians. So let’s look a little closer at Dave’s last two comedy specials on Netflix, The Bird Revolution and Equanimity.
While Chappelle may appear to be an equal opportunity offender to some, he does seem to think about the issues he incorporates in his shows. In Equanimity Chappelle addresses his comedy about transgender people, taking the time to relay an experience he had reading a letter from a transgender fan who had been hurt by his set. Anyone with eyes could see that, while he doesn’t generally worry about peoples responses, he felt bad that this fan had left his show feeling the way they had. In fact, throughout both of his last two specials, Chappelle took time to try and seriously address important social issues. And that is where people like Jamie Loftus took the opportunity to pounce and try to make him look bad. The #MeToo movement and the experience that led to the movement hasn’t just affected women. For the vast majority of women directly affected there are men in their lives who also feel the effects of these horrendous experiences. So it only seems natural that men who have women in their lives would want to stand up and address the movement and experiences that led to it. Chappelle is even more closely affected because he both has women he loves and will protect at all costs, and one of his friends Louis C.K. is one of the offenders. Of course, he wants or feels like he needs to make his voice heard. When we evaluate his words I think it’s important to remember that he is only human, imperfect and complicated just like everyone else. Did he make light of Louis C.K.’s offense against a female comedian? Yes. Was it appropriate? I don’t know, after all, it is comedy. And he did follow it up by questioning what MLK would’ve done had he been in the female comedian’s place. Was it harsh for him to criticize the female comedians “brittle spirit”? Possibly, but again it’s comedy. For me when these are the criticisms that people like Loftus choose to focus on they end up throwing away an ally. It is clear in The Bird Revolution that Chappelle is still processing the whole situation, and he makes some very wise observations. He was absolutely correct when he said that “Fear does not make lasting peace. Ask Black people.” He was correct when he tied the type of change and healing we need in this country to end of Apartheid in South Africa and the efforts of Desmond Tutu and Mandela. But when we let ourselves get got up in overcriticizing the art of comedy for being what it is, we lose sight of the important messages we can find in it.