Hollywood’s Nigger Joke » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

JANUARY 01, 2013

Tarantino’s “Django: Unchained”

Hollywood’s Nigger Joke

by CECIL BROWN

I had little dog, his name  was Dash

I’d ruther be a nigger than be white trash

–African American saying

In order for a joke to work, Mary Douglas, the eminent British anthropologist, wrote, one had to have a social context for it to operate in. “We must ask what are the social conditions for a joke to be both perceived and permitted,” she asked in her wonderfully little essay, “jokes,”

“My hypothesis,” she goes on “is that a joke is seen and allowed when it offers a symbolic pattern of a social pattern occurring at the same time.”

With Django: Unchained, the symbolic pattern–I’d call it historical context–is Hollywood itself. “If there is no joke in the social structure,” Mrs Douglas observed, “no other joke can appear.”  In Hollywood, there are lots of jokes in the system!

The social pattern that allows Quentin Tarantino’s “Nigger joke” to work is  set in the South, two years before the Civil War, but my point is that this is only a pretext for Hollywood itself.

Some critics, like Betsy Sharkey, in the Times, think this film is a masterpiece. Sharkey calls it,   “the most articulate, intriguing, provoking, appalling, hilarious, exhilarating, scathing and downright entertaining film yet.”

African American critic Wesley Morris hated it. He called it “unrelenting tastelessness — […] exclamatory kitsch — on a subject as loaded, gruesome, and dishonorable as American slavery.”  Ishmael Reed, the novelist, pointed out how the Weinstein Company promoted an advertising campaign to get a black audience by promoting  Jamie Foxx as the star. In fact, Foxx is only one of the stars, along with Christoph Waltz and  Leonardo DiCaprio. As Reed points out, Foxx spends most of his time looking at Mr.Waltz and then looking at Mr. DiCaprio, with a puzzled look on his face, as if to say, What’s dese white folks, talkin ‘bout?

via Hollywood’s Nigger Joke » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.