And black folk wouldn’t have Malcolm X, MLK, or Frederick Douglass.
So, the interwebs recently erupted with its latest controversy. (Remember the good ol’ days when the news cycle lasted, like, at LEAST a month or more before the next “big” thing?)
Comedian and podcaster Shane McGillis was recently hired, then promptly fired by Saturday Night Live. Why you ask? Because he had a conversation on his show last year where he said some pretty racist comments about Asians.
The conversation in question that lost him the SNL job is complicated. Yes, they’re comics being funny (or trying to be funny), but it was a conversation, not a show. It’s one thing if this were a prepared bit he was doing on stage. It would still be provocative and insulting to a lot of people, but at least then you could make the argument that it was edgy comedy where he’s making a calculated decision to broach taboo topics and get up close to that proverbial “line.”
But this was two guys just riffing off one another and saying the first things that came to them. In the context, it comes off as thoughts and feelings they really have and have no trouble talking about. It’s a little nuanced, but I can see why it feels more like racist talk, as opposed to “edgy” comedy.
But, I also don’t know these dudes. I would bet the truth, as is usually the case, lies somewhere between Shane being a veritable straight up racist vs. an ignorant and clueless white dude who doesn’t get it.
Should he have lost the gig? Honestly, it could have gone either way. It was ironic that his racism was about Asians as he was hired along with the FIRST full Asian actor ever hired by the show. Given that, and the fact that SNL is already under scrutiny for not being considered as funny as it used to be, it was probably the smart move on their part to let him go.
With all that said, the growing “cancel culture” is getting a little concerning. It seems like it’s getting a bit too easy to punish people for things they admittedly did or said at completely different times in their lives. Like last year when Disney’s fired James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 due to some pretty awful tweets he made 9 and 10 years ago. (Due to the out-pouring of support from the cast, he was rehired earlier this year).
I recently listened to a great episode of one of my new fave podcasts, Culturally Relevant, with /Filmcast and Cast of Kings podcaster David Chen. Dave was interviewing music video superstar director Joseph Kahn (who has no shortage of provocative comments himself). He was being interviewed about the DVD/Blu-ray release of his film Bodied, a story about a dorky white kid gifted with uncanny battle-rap abilities.
The topic of cancel culture came up and Kahn made this comment:
“We’re in a time now where society expects perfection from artists instead of humanity.”
I don’t know if that was the exact quote, but that was generally it. I found it extremely insightful. It does appear that we’re at a point where people are not willing to offer forgiveness and grace for people who are, you know, human, and make mistakes.
It got me thinking: if “cancel culture” existed 2000 years ago, Christians would not have 2/3 of the New Testament.
Roads to Damascus
Two thirds of the Christian New Testament was written by the Apostle Paul. Before he was Paul, he went by the name Saul. Without getting all theologically on you, suffice to say, Saul was a bad dude that tracked down and killed a lot of Jews converting to this new Christianity thing.
On a trip to the town of Damascus, he had a supernatural encounter with Jesus himself who blinded him for three days and changed his life, and Christianity, forever.
But if cancel culture existed back then like it does now, Paul’s whole ministry woulda been shut down! I can see it now. It would probably go down something like this (my Greek is a little non-existent, so please forgive me if I use some creative license with the, er, tone and word-choice):
Claudius Gossipus: Hey, you hear what’s goin’ down in Corinth?
Brutus Stupidus: No. What’s the deal?
Claudius: They got that bitch-ass muthafucka Saul goin’ ’round plantin’ churches and shit.
Brutus: What the fuck! Are you serious dawg?
Claudius: dead ass my nigga.
Brutus: ain’t that the punk who got Stephen killed and shit?
Claudius: deadass TWO times! As in Stephen’s ass is dead and the muthafucka Saul practically pulled the trigger hisself.
Brutus: but I hear he’s doing, like good work now. Turned a new leaf and all. Claims he saw the J-man himself. And don’t he go by Paul now?
Claudius: shiiiit. I don’t care what the fuck he calls himself now. I don’t want that fuckin’ Christian killa up in my town plantin’ no churches. I say we shut that shit down. Our Lord and savior didn’t die and rise to have some asshole like that telling us what to do. You feel me?
Brutus: fo’ shizzle! I’m down.
Claudius: I’m goin’ to start spreadin’ the word.
Claudius: hey, man. Speaking about “going down.” I hear there’s like a wild party happening this weekend at the old Aphrodite temple. You wanna come with?
Brutus: aw shit. You KNOW I’m down for that. I’ll just ask for forgiveness and shit tomorrow. (Ha!)
So, it’s not exactly a Message translation, but I think you get the idea.
I have to say, this crazy little imagining was inspired by another podcast I heard this week, The Black Guy Who Tips. This is a comedy show with husband and wife Rod and Karen as they comment about news and pop culture. They frequently have me in stitches.
This week Rod shared his thoughts about social media and how the toxicity is such that if it existed back in the days of the civil rights movement, a lot of our civil rights heroes today would’ve been shut down once word got out about their transgressions (e.g. Malcolm X having a previous life as a pimp; Martin Luther King’s marital affairs; Frederick Douglass ending up with a white woman; etc.) It was such a brilliant satirical metaphor.
The thing is, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. But a lot of us learn from those mistakes, have our proverbial “Roads to Damascus” moments, grow, and become better people. And in most cases, we take those past transgressions and our lessons learned, and use them to help others avoid the same mistakes; or use the wisdom gained to make the work we do today that much more profound.
I don’t know how all of this will shake out. Can entertainment, and even art itself, survive in a world where any slight or transgression can result in getting the proverbial “gong”?
In the meantime, I’m gonna avoid saying or writing anything stupid on the internet, and I suggest you do the same. (Hmmm? I wonder if I should rethink my whole Claudius and Brutus interchange? Nah! I don’t think it’ll offend anyone). 😬
Ron Dawson (aka “Ronald”) is a satirical writer, filmmaker, self-admitted blerd, managing editor of a major filmmaking blog, and author of the pending satirical memoir “Dungeons ‘n’ Durags: One black nerd’s epic quest of self-discovery, racial identity, and woking up in Trump’s America.” Sign up for the email list to get access to a sample chapter and be notified of the book’s release.
Header photo by Friar Ted on Flicker (CC BY-SA)
Also published on Medium.