“It happens on occasion that, unable to maintain the distance necessary for reflection, journalists end up acting like the fireman who sets the fire. They help create the event by focusing on a story (such as the murder of one young Frenchman by another young man, who is just as French but “of African origin”), and then denounce everyone who adds fuel to the fire that they lit themselves. I am referring, of course, to the National Front which, obviously, exploits or tries to exploit “the emotions aroused by events.” This in the words of the very newspapers and talk shows that startled the whole business by writing the headlines in the first place, and by rehashing events endlessly at the beginning of every evening news program. The media then appear virtuous and humane for denouncing the racist moves of the very figure [Le Pen] they helped create and to whom they continue to offer the most effective instruments of manipulation.”On Television (The New Press, 1998 Trans).
I’m excited to announce that I will officially be teaching GEOG 423: American Popular Culture again this Spring. Now let’s celebrate with some shots of Uncle Jemima’s Pure Mash Liquor!https://player.vimeo.com/api/player.js
Not only is this brief sketch one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on television, it provides a perfect encapsulation of (1) what a national treasure Tracy Morgan is, and (2) how baked-in racism and racist caricatures are in American popular culture. When I first did my lecture on the thick undercurrent of the Minstrel Show in pop culture, I realized how little context I had to understand how brilliant this sketch was when it first aired in 2000 (or so).
I was only vaguely aware of Song of the South, as much as Disney was still largely capable of keeping it under-rug-swept at the time, a few years before streaming video and user-side online reference became the norm. I don’t remember if I had yet connected the dots between Splash Mountain, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” other relics of the post-War/pre-Civil Rights era with the beautifully modulated satire here. Then and now, it was an exceptional use of television as a medium for sketch comedy and one of my favorite moments in SNL’s decades-long, peaks-and-valleys history.
I had an absolute blast teaching 423 (cross-listed with American Studies) for the first time this past Spring, and my department has rewarded me by adding a section during what would otherwise have been an off-year. A colleague has invited me to present this as a guest-lecture in a course on race and racism next month. I also hope to incorporate this into my discussion on symbolic gentrification at Relix Mic Nite on November 8th. It’s all coming together…slowly.