Brendan Whitt


Blought #14: Satire and The Boondocks

They say comedy is just honest observation. I’ve always had a crude sense of humor. I can remember when I was in middle school and Chappelle’s Show was one of the hottest shows on television. Dave was a master of projecting the black experience and our reality to the masses. He was my generation’s Richard Pryor.

A few years later Adult Swim premiered a new and raunchy show titled The Boondocks  from creator Aaron McGruder. The show which was based on the comic strip of the same name also created by McGruder, followed native Chicagoans Riley and Huey Freeman  who lived with their grandfather Robert Freeman as they struggled to adapt to their new suburban town of Woodcrest.

During it’s four season run over the span of ten years, The Boondocks was one of the most popular shows on television. Just like the comic had done, the show sparked outrage from both the media as well as the public.

I attribute the outrage to it’s brash and brazen use of the word “nigga”, it’s main protagonists being children and probably most of all because of it’s use of negative stereotypes regarding African-American culture. Many called the show ignorant and offensive.
My question is was it really that offensive or was The Boondocks really just holding up a picture of what Black America has become? If you are one of those critics take a closer look at the undertones. McGruder is clearly satirizing everything wrong with pop culture in urban America.

Materialism, false black political figures, drug culture and glorified gang violence in Hip-Hop. Not only has the show satirized the black culture but it has also poked fun at America as a whole. Let’s explore these ideas a little more.

If you’ve read Blought #9 you got a sense of my feelings towards the ‘faux black elitist’. These are people who claim to be enlightened or want better for the Black people while spewing inaccurate and skewed facts. This term can also be used for fake black political leaders like Al Sharpton (trust me, the majority of black Gen X and millennials hate the Reverend almost as much as GOP supporters).

Reverend Al Sharpton has been satirized by McGruder on a few occasions. The character Rollo Goodlove, voiced by Ceelo Green always seems to appear when it’s most convenient for him and his brand. In the episode “The S-Word” Riley is called a “spear chucker” by his teacher. Following the outrage Rollo Goodlove jumps in to represent the Freemans.

When the Freemans are scheduled to appear on a Fox News show, it is revealed that the Reverend Goodlove and Anne Coulter are good friends. Now I’m not suggesting Sharpton and Fox News pundits pal around, but the lack of sincerity  by Goodlove is used to show what many believe about Sharpton. He’s an insincere opportunist out for a dollar and exposure.

In the episode “Kentucky Fried Flu” the idea of media transparency is thoroughly exhibited. A KFC like restaurant unveils a  new recipe for chicken that uses more herbs and spices. When Granddad and Riley hear of the new chicken they react and hop in the car to go and taste the new recipe.

When they arrive the two are met with long lines which leads to violence when the restaurant announces they don’t have anymore chicken. The storyline then turns into an epidemic supposedly caused by eating the chicken. The news reports estimated millions would die from the food borne illness.

President Obama was even prompted to give an address from a secret bunker. Turned out the projections were false and nobody even died from the illness. Sounds a lot like the anthrax scare post 9\11 or the bird flu epidemic a few years later. How about that disease Ebola we were supposed to be so worried about (Yeah people died but the disease was contained fairly quickly with a vaccine being distributed not too long after that).

I’ll be the first to admit it, black guys really love sneakers and name brand clothing. Levi Strauss jeans, a Ralph Lauren t-shrt or polo, Nike Jacket and sneakers costing between $50 to $200 is a pretty dope outfit to me. Materialism is a part huge part of the urban Black experience.

There’s nothing wrong with having nice clothes. It’s when you step outside of your means to obtain these objects is when it becomes a problem. No one expresses this in the show more than Riley. In the episode “Home Alone” Granddad goes on a trip leaving the boys home alone. He leaves a jar of money for the boys to use for food until Riley uses the jar of money to by himself a new outfit.

Materialism is in some ways seen as one the factors that is used to hold Blacks back. We spend more than what we earn to present a facade that we are alright financially. A new car and vacation doesn’t mean your bills are paid. It just means you don’t have very good financial management skills.

The culture of materialism has even lead some to turn to crime in order to afford what they may not be able to at the time. In his single “Nobody’s Perfect”, Hip-Hop artist J. Cole was quoted saying “Death over dishonor/ they killin niggas for J’s/ that’s death over designer.” While at a release myself in 2012 a fellow shopper told me about having to put his Jordan concords in his backpack because walking through the projects brought the risk of him being robbed.

This behavior isn’t anything new. Jordan brand releases have been prime targets of robberies and assaults since the creation of the shoe in the mid 80’s. In 2011 following the release of  the highly coveted Nike Galaxy Foamposite, there were reports of customers not only being robbed but also being killed over the rare and limited sneakers (yeah my people are kind of fucked up).

Now that the Boondocks is off of the air it’s legacy is surely one that I believe will live on forever. Many can call the show ignorant or degrading but as the old cliché says, the proof is in the pudding. Black culture (even some of the things I personally like) is a bit misguided. The show pushed the envelope and shared messages we all needed to hear. Question is, did you get it?