Last weekend, I attended Blogalicious — an annual conference celebrating diversity in women involved with social media — a great opportunity to meet old and new friends, make countless contacts, and inhale obscene amounts of free liquor. (How much free liquor? Let’s just say that you know you’ve probably had a bit too much when you wake up the next morning and see that you didn’t even close the door to your hotel room)
It took place at the Gaylord National right outside of D.C. — a hotel so big that I once got lost four different times in the same night, prompting a clerk who I’d hit up for directions three times to take a look at my VSB t-shirt and joke “If you’re the smart brotha I’d hate to meet the dummy.”
Anyway, I was invited there to speak on a panel. Titled “Setting Your Own Stage: Creating An Outlet for Your Voice,” Helena Andrews and I spoke to the audience for approximately 90 minutes — 50 minutes answering questions from the moderator (the lovely Liz Burr) and 40 taking questions from the audience — about how to create a niche for yourself in this vast and perpetually expanding new media universe.
Most of the questions were relevant but somewhat predictable — i.e. “How do you continue to come up with ideas?” and “How would you advise a new blogger attempting to follow your footsteps?” — but one in particular stuck with me for the entire weekend:
(Paraphrasing) “How do you sift through the muck to find quality content?”
I responded by saying that regardless of what’s surrounding it, talent and quality content will eventually stand out. It’s our job as consumers to support it when we actually do find it.
The panel ended soon after that, but throughout the rest of the day I was approached by people who wanted to continue that part of the conversation, extending it past the new media world and into television and film. The overarching theme: Why does everything we do on screen nowadays pretty much suck ass?
The usual black media boogeymen (Tyler Perry, the mainstream media, etc) were oft cited as the main culprits, and a few potential saviors who need our support (Issa Rae of “Awkward Black Girl” fame, Helena Andrews — who has a movie based on her book in production, etc) were named as well, but I didn’t find a convincing answer until watching an episode of “Louie” on Hulu yesterday night.
Now, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Louie C.K., so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m also a huge fan of his critically acclaimed show. But, watching it has become a bittersweet experience. I appreciate everything about it — its humor, its awkwardness, its pacing, its fearlessness (more on this in a sec) — but it’s disheartening to realize that I may never see a “black” show that’s anything like it.
It’s not that I don’t believe that we have any comedians/artists as talented and creative as Louie C.K., but the fearlessness that makes the show is mainly due to a freedom to be fearless that we (black audiences) just don’t grant black artists, and this is why most of our “good” shows and movies are tepid and sterile to the point of lifelessness.
Basically, our art sucks because too many of us are just too gotdamn f*cking sensitive.
Seriously, a show like “Louie” might have lasted two episodes if it were made by a black comedian. It either would have been forced off the air by all of the petitions, blogs, tweets, and impassioned YouTube pleas attacking it for every “ism” and “phobia” imaginable, or it would have been forced to become a pussified version of itself, turning it from fearless and iconoclastic to “Reed Between The F*cking Lines.”
“The Chappelle Show” was able to touch on many of those “untouchable” themes, but I think the sketch comedy format made certain things ok in a way they wouldn’t be in a series. It also became popular before social media became truly ubiquitous, and I wonder if an artist as perceptive and sensitive about his craft as Chappelle was would have allowed the countless blogs that undoubtedly would have derided his humor as offensive, racist, and sexist to affect his work.
Now, I understand why we’re pussies. Decades of having to defend ourselves, our images, and our culture has installed a certain vigilance in us that makes us hyper-sensitive to any screen depictions that don’t portray us in a certain way. But, while that same activism may not stunt our creativity, it does restrict our willingness to allow others to be creative.
It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have this epiphany while at Blogalicious. Not sure how well calling black audiences a bunch of pussies would go over in a room full of women, and I probably would have just started railing on Tyler Perry again. As I’ve learned, whenever in front of a potentially hostile audience full of intellectuals, just make fun of Madea.
Damn, I guess this makes me a pussy too.