The white boys at my house missed SNL this weekend—because we have better things to do on Saturday night than watch SNL*—so I didn't get a chance to watch Leslie Jones' bit on Weekend Update until after I'd heard that the People of the Internet were outraged by it. Some People of the Internet were outraged by the outrage. And I'm sure if I looked around I could find some People of the Internet who are outraged by the outrage at the outrage. But I have better things to do.**
I finally got around to watching the bit last night and it struck me—pasty-faced, cracker-assed me—as edgy, funny, unsettling, and problematic, as the People of the Internet were putting it, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was so unsettling about it. (Besides, you know, the subject matter.) I didn't feel like I had a right to put my finger on it. But today W. Kamau Bell nails the problematic/unsettling in a piece at Salon:
Much of the outrage surrounding Jones’ appearance (we really need a better word for being mad on the Internet than “outrage”) has focused on the bit itself, either it being funny or not funny. It happens every week, in real time, during “SNL,” on social media. That is totally fair. (Although some of the outrage has used words like “coonery” which is totally fucked up.) But I would say that the real sticking point with this bit is the audience....
IMHO, context is what made Leslie Jones’s bit seem weird to some (like me) and offensive to others. Imagine, just for a second, that instead of Chris Rock taping his classic (CLASSSSSSSSSSIC!) bit, “Niggas vs Black People,” in Washington, D.C., in front of what appears to be a mostly black audience, that he had taped that bit on “SNL”… at the “Weekend Update” desk… next to Norm MacDonald… right after another Norm joke referencing Frank Stallone. Would it have been as immediately heralded as a new high in cultural criticism and satire? Or would Norm’s awkward laughter and the studio audience’s “whiteness” have made it harder to focus on the brilliance? In fact, I vote that Rock’s bit is better on HBO because we can see through all the audience reaction shots that black people are fully (FULLY!) onboard. (I do think the bit would have killed with “SNL’s” audience too, but the laughter would’ve been more “REEEEEALLY?” instead of the black audience’s laughter of “YES!!!”)
There’s an interesting thing that happens when POC experience entertainment. We feel like if we are the only ones “in the room” — whether that “room” is an actual room like a comedy club, or a TV taping, or just the “room” that exists when the majority of the TV viewing audience is black. (See: Fox’s 90’s sitcom “Living Single”.) When we feel like we are the only ones privy to the material and the person onstage is one of us, then we will laugh harder, celebrate louder, and applaud more ferociously than if we feel like we are being watched by white folks. Why is that? Well actually it has to do with that whole slavery thing and how white people were literally watching us all the time and us feeling like we couldn’t relax. No, most black Americans today aren’t slaves, but slavery is like phantom limb syndrome. Even though it’s gone, we can still feel it.
Go read the whole thing. And, yes, we do need a better word for being mad at a comedian on the Internet than "outrage." I nominate "brouhaha'd."
* We were asleep by 11:30 PM.
** I have to eat these eggs.