Comedy Of the Offensive
By Erin Whitney
Race and gender stereotypes have long been a subject of comedy in various Internet media, a sensation that garnered mainstream attention with “Shit Girls Say” in 2011. The humorous series features a male in female drag reenacting stereotypical things women say and do. While it began as a Twitter feed, it eventually grew into a popular web series and sparked the “Shit People Say” video phenomenon. More and more videos were made for highlighting various demographic, such as occupation stereotypes (“Shit Web Designers Say”), lifestyle stereotypes (“Shit Vegans Say”), sexuality stereotypes (“Shit Gay Guys Say”), and so on.
This new form of internet comedy opened up a new field to express cultural anxieties felt towards certain demographics, since usually someone of the opposite type reenacted the video, mainly girls playing guys and vice versa. This form of humor was hardly harmful or offensive since large communities of people could relate and agreed on the veracity of the content, or at least found its exaggeration funny.
However, the playful humor took a turn when race became a factor, specifically when one race impersonated another in “Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls.” In the 2012 video comedienne Franchesca Ramsey, a black girl, dons a blonde wig and, speaking in a valley girl voice, says a handful of things she believes white girls say to black girls. The video ignited debate over whether or not Ramsey’s video was a form of reverse racism, whether one race has the right to comment on another, and that if what the video depicts is reflective of society, are those who are angered (white girls) in denial of their behavior?
While it may seem like this phenomenon of using stereotypes comedically had died out after “Shit People Say” faded into the recent past, newer Internet mediums such as Vine prove otherwise. As my last blog introduced, there are a handful of Vine subgenres and one is none other than “Black People vs White People, ” which similarly play off of racial stereotypes humorously. In “White people vs black people reaction to magic” black men impersonate white people’s calm and reserved reaction to an off screen trick, then switch to play themselves reacting as they jump and holler in excitement. In a way, this Vine like Ramsey’s video could be perceived as offensive reverse racism since it shows one race commenting on another. Other Vines however, such as “Black guy listening to white people music,” shows both a black and a white guy commenting on one another, allowing for a more mutual stereotyping.
While these videos feel good-humored and playful, there are some Vines that go too far and come off as shockingly offensive. In “White mom vs. Black mom” a non-black woman calmly knocks on her son’s door asking him to unlock it, then switches to playing a black mother holding a belt who kicks down the door and, from what we can infer from the loud slap and boy’s scream, beats her son. There are a variety of other “Black Mom vs White Mom” Vines that portray the white mother as timid and the black mother as violent, portrayed by both races.
Regardless of the debate of who has the right to poke fun at racial, gender, or sexuality stereotypes, all these videos bring up the more important question of why are we making them and laughing at them. The argument can be made that the more these anxieties towards people of other identities are expressed, especially with humor, the more they will go away or draw awareness to it. Yet there is also the reverse view that such forms of commentary only perpetuate stereotypes, strengthen stigmas, and further divide people of differing groups.
Sure, it’s harmless to highlight to moronic and silly things certain types of people say and do, but we must decide at what point the comedy turns cruel. At what point does the judgement shift from the subjects being made fun of in the videos to those acting them out? Defining the lines of politically correct humor, especially with race in mind, is incredibly difficult. But since when did comedy become about putting on a mask to, in a way, make fun of someone other than you? The comedienne should be someone who is involved in the humor, someone who is also shamed by it, not the one pointing a finger laughing. Perhaps we should shed this lazy and borderline-offensive humor and try looking at what we know for comedic inspiration.