The Netflix comedy special “The Closer” by Dave Chappelle caused something of a stir in the real world (LGBTQ netflix employees are rattling their sabers) and the virtual one (although this is always true). It seems in the flurry of those desperate for clicks, validation, or affirmation of some unique take many are losing sight of what really matters. These faux ‘conversations’ betray a much deeper issue underlying our society: is there any solution to the issues being revealed by societies victims? Dave Chappelle’s broader message is being ignored.
It should be no surprise that a comedian who has built an entire career on jokes about sensitive racial issues has decided, in order to stay relevant, to move on to making jokes about sensitive sexual and gender identity issues. While racial issues still remain unresolved, the special hits its targets quickly,
DaBaby was the number one streaming artist until about a couple of weeks ago. Took a nasty spill onstage, and said some… said some wild stuff about the LBGTQ community during a concert in Florida….But, you know a lot of the LBGTQ community doesn’t know DaBaby’s history, he’s a wild guy. He once shot a nigga… and killed him, in Walmart…DaBaby shot and killed a nigga in Walmart in North Carolina. Nothing bad happened to his career. Do you see where I am going with this? In our country, you can shoot and kill a nigga but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
This same argument is again repeated in the special,
[a story about behind harassed at a restaurant, Dave goes over to the table]… He picked up his phone and he called the police. And this, this thing I am describing is a major issue that I have with that community. Gay people are minorities, until they need to be White again.Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
So the outrage from the trans community in particular is much easier to see in this guise, they believe that they (as a minority) are either more oppressed, their issues less understood, or even that their existence is less known (or all of those combined) than that of black people. Because of this they feel the jokes are inappropriate and complain loudly.
My least favorite of which being, I hate this phrase they say, I was punching down on them. Punching down, what the fuck does that mean?Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
The debate about Dave Chappelle has always been and remains an exercise in victim hierarchy. If the rule of comedy is that you can only ‘punch up’ then you must first establish a what ‘up’ is. That hierarchy is easy to build at the top of the pyramid and is not often debated. We begin with the classics (thanks marx) by looking at class (rich), move on to 1960s history race (white) and then our modern adaptation of gender identity (male) and orientation (heterosexual). But then of course you have to think about the 2nd most powerful in society, or the 3rd, or the 4th, or the 5th, and you run into serious problems. Is a women more oppressed than a gay man? Is a black man more oppressed than a trans woman? What about a gay white woman?
[in quoting a tweet of a transwoman who defended his comedy specials, she later committed suicide]…He doesn’t punch up, he doesn’t punch down he punches lines, and he is a master at his craft.Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
However, if Dave is punching ‘straight across’ then why the hierarchy establishment earlier? Why claim that whiteness is more powerful in America than sexual orientation or gender identification? This is the contradiction found in Dave’s argument that I don’t think he successfully reconciles. In-fact, his closing argument contradicts itself almost in the same sentence.
I’m not telling another joke about you until we are both sure, that we are laughing together. I’m telling you this is done. I’m done talking about it. All I ask from your community, with all humility will you please stop punching down on my people?Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
The contradiction remains, claim we’re all on the same level then turn around and argue for a hierarchy again. Dave is a reflection of the deep challenges that liberals have in reconciling their world view. They insist that hierarchies exist while simultaneously claiming that there are multiple layers of oppression.
But these layers and their compounding effects shatter strict hierarchies. It is an ideological contradiction of their own making that on the one hand the liberal argues Male > Female, Rich > Poor, White > Black, Heterosexual>Homosexual, etc and then on the other hand claims that combinations of the above form unique layers of oppression and suffering (see intersectionality). The latter means the former is false, and the former means the latter is false. This is the sad legacy of Marx, brought to the modern era by lazy internet activists and blog ‘intellectuals’ trying to take shortcuts by painting our world in a dichotomy (the proletariat and the bourgoisie). Only to then humbly arrive at the conclusion that the world is a little more complex than first imagined (enter Marx’s ‘petit’ bourgoise).
Dave is a mouthpiece of the very arguments that LGBTQ proposes, they just don’t like his conclusions. In his comedy special he forms a hierarchy (white > black, in all instances, in all cases) and he argues for its strict tiers which validates his comedy. The inevitable conclusion is that the very people he places on a higher tier of privilege refuse to accept the pronouncement. Dave makes this claim explicitly in the special,
You think I hate gay people and what you’re really seeing is that I’m jealous of gay people… We Blacks, we look at the gay community and we go God damn it! Look how well that movement is going…And we’ve been trapped in this predicament for hundreds of years. How the fuck are you making that kind of progress?Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
Can a white man make a caricature of a black man? They have, they continue to do so, but is it acceptable? Dave is a reflection of the race to the bottom that this liberal world view necessitates, not just for comedy, but also for political purposes. He brings this up directly
[on JRK Rowling]…they started calling her a TERF. I didn’t even know, what the fuck that was. .. TERF is an acronym. It stands for Trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This is a real thing, this is a group of women… that hate transgender. They don’t hate transgender women but they look at trans women the way we Blacks might look at Black face. It offends them like, “Oh, this bitch is doing an impression of me.”Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
Who deserves special attention under the law to correct historical injustice? To correct concurrent injustice? I will re-iterate something I’ve written in my blog time and time again, the liberal worldview is the most dominant, most successful, most pervasive political ideology that has ever existed in world history. It has factions, it has problems, but it has become it’s own victim, the victim of rampant success. It is so successful that it is able to devolve into ceaseless internal arguments over who is the least privileged member of its cohort, while everyone within it can simultaneously agree that some are more privileged than others.
What liberal disagrees that oppression exists? Yet which liberal is willing to defend the hierarchy that they so fervently propose on the world stage? Dave’s special is particularly salient because of this,
Look at it like this, Caitlyn Jenner whom I have met, wonderful person. Caitlyn Jenner… was voted, woman of the year. Her first year as a woman. Ain’t that something? Beat every bitch in Detroit. She’s better than all of you. Never even had a period, ain’t that something? I’d be mad as shit if I was a woman. I’d be mad if I was me. If I was in the BET awards, sitting there and they’re like And the winner for nigger of the year… Eminem. My man.Dave Chappelle: The Closer (2021)
Who accepts who in this new world of ours? Womanhood is more than just a surgery, your hormones, or statements you make on twitter. It is a cultural experience, a way of communicating, a way of experiencing the world. Being a woman means experiencing the oppression as a woman throughout your life just as being a black person means experiencing racism until adulthood. That is a cultural identity that cannot be replicated through surgery or mere words or personal identifications.
The hierarchy framework breaks down with each new revelation of oppression; living your life as a man and then converting to a woman, tries to muddy the previous hierarchy and shatters the foundations until it can be rebuilt (if ever). Dave tries to remain consistent, race trumps everything in America but this is complicated stuff. It is no wonder transgender people are mad. He diminishes their experiences, their suffering. To be told the experience of a black man is worse than that of being trans, is that not some form of oppression? Of course! But how many oppression units should we allocate to this experience? 5? 1.5? But there is no doubt, trans people are oppressed just look at the suicide rates of transgender people (both before and after transitions, they are similar). They want to be accepted as whoever they wish to be and so be it, but does that mean that they must therefore be below blacks in the oppression hierarchy? Using one’s oppression as a way of lowering themselves beneath other marginalized groups is an endless game. No one wants to give up the narrative, no one wants to cede ground that some other marginalized groups concerns and issues are more important than their own.
Therefore, the victim game leads to a selfish form of zero-sum and morphs into Dave’s race argument exactly. Gay people have great progress because of their race, therefore race trumps every other issue in America. No one wants their issues to lose prevalence on ‘the agenda’ of the only party willing to push its objectives (the democratic party, although this isn’t entirely true but that’s for a different post). When real world problems (transgender suicides) get focused into the prism of 49% to 51% majoritarian political parties, people are bound to get competitive for no objective reason other than self interest. The truth is no one wants to discover who the most ‘disadvantaged’ person is and agree to it.
The fact is that real world experiences are different, suffering is different, and oppression is never comparable. A gay person in one household can be supported and less oppressed than a gay person in a different household. Should we then create brackets of lesser privileged gays between those in New York and those in South Carolina? Liberals are incapable of reconciling these differences but that’s because they are impossible to reconcile (nor would they agree to do so even if they could!). This is not a failure of Dave, it is a failure of the entire ideological framework. Dave gets heat because he is both successful and making consistent arguments, how much better it would be if he ceded the racial ground in his comedy (certainly better for transgender people, maybe not so much better for blacks, this is zero-sum).
Victim hood is not a methodology designed to solve societal problems. It exists and functions for one purpose only, to attempt to reveal to society and convince that society that a particular victim exists. To presume that this framework is able to do much else is, in my view, a delusion.
Dave is a liberal, he has a strict hierarchy (white>black) and he refuses to cede this ground. The problem for society is now to then argue with each other on if a black man can make trans jokes which is really just code for seeing if we agree black people are more oppressed than white trans people. People (all of you) make these determinations, people who lobby and jostle, argue and complain to one-another over why its okay or why it isn’t. This is what killed blackface and is (very slowly…) killing the submissive love interest trope in modern film.
I’m very happy with Dave’s special as I think it’s an excellently crafted critique of a rising tide within liberalism, victim jostling. He spurs conversations that I think are important and his jokes are crass to some and funny to others. They fall in enough grey space to make it acceptable socially while offending enough people to motivate them to make their voices heard. Oppression is a fact of life, every social system, every method of economic organization or distribution has winners and losers. The goal of society is a type of eternal wack-a-mole, to defeat one type of oppression without another popping back up through unintended consequences (say, affirmative action within India). However, I think the victim complex needs to be recognized as running its course. At some point a new victim will arise who will jostle all the other victims (transgenders included) for special status of the biggest-loser. We need to move forward, and that isn’t done through a self aggrandizing world view thinly veiled as zero-sum identification politics.
These marginalized groups can begin to move forward by doing a very simple thing, separate claims for legalistic justice with economic policy. Social Democracy isn’t inherently feminist, and supply-side capitalist policy isn’t inherently anti-feminist either. Those who are unable to understand this distinction are doomed to this endless game of jostling the democratic party as the ‘biggest lower’ deserving of its attention.