I grew up in a state that many consider part of the Midwest, but most of my neighbors would argue that we are a Southern state. The US Census Bureau agrees only because Oklahoma, the reddest state in the union, is south of Mason-Dixon Line. But Indian Territory, as Oklahoma was known in the 1860s, wasn’t legally open to white settlers until 1889. Oklahoma Territory didn’t become the 46th state until 1907. Nevertheless, many Confederates settled in Oklahoma in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Some of those Confederates were my ancestors–moving from North Carolina through to Arkansas and on to Oklahoma. I’m not proud of this fact, but it is a fact with which I have to live and face. This knowledge is the context of my childhood.
With Confederates on both sides of my family and a paternal grandfather that openly used the “n” word while I was growing up in the Sooner State, I’ve long been amazed that I turned out as I did–a politically active progressive liberal who believes in social justice and fights for equity for minorities, for women, for all. I remember all the racist, sexist, ethnic “truly tasteless jokes” (that were eventually collected into a series of books in 1982) that we all told as grade schoolers as we giggled thinking we were getting one past the grown-ups around us. So much of what I grew up with in the 1970s would not pass in today’s society–rightly so or wrongly so, we have lost our ability as a nation to laugh at the expense of any group, much less ourselves. In many ways, this is indeed progress, but in other ways, we have become a nation at war with itself because we are constantly offended with each other. I have been searching my experiences in my mind trying to trace the path from growing up with tasteless jokes to being trolled by acquaintances and strangers alike in social media for being an intolerant snowflake libtard (among other names).
I considered the humor of Mel Brooks, for example. I can remember laughing at early scenes from Blazing Saddles as a youngster in the back seat of the car at the drive-in theater as my parents tried to enjoy a date night of sorts. My younger brother and I both hee-hawed at the bean farting scene. Then we started arguing over who got the red and blue M&Ms, ate some popcorn, and fell asleep (I was 5 1/2; my brother was 4) before the new sheriff came to town. But as adolescents, we were re-introduced to the entire film. And we both loved the brilliant satire. We still do. I often quote “Mongo only pawn in game of life” when people look to me to solve their problems for them (I’m a firm believer in the Alinsky’s Iron Rule of Organizing–Never do for others what they can do for themselves). Mel Brooks knew that even back in 1974 he was broaching taboo racial, ethnic, and sexist subjects as he parodied Hollywood Westerns, but he did so deftly and with such satiric skill and wit that the classic film still works today.
The closest a film has come to this level of line-crossing satiric genius in the past decade would have to be Ben Stiller’s 2008 Tropic Thunder, which also put Hollywood in the crosshairs while using taboo racist, ethnic, and sexist humor to fantastic effect just like his predecessor Brooks. Tropic Thunder opened the month before my 40th birthday, but I remember thinking as I sat virtually alone at a weekday matinee of the film that it was a brilliant piece of satire that actually pulled off the unthinkable in the post-millennial world–having an Academy Award nominee in blackface for virtually the entire film. I have to wonder if Stiller would have been able to get the green light for the film today, in a post-Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner/Philando Castile/et al world. Part of me hopes yes, but another part of me hesitates to think so. We are a society that is hurting and not healing. The wounds of our Civil War and its resulting segregation are festering and poisoning the body of our nation. And our national “leaders” do not lead with the courage to do what is right, but instead look for expediency and to curry favor with a chosen few.
Today’s horrifying spectacle of the President of the United States openly defending alt-right protestors who were yelling Nazi chants at this last weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally, of him openly defending Confederate General Robert E. Lee by falsely equating him to President George Washington and President Thomas Jefferson (neither of whom betrayed this country to raise arms against it) while denouncing the alt-left as violent offenders was stunning to watch (here’s a guide to the terms). The simmering hatred against America’s first black president, Barack Obama, has in short order boiled over in a very public defiance and a rage egged on by DJT/45 (I still refuse to type his name). The alt-right men and women who descended upon Charlottesville this last weekend were open and proud to wear their White Nationalist symbols. Gone were the KKK face-hiding hoods. The brazen marchers knew the terrifying history behind carrying torches and marching at night–KKK rallies and lynch mobs. They knew that this action steeped in the traditions of the White Supremacists and Segregationists would bring these actions symbolic of the violent old into the now and the future. They also knew that counter protesters would show up–that those in opposition to their extremist views would not stand in fear in the shadows like in days past. America’s wounds are splitting open and bleeding for the world to see.
And all my acquaintances and friends in my birth state of Oklahoma can talk about is how libtards like me are writing a revisionist history erasing their heritage. That is what saddens me the most. How did we arrive at this point in time where extremism is ruling the day and the majority stands by acquiescing? Did we learn nothing from our fathers and grandfathers who fought in WW2? Did we learn nothing from Hitler’s Final Solution and Master Race rhetoric? I can’t help but think of Mark Antony’s stirring the Roman people: “O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,/ And men have lost their reason.”