By Ajit Singh*
Since the last few weeks there’s been a mounting backlash against Comedian Dave Chapelle’s Netflix Special “The Closer” which debuted on October 5th. The controversy erupted as some people alleged that the show was extremely transphobic & anti-women. Even the employees of Streaming giant staged protests & demanded the content must be removed from the platform. The comedian in a video message remained unapologetic & defended the act. He said, “…. do not blame the LBGTQ community for any of this shit. This has nothing to do with them. It’s about corporate interests and what I can say and what I cannot say”.
To understand what’s behind the controversy, I took a shot to watch it myself. Surely the experience was neither as enlightening as Hannah Gadsby’s Nannet nor even whittier like Alan Wong’s but indeed the performance is not a junk or a taser. Here’s my interpretation of The Closer. What it has got right & where it gets problematic.
Advantage of Being White
In the stand-up, Dave mentioned a real life incident about the white gay man at the table saying crap to him like he had a right to & then lastly whipping out his phone to call the cops.
The BLM movement after George Floyd’s death has shed light on the issue of internalised racism & cases of police’ brutality especially against Blacks & other communities of color in the United States.
He further added that “gay people are minorities, until they need to be white again”. This is not just an apocryphal flapdoodle. For instance in 2019 Law enforcement agencies were called out in California for their negligence & reluctance to act on time, which if they did could have saved the life of two black gay men who were sexually exploited by Democratic party donor Ed Buck & later died of drug overdose that was offered to them in exchange for sex.
It is not only limited to couple of episodes, there are multiple accounts that exposes American society’s indifference for black life & racial discrimination faced by Black queers on online dating apps, gay bars & other virtual/physical interactive space at the hands of white queer folks. Now it’s time their stories need to be heard for understanding the unhealthy power dynamics that exist in LGBTQ community. This also serves as a reminder for white gays to understand their privilege of being white & make sure not to use it against other marginalized groups.
Do some lives matter more than others?
The comedian mentioned American rap singer DaBaby. In 2018 he allegedly killed a 19-year-old black boy at a Walmart Store in North Carolina. He faced no charges & his career has gone through the roof. In August this year at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami the singer passed several homophobic slurs & as the consequence he has been dropped from the major events including Lollapalooza lineup in Chicago & the City Limits Festival in Austin.
Although there’s no scientific study to conclude the fact, this specific incident is a symbolic representation that shows being transphobic could cost you your career & reputation but taking someone’s life is okay because that life is not worth being saved in America.
It must not be an exaggeration to state but living as a white gay man is comparitavely less challenging than surviving as a black person in US. Because the question is , as Dave puts it “Why is it easier for Bruce Jenner to change his gender than it is for Cassius Clay to change his name?”
Fallacy of Women’s March
In the act Dave mentioned about his black friend Anj’s disinterest to take part in Women’s March. In the first instance, his mocking of Women’s March seems absurd & an appalling faux pas but his arguments are not without substance.
In a new research published by the APA (American Psychological Association) Observes, “Social Justice movements engaged in fighting state violence actually work to reinforce the unique brand of racial & gendered harm that befalls Black women ”. Why part of the question is equally astonishing, is because black women do not fit in the definition of a typical woman & are viewed more similar to black men than white women. This is not just limited to one research. There are prominent examples of feminist mobilizations like campaign for Women Suffrage Movement & Equal Rights Amendment that entirely excluded the concerns of Black women because they are considered lower on the femininity dimension than white counterparts.
The organizers of the Women’s March in US has portrayed this movement to be an inclusive platform for intersectional feminism but the allegations of anti-semitism & tokenism by Jewish & Black women respectively can prove to be a major setback. Therefore the imperative should be on the advocacy for the rights of all women otherwise it’ll go down in History as a wasted effort that failed to bring social change for everyone.
Cancel Culture & Wokeism
During the closure of his act, Dave called out the toxicity of Cancel Culture which led to sucide of his transgender friend & fellow comedian Daphne Dorman who killed herself after being bullied by online troll armies that targeted her for defending him against admonishment after some of his jokes in the set were dubbed transphobic.
In July of last year prominent academicians, tv presenters, journalist & Author wrote a public letter titled “A letter on Justice & Open debate” which was published by Harper Magazine. The signatories included many personalities of left liberal discourse like Noam Chomsky, Historian Mia Bay, Author Margaret Atwood were some. The letter was more a kind of introspection among thinkers that reflects on shared concern about their own tribe. Most of them agree with the fact that the left is inheriting a deadly & contagious disease from the political right which is blocking free exchange of ideas & thinking. It is turning itself into a closed & shrinking eco chamber where only a specific set of values are welcome & if you chose to disregard or show disloyalty of any proportion the implications are jarring. The left is losing its ground by filtering out even valid & constructive criticism. To become more relevant our culture needs to provide safe space to dissent & free speech so as to not engage in the same harms towards the liberal democratic vision that they are charged with combating.
For countering the hate speech , solution proposed by ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) might be considered “As far as racist, misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic speech is concerned, more speech & not less is the answer most consistent with our constitutional & democratic values.”
The problematic issue in The Closer has been discussed to a great length.Ignorance could be fatal if you get a medium like Dave Chappelle & he must not be discounted for his jokes on LGBTQ people or his unconditional support of transphobic statements by J.K. Rowling.
In his previous acts & now in Closer he has missed no chance to invalidate trans/non- binary/gender fluid etc by twisting the social construction of gender into an obnoxious debate of “why does it matter”. Misusing one’s social clout to blab irresponsibly & calling “gender a fact”, defeats the purpose of understanding the intricacies & diversity of gender studies & becomes a pedigree of hate against LGBTQIA+ community due to propagation of misinformation on race,gender identity & expression, sexual orientation. That is a fact.
*Hobbyist writer who has graduated in economics, Currently sophomore in the Bachelor’s in Education program