Social commentary is becoming more difficult to encounter, as the nature of media adapts to developing technologies and we become saturated with an almost innumerable amount of information. Among all the information that inundates our lives, consistently on the cusp of current social affairs are animated cartoons.
Cartoons are vital entities that weave comedy with social awareness in the ever-changing United States social climate. Cartoons are free to liberate themselves creatively from the appearance of political correctness that pervades most broadcast entertainment media.
The satirical nature of cartoons allows them to point out idiosyncrasies avoided or ignored by most serious social commentators. The removal of physical reality allows writers and thinkers to grapple with the most poignant subjects that demand attention in our society.
Today’s serious political and social commentary is limited to AM radio, late-night public television and Internet forums. Those who maintain the effort to critically examine society become labeled by mainstream media as heady, eccentric, crazy liberals or ridiculously conservative. The cartoonists seem to be able to avoid such labels.
Aaron McGruder, creator of “The Boondocks,” recently received flak from the Rev. Al Sharpton for an episode of his popular cartoon that ran the day before Martin Luther King Day. The episode portrayed Dr. King using the N-word. Rev. Sharpton directed his anger at Cartoon Network for allowing the episode to air.
Perhaps Sharpton heard it out of context, declined to pay attention during the entire 30-minute episode, or forgot how to take a joke.
The episode begins by recounting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being shot in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 and takes a fictional turn after that. Young Huey Freeman narrates the scene and says, “He was critically injured.”
After falling into a coma, King awakens 32 years later n October 2000. Seven days after his recovery from the coma, he shows up to vote in the 2000 election and was turned away due to “voting irregularities.”
After 9/11, King responds to a question regarding how he thinks the U.S. should respond to the attack on the country by saying that, as a Christian, he was taught to love his enemies, and to turn the other cheek when attacked. Labeled as an anti-American, King finds himself rejected by the same media who so copiously use his effigy in their desire to be seen as diverse.
After dinner with Huey’s family King sits on the couch with him and flips through television stations. He sees the animated version of the Vibe Music Awards where rap artists threw chairs and stabbed a man in a brawl. King flips to Bobby Brown slapping his wife, Whitney Houston, on their reality TV series. He quickly changes to Black Entertainment Television where girls in thongs shake their rear ends to vapid music.
King asks Huey, “What happened to our people?”
Huey gives King a pep talk, and tells him that people need the truth. Not the pretty truth, but the horrible truth, the truth that makes people get up and do something.
In an effort to ignite political awareness in the black community, King and Huey organize a political party, which turns into a big party, filled with the same messages that troubled King on television.
Outraged, King steps to the podium, addresses the people as brothers and sisters, but was ignored. Irritated by the lack of attention he yelled, “Will you ignorant n- please shut the hell up?”
McGruder wrote a speech for the cartoon character of Dr. King that would surely make any person conscious of the decline of intelligent forums of black inspiration. He dramatized King’s usage of the N-word to wake people up from their haze of flashy clothing, visceral violence and promiscuous sexuality.
Serious commentary on declining positive imagery for Americans is vacant in most media formats. Debauchery, consumerism and elitism have taken over Dr. King’s original dream of a society of equality, brother/sisterhood and honesty.
This is why cartoons and comedy are vital to the progression of society. When we cannot step outside of our own lives and examine them from a serious yet satirical point of view, we have lost hope of ever being able to change and evolve into a more compassionate society.
Thankfully, Cartoon Network has green-lighted a 20-episode second season of the cartoon. Without McGruder’s audacity and biting wit, it would be a rare event indeed to see any of these vitally important issues discussed.
Chris Daines can be reached at email@example.com.