​Part II Morality Plays – When Entertainers Draw the Line Nov 18 /21. by B Nimri Aziz

Part I ended with Colin Kaepernick transforming a biography of his childhood into a lesson in critical race theory in the series “Colin in Black and White”. To continue:

Opprobrium of individuals in the public eye is often harsh. Judgements go beyond mere criticism. Beyond a warning. You’re fired, cancelled, banished, de-A-listed. J.K. Rowling’s refusal to join the ‘trend’ in support of transgender identities is unacceptable. Like Greer and others, because she’s a highly-regarded celebrity she deserves censure. And the label “TERF”, trans-exclusionary radical feminist. An “illiberal left” has also entered culture war terminology.

Support for some international causes is morally weighted, too. On the one hand, women’s moral rights were offered as justification for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. By contrast, non-violent programs such as Boycott Divestment and Sanctions in support of Palestinian rights are attacked as immoral; teachers who dare to endorse Palestinian statehood are expelled. (Compare to the warm reception of George Clooney’s advocacy of South Sudan’s secession.)

Was it always so dangerous to be not only successful but a celebrity? Stardom brings huge influence. As such, spurning a new status quo may find you out in the cold.

But the temptation for glory and wealth is double-edged. Our A-listers often exploit their own luminary status to define values for their fans. Trendsetting in food and health, clothing and language is second tier; now it’s motherhood—e.g. Serena Williams on birthing and athletic prowess– sexual license, ostentation and, not unreasonably, political advocacy.

An example of explicit moral messages originating from the liberal left is the HBO show hosted by John Oliver. (Would Noam Chomsky include Oliver as one of his morally responsible intellectuals?) Oliver leaves little doubt about his ethical views on public issues. The format of “Last Week Tonight”, a plate of satire that combines convincing research, smart graphics and provocative narration rendered in his working-class British accent, has won him an enormous following. With disciples quoting Oliver adopting some of his moral indignation; understandable since Oliver himself is hugely pompous and absolutely, f*king unarguable. (Although one wonders if his lectures translate into real social action.)

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson is Oliver’s political nemesis. Although Carlson wins without satire, without intellectual airs, too. Isn’t he as much a moralist as Oliver, his statements imbibed as uncritically, repeated as righteously?

Celebrities surely realize they’re not simply entertaining, not only informing. They’re advocating.

Some, like the daringly brilliant Dave Chappelle, seem to welcome a role in this volatile moral game. From his early productions on Comedy Central, Chappelle’s routines flirted with the boundaries of our social code. His edginess and irreverence do more than make us laugh; they make us squirm. He has enjoyed a moral license on a par with fellow comic-writer-actor Larry David. Yet, Chappelle doesn’t rely on funniness alone; he strategically interrupts his hooting audience with a moral tale. Riding on a hilarious, shocking punchline, he slips in a gentle lecture or a sobering anecdote to remind us of the reality behind life’s funny stuff.

Chappelle returnes to the stage with a Netflix series that finds him at the center of a moral storm:– that concerning transgender rights. Eager to engage his attackers, he points to their intolerance. It’s more than a free speech issue, Chappelle explains: “My problem has never been with transgender people. My problem has always been with the dialogue about transgender.

In a shrewd shift to satire, he emphasizes the moral position underlying his work: ‘’I feel these things should not be discussed in front of Blacks; it’s f*cking insulting about how these (transgender) people feel inside. Since when has America ever given a f*ck how any of us feels inside?”

Who can argue with that?

To his transgender critics, Chappelle confesses: “…you have to understand that as a policy, I never feel bad about anything I say up here…. I do understand that life is hard and those types of choices do not disqualify you from a life of dignity, happiness and safety.” Then comes his riposte: “Why is it easier for Caitlyn Jenner to change his sex than for Cassius Clay to change his name?” Which returns us to the overriding moral issue for Chappelle — injustice in the Black American experience.


My latest book: Yogmaya & Durga Devi: Rebel Women of Nepal – paperback edition now available on Amazon

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