Culture Vultures and Cancelling for Clout
( Markus Winkler / Unsplash )
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme: xenophobic com-e-dy
I know we’re all really excited about our rights these days: the right to protest, the right to free speech and the one we fought the hardest for – the right to use the “react format” after big brother(s) Benny and Rafi Fine tried to take it away in 2016.
But where do we draw the line between what’s funny and what’s racist? I know, I know. Everyone’s sooo sensitive these days. But there are lots of ways to make people laugh without insulting their culture. On TikTok, for instance, there’s a trend that hides too snugly behind the promise of cheap comedy when it’s really just cultural intolerance. (Shane Dawson, this is not a drag. I swear.)
People are ordering and trying a traditional African dish called FooFoo, FouFou or FuFu on camera, then gagging dramatically. Yeah, that’s it. They really put the work in to go viral, huh?
They might earn a couple more dedication points for some well-timed shudders, and there’s always power in throwing up on film. But these reactions managed to rub the African social media community wrong, and for good reason.
The general responses, of course, were split. One half of the mob were screaming free speech and entitlement to an opinion and the other half called for awareness of boundaries and respect for other cultures.
Their point? In the words of all our moms: if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.
Sure, free speech exists as a concept, but a bastardization of the constitutional rights have transformed the phrase into buzzwords and an excuse that translates roughly to “I can say what I want, I don’t care how harmful or inappropriate”. Employing “comedy” that focuses on ridiculing something you don’t understand or identify with only helps dig lines of separation where we already have trenches.
Arguments can be made that it isn’t that serious, but that’s the point. Double standards and apathy are a terrifying consequence of allowing comedy to go unchecked, and these TikTok “comedians” get away with utilizing comedy as a vehicle to feed American superiority complexes, but drive-thrus are quintessential US of A. Diasporas don’t deserve people seeking out traditional food in order to record themselves throwing it up. Some of us miss home.
The idea of fixating on features of something or someone that are identifiable or inherently other, then exploiting difference in order to make a joke isn’t a new flavor of insensitivity.
Comedians have made entire livings off of racisms. Social media à la YouTube blackface and/ or accent “sketches” have made pejorative platforms accessible to the average man. We, as meme page followers, and those promotional staff working from group chat distribution centers contribute to desensitization with every “I shouldn’t laugh but”.
We aid and embed with every share that becomes a new view, follow and future sponsorship. We give creators platforms and we give them an army of followers who sing national anthems of “lmao” in comment sections. We pledge allegiance to the drag.
Most concerning, though, is our general indifference towards the harm done to the reaction stimulus.
We don’t care what happens to the punchline’s punching bag so long as we get our laugh. We spend money to experience something so we can hate it the loudest. How did we get here and how long can we last like this? What are the effects of a culture that feeds on comedy and negative reactions to push content into viral spheres?
The truth is: that joke isn’t funny, it’s intolerant.
Alazne Cameron was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and is an Online Activism writer at Rowdy Magazine. She loves food-based metaphors, alliteration and social justice. Her favorite food is food for thought (but anything with a cheesy, creamy Alfredo base is a close second). You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @alaznecameron for more information.