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Jewish World Review /Oct. . 15, 1998/24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Larry Elder

Larry Elder

Slavery is not funny

CAPTAIN KIRK OF STAR TREK, William Shatner, did a television comedy sketch about one of those nutty conventions full of Star Trek fanatics. He took to the stage before the sea of pointy-eared Trekkies and said, "Get a life!"

Will someone please offer this advice to some 300 protesters who gathered before the offices of UPN, the television network? The urgent issue? On Monday, Oct. 5, UPN premiered The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, a situation comedy and political satire. Pfeiffer, an English black nobleman, becomes butler to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln comes across as dumb, his wife as sex-starved, and Pfeiffer's white assistant as buffoonish. Pfeiffer, like the lead character in Benson, becomes the power behind the throne, calling the shots, running the White House.

"Slavery is not funny!" thundered the protest leader. "Slavery is our holocaust, (and the series) trivializes the suffering of African-Americans . . . exploits the suffering of our ancestors, and devalues black life." Poor UPN. It probably assumed the fact that the network airs more "black-themed" shows than any other would provide some cover. About Pfeiffer, UPN said, "The show is a broad satire that parodies contemporary politics. Desmond Pfeiffer is smart, irreverent, and surrounded by fools; the show revolves around his wit and wisdom." Pfeiffer also features a black supervising producer, in addition to its black lead character.

But the hysteria mushroomed. In an act bordering on censorship, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a motion condemning the show. Enter the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP. (That's right, an NAACP chapter in . . . Beverly Hills! Hey, how bad could things be?) And, of course, where black insensitivity exists, could the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson be far behind? No, he couldn't. Jackson, too, took a whack at the series.

Yet another black critic warned of the damage to the psyche of black children. "There is not a fig of historic truth that Lincoln during slavery . . . socially fraternized with African Americans, let alone sought their political advice." Well, duh. Comedy, remember? You know, farce. Let's not confuse The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, with the Diary of Anne Frank, OK?

Besides, if a kid gets his history from sitcoms, Mom and Dad face bigger problems than jokes about Honest Abe. Indeed, many blacks lack perspective about the horror of slavery. Human history shows slavery as the rule, not the exception. Europeans enslaved Europeans, Asians enslaved Asians, and Africans enslaved Africans. Arab slave traders sent millions of East Africans to the Middle East. Only America waged a bloody civil war over slavery's eradication, a war in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers died.

Question, how many of the protesters actually saw Pfeiffer? Its star, Chi McBride, said that he pulled up in a car next to the group of protesters and stared directly at them. Nobody recognized him.

Did Jews march on Washington because of Hogan's Heroes, a sitcom that took place in a World War II concentration camp? Not only did Jews apparently get the joke, but even today, the show gets huge ratings in Germany, although the show depicts Germans as boobs and bumblers.

Apparently, the protesters believe that any and all social ills stem from slavery. Wrong. Take black illegitimacy. In 1965, New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote The Negro Family: A Case for National Action. At the time, the black illegitimacy rate stood at 25 percent. Today, in an era of less racism, the rate is 70 percent. Slavery cannot account for this problem. Another black critic called Pfeiffer "the latest and most absurd addition to a long list of TV network assassinations of the black image." Assassinations?

He probably never saw the Martin Lawrence show, with jokes about skin color and hair texture. How about the stupid TV series Homeboys in Outer Space or the dumb movie Booty Call?

Assassinations? Are you kidding? Researchers Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman note that in prime-time television, "nine out of 10 murders were committed by whites. Only three in 100 murders on TV were committed by blacks. Blacks are about 18 times less likely to commit homicide on TV than in real life."

Are blacks so hypersensitive, fragile, and immature to require a taste police to dictate what's funny? If viewers find the show demeaning, distasteful, or, even worse, un-funny, expect the series to crash and burn. For those who feel that Pfeiffer mocks slavery, a simple suggestion: Don't watch. But this would suggest self-confidence, the assumption of personal responsibility and perspective. We certainly can't have that, can we?

Having successfully combated drive-by shootings, widespread gang membership, schools without books, a scandalously high out-of-wedlock teen birth rate, black victi-crat leaders now confront a more menacing task-protecting us from the evil, self-esteem-sapping effects of a situation comedy. Praise the Lord, and pass the remote control.


10/23/98: My evening with Chris Rock
10/15/98: Slavery is not funny
10/02/98: Clinton --- friend of the working woman
9/28/98: George Washington vs. the Grand Jury
9/18/98: It's the perjury, stupid
9/14/98: The "Larry List" of the most fascinating women in politics
9/07/98: Why blacks shouldn't support Clinton
8/27/98:The Brown bomber strikes Justice Thomas
8/21/98:So very clintonesque
8/17/98: Gary Coleman, hate criminal?
8/07/98: How much mea culpa?
7/24/98: ATM Al?
7/24/98: Advising the advisors
7/17/98: Camille Cosby's carelessness
7/9/98: Moses mugged
7/2/98: Al Campanis -- forever a racist?
6/25/98: And you thought "coke" was worse than smokes
6/19/98: Is Jasper ‘America'?
6/12/98: Guess who's not coming to dinner
6/5/98: What now, NOW?
5/29/98:What's next, ‘burger busters'?
5/21/98: 'Stuff' happens
5/18/98: This just in
5/11/98: Stepping up
4/30/98: Who's faking whom?
4/16/98:To spank or not to spank

©1998, Laurence A. Elder