I used to enjoy listening to some mainstream hip-hop artists back when I was in my late teens, mostly the famous MTV stars like Eminem and his affiliated rap formation D12. One of my favorites tracks was called That’s How…, from their 2001 album Devil’s Night. The song is basically an ode to bad karma: they insult just about every possible demograph there is. While insulting people may not sound like a big deal when we’re talking about rap music, there is something gleefully unashamed about this song that makes it my guilty pleasure of music. Have a listen here if you’re into that kind of stuff:
The juvenile joy that comes from listening to this track is the simultaneous delight of waving your middle finger at the whole world while having the feeling that it’s actually okay, because everyone is getting some. The chorus just keeps repeating: “This is how it happens to you. That’s how people get ****ed up.” It’s one of the most democratic hate-songs I’ve ever heard: no matter what your color, creed, gender, or status is, you’re all getting ****ed up. Some of the insults are even directed at the band members themselves. If there is one lesson that kids can take from D-12 (aside from all the law breaking and drug using, that is…), it’s that you’ve got to laugh at yourself before you can laugh at another person, and vice versa. It’s like a cosmic joke where we realize that we are the punch-line.
All this brings me to an important question: “Is there such a thing as the right not to be offended?”
This question is in response to the recent and still ongoing uproar about a series of racist jokes made during a Dutch television talent show. Last week, the Dutch TV host Gordon made several embarrassingly bad racist jokes against a Chinese contestant by the name of Xiao Wang. For those who have missed it, here is the video:
Rather than having realized his error during the introduction of the candidate, and despite that fact that he should have been flabbergasted by Xiao’s amazing performance, Gordon continues to release dreadful after dreadful joke about Asian stereotypes. To say that we’ve seen more wit on a children’s playground would be an understatement. His performance (Gordon’s, not Xiao’s) was met with heavy resistance from all over the world.
Some have argued that, in a strange way, Gordon’s insults were in fact a way of showing that Xiao is no different from any other contestant. It’s almost as if he were saying: “Here are a few backhand insults and then you can show us what you’ve got.” Everyone who stands on that mark knows that he or she can receive verbal abuse, mostly based on superficial qualities (looks, age, gender, haircut, fashion…).
But humor is a double-edged sword: it can either disarm taboo topics and create a chance to openly talk about them, or it can be used as a vile means of setting groups of people apart from the rest. To speak in metaphors: jokes can build either walls or bridges, or in some cases, a combination of both (a ‘brall’? maybe a ‘widge’?). In contrast with D12’s “cosmic joke” where no one was safe, Gordon’s insults were one-way traffic: Xiao was on the receiving end of the verbal abuse and he just stood there politely smiling and waiting for his chance to sing, because the format of the television gives the contestant no chance to shoot back at the judges.
Still, there’s something odd and uncomfortable about the public response to Gordon’s poor sense of humor and lack of tact.
Mind you, this isn’t about convincing you that racists jokes are alright. Racism is still rampant in all societies I’ve experienced first hand, not in the least in the Dutch one and that’s a terrible thing no matter how you look at it. Rather, this is about trying to find an answer to the question of what separates Gordon’s racist insults from all the other ones. Ironically, not all forms of discrimination are created equal: the entire country got in an uproar over Gordon’s racist remarks, but in all this we seem to forget that the entire show is based on humiliating people in front of the camera. Oh, and people also sing, but we’re not sure which is more important.
The question isn’t so much why we are mad over Gordon’s racist insults, rather, it’s how we aren’t mad over all the other ones.
In the above clip, at the 3:17 mark, Gordon is shown backstage, practically rolling over the floor with laughter as he reminds everyone in the room of just how awful the last contestant was. Between bursts of laughter, he jokingly says that she should receive a nekschot. The word nekschot has no English equivalent, but it is Dutch slang for execution by means of a bullet through the back of the neck. This was several years ago. Gordon kept doing what he did because: 1) it’s what a lot of people wanted to see, and 2) he apparently was/is good at it. People will watch the show, and companies are willing to pay for advertisement time. Welcome to capitalism, people!
Personally, I don’t see why the country suddenly got in an uproar about Gordon’s remarks. We got exactly what we wanted.