October 12, 2012

1491s on redface and blackface

Videos: The 1491s Stir Up Controversy with Clips Showing Blackface and Utah Utes FansSketch and YouTube comedy group the 1491s are on a roll with their latest videos—though some are saying that the pranksters are rolling in the wrong direction. The fun and games started with a video framed as a PSA (public service announcement) to white people considering dressing up Indian for Halloween. The PSA ends with a white actor wearing blackface. The choice was not hailed as clever satire by all viewers.

The troupe followed the PSA video up with another video criticizing the outrage and ultimately encouraging civil dialogue—and ending with an interview with a college student dressed in what might be called a stereotypical “Pocahottie” outfit. That footage was filmed at the University of Utah, at an event sponsored by Budweiser, and again the reaction to the video was not universally supportive.

Dueling comments about this video from YouTube users:

“Satire or not, blackface is NEVER okay. You can’t justify the wrongness of making a costume out of a culture by doing the exact same thing. You just come off as an anti-black racist instead.”

“Natives have used all the rhetorical tools our disposal for YEARS to point out that dressing up in redface is abusive and offensive. What’s the result? Dressing up in redface became the hottest trend of the year. Most of the people commenting here have entirely missed the point: BOTH SHOULD BE SHOCKING. But only blackface is.”

The second video explains the first. Having to explain yourself is never a good sign, but this video does it effectively.

Dueling comments about this video from YouTube users:

“I love the Happy Ending: She admits that she can’t justify her double standard AND instead of trying to defend it–as SO many people would do–she realizes that she needs to reconsider her position! GREAT Vid, the1491s!”

“This still doesn’t justify your use of blackface.”

My thoughts

I get the point of using blackface It's so obvious it hardly needs an explanation.

I'd tolerate its use to make a point, but I don't think the video used it effectively. Better would be to show historic photos of performers in blackface next to photos of hipsters in headdresses. Or to dress up in blackface and go to a Utah Utes rally to challenge the team's fans.

This would make the same point, but it wouldn't confront viewers with the distasteful choice of a white guy sitting in his studio in blackface. I think people can sense this wasn't the best way to get the message across. It takes them out of the argument and makes them wonder what's up with the white guy.

One also could question the white guy's dismal portrait of what Native life is really like. True, it's that bad for some Indians, but not for all of them. As with the blackface routine, the guy is walking a fine line between making a point and purveying stereotypes. You shouldn't have to walk that line to argue against a big fat target like redface.

For more on redface and blackface, see Del Toro to Play Native Veteran and Blackface at the Oscars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just point to Spike Lee's Bamboozled, a satire of WB, UPN, and BET that focuses on black actors in blacker faces.

It's anti-art. It's supposed to shock and offend the fans of what it's parodying. Indians are experts at anti-art, having brought the concept over from France in the 50s because non-Indians only wanted to see kitsch.

And now to draw a mustache on a picture of Disney's Pocahontas.