I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks. I loved The Boondocks as a newspaper comic strip and raised hell trying to get my local fish wrap to carry if. I’ve found The Boondocks the cartoon on The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim to be occasionally funny and other times totally laugh-free. A recent episode where thug wannabee Riley goes on a vandalism rampage with a psychotic classmate who arms himself with a gun wasn’t the least bit funny. In its third (and last) season The Boondocks has been more miss than hit.
But when it does hit, The Boondocks draws blood. Last week’s episode where McGruder ripped into Tyler Perry for his crappy plays and movies was one such example. It had me laughing for all the wrong reasons. It was a crude and obvious shot at Perry as a down-low, predatory homosexual and Jesus-peddling hack. For now you can still catch all 22 minutes of the frivolity online, but this link could go dead without notice, so hurry yo’ ass up.
More details from the L.A. Times (yes, I do read a lot).
McGruder is probably safe from any threat of litigation from Perry as parody and satire of public figures is legally protected speech. Like Michael Hastings won’t be receiving any Christmas cards from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, McGruder is probably feeling rather pleased that his put-down of Perry has obviously angered him. Still, it’s pretty cold how Perry shit-canned a bunch of writers at this time in this crappy economy because he suspected one or more of them ratted him out.
Perry has made himself wealthy and powerful by taking some of the broadest oversimplifications about Black life and turning them into empty entertainment. There’s no questioning his popularity and that millions of people enjoy his simplistic mortality tales. Still, what’s wrong with faith-based messages of fidelity, family and honoring one’s commitment to their spouse and religion? Perry’s greatest crime is shallowness and that makes him a prime target for McGruder’s less than tender mercies.
While McGruder is on point taking Perry to task for overloading his films with Silly Negro foolishness, he’s equally guilty of falling back on it himself. There’s not a show on television that tosses around “nigga” as casually as The Boondocks. Having previously offended some viewers with Rosa Parks being bopped by a flying piece of chicken while protesting the R.Kelly trial, McGruder upped the ante by raising Martin Luther King, Jr. from the dead for laughs and to denounce Black folks as “a bunch of niggas.” That little lapse of bad taste would land The Boondocks on TIME’s Top 10 Most Controversial cartoons Al Sharpton would later come calling to demand an apology from the cartoon’s producers. McGruder would go on to incorporate the controversy into a later episode.
What makes McGruder so good at what he does is he’s a first-class satirist and he doesn’t care if nobody else appreciates his sense of humor. A satirist isn’t the same thing as being a comedian. Comedians try to make people laugh. Satirists try to make people think. Sacred cows make the best hamburgers according to Mark Twain and like Twain; McGruder is butchering whatever trend, fad, or personality in his sights. In the transition from three-panels on newsprint to 20 minutes of celluloid, The Boondocks lost much of its cutting political wit and all of its topicality. Some of its rude humor still remains though sporadically.
That doesn’t mean McGruder isn’t immune to pimping other discriminated groups for laughs. Ma Duke/Winston Jerome serves up a smorgasbord of broadly exaggerated gay stereotypes. Winston is swishy, effeminate and the embodiment of the predatory homosexual just waiting to pounce on some poor, unsuspecting straight man. One musical interlude looks like a straight-up rip off (homage would be too benign of a descriptor) of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) When it comes to forcibly outing closeted celebrities catering to the most offensive depictions of homosexuals gives a tingle up the collective legs of McGruder and the suits at The Cartoon Network. Just say no. “No homo” that is.
This is supposed to be the third and final season of The Boondocks. Having given up the comic strip years ago McGruder hasn’t said what his next move will be. I can’t imagine that a moderately successful cartoon would justify an animated film release, but if Marmaduke and The Smurfs can be turned into a film anything can. Why not go all the way and make it a live-action movie with Jaden Smith as Huey Freeman? Or is that too rude and edgy a character for any child of Will Smith to play?
In the beef with Perry my sympathies are with McGruder. I defend Perry’s right to make whatever kind of movies he wants to. I also defend McGruder’s right to call them crap. I only wish I felt a little better about it. That’s the problems with these cranky social commentators. They do make themselves pretty hard to defend at times.