I have to say, I tuned in all poised to exercise my “right to be hostile,” as Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder proudly claims it for his young masters Huey and Riley. I had been particularly unthrilled with a Thanksgiving cartoon from 2002 that showed Huey militantly proclaiming his 500 things NOT to be thankful for- so much unthrilled that I have hardly read the strip.
On the one hand, that makes me nearly tabula rasa with regard to this show. However, the previews where Huey was proclaiming in the first moments that the government is lying about 9-11 looked like the setup for some black foolishness.
But most of all, I’ve had an impression of the strip being, as he proudly names a collection of the series, an exercise of the right to be hostile. Blind belligerance generally doesn’t hold much entertainment or philosophical value to me. The ingrateful attitude and generally hateful attitude I initially picked up were not appealing.
But then I tune in this, I think, third episode of the animated series, “The Trial of R Kelly.” I have to say that I was totally charmed and disarmed.
For starters, the show was pretty funny. Just how far outside the box Huey’s thinking provides continual amusement. Particularly, his non-chalant attitude towards the R Kelly golden shower video with the 14 year old struck me as entertainingly inappropriate. After the buildup, they’re playing the video in court, much to everyone’s horror- except of course for our humble narrator who’s on the front row with a box of popcorn.
Also, Huey’s not really hostile in this show, or not to a significant extent. He might be described more as cynical, but that’s not the same thing. The boys aren’t particularly acting belligerant. They’re just highly skeptical.
But Huey/McGruder also seem to be pretty reality based, which makes a lot of difference. Huey starts out speaking fairly much in defense of R Kelly. He asks the prosecutor at one point, “Are you aware how much niggers love R Kelly?” His repeated and varied patient explanations that the girl could have moved if she didn’t want peed on only got so far, though.
Watching the trial changes the game for Huey in seeing the gullibility and foolish behavior of his own people. The prime evidence of the defense is a certificate showing the R Kelly was once nominated for an NAACP image award- and THAT is why they’re trying to railroad him. The brother is too proud and too strong!
Now, that courtroom scene was beautiful. That faux-Cochran race card stuff was well played, as was the natural and inevitable defense closing argument- R Kelly singing.
But damn it, R Kelly is guilty as sin. RIGHT HERE on videotape with a 14 year old. Work up some jokes on Jerry Lee Lewis and such, but he’s doing bad things with an underage girl on tape. Even being not that much personally offended, you’ve got to recognize that this is dead to rights.
McGruder and Huey are ashamed of their people for acting so silly over this nasty singer, and making him out like he’s a hero. This really direct and full bore intra-black self-criticism is the truly transgressive part of the humor in the this episode.
They use the word “nigger” probably several dozen times, but so what? Thing is, McGruder uses it here much more justifiably than most usage of the term in the culture. It’s tossed out like it’s casual, but the usage is clearly very considered, and clearly means different things in different contexts. There’s Huey trying to explain how much niggers love R Kelly, and then there’s the self-hating black man, the old guy with the crazy eye that plays checkers with Grandpa in the park. It means something very different when he starts carrying on with the word.
McGruder also gets some credit for a modicum of self-criticism. He puts his complaints into the mouths of children, openly inviting or acknowledging that he might sometimes be engaging in childish hostility or acting out. I strongly suspect that the self-hating old brother in the park represents a nagging inner voice of McGruder’s. Then there’s Huey’s insistence at the end that he was going to blame this Kelly mess on white people anyway, immediately after acknowledging that there was no way you could so. Willingness to criticize yourself at least a little tends to make criticizing others more credible.
He also gets by with a good bit of criticism because he comes from love. By the end of the show, Huey has done turned plum disgusted with his people. Yet, he explains in the final seconds, they’re your people, and you’ve got to love them anyway.
And that’s really not very cynical at all.