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TV Review: The Boondocks – “The Trial of R Kelly”

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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.

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  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    “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.”

    And I’m guessing you think any accusations of racism as a result of this review will be out of bounds or based on bizarre over reactions to the n-word, right? The emphasis added above strikes me as a bizarre thing for one to say, truly, no matter how many layers of justification you trot out for it.

    Note that I’m not accusing you of racism, or at least deliberate racism. I’m merely suggesting that your choice of vocabulary presents an interesting picture.

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    I had the same thought, Phillip, but I figure it’s just all part of Big Al’s whole Ignatius Reilly schtick.

    As far as this goes, however… I feel that I am (once again) allowed to say “I told you so” and it will (once again) go unacknowledged by Big Al, who never says, “Gee, Monkey, you were right.”

    I missed last night’s ep, though. Power was out. :( Oh well, I’ll catch it next week.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I don’t see how you would even begin to get a charge of racism out of that. I’m judging entirely on the basis of what the guy put on the screen. Knock yourselves out if you want, though. There are those who will start screaming about racism if you say “hello neighbor.” That is someone else’s issue though, and I don’t take that stuff personally.

    But perhaps one of y’all with your more enlightened outlooks on race can dumb down for a Kentuckian exactly what the formula is by which someone would derive a charge of racism out of what I wrote. How does that work?

    Am I a racist for noting here that Kanye West is talking some egregious black foolishness when he starts with the “government administers AIDS” bullshit on his album?

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I’m sorry Monkey, exactly what is the “this” to which you would like to say “I told you so”?

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    I speak for me and not for Phillip here when I say, why’s it gotta be black foolishness? Foolishness is foolishness. I don’t see you talking about white foolishness, but if you have, please do point it out to me.

    Bringing race to a discussion where race isn’t really necessary is essentially racist. The discussion might have already been about race — as with Kanye West — but in calling it black foolishness, you’re adding race to another part of the discussion (i.e., are Kanye West’s remarks worth anything? Yes, no? They’re not worth more or less because of his race; if you think they’re stupid, you probably don’t think they’re stupid simply because he is black). You dig?

    As for telling me I’m right, you can start with admitting that I am correct in finding some good qualities in AM’s comics. If you’re feeling really good, you could come in sometime with that whole “hey, you were right about the war” thing, but I’m not holding my breath. :)

    xoxo,
    monkeygirl

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Alrighty then Monkey, you are certainly right in finding good qualities in The Boondocks. I’m certainly seeing value in this episode of the tv show.

    I’m not trying to add race where it’s not there. There are all kinds of damned foolishness. There are certain flavors of foolishness, however, that go to different group identities. For example, Kanye West’s “government administers AIDS” nonsense would refer to a ridiculous and malicious claim advanced by some black folks that the US government engineered the AIDS virus and introduced it into the population specifically to kill blacks.

    The specific phrase “black foolishness” comes to me from Ossie Davis’ character in Do the Right Thing. Buggin’ Out carrying on about the pictures on Sal’s wall was black foolishness.

    I don’t know about “white foolishness” as a category, as there’s not so much of a cohesive specifically white culture. I would certainly be willing to call out some cracker foolishness though if someone is talking dumb stuff about black folk, or the like. That just doesn’t come up so much in the popular culture though, as it is (quite properly) not considered acceptable.

    Then there are all kinds of foolishness not particularly to do with race. Huey’s 500 things NOT to be grateful for is not especially a black thing. There are a lot of ingrates that don’t appreciate what they have from all different backgrounds and perspectives.

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    Exactly — that’s just plain foolishness, so why call it black foolishness?

    As for the AIDS/government thing, hell, I’ve heard plenty white folks talking that same noise. Let’s call it conspiracy theorist foolishness and leave it in the trash where it belongs. There are plenty of other sinister plots out there; we don’t need to make up new ones.

    In other news, Al said I was right about something. I will remember this day always.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Monkey, you ask why I would consider whether some line of foolishness was a black thing. Uh, this is The Boondocks here. He intends to be addressing racial issues, and offering a black perspective. He’s got a big point that he’s trying to spark racial dialogue.

    So then it seems obvious to ask whether some idea that he’s pushing is specifically a black thing. The hostility thing could be a black thing- there’s a part of that culture that prizes a studied hostility, but the chillen did not really particularly come off as hostile at all in this show.

    “The government’s lying about 9-11″ sounds like the beginning of some Cynthia McKinnon nonsense. Now, I’m not saying that only a black person would ever talk like Ms McKinnon, but only a black person in America could talk like that and get elected to Congress.

    Now there are white folks who talk black foolishness- which only makes them look even stupider. White idiots going on about the government spreading AIDS to wipe out minority groups look to me like another variety of wiggers.

    Looking at what I originally said in the column though, I’m saying that I didn’t see anything that looked much like foolishness in this show, let alone specifically black foolishness. In fact, I was pleased that Mr McGruder did not seem to be spouting anybody’s brand of propaganda.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    “Now there are white folks who talk black foolishness- which only makes them look even stupider.”

    And with statements like that, one demonstrates how ignorance is honed to a fine art.

    Seriously, Al, I quit thinking that you were deliberate racist a while back. It would be remarkably easy for someone to still think you’re ignorant in both the dictionary sense and the insulting sense, though, and comments like your last are a big part of why.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Well Phil, I’m just a dumb Kentuckian, as you know. So please enlighten me as to how you would get racism or an insult out of this.

    Cynthia McKinnon could reasonably consider herself insulted, but it ain’t because she’s black. It’s because SHE personally and specifically acts a damned fool. Also, her particular foolishness is tailored to black constituent consumers. You wouldn’t get elected to Congress talking that type of buncombe to white folk, nor to other ethnic minorities.

    Is it racist to note that there are particular strains of foolishness common or tailored to appeal to specific ethnic or social groups? I don’t really see how I’m saying anything that’s particularly controversial here.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    So LM and I are idiots for noticing the same words and having the same reaction, while you’re the sensible one who just can’t understand why multiple people trip over the same phraseology?

    Here’s a Kentuckism for you: The first time someone calls me a horse’s hind end, I figure they’re the horse’s hind end. The second time someone calls me a horse’s hind end, I start to wonder. And the third time, I look up to see which way the saddle’s pointed.

    The “aw shucks, I’m just a dumb Kentuckian” routine would make more sense if you weren’t waiting for the third saddle orientation comment. As it is, you should be honestly asking, not rhetorically.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    No Phillip, I’m not saying that anyone who disagrees with anything I might say are automatically idiots- though it is perhaps not necessarily an indicator of exceptional genius.

    It’s not a rhetorical question when I ask what my offense is. Are you saying that I’m somehow “racist” for suggesting that there is such a thing as “black foolishness”?

    We seem to be arguing here. What exactly are we arguing about?

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    We are not arguing. We’re just agreeing that you seem to have trouble entering a debate without making it into a racial issue.
    Yes, race is an issue already since it is, after all, the Boondocks but still.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    But still.. what, Scott?

    I don’t see how I bring race into non-racial issues on any regular basis. What are you talking about?

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Al, if anybody thought you were really asking, you might actually get an answer. But then, LM gave you an answer, and you’re not “getting it.”

    I think the count is up to three people agreeing that your use of “black foolishness” revealed more about you than you realized, while a fourth sent me an email, but chose not to mix it up here.

    And that’s not just made up to improve the numbers. I’ll forward you the email with the name of the sender removed. :-)

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    By the way, I have sent Al an email inviting him to a phone “interview” with me, in which we can explore this subject in a hopefully light-hearted way. If Al agrees, I’d like to release the phone call as a podcast segment or two, and maybe even put together a transcript.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Phil, I’ll be all about actually chatting with you on this topic- and especially for public consumption. Maybe you can straighten me out.

    Still, some vote from 3 or 4 people ain’t going to make me think I’m wrong. Someone would have to show me good reason. It only takes one person- if they’ve they have a convincing argument.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Fifth – and I don’t celebrate the blank stare approach to racial issues and wouldn’t listen to the bluster of someone trying to explain what they don’t understand.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Well of course you don’t approve Temple. But do you have some good reason for objecting to me here that I should care about, other than simply your personal whim?

  • Marcus O

    Mr. Barger?

    Do you know anything more about the subject matter you reviewed, or did you just flipped through the third Book, learn the names of the three Maine characters and read the insert that “Michael More” wrote on the back of the book? I believe if you did know just a small amount about the subject, you would have such and ignorant view on the episode or on the book as you do now.

    If you were so enlighten you would know that “Huey” is the one who wants to empower
    Black people with knowledge but is infuriated with the depts of, not only there ignorance, but the ignorance of all races and there out right refusal to learn from there mistakes and past mistakes of others.

    While “Rilly”, “Hueys” two years younger brother, (the one eating the popcorn during the viewing of the “R-kelly tape”, not “Huey”), lives to perpetuate ignorance by being fuelled with the glorified “Gansta life style he sees on TV. Believing that money is power, but having no mind to wield it

    You would also know how the two personalities are always in confected but come together in time of need, hens, the them of the book and show. Not that grosses misconception you have from skimming through a book and shooting a few glances at an episode.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Marcus, I’m not sure what your beef is with me here. I concede that I am but an ignorant cracker, but I don’t see where any of your comments contradict anything I said here, other than the one detail about who was eating the popcorn. I may have misspoken there. Riley with the popcorn does make more sense.

    Also, I did not “shoot a few glances” at this episode. I watched it all quite attentively- twice, thank you.

  • Anthony Edwards

    I’m afraid that racism is racism, whether it’s against black or white, whether Mexican or Hatian. The Romans hate the Moorish, the Italians hate the Cicillians because of the propensity toward labeling.

    I wish I could accuse you of setting back white people by calling yourself a cracker, but unfortunately, enough white people do that to make up for the white people calling each other ‘nigga’.

    That’s for another time though. Cease labeling yourselves, namely because I too am a ‘Kentuckian’ and I don’t want to be grouped in with anyone in this particular argument.

    Huey is an excellent character. I felt he was more ‘real’ than his comic-strip counterpart. Always at odds, yet still treated as family, is Riley. Now, while this wouldn’t constitute a family unit in most instances, it does make for comedy. Why anyone brought up an ignorant statement like Kanye West’s is beyond me, but I suspect they were just trying to add something about black artists that wasn’t relevant to the discussion.

    As Riley would say; “Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

    It’s pretty obvious to me. Barger, cut out the begging for sympathy, or irony, or whatever. Either way, it’s an attempt to focus the whole attack on yourself. A clever political mode of speachwriting. I really admire your use and your overall success, but I’m going to try and put a stop to it.

    This isn’t about you. This is about Boondocks.

    Dispite a few inconsistancies pointed out by Mr Marcus, I agree with the overall synopsis of both the episode and the series overall.

    It’s an excellent and nessisary political outlet to use television characters to put out one’s own opinions, and while I may not agree with all of them, “I will defend to the death, his right to say it.” Was that Thomas Jefferson? I can’t remember.

    I just don’t want you to grab my hand and pull me into your argument as if I agree with you, simply because I’m white… or from Kentucky.

  • Anthony Edwards

    Sorry, I meant ‘black people’ calling each other ‘nigga’. Though I’ve caught enough white people doing it, that I’ve grown used to irony as a daily staple.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Put a stop to what, exactly? What is your beef?

    Note that I don’t claim to speak on behalf of Kentuckians, crackers, or anyone except myself.

    And what were those supposed “inconsistencies” that you speak of?

  • Scott Butki

    The Boondocks is my favorite strip currently, with Doonesbury second and For Better or For WOrse third.
    I’m spending part of my days off today and tomorrow reading up the last few books at Borders (since I’m too poor/cheap to buy them)

    I’m going through and reading all related threads.

    To me the fact that Boondocks and Doonesbury do get censored sometimse is one more reason to like them.

    Hmm, I wonder if the Boondocks author has spoken out about the Danish cartoon controversy since I know the Doonesbury guy did in a piece I wrote here.

  • Abdul M Yusuf

    Hey this is REALLY late, and this post is probably no longer checked but I just thought it was worth mentioning.

    There is a contextual difference between “nigger” and “nigga.” The latter being the one used on the show and in Hip Hop songs.