After sending out a couple of Twitter messages, I decided to write about this at greater length, because I am simply not bright enough to convey my thoughts in 140 characters. I'm currently watching a Biography Channel documentary on Richard Pryor. My annoyance began when they were showing a great Pryor clip from The Mike Douglas Show. Richard was talking about going to jail for tax evasion: “I told the judge, ‘Your honor, I forgot to pay my taxes’ and the judge said, ‘You’ll remember next year, (sound drops out)’” Because I’ve heard the joke, I know that the word nigger was edited out. This makes me want to vomit for a couple of reasons. First of all, while ‘nigger’ is certainly a socially unacceptable word (and a great way to lose your teeth if you mutter it too loud in traffic), it is NOT considered a ‘fineable’ word by the FCC. And even if it were, the FCC does NOT have jurisdiction over cable television. So this was purely a politically correct, knee-jerk reaction by some (almost certainly white) dummy at the network. Second of all, Richard Pryor spoke about race more beautifully and accurately and honestly than any entertainer ever has. Ever. I am amazed at the absolute arrogance of some idiot, regardless of color, (although they’re almost certainly white), editing (and thereby subtly editorializing) the way Pryor spoke about it. The reason ‘nigger’ is important in that joke is because it was the natural way Pryor expressed himself. He wasn’t being ‘shocking’ or ‘outrageous’ by saying it; just true to the way he communicated. And more importantly, it expressed how Pryor felt the judge viewed him. It was edited from nighttime cable and originally aired on daytime television.
I was further sickened that when discussing Pryor’s rise to fame, they mention his BRILLIANT Grammy winning album, That (sound drops out) Crazy. And not only does the sound drop out, they go on to show a photo of it. They redeemed themselves a moment later, though, when they mention his second Grammy winning album, Bicentennial (sound drops out) and show a photo of it, as well. I wanted to throw something through my television. I opted not to, though, because I want to pop in my favorite porno later, White Girls Who Crave Big (sound drops out) (sound drops out) Up Their Skinny White (sound drops out).
Bicentennial Nigger is such a powerful album, and the title is an extraordinarily important reference to the way Pryor saw blacks being treated in America (the album was released in 1976). The title track is the last track on the album and it’s an angry, sarcastic piece about slaves being brought over. I find the bit much sadder than I do funny, and it’s probably my favorite single bit Pryor ever did. The title of the album is an absolute FUCK YOU to America on her birthday, and to blur and edit that out because it offends the head of standards and practices is to censor a very substantial message Pryor was delivering. This isn’t a case of me wanting to say ‘pussy farts’ on The Tonight Show; this is decapitating a social message being delivered by a genius. And in another beautiful act of mindless inconsistency, they don’t edit out the references to domestic violence or drugs, nor do they edit out the mock-up of cocaine. I guess the (primarily white) network standards and practices department aren’t terrified of getting letters, and thereby possibly effecting advertising revenue, from allowing these things. (A moment later, the sound dropped out on the word ASS. In case you were wondering what Mary Poppins has been up to, she’s running The Bio Channel.) This sickening display of disingenuous politeness is a perfect example of why anyone who thinks Americans are socially progressive should be run over by a gravel truck. This editing was done without a moment’s thought about context, the message, or who was delivering it. They run a biography on Pryor because his work was so poignant, but decide the transient social obsession with the word nigger outweighs the importance of hearing Pryor deliver it in the honest language he used. I guess I have such a hard-on for this because of the influence Pryor had on my life. I don’t mind profanity being taken out, because those words would have been edited out ten years ago. I just find it reprehensible (good word, Jim!) that Richard Pryor is being edited because THE N WORD became unacceptable in any situation by any human in any context after Michael Richards went bat-shit at The Laugh Factory. You cannot say things on cable television today that you could say on network television thirty years ago. We are not ‘free thinkers’; we are a mindless, robotic population whose main goal is to thought-police, snitch on, and ‘catch’ each other expressing the wrong thoughts (or, expressing the right thoughts with the wrong language). This decision wasn’t made in the spirit of honesty or caring about people’s feelings; it was made paternalistically and the motive was self-interest.
I guess I’m done babbling about this now; nothing is going to change, regardless of how annoyed I get or how many times I underline and capitalize key words in a desperate attempt to be heard. And, just to cover all bases, if I was wrong and the head of standards and practices who made this decision is black, Latino, or Asian - fuck you, too.