36A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

A Limitless Horizon
June 23, 2008

In Spike Lee’s seminal film “Bamboozled” we are faced with a contemporary view of America’s historical black stereotype.  Lee’s film draws upon the ignominious history of black minstrel shows and the establishment of the “coon character” stereotype.   Since the nineteen twenties, Hollywood’s bumbling “coon” character has amused audiences the world over.  It was only a short seventy years ago that Lincoln T. Perry, portraying America’s most famous “coon,” Stepin Fetchit, established a snickering image of black culture.  It was a derogatory image.  Fetchit portrayed the typical black man as a lazy, dim-witted, superstitious servant.  In the 1934 film “Stand Up and Cheer”  Fetchit is bamboozled into believing that a talking penguin is really the character of Jimmy Durante.  And in countless films of the thirties and forties black “coons” grow wide-eyed and weak kneed at the suggestion of ghosts, death or anything supernatural.  Lee’s film brings these images into sharp relief.  It is the most penetrating film about American racism ever made.

The portrayal of America’s last class citizens as superstitious and fearful resonated with audiences largely because it fed white security.  Stepin Fetchit represented an underclass of former slaves who were seen as intellectually inferior, inarticulate and terrified of the unknown.  It was a positive stereotype for white people since it allowed them to feel safe and secure in their perfunctory intelligence.  Audiences roared with laughter whenever a “coon” bugged out his eyes and quickened his retreat at the suggestion of otherworldly ghosts or terrifying visage.  The power of the “coon” stereotype rested in his fear.  A fearful “coon” was a docile “coon.”  A fearful “coon” was an ignorant “coon.”  And black ignorance engendered white bliss.  It made whites feel safe.  It made them feel secure.  It masked white fears that one day these ignorant niggers might break out of the ghetto and demand to sit at the table of abundance.  When a thing strikes fear in our hearts, we try to dismiss it with ridicule. 

Slowly but steadily, the real and perceived fears of the black culture were dismissed.  No longer do we tolerate the ignorant stereotype.  No longer is there a Stepin Fetchit who trembles at the suggestion of goblins.  No more does he bug his eyes and race for the exit at the suggestion of death.  Death, and it’s apparent finality are smashed, just as the image of the “coon” character has been smashed.  Where once the white culture could rest secure in selfish knowledge - there has been a redistribution of knowledge.  The white culture has had to let go of its grasp on the world.  It has had to learn the lesson it so smugly preached but rarely practiced - the doctrine of sharing.  And with its release of militant control over black culture - has arrived new-found parity.

Seventy years after the heyday of Stepin Fetchit, an American citizen of black decent is the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States.  Arguably the most powerful political office in the world.  It is illuminating to follow the steady rise of black image from cowardly “coon” to intelligent, courageous, accomplished human being.  It is something of a miracle.  And we believe that it is in large part due to the casting off of perceived fear.  Because without the power of fear holding sway over the hearts and minds of a culture - the culture will excel.  That is the most important lesson we can take from our love affair with the “coon.”    With knowledge, compassion and opportunity to lift us up, an entire culture can rise from the shackles of fear-based domination to give birth to a new nation.  It is, to our thinking, this transformation from Stepin Fetchit caricature, to Harvard educated candidate, that is the most important aspect of the Barak Obama campaign.  Far from slow or dim-witted, functioning without fear - candidate Obama is an entirely new American character.  He has arrived by refusing to allow stereotype to hold him back.  As a result it is a great day for the United States.  And greater still to look back at where we have come from.  With the elimination of superficial fear - there is no longer a yoke upon the neck of those who were formerly slaves.  Without fear, there is a limitless horizon to fly toward.


For our dear friend and mentor from Lincoln Center.  See you around!