That Ain’t Right: Black Dynamite

Straight up, before I dive into this piece that, admittedly was written a few weeks ago: Black Dynamite shouldn’t have been canceled. It was the show we needed, but maybe not the one we deserved.

Now, on with the show…

Few shows have a real, lasting impact in the greater scheme of things. Sure, there are references and memes. But, in terms of wide-ranging discussions, repeated commentary and essays, and even college courses citing their work? That’s a chosen few.

The Boondocks is among those few.

Sprouting from creator Aaron McGruder’s collegiate comic, The Boondocks appeared just as it’s spiritual predecessor, Chappelle’s Show, was waning. In hindsight, it was an apt handoff. Chappelle’s Show had done much to make the respectable clutch their pearls while helping create a multitude of discussion surrounding comedy, race, and socio-political issues. However you felt about Dave Chappelle or his show, it was effecting the national culture at large.

In a way, The Boondocks did the same. But, where Chappelle often went for the irreverent critique wrapped in comedy, McGruder & co often were much more biting. The show itself was funny and had depth to it, but it also wielded this eternal rhetorical hammer. I’m specifically talking about the duality of Riley and Huey’s often opposing points of view guided the show’s narratives and adventures. The dichotomy, between a blackness centered on counter-culture and a blackness wholly consumed by the culture itself was both unique and, at times, troubling. As much as Boondocks sought to discuss and present ideas, it always came back to this continuously furthered divide between the revolutionary and the everyday, the “black people” and the “niggas” (per Chris Rock’s infamous bit.)

Every other character on the show presented some shade of this dichotomy, for better or worse, and increasing shades of critique and the absurd (shout out to Uncle Ruckus and Mr. Stinkmeaner).

Ultimately, Boondocks presented narratives. But it also heavily indicated where the auteur felt the moral compass should point. And honestly, at the time, it was almost revolutionary. Think about it: it was a black anime on Cartoon Network’s imprint, adult swim, tackling large cultural and societal issues with comedy. And it was good. It felt like you couldn’t be cool anymore unless you’d seen it or knew the references. It had that kind of impact.

But, like Chappelle’s Show, The Boondocks too absconded from us. For years.

It was gone so long that it became a running joke up there with the likes of Tupac’s resurrection, Iggy’s talent, Jimmy Hoffa’s body, and Dre’s Detox.

But then in it’s usual fashion, adult swim announced it was coming back. And it did. And it was a disappointment.

Many blame the lack of McGruder’s involvement. Others looked to the inertia of such a long hiatus. I personally think it was somewhere in the middle and more.

Looking back, The Boondocks as we knew it couldn’t really exist in a world of today, the way it did then. Yes, it engaged issues, especially black issues, with a critical lens. But I think it did so in a particular way, and went almost unquestioned in it’s popularity for better or worse. If anything, the last couple of years have proven that the public will no longer sit back and passively engage media. Moreover, there are more bright and incredible people constantly writing and engaging with creators, lauding, challenging, and critiquing their works.And, with the burgeoning collective intersections of activism, blackness, womanism, feminism, and queerness, I really don’t know if they would’ve stood for some of the shit that The Boondocks served.

McGruder’s rhetorical hammers would have been naught in the face of the many voices who would have shot back at him and the show for it’s treatment of gay men, black women, and more. Even now, it’s hard to watch some episodes without cringing a bit. At the same time, I believe the return of The Boondocks lost a lot of steam due to a feeling of datedness. The show seemed so out of touch with the happenings of now, with nearly six years of catch up to play; in an age of social media, even a reference to 2012 can feel tired and overwrought.

Enter the Dragon Black Dynamite.

Based on the 2009 blaxploitation parody of the same name, Black Dynamite swaggered it’s way onto The Boondock’s stomping grounds. Holding down primetime on adult swim, it came out the gate with absurdity. There was nothing neutral about that Michael Jackson pilot, and it heavily polarized a lot of folks I talked to about it. Either they hated it. Or they loved it. Either way, there was this agreement of the high levels of fuckery involved.

A lot of people get caught up in that: Black Dynamite is unabashedly filled with fuckery, reveling in it even. But it’s this shroud of the absurd, from top to bottom, that I think makes the show so effective. Both in comedic value and in it’s own round-about ways of addressing popular cultural topics.

Follow me for a minute, ‘cuz there’s levels to this shit.

At it’s core, Black Dynamite is a parody of the hyper-sexulized, hyper-masculinized, jive-talking, pseudo-super hero figures and villains of the Blaxploitation era. The genius of this is that the subject being parodied is already absurd and damn near a parody of itself. Thus, by parodying these overblown archetypes, Black Dynamite has created it’s own bizarro world and rules that it abides by. I’m prefacing this this way because I can hear folks asking “what about the excessive X, Y, or Z?”

Linda. Listen.

While there’s a whole other conversation to be had about how right or wrong Black Dynamite is, I’d like to keep our locus on why Black Dynamite succeeded (spiritually at least) where The Boondocks more or less failed.

If the idea of a kung-fu fighting pimp and patron to orphans/protector of the black community upsets you, Black Dynamite has done it’s job. In more ways than one, it throws these ideas and characters at you to make you realize how gotdamn ridiculous some of these films were (seriously, go watch Badassssss! and Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song.)

At the same time though, it develops these characters in interesting and multitudinous ways, all linking back to whatever is the issue of the week. While maintaining a sense of the current, characters stay so faithful to these blaxploitation stereotypes that it’s hard to tell where the joke ends or even begins. In the midst of this, the most genius part is that when it’s at it’s best, Black Dynamite keeps all those plates spinning and will trigger you, have you laughing, reflecting, or all three.

For example, in what is arguably one of the show’s most offensive episodes, Black Dynamite is unable to fight a series of foes due to the fact that he is completely ignorant to the complexities of sexual identity and gender presentation. The whole thing is ridiculous and can be triggering. But when you sit down and actually see how and why these things happen, it ultimately reveals a lode of subtext about patriarchal hyper-masculinity and it’s failings. In turn, if you are in tune to these issues, it forces you to examine why you laugh. That kind of comedy is invaluable; forcing a laugh and reflection in the same breath either behooves you to indict yourself while also critiquing the show for poking you.

And that’s the thing to not forget: no matter how off the wall Black Dynamite gets, it’s always working within the genre of parody of another genre while employing the techniques of a multitude of genres. Underneath this experiential facade of confusion and rambunctious cacophony, there’s a kernel of truth. If you don’t engage the show critically, whatever your stance or level of offense, you’ll miss the magic.

Ultimately, that’s what felt like was missing from the returned Boondocks. Magic.

So there may be something to be said for the breaking up of the original creative team for The Boondocks. With McGruder wanting to explore his side-project-turned-tv-show Black Jesus, the show lost it’s most apparent leader. Luckily, his collaborators Lesean Thomas and Carl Jones simply moved next door when the time came in 2011 to launch Black Dynamite. So while the ghost of The Boondocks came to haunt us in 2014, it’s reincarnation has been around for a minute and, at least, was doing quite well.

Thus we may not know the extent to which the loss of Black Dynamite means for these types of shows. I’d like to be ignorant and say I don’t know why it was canceled. But, I know better. Maybe it was it’s low Nielsen ratings (as if they matter that much now). There was also the issue of it’s audience being overwhelmingly young and white and male. Alas, however you cut it: Black Dynamite had potential to really carry the torch. I just hope that, in retrospect, it gets the critique and props it deserves.

dapisdope_profilepic_bootsThe original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™,  dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things.  He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things.  Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope

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