Monday, August 11, 2008

Horrifying: The Disturbing Obama Knock-Knock Email

One of the occupational hazards of writing about Obama is the spam. Actually, I'm not sure it's spam if the email is targeted. In general, I'm the target and Obama is the subject. Or, is it the other way around? Sometimes, it's hard to tell.

Mostly, I get pro-Obama emails, alerting me to cool sites, which I'm always happy to receive. And, not surprisingly, I am often the recipient of anti-Obama missives, reminding me, I suppose, of the passionate Obama resistance movement, invisible but intense, out there in the remote reaches of cyberspace. Mostly, these are innocuous notes with links to crazy sites, some of which we've linked to here. Occasional critique comes across the transom, which, again, I'm happy to receive.

The jokes, however--at least the racist ones--don't make me happy. They make this small place inside my stomach feel like I've swallowed a shot put. It's one of the few times my strong advocacy of free speech goes smashmouth up against my notion of ethics, civil rights, and hate discourse. Early on, SemiObama did a post on some of the racist Obama images floating around on the Internet. We figured part of reading Obama semiotics involved taking on even the most incendiary images.

I got that same shot put feeling today, when an email appeared in my inbox. With a subject line that read "Horrifying Knock-Knock Joke," it proved to be an email I both wanted and didn't want to ignore.

Indeed, it was a knock-knock joke encoded in a PowerPoint format. The entire joke took up five slides, each of which contained the standard knock-knock formula that I'll replicate below with simple dialogue, except for the punchline, which is visual. It went like this:





[click the right arrow on and it brings up this punch line]

First the good news: The caricature could have been much worse. Let's be honest about that. But, even better, it would appear that even the KKK predicts an Obama victory in November.

Now the bad news: It seems that despite the nearly universal acknowledgement of Obama's intellectual acumen (and even John McCain's admission of his eloquence), some still think group stereotypes trump individual transcendence. It's not surprising, sure, but it is annoying. Tiger Woods experienced it; Hank Aaron even worse. MLK, one of the most articulate American of the 20th century, worst of all.

Most reassuring is the joke's lameness, it's lack of teeth, despite the fact that it tries very hard to draw attention to Obama's teeth--a detail that continues to puzzle.

What I find interesting about this final slide is the coupling of the visual racial stereotype with the lexical one. The joke needs both to be "funny." Thankfully, the joke isn't funny. It's just racist. There is nothing singularly Obama-specific about it at all. The entire joke hinges totally and completely on race which is why it fails.

Effective propaganda is scary; lame propaganda just makes its practitioners look stupid. As far as SemiObama is concerned, it's pretty clear which this is.

Mos def.



mchelle said...

I have to reflect on what I think about this post. Aren't you worried you are somehow adding insult to injury by putting trash like this picture and joke out there?

SemiObama said...

Good question. We figure, the image is already out there. Why not put it out there with commentary. It no longer exists in the world as its own end. It now had to deal with discourse, opinion, anger.

Anonymous said...

I think this email is hilarious! Very Funny.

Anonymous said...

I'm an Obama supporter and yes it is racist but I actually don't take offense to the "joke". Be assured I will be sending it on November 5 to all of those that been spewing their radical right wing b.s. at me for the last several months just to rub their faces in it!

Anonymous said...

So, it's ok to make/repeat jokes about " W" and his Texan hick drawl and Spoonerisms (which are true) but this joke about Obama (which is not true) is racist???

That does not seem right to me at all.

And, for what it's worth, I thought the joke was funny, and ---again, take the audience into consideration--- so did the overwhelming majority of my African-American high school students with whom I shared this article.

SemiObama said...

Hi Anon & Anon,

Thanks for your comments. Most recent Anon, coincidentally, as you were posting your comment, I was writing a new post on a new racist Obama joke that arrived in my inbox this morning. I would be very interested to know if you and your students find that that one offensive. If you're willing, I'd like for you to share it with your class and report back---seriously.

What I would say is that the fact that you and your students laughed at the joke doesn't make it not racist---it just makes it "funny." For me, it's the combination of the near Sambo-like caricature of Obama *coupled* with the joke that pushes it over the edge. For example, the joke would not have been as funny if instead of the caricatured drawing, there was a photograph of Obama. The joke needs the exaggeration to indicate that you are supposed to laugh at Obama and black people.

I'm very sympathetic to the argument about audience, but I have NO idea who the intended audience is or who the author is. If Chris Rock *created* and sent this email, I might react differently. I only know the person who sent me this was white, and I assume, since I was the recipient and I am white, that I am the target audience.

Also, I'm not sure this website has ever advocated poking fun at President Bush's drawl.