Satirical social commentary: funny or offensive?


   Censorship of content is a highly controversial issue in today’s society. Many of today’s comedies try to push boundaries in order to make a point about controversial subjects. In doing so, they sometimes try to thread the needle between being funny versus crossing the line and actually being in poor taste, or even being offensive.

   A popular instance of censorship that has angered fans is the very smart and funny show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. One of the more popular examples of episodes being pulled is when the characters inside of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia made a spinoff of the Lethal Weapon franchise. In the episode, the character Mac paints himself black to play the character, Murtaugh, originally played by the black actor Danny Glover, from Lethal Weapons 1-4. Another instance from the show where it could be seen as pushing the threshold is when the character Dee tries to collect internet fame by doing characters as part of her comedy content for the internet. She would do this character called Martina Martinez who is Puerto Rican and Dee would paint herself darker to look Puerto Rican. The subscription service Hulu was the first to censor these episodes, but then iTunes and Amazon soon followed. Despite the actual purpose of the show trying to make fun of people who think blackface is okay, the episodes were still taken down regardless.

    So were these episodes successfully funny, or did they cross the line?

    “Have we always succeeded? In retrospect no,” said It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney (Totalcelnews). “In fact we failed in some ways and what we’ve been trying to do over the course of the last few years is ameliorate that in a lot of ways. We’re trying our best and our intentions I think are in the right place, but as you’re navigating some tricky waters, you find yourself in positions where you realize oh, our intention didn’t line up with the result. Then what you’re left with is regret but also an opportunity to ameliorate.”

   Another famous instance of using blackface to show why it is wrong is Tropic Thunder. In the film, Robert Downey Jr. plays an actor who goes to extreme lengths for his roles. In Tropic Thunder, a film was being made within the film and Robert Downey Jr. painted himself black within the film inside of the film so that way he could play his character better. 

   “I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me it blasted the cap on [the issue],” said Robert Downey Jr. (IndieWire). “I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”

   Community is a show known by many for its quirky cast, meta-humor, and reference-based jokes. However, many people now know it for one episode in particular called Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. In the episode, the cast of Community plays the game, Dungeons and Dragons. The controversy in this episode is when the character Chang dresses up as an elf like the character inside of the game. The elf character in the game is black. Just a few months ago that episode was taken off streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu because of Chang painting himself black. In their eyes, Chang dressing up as an elf was seen as offensive.

   I see why people want to censor certain episodes of television shows and films and why people take offense when blackface is used. Blackface has been used in very offensive ways throughout popular culture. Not for social commentary, but for harm. Spike Lee’s Bamboozled is a film that depicts the harmful nature of blackface in a historical and contemporary sense. It is far more of a serious piece of art than the comedies mentioned. 

   While the comedians’ hearts are in the right place trying to make fun of people who think that blackface is funny and is right, the question is whether or not it is right for them to push the limits as to how they get that message across to the audience while also being funny.