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Netflix's new Dave Chappelle defense: Our content "doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm"

  • Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos followed up on his Friday memo defending Chappelle's The Closer with a new memo on Monday addressing outrage among staffers over the special that's been accused of being transphobic. A number of staffers have scheduled a walkout on Oct. 20 in protest of Netflix's handling of The Closer. “We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos wrote in an email to staff obtained by Variety. "With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm. The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others." In response, GLAAD disputed Sarandos' claim. “GLAAD was founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people," GLAAD said in a statement. "Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality. But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color. Ironically, the documentary Disclosure on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.” Meanwhile, Netflix's @Most Twitter account, home to its LGBTQ+ storytelling, tweeted Wednesday: "sorry we haven’t been posting, this week f*cking sucks....To be clear: As the queer and trans people who run this account, you can imagine that the last couple of weeks have been hard. We can’t always control what goes on screen. What we can control is what we create here, and the POV we bring to internal conversations." As The Washington Post's Steven Zeitchik points out, Sarandos stressed the importance of representation on Netflix when its diversity report was released in February, telling CNBC: “Our mission (is) to make sure the content on Netflix is representative of the communities that we serve...we want to be held to a very rigorous standard.”


    • The Closer showcases Dave Chappelle's brittle ego: "If there is brilliance in The Closer, it’s that Mr. Chappelle makes obvious but elegant rhetorical moves that frame any objections to his work as unreasonable," says Roxanne Gay. "He’s just being 'brutally honest.' He’s just saying the quiet part out loud. He’s just stating 'facts.' He’s just making us think. But when an entire comedy set is designed as a series of strategic moves to say whatever you want and insulate yourself from valid criticism, I’m not sure you’re really making comedy. Throughout the special, Mr. Chappelle is singularly fixated on the L.G.B.T.Q. community, as he has been in recent years. He reaches for every low-hanging piece of fruit and sups on it gratuitously. Many of Mr. Chappelle’s rants are extraordinarily dated, the kind of comedy you might expect from a conservative boomer, agog at the idea of homosexuality. At times, his voice lowers to a hoarse whisper, preparing us for a grand stroke of wisdom — but it never comes. Every once in a while, he remarks that oh boy, he’s in trouble now, like a mischievous little boy who just can’t help himself. Somewhere, buried in the nonsense, is an interesting and accurate observation about the white gay community conveniently being able to claim whiteness at will. There’s a compelling observation about the relatively significant progress the L.G.B.T.Q. community has made, while progress toward racial equity has been much slower. But in these formulations, there are no gay Black people. Mr. Chappelle pits people from different marginalized groups against one another, callously suggesting that trans people are performing the gender equivalent of blackface." Gay says The Closer "is a faded simulacrum of the once-great comedian, who now uses his significant platform to air grievances against the great many people he holds in contempt, while deftly avoiding any accountability. If we don’t like his routine, we are the problem, not him." 
    • The Closer is Dave Chappelle pushing all of our buttons, and inviting us to reflect on which ones provoke a reaction: "Part of the reason The Closer has received such negative reviews in liberal outlets is that Chappelle directs much of his anger toward the liberal consensus about what’s offensive," says Helen Lewis. "He spends most of the show in an implicit dialogue with an audience outside the room—with the cultural critics who called him out over the trans jokes in his previous special, Sticks and Stones, and with Twitter, despite his claim that it’s 'not a real place.' By the end, he is asking the audience in the room, and at home, to consider who the real bully is: 'transphobic comedian Dave Chappelle' or the activists who mercilessly dragged a trans woman on Twitter for defending him. Reading the mainstream coverage of The Closer, you might think that question has been settled; Netflix’s internal data presumably suggest otherwise. On Rotten Tomatoes, the show has an approval rating of 43 percent from critics … and 97 percent from the audience." Lewis adds: "Are Dave Chappelle’s jokes offensive, or are they funny? They’re both. Is he attacking a marginalized community, or a cabal of sadistic scolds? Both. People can be both. Chappelle is entirely right to indict would-be censors for their wild inconsistencies and their capricious attitude to offense. As a comedian, he is thrown against the bars of this illogical prison every day. Why are Caitlyn Jenner jokes more obvious grounds for cancellation than ones about white bitches getting tear-gassed? When is Dave Chappelle a Black comedian and when is he a rich comedian? Sometimes the ink blot won’t resolve into a neat outline. It remains, like life, a mess."
    • Chappelle telling trans jokes isn't the problem -- it's telling the same trans jokes over and over: "If you’re going to tell jokes about trans people, try to keep it fresh," says Parker Molloy. "Now, I’m sure some people are getting ready to huff and puff and fire off an angry email to me right now to tell me that I just don’t 'get' the jokes, but I absolutely do. More than 16 years ago, South Park released 'Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina,' the first episode of the show’s ninth season. The premise is, as Wikipedia explains it: 'In the episode, Mr. Garrison undergoes a sex change after feeling that he is a "woman trapped in a man's body.' Garrison's operation inspires Kyle and his father Gerald to undergo cosmetic surgery themselves.' In the episode, Kyle undergoes surgeries to make himself tall and Black. His dad Gerald undergoes surgeries to make himself into a dolphin. For real. Get it? Because being trans is just like wanting to be a different race or even species! What a funny, insightful bit of humor. Right? Right? [Ed. note: As I typed this paragraph, I did it with my eyes rolled as far back as humanly possible.] The 'I identify as…' jokes are lazy. True lowest common denominator stuff. Boring. Played out. It’s the same joke Ricky Gervais told at the beginning of his 2018 Netflix special Humanity about going to the doctor and being turned into a chimp. These are funny guys! Big name, legendary comics! So why are they busy rehashing the old 'Lol, I identify as an attack helicopter' line? See also: searching the words 'I identify as' on Twitter. There’s an entire subreddit devoted to the “one joke” that (usually) conservative people make online: r/onejoke."

    TOPICS: Dave Chappelle, Netflix, Dave Chappelle: The Closer, Ted Sarandos, LGBTQ, Standup Comedy