The Revolution Will Not Be Televised?: Black Nationalist Comedians Shape Mainstream Culture Through Television, 1974-2005 Open Access
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Racism is profitable, and minstrelsy has functioned to codify stereotypes of Blacks as unintelligent buffoons - a dangerous combination in the consideration of Blacks and comedy on television, the purveyor of white nationalism as the U.S. status quo. This is a dissertation about Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, and Dave Chappelle, about their use of comedy to critique white supremacy, and about profane citizenship and what Ron Walters means when he calls Black Nationalism the "core ideology of the Black community." Bringing together unlikely, if not adversarial, fields - comedy and television with Black nationalism, I explore these Black men's authorial power in the complicated matrix of television production to inject "revolutionary humor" into mainstream culture. Reading The Richard Pryor Show (on NBC in 1977) in the context of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) while reading Chappelle's Show (on Comedy Central from 2003-2005) in the context of Hip Hop unfolds a narrative of a Black nationalism as countercultural to white hegemony yet desiring incorporation into the national body without assimilating, ultimately intent on democratizing democracy. Reading Hip Hop as Black Arts legacy opens pathways to think about the Movement's successes and reach beyond its proclaimed infamous and unfortunate death and to think about Black nationalism's shaping of U.S. democratic ideals through what becomes popular culture. Against arguments of "the mainstream" as omnipotent, capable of absorbing sub- and counter-cultural art in a single encounter, and against popular discourses of BAM and hip hop as breeders of social ills, I argue that these humorists' comic artistry moves beyond a simplified minstrel-vs.-radical binary reserved for Black male entertainers in the U.S. They have created and performed variegated Blacknesses on television to articulate ideals and critiques that have wrought social and legal reprisals against their self-consciously political counterparts. This project's main purpose is to argue that Black nationalism has not only functioned counterculturally on television but has fertilized seemingly unforgiving cultural ground. It has not only held the nation to its promise of democracy through critique but has modeled democracy through dissent and voice, continually (re)shaping "the nation" and "the mainstream."