Modern Art Is All the More Noble
AP English Language and Composition
24 January 2020
Modern Art Is All the More Noble
Sometimes I think about how Chappelle’s Show ended. I’m a big fan of all things comedy, and the jesters of yore have become preachers of philosophy in a time demanding of it. One of the best comedians of all time is Dave Chappelle, and I do not use superlatives lightly. He’s one of the most engaging standup comedians for a reason, and to understand what he’s all about, I need to understand when he was the most raw he’s ever been to his audience.
In 2003, Chappelle debuted his show on Comedy Central, and immediately faced controversy over his racial humor. Addressing the racial divide in America has consistently remained a topic most would consider controversial—to acknowledge it would mean to face a core societal fault. To mock it would be even more offensive to those unwilling to speak of it. This isn’t new information. In fact, I’m sure if you looked up a couple news articles from the time, you’d find this said a million times over.
However, Chappelle walked away from $50 million, fame, and a career pursuing his passions. A little bit of controversy can’t explain that. Mid-2004, Chappelle walked off the stage during his standup routine, and walked back on. In the midst of berating his audience, he says, “You know why my show is good? Because the network officials say you're not smart enough to get what I'm doing, and every day I fight for you. I tell them how smart you are.” The man had made a show to satirize the failings in modern America, an America with racial and class divides infiltrating every aspect of life. A television show is made to entertain, and Chappelle could only entertain someone who could see what he was laughing at.
At the end, though, he could only finish with, “Turns out, I was wrong. You people are stupid.” His audience wasn’t laughing with him, it was laughing at him, and the characters he’d written, played—crafted to mock society were turned into catchphrases and excuses to reinforce racist stereotypes. He was successful because his parody was too accurate, indistinguishable to the masses from the reality he sought to deconstruct. He had sought to create art, a masterpiece dish, not what you could find in the dumpster behind an Arby’s that the rats would brawl over.
This is a failure that makes the works of today’s artists all the more noble. To face a sea of strangers with an idea is frightening by itself, but to challenge the narrative of reality the media drives is downright stupid. But, I like to think stupidity and bravery can be the same thing from time to time. The media landscape of today is borderline dystopian at times, where people are silenced or forced to dance a dance that was choreographed by suits. Chappelle, reminiscing on his failure, said on Inside the Actors Studio, “I felt like some kind of prostitute,” performing for the pleasure of others and not to express.
Yet, knowing this, new artists of all kinds crop up everyday, creating out of an innate desire to do so. To me, this is admirable despite how fringe, abstract, and surface-level modern art may be. Maintaining the spirit of expression breeds a culture resistant to the lies and manipulation the media thrives on. The artists of today are creating for the artists of tomorrow, and while Chappelle may have failed at the time, his comedy will go down in history as some of the most influential material ever written.