Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chris Rock, Pit Bulls and White People

*note: nowhere in this post am I excusing any kind of dog fighting or animal cruelty. I am merely trying to further the discussion of animal welfare into one that includes race and economics.*

Chris Rock is an asshole. Michael Vick, also an asshole. Chris Rock is allegedly a funny asshole, while Michael Vick is a strong, football something or other asshole. Chris Rock recently announced that
Jay Leno: “It’s amazing to me that you mistreat a dog and you lose your career and go to jail for two years.”

Chris Rock: “What the hell did Michael Vick do, man? A dog, a pit bull ain’t even a real dog. A pit bull, that’s the white stuff. Dogs are white mans best friend – dogs have never been good to black people.”
And you probably know that Michael Vick recently returned from prison, after being convicted of dog fighting.

I don't know much about either man. I stayed mostly uninformed on the Michael Vick case- although news to much of the General Public, I already knew that dog fighting was a real problem. And I hate standup comedy. This is the only video I've ever seen by Chris Rock:

It's a good one. It's funny, but it's also extremely challenging. Rock gives tips on how black people can stay out of trouble with the police, and then goes through some very common ways people might get in trouble with the police, and very common stereotypical ways that people of color get in trouble with the police. When the black men mess up, the police beat on them. The video is racist, sexist, anti-establishment, and downright offensive. But it's also effective: it makes you think.

Jay Leno led Chris Rock into making a disturbing comment about pit bulls, dog fighting, and animal cruelty. Pit bull aficionados have been up in arms about this. Some have called the remark not worth commenting on (thereby commenting on it without being forced to evaluate their own stance). Some pit bulls gurus are starting campaigns against Jay Leno, Chris Rock and their sponsors. Others are just saying it's par for the course. Rock, Vick, and apparently, Leno, are assholes.

But I think all of these are missing the point. Rock is a comedian, but he's also a comedian with an agenda, one who pokes fun at issues that are at the heart of our society. That video is hard to watch without thinking. And can you really read the dialogue between Leno and Rock and not think about *your* values? When the whole Vick thing went down, Whoopie Goldberg argued that dog fighting is a cultural thing and many people were up in arms about this. The treatment of animals *is* affected by culture. Cultural differences are NO EXCUSE for animal cruelty or dog fighting, which is an extreme form of animal cruelty, but there was a dialogue going on. With the recent Leno and Rock escapade, there is no dialogue, just a lot of huffing and puffing about these guys acting the fool. You know- we need to talk about this stuff.

I grew up in a culture where dogs sleep inside. A woman I talked to about the California anti-tethering penal and health and safety codes last week asked me what she was supposed to do, let the dog run loose in her fenced yard? "My momma always kept the dog tied up in the yard," she said. The woman was three years younger than I am, and also grew up in Oakland. The idea even of letting the dog sleep untethered in a yard was literally foreign to her: something "other people" did. I have met people who will only touch a dog if they are wearing rubber gloves. Dogs are literally dirty, carrying germs. It would be strange, and "other" to touch them. I know people who believe dogs are fundamentally unclean, as in religiously. Only people of "other" faiths would have dogs, let alone in their houses. These are all people who are still kind to animals, although they do not afford them the same place in their lives as I do. They are not racist, but they have beliefs about animals and the people who care for them that are based on the other-ing of others. I have them, too, although I have examined them more than most, due to the nature of my work.

Why does Rock say dogs aren't good to black people? Why does Rock say pit bulls aren't real dogs? Why does Rock say pit bulls are for white people? Perhaps Rock is pointing to the history of dogs being used to hunt slaves, or even to the modern use of K9s in law enforcement (I'm pretty sure that Rock has a lot to say about law enforcement based on the above video). Maybe Rock's a closet pit bull fan, and he's being ironic: most people DON'T consider pit bulls real dogs. They're vicious monsters, or the throw-away dogs at animal shelters, or something you only see at the ghetto. And what about white people being "best friends" with dogs? Is this a reference to racial or cultural differences between the treatment of their dogs? Is it a comment on the amount of white people in rescue? Because that would be an interesting discussion, wouldn't it?

You know, maybe Rock is just an asshole. Maybe he and Leno talked ahead of the show about what big Eagle's fans they are, and how they could give Vick, their fellow asshole a plug while simultaneously pissing off pit bull fans. I don't really care. What I do care about is a dialogue. There is a reason that pit bulls are everywhere. There is a reason they are so maligned, and so often associated by the "mainstream" with "the ghetto" and no one's talking about it. We need to start caring about these reasons, and maybe we need people like Chris Rock to break the ice, even if it hurts our feelings.


spotted dog farm said...

Go Macinator! Awesome and eloquent post. I was remembering how Chris Rock has also kinda trashed vegetarianism/veganism. One quote was: "People are starving all over the world, what do you mean, 'red meat will kill you'? Don't eat no red meat? No, don't eat no green meat … if you're one of the chosen few people in the world lucky enough to get your hands on a steak, bite the shit out of it!"

Elizabeth Kennedy said...

BRAVA, boss! I miss you. And Stella misses Mac. I will reread this again later. The place of humor as provocation is, I think, one of its most noble utilities. I'm glad you pointed it out, among your other observations.