In my early twenties, my friends and I had a weekly ritual. We would get together, smoke some weed, watch the Chappelle Show and laugh our butts off. The show marked me in this moment of time. Not only because it was an amazing sketch comedy but also for the story of its star. The show got extremely popular after the first two seasons and Dave Chappelle was reportedly offered $50 million for a third season by Comedy Central. There was one hitch though, he had to partially give up creative control. What happened next is well known. Dave refused that fortune and went into hiatus. When he made his comeback nearly a decade later, he almost immediately rose back to the top of his profession.
What I wish to emulate the most in Dave, is not his career success but his complete freedom. He does what he wants, when he wants. He is famous for showing up at random comedy clubs and performing on stage. He’ll prepare huge specials with other comedians on a whim and sell out stadiums with only a few weeks notice. If you’ve seen any of his comedy, it’s an evolved art form. He is not only telling jokes, he is talking about how he sees reality and inserting jokes along the way. His last special which is not really a comedy show at all. The clip on YouTube is more of a rant about the current social upheaval in the US. Dave is poignant and powerful as he discusses police brutality and racism. It’s given me another perspective on the current issues and made me realize that we need more profound conversations.
The images of violence, protests and rioting are difficult to watch and hard to make sense of. There is undoubtedly systemic racism that needs to be addressed by reform. At its core, inequality (wealth, social status, etc. ) probably plays a large role in the underlying causes. We have many of the same issues in Canada albeit on a smaller scale. These are not simple things to solve. In a complex and interconnected world, we need to be able to think about how systems are created and propagated.
My biggest fear is that we’re losing the capacity to have civil discourse about the issues at hand. Abolishing the police sounds just as crazy as some of the ideas promoted on the right, yet both sides are unable to talk to another. This is of course amplified by the platforms on which the conversations are happening. The recent controversies about social media’s policing of language miss the core of the matter, filter bubbles. Media outlets and social media platforms are increasingly sharing viewpoints that only their audience will accept. Clicks drive revenue & engagement, nothing else matters. Negative externalities like losing our ability to have a civil conversation is not a consideration. We are only at the beginning of understanding the impact algorithmic media is having on us. On first inspection, the results don’t seem great.
Confronting the ministry of truth
In Orwell’s 1984, the ministry of truth was in charge of state propaganda. Your thoughts were subject to state control and this is the dangerous path we’re going down if we don’t course correct. The only way to truly think freely is to understand multiple sides of a complicated issue. If we’re only hearing the side we want, there’s little chance of reconciliation.