On the radio last week (or the week before-time moves differently in 2020), I heard a talk show host make the argument that because of racism, white people are just going to have to give up some things. He was referring specifically to Confederate flags at NASCAR, but it could include the myriad cancelling’s that the Twitter Red Guards have instituted in the past few weeks since George Floyd’s death. There was some self-canceling as well. Tina Fey, creator of 30 Rock requested that three 30 Rock episodes be removed from streaming because of blackface episodes. The creator of Scrubs also requested that three of their episodes be removed due to blackface episodes. This of course is as we’ve always suspected; blackface always comes in threes.
These are mini-tragedies since none of these episodes were racist and actually handled the entire blackface issue in show (spoiler-it’s NOT OK!). But what really got me in the gut was the removal of the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode of Community.
The 21st Century has not been kind to the venerable television format of the sitcom. Partially, it’s because the format is just tired. Since the 1950’s almost every possible permutation has been done; and then done again…and then again, and again, and again. Also as a general rule, TV writers and creators have not gotten any smarter or more creative. So a show like Community, when it premiered in 2009, was quite a revelation. Not in ratings of course, but in tight writing, quirky characters, and good laughs. Think of it, a sitcom that was actually funny. Believe it or not, that used to actually be a thing.
The actual episode wasn’t of course about race, Advanced Dungeon’s and Dragons, as Wikipedia described the episode, was about…
“The episode is introduced in flashback, narrated by a female narrator who explains the plight of Neil, a student at Greendale who had hoped that the stigma of teasing and name-calling from other schools would not carry over to Greendale. However, he soon became known as “Fat Neil”, causing him to become very depressed. Jeff observed his change and tried to cheer Neil up by feigning interest in Neil’s favorite pastime, Dungeons & Dragons. When Neil gave Jeff all his Dungeons & Dragons books, saying that he didn’t need them any more, Jeff worried that Neil had become suicidal. Jeff worked with the rest of the study group to invite Neil to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons with them to cheer his spirits. The group specifically did not invite “Pierce the Insensitive”, worried that Pierce would tease Neil.”
So it’s an episode about depression, told through the gameplay of Dungeon’s and Dragons, years before shows such as Critical Role began integrating a D & D game into episodic television, and it was done brilliantly, combining both the round-the-table gameplay with the actual story being told through the game. It was easily in the top 10 Community episodes, and now it’s gone.
But wait you ask, what about the blackface?
Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) shows up dressed as a Drow, or Dark Elf. Get ready, here it is!
So for that, we lose this episode to the memory hole.
So it’s not blackface at all, but a character cosplaying an imaginary species that doesn’t exist. But who has time to figure out what’s offensive and what isn’t? Ban it all!
Since all of the episode-vanishing, statue vandalizing, history vanquishing, and imaginary noose hysteria has nothing to do racism or solving any racial issue, my prediction is that no racial issue gets solved no matter what you throw off the ship. Even burning the entire Western canon isn’t going to satisfy a mob, either a real torch bearing one or a twitter one, because a mob can’t be satisfied, they’re a mob.