The Boondocks: Exposing Stereotypes
The Boondocks is an American adult animated sitcom that airs on the Cartoon Network’s late night programming. The show begins with the Freemans, a black family that moved from the South Side of Chicago, Illinois to the serene and generally white suburb of Woodcrest. The combination of diverse culture, lifestyle and social class all contribute to the satirical culture clash that presents unique perspectives on race, gender and popular culture. These unique perspectives create the comedy and conflict in this series.
According to reviewers, the hilarity behind The Boondocks lies in the magnification of racial stereotyping, especially concerning the three main characters—eight-year-old Riley Freeman, his brother, ten-year-old Huey Freeman and their grandfather and legal guardian, Robert Jebediah Freeman.
Riley is an impressionable and enthusiastic follower of African-American popular culture. He idealizes ‘gangsta rap’, and desires to emulate rappers like ‘gangstalicious’. Much of Riley’s role in The Boondocks is to oppose his leftist brother, Huey. Huey plays the logical but misunderstood voice-of-reason. His objection to social inequalities always result in ridicule by those around him, who confuse his intelligence for ‘uppity ignorance’. Huey is morally opposed to the African-American popular culture with which his younger brother Riley is so infatuated. Huey believes that this type of culture contributes to racial inequality. Despite the cynicism from those around him, Huey works to put an end to racialized oppression through social movements and lobbying groups. Their grandfather, Robert Freeman is an advocate for the long-gone values of the African-American culture. Like, Huey, Robert resents the turn in popular African-American culture, but still perpetuates doubt when it comes to total equality with ‘the white man’. His pessimism stems from a historical lampooning from white people. Ultimately, it is the comedic dynamic between these three characters that give credence to the notion of legitimate racial inequality. My blog will not only examine this racial inequality, but also will take a closer look at the gender and popular culture stereotypes in The Boondocks Season two, Episode twenty-eight, “The Story of Gangstalicious”. I will ultimately conclude that The Boondocks is a mostly accurate, albeit slightly exaggerated reflection of various prejudices held towards racial and gendered groups.
In this episode of The Boondocks, it is revealed that Gangstalicious is gay. This is to the disbelief of Riley, who refuses to accept this about his long admired icon. Riley sees homosexuality as so impermissible that he goes to length of rationalizing Gangstalicious’s homosexuality as a mere figment of Riley’s own imagination, despite the fact that the title of his new song is “Homies over Hoes”. Following the release of Gangstalicious’s new song, he appears on a talk show and reveals that fashion, along with “personal grooming, hygiene, facials, seaweed wraps” are hobbies he enjoys. While it is important to remember the satirical nature of The Boondocks, it is also important to question the origin of these stereotypes: why is it that being gay is so frequently associated with typically feminine characteristics? Further, why are these activities considered feminine in the first place? Perhaps because we live in a heteronormative society that has assigned expected behaviors to men and women, such that we are able to categorize others and ourselves. Through this, individuals are able to derive comfort in knowing that they belong to a recognized group. This is where Riley’s brother Huey comes in. Huey destabilizes the ubiquitous notion that the gender binary is inherent, and not simply a construction of societal norms. He does this by challenging Riley’s perception of masculinity. Throughout the episode Riley assumes ostensibly effeminate qualities, like crop tops and purses. He does this because Gangstalicious (who Riley still believed was heterosexual) promoted it as the fashion. Putting aside the blatant homophobia in associating female apparel to gay men, this scene highlights the media’s role in deciding popular culture. It relates to the arbitrary social constructions that shape current culture and the way in which people present themselves as a result of the latest fads. As discussed in lecture, certain hegemonic cultures force minority figures to assimilate, which erodes differences between peoples. This is precisely Huey’s argument, that these subjective social constructs shape popular culture, which in turn shape people’s perception of masculinity and femininity.
The episode discusses rap culture and suggests that in no way has it been influenced by gay culture. This touches on two aspects of the course, race and gender. Because in The Boondocks, rap culture is inextricably tied with black culture, it is in effect saying that black culture and gay culture are polar opposites. There are frequent scenes where the traditional grandfather, Robert is astounded by his grandson’s choice of clothes. Fearing the possibility that he’s gay, Robert tries to push stereotypically ‘masculine’ activities on his grandson. However, Riley refuses to play football or chase girls, he substitutes these activities with sewing and pedicures. As discussed in class, gender socialization is a process by which individuals learn the accepted norms and values of their society, and how they fit within them. This manifests itself in this episode by the way in which Robert attempts to steer Riley towards more stereotypically ‘masculine’ activities. In an effort to console Robert, a ‘whitewashed’ neighbour, whose complexion is more white than the other black characters on the show lists the benefits of having a gay grandson: gay men are cleaner, better cooks, and get in less trouble with the law. The neighbor’s whitish complexion is important because it conveys that this white man has to be the voice-of-reason to black man, the grandfather. All this works to highlight the taboo in society that being gay is a bad thing. Throughout this episode, Gangstalicious made his best attempt to conceal his secret, however, once everybody found out, his career was essentially over. At the end, a narrator came on and asked, “Will hip-hop ever accept a gay rapper?” This question is still incredibly important today, as there are no gay rappers in hip-hip. There seems to be a stigma in rap culture towards homosexuality; people are ostracized with rap lyrics like ‘no homo’. Similarly to the recent professional NBA player, Jason Collins coming out about his sexuality, the rap industry needs someone to pioneer the fight against homophobia in rap. If nothing else, The Boondocks makes this very clear.
It is evident that while The Boondocks appears to be a severely discriminatory show, it is a show that needs to exist. With humor, The Boondocks exposes cultural hegemonic influences, as well as stereotypes that too frequently go unquestioned in our society.
– M entry