For years, New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis has ruined the summer movie season from her self-righteous liberal movie review perch at the New York Times. In June 2011 she lamented about the lack of women in The Hangover, a movie about a....bachelor party: "Is there a lesson here for those big-studio executives who even now are reading the latest iteration of the three-men-and-a-monkey story (but no women) and believe that the current state of American cinema - separate and unequal - will continue to fly?" A month before, Dargis had lamented the presence of a "symbolic phallus" in a violent Western: "I just don't believe that scene where her character pulls out a rifle to protect the wagon train's Indian prisoner -- or should I say when she takes possession of the symbolic phallus."
In 2012 she ridiculously blasted Ronald Reagan for the lack of variety out of Hollywood: "The media consolidation that traces back to the Reagan years has had enormous deleterious consequences on American movies."
Dargis's pan, on the front of Friday's Arts section, of the raunchy, race-saturated comedy Ted 2 -- the sequel to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane's surprise smash about a ribald, trash-talking teddy bear -- was crazed in its convulsive, polititczed solemnity, all to decimate a vulgar farce about a talking stuffed animal.
Ted’s efforts to be a husband and father lead to assorted complications, most important a legal battle that forces him to prove he’s human rather than property. To that end, Mr. MacFarlane aligns Ted’s struggle with enslaved black Americans so that, while watching a scene in “Roots” in which Kunta Kinte is whipped, Ted jokes that he’s just like the brutalized slave. The joke is absurd, weird and unfunny, and it exemplifies Mr. MacFarlane’s reliance on surface shocks as well as his assumption that engaging with race is merely a matter of putting black people on-screen; or having a black woman “comically” explain the history of slavery; or having Ted and John repeatedly employ a vulgarism for black penises. It is a particularly blunt example of the white appropriation of black lives -- except without all the bad stuff or, as the writer Greg Tate once put it, with “everything but the burden.”
After voicing stern disapproval of an admittedly extremely graphic sexual and racial joke, Dargis instructs her readers about what is funny and what is not. No escapism from the real world for Dargis, it must be dragged onto the screen:
Jokes don’t need to make you think, and comedy isn’t school, even if the Three Stooges have taught us much. It all depends on context, which is why some pokes in the eye are funny and others aren’t. And maybe this movie might have been funny (or at least tolerably wince-worthy) before dead black bodies again became an emblem of our national trauma. The audience I saw “Ted 2” with, though, seemed both uncomfortable with the Kardashian joke and unsure of how to respond, which was notable considering how pumped it had seemed before the movie. Some people laughed, some tittered nervously, some groaned. The uneasiness, I think, came from a deep, unsettled recognition that many of us share these days: No matter what we tell ourselves, we have not really figured out how to talk about race, much less joke about it. Mr. MacFarlane sure hasn’t.
Dargis sounds like a lot of fun to be around.
In “Ted 2,” he generates squirms, largely because his humor is so tone deaf. A Freudian might enjoy trying to figure out if his repeated references to black male genitalia represents a fear of black (male) power or something a wee more personal.
Dargis tried to head off criticism of being politically correct by basically saying that she's not against all race jokes in comedies, just jokes that she personally finds offensive:
And this isn’t a question of political correctness, the default complaint of those who just want their critics to shut up. If anything, American comedies need to take on race more, to test boundaries and audiences alike. First, though, they have to grasp the differences between appropriation and engagement, and between comedy that supports the racist status quo and comedy that shreds it to pieces. Just sliming us doesn’t cut it.