Sunday, December 19, 2010
Black and White and said all over
“The Rubberbandits are offensive, not because they swear and reference drugs, and not because they reinforce a jaundiced and incorrect view of Limerick; the Rubberbandits are offensive because they are Modern Irish Society’s equivalent of ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’.”
This is the point of view*(* I haven’t quoted directly but I believe that that’s the gist), put forward by a contributor to the comments section of the blog I did about Liveline, and I have to admit: It has me thinkin’.
And the ‘gist of the gist’ is, that the Bandits embody, in their act, a marginalised minority of Irish culture that the rest of us fear and at the same time look down upon, ie: ‘The Scumbags’, ‘The underclass’, ‘The knacks’.
The gist of the Minstrel comparison is; that laughing at caricatures, of this oppressed and feared element, is ultimately satisfying to the rest of us.
It mitigates our fear of them; while at the same time making us feel good about our own relative position in society.
The fact, that it’s popular and entertaining, doesn’t justify it.
If anything, the fact that it’s widely popular, suggests that we have huge problems as a society confronting our own prejudices.
I find this an interesting point of view, so I thought I’d have a closer look at it.
The way I see it, the Minstrel/Entertaining-Scumbag (hereafter known as ‘Happy-Knack’) analogy, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny on two points:
Firstly, (as ‘Bock the Robber’ pointed out) ‘Knacks’ are not really an identifiable minority in the way that black people are. The notion of ‘black people’ as a set of human beings is difficult anyway because as soon as you wish to treat people in terms of these sets you’re going to have problems about who you leave in and who you leave out, but there are those close enough to the ‘type’ to fit everybody’s general idea. So we can agree that Samuel Jackson yes, Ali G, not really.
In contrast the ‘Knack/Scumbag’ term is a relative one, just like the term ‘Snob/Posh’ and when we use either generalisation most of us are usually accurately speaking of how we perceive ourselves in relation to who we’re talking about rather than any agreed general group in our society.
Secondly, the Black and White minstrel of the stage and screen were of necessity watered down and inoffensive. Their only fuction was to entertain, neither the original minstrels or their white-skinned-blacked-up successors ever challenged the idea that they were anything other than delightful child-like performers. The confrontational vulgarity of the Rubberbandits does fit the perceived stereotype of whatever a ‘Knack’ is, but bringing that to the stage and defending it on aesthetic grounds has more in common with Punk or the Dadaist movement than The Black and White Minstrel Show.
So, for me, there’s no way the Rubberbandits are Black and White minstrels but that’s not to say that I don’t see the point of the comparison. Perhaps if they were puppets like Dustin and Podge and Rodge, I’d find them easier to get my head around, perhaps if like Ross O’Carroll Kelly they represented a caricature of the most comfortable in this country rather than the most dangerous\vulnerable they’d be easier for me personally to find amusing. When I was a kid, a slagging match was only good if the participants were both doin’ the slagging and were on some sort of equal footing, otherwise it was just bullying, and bullying’s not funny.
But I don't think that's what's going on here.These lads are well able to stick up for themselves, as well as write a catchy tune.
What the Bandits are at isn’t really all that new; it’s new for this country though.
And while it remains to be seen if they can maintain any cultural presence beyond a novelty single, their intellectual and articulate defence of their art, while maintaining their ‘Knack’ personas, clears them of the charge of ‘minstrelcy’, and so far, been the most subversive thing about them.