The last Comedy Central skit I had watched by Dave Chappelle was about Clayton Bigsby. The role of Bigsby — played by none other than Chappelle himself — is that of a blind leader of a white supremacist group who doesn’t realize that he himself is ironically of non-Caucasian descent. It is Chapelle at his best, using his disarming humor to delve into the muffled issues of society that are often hid under the rug. Thus, I was naturally excited when my friend and I had decided to watch Chappelle’s Netflix special: Age of Spin. But when the show had finished and Chappelle had walked off stage, I found myself in a place that I had not expected to be at all.
The show had been cleverly organized with four separate anecdotes of Chappelle meeting with O. J. Simpson placed in between skits, giving the show a sense of unity. But while the stand-up comedian was touching on topics of a not-so-distant past — such as Manny Pacquiao’s homophobic slurs and Bill Cosby’s sexual assault allegations — there was a distinct dissonance that never seemed to stop for me.
When dealing with the Cosby issue, Chappelle had expressed ambivalence. He had an uncertain stance on how to treat the tarnished legacy of Cosby, whose irresoluteness I had firmly dismissed as wrong. Cosby had been a well-known philanthropist and was key in bringing diverse ethnic groups to TV. He had inspired and had been “like a hero” for Chappelle. Cosby was someone with “a legacy he just can’t throw away”, and Chappelle lamented the loss of a pioneering entertainer. In a world where news headlines change like bullet trains every day, he expressed his unhappiness with how it was demanded from him to take up arms against a man who had paved the way for comedians such as himself to follow. Chappelle bemoaned how what is once tarnished is forever tarnished.
Architect Tadao Ando once remarked that the modern man is unsure of the world he lives in, clueless as to where he is heading towards in a world without themes. Chappelle expressed his astonishment on how a unifying theme could possibly exist, in a generation in which “it’s like the space shuttle blows up everyday.” Space shuttle launches were national events when he was in school. He asked the audience, initially expressing skepticism but later showing a desire to listen and figure things out: “How can you care about anything when you know about every goddamn thing?” Perhaps he does have a point, a point which I had dismissed at first as being rather stony, that people are too sensitive in a world in which “name-calling doesn’t break the modern man.”
It was not coming from someone who didn’t care, but from someone who was conflicted with issues that are more complicated than the simple approaches they are given.
I’m not sure why I found it difficult to completely empathize with Chappelle that day. But the special did coincide with the fall from grace of a Korean politician. Hee-jung Ahn was a man who many believed to be the next possible presidential candidate for the Democratic Party of Korea. However, through a news conference with the broadcasting company JTBC in March, Hee-jung Ahn’s secretary revealed that her superior had sexually harassed her repeatedly.
At first, I was skeptical of the accusations. He had been someone who seemed to be at the frontline of the democratic movement in Korea, being one of the most vocal advocates of feminist movements. He had even attended the United Nations Human Rights Council meetings, repeatedly underlining the importance of gender equality.
However, as the allegations grew, it was getting clearer that Hee-jung Ahn was indeed guilty of the accusations against him. Past footages of Hee-jung Ahn further revealed the superficiality of some of his beliefs. He had cultivated an image of an idealist, amplified by the media, for which quite a large number of people had fallen for. It was also revealed that during the ongoing #MeToo movement in Korea, he had personally apologized to his secretary for his past actions but then had continued to molest her during these periods of “support”.
When faced with criticisms on his supposed pretense and his actions not following up on his words, Ahn had arrogantly appealed to the people to glance over the “man” he was and instead look at him for the politician he was. For me, Hee-jung Ahn had clearly done something wrong, but somehow, the thought of what is just, and equating suffering with another suffering had confused me as it did in Age of Spin.