King's County Othello|
August 26, 1997
On August 24, I went to the Picnic House of Prospect Park to watch the King's County Shakespeare Company perform their version of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)." Anticipating a delightfully humorous performance, I was wincing within the first fifteen minutes and immediately walked out upon their ethnically prejudice performance of their condensed version of Othello. I questioned my senses, because I had just moved to this supposedly progressive community of Park Slope and on my first weekend I encountered blatant cultural insensitivity, which just rocked my sensibilities senseless. I agree political correctness has gone too far and what our society condemns as improper is often ludicrous banter, denying there are differences in this world, but what I witnessed at the playhouse on Sunday was beyond me.
The company sheepishly tried to comfort its prejudiced portrayal of the "Black" culture in cheap self-mockery, calling themselves "crackers" and "honkies." I was simply appalled that my fellow audience members were laughing hysterically when one of the players emerged with an inordinately large afro-wig and began mock-rapping a summary of Othello. Their obvious mockery of rappers with grossly exaggerated bodily gestures in itself is not a crime, but what touched a nerve was the fact that their preface to this antic was their ugly apology for their inability to convey "blackness" because of their skin color. In essence, what they were projecting was an insulting image of what a "black man" is, as if his enjoyment of and participation in cultural and performing arts are limited to rhyme and rhythm. I'm sure there are more intelligent and less offensive, not to mention at least humorous, ways to portray racial differences. The Mores may have been slightly dark-skinned, but I'm not sure many African-Americans would find much affinity with the Arab and Berber (Read: Caucasoid) peoples of the 8th Century.
Furthermore, I could not see the humor in the base simplification of contemporary African-American culture, and yet those around me were shamelessly cackling, guffawing and falling out of their seats. I thought the days of Al Jolson's blackface performances and the Amos and Andy's self-degrading shows were long over, but here I was in my new neighborhood, one which touts it's liberal-minded superiority and diverse population, witnessing some of the most insensitive attempts at public racial humor ever.
In our search for our new apartment, my fiancée and I heard many times over how densely populated the area was with writers, publicists and editors. I was certainly hoping that such a demographic was indicative of the caliber of education, awareness and understanding that a truly "diverse" community maintains. If my initial experience the other night is representative of the true mentality of my neighbors, than "diversity" is simply a pretentious selling point, not a true value embodied in their lifestyle. Caveat emptor, to any prospective tenants seeking meaningful living space.