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The Boondocks

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I finally finished watching The Boondocks, including the BET episodes.

A quick synopsis for those who haven’t watched any of it before:
The Boondocks is an animated TV show based on the comic strip of the same name. The show centers on the Freemans, a black family from Chicago living in the fictional American suburb of Woodcrest. Said family is made up of Huey, a 10-year-old boy with revolutionary sensibilities and an adult intellect; Riley, his 8-year-old brother with gangsta aspirations; and their grandfather, Granddad (real name Robert).

The storylines mostly deal with social issues in or relating to the black community in America, with an occasional jab at post-9/11 paranoia (this can make the first season seem a bit dated if you watch it now). Black celebrities, both real and fictional, often make cameo appearances.

I’d already watched a little over half of Season 1, but hadn’t previously watched any of Season 2. So a Season-2-only review is below.

Season 2 Pros:
*As always, the fake media (TV/movies/music made for the show) – a trailer for Soul Plane 2: The Blackjacking featuring 50 Cent as Air Marshal 50 Cent; music videos for “Eff Granddad” by Thugnificent and “Homies Over Hoes” by Gangstalicious; and so on.
*More Granddad! He was possibly my favorite character in the comic strip, and he was great in Season 1 as well.
*New social issues, or at least issues that hadn’t really been touched on before in the show. I can’t say what they are without spoiling things too much, though.
*Sarah Dubois in action.

Season 2 Cons:
*Too abrupt. For instance, in the episode where Rollo Goodlove shows up for the first time, we have no idea who this man is or why he’s important. Also, multiple intercutting storylines in the same episode, which is fine if you follow all of them to some sort of satisfying conclusion, but often one would just end.
*We could have done without the hunger strike/BET episode, to be honest. Maybe this is because I didn’t grow up with BET (I don’t think we get it in Hawaii) and there isn’t any equivalent widely available channel for Asian-Americans, but I somehow doubt it. I did like the Uncle Ruckus Show/BET episode, however, and think they could have stuck with that instead, as it got the “BET Is Evil” point across just fine.
*They changed the opening sequence. I quite liked the old one, as it matched more with the lyrics (the different characters using their various weapons – Huey with his speech, Riley with guns, and Granddad with his belt).
*What was with all the kung-fu references? I know Aaron McGruder is into it, but sometimes it felt as though the show was getting away from what made it so good (hilarious social commentary) and edging towards Wacky and Random Action. It might work out in the long run as more episodes and seasons are produced, making the kung-fu episodes (“Attack of the Killer Kung-fu Wolf Bitch”, for example) feel more like a special one-off instead of a trend.
*There seemed to be an unusual amount of modern jive talking on Granddad’s part in the first couple of episodes. Weird.

All that said, however, Season 2 is still definitely worth watching.


Now that we’ve settled the question of what was good and not so good about Season 2, a bigger question remains: why do I love The Boondocks (both the TV show and the earlier comic strips) so much, anyway? I’m not black, and I grew up and went to school around a lot of people of my own race. Plus the suburbs is my natural habitat rather than a strange new world; granted, these are suburbs in Hawaii, which are different from mainland suburbs, but nevertheless.

I didn’t get into The Boondocks until my first year of college, when I was living on the mainland for the first time. This was also the first time that most of my close friends weren’t Asian, as a lot of mainland-born Asians I met tended to prefer socialising with other first- or second-generation Asians with the same linguistic and behavioural background. Additionally, I was starting to become aware that Asians were still being discriminated against in America – growing up in Hawaii, where the majority of the population is Asian, meant that Asians held a lot of social, commercial and governmental power – and that racism was a lot more prevalent than I thought.

The Boondocks was one of the few comic strips that actually tried to illuminate the obstacles that racial minorities can encounter in America. By focusing on different generations of a black family in a predominantly white neighborhood – and, by extension, different generations of a black population in a predominantly white country, The Boondocks managed to highlight both inter- and intra-racial problems that needed to be addressed. Additionally, Huey and Riley had grown up in a predominantly black area of Chicago, and were unused to living in a predominantly white area and to interacting with white people. (At one point early on, Huey has to explain to Riley that not all white people are funny like the ones on Seinfeld.)

Obviously, some of the issues discussed were more specific to the black community, but the basic theme of minorities trying to figure out how to live among the majority really struck a chord with me. It helped that the racial obstacles that the Freemans encountered were often the result of misunderstanding or ignorance rather than hatred – for instance, one of Huey’s classmates, a white girl named Cindy, tries to speak to Huey in rap lyrics or urban slang, and assumes that she knows a lot about black culture from listening to Puff Daddy, and when Huey and Riley enroll in school, the principal asks them (more or less politely) to leave any guns or explicit rap music that they “may have” at home.

And it isn’t a case of black people vs. white people – one of the characters, a black lawyer named Tom Dubois, is married to a white woman, Sarah, who is portrayed as mature and intelligent (often more so than Tom). The racial conflict there stems much more from public perception of their relationship than from the relationship itself. In one storyline, Sarah and Tom are trying to pick new costumes for Halloween when their usual Othello and Desdemona costume plan falls through. When Tom’s list of choices includes O.J and Nicole Simpson, Sarah points out, “I’m starting to see a disturbing trend here.”

Perhaps most importantly, The Boondocks stresses that ignorance is an enemy, not a privilege. Riley strives to emulate various rap artists not by writing or performing his own lyrics, but rather by shunning all forms of learning or knowledge, and by glorifying violence and extreme materialism – and is mocked rather than praised for it. Although the strip does criticise political figures such as Bush and the members of his administration, many of the public figures mocked in the comic were black entertainers (certain rap stars, singers and actors). The Boondocks takes shots at them not for being or “acting” black, but for being poor role models, promoting a culture of ignorance and violence, and being a figure of shame rather than pride for their racial community.

This last point is particularly salient for Asian-Americans, as there seems to be a growing trend for our youth to shun the work- and obligation-laden values of their parents/grandparents/etc in order to make more “American” lives for themselves. Sometimes this works, and a healthy balance is established. Sometimes this doesn’t, and Asian-American youth fling themselves into laziness, a lack of self-respect, and willful ignorance. If you want an example, ask yourself how Bai Ling and Tila Tequila got famous.

Now that I’m living in the UK, thousands of miles from anywhere I ever called home, The Boondocks has taken on a new importance for me. The racial issues in the comic and TV show are so specifically American that it reminds me of home. While the UK definitely has its fair share of racism and race-related conflict – the BNP is an actual political party, and that kind of says it all to me – the willingness to foreground racial issues such as the problems facing the black community in America is something I haven’t seen here. And even though America sweeps a good deal of unpleasantness under the rug too, The Boondocks reminds me that someone’s willing not only to say that something is wrong, not only to ask why, but to point out that it’s a lot more complex – and sometimes a lot funnier – than people think it is.


Written by Kelly Kanayama

October 12, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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