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Chris Rock: Selective Outrage (2023)

The wait is over, and the Rock is back! Not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Chris! But if your comedy tastes do not include swearing, offensive language, and provocative takes on topics like the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, abortion, sex, racism, drugs, O. J. Simpson, the Kardashians, and transgender identity, this show is definitely not for you! With the live launch of his Netflix special from Baltimore on March 4th, Rock laid waste to what he sees as the hypocrisy of selective outrage including cancel culture, wokeism, and a state of social-policing that often ends in self-policing. What this looks like are folks who will rock out to Michael Jackson’s hits and wag a finger at R. Kelly’s or old friends who ignorantly and carelessly throw around terms like “safe space”. Ever blunt, Rock concluded that “everybody’s full of shit” giving the example of people who are less than genuine (his phrase was MF’s), typing out woke-ass tweets on phones made by child slaves. For Rock, this hypocrisy, and the race to demonstrate woke-appeal by “giving back” also encompasses corporations like the Canadian athleisure wear company Lululemon that posts its anti-oppression policies (that include the fact that they are “against hate”) in their shop windows. Rock’s response? “I don’t need your yoga-pants politics. Tell me how you work on ball sweat.” As Rock points out, such connections often seem false, detached from what corporations are actually aiming to do which is always selling, acquiring more customers, and making more money; and in Lululemon’s case this money multiplies to the tune of $100 yoga pants. But what Rock surmises the public and his Baltimore audience would really prefer if given the choice, is a pair if $20 racist yoga pants. Rock’s conclusion? Lululemon clearly hates the poor.

For Rock this social crisis is the result of an American addiction to attention, the kind that causes people to post photos of their sushi or their younger, hotter selves for “likes” on social media. As opposed to being excellent (like Serena Williams) which takes work and dedication, Rock argues that the danger for attention-seekers is that they chase it in disreputable ways like: 1) showing ass (example: Black China), (2) being infamous, or (3) playing the victim (example: white men). On this last point, Rock joked about the absurdity of white men complaining that they were “losing the country” to other groups. In response, Rock quipped that the other group was certainly not black people given the absence of significant black American wealth like cruise ships or airlines. Instead, he observed “We got some vodkas and a couple of record companies.”

What else was on Rock’s mind? Meghan Markle for one, the mixed-race wife of the British Prince Harry who as he put it “hit the light-skin lottery.” His take on Markle was insightful, astute, and hilarious. Rock’s quarrel with Markle is not that her accusations of racism were not warranted, but that her supposed surprise about the racism of the British royal family rose to a level of naivete that was simply absurd. As Rock astutely noted, the royal family are composed of the “original racists” who “invented colonialism” and are indeed “the Sugar Hill Gang of racism” having “invested in slavery like it was Shark Tank”. Preach! As for that now infamous question (revealed during Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey) that Harry supposedly fielded from a family member about their expected baby’s complexion? Well, as Rock pointed out, “even black people wanna know how brown the baby’s gonna be!”

A particularly poignant stretch was when Rock discussed how he and his wife had spoiled their two daughters who grew up to be private school going, multilingual, skiing, horseback riding, fencing black girls with Afro puffs. But Rock recounted a moment when his daughter’s sense of entitlement spurred him into action to teach her a valuable life lesson. During a senior class trip to Portugal (compared to his own trip to the Bronx Zoo), his daughter Lola and four other white girlfriends snuck away from the group to go to a bar. Caught and threatened with expulsion, the “rich ass” white girls’ parents hired lawyers to push back against the school. While his ex-wife wanted to go down the same path, Rock was not so sure. But as he recalled “the last time I argued with my ex-wife about a lawyer, I lost my house.” Clearly seeing that his daughter was flippant about what she had done, who it had impacted, and the potential repercussions, Rock made a bold decision, driving to the school and asking the dean to do him a favour. As he put it, he implored the dean, “I need you to kick my daughter out of this school! I need you to kick her black ass out of this school. I need my black child to learn her lesson right now before she ends up on OnlyFans or some shit.” And the dean complied. The good part? Humbled, Lola indeed learned her lesson and transformed her life.

Rock also talked about his modest family beginnings through references about his mother’s childhood in small town South Carolina where black people were not allowed to go to a white dentist. When no black dentist was available their normal alternative became the local veterinarian! As Rock expounded, “I’m talking about my mother, I’m not talking about Harriet Tubman.” The inspirational moment? Rock explained that his mother who once suffered such indignities now boards a plane twice a year to visit her granddaughter Lola in Paris who is now enrolled in culinary school!

And the 2022 Oscar “incident” with Will Smith? Early in the approximately one-hour program, Rock lampooned Snoop Dogg’s epic commercialization as spokesperson for everything from reverse mortgages to tampons then was careful to say that he was “not dissing Snoop” because the “last thing I need is another mad rapper.” Rock returned to the idea of mad rappers when he related his theory about female power as beauty. In his calculation, Beyonce working at Burger King could still marry Jay-Z. But the reverse? No way! But Rock was quick to point out again, “that is not a Jay-Z diss. I do not need another rapper mad at me, ok?”

Then with less than nine minutes left, Rock launched into a diatribe about Will Smith, giving many of his fans what they had longed for throughout the year, his personal take on what had transpired on the Hollywood Oscar stage on March 27th, 2022. Regarding the slap heard around the world, Rock noted that people still ask him “did it hurt?” His reply? “It still hurts! I got Summertime (a reference to Smith’s 1991 smash hit with DJ Jazzy Jeff) ringing in my ears.” Astutely Rock places the blame for Smith’s disgraceful actions on Smith’s public humiliation at the hands of his wife, a humiliation in which (to Rock’s mind) Smith actively participated when he subjected himself to an interview/dialogue on his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s talk show (Red Table Talk) wherein they openly discussed her affair (which she infamously called an “entanglement) with a younger man. Rock’s accusation to Smith: he practices “selective outrage”. Perhaps surprisingly, Rock didn’t attack Jada for cheating, nor Smith for staying. Instead, he questions why “two talented people would do something that fuckin’ low down…We all been cheated on. Everybody in here’s been cheated on. None of us have ever been interviewed by the person that cheated on us on television. None of us!” Rock’s verdict, Jada hurt Smith way more than Smith hurt Rock. But Smith’s anger – in Rock’s mind – was not appropriately directed at Jada, nor the countless black and non-black social media and TV personalities who openly called Smith “a bitch” in the wake of the interview. Instead, Smith’s misdirected rage in hitting “a N—a he know he can beat” was indicative of some “bitch ass shit.” Rock went on to share that he had rooted for Smith – the actor and the rapper – Smith’s whole career, but now watches Emancipation (2022), Smith’s recent historical drama in which he plays an enslaved man, “just to see him get whooped.” The reason Rock did not retaliate against Smith, “because I got parents. And you know what my parents taught me? Don’t fight in front of white people.” Mic drop!