"THE RETURN OF THE KING"

THE BOONDOCKS EPISODE #9 FIRST AIRED JANUARY 15, 2006

THE BOONDOCKS "RETURN OF THE KING" PICTURE GALLERY 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18

MLK is back!This very special episode of Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks is built on the premise that Martin Luther King did not die when he was shot on that hotel balcony in 1968, but was dropped into a coma for 32 years, awakening in October of 2000.  Thus, the episode offers an answer to the oft asked question of what would MLK do if he were here today.

First though, there's the question of how he would be received and treated.  Naturally, he's a hero waking up.  But of course they have a quick passing newspaper headline about him being denied the right to vote in the election a couple of weeks later.  That's the absolutely only oppression MLK gets from whitey, and that's really just a passing and somewhat obvious joke - given about two seconds.  For starters, any human being who has been in a coma for 32 years might likely not be registered to vote, legitimately technically ineligible - though very obviously under such circumstances an exception would be (perhaps inappropriately) made for, you know, MARTIN LUTHER KING.  Besides that, if you've been unconscious for 32 years, how much could you possibly know to have any basis for an even vaguely informed vote in two weeks.  Wouldn't you be more concerned with walking in the woods and smelling flowers and getting re-acquainted with friends and family?

Bill O'Reilly on Martin Luther KingBut he really takes the hit a year later over his reaction to 9/11.  He takes the position that as a Christian, he would advocate turning the other cheek and not retaliating for this attack.  There's no real telling just how MLK would have actually reacted, but this would be consistent with his statements in opposition to the Vietnam war.  He's widely denounced as a "traitor."  Bill O'Reilly on Fox News has a  nice heart graphic with MLK and Bin Laden, labeling MLK "Al Qaeda lover."  The couple of specific people shown denouncing him are white, but he's abandoned and ostracized by about everyone.  There is absolutely no one - black or white - at his book signing where Huey Freeman comes to meet him.

As to this condemnation and ostracism, as a rightwing nutjob and warmonger, let me offer a little defense of such reactions.  Now, they portrayed the denunciations as mindless hatefulness and over the top demagoguery.  There was certainly some of that after 9/11.  But there might be a reasonable defense that, hey, these jackasses just came to our country and killed 3,000 of our people, and it is in fact appropriate to rally around the flag at that point.  But it's asinine to just completely go off on a genteel conscientious objector as portrayed. 

But it might be appropriate to suggest that his "turn the other cheek" business is absolutely and unambiguously inappropriate and dangerous as a response to this kind of situation.  It is also arguably an inappropriate advocacy based on separation of church and state.  It seems to me like a much more serious breach of such principle than, say, a manger display on a courthouse lawn at Christmas.  Someone might be not entirely unreasonable in taking offense that a countryman would so cavalierly take some airy bullshit supposedly high minded point of principle over the existential necessity of protecting our very lives.

Uncle Ruckus loves Jim CrowI'ma take a second on the side to send some love out to poor misguided Uncle Ruckus, who as the embodiment of black self-hatred naturally harasses MLK, at whose marching ass he's been throwing bricks since 1959.  "I would have shot you myself, but I realized that the white man has better aim."  The black and white flashback image of young Ruckus picketing MLK with a sign saying "I love Jim Crow" was priceless.  Hey, a lot of black folk invested their hard won right to vote in supporting George Wallace, for one.  Also, I was struck here at a couple of points with the look of Ruckus.  He's old and fat and has a bad eye - and he's utterly beautiful.  He is generally prone to being loud and belligerent, but if you look closely you can sometimes see the deep sadness in his bad eye. 

But 9/11 and Ruckus are purely secondary to the main point, which is King's reaction to the whole culture.  At no point is post-coma King complaining about white oppression.  His deep despair is entirely directed at the degeneracy of black culture.  There's a scene with Dr. King watching television, and BET very specifically, with a look of deep sadness on his face.  Looks like he's about to cry like the old Injun in the anti-littering commercials from the 70s.  As he will eventually ask his people in the climactic speech, "THIS is what I got all those ass-whuppings for?"

His attempt at re-building the movement eventually leads to his and Huey's new political party having a big meeting at a church, which naturally gets turned into just a plain old party.  The church and movement have been reduced to a stupid dance club, with every bit of the pimps and hos and bangers and hustling street preachers and drinking and fighting that so hurt his soul on the television. 

This brings us to his climactic speech, in which in sadness and despair he reads the riot act to his own people, getting a stunned reaction.  As Huey puts in the voiceover just before he speaks, "King looked out on his people and saw they were in great need.  So he did what all great leaders do:  He told them the truth."

                       Martin Luther King in The Boondocks

Will you ignorant niggers please shut the hell up?Is this it?This is what I got all those ass-whuppings for?

I had a dream once. It was a dream that little black boys and little black girls would drink from the river of prosperity, freed from the thirst of oppression.But lo and behold, some four decades later, what have I found but a bunch of trifling, shiftless, good for nothing niggers.

And I know some of you donít want to hear me say that word.Itís the ugliest word in the English language.But thatís what I see now:niggers.

And you donít want to be a nigger, cause niggers are living contradictions.Niggers are full of unfulfilled ambitions.Niggers wax and wane.Niggers love to complain.Niggers love to hear themselves talk but hate to explain.Niggers love being another manís judge and jury.Niggers procrastinate until itís time to worry.Niggers love to be late.Niggers hate to hurry.

Black Entertainment Television is the worst thing Iíve ever seen in my life.Usher, Michael Jackson is NOT a genre of music.And now Iíd like to talk about Soul PlaneÖ

Iíve seen whatís around the corner. Iíve seen whatís over the horizon, and I promise you, you niggers have nothing to celebrate.

I know I wonít get there with you.Iím going to Canada.
King walks off the stage.  He encourages young Huey to "do what you can" and that's the last we see of him.  That speech alone though brings on the revolution, with black folks rising up and so on.  The episode ends with Huey's "dream" of a newspaper headline from 2020 where 91 year old MLK dies peacefully of old age in Vancouver- as Oprah Winfrey is elected president.

Some folk, notably Al Sharpton (for whom I voted), objected to this portrayal of Dr. King as supposedly disrespectful.  Sharpton particularly objected to King using the word "nigger."  These objections seem to me to be largely opportunistic and dishonest.  McGruder and company were really pretty much entirely reverential in their portrayal of MLK.  He acted with great dignity throughout the episode in response to even the most asinine provocations.  There were really no jokes at his expense - not even regarding his posthumously famous womanizing.  About the closest thing would be him admitting to Huey that McRib sandwiches were a guilty pleasure. 

What protesters like Sharpton would seem to be really objecting to is not the general portrayal of King.  No, what would seem to be upsetting was the actual content of the message that MLK presented.  It's the point that McGruder's MLK directed his criticism (utterly appropriately) at the dysfunctions of the black community.  This King in the 2000's really expressed no criticism of white oppression, for their basically is none.  Huey and Riley and Jasmine are in fact drinking from the river of prosperity, and free from the thirst of oppression. 

This is consistent with the basic outlook that McGruder takes throughout the whole series.  The "boondocks" are a very nice place. Black folk are welcome, and face very little even marginal ill will from their wealthy white neighbors.  It's nearly always black folk messing things up for themselves.  Often this comes specifically from young Riley aspiring to think he's a gangsta from the hood - even in the wealthy neighborhood where such criminality is utterly a fashion statement rather than even arguably a needful survival strategy.

Yet in this episode and in the series generally, McGruder has this weird disconnect.  He accurately and honestly directs the bulk of his criticism internally to the black community - with great love.  But yet he seems to want to hold on to some stupid ass liberal racial grudge.  His doppleganger narrator Huey Freeman consistently insists on thinking of himself as a black revolutionary looking for ways to stick it to The Man and speak truth to power, and all that horseshit.  That he's putting this into the mouth of a 10 year old boy seems to indicate some self-consciousness of the childishness of this.

But yet in this MLK episode, King is working to revive the old political movement, despite the completely changed circumstances.  Everything that King objected to in this episode was self-destructive black behavior.  There's no racial oppression from the white man.  What was needed was not King the political organizer, but his original point of profession as Reverend Martin Luther King, exhorting his flock to get right with God and better themselves - which is what he was basically doing in his big speech. 

Based on what McGruder says in the series generally and especially what he's put into the mouth of MLK here, it would seem that he's getting the politics pretty much exactly backwards.  To the extent that it would involve political advocacy at all, it would seem that the prescription would be basically socially conservative (theoretically Republican) politics - less welfare and less government in general, low taxes and minimal government, the things known to maximize opportunity.  This would be as opposed to the BS "progressive" politics that McGruder seems to actually support. 

Niggers love to complainBut the final minute of the show, between King walking off the stage and the newspaper headline in the last few seconds, portrays strongly and yet completely glosses over the black revolution finally come to fruition by MLK's inspiration.  Black people finally take to the streets, rising up against the system.  They angrily surround the White House by the thousands.  By the way, was it supposed to represent some oppression that in that circumstance riot police shot teargas into a crowd of people apparently set on a violent siege of the White House?  What exactly were they supposed to do?

Most specifically - and I ask this as a general question of Aaron McGruder as well as specifically addressing it to the black folk rising up in the streets at the end of this episode: What exactly do you want?  There is absolutely no hint that I can find in this show of what it is that the black folk think that whitey needs to do differently.  This angry black folk marching in the street business seems to go directly and specifically against everything that was said in the episode as to what was wrong.  All this carrying on seems to be exactly the maximum fulfillment of the rebuke MLK makes in his big speech that "Niggers love to complain."

From what is on the screen in The Boondocks generally and "The Return of the King" specifically the prescription would seem to be exactly the opposite of what McGruder is portraying.  One passing line during the final uprising says something about black dropout rates plummeting.  But working themselves up into a froth of anger at The Man and marching in the streets is NOT hitting the books.  From anything that's shown here, these people didn't need to be taking to the streets.  They needed to be home praying for God's guidance, reading to their children and teaching them the alphabet, and starting businesses, and doing for themselves generally.

****************************************

King's climactic speech in "Return of the King" comes in substantial part from a song lyric by Asheru.  This is the same guy who does the "Judo Flip" theme song for The Boondocks.  White as I may be, in fairness I must say that I recognize that some of these negative descriptions of niggas apply to me as well.   I note that McGruder quoted from the condemnation of the first half, while ignoring the promise of redemption in the second half.

"Niggas" by Asheru

Niggas are living contradictions. Niggas stick to their convictions. Niggas fall prey to addictions. Niggas are full of unfulfilled ambitions. And some niggas are just full of shit. Always talking' about what they about to do or trying to get. Niggas know a lot, they just ain't applying it yet. See niggas wax and wane. Niggas love to complain. Niggas love to hear themselves talk, but hate to explain. Some are trained to love outwardly and hate within. Desire what they can't have, give away what they can. Niggas are so superstitious, but they claim to know God. And they live simple lives, they think it's so hard. Niggas love being another mans' judge and jury. Niggas love to be late. Niggas hate to be hurried. Niggas procrastinate until it's time to worry. That's why when niggas get back to the corner they love to throw flurries.

But I love niggas. Niggas embody the truth, the good, bad, and the ugly.

But niggas are beautiful too. Niggas live lives as kings born to queens who never taught them what their reign means. But niggas are learning. Niggas are building. Niggas are finding their place at their own pace. Niggas are having children. Making symbolic unions with worthy women. The genitors of the dream soon to be deferred no more. The encore to our suffering from our elders' pain. They will reclaim our glory. Continue our original story. As it was in the beginning, is now and forever will be the nigga in me.

 

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