Cancel me

On my mind

Yesterday, I finished watching Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix special, Right Now. I’ve been a fan of Aziz and his awkward, hyperactive humor for a long time. I saw him perform in San Francisco five years ago. I’ve watched all his specials. I loved Parks and Rec, Master of None and his book, Modern Romance. But after reading the article published last year accusing him of sexual misconduct, I was left feeling confused, upset and hurt. Was I going to be done with Aziz the way I was with other public figures when their crimes came to light? I judge people for listening to Chris Brown and R.Kelly’s music, but I struggled with that story and whether or not to cancel Aziz. 

Over the last few years, Aziz’s stand-up content has matured to reflect more social issues, musings on getting older, the effect of technology on our lives, relationships, parents, politics and more. I appreciated that shift and welcomed a more insightful version of Aziz, particularly as a comedian of color with a privileged platform. I saw him as a goofy, charming guy who can be annoying, but generally didn’t use his comedy to punch down. While watching his new special, I questioned whether or not I could make space for him again, considering he’s never truly apologized or owned up to his actions. I have experiences with Azizs in my personal life, so if I give him another chance, does that mean I have to do the same for them? Is forgiveness just an abstract concept to me? When will I be ready to embrace it, if ever?

Aziz has been largely out of the spotlight for the last year, quietly doing tours around the country with very little publicity. You could call this special his attempt at a comeback. He opens the show in a hushed tone to address the controversy (in very vague terms) before breezily moving onward to a set full of jokes on the news, his new interracial relationship, birth control, parents, old material he now regrets sharing, and what happens when you have to cancel someone you used to admire. He spends time making the case for letting people learn from their mistakes when it comes to racism, sexism, harassment, and appropriation, but later laughs away the seriousness of those actions and the genuine work needed to make amends. Aziz criticizes call-out culture and argues that it’s easy to sit here in 2019 and say what’s right or wrong, when our past selves just didn’t know better. He complains that everyone rushes to have an opinion about everything and wants to appear better than they really are. According to Aziz, “We’re all shitty people!

Megan Garber wrote about the confusing tone Aziz takes in his stand-up, saying,

“It is rare to see the dynamics of progress and backlash on such flagrant display. Are we shitty, or are we fixable? Is forward movement admirable, or is it mockable? Can we make moral judgments in 2019, or can’t we? The answer can be yes in each case, definitely, if certain nuances are entertained. And the overarching point is, as it so often has been in Ansari’s work, generosity: Let’s give ourselves a break, he is saying. (He is, notably, in this first special after he was accused of sexual misconduct, including himself in that permission.)”

I’ll admit I laughed a lot during the special, but also cringed. That’s the best way I can describe how the show made me feel. It’s a mixed bag of emotional vulnerability and relatability with a frustrating contempt for how long the road for redemption is.

I also noticed the visual direction of this show and how it plays into Aziz’s attempt to appear remorseful and forever changed. Normally, his shows are well-lit with perfect acoustics. You’d see him strut around the stage in a fancy suit, gripping the mic enthusiastically. In Right Now, his tiny frame is covered by a faded Metallica shirt, simple jeans and Converse shoes. He slouches on his stool, often whispering into the mic to the point you can barely understand him. His wide eyes look like he’s on the verge of tears at times. The camera captures Aziz at odd, intimate angles from behind, below his face and at times, with crew members visible on the side of the stage. It’s as if we’re being reminded that this is Aziz, just a normal dude on a stage for an hour trying to make you laugh and not a misogynist who doesn’t respect women and their boundaries.

I’m interested in hearing your Aziz thoughts if you’ve seen the special or once you do. If you don’t plan on it and have cancelled him, let me know too. I promise to listen with an open mind.

What I’m noting

  • This might not be the job for you, unless… // The NY Times posted a job description for their Nairobi Bureau Chief job that told you everything about how Western media views Africa even in 2019. It involves covering news “from the deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and the shores of Tanzania.” I highly suggest after reading the job description, you should listen to The LAM Sisterhood’s dramatic interpretation of it, which truly brings it to life.

  • Should white people adopt black kids? // I’ve been a big fan of the Red Table Talk series, a Facebook Watch show hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, her mother, Adrienne, and her daughter, Willow. They tackle serious topics from the perspective of three generations of women and are refreshingly open for a celebrity family about their own flaws and mistakes. The most recent one I watched centered around interracial adoption with actress Kristin Davis, a single mom who has two adopted black children. I came into the talk being skeptical after what I’ve read about the struggles of interracial adoption for black adoptees when they’re older. Check it out here for a discussion on the adoption process, white privilege, the differences between how the black and white communities approach adoption, and raising black children in a racist world.

  • Why millennial women are becoming nuns // I don’t actually know anyone who wants to be a nun, but apparently more and more women are increasingly being called to devote their life to God by becoming a sister. These women are younger (average age is 24), and less than 60% are white. What’s more: “They tend to be far more doctrinally conservative than their predecessors. If you go deeper into their social media feeds, past the wacky photos of habited nuns making the hang-loose sign, you’ll find a firm devotion to the most traditional of Catholic beliefs. They fervently protest abortion. They celebrate virginity not as a necessity to free up time to serve God—how some “liberal” sisters see it—but as something in itself holy. It’s a severity that overlaps neatly, actually, with the OMG maximalism that dominates social media.”  

  • The Smithsonian wants drawings from detained migrant children // Reading this headline initially made me furious. I think my instinct was to interpret this as a capitalistic response to pain and grief. An institution taking advantage of vulnerable children in a crisis and not doing anything about it. Upon further reflection, I believe that our institutionalized memory is not just about our achievements but also our darkest moments, so it makes sense. It just feels odd considering I haven’t heard about museums requesting art made by children suffering as the events are still happening? Let me know if you’ve seen otherwise.

  • The world’s best paper titles // This Twitter thread made my week with a round up of the most hilarious paper titles. It’s nice to see academics have some fun considering their intense publish or peril experience. Enjoy scrolling through these and let me know what your favorites are. Here’s one of mine: 

That’s it for this week. As always, please send me what you’re noting and I might include it in an upcoming newsletter. Until then, have a good weekend!

— Nesima