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Comments by YACCS
Monday, December 12, 2005

Hey, but Miles was cool


Richard Pryor

Pryor's flawed legacy

Comedian's vulgarity made him no role model

Richard Pryor's world was filled with prostitutes, pimps, winos and those others of undesirable ilk.

This past Saturday Richard Pryor left this life and bequeathed to our culture as much darkness as he did the light his extraordinary talent made possible.

When we look at the remarkable descent this culture has made into smut, contempt, vulgarity and the pornagraphic, those of us who are not willing to drink the Kool-Aid marked "all's well," will have to address the fact that it was the combination of confusion and comic genius that made Pryor a much more negative influence than a positive one.

I do not mean positive in the way Bill Cosby was when his television show redefined situation comedy by turning away from all of the stereotypes of disorder and incompetence that were then and still are the basic renditions of black American life in our mass media.

Richard Pryor was not that kind of a man. His was a different story.

Pryor was troubled and he had seen things that so haunted him that the comedian found it impossible to perform and ignore the lower-class shadow worlds he had known so well, filled with pimps, prostitutes, winos and abrasive types of one sort or another.

The vulgarity of his material, and the idea a "real" black person was a foul-mouthed type was his greatest influence. It was the result of seeing the breaking of "white" convention as a form of "authentic" definition.

Pryor reached for anything that would make white America uncomfortable and would prop up a smug belief among black Americans that they were always "more cool" and more ready to "face life" than the members of majority culture.

Along the way, Pryor made too many people feel that the N word was open currency and was more accurate than any other word used to describe or address a black person.

In the dung piles of pimp and gangster rap we hear from slime meisters like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, the worst of Pryor's influence has been turned into an aspect of the new minstrelsy in which millions of dollars are made by "normalizing" demeaning imagery and misogyny.

What is so unfortunate is that the heaviest of Pryor's gifts was largely ignored by so many of those who praised the man when he was alive and are now in the middle of deifying him.

Well, I'll say this: it takes a brave man to write this nonsense. Stanley Crouch, a man who lionizes junkies as great artists, is now chiding Richard Pryor for cursing.

Yes, let's blame Pryor's act for rappers instead of praising him for being the breakpoint in American comedy. There is before Pryor and after Pryor, and every professional comic in America would agree with this.

Crouch is clearly uncomfortable with the black underclass, who he thinks made a major mistake in not embracing jazz as their iconic role model. Well, that battle was fought and lost 50 years ago. But to say Pryor's influence is largely negative, well, John McWhorter tried to argue that Jet and Ebony were accomodationist. They're both full of shit.

Crouch wants to pretend if black people were nice, white people would respect them. Richard Pryor knew better.

All Pryor did was tell the truth about black life. What he also did, and what unnerves Crouch, who hides behind a silly argument over language, is that he exploited the fear whites had of blacks and blacks had of whites. Bill Cosby isn't even in the same room as Pryor, Salieri to Mozart, and Cosby knows it. Pryor's career exploded as America confronted race, sex and drugs.

But the sad fact is that Crouch is obsessed with the way white America sees black, as if these social ills didn't exist, they wouldn't have any excuse for racism. What he understands and Pryor knew instinctively was that they didn't need an excuse for racism.

It's a shame Crouch wrote this foolish column to denigrate Richard Pryor. It just makes Crouch look out of touch and out of step.

posted by Steve @ 9:56:00 AM

9:56:00 AM

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