Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Wrath of Farrakhan"

In light of John’s presentation on Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, the Original Series), I wanted to discuss a sketch from In Living Color that grapples with issues of blackness in cultural production. The sketch called, “Wrath of Farrakhan” appeared in the show’s first season and playfully engages the Star Trek film, Wrath of Khan.

Wrath of Farrakhan, In Living Color

Jim Carrey plays Captain James Kirk who is confronted by Louis Farrakhan, played by Damon Wayans. Farrakhan enters the ship and quickly condemns the racist hierarchy on the Enterprise, despite Kirk’s assertions to the contrary. Farrakhan provokes Uhura and Sulu to think about her status and lack of upward mobility in terms of white supremacy employing rhetoric of the Nation of Islam. Spock, too, is convinced by Farrakhan’s intervention and tells Kirk that, as the strongest and most intelligent crewmember, he should be captain. Kirk asks if Spock is out of his “Vulcan mind,” raising the issue of projected racialization onto Spock’s body, rather than directly onto Uhura. However, Uhura’s direct assessment of race on the bridge confronts the logic of official colorblindness that Kirk clings to throughout the parody.

Farrakhan also points to the place of television within the politics of racial representation when he chastises Kirk and explains, “My people have survived four hundred years of slavery, three hundred years of apartheid, and twenty five years of The Jeffersons in syndication.” Here, Farrakhan hyperbolically links traditionally recognized forms of systematic racism with the more nebulous concept of racist representations of blackness in visual culture. This line speaks to the Black Arts aesthetic we have been discussing this week in which art and politics must be united in a radical praxis to overthrow white Western values.

It is compelling to note, however, that once Farrakhan takes control of the Enterprise, he orders Uhura to make his calls for him and leaves the existing hierarchy in check, despite his orders that the crew members rise up and assume their rightful places in Kirk’s absence. Uhura remains subservient to the captain, reminding viewers that revolutionary acts often focus on one vector of oppression at the cost of others. This sketch engages the utopian promises of the future offered by Star Trek and pushes against the official narratives of colorblindness while simultaneously subsuming a more radical critique of hierarchy (along both racial and gendered lines) by maintaining Uhura’s existing status.

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