Tuesday, June 25, 2013

365 Comics... 175: Quantum and Woody #4 (1997)

This is the infamous "Noogie" issue of Quantum and Woody. And by "infamous" I mean I have only the vaguest recollection of any stir it may have caused, and even that might be a faulty vague memory. The opening 3 pages of the book "speckle" the fourth wall, having Quantum, Woody and an Acclaim lawyer address the audience discussing this issue's use of the "n-word" and the unease it caused the editorial staff when the script was submitted.  Their solution, "to help manage their liberal guilt" (as Priest via Woody explains)) was to substitute the word "Noogie".  "A cop out?  You bet."

I'm trying to figure out if Priest was annoyed or amused by the situation, or if he just concocted this whole preamble as part of the issue from the outset or if he then truncated his own script by 3 pages.  The conversation never did lead there in the book, but isn't using a substitute, like "noogie" or even "n-word" just semantics for using the damn word anyway?

The word is "in the news" recently because of the "Paula Deen scandal" (scandal? Didn't know who she was before, care even less to know now), and I'm hardly the guy to start, or lead a conversation on the subject, because it makes me uncomfortable, much like the editors at Acclaim.  It's not "white liberal guilt", because I don't have anything to be guilty about, but like most words that are used primarily (or only) in a derogatory manner (see also, any other ethnic or sexist slur), it's just not a word I want to use or perpetuate.  That said, I'm not going to avoid the topic, just don't look to me for answers.  A cop-out?  You bet.

Many of us get exposed to these types of words when we're kids from other kids, and hopefully, if we're lucky, we have parents who will explain that they are inappropriate and hurtful, and if we're even more lucky, we can understand why.  Kids pass these words around casually usually without knowledge of what they even represent, never mind the historical context.  For the a duration of time I naively thought "nigger" was just another word for "tiger" because of the whole "eenie meenie miney moe" thing that was going around the schoolyard in grade one, seemingly innocuously.  My mom set me straight with a polite conversation, and even though it didn't make a whole lot of sense I understood that it wasn't in the same league as "shit" or "hell" (those words I got in trouble for using, having a polite conversation was a game changer).  It wasn't a bad word, it was a wrong one.

I don't recall hearing the word much growing up, definitely not at home, not in the pop culture I was taking in, and not by my friends.  But it was around.  It kind of assailed me in my teenage years, making me uncomfortable when I started getting more and more into rap music in the early 90's (I was exclusively listening to hip-hop through the first three years of high school).  It's hard to sing/rap along to a song when there's words in there that you just can't be saying as a white kid, y'know.  I mean, most of the stuff I was listening to was fairly light on the usage of it, at least at first... up until about '93 when Tribe brought out "Sucka Nigga" on Midnight Marauders, then it seemed to be everywhere, like its use was suddenly authenticated for the consciousness hip-hop crowd.  I'm not sure that's true, but it definitely heightened my awareness of not just its use but how it was used.

"Sucka Nigga" is a track about how the black youth of America were taking this hateful word and turning it on its head into a term of affection.  That's how the character Willie Maye uses it in Quantum and Woody, Priest using it to craft quite the hilarious scene.  I got that, and I also got that, in that sense it was still off-limits, for me anyway, which was more than fine.  It still disarms me, though I can be entertained by it's use when it's being twisted and skewed and subverted to expose and/or undermine the racists and it's visceral impact, like it is here, or in a Chris Rock or David Chappelle bit, or in a Tarantino film. But at the same time, like Quantum says in this book, "I think it's a word that should absolutely die" and even if it meant being deprived of some great comedy or quality drama, it'd still be worth it (because of course it would).

But when the world gives us straight-up racist a-holes who think the word, and apply the word, it's good that they're called out on it, exposed, and publicly shamed.  And I think it's a good thing to talk about where we are as a society with it, if only as a benchmark to gauge against the next time.  We've not progressed that far since the Michael Richards incident, but I think were Priest to want to do this issue of Quantum and Woody today, I'm doubtful the 3-page preamble would be necessary, nor would "Noogie".  We have the context today that Tribe spoke about which wasn't anywhere as prevalent in 1997.  New Q&W writer James Asmus, though, would obviously be a lot less likely to get away with it.

This has been a public service announcement.
Well.  Not really.

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