Archive for the ‘When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong Analysis’ Category

In this sketch Vernon is depicted as an amicable employee who goes above and beyond, thus climbing the corporate ladders and being promoted to the Vice President of Viacorp. In this particular scene Frank, Vernon’s mentor, who is white, makes the following awkward comment:

Frank:      Vernon great job buddy. You the man. Give me some skin huh. (Raises hand in Vernon’s face for high five)

Vernon first reacts nonverbally with a perturbed look on his face. He looks down before he responds in anger to Frank’s condescending ploy at building solidarity. What Frank exhibits here is known as language crossing. Ben Rampton (1995) defines language crossing as switching into languages that are not generally thought to belong to the speaker. Frank’s use of the words “You the man. Give me some skin” signals the audience that he is not a part of the AAVE speech community, but is attempting to lessen the social distance between Vernon and himself by language crossing and styling the AAVE variety. On the other hand, Vernon, as the narrator mentions, “could have ignored this simple comment his mentor made, but decided to keep it real.” Vernon already had reservations about his identity in the workplace environment, feeling like an Uncle Tom (black man submissively loyal and servile to white men) to his co-workers, so his reaction to Frank double-voicing was exacerbated (Uncle Tom, n.d.). Double voicing was used in a uni-directional manner in Frank’s attempt to positively align himself with AAVE, however Vernon was insulted by his attempt.

Vernon’s reaction expressed many instances of performativity. As mentioned earlier in the Big Al and Black Reparations sketch, performativity is the stylistic dramatization infused into the speaker’s behavior. In this particular scene Vernon is using performativity to make a point about his resentment towards Frank’s comment in the following dialogue:

Vernon:      Whatcha think this is man? Just shake my hand like a man. (Stands up) I gotta give you some five on the back hand side with all of this crazy jive. (Does a dance and changes voice) That’s bullshit. Wanna soft shoe should I juggle some watermelon for you boss (does a dance and changes voice). Fuck all that nigga.

Vernon stands up and begins to articulate some of the notions associated with being an Uncle Tom, such as “ give you some five on the back hand side” and  “soft shoe, should I juggle some watermelon for you boss.” He also emphasizes performativity by doing a minstrel like dance similar to those performed by black face depictions of African Americans who would juggle and dance to entertain the white audience. The writer’s/Dave Chappelle’s intention of this scene is to introduce the audience to the negative affective connotations that language crossing can have. A speaker of the AAVE variety may interpret Frank’s attempt at building solidarity as a blatant attack on his culture and a tool to belittle him in front of the other officers in the meeting.

Vernon now attempts to further distance himself from his work identity of being amicable to diverging further into the AAVE variety. We assume that he does speak SE usually because the officers are shock when he gets angry. This is illustrated in the following dialogue.

Frank:      This isn’t the Vernon I know.

Vernon:   Allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Hov. Haven’t heard that before have you. Rap music is dangerous.

He goes deeper into the variety in his last line in this scene.

Vernon:      I said sit down bitch. Thug life (pushes Frank in his seat) You think this a game nigga. (barks three times) Wu-Tang (throws up Wu-Tang sign)

Once again Vernon, employs the use of performativity. He is using the stylistic dramatization of the Black hip hop culture verbally and nonverbally. In particular he references the rap star, Jay –Z when he says, “My name is Hov,” which is popular song by the artist. He emphasizes his existence in a different speech community than Frank when he states, “Haven’t heard that before have you. Rap music is dangerous.” Vernon emphatically stresses the word dangerous to show how a person of Frank’s speech community may view rap music as a violent, gang affiliated genre of music. This would be a common folk view of the Black hip hop culture. He goes on further to solidify his identity by saying ‘thug life” and “Wu-tang” and throws up the Wu-Tang (a popular hip hop group in the late 90s) hand sign using performativity. The writers of this particular scene demonstrate a purposely extreme stereotypical representation of what a speaker of AAVE would do in a situation where they are being belittled. They are bringing light to the intercultural communication errors that occur in the workforce, which may seem obvious or less obvious to the audience.