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Chris Rock, the Red-State Conservative

While I can't say it surprises me, it's amused me for a long time that people like Matt Drudge think Chris Rock is "dangerous." Dangerous to what, I wonder. Perhaps to their complacency. Certainly not to "family values" or "common mores" -- not if you're paying attention. I am a bit surprised, though, to hear him referred to as a 'William F***ing Buckley Conservative'.

Years ago, I saw Chris Rock on television -- probably HBO, probably "Bring the Pain", but I don't remember exactly. I do remember a bit he did about men cheating on their girlfriends. He started by signalling his intent -- showing the club, as it were: "Men are stupid. Because you know you're gonna get caught." He does it to be fair, maybe, or maybe to prove that even after he's signalled that he's going to drop a hammer on them, he'll still sucker the men in the audience in. Which he proceeded to do, describing how natural it was to want to cheat, how easy it should be to lie -- if, of course, men weren't stupid. And, more important, if they didn't know damn well they deserved to get caught.

Rock is a stealth moralist. He's a preacher to the pop-cultural -- a wandering rabbi or imam, ministering to the barflies by telling stories in terms they can understand and that will elicit enough of their empathy to make them stretch their minds and consider their world. It's an old and proud tradition (as old probably as storytelling), realized with a wide array of techniques. My favorite contemporary example is Matt Groening's marvellous creation, The Simpsons, which panders to our baser instincts and then springs the trap on us by making its characters renounce their ill-gotten gains in the service of What's Right. Rock's technique is similar: He lulls his audience into a false sense of security, and then explains in quick, brutal strokes that anyone he's suckered is a fool. And a morally depraved fool, at that.

What Rock's not is a 'William F***ing Buckley Conservative', as John Swansburg seems to think he is. Raising your daughters to not be strippers, or suggesting that single mothers ought to put their children before Girls Night at least most of the time, or suggesting that abortion might be a little too cavalierly chosen, are not "Red State Red" conservative positions: They're mainstream moderate American moral positions, shared by the vast majority of adult "Blue" and "Red" state residents, and anyone who suggests otherwise is buying into the Republican framing myth that holds that True American Values are right-wing religious conservative values. They're not actually religious values at all, and what's more, they're not communicated via religion -- at least, not in a healthy, functioning society they're not. In a healthy family, they're communicated by example. Children learn responsible and moral behavior by watching their parents, their extended family, their neighbors, and the people they meet in daily life.

What Rock is, is Lenny Bruce with tamed demons, or George Carlin with more integrity. Any good comic keeps a few demons in the closet to feed him material; but if they're smart (and probably a little lucky), then sometimes, just sometimes, they learn to tame them without losing the energy the demons feed them.

Chris Rock is also another important thing: He's a professional, just like Whoopee Goldberg or Billy Crystal. Personally, I expect his impact on the quality (moral or otherwise) of the show to be positive.

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