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Ali G's forefathers
June 23, 2012 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Almost sixty years ago, a BBC satirical review created a segment to mark current events in Mississippi. Almost sixty years later, Millicent Martin's song and dance number still has the power to shock. (slyt, nsfw, inflammatory/racist language, etc.)
posted by PeterMcDermott (32 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. How did that ever make it on the air? That must have been pushing some envelopes, there.

Those brits.
posted by EricGjerde at 4:19 AM on June 23, 2012


WOW
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:45 AM on June 23, 2012


Eek.
posted by octothorpe at 4:46 AM on June 23, 2012


That was great. Satire that was allowed to really bite and make you feel uncomfortable.

To note, it was almost fifty years ago.
posted by Jehan at 4:50 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dear God! British television used to be something to be proud of, whatever happened? At the time (certainly at around that time) the Black and White Minstrels were mainstream family entertainment, doing chorus numbers with dancing girls, this was very daring for them.

I was too young to appreciate all this at the time and in some ways I wish I'd been born a couple of year earlier so I could experience more of the 60's as a teenager.
posted by epo at 4:51 AM on June 23, 2012


That was surprisingly good.
Kinda catchy.
I've been humming along.

No one well the Tea Party. I don't think they'd enjoy the humour.
posted by Mezentian at 4:51 AM on June 23, 2012


Wow. How did that ever make it on the air? That must have been pushing some envelopes, there.

Those brits.
posted by EricGjerde at 12:19 PM on June 23


You have to remember that in Britain (and elsewhere) use of words like "nigger" and "coon" didn't carry the weight of cultural disapproval they do today. (All links feature the aforementioned epithets, and others)

(It should be pointed out that "Till Death Us Do Part" , on which the American "All In The family" was based was aggressively satirising mindless British racism)
posted by Decani at 4:52 AM on June 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think Decani is right, and it seems to me that Millicent is appropriating the American offensive language to reveal to the British what was going on at that time in Mississippi. Doing it this way is much more powerful - and accessible - than straightforward news reports of the struggles for civil rights.

Not every use of the word nigger is intended to be racist. In fact, to be seriously anti-racist [as MM, Frost et al were, no doubt], we should use the terms, where appropriate.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:05 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


To note, it was almost fifty years ago.

Alzheimers setting in here, I think.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:06 AM on June 23, 2012


Here's a YouTube of that entire episode... it goes out of sync near the end, but you have to hear David Frost's final joke...
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:20 AM on June 23, 2012


Tom Lehrer's "I Wanna Go Back To Dixie" (1953) was a staple of his live performances:
Well, what I like to do on formal occasions like this is to take some of the various types of songs that we all know and presumably love, and, as it were, to kick them when they're down. {...} first of all, the southern type song about the wonders of the American South. But it's always seemed to me that most of these songs really don't go far enough. The following song, on the other hand, goes too far. {...}

I wanna go back to Dixie,
Take me back to dear ol' Dixie,
That's the only li'l ol' place for li'l ol' me.
Ol' times there are not forgotten,
Whuppin' slaves and sellin' cotton,
And waitin' for the Robert E. Lee.
(It was never there on time.)
I'll go back to the Swanee,
Where pellagra makes you scrawny,
And the jasmine and the tear-gas smell jes' fine.
I really have a-fixin'
To go back where there's no mixin'
Down below that Mason-Dixon line.
It continues without employing any slurs, but it's just as savage as the one from That Was the Week That Was. (e.g. "When we're havin' fun, why no-one interferes/I wanna talk with Southern gentlemen/And put that white sheet on again/I ain't seen one good lynchin' in years.")
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:31 AM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dear God! British television used to be something to be proud of, whatever happened?

PAEDOGEDDON
posted by Damienmce at 5:49 AM on June 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


PAEDOGEDDON

Chris Morris is a national treasure.
posted by epo at 6:01 AM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry but there is absolutely no reason to be proud of the Black and White Minstrel Show.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:05 AM on June 23, 2012


Dear God! British television used to be something to be proud of, whatever happened?

PAEDOGEDDON


A post-Hutton BBC can probably never achieve such heights again. Another reason for Anthony Charles Lynton Fucking Blair to burn in hell.
posted by howfar at 6:37 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although now I think about it, it was C4, wasn't it? Doh!

I don't know quite why Channel 4 is so shit now. Can anyone explain?
posted by howfar at 6:41 AM on June 23, 2012


I'm sorry but there is absolutely no reason to be proud of the Black and White Minstrel Show.

Now? No.
But this is arguably one of the few instances of 'blackface' where it works because it completely sells the message.

Of course, I have no idea of that was their intention or not at the time since it was still pretty common in the 1960s.
posted by Mezentian at 6:42 AM on June 23, 2012


I'm sorry but there is absolutely no reason to be proud of the Black and White Minstrel Show.
Nobody said they were. The pride lies in a daring and biting work of satire. If you think the singer and dancers of that piece should be condemned for it, then you're so way off the mark. Likening this to the work of Chris Morris in his Paedogeddon is about right, for it shows that folk are too quick and too willing to misunderstand.
posted by Jehan at 6:54 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The B&W Minstrels were very mainstream around then, this would have been a brave move not only because it was controversial but also because they were performing for the sort of trendy Londoners who would have sneered at them.

It was British TV I said we should have been proud of, not the Minstrels. However, their performance in this was perfectly pitched and displays a knowing sense of irony which is all too rare. Our TV once had balls enough to do this sort of thing, I wish it still did.
posted by epo at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2012


they were performing for the sort of trendy Londoners who would have sneered at them.

Maybe in the studio audience, but you shouldn't underestimate how popular the show was. It would get audiences in excess of 11 million, which was completely unheard of for a show that went out at 10.30 on a Saturday night. Today, a top rated prime-time show -- say, an episode of EastEnders -- gets about 8 million.

If anything, I think that actually makes it more subversive. It wasn't just your trendy London liberal intelligentsia who were lapping this stuff up -- it was the whole country.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2012


I'm sorry but there is absolutely no reason to be proud of the Black and White Minstrel Show.

Nobody said they were


Maybe not here, but the original Youtube poster is a tad defensive about how the minstrels are perceived now:

The Minstrels and Singers were collectively known as The Black And White Minstrels and were demonised as racist, some years later

posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2012


I'd say Mississippi got off light. An appropriate response to their abominations would have been to burn down the entire state, encase it in concrete, and declare it a forbidden zone for a thousand thousand years. A little song and dance number in blackface is downright charming, and a lot more lenient than they deserve.
posted by chronkite at 8:15 AM on June 23, 2012


I'm amazed that Millicent Martin was able to get that skintight leotard on over her gigantic solid brass balls.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe not here, but the original Youtube poster is a tad defensive about how the minstrels are perceived now:

The Minstrels and Singers were collectively known as The Black And White Minstrels and were demonised as racist, some years later


What's defensive about that? It's just the facts. While they're used in this piece ironically, The Black and White Minstrel Show -- which was indeed a straight-up racist blackface minstrel show -- ran for twenty years on the BBC before finally being canceled in 1978. It is now, quite rightfully, demonized.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:26 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


(For those unaware, this is the same woman who turned up on Frasier 40 years later playing Daphne's mother.)
posted by genghis at 10:39 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd say Mississippi got off light. Why do all the trees in Georgia lean West?

Because Alabama sucks.

Why do all the trees in Alabama lean East?

Because Mississippi blows.

I apologize for using humor to diffuse the complete and utter mindfuck that was that video.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:43 AM on June 23, 2012



What's defensive about that? It's just the facts...It is now, quite rightfully, demonized.


Huh, I don't think I've ever encountered "demonized" being used in a way that wasn't meant to suggest the demonizers were being unfair or propagandizing. You don't think the poster meant to be an apologist for the minstrels?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:23 AM on June 23, 2012


Nope.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:07 PM on June 23, 2012


Huh, I don't think I've ever encountered "demonized" being used in a way that wasn't meant to suggest the demonizers were being unfair or propagandizing.

Didn't Sys Rq use it just that way in his previous comment?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2012


That was great. The way she sweetly sings at the end:

"If you ain't for segregating white folk from the black,
then they won't hesitate to shoot you bravely in the back."

Just shows the depth of contempt the TWTWTW writers had for the racists in Mississippi.
posted by antiwiggle at 12:40 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If you ain't for segregating white folk from the black,
then they won't hesitate to shoot you bravely in the back."


I think the song must have been prompted by this event.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:03 PM on June 23, 2012


It's fascinating that you mention Tom Lehrer. He was the resident songwriter of the American version of That Was The Week That Was. He was doing related things like National Brotherhood Week.
posted by MythMaker at 5:39 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


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