"You best not be stepping to me bruh"


#1

So. I enjoyed next gen, Netflix’s better version of big hero 6. The story was an interesting rebellious and strangely violent twist on the genre of boy and his xxx.

One thing that always got to me when I watched it, however, was the line from the title of this post. Black culture gets appropriated in many ways in society, and one of the ways I find discussed the least in every aspect in culture is this specific comedic bit: using lingo used to represent hyper masculine black identity to seem funny.

(he makes the joke at 0:44)

See, thats the whole joke. When the robot says this in next gen, he’s not doing it to read black. He’s not a black robot. He does it as a joke for the audience, “hey isn’t this turn of phrase that usually frightens us [because it reads black and intimidating] funny when it’s NOT done in this fashion?” the issue, like most issues of appropriation, isn’t that people who aren’t black are adopting black lingo. The issue is that it’s done so in a society that actively dislikes when black people “talk black” and “not proper” and yet freely enjoys using the lingo as shorthand for old people/non black people trying to seem cool or tough. Maybe I’m reiterating and old point but I encounter this so much I actually can’t even remmeber acknowledging it. Have you noticed this sort of thing in modern media and gaming? I know disney and nicks live tv shows are insanely guilt of using it. They literally think its a totally family friendly way to be funny.


#2

While I can’t think of any specific examples right now, I know exactly what you mean and I’ve noticed a parallel here in the german speaking part of Switzerland: For the last twenty years a large amount of people from the Balkans have migrated here as a result of the war in the 90s. As the children of those immigrants grew up here and are becoming part of the workforce, they have developed their own spoken version of Swiss German. That “incorrect” lingo (Swiss German doesn’t actually have proper grammar, since it’s only spoken and never written) is now used by performers, tv shows etc. as a short-hand to convey that a certain person is uneducated or ill-informed. There’s also the phenomenon that you described of using those sepaking patterns to make older characters seem cool. It’s something so common that most people either don’t even seem to realize that they’re doing it. It’s just the worst and super-frustrating.

most people aren’t even aware that phrases like “on fleek”, “bae”, “lit” etc. originate in black communities, but appropriate them from american teenage white girls, making this all the more frustrating for me.


#3

The worst part of it is that frankly, I’d be all for a genuine acceptance of lingo being added to society’s cultural turn of phrase. I’m not against everyone saying bruh or what have you, but what’s actually happening is that the way media seems to use it is to make sure people DON’T say it unless they want to seem like a joke.


#4

In a way, this is a modern version of the “hasta la vista, baby” bit from Terminator 2.

Little Johnny Connor is trying to teach the Terminator to be cool, and the answer to that is “say something in Spanish in an intimidating fashion.” And in T2 and this Netflix show, it seems that both these characters (John and Mai) believe the behavior they’re teaching their robots is cool/tough because it’s not part of their own culture. On a narrative level it’s supposed to convey that the kid (on some level) doesn’t think they themselves are cool/tough, so they’re projecting that insecurity onto their robots, and teaching them what they think is cool/tough. Which comes at the expense of making a joke about the culture the lingo comes from.

And the weird part in the Terminator case is that, in that fiction’s future, nearly all of humanity is destroyed. So there MUST be robots in this future who know how to speak different languages, and to some degree lingo, idioms, etc., if part of their function was to blend in with humans to infiltrate them. The Terminator having to be taught something that basically translates to “goodbye” in another language seems to imply that in the future the robots only know how to speak english because there are only english-speaking humans left or something.

Now with Terminator there’s at least some reason that a robot (or even a person) from the future may need to learn current-day phrases, since hiding the fact that they’re a time-traveling robot/person is important. Presumably, if a Terminator story took place in Japan, Skynet would send a robot that would pass as ethnically Japanese. But if that robot showed up and didn’t know current Japanese culture (like it showed up plus/minus 50 years from when it was supposed to), it would have to learn it to blend in. In the Terminator narrative universe, it’s necessary that the robots have racial identifiers (granted, this really only applies to pre-T1000 models, which couldn’t turn into whatever they wanted). But the joke here is still “ha-ha, this white kid is teaching this big Austrian robot how to sound like he’s a member of the Westside Locos.”

But with Next Gen it seems worse, since the robots aren’t designed to pass as human. I admit to not having seen the movie, but this clip implies that the normal nature of this robot is to be perceived as white—or at the very least, NOT black. As if to say, “of course the robot has to be taught how to act black, and does a poor job doing it, because why in the world would a robot know anything about what it is to be black?” It’s easy to say that robots shouldn’t have racial identity, but it’s hard to defend that statement when jokes like this establish that the robots are programmed by default to be part of white society. It conveys this message that even for robots, white is normal.


#5

For the most part I agree with a lot of your points. Yes, in the world of this movie there’s no real race to robots. Hasta la vista nowadays sounds just as badass as it did in film (to me at least, maybe i’m missing some of the nuance) so in turn even though it is just kind of appropriating a culture, it at least paints it in a bad ass light. Does this mean we should cherry pick phrases only for the sake of making them an American exclamation point? Of course not.

You’re right in that its far worse in Next Gen. It’s literally just thrown in for cheap laughs at the expense of a culture. There’s no real racial or ethnic signifier at all in this movie, but that’s the point up until this joke. I’m personally not too offended by “doing black/any other race poorly” as a joke, but as a trend in media? Yuck. The joke should be “hey everyone sucks at a turn of phrase at first” but all we ever see is the failures as if to communicate that no one should EVER try in the first place. There’s rarely if ever any non black people embracing black culture without making fun of where it came from. White people don’t want their kids “acting black” Period. Hell, middle class black people don’t want their kids “acting black” I experience this in my own family, the only time it’s okay is when it’s funny. There are for sure a lot of things wrong with the hypermasculine ideals that aspects of black culture tries to capture, sure. But it doesn’t mean we should single handedly throw away the baby with the bathwater.

Back to the point, though, I have to agree with the broader statement. White is the default, and any sort of “ethnic flava” comes off for comedy and something that’s ostensibly not normal. In an unintentionally symbolic way, race in general in this movie and the culture behind it is lost to a society wide acceptance of robots that are in effect white. It’s a really good commentary on American culture absorbing outsiders and tending to strip them of history and connection through the use of robots if you ignore that really bad, but really easy, joke.


#6

I’m absolutely with you. It’s not the usage itself that bothers me, but they way that it’s exclusively employed when it serves to reinforce oppressive racial and/or cultural hierarchies.