COMMENTARY : Ted and Whoopi's Outrageous Adventure

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Let's see . . .

I'm not a wimp.

I'm not a publicity hound.

I'm not humorless.

I'm not a talk-show host in need of a ratings boost.

I'm not a New York mayor running for reelection in a tight race.

I'm not the PC Police.

But I'm not buying the line that objections to Ted Danson's blackface routine at last Friday's Friars Club roast for honoree / girlfriend Whoopi Goldberg were really about a white man and a black woman in love.

Despite what some call unnecessary hoopla over Ted and Whoopi's Most Outrageous Adventure, I'm still good and mad. Angry because the defenders just don't get it, angry at the deed itself, angry at the pitiful explanations offered in their defense:

Oh, but they're in love. And love makes you say and do strange things.

Yep, sometimes love makes you act stupid, outrageous, bizarre, ridiculous and insane. (I wore Earth Shoes for two years in the '70s so I wouldn't be taller than my then-boyfriend.) And it makes you do things for which you later say: "I did that ? Nooooooo , get away . "

Nothing, though, can excuse the Goldberg-Danson incident.

But Danson ran the skit by his beloved beforehand and she approved. Besides, she wrote some of the material and supplied his makeup artist.

Ted should be taken to the woodshed because ear-shattering alarms didn't go off in his head when someone first said, "Blackface! What a cool idea." Similar bells should have clanged in Whoopi's head.

And why didn't someone in their circle say, "Excuse me, Mr. Danson, Ms. Goldberg. I realize the Friars Club with its 89-year history of roasting prides itself on being ribald and off-color and tasteless and vulgar when it honors the rich and famous, but you might want to rethink this blackface thing in 1993."

But there was Danson on the Saturday news, looking his Al-Jolson best with blackface and larger-than-any-black-person's-lips-I've-ever-seen lips. I was incensed.

As reports poured in Saturday, Sunday and Monday that Danson had used the N-word during his tribute to Goldberg and talked about their sex life, I felt an intense need to throw something at them. When I heard he had joked about her doing laundry and dishes at his parents' house, I think I had a kitten or two.

Where's your sense of humor? Can't you cut the man some slack? After all, those rappers do far worse things. They say the N-word too.

Hello! Since when does blackface in the United States in 1993 become defensible? Since when is it OK for some 20th-Century white guy to prance around in makeup that was some 19th-Century white guy's inaccurate version of some 19th-Century black guy?

Forget that Danson is a respected actor, who doesn't have a racist bone in his body, according to his supporters. Forget that Goldberg sanctioned Danson's skit. If my man had pulled that stunt, I'd have given him a pair of black eyes to match his blackface.

And those rappers? They ought to have their baggy little butts whupped and their mouths washed with soap. It's not OK for them and it's not OK for Ted Danson.

But if it didn't offend Goldberg, why should it offend other blacks?

Last time I checked, Whoopi Goldberg was not a designated spokeswoman for blacks--although she seems to be speaking up for blackface.

But Friars have been doing this kind of stuff for ages.

And that makes it right?

But it was a private party. What occurred behind closed doors wasn't expected to be taken beyond the four walls.

A luncheon for 2,200 people, including Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Robin Williams, Montel Williams and New York Mayor David Dinkins, and it's not going to appear in a newspaper?

But blackface is Hollywood tradition.

And a deplorable one.

Hollywood has never been kind to blacks. Just run through Donald Bogle's 1973 classic analysis of blacks in film, "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks."

Hell, the title tells it all.

Although written two decades ago, Bogle's view of the 20th-Century version of "blackface fixation" still rings true. Instead of whites playing blacks, this new blackface, he writes, has black actors in blackface, "being directed by whites in scripts authored by whites . . . aimed (and still does aim) always to please the master figure. (Black actors) present, for mass consumption, black life as seen through the eyes of whites."

Is this what Danson was aiming for?

Or was he shooting for the uncut, pre-Al Jolson blackface of the 19th Century, when white performers with faces painted black went around the country singing about Mammy and jumping up and down in praise of those cotton fields back home. Their performances for the white masses were never meant to be accurate portrayals (just like those of their later white brothers, who starred as blacks in such films as "Birth of a Nation" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin" because black actors were excluded).

Danson and Goldberg should have had the common sense to see the baggage of blackface. They are stereotypes. They are insulting. They are degrading.

If the Friars and their invited guests wanted insulting and degrading humor, they sho nuf got their money's worth in Goldberg--the first black woman to be so honored.

And if Ted and Whoopi are so enthralled with the uglier side of 19th-Century America and dressing up is their thing, why not make the most of it this Halloween.

With so many costume parties coming up, I can just see Ted dressed as a slave owner and Whoopi as his slave.

Pretty funny, huh?

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