’99 Problems: Jimmy Fallon Lost Me at Bitch

A few nights ago, Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” special was on.  Because I remember it being from 1999 and also hilarious, I watched it for a while.  A few things stuck out this time around.

  • Because it was made in 1999, it looks like it could have been made yesterday (Rock’s update on the Raw-era Eddie Murphy leather suit notwithstanding).
  • A lot of the jokes themselves still stand up.   Most of the ones that don’t have to do with gender roles and outdated (and even then, largely feigned) attitudes toward women.

The next day, I saw the clip of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake bringing their History of Rap bit to The Tonight Show.  Near the end of the medley, we’re treated to “Move, bitch! Get out the way!” and “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” in rapid succession.

Watching two wealthy, talented, powerful men grunt bitch the way they did was, quite frankly, shocking.  In both cases, bitch is meant as a pronoun, a somehow acceptable substitute for woman.  “Demeaning” doesn’t begin to capture it, and, while they should be embarrassed by it, embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word.  It was lyrical misogyny and it was shameful.  Because we all love you, Jimmy Fallon, we may be inclined to give you a pass.  Poor judgement happens.  But this felt like watching little boys learning how to marginalize and mistreat other people.   It looked like grown men who should know better legitimizing their part of a culture that treats women like objects worthy of derision, possession, and shame.   Aren’t we past all of this?

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