Courtesy of Keli Goff
Political analyst Keli Goff is the author of Party Crashing.
If you opened the New York Times and read that there was a candidate running for president whose platform consisted of railing against gun control, single motherhood, and high taxes, who would this candidate look like in your political imagination?
Would you imagine the candidate to be young or old? Black or white? Liberal or conservative? Republican or Democrat? Would you consider him (or her) mainstream or out of touch with the majority of Americans? Would you consider the candidate someone likely to be buddies with the Hollywood liberal elite, or embraced by leaders of the religious right? If you had to name real-life political leaders and/or activists that this imaginary presidential candidate resembles, would it be former Speaker of the House and architect of the Contract with America, Newt Gingrich? Or controversial religious conservative Pat Robertson? Or maybe a composite of rocker turned conservative pundit Ted Nugent, with a bit of Vice President Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh thrown in for good measure?
What if I told you the candidate also railed against homophobia and expressed a liberal position on prostitution? Does that change the image in your mind at all?
What if I told you that the candidate is named Chris Rock?
Yes, that Chris Rock—edgy comedian extraordinaire.
As unlikely as this scenario sounds, remember that in an age in which "the Terminator" can be elected governor of California, a wrestler who costarred in a film called Predator can be elected governor of Minnesota, and a B movie actor who costarred with a chimp in a movie called Bedtime for Bonzo was elected not once, but twice, to the presidency, the scenario is not that far-fetched.
And would a Chris Rock presidency really be so bad?
At least the presidential debates (not to mention the State of the Union Address) would be far more entertaining and would probably attract more viewers. In an age in which the campaign of Dennis Kucinich is viewed as comic relief on the campaign trail, just imagine what a Chris Rock candidacy could do. After all, look at what he did for the Oscars.
Chris Rock has never expressed a desire to throw his hat into the political ring (unless you count his 2003 foray on film in Head of State), but his politics have been at the heart of some of his most compelling stand-up material. And yet his politics are not exactly what you may expect from a young black comedian known for edgy material and for using as many four-letter words in one hour as the rest of us use in one year—possibly a lifetime.
In his stand-up special Never Scared, Rock describes his politics as follows: "I got some shit I'm conservative about. I got some shit I'm liberal about. Crime—I'm conservative. Prostitution—I'm liberal."
In his 1999 comedy special Bigger and Blacker Rock covers a great deal of political ground, including taxes, President Clinton, and nontraditional families. Of Clinton, Rock says, "One thing Clinton did that I didn't like is raise taxes. . . . You don't even pay taxes they take taxes. . . . That ain't a payment that's a jack." Of single mothers, Rock says he gets sick of hearing women say, "You don't need a man to raise kids . . . yes, you can have a kid without a man. That doesn't mean it is to be done. You could drive a car with your feet. That doesn't make it a good idea." He later adds that it is easy to tell which children will grow up to be troublemakers: "If the kid call his grandmamma mommy and his mamma Pam—he going to jail."
Rock's comments on subjects as diverse as abortion rights rallies and the burgeoning class schism within the black community (highlighted by one of his more infamous routines on "niggas" versus black people) earned him the moniker "The William F-ing Buckley of Stand-up" in a piece in the online magazine Slate.
Rock's politics defy all convenient labels. That's what makes them interesting and funny. Clearly, a pro-prostitution platform—even when described with a wink and a nod—is not going to endear him to traditional conservatives, yet challenging the choice to become a single mother is not likely to win him any points with hard-core liberals. Rock has publicly claimed to be a Democrat, but he has made a habit of challenging the relevance of traditional party labels.
Excerpt from Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence (Basic Books: March 3rd, 2008).