Sunday, April 24, 2022

Steve Martin and -- cultural appropriation?

This weekend on Facebook, I shared a YouTube video of comedian Steve Martin's first performance of "King Tut". It's been 44 years since the song aired on Saturday Night Live, which is kind of an odd anniversary to mark, but I guess somebody mentioned it on Twitter, and it was off to the races.

Apparently, in the intervening four decades and change, the song has become controversial. Back in 2017, students at Reed College in Oregon got upset when they had to watch the video for an introductory humanities class. Members of Reedies Against Racism complained that the bit was racist. "That's like making a song...that's just littered with the n-word everywhere," one student told the college newspaper.

Some Millennials today don't get the joke, either. One tweeted: "I'm sure my parents found this hilarious in the 70's but I honestly dont get it." (sic) 

Okay, then. Let me explain it to you: It's satire. Moreover, it's a satire about consumerist culture.

Context matters. At the time the song aired on SNL, a major exhibition of grave goods from King Tutenkamen's tomb was touring the United States, sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More than eight million Americans saw the exhibit, which included the boy king's spectacular funereal mask. 

People around the world went wild for everything that had anything to do with Egypt. And as American, uh, entrepreneurs are wont to do, there were a ton of tacky Tut-related items offered for sale, up to and including women's t-shirts featuring a graphic of golden falsies with the legend, "Hands Off My Tuts".

The video that circulated on Twitter this weekend apparently included only the musical performance, without Martin's opening remarks -- in which he talks about how all the Tut tchotchkes inspired him to write the song. And then the music starts, and he goes into his usual manic schtick (backed by a band billed as the Toot Uncommons that included members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). It's a hilarious bit. Here, see for yourself:

Would the skit make it on the air now, in this day and age? Maybe not. It's not as cool these days to dress up in another culture's clothing, even to poke fun at something wholly American.

But is this skit cultural appropriation? Is it racist? Come on. 


By the way, if you haven't seen Martin's most recent work -- Only Murders in the Building, co-starring Martin Short and Selena Gomez -- you owe it to yourself to grab a free trial of Hulu and binge the first season now. It's very funny. And then you'll be all set for season two when it drops on June 28th.


These moments of bloggy Egyptomania have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who does have a condo, but it's not made of stone-ah). Get vaxxed!

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