9x9x9: Blazing Saddles–what we laugh about when we laugh about racism

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” -Oscar Wilde

My memory is fuzzy, but between the ages of 10-13, my parents decided I was old enough to see Blazing Saddles. I had already seen a few R-rated movies at the time (Red Corner, the Matrix, Deep Blue Sea), and this wasn’t half as bad (both content and critically) as those ones.

So we rented the VHS from Super Duper video–a giant red box with Mel Brooks in full Indian headdress.

We went home and watched it that night. It’s one of my parents’s favorite movies and now one of mine as well. I’ll admit that their choices can be goofy–one of their favorites is Joe Dirt. But that’s forgivable because it’s funny as shit.

This movie is the best definition of Mel Brooks’ comedy–throw a lot of jokes at the viewers, and if one falls flat there’s another coming in 3,2,1.

Which is a reason why this comedy holds up to repeat viewings. You’re laughing so hard you miss a lot of the funny moments in between the bigger jokes. All the Heddy vs. Hedley Lamar jokes, and about half the uses of the word that sparked all the controversy over this movie. I’ll give you a hint: it starts with an “n” and ends in “igger.”

Even writing about this movie feels incredibly taboo. But it speaks to Brooks and his collaboration with Richard Pryor that they were able to go out and make this movie as outlandish and verbally offensive as possible. I can imagine that, to some, this might be the comedy equivalent to Hostel. They’re using racial epithets for humor! Over and over again! That’s like watching someone get their Achilles tendon sliced! My conservative sensibilities are damaged!

In the words of Cleon Salmon: “Whatever, motherfucker.”

The truth this movie is getting at is that we are really all the same. Nobody likes nobody, but there is at least one thing we have in common: we can laugh together.

There’s this incredible turn in the movie. The wheels that turn the film are that the town of Rock Ridge needs to be brought to the ground so the railroad can go through it because of quicksand.

So they come up with a plan (after suggesting a “#6” and killing the first born sons of every family [“Too Jewish”]) to make a black man the town sheriff thus causing such angst in the town that everyone will leave or begin to fight with one another to the point that the railroad can swoop in and save the day (ostensibly).

Instead, the town realizes what’s going on and instead of going after their sheriff, they go after the railroad. I think the seminal moments in the film that speak to this theme are when the old lady brings a pie to the sheriff and apologizes for saying “Up yours, nigger.” The second one is when they’re getting ready to divvy up land one of the men says, “Okay, we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks, but none to the Irish.” but then is forced to concede to give land to everybody. This is kind of an interesting line, too, because it was the Irish immigrating to NYC post-slavery that caused the next major uproar.

Essentially, it’s about coming together as a community in spite of petty differences to take down the man. And then run around a movie lot, and ride off into the sunset on horses, then get into a Cadillac out towards the horizon. It’s as socially conscious as Crash or Babel but much, much, less shitty.

This is a movie that holds up really well with time–and I absolutely love the meta ending that has them busting into the theater full of people watching the movie. It seems like this was a built-in response to potential audience reaction of rage and anger. The ending wanted to remind them that, at the end of the day, it’s just a movie.

The only problem I have with this movie is how incredibly quotable yet unspeakable most of the lines are. It’s a line you have to tread carefully when you quote this movie–especially some of the worst lines (I mean, if you scream out, “Somebody go get a shitload of dimes!” No one’s gonna be offended).

It’s a fun movie, nonetheless, and after nine viewings, this is what I’ve come to realize: this movie is a major commentary on how to make racism funny. There’s this figuring that, if we can get people to laugh at the use of racial epithets, then maybe we’ve softened their intended meaning. I don’t know if it works–it’s only one movie–but I think it’s something way more effective than ramming it down their throats like a big fat dick of justice (lookin’ at you, American History X).

Tomorrow we talk about Charles Bronson in the Great Escape–he’s diggin’ tunnels, and she’s like “whoa baby.”

One thought on “9x9x9: Blazing Saddles–what we laugh about when we laugh about racism

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