Note: The obligatory obituary post for AC/DC’s Malcolm Young will be coming soon. But I’ve got to get this little rant off my chest first. Plus, I think Malcolm would’ve really enjoyed hearing this tune again.
One of my dear friends on Facebook recently posted this article about some students offended by Steve Martin’s 70s novelty hit “King Tut.” Something about the performance being “blackface” and akin to using the n-word. Assuming they meant that literally, that means they’re assuming Tutankhamun was a black man. That may or may not be the case; depictions of Tut pretty much run the gamut colorwise. But seeing that he was born in a land of much sun, he probably had a bit more melanin in his skin than, say, your average Scandinavian. (Skin color is directly related to how much sun your ancestors were exposed to when evolving. Period.) But the song wasn’t meant as a commentary on race. It was meant as a commentary on the blatant commercialization surrounding the Treasures of Tutankhamun tour. It came to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1978, and my family went. (My original post of this song focused on that, written while Daddy the amateur Egyptologist was still around.) It was glorious. And it was also crass and expensive. We alone purchased I don’t know how many silly souvenirs from it. The entire country was gripped with Tut fever at the time. Why shouldn’t Steve Martin have a little fun with it?
Of course, if the instructor of the class had played this version from Saturday Night Live, then they would’ve seen Martin’s introduction and contextualization of the song. If they paid attention. And if they didn’t decide to reflexively get their hackles up over the obvious stereotypes and pure silliness of the song. He wasn’t making fun of Tutankhamun; he was making fun of all the idiots who acted like they knew something about him or ancient Egypt just because of one really spectacular art & artifact tour.
I don’t fault these kids for being aware of the bias against African-Americans in our society. I don’t fault them for trying to fight for equality. I certainly don’t fault them for fighting back against the brutality and violence many black people are faced with every day simply because of the color of their skin. They’re right, dammit. But I do fault them for not understanding the joke in this case. They missed the point. And the instructor probably missed it, too. I imagine this was presented not in the cultural light it was meant to be seen, but as a case of racial stereotyping.
Really, these kids would be offended by pretty much anything from SNL back in the 70s. You know, back when it was kind of offensive. And really, really, really funny. And truly insightful and satirical. They only know about the tame buffooning that they see today. They didn’t watch the good old days when the Not Ready For Prime Time Players and the show’s writers were both vicious and fearless. If they’re offended by “King Tut,” then they really better not ever see the Job Interview skit. They’ll really lose their shit over that one.