In the upcoming year, Chelsea Handler will say goodbye to her late night show. Whatever you feel about Chelsea Handler, you likely feel something. You may find her over the top, too loud, too political, too something. If you feel this way, I would argue that you either don't like comedy, or that you are uncomfortable watching a woman be "too" confidant. The third possibility is that you think she is a snobby, racist, overly privileged un-woke white woman, all of which I will address below. While Chelsea is mainstream in looks, blond, big boobs, white, pretty face, ect… she doesn't simply rest on her good looks and charm to get her ratings. Though mainstream attributes likely helped get her in the spot light, they surely didn't keep her there. There are millions of pretty white faces that just don't make it in Hollywood. Handler uses her unique, subversive. self reflective, ever evolving voice…and she uses it loudly. This voice will be missing from television.
The voice that will be missed is the voice that has had the audacity to be both humorous and humbled. Chelsea started her TV life over 17 years ago, and what began as jokes about other people and her personal idiosyncrasies, became a public journey towards self-awareness and political activism. Right in front of our eyes, Ms. Handler began to realize the meaning of her whiteness, her white-feminism, and her privilege. Instead of being crippled and immobilized with white-woman-guilt, she asked Netflix to allow her to go on a journey of discovery to learn more about what she thought she needed to know about.
How many of us would want to expose our lack of knowledge around political systems, racism, economic structures, global and local geography, cultural awareness, ect… on television? Granted most of the humiliation she risked in asking these questions only involved her risking her own self pride, she didn't have to go there. She could have remained the cute blond who made ethnic and sex jokes and stayed comfortable. She chose not to.
Ms.Handler's reason for leaving her show is that "she is planning to focus on activism, write a book and partner with Netflix on an original documentary that highlights her perspective on the current political climate." She could have stuck around and collected another $10million but she wants to do more. She is just one of the thousands of white women who was publicly shocked and disgusted about the election of Trump. While many well-meaning white progressives had no idea Trump could win, Chelsea has made it her personal mission to transform political arenas and attempt to understand racist, sexist, and classist systems. She has been publicly seeking an answer to why we ended up in the political situation we are in. What can we do? What should we have been doing? What did people like her miss?
I didn't always love every angle of her humor. On her old show Chelsea Lately, she regularly made fun of one of her guest comedians Loni Love as well as her objectified sidekick "Chuy." I always found those jokes to be racist and shaming. For better or worse, despite my disgust at those jokes, something kept me watching her. Maybe I could tell that she was going through a process. I'm still not sure how I feel about watching comedy that I thought was racist. Maybe it's like the car accident that you just can't... not... look at. Perhaps I should have turned her off, but I didn't. I think I was hoping that she might change, and I think that she did. That being said, I don't think it means I was right to support the racist humor while she went through her growing pains at other people's expense. Nonetheless…that's what I did. For better or worse, just like myself, I could tell that she was a work in progress.
While many TV hosts remain the same demeanor and personality their entire careers (think Fallon, Letterman, Leno), Chelsea in many ways had a political awakening on live TV. She started listening to marginalized voices and having people on her show that wouldn't normally be given a platform on pop culture television shows like hers. The past two years she has hosted people like Barbara Boxer (US Senator), Nancy Pelosi, Aja Lena Brown (local political leader), Alyssa Mastromonaco, and dozens of other low profile, high achieving public figures that are not "sexy" by Hollywood standards. She is trying to give people who make a huge contribution towards ending sexism, poverty, racism, classism, ect… a platform. People who are not sexy Hollywood names, but people who do unglamorous life changing work. I appreciate that she was willing to sit with extremely knowledgeable guests and ask questions about public policy, government, and our legal system; after all, she's not a CNN news anchor. What I really appreciate his her willingness to "get it wrong" so to speak, right in front of us. I appreciate that she was willing to ask questions that most of us would be embarrassed to ask, and I appreciate that she is trying to use her time on television to both educate and simultaneously keep an audience's attention.
What I mostly appreciate is her lack of concern for being a nice girl who plays by the rules. How many times a day do women end their emails and texts with smiley faces and kisses that we don't mean. How many passive aggressive rules are women in our society still encouraged and rewarded to play by? Chelsea is loud about her choice to not have kids, not be married, and her choice to rely 100% on herself. She is also clear that she is not sure she knows what she is doing; only that play-dates, diapers, and family holiday cards are not "it" for her. She inspires us by blazing a road that many white privileged women, despite their ability, are scared to forge. She is still an anomaly in our culture just by being fulfilled by herself, not by her relationship to another person, man, or child. She is not waiting for your approval, or mine. There will be a hole on television without her and I can only hope that some other "too loud", too proud, goddess will fill her space.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, is a Certified Life Coach, and can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.
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