Sometimes, a monkey is just a monkey

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Last week, NBC apologized for running a house ad featuring a monkey doing gymnastics at the Olympics. The spot ran after sportscaster Bob Costas delivered a short commentary about gymnast Gabby Douglas' brilliant performance at the London Olympics.

Mr. Costas said he hoped Ms. Douglas' performance would inspire other young African-American girls to consider a similar path to Olympics glory. After the sportscaster's commentary, NBC cut to the promo for its upcoming sitcom "Animal Practice," featuring a chimp decked out in Olympics attire.

Usain Bolt himself wouldn't have been able to keep up with the conspiracy theories that tumbled out of the Twitterverse within seconds of the commercial airing.

The tweets quickly reflected a consensus among a multi-racial cohort of social media adepts that airing the commercial minutes after Ms. Douglas' performance was a racist provocation on NBC's part.

"Gabby wins gold, Bob Costas gives a racially sensitive speech, then NBC airs an ad featuring a black skinned, gymnastics monkey #NBCfail" a white male tweeter posted.

"NBC, what was that Monkey commercial after Gabby? We are not stupid," a black female tweeter wrote.

Because NBC was already on thin ice with millions of viewers because of its broadcast delays and clumsy coverage of the opening ceremonies, a pointless racial taunt didn't seem beyond the pale as far as its critics were concerned.

NBC quickly issued a statement in response to the controversy: "Gabby Douglas' gold medal performance last night was a historic and inspiring achievement. This spot promoting 'Animal Practice,' which has run three times previously, is one in a series with an Olympic theme which have been scheduled for maximum exposure. Certainly no offense was intended."

When I think of gymnasts, I typically think Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton.

You can count Olympic-caliber black gymnasts on one hand (thus the need for Mr. Costas' commentary).

Would NBC go through all of that trouble and expense of making a commercial just to insult a handful of black athletes?

Still, NBC had to apologize quickly because people really are stupid enough to believe any conspiracy theory if it is convenient enough to address their immediate anxieties.

Never mind that NBC is the corporate parent of MSNBC, a network that features more blacks and other minorities in prominent reporting and anchoring roles than any other.

With a track record of diversity like that, NBC is obviously harboring tons of hidden racial animus that it is then compelled to express on the world stage when billions of people are watching.

Forget Occam's Razor. No other explanation for the ad, like lousy timing, is possible.

NBC clearly conspired to "insult" black people because there's lots of money to be made doing that, right?

Because there really has been a dramatic jump in racial-coding in our national political discourse since the election of President Barack Obama, there's a lot of paranoia about what comes over the airwaves. This paranoia isn't limited to black folks or other minorities. In recent years, white folks have become experts at "detecting racism" -- especially on the left.

Take the phony outrage over Vice President Joe Biden's comments in Danville, Va., about the GOP's attempts to "unchain Wall Street" by removing the regulations imposed on financial institutions after the economy tanked.

"They're going to put y'all back in chains," Mr. Biden, a known white guy told the racially mixed audience. Republicans howled. Ever sensitive to perceived racial insult, especially if it poses an inverse relationship to reality, the entire GOP denounced Mr. Biden for using vernacular language to imply it is a pro-slavery political party.

The GOP's love of black people is so deep and intense that it could barely contain its outrage at such racial pandering.

All logic, including any regard for the vice president's intent, went out the window. The GOP fretted that its "Lincolnesque" reputation had been besmirched. To its credit, the White House refused to walk back the comment. To do so would have been to capitulate to the hypocrisy of a party whose lower-ranking officials are regularly caught circulating email portraying the Obamas as monkeys.

Come on, America. Does there have to be a racial subtext for everything?

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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