Ratchet TV: Aziz Ansari: Right Now

Shamir takes a closer look at the controversial new stand up special and the advent of "apology culture."

Ratchet TV is a column in which our resident TV expert Shamir Bailey guides us on what’s worth watching. In this installment, Shamir examines Aziz Ansari’s controversial new stand up special. Would he have been better off recording a YouTube apology video à la James Charles? Stay tuned for Shamir’s thoughts below!
—Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor

One of the most entertaining things I’ve watched in my brief 24 years is the apology video made by YouTube famous make-up artist Laura Lee after some extraordinarily racist vintage tweets of hers were rediscovered. The irony of the whole thing was that the tweets wouldn’t have resurfaced if she hadn’t angered the fans — or “stans” — of fellow viral pop-star-turned-beauty-mogul Jeffree Star by calling out Star’s habitual racist behavior (already a widely-held concern about the often-problematic makeup artist). Lee’s apology video instantly went viral for its poorly put-on performance of sadness and woe; her voice is high-pitched and scratchy as she wipes away imaginary tears, attempting to muster up some form of liquid through her eyes but never successfully bringing it home. Her attempt to gain sympathy comes across as pathetic and hopeless, and the video’s phoniness kept the internet humored with a slew of memes.

It seems cancel culture has given way to “apology culture.” Cancel culture often seems as if it’s long since abandoned its original quest of accountability and morphed into a digital witch hunt; it’s slowly becoming a form of entertainment, and because of its symbiotic relationship, apology culture is following right behind. From Tati Westbrook and James Charles, to Nikocado Avocado and Trisha Paytas, YouTube has already been making a pretty penny off apology culture. Now, Netflix seems to be following suit with the release of Aziz Ansari’s Spike Jonze-directed stand up special Aziz Ansari: Right Now.

The now infamous Babe.net piece from last year — which detailed a young photographer named Grace’s allegations of sexual misconduct against Ansari — led to a debate over whether the situation was a date that went sour because of miscommunication, or a deliberate act of coercion under the guise of Ansari’s ignorance. While Ansari never actually verbally apologizes in the special, it seems clear to him that the audience is going to want to see some form of remorse. Ansari knows how to read a room (or at least one filled with a crowd that’s paid to see him perform), so he addresses the situation by recalling a moment when a fan bumped into him and asked, “You had that whole thing last year, sexual misconduct?” To which Ansari responded: “No, no, no, that was Hasan [Minaj].” Then he lowers his voice and earnestly laments his feelings on the whole situation, eventually landing on a silver lining: “It’s made not just me, but other people be more thoughtful.” And within the first five minutes, the topic he knew everyone wanted to hear him banter about the most was addressed and never touched on again.

While redemption porn was not what I was looking for when I decided to watch this special — on the contrary, I was worried that was all that it would be — I did feel it was missing more analysis of his current state of mind, as implied in the title. Instead Ansari spent most of the special analyzing the extreme sensitivity of the very culture that cancelled him. He talks about the casual conversations people have about intricate issues such as racism, joking that it’s not something “we’re gonna fix at this brunch.” He even analyzes other celebrities who have faced a reckoning in the wake  of the #MeToo movement, like R. Kelly and Michael Jackson — figures whose allegations read much more black and white than his. 

However, Ansari does at certain points display he has the tools for self reflection, talking about his past material that included the fat shaming of his young cousin Harris, and how that could’ve been complicit in Harris’s current exceptionally fit body. He also challenges the audience by occasionally engaging with them with little games that toy with their own morals and world view: He goes into a bit about a Pizza Hut employee that assembled a pizza topped with a pepperoni swastika, and how the internet was debating if it was an intentional hate crime or if it even looked like a swastika at all. He asks an audience member his opinion on the matter and if he saw the picture of the pizza in The New York Times or The Washington Post, warning that the Post accidentally posted an altered version of the picture. The man in the audience hesitantly says he had seen it in the Post before Ansari reveals that he had actually made the entire story up.

Aziz Ansari: Right Now is interactive. It presents his audience with food for thought that I imagine is meant to reflect his own thought process after his accusations arrose. But, he never actually addresses any of his own conclusions on the situation, which presents like an act of self preservation — or, maybe, of brand preservation. Because of this, it’s hard for me not to chalk this special up as no more than an apology tour documentary that lacks an actual apology. I feel Ansari had the bones to create something very special, but possibly took a swing at it a bit prematurely and tried to dress it up in minimalist cinematography and a Spike Jonze name-drop. Perhaps he could have saved Netflix a good chunk of their production budget and simply made a YouTube video.

Shamir is Shamir and remains Shamir through and through, no matter what the universe puts him through. You may know the singularly named artist (think—Madonna or Cher) from his 2015 debut hit record Rachet, beloved by NPR listeners and club kids alike. After quickly rising to underground fame with his Northtown EP in 2014, the DIY pop star made a sonic splash with Rachet’s lead single “On The Regular,” a poppy banger that had extensive commercial usage. But how to follow all that up? Shamir, who came from the dusty dunes of Las Vegas, to Brooklyn’s Silent Barn, to the Philly indie scene (and all over the world in between), wanted to go back to what had inspired him from the beginning. Outsider music, country & punk. Raw and vulnerable tunes, stripped down to their emotional core. 2017’s Revelations explored a new avenue of guitar driven hooky indie rock and was widely critically praised in the US and overseas.

Shamir’s most recent releases, the brilliant Room 7” on Father/Daughter, and his self-released limited edition album, Resolution, are pinnacles in the catalog of the increasingly fascinating artist’s career. Room and its b-side Caballero celebrate Shamir’s love of country music, while Resolution is a deeply introspective look into the fabric of society and the artists’ own mind.  With these two releases he has refined his craft exponentially and done so in less than six months from the release of Revelations.