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Boondocks, The N-Word and Picking Fights

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 18, 2005

When networks hold press conferences, some executives like to start the discussion by asking their own questions while reporters wait to ask theirs. This does not go over well. When a DIY network executive did that, one writer snapped that a do-it-yourself network should let reporters do the questioning themselves.

At a Sunday press conference for "The Boondocks,'' an animated series based on the hit comic strip, which premieres Oct. 2, had a similar moment. A Cartoon Network executive tried to ask the first question of strip creator Aaron McGruder. Loud grumbling, including a reporter saying "We'll ask the questions, please,'' cut the executive off.

An impressed McGruder looked at the crowd and said, ''You guys are great!''

Of course, McGruder likes to get into fights himself, baiting celebrities and institutions in his strip. (A couple of recent targets: Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.) He and Cartoon Network looked ready to court controversy when the brief clip it showed from ''Boondocks'' had a character using the n-word.

Asked why it was being used, McGruder said, "I think it makes the show sincere. I just think that, you know, at a certain point we all have to realize that sometimes we use bad language. And the n-word is used so commonly, not only by myself, but by a lot of people I know, that it feels fake to write around it and to avoid using it.''

But McGruder was on the spot, and the issue came up several times in his press conference. For instance, he was pressed on whether he worried about young white males watching Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim'' lineup (where ''Boondocks'' will air) -- that they might be more prone to use the word after hearing it on the show.

''I think 15, 16 years after the advent of gangsta rap, young white kids have heard the word .. before,'' he said. ''So if they start saying it all of a sudden on Oct. 3, I refuse to take responsiblity.''

You could feel the column-framing going on. Making that even more likely was a session later on Sunday about TV One, a cable network aimed at African-Americans.

The panel included the Rev. Al Sharpton and commentator Roland Martin, among others. And, in the wake of McGruder's comments, they were asked about the n-word.

Sharpton warned that ''we have to be very careful how we sanitize a word that has been racist and derogatory.'' Martin also disliked the word's use.'' Johnathan Rodgers, the president of TV One, could see the word being used on the air ''in historical context. ... We're not running away from it, but we are not celebrating it.''

Still, the word does have shock value. And in choosing that clip to show reporters, Cartoon Network was looking for trouble -- revving up publicity for itself and ''Boondocks'' with some inflammatory rhetoric.

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