Pride and Prejudice
Static Shock's tone is light, but deftly deals with its themes
To be sure, "Static in Africa" is an empowerment fantasy; the empowered lead character is simply fleshed out more completely. Virgil has always been slightly brash, but his youthful arrogance is notably moderated by his good nature. The exchanges between Virgil/Static and the wall-crawling superhero, Anansi, are genuinely cordial, as two cool dudes have fun getting down to the business of serving the common good. Does it matter that Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world, is hiding an Ashanti artifact, and that the bomb set to destroy the Volta Dam will wipe out any villages downstream?

It's not as though the Wizard of Oz's Tornado Machine of the Divine matters in "I Had a Dream" either, since the point of story is to have Penny put her knowledge of the present day to good use in a past that was not as tolerant. But Penny has apparently learned something in the process: "If you don't understand your past, you won't have a future."

From where does this understanding come? Penny doesn't suggest a misunderstanding on Black History Month at any point in the episode, only an inability to recognize her friends in generic costumes. (Dunno about you, but a female sporting a red-white-and-blue top hat doesn't immediately suggest Shirley Chisolm to me.) Penny has been the moral authority preaching truth to power since her dream began, so what exactly has Penny learned? Did she take her ethnic consciousness for granted?

The episode's deeper theme is notable: Knowledge of black historical figures is meaningless without knowledge of the society in which they lived. The episode encourages a conceptual knowledge of history, rather than a cold collection of quiz-bowl–quality trivia. Virgil and his family eschew trivia over the course of the episode, as well, making the transition from educational excess early on to psychological exploration. The Proud Family episode was the product of textbooks, as the characters slog through a segregation-era story told with the vitality of a grade-school assembly. "Static in Africa", however, has more mature sensibilities, as the ethnic consciousness of the main character and his family is used as texture for an otherwise conventional adventure story. If Static Shock as a whole is a hybrid of Bernie Mac, Mighty Max, and Spider-Man, "Static in Africa" added The Color Purple to the mix.

In Alice Walker's novel, one character reaches an epiphany in Liberia, after a stopover in Senegal. The blacks are blacker than black, "blueblack... they are so black they shine," and they are everywhere. "Try to imagine a city full of these shining, blueblack people... I felt like I was seeing black for the first time... There is something magical about it."

In "Static in Africa", Sharon finds her African roots in the West African marketplace, as well, for more material reasons. Dad praises her "Ashanti princess" look, in traditional West African garb, while Virgil coyly refers to her as "Miss Shaka Zulu." After confronting Sharon about the load she's lugging around the market, she replies, "This isn't a shopping trip; it's a cultural epiphany. Ooooh, kente cloth!"

Virgil's revelation comes not in the bustling marketplace, but roaming the savannah with giraffes. Impersonal, but at least the sentiments are similar, as the exchange with his white friend back home, Ritchie, reveals:

Virgil: It's amazing. There are black people everywhere.
Ritchie: Dude, you're in Africa.
Virgil: No, Ritchie. Ever since I got here I've felt different. Connected.
Ritchie: You know, my dad went to Ireland. He got all goofy, too.
Virgil: It's not like that. It's like I've been carrying this weight around all my life without knowing it, and now it's gone.
Ritchie: What're you talking about, Virge?
Virgil: In Africa, I'm not a black kid, I'm just a kid. Is this what it feels like for you all of the time?
Ritchie: Yeah... I... guess.
Virgil: Feels good!

The final lines of dialogue between Virgil and Anansi are the strongest acknowledgment of ethnic consciousness ever aired on Saturday morning:

Virgil: I never knew how important it would be to meet a role model like you... a black superhero. It validates me somehow.
Anansi: Heroes come in every color, my friend.
Virgil: I know, but sometimes I wish there was a black superhero back home for folks to look up to.
Anansi: There is, and he is my hero, too.

This episode, like the best of Static Shock, actually reminds me of Phantom 2040: a superhero series whose human qualities provide the show's unofficial educational chops. "Static in Africa" represents Static Shock at its best: the evolution of the animated comic adventure by way of multicultural humanism. Of course, we only got to this point by sitting through decades of the stale PSA narratives we currently see on The Proud Family.
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