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Monday, August 21, 2017

What we lost when we lost Dick Gregory.

I know next to nothing about the comedian Dick Gregory, that is, as a comedian. I'm not sure, but I think he might be the guy who, when told in a restaurant in the South that they don't serve Negroes, said "That's fine, I wasn't planning on ordering one." Based on the obits, that could very well have been him, and I'm sure he had other jokes along those lines, set in the context of discrimination and through some ju-jitsu making you do a double-take.

But I have a different Dick Gregory impression, which I'll share here: it has to do with his encouraging us to think critically about what we hear and read. I know people have categorized him as a believer in conspiracy theories, and that might be valid. I have not found the time to investigate the validity of that, nor draw a conclusion. But I can share the following with you.

I heard him at the University of Florida, so this would be 1981 or before. I honestly do not remember a single joke, if he said any. But he was pretty clear about the concept that corporations and media were playing with what we should think. I remember two examples specifically.

One was over adhering to what some would consider moral rules. Here, at that time, he cited the first Superman movie. Superman's dad told him that with all his powers, he must not change history. Yet, Superman made the choice to fly around the Earth against its rotation (back in time) and save Lois Lane's life. Gregory's point was that Hollywood was telling us it was okay to go against what the rules. In my view (and your mileage may vary), we shouldn't be rigid and should act in every situation according to standards, but not rigidly. Would you kill a toddler Hitler, etc.

The other point I remember was his skepticism over the evolving story of how many people had died at Jonestown. He questioned the idea of the early death counts and how they ballooned. The argument, as I remembered and he spoke about, was that the early counts were based on what they could see, and did not consider what they couldn't see: that under 200 bodies they could see, there was another 800 they couldn't see. (I am using these numbers for illustration, forgive me.) Gregory asked us to think critically about what we'd been told. And here, again, I apologize for not remembering his specific numbers, but he asked us to take a pound of hot dogs, and to try to hide five hot dogs under three hot dogs. It just doesn't work, he pointed out.

I've seen stuff that says he was a conspiracy theory maven. And that could be true. But we need to be challenged to think critically. And Gregory did that.

Home | 11:12 PM (DISCLOSURE: I work for Abt Associates. My company does lots of stuff, including polling. My opinions should not be construed as representing those of my employer.)

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