Students Triggered by Steve Martin’s ‘King Tut’ on ‘SNL’: A Form of ‘Blackface’

As if many of today’s college students and others don’t have enough subjects over which to be “triggered,” students at a small liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, have found another one.

Comedian Steve Martin’s portrayal of King Tut in a classic skit on “Saturday Night Live” — 39 years ago.

As reported by The Atlantic, one Reed College student went as far as to equate the skit with “blackface.”

As The Atlantic reports, a video of the skit was played in a required freshman humanities class, called Humanities 110, “where students learn how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.”

The reaction to the video was surprising. Or not. The reporter wrote:

“That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance.

She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers — many of whom are African American — “is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

In a 2011 Reed Magazine article, titled “What Hum 110 Is All About,” Professor Peter Steinberger described the “primary goal” of the humanities class as: “to engage in original, open-ended, critical inquiry.”

But the activist group Reedies Against Racism sees the class differently, as it explains in a statement delivered to all incoming freshmen:

We believe that the first lesson that freshmen should learn about Hum 110 is that it perpetuates white supremacy — by centering ‘whiteness’ as the only required class at Reed.

“Triggered” students either completely missed the point of Martin’s skit, which he clearly explained at the beginning, or simply don’t care:

“One of the great art exhibits ever to tour the United States is the treasures of Tutankhamun, or King Tut. But I think it’s a national disgrace the way we have commercialized it with trinkets and toys, t-shirts and posters.”

Martin said he wrote the song thinking, “Maybe we can all learn something from this.” Maybe not.

A clip of the 1978 performance is below.


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