Key and Peele’s “Prepared for Terries”

Dear readers,

A while back, before I bought the 24 oz. Mega Monster Energy drink I am currently sipping, I published a post entitled “Man Versus Food,” about the dangers of good television. That post referenced Happy-ishMr. Robot, and other good shows. Inevitably, though, some of you were left wondering what I really meant by the “subversive pleasures” of television, and whether any examples were available on YouTube.

Therefore, I am proud to present “Prepared For Terries,” by comedy duo Key and Peele:

When I first watched this, I was pretty annoyed by it. It seemed blatantly homophobic. It was weird: I didn’t understand the point of the ending, or why the characters had such zany facial hair. I was frustrated by the straight man saying “I’m still here, I can hear everything you’re saying,” which is becoming a comedy cliche. The sketch just seemed to drag on, and on, and on.

A day later, with the memory of it blazing in my mind, I realized how much it actually achieved. Good television is like any other kind of good art: most of the best stuff is bewildering at first.

The anti-terrorist characters are gay. Why? Because in the American popular imagination, every single person present during a terrorist attack is completely heterosexual. The terrorists certainly aren’t gay: they’re Muslim extremists, picturing themselves ending up in Heaven, attended by dozens of beautiful houris. The passengers aren’t gay either: they’re a bunch of husbands and wives, with kids, which is how they find the courage to resist the terrorist attack — but also the very thing that makes their sacrifice so bittersweet. It’s bewildering to encounter these gay anti-terrorists because we don’t know where to put them. We don’t know what to make of (apparently) black gay men acting like white, (presumably) straight rednecks.

There are bizarre pop culture references all over the place: “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “get my Bergeron,” “Mac Legroom.” The people making these references are acting, generally speaking, like idiots. So then how do they even know about Richard Bach’s fable in novella form, comprising a homily to self-perfection? Is it because gay people have a culture all their own, and just naturally speak in encoded references that “we” cannot understand? Is it, alternatively, because of how African-Americans speak — having only recently mastered the noun chessboxing, do “we” now need to learn what it means to “get my Bergeron”? (It’s significant that they are talking to an African-American man who often has no idea what they’re actually trying to say.) These are the red herrings, obviously: the anti-terrorists are just smart, educated people acting stupid, something that happened quite frequently in the wake of 9/11. They’re acting stupid in response to the “terrorist threat”; they are letting themselves be sadistic and xenophobic.

The same goes for the weird haircuts and facial hair. In a homophobic, racist culture, their hair reads as possibly “a gay thing” or “a black thing.” It’s neither; ultimately, it is a joke on the idea of Muslim terrorists with long beards — on using facial hair as an index of terrorist inclinations.

There are also jokes about what it means to be an airline passenger after 9/11. We feel powerless: the TSA didn’t stop the original terrorist plan from working, but now inspects our nail clippers and limits the amount of shampoo you can bring aboard. The attempts to empower people by “preparing” them are ridiculous: like any comedy team, the Department of Homeland Security tried to sell the public on viral catchphrases, e.g. “If you see something, say something.” But these catchphrases are useless — see what? Say something to whom? They’re just part of the frustrating noise surrounding air travel, barely different from seeing thirty-five reminders (all sponsored) to “silence your cellphone for the duration of the film.” The TSA’s catchphrase might as well be “draxx them sklount,” because it is equally nonsensical. Meanwhile, passengers have fun imagining themselves acting heroically, just as people seated in exit rows must, by law, imagine themselves running the show during any hypothetical emergency.

Until next time, this is Joseph Kugelmass, saying that the red zones are for loading and unloading only. There is no stopping in the white zones — and if you see some terries getting froggy, remember to draxx them sklount.