Culture critics with a sense of humor may be too busy finding solace with common folk to find fault in this new phenomenon that’s sweeping the world of social media. If I have to scroll through my Instagram timeline to see another meme of Ike Turner, I think I’m going to throw up.
Ike Turner personifies domestic violence. Ike Turner enjoyed a confounding mainstream persona years before the now infamous What’s Love Got to Do With It movie shed a light on his troubling marriage to superstar Tina Turner. What many of us witnessed in that movie amounted to marital rape, choking, slapping, punching, and emotional distress of a Black woman year after year. If someone says they are “going to Ike Turner” you, then they won’t be giving you a hug.
And then, to make matters worse Jay Z spouts in the hook of Drunk in Love:
Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…I’m like Ike Turner
Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae. Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae.
Wait. What? Rewind. Did that just come out of Jay Z’s mouth? International rap extraordinaire, husband to self-proclaimed feminist Beyonce? In a song about pleasure? Confusion.
So when did we decide to popularize domestic violence offenders? When did we sanction the misogynic history of such a polarizing figure? When did we forget that patriarchy influences also what we find humor in? When did we start fetishizing one of the most dishonorable violent offenders in pop culture history? I missed that shit.
Surely Ike can be both polarizing and atrocious and simultaneously funny?
Ok I could concede that the memes are actually trying to poke fun at Ike himself and his perceived extreme way of thinking. That’s worthy of a quiet 2-second chuckle to oneself. But people are doing more than just laughing to them selves. They are reposting. They are commenting. They are spreading this shit like wild fire. And the things these memes say are not quotes that poke fun at Ike. Oh no. These are memes that further objectify women. Some quotes are so outrageous, so controlling that it is unbelievable and thus there is where the humor lies. But many of them are actually playing out in relationships young and old across the country right now.
Once again though we are left with the reminder of the broken Black female body that he abused. This body continues to remain fodder for public humiliation. Instead of containing these pictures to a small, ignorant few of us, this has bled into boardrooms and awkward train station encounters. Why do I have to glimpse at young, Asian teenage boys laughing at an Ike Turner meme on my way to work? Why does Ike Turner have to be the dominant figure in this joke against aggressive boyfriends anyway? Why does this egregious man have to be the image that starts uncontrollable laughter? Is he a clown? Yes. Do I want to see his stern mug and piercing eyes and mushroomed hair underneath a quote that is trying to get me to lose weight? No.
And no. I'm not embarrassed on behalf of all Black people around the world because of some pseudo allegiance to respectability politics. I get that Black folk are human and therefore represent the spectrum of human dignity and downfall. This is not some feminine plea for respect. This is simply an honest critique of what we find funny in society and how that too needs to be checked.
I can laugh without reprising some of the most disdainful people in music. Truly I can. I do it all the time. I laugh when people wear lime green from head to toe, I laugh almost every time I’m in the Midwest and someone thinks NYC is like Timesquare, I laugh when toddlers pass gas, I laugh at Charlamange the God every morning, I laugh at NeNe Leakes when she’s reading someone in the confessional, I laugh at Funkie Dineva when she does a review of R&B Divas. I know how to laugh.
I don’t laugh at Ike Turner. Ike Turner images. Ike Turner references. Or Ike Turner name drops.
So here’s the thing, I’m just not in to domestic violence. I like Jay Z. I like Instagram. I even like to gawk at memes being both appalled and humored. But nothing about domestic violence and controlling men is funny to me. As a child who lived in a family where violence was prevalent and commonplace, I don’t find anything about glorying perpetrators of patriarchal violence humorous.
I’m just asking that we scale back on our creation of infamy of Ike. When his name is being spread across the world on the number one album like he’s done something right, I take issue. It says something about our collective acceptance of our contentment with abuse. It says something about our disturbing inclination to report, share, and laugh at someone who is the exact opposite of funny. It says something about our collective desire to want shit to be funny that we decide it’s funny even when it shouldn’t be. It says something that we take pleasure in someone else’s pain when Ike Turner becomes the new face of funny.