For twenty or so Thursday nights during the fall and the spring a quiet phenomenon occurs. This phenomenon is called Scandal.
Yep, the television show Scandal. Millions of black folks stop doing their booty dances, drug selling and chicken eating to tune their televisions to ABC and descend upon #BlackTwitter to watch what has sadly become Must See TV. I admit that I am one of the faithful who watches the show weekly, a Gladiator if you will. But I am detached enough to not watch the show for the story lines and entertainment quality of the show, I watch those who are watching. A de facto study, so to speak.
I watch because I am curious to know if all of my black bretheren and sisteren (?) watch the show each week because they are truly intrigued in the lives of the infamous and powerful characters or if they watch for the same reasons my mom used to make us ramen noodles for dinner when I grew up…that’s all we got.
Seems crazy, right? In 2013, 75+ years after television began and nearly 50 after the Civil Rights area that there are still so few black shows and actors. Before you get all righteously indignant, I am speaking specifically about network television. I understand that there are black cable stations, but the very idea of cable programming is that you can cater to a specific niche. It’s perfectly acceptable for the History Channel to cater to war vets with their 83,942,394 daily documentaries about WWII or for Spike TV to cater to dudes who wear AXE body spray. That’s the issue.
The issue is why there are so few actors/actresses/directors/shows/storylines about black people. I can remember a time where there was at least one television show on one of the major networks that had a majority black cast. Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Martin and Living Single all on TV at the same time. Heck even UPN had Homeboys in Outer Space and The Secret Life of Desmond Pfieffer, you know the COMEDY about a black slave. I mean at least they tried, right?
Yet, over time networks jettisoned these shows in favor of reality shows and television dramas that were decidedly non black. While the three traditional networks, ABC, CBS and NBC usually always had one or two predominately black shows sprinkled into their program lineups, startup networks like FOX, CW and back in the day, UPN had a sort of formula of using black shows to build their network. FOX had its Thursday night line up full of black shows and spinoffs that attracted ratings, eventually those programs were cancelled and replaced with non black shows. UPN did the same with the aforementioned shows. As well as the CW network with shows like The Jamie Foxx Show and The Wayans Show. These networks gained audiences with black shows, but now you can’t find a predominately black show on any of those networks. Even shows like Scandal aren’t necessarily predominately black, they just have black leads which leads to me another point.
I have to concede that while there are no more black shows on network television, the roles of the token black characters have gotten better from a socio-economic standard. There was a time in the not to distant past where the only roles available were for Thug #1 or Thug #2. At least we doctors and lawyers now! It’s true black characters have gone through a transformation and the roles by black actors are generally for characters with higher achievement levels than before. But is that a fair trade off? Why does it have to be one or the other. Why can’t there be a predominately black show WITH successful black characters?
Some may argue that television producers would rather have realistic portrayals of American today. To write a black character, just for the sake of having a black character would be inauthentic to the lives and situations that those particular television shows are depicting. My response to that is, so what? So I am supposed to be okay with the whitewashing of television because the shows being written are solely about white folks? That doesn’t make sense to me. That makes it seem as if only white people live lives of interest. This isn’t true at all.
The bottom line is that this whole phenomenon is sad for America as we move forward as a county. We keep hearing how postracial we are, but I see little evidence. Television is just one case, but a large one because of the influence it has over people in this country.
What do you all think?