The Decline of Black Media in America

In which I bitch for about two pages about me missing Everybody Hates Chris.

I feel that there has been a massive decline in quality television exclusively marketed towards African-American television viewers.  As much as I hate to jump onto the popular bandwagon regarding television and how black culture fits into it I really can’t not think about it anymore.  Anybody who follows my blog would notice that I’m a huge fan of television and media in general.  Yet I have always been very picky regarding my choices of what and what not to watch.  I like shows that I can identify with, have the potential to make me think or can make me laugh.  That’s why I can watch a low quality show like Skins and still enjoy a show like West Wing.  I’ve even sunk so low to watching The O.C. and Gossip Girls simply because I’m searching for a sense of escapism regarding my own dismal life.  Yet when it comes down to it I want to watch television that caters to my interest and my identity as an African-American heterosexual male.  I’m not saying that I don’t want to watch shows outside of my target audience.  I just would also like to enjoy shows catered to my target audience that isn’t a stereotypical piece of garbage. [I’m looking at you Tyler Perry].  There are a variety of shows that catered to this need but sadly most of them went off the air before I was even born.  I watched the Cosby show growing up nearly every day and was both devastated and surprised when I learned that it had stopped airing a full year before I was born.  [As strange as this sounds I really did watch the show every week as if it were Community or Parks and Rec].  The truth is that there are virtually no shows on the air right now that I can identify with as a black male and someone who takes pride in his culture.

Over the past few years there has been a rapid decline in Afro-American themed television shows since more and more black characters have been assimilated into sitcoms focused on white characters.  I don’t have a problem with shows with Caucasian leads.  Community is one of my favorite shows and it tracks the hero’s journey of Jeff Winger a white character.  Yet when it comes down to it there are barely any shows with an African-American character as the head of he story.   I think it’s great that more shows are showing more diversity in race but whatever happened to just having a show based around a black man or black woman?  There are some shows out there but compared to shows with Caucasian leads it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.   I’m not complaining about shows with white characters.  What I am complaining about is the lack of shows with leading black characters or shows solely based around black people.  Once upon a time there were roughly six different shows all focused on African-American families/friends/study groups where you’d have an occasional Caucasian character show up.  These shows explored and celebrated black culture while at the same time mocking the stereotypes and idiosyncrasies we’re known for.   I have no problem with black people making fun of black people.  It’s something we’re good at.  We can laugh at how our stereotypes might be more true than false.  We can make jokes about baby daddies, crack babies and what not.  We’re not necessarily saying what people are saying about us is true.  We’re just acknowledging it and explaining where these stereotypes come from.  I believe that there’s truth to every stereotype.  You have brilliant writers like Chris Rock who navigate black culture and can be blatantly honest about the flaws of the Afro-American community without actually being racist.

This is kind of a difficult concept to follow so let’s compare Everybody Hates Chris to say…any Tyler Perry movie/play/television show ever.   I firmly believe that ever black mother has a little bit of Rochelle inside her.  Some people may claim that Rochelle is an embodiment of a stereotype but I don’t think that’s true.  I think that Rochelle is a three-dimensional and fully fleshed out character who has certain traits that people can run away with.  She’s paranoid, very colorful in her threats and tends to fly off the handle.  These are stereotypes that black women are forced to live with.  People look at the average black woman and assume that all of them are like that and decide to take the bad and not the good.  Yet what you forget about Rochelle is that she’s intelligent, fiercely independent and loves her kids.  She chooses to do the chores around the house because she feels its her responsibility.  Yet she’s proven that she can get a job at the drop of a dime.  “I don’t need this, my man has two jobs!” is one of her funniest lines.  She doesn’t have to deal with the stresses of the work force if she doesn’t want to.  Yet if she has to she can run the house and get a job.  Her family just has the financial security for her not to do so.  Yet some people might take a look at her character and assume that she’s just a stereotype.  I really don’t think that’s true at all.  Plenty of people have mothers like that. Black and White.  Now let’s compare this to your stereotypical mother from a Tyler Perry movie.   First you have the all business woman who doesn’t have time for hoodrats.  She’s basically a character that you’re designed to despise until there’s a big reveal that she was sexually molested by her father and has a son by her own dad. This has happened four times in Tyler Perry’s shows.  He literally turned rape into a plot device.  Then you have the “ghetto mom” who squeals and wails these one-liners and phrases just to make fun of people who may have been raised in a poor community.  Tyler Perry didn’t make the “BYRONNNNN” mom a three dimensional character.  He made her a joke.  Now take Rochelle who was born and raised in a poor community.  Sure she’s a “ghetto snob” but that’s not her character or her personality.  That’s just an aspect of her character that came about due to how she was raised.  Does she have flaws? Yes. Is she embarrassing sometimes? Yes. But it’s all realistic and the story and general plot of Everybody Hates Chris helps support her character.

Everything has gone down hill from there.  I can’t think of a single black sitcom that’s actively airing these days that I can actually identify with.  Malcolm Jamal-Warner is making a valiant effort on some multi-camera sitcom on BET but it’s too stilted and unoriginal.  You have “The Game” (which you just lost by the way) but I just don’t find it quality.  I miss The Cosby Show, Sister, Sister, What’s Happening, A Different World, Everybody Hates Chris and a variety of other 90s/early 21st century black sitcoms that hit the air.  They were all well received, had a healthy run time and they all reflected black culture both accurately and humorously.  I mean…what the fuck happened?

I could put more examples and talk about this more but this is already long.  If you want to ask me more about my opinions or other examples of black sitcoms [their characters, their plots and how they worked/didn’t work for me] and what not just hit my inbox….with questions.