Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Something struck me as I watched the promotion for the new holiday movie â€œPerfect Holiday.â€ The trailer mentions a single mom who finds love at Christmas-time or some bullshit. And it made start to think about how many African-American TV shows and films are centered around a single mom or dad. And it made me realize the impact of reality versus ideality, and how our obsession with keeping it real has resulted in a collective lack of vision.
Walk with me on this one: There was a time when you watched TV and film for images of what was possible. We watched â€œperfectâ€ people in â€œperfectâ€ lives who managed to solve all their problems in 30 minutes. And while most of these shows, although classics, would be dismissed as typical Hollywood schlock, the biggest impact of these shows wasnâ€™t in being high art, it was the fact that they helped establish societal norms and mores that we all aspired to emulate. They set the standard.
For example, I came from divorced parents and so did almost everyone I know. BUT when I sat down and watched Good Times or The Jeffersons or The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Fresh Prince or Roc, they showed me what an optimal family looked like. It gave me something to learn from and aspire to even when I didnâ€™t have examples to turn to in my everyday life. It provided an IDEAL. Something to strive for. The fact that TV didnâ€™t reflect my reality was a good thing. Because my consciousness was shaped by ideals rather than by reality, I grew up believing that a nuclear family was the norm, and getting married and having a family like the people on TV became important to me. Most importantly, I saw it as totally within my reach, something that maybe my parents couldnt achieve but i certainly could because there it was, right there on TV. Sometimes art is about not showing people their lives but showing people whats possible for their lives.
We often herald true-to-life depictions of our lives on TV. People say that single parents should be represented in our media portrayals because it is so prevalent in our communities and we should keep it real and show life how it really is. Have we ever stopped to think that it is so prevalent in our communities because thatâ€™s all weâ€™re shown? This generation wouldnâ€™t know a nuclear family if it bit them on the asshole all the way down to the red part. So, regarding family, what do we give them to strive towards? They donâ€™t see it in the real world and they donâ€™t see it on TV and movies. Is it any wonder that marriage isnâ€™t even considered by most young people anymore? If all you see and hear is â€œI donâ€™t need a man,â€ how long does it take to believe it and live it? We are robbing our youth of ideals. We only rise to level of our expectations and if all our youth expect is to be be single parents and have baby mama drama and a no-good man and to pimp him before he pimps me, thatâ€™s exactly what theyâ€™ll do. If all we show them is The Parkers and Gilmore Girls, then The Parkers and Gilmore Girls is who theyâ€™ll be. In one generation we have changed the family paradigm in the name of reality. And its killing us.
Remember Different World and School Daze? It made so many young people want to go to a black college because they made it look so doggone fun! So what if a kidsâ€™ parents had never gone to college, so what if they couldnâ€™t afford it, so what if their high school grades were badâ€”it didnâ€™t matter, Different World gave a generation an ideal to strive for. We wanted to be them. We wanted to be Freddy because she was earthy and had cool hair, we wanted to be smart like Duane Wayne and rich and sexy like Whitley. Who do kids wanna be now? The Hills? Charm School?
Remember Martin? Even as so many look back at Martin and wanna yell coon this, coon that, I remember Martin for so much more than Sha Nay Nay and Jerome and that funny-ass security guard dude. I remember how Martin made everyone want a boyfriend or girlfriend. Martin made a relationship between a black man and a black woman look so healthy and , again, so doggone fun! We all wished we had a Martin or a Gina in our lives. How many dudes didnâ€™t play around and say to their girls â€œgrab my ears!â€ And everybody was like â€œyou go boyâ€ â€œyou go girl.â€ Black men and women actually loving one another. On TV. Imagine that. A fun relationship was the ideal and we all wanted that.
Now weâ€™ve â€œprogressedâ€ to shows and films that are more representative. Meaning, they show life like it is. They keeps it real. Great. Non-stop dysfunction. Weâ€™ve gone from showing whats ideal to showing whatâ€™s real. And sure we all have elements of dysfunction in our lives but thatâ€™s precisely why we donâ€™t need to wallow in it in our art forms. Today we celebrate adversity and embrace ignorance, all in the name of â€œrealityâ€, and wonder why our communities are in shambles.
I know in many respects Im generalizing wildly, but you get my drift right? I guess Im feeling nostalgic, I just miss having people on TV that I wanted to be like. That could teach me something. Sure, its fun having people on TV we can laugh at, shake our heads at, make fun of. Sure, I get a kick out of watching those girls on Maury run off the stage when Tayshawn is NOT the father. Iâ€™ll cop to that. But dayum, even when we do tell our youth to do better, we never SHOW them what better is.
Our youth imitate what they SEE, why donâ€™t we try showing them something ideal for a change. And thats real. (Sigh) Gotta go, I Love New York is on!
â€œArt for artâ€™s sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.â€ â€“Chinua Achebe