Thursday, November 29, 2007
You know, I feel bamboozled. All my young adult life the TV show â€œGood Timesâ€ represented something negative in popular culture. It was always referred to as a perpetuation of stereotypes, a negative portrayal of black life. Everyone focused on JJ as The Coon. But I had the pleasure to lay up all day one Sunday (with a very hot man, I may add) and watch a Good Times marathon on TV- One and it struck me that: Good Times actually had it right.
It was odd looking at the show again through 2007-colored glasses. So many things stood out to me, especially watching several shows in a row. First, the Evans family probably had the more integrity than any African-American TV family. Ever. Now before you jump in with the Huxtables, I have to say, the Evans are far more impressive because they actually had real life problems. The Huxtables werenâ€™t really struggling like the Evans. I mean the test of a man is how he performs when heâ€™s down right? Well, the Evans were down all the time with constant problems. And these werenâ€™t the Huxtable â€œthe other kids are calling me rich girlâ€/Gordon Gartrelle problems. These were real life, how-we-gonna-eat problems. There was poverty, VD, unemployment, discrimination, gangs, child abuse, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, illiteracy. I mean, if there was a social issue, Good Times covered it. And the family dealt with these issues always with a focus on family, morality, integrity, strength and just being downright decent. What African American TV family represents those values today? Shit, what white family for that matter?
They had a strong two parent home. James was clearly the leader of the family but he and Florida still acted as a partnership. The kids respected the parents. They werenâ€™t obnoxious smart asses and they werenâ€™t incorrigible troublemakers either. They were regular kids. They were us. Although they were poor, they were hopeful and eager to learn and jump at opportunity.
JJ was a talented artist. What an incredible role model! I mean as silly as JJ was, he was a talent. Where can you find the representation of a talented African-American painter on TV????? He made black art and painting accessible to the world. He showed us a talent and an art form that many of us would have never been exposed to otherwise. He showed poor kids that poverty cannot stifle art or creativity. And JJ being an artist allowed the producers of the show to incorporate the work of real life African-American artist Ernie Barnes (who did all the actual paintings shown). Where can you find African-American artwork on TV today? Do you realize how hot that is???
And Thelma. She was sexy yet classy and like all us women growing up made some mistakes and got into some sticky situations. She was about to marry that African fool, she got felt up by Wilonaâ€™s creepy guy-friend. I mean thatâ€™s real shit there. But through it all she grew up, stepped up when James died, always handled herself with class and grace, and she had a husband before she had a baby. Who would argue she isnâ€™t a great role model for young women of any socio-economic class?
Ahhhhâ€¦ and Michael. Little militant Michael. Michael always kept racial issues in the forefront injecting social consciousness into every conversation. And sure, he got a little gay as he grew up (not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that) and his militant rants were soon replaced by cheesy talent show crooning with Penny. But its all good. Michael was the typical city kid. He was militant, excelled in school, strong but respectful of his parents. But he also got involved with gangs, got drunk off Vita-Brite and beat up that fat kid in school that time. He went through what we all go through trying to find ourselves in this world. But through it all he knew that education was the key to his success and that thread ran throughout the show. Where can you find that now?
And as bad as they may have be doing, they never wanted hand-outs, charity, never made excuses. The acknowledged racism but never used it as a crutch. They didnâ€™t give up, they didnt try to get over. They just knew they had to work twice as hard because racism stacked the deck against them. If times were tough James just worked harder. Thelma would work extra hours part-time. Or they would sell underwear out of that big cardboard box. But Florida and James always had a hopeful outlook. They always focused on hard work and its relationship to success. They helped their neighbors and ate dinner together. No one obsessed over entertainers and athletes, bling was a non-issue and a nuclear family was the rule not the exception. Can you imagine what a world this would be if we all embodied the character traits of the Good Times family?
Looking at what we currently have passing for representations of African-Americans on TV, I can’t believe I ever stuck my nose up at Good Times. I bought into the theory that we should write it off as some negative one-dimensional image of black life. An insult, a stereotype. Something we had come too far to look at. An obselete show with no value and no relevance to modern day black people. But that couldnt be more wrong.
Tell you what, watch Good Times. And then look at us now. And then look back at it. And then look at us. Look at our images on TV today and look at Good Times and look at us. Look at MTV and VH-1 and BET and then look at us. Look at the evening news and look at us and then look at Good Times.
And you tell meâ€¦.didnâ€™t Good Times have it right?