Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Finest Moment in the History of American Reality TV

As we all prepare for next week's discussion of reality television, I thought it might be helpful to offer a little reality TV amuse bouche, if you will. The following clip is from the criminally short-lived show Pretty Wild which aired on E! for one season in 2010. Although it was intended to be a Kardashian clone, the show took on a different dimension when one of its cast members, Alexis Neiers, was arrested for her involvement in the now infamous Bling Ring. She would later serve as the inspiration for the Emma Watson character in the Sofia Coppola film of the same name.

The clip below finds Alexis and her family reading the Vanity Fair article (that would serve as the basis for the Coppola film) for the first time. Enjoy!

(If there are any problems with the embedded video, here's a link to the clip: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x10pkt3_alexis-neiers-phone-call-full-scene_fun)


video

"Completely Colorblind"

Not entirely TV related, but I thought this was interesting in light of our readings/conversation today. Recently, a photo was discovered of Louisiana state legislature candidate Robbie Gatti in extremely caricaturized blackface make up. The photo was taken 15 years ago at a church party; Gatti says he was in costume as Tiger Woods and didn't know the racist history of blackface performance.

Here are two sections of his apology:

"I would never do this again," he said. "I have too many black pastors that are friends. I am completely colorblind. I don't have a racist bone in my body. In fact, I think some of those photos [from the party 15 years ago] were taken standing with African-American friends of mine, which is why I believe they are so tightly cropped."

"I dressed up as Tiger Woods," he said. "Woods was at the height of his success at the time. He was the number one golfer in the world. This was before his troubles [with infidelity became public]."

What do you make of this—both in terms of the apology (that seems to have been cobbled together from every other "white person caught being racist" apology from the past few years), as well as his emphasis on Woods' celebrity status as being an important element of the context?


The Scale


Tara spoke about this scale in class today. Thought I would share the photo with everyone including another photo of how Irish women were seen as 'other'.





Monday, February 27, 2017

Watching Race on "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" (Core Response #5)


Rachel Lindsey is announced as the next Bachelorette on February 13th 
As many of you have heard, the Bachelor franchise has announced its first ever African-American Bachelorette for this coming season of the successful spinoff, The Bachelorette! Rachel Lindsay, a contestant (and I’m predicting runner-up) on the current season, Season 21, of The Bachelor has just been announced on Feb 13th as the future Bachelorette. This is the first time in 34 seasons of the successful Bachelor franchise that the producers have selected an African-American as the series’ lead, despite several viable possibilities over the numerous years. As a franchise The Bachelor has been incredibly successful and continually is one of the most popular sows on ABC. However, recently there have been calls for increased diversity on the shows, which many viewers have criticized for being “whitewashed” love stories. While there has been an increased presence of contestants of colour appearing on the series, they rarely make it past the first few weeks. Take for example, Jojo’s most recent season of The Bachelorette, in which all but three men of colour (Christian, Grant, and Ali) were eliminated on the very first night. According to Rachel Dubrofsky in her book The Surveillance of Women on Reality Television, the Bachelor franchise does a really good job of “using the rhetoric of realism” within the series to naturalize the construction of racism present within the show (30). This is possible, according to Dubrofsky, by utilizing “strategic whiteness [that] recenters whiteness, maintains whiteness as the norm and makes whiteness implicitly the desirable and, in fact, the only option” for contestants within the franchise (30). The fact that the Bachelor franchise has been so devoid of diversity in the past, made this season of The Bachelor immediately stand out. In addition to having more women of colour on this season than in any other season previously, Bachelor Nick Viall, actually selected an African American woman, Rachel in fact, to receive the coveted First Impression Rose.
Rachel and Nick dance with a Second Line during their One-on-One date in New Orleans 
          In light of this very obvious shift away from past seasons, I began to wonder if some of these past radicalized television practices we read about this week were still true for the Bachelor franchise? From the readings I started The Bachelorette begins filming in March 2017. Additionally, Grey continues to write that the “risk [of] (black-oriented programs) was limited to proven and cost-efficient genres such as situation comedy, entertainment/variety, and talk programs, because, as part of their broader strategy the networks had to complement rather than jeopardize their investments in more expensive and proven program staples such as nighttime drams and movies of the week” (Grey, 68). This would seem to support the idea that ABC would want to be cautious about jeopardizing the marketability and viewership of one of the network’s most popular shows.  
In light of this very obvious shift away from past seasons, I began to wonder if some of these past radicalized television practices we read about this week were still true for the Bachelor franchise? From the readings I started to wonder if ABC felt like having an African-American bachelorette is a financial risk and that was possibly a reason they announced Rachel as the bachelorette so early? According to the reading “the increasingly unstable crisis environment of commercial television in the mid-1980s, there was little guarantee that audiences would view programs about blacks in the kinds of numbers that would be profitable for the networks” which according to the author was one reason there was a lack of television shows with large amounts of diversity (Gray, 62). It is not uncommon for the franchise to cast the runners-up as the next season’s star, however they have never announced while the person was still an active contestant on the currently airing season. This is one reason many fans have speculated that her race is one reason the producers announced Rachel so early on- in order to attract enough possible suitors before The Bachelorette begins filming in March 2017. Additionally, Grey continues to write that the “risk [of] (black-oriented programs) was limited to proven and cost-efficient genres such as situation comedy, entertainment/variety, and talk programs, because, as part of their broader strategy the networks had to complement rather than jeopardize their investments in more expensive and proven program staples such as nighttime drams and movies of the week” (Grey, 68). This would seem to support the idea that ABC would want to be cautious about jeopardizing the marketability and viewership of one of the network’s most popular shows.  
            Additionally, it will be interesting to see how Rachel is portrayed on her upcoming season of The Bachelorette. Already on season 21 we have been seeing her edited and portrayed differently than another African American contestant and fan favourite for bachelorette, Jubilee from season 20. In the article “What Does Race Have to Do with Ugly Betty” Jennifer Esposito writes that the “black image is often informed by prominent ‘exceptions’ to the rule like Opera, who has articulated her own rags-to-riches story and succeeded against the odds” (Esposito 532). Therefore, with the assimilationist, or as Esposito would call it, the post-racial environment of The Bachelor, even when women of other races are present, in order to be considered a viable mate for the Bachelor, their racial difference must be downplayed. With the case of Rachel, she very much falls into this assimilationist category, as her race is never directly referenced within the context of the show.**Therefore, this explains why Rachel would be seen by the network to be a better candidate or more acceptable Bachelorette than Jubilee. Because, as a poised and well-spoken lawyer, Rachel is seen as having successfully transcended the racial stereotype, while Jubilee’s emotional instability plays into the “crazy, black woman” stereotype. As Esposito writes, “the term ‘postracial’ has been has been utilized in increasing amounts in the media to denote some people’s perceptions that the election of Barack Obama marks a new era in our society- one in which race no longer matters” (521). If this is the case, then as Dubrofsky argues, that “a racially ambiguous character” designated as such either through ethnicity, behaviour, or editing “gestures toward inclusionary practices while at the same time foreclosing any actual engagement with issues of difference” (32). Meaning that if we are to agree with Esposito, Rachel being named as The Bachelorette is in fact not so revolutionary and only serve to reinforce the status quo in which issues of race are not directly addressed on network television. However, having said all of that, I am personally very excited for Rachel to be the next bachelorette and will be waiting impatiently for her season to air starting on May 22nd! Bachelorette viewing party at my place, everyone?!?          
 
Jubilee offends other contestants on Season 20 of The Bachelor with her "tell it like it is" attitude
(Additionally it is important to note, while talking about race within the Bachelor franchise that contestants of Asian descent often fall into the “Model Minority” category and therefore are treated, within the confines of the show, as white. Although, I will leave this discussion for another time.)


** Prior to writing this blog post I had not watched episode 8, in which Nick travels to Rachel’s hometown of Dallas, Texas. In this episode the question of Rachel’s race is very openly discussed. For their Hometown Date Rachel takes Nick to her predominately African American church and Nick is shown looking uncomfortable (despite claiming he had a good time and felt welcome) as well as being the only Caucasian person in sight. Additionally, Rachel and Nick, as well as various members of Rachel’s family, discuss the “elephant in the room” and discuss how each of them feel considering this is the first time either one of them have entered into a serious relationship with someone of the other race. Rachel’s family continues this conversation by openly asking both Nick and Rachel how they feel about being in an interracial relationship, especially in the current cultural and political climate. However, while the issue of race is quite openly discussed in this episode, throughout the whole season Rachel has received a consistently neutral and/or positive edit, which suggests to me that with in the context of the show as a whole, Rachel is still being positioned as a “racially neutral” character. Race matters as much in this context as it apparently matters to Nick; as he tells Rachel’s mother, "I was attracted to who Rachel is, the colour of her skin just happens to be black." Therefore, since Rachel is still not shown conforming to traditional stereotypes, she is able to overcome this barrier and remain a viable recipient of Nick’s (or since we obviously know she does not receive the final rose, the man she eventual chooses on The Bachelorette) affections.     

TV + Ethnicity and Race (Core Response #3)

Phylicia Rashad’s assertion that The Cosby Show was “not about black people” but rather “about human beings” (Acham 106) seems to echo similar feelings today about which shows can and cannot be regarded as universal. For this blog post, I wanted to talk about a show that seems to both acknowledge the fundamental nature of its characters’ identities, while also assuming that audiences will, somehow, still be able to sympathize with those characters: Brooklyn 99.

The show’s main cast features two Latina detectives, by-the-books Amy Santiago and effective rogue Rosa Diaz, and two black male officers, Captain Raymond Holt (played by Juilliard-trained actor Andre Braugher) and Sergeant Terry Jeffords (played by bodybuilder/comedian Terry Crews). By and large, these characters of color are depicted as extremely competent and successful at their jobs, while the white characters demonstrate varying levels of buffoonery or insubordination. For instance, old timers Hitchcock and Scully typically pay more attention to ordering take out than solving cases; one of the running jokes about administrative assistant Gina is the lengths to which she will go to avoid actually doing work. While the show hasn’t explicitly called attention to the color line in regards to these differences in ability and attention, the depiction of the characters might be read as a counter to the colorblind Cosby-esque mentality of “if one pulls oneself up by the bootstraps, one can achieve the American dream” (Acham 107). Instead, the series demonstrates that while the white characters seem to have been afforded the privilege to fail upwards, the black and Latina characters must work twice as hard to reach the same level.

Furthermore, though the presence of characters of color in sitcoms does not necessarily entail nuanced discussions of race—as Acham and Gray note, early TV programming often relied on negative/comedic representations of black characters—Brooklyn 99 often derives humor from situations relating to the character's’ race and sexual orientation, however the identity itself is never the punchline. For instance, in one episode, Captain Holt, who is gay, reminisces about a former colleague: “He was a great partner: smart, loyal, homophobic but not racist — in those days, that was pretty good.” Here, the joke is Holt’s straight-faced acceptance of treatment he would now regard as unacceptable; while his identity as a black and gay man is essential to the joke, the audience is meant to laugh knowingly with Holt about society’s injustices, not at him.

Soft-hearted Terry's attempt at engaging in the Angry Black Man stereotype
While Brooklyn 99 may not evidence "Cosby’s fantasy of post-racial harmony" (Acham 110), it perhaps more closely aligns with an idea of harmony that depends on the acknowledgement and embrace of different identities.

Core Response- Race in Television the Oscars etc_ India Wilson

The past week has been a particularly volatile one, as it relates to race in television and film and popular depictions of race. As a member of the screenwriting program, and a young half black girl, this subject is one that likely permeates my thoughts more than that of someone not in my situation. How do I want to represent race? Will people buy scripts that deviate from popular depictions of race?

While it may not be particularly novel to address the Oscars 'snafu' last night, I can't help but comment, particularly in this context. Last night's Oscars come a year after the "Oscars so white controversy" and were noticeably different. There were many more black attendees, more black nominees and the main tension of the show was the battle between Moonlight, a film depicting the life/experiences of a black gay man in florida, and La La Land, a movie loved by many, but also panned on blogs/tumblrs/ and other op-ed sites for its embrace of white culture and use of black culture as a prop for those characters. This tension ultimately gave way to one of the better live TV moments in recent years in which the wrong winner was announced and the Oscars were physically taken from the predominately white La La Land cast & crew and handed to the predominately black cast & crew of Moonlight.

I'm left thinking that without the racial tension between the two potential winners, the moment wouldn't have been quite as shocking, there would've been less hanging on it. This moment in television history provided a more explicit look at the changing and controversial landscape of modern television. While the show celebrates film, it's broadcast through the television medium and sends a message out nationally (and internationally) and simultaneously (one of the last things that brings people together to watch live TV - other than the Superbowl) about what artistic works are being appreciated and what makes money.

Lastly, the show also related closely to some questions from the reading. In Herman Gray's piece, The Transformation of the Television Industry and the Social Production of Blackness, he writes "The recognition and engagement with blackness were not for a moment driven by sudden cultural interest in black matters or some noble aesthetic goals on the part of executives in all phases of the industry" (68). Here, Gray indicates the rise in black media as driven by commercial gain rather than by a larger movement for diversity. I would argue that the dramatic changes in oscar focus this year were motivated by many of the same causes (i.e. finding a new market and avoiding backlash that would hurt on a fiscal level).

Furthermore, while the show's speeches and best picture win largely focused on diversity many of the nominees in each category, aside from moonlight, fit into the same racial tropes and failed to communicate a great deal about diversity in the industry. Additionally, when looking at the actual landscape of television now, in another period in which we see a dramatic rise in television geared toward black audiences, I see Gray's sentiment that, "In the end, black programs and the audiences they could deliver were worth the risk because black audiences often have fewer options and therefore depend on commercial television for their primary programming choices" (68) strongly echoed. Most black-centered shows are on network television, rather than cable, with one or two notable exceptions on streaming services. I believe that in many ways this still reflects the commercial aim of targeting black people confined to the network sphere and exploiting them, more so than it indicates any kind of moral impetus to bring a diversity of perspectives to television.

Much as we see in the debate in Esposito's retelling of Ugly Betty, executive seem to still be filling a quota.


Core Response #2 Devious Maids, Bill Cosby, & the Representation of People of Color

During Devious Maid’s screening last week, I tried to keep my gagging to a minimum as I watched the representation of the Latina as a stereotype. Unfortunately, the irony being that Eva Longoria, a Latina herself, produced/allowed for this representation to be aired. Created during the false idea of a post-racial America, Devious Maids tries to reduce the portrayal of the stereotype by calling attention to it, showing it in a comedic fashion. Perhaps Eva believed that the stereotype of a Latina can be ameliorated in the ‘post-racial America’ where comedy would shadow the negative representation.


However, “By pretending it is not part of the national discourse, we do people of color more disservice” (Esposito 522). The notion of the “color-blind society” and a “post-racial America” has been vehemently destroyed or finally revealed for its truth post-Trump election. Perhaps Esposito would now say, “I told you so”.
Interestingly enough, the screening paired with the readings created a comparison between Bill Cosby and Eva Longoria in my mind. How did these two media figures traverse the media landscape representing their race? Christine Acham provides answers for Cosby’s persona stating he is a “well-known assimilationist comic” denoting a distancing of Cosby with the black community and aligning himself with mainstream White America. This was strategic with Cosby’s narratives in that they ran as ‘color-blind’ and the “narrative qualities and ideas of universality were evident from the beginning” (Acham 106). Acham exemplifies this in her analysis of an episode where Dr. Cliff Huxtable speaks to his son on the importance of ‘pulling oneself by the bootstraps’ and working hard towards achieving one’s goals. Presenting this ideology is dangerous in that The Cosby Show negates race as a factor in the lack of achieving the ‘American Dream’. It also enforces that “...one’s class status is solely a matter of individual choice rather than the result of a systemic problem” (Acham 109).

By allowing this representation while ignoring racial issues, The Bill Cosby Show set up a narrative into mainstream White America who can then, unfortunately, point to as evidence of their agenda. Acham points to Gary Bauer’s statement proclaiming that the Bill Cosby show (a fictional narrative) is more important than real federal programs that would produce physical changes in the lives of black children. Another example is Trump’s rhetoric against Mexican bodies as “bad hombres”. We must hold accountable every representation of people of color; “…we must critique and examine representations of racialized bodies, especially those bodies already marginalized within the system of racial hierarchies” (Esposito 522). If not now, then when will we press Hollywood to realize the consequences of the narratives produced?



Core Response: "Black-ish" what "The Cosby Show" should have been.

     I found the readings for this week very interesting especially considering how much they still resonate today. Particularly, I decided to look more into how The Cosby Show and Black-ish although have some similarities truly differ from each other.



 Acham (2013)’s discussion about The Cosby Show and its representation of race and what it meant to be Black in America, discusses how Bill Cosby’s successful sitcom created an ideology that was not completely representative of African Americans. The Cosby Show displayed a well off African American family with Cliff Huxtable, the patriarch of the family, his wife and five children living their everyday lives. Although the show is still till today one of the most successful sitcoms in Television history, the argument has always been about why the show lacked in displaying the political issues that African Americans were facing at the time. It created an ideology of black people being well off and not going through any racial tensions that was going on in reality (Acham, 2013). One may argue that the goal of the show was to create an escape for the African American people and show a black family in a positive light but, the criticism towards Cosby at the time whose main goal was to not “engage in the political and social realities about race” (Acham, p.110, 2013) created backlash. Obviously, this is not to say that some African Americans were not well off at the time and that Cosby’s goal was to show African Americans in a positive light and not place them into stereotypical roles which often mimicked and caricatured black people. However, majority of the black people were not part of that ideology and critics believed that these issues should have been addressed without creating an illusion.


Today, television shows that include people of color, do not shy away from the political issues that are going on in fact they address it. One comparison to The Cosby Show is of course Black-ish, the premise is pretty much similar a well off African American family with four kids (soon to be five). However, the biggest difference is the fact that the show does not shy away from the realities of what it truly means to be black in America no matter how well off and accomplished you are. It even also addresses issues that many other minorities face. The screening that we watched in class was the perfect example of addressing the political and racial issues going on today. Trump winning the election truly displayed how divided America is. The show dedicated an episode to the election results and led to a heated debate at Andre’s (Anthony Anderson) workplace, when Dre’s coworkers discover that one of them, Lucy admits that she voted for Trump. The debate pretty much displays the thoughts and views on the American people and shows the reality of life. The most powerful moment however, is when one of Andre’s coworkers asks him why he’s been so quiet and doesn’t seem to care. Andre goes into a powerful monologue that is not only eye-opening but honest and true. Andre says that his people (black people) have been suffering and going through injustice since his ancestors were brought in chains and forced to live in this country against their own will, he then discusses how much African American people have been suffering since then and still are now, that this is not anything new, it is just another obstacle that him and his people have to face and how some of his coworkers (specifically his white coworkers) have never had to face such social injustices. He then ends his powerful speech with “I love my country even though sometimes it does not love me back.” (Black-ish S3E15). The episode received critical acclaim especially Anderson who revealed the truth of reality through television.



What in my opinion is especially phenomenal about Black-ish in comparison to The Cosby Show is the fact that they are able to reveal the truth about being a minority in society without going against the grain in terms of the format of the show (which is comedy). There isn’t a specific ideology where there is a well of African American family and they don’t go through racial issues that people go through in their everyday lives. Understandably so, what Cosby was trying to do at the time was to create a positive representation of African Americans but what he was lacking/didn’t seem to get/wanted to avoid was the truth, which is that no matter how well of you may be as a minority, there will always be a tendency to face political issues that deal with who you are as a person and the effects that it could have with ones way of living.       

Race on HBO's Girls (ugh)

Ok, ok. I know this is nothing to be proud of, but before I left New York I this past summer , I watched all of the Girls episodes that had aired up until that point. For anyone who has somehow missed the boat, Girls is an HBO show, currently on its sixth and last season, that was created by Lena Dunham about four young, white, privileged women who live in New York City. (I also watched all of Broad City before I left New York too, so hopefully that makes up for this confession). 

Anyway, this isn't a core response so I'll keep it short, but thinking about this week's readings in relation to show, which up until this last season has come under much deserved criticism for its repeated lack of diversity, I am interested in Dunham's decision to finally include race in the show's last season through the casting of its supporting characters. After almost proudly balking at the blatant whiteness of her show (that takes place in Brooklyn, no less), why has Dunham chosen the last season to demonstrate any sort of racial awareness? Thinking of the first two episodes of this last season, I am remembering three people of color chosen to portray supporting characters. Three people of color over two Girls episodes are probably more people of color than have appeared in the the show's prior five seasons. Why now? 

Core Post 3: The Limits of Thinking About Representation

The three readings this week deal with race, ethnicity, representation in T.V., and the political stakes those representation holds. In “What Does Race Have to Do With Ugly Betty?” Jennifer Esposito details an episode of Ugly Betty that takes an anti-affirmative action stance. In “The Cosby Show: Representing the Race”, Christine Achman deals with the double whammy of the Cosby Show as a “positive influence” on black Americans but also used as a rhetorical tool for conservative beliefs in meritocracy. Finally, on chapter 4 of “The Transformation of TV”, Herman Gray discusses how Black representation is influenced, in part, by industry standards.
                Obviously, representation is still a huge subject in the entertainment and the art world. As all three articles point out, this is due to the fact that the mainstream entertainment industry lacks diversity, or, when diversity is present, said diversity is usually pernicious stereotypes or used against poor people of color. In other words, representation matters.
                What these articles—and other readings on representation—lack is a more nuance, deeper understanding of the politics of representation; only Herman Gray attempts to complicate this issue, but only sparingly. Representation is a myriad of factors, and should not be just limited to “good representation” or “bad representation” depending on the political stakes; furthermore, the conversation also leads to a myth of progress, as in “Black representation is getting better and better every century” (change does not always mean better, but that’s another argument). As Stuart Hall’s “Encoding and Decoding Television” article points out, what is said and what is read can be two completely different stories.
                So, how does one complicate the politics of representation? Acham and Esposito looks at the social-political-historical context of Ugly Betty and the Cosby Show, and those are a great start. As a person who consistently researches and engages with the politics of representation, I pose the following questions to begin complicating this aspect of research:
-How do we move beyond “good” or “bad” representation?
-In what ways is digital media challenging our notions of what representation is or is not?
-How does power (besides identity power) influence the frames and lens of stories?
-Which stories are considered legitimate and why? What makes a legitimate “black” story?
-Could TV or media ever be radical? What attempts have been made to do so?
-How does the history of U.S. entertainment continue to influence what is seen on the screen? After all, nothing comes out of a vacuum.
-What is the relationships between creator, industry, culture, and consumer?

These are just some of the questions I ask as I continue on my quest to stop limiting myself to “good” or “bad” representation. 

TV & Ethnicity (Core Response 3): Meritocracy and Neoliberalism- Black-ish and The Cosby Show



Aired during the height of political mayhem, Black-ish’s (2014-present) “Lemons” episode (originally aired 11 Jan 2017) dealt with the impact of the election and inauguration of the United States’ 45th president, Donald Trump. Overall, the episode details the Johnson family’s reactions to Hillary Clinton’s loss, emphasizing a conversation between Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson’s coworkers as they try to determine who is to blame (revealing that one of them even voted for Trump). Black-ish premiered in 2014 and has been critically admired for its tendency to discuss and highlight issues for African Americans in the contemporary US. In the past, Black-ish has discussed police brutality (“Hope”) and having a biracial identity (“Being Bow-racial”), among other complex issues. Additionally, a running gag of the series is the obviously racist and sexist Mr. Stevens, who Dre works with. Though the show portrays his ridiculous racist statements as humorous and outdated, it is possible that white viewers could interpret this character as expressing their own views, rather than being a comedic, mocked character. Also worth noting, as this episode (“Lemons”) is specifically about Trump being elected president, Trump did tweet in 2014 that the show was racist against white people.


Jennifer Esposito (2009), in “What Does Race Have to Do with Ugly Betty?: An Analysis of Privilege and Postracial(?) Representations on a Television Sitcom,” defines the idea of postracial or colorblind ideology as “meaning that we have moved beyond race and that race no longer structures our thinking or actions” (521-2). Subsequently, as Esposito (2009) details, racism becomes something which is committed against individuals, minimizing the institutionalized and structural inequalities present in the US (522). Both postracial and colorblind discourses are, as Eposito (2009) states, “destructive because such understandings silence race talk. If race no longer matters, then people of all races have no way of communicating about racial privileges and injustices, and instead, race becomes an uncomfortable topic. Should a white person speak of race, he or she is made to feel racist. Should a person of color speak of race, he or she is made to feel angry” (522-3). This, in turn, replicates the systemic qualities of racism while simultaneously claiming that racism does not exist anymore and is irrelevant in contemporary US society.


This episode of Black-ish, among others, makes a statement by demonstrating the reality of racism, in addition to its systemic and historic qualities in America. In fact, Dre details how “this system has never worked for us,” and how African Americans have been disadvantaged in America since slavery (“Lemons”).


Obviously, this blatant reference to not only racism itself but its integration with the founding of the United States would not seem to be a topic discussed by a sitcom.

An overall issue with the progressive content of ABC’s Black-ish relates to the ideologies of meritocracy constantly replicated. Esposito (2009) states that meritocracy “is the recognition of individual merit and the belief that anyone (regardless of life circumstance) can achieve the ‘American dream’ as long as he or she works hard enough to attain it” (523). As such, meritocracy is reflective of postracial ideologies, and “allows the privileged to place blame on the marginalized for any failure to achieve. Meritocracy promotes guilt and self-blame as well because it encourages people to believe that their successes and failures are largely a matter of personal responsibility instead of the result of systemic oppression or privilege” (Esposito 2009, 524). This is where Black-ish directly ties to past criticism of The Cosby Show (1984-1992).


As Christine Acham (2013) states in relation to an episode of The Cosby Show, “there is an understated but clear commentary on class. One of the great American myths is that anyone who just tries hard enough will succeed, that if one just pulls oneself up by the bootstraps, one can achieve the American dream” (107).

Crucially, The Cosby Show was reflective of its contemporary political atmosphere in America under Ronald Reagan. The 1980s US saw the beginning foundations of neoliberal ideologies in politics, something that is further replicated today. Neoliberalism highlights how race, among other social identities, are something to be individualized and commodified, emphasizing the rhetoric of meritocracy. As Rosalind Gill (2007) states, “[n]eoliberalism is understood increasingly as constructing individuals are entrepreneurial actors who are rational, calculating and self-regulating. The individual must bear full responsibility for their life biography, no matter how severe the constraints upon their action” (163). Thus, neoliberalism and meritocracy come hand in hand.

These ideologies are reflected in Black-ish’s decision to have both Dre and Rainbow “Bow” Johnson come from poor families. Despite their financial beginnings, both Dre and Bow have successfully reached high levels of financial wealth, as a marketing executive and doctor, respectively. Dre’s love of sneakers is constantly mentioned, and his closet speaks for itself.


Though Black-ish has opened somewhat of a conversation of the wealth the family has gained, the series consistently reinforces how Dre and Bow have worked hard enough to be able to get where they are today, silencing discussions of how race has effected their backstories. Of course, the direct call to systemic racism is included in “Lemons,” but only in a time when, arguably, an extremely racist and sexist rich white man has become our president and police violence against black men is becoming too hard to deny or ignore with the Black Lives Matter movement.




Thus, Black-ish does replicate some of the meritocratic idea from neoliberal ideology that was seen in The Cosby Show. Yet, the series does make important commentary on race in twenty-fist century America that is refreshing to see on primetime network television.

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Acham, Christine. 2013. “The Cosby Show: Representing Race.” In How to Watch Television, edited by Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell, 103-111. New York: New York University Press.

Esposito, Jennifer. 2009. “What Does Race Have to Do with Ugly Betty?: An Analysis of Privilege and Postracial(?) Representations on a Television Sitcom.” Television and New Media 10 (6): 521-535.

Gill, Rosalind. 2007. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10 (2): 147-166.