Monday, February 27, 2017

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment