Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Core Post 4 - " I Like to Pretend Like I do not Hate Black-Ish "

I found this week’s reading particularly enjoyable as it not only speaks about many shows that I grew up watching, but the way Acham breaks down The Cosby Show, stripping it away from the notion of being a positive show, present an idea that I would say is not shared by many of the folks I grew up with that alongside myself watched it.  In my household, my family would often have shows with black casts on the television and I would make my own judgments about them.  When watching 1970s black sitcoms like Good Times and What’s Happening, I always felt like they were reminders of how poor and stuck we are.  Literally, it felt like the entire message of the show is being poor and black and this is the way it will be forever.  Then there were the 1990s shows that were cool and funny.  Martin and The Fresh Prince of Belair was less bleak and more willing to play around with pop culture and race.  As far as programs like The Cosby Show though, I never had any strong opinions. I didn't particularly like it or hate it.  For me, The Cosby show was another program like Full House or any other show about an affluent family.  Lately with the recent scandals, I have noticed my newsfeed take two strong attitudes towards Cosby.  While one side looked down on the successful comedian the others felt that the news’ critique were an attack on a black man that they felt connected to.  While I do not wish to really focus on the scandal, I want to highlight that the people that defended him did not notice the differences in class that Cosby highlighted.  While I cannot attest on the economic backgrounds of my Facebook friends, the ones that were against Cosby were those that I met in college.  Therefore I think the illusion that Cosby created, this mythical black family, not only perpetuated meritocratic ideals, but for low income blacks, it normalized his image, making it indistinguishable from a Brady Bunch family, but also rendered the problematic invisible .  The show simply existed, not really anyone’s favorite.  

Cosby’s decision to avoid racial discussions made his show different from the 70s and his bourgeois black cultural tastes, focusing on classical African American art and Jazz music, helped to not hide his blackness, but definitely opposed the kind of cultural images evident in a show like The Fresh Prince of Belair.  In a sense, I think the Fresh Prince of Belair connects more with my generation because it puts the character, Will Smith, within a mythical black family like the Huxtables, and presents to the viewers the problems that came from this highly idealized image.  Will Smith’s character constantly felt like he was living in the shadow of his more affluent Uncle’s family and also feared the erasure of the culture he identified with, that being his urban west Philadelphia vibe.  He was sure to make his identity visible while negotiating what it meant to live within an affluent black family, often satirizing them.  While I can highlight several episode that highlight Will’s dual identity of coming from a low income neighborhood and then obtaining a more privileged economic status, I will simply suggest that The Fresh Prince of Belair is more relatable for its commentary, whether intentional or not, on The Cosby Show.  

Today, as I watch shows like Fresh off the Boat and Black-Ish, I feel as if there is a capitalization on both 1980s and 90s black sitcom.  While the show tries to make race extremely visible, to the point where race is often the joke, there is still this post- Fordism idea permeating through each episode that if you work hard enough you too can enjoy the grand narrative of middle class America.  Although I find these shows both pretty funny, the laughter is always ambivalent when I consider who else is laughing at the jokes and if they are decoding the jokes similarly to how I am. It feels weird that only white production professors mentioned the success of these shows and not actually anyone of color, and these professors quickly look away from the problematic aspects and focus on the financial success.  In fact, no one I know of color ever thinks to mention Black-ish and there are moments when Eddie Huang, writer of Fresh off the Boat, regrets what his show has turned into, mentioning how it has shifted from the image he wanted to create. The same “try hard”  Reagan era attitude apparent in The Cosby Show is present in these shows but the idea of the other is also being pushed forth, introducing a space where it is okay for these stereotypes to be laughed at.  Esposito mentions that in our current climate it is difficult to talk about race without being labeled a racist or angry (523).  For Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat, they are not introducing a dialogue, but more so a space to laugh at the stereotypes you may have felt uncomfortable laughing at before. 1970s black sitcoms may have been super depressing, the Evan’s family in Good Times ironically had some of the Sh***tiest times I  ever seen on television. In the 1980s, the Cosby family created a myth that did not perhaps hide race fully, but ignored the factor of socioeconomic class.  Likewise, sitcoms today create affluent non-white families that one still cannot identify with but uses recognizable stereotypes that can be read by perhaps all classes of that race, but may be digested differently.  Therefore overall, perhaps the shows of the 1990s may have been the least problematic, in terms of niche programming successfully attracted black viewers with a more relatable/distinguishable narrative, and more willing to discuss race in a less awkward way.  In the end though, black families in sitcoms have been repackaged and sold to all types of viewers through each decade, and despite a seemingly political agenda for some, may be the largely the result of an economic motif nonetheless (Gray 68). 

And Here is Eddie Huang on Fresh Off the Boat - http://deadline.com/2015/04/eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat-tweets-1201406604/

Also random, but Eddie Huang has this NYC Bao style buns restaurant, it is so good!  Vibe is hip-hop meets Pork buns.   Lol next time you are in the city try some.  (This is not an advertisement for Baos buns)


  1. I totally agree, Ray! For me, Black-ish is like The Cosby Show, where I can't seem to identify with it, most likely because the family comes from an affluent background that you can easily replace with a white family. As Gray states concerning shows like The Cosby Show: "these issues were neither different nor far removed from the concerns that dominated the agendas of the moral entrepreneurs of the new right; hence, some black oriented shows found a degree of resonance within the dominant cultural mood...fit[ting] neatly with public preoccupations with the domestic sphere and, within it, concerns about individuals, family, and relationships" (60). Shows like this still catered to the dominant audience--or at least made it acceptable for them to watch-- avoiding race and focusing on the domestic issues that just about any family can have.

    And also, The Cosby Show and Black-ish are just not funny to me!!!! While I was watching Black-ish, I could not help but think it was contrived and the discussion of race that the writers included tried way too hard, making that inclusion seem forced and unnatural and just something to write in because they "have" to since it is a black family. Unlike these shows, I found Fresh Prince of Bel Air more identifiable and hilarious. Mainly because of Will's more relatable background and his youth-oriented hip hop loving aura. (But hey, I do find Carlton hilarious too).

    With regard to Fresh Off the Boat, I have always very much agreed to Eddie Huang's sentiments concerning the ABC show's dilution of his specific Taiwanese-Chinese-American experience. The first time I saw Fresh off the Boat, I couldn't help but get the same feelings I got when watching Black-ish -- that at times the show felt contrived (the mom aka Jessica's fake accent really bothered me because it was so obvious that she was making it). I do, however, think it does a much better job at discussing race in a more fluid manner than Black-ish. Since watching Fresh off the Boat, I have also grown to really enjoy it. Despite its watered down Asian-American story that makes it more acceptable for white people and a network, I think it's extremely important to have visibility of Asian Americans on TV, and this will be the door into an even BETTER show with an Asian American focus.

    ( sorry for the long comment :/ )

    Here are some of my fave moments from Fresh Prince :

    1. Thanks for the comment Christal, I agree with everything you have said, it all just seems force. Like all the writers sit in the room and say, "okay we need to make at least 10 race jokes in 5 minutes let's go". Also, I think Fresh off the Boat is a tricky situation since as you said, there are not enough shows with Asian American leads and casts. So while the show is still problematic, it is one of the few available and hopefully opens a path for more shows that can be better.

      Oh and P.S. - I love those episodes ahahaha and I kill both of those dances lmao :x