With much fanfare and record-breaking ratings, the television show The Game made its much-anticipated return to television several weeks ago, after a two-year hiatus. It features the life and times of the members of a fictional National Football League team, The Sabers, and their families. The show originally ran on the CW Network, but was canceled after its third season because of low ratings. Its fans launched a social media firestorm and, as a result, BET picked up the series.
First, let me say, I applaud the fans for fighting for what they wanted and not letting Hollywood strip away, prematurely, another prominent African-American show. But, where is that outrage and demand for the kinds of shows that portray African Americans as everyday professionals and academics—in other words, as something besides entertainers, athletes or single parents. Where are the shows like The Cosby Show and A Different World that provided some counter-balance with more positive images of African-American life?
In the early ‘80s and ‘90s, network television ran a string of African-American sitcoms which depicted a slice of life in middle class communities. The Cosby Show, one of the most iconic, always stressed the importance of education and family. In the pilot episode Cliff (Bill Cosby), nearly kicked Theo (Malcolm Jamal Warner) out of the house when he decided he wasn’t going to college. Sometimes, the messages were even more subtle: Cliff was a gynecologist and Claire was a successful attorney. Also, in several episodes, Cliff wore sweatshirts from different Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The messages were clear, college is important and hard work in the classroom is to be encouraged and celebrated.
Television is not the medium through which we can or should expect role models for our children, but it seems reasonable to expect some balance in the images of African-American characters it depicts for our consumption. Georgia State University professor Layli Philips points out that this message that academic success is somehow incompatible with a health black identity is perpetuated by a mass media that emphasizes and glorifies low-income African-American peer culture, making it attractive even to middle-class African-American youth.
Today there are very few, if any, African-American sitcoms on television, which have strong positive message that reflect the fullness of experiences available today. Just as in real life, television has taken to reinforcing the belief that the only people who are interesting and worthy of our reverence are athletes and entertainers. Mind-numbing reality TV is taking over and, in the process, dumbing down the viewing audience; our children. In whom can my daughter see herself or her future possibilities even as she is entertained? Where have the Claire Huxtables, Whitley Gilberts and (the real) Vivian Banks gone?
Though I am happy that we were engaged and powerful enough to usher in The Game’s return, I hope we will fight just as hard for the return of balanced and positive images on TV as well as in everyday life.