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Television and Race
Race Televised: America’s Babysitter
At some point in the course of human events,
America decided that the television was their Dali Lama, their cultural
and spiritual leader. Overlooking its obvious entertainment based purpose,
Americans have let the television baby-sit and rear their children. I do
not recall a manifesto from the television industry, but society put television
in a role it does not have authority in. The only thing television set
out to do was provide the passive entertainment American society wants.
True, television does not accurately reflect race in America, but it is
not the job of the television industry to do so. Too much importance has
been put on television to provide guidance and information that American
society has grown too lazy and too indifferent to find for themselves.
When society finds that their information is wrong or tainted they blame
television instead of finding truth and accuracy for themselves. Although
television does not reflect race accurately, Americans have become too
dependent on television to provide everything they know.
In one of this generation’s most popular
TV shows, The Simpsons, it is easy to find stereotypes. There are numerous
examples throughout the series, mostly toward Apu, the Indian storekeeper.
For example, in episode 1F10, Homer and Apu, the writers do not overlook
a single Indian stereotype. First of all they have an Indian man as a convenience
storekeeper. The episode starts with Apu committing the usual convenience
store stereotypes. For example he sells a $0.29 stamp for $1.85, $2 worth
of gas for $4.20, etc. Next he changes the expiration dates on rancid ham
and sells them. When his customer gets sick from it, he offers a 5 pound
bucket of thawing shrimp. Later he picks up a hotdog that he dropped and
puts it back on the hotdog roller. A news team catches him on hidden camera
and Apu’s boss fires him. In this scene we find out Apu has a stereotypical
Indian surname, Nahasapeemapetilan. His boss also makes a joke about the
“Ah, true. But it’s also standard procedure
to blame any problems on a scapegoat or sacrificial lamb.” [Daniels]
The stereotypes continue redundantly. Jokes
about Indian films, food, and other things fill the script. Then there
is the grand finale, where Homer, the main character, and Apu go to India
to ask for Apu’s job back at the main office. The president and CEO very
closely resembles a Hindu leader, making Indian and convenience store clerk
Other minorities are also misrepresented
in The Simpsons. In the same episode, for example, Homer is watching an
African American comedian who stereotypically stereotypes “white” guys.
“Yo, check this out: black guys drive a
car like this. [Leans back, as though his elbow were on the windowsill]
Do, do, ch. Do-be-do, do-be-do-be-do. Yeah, but white guys, see they drive
a car like this. [Hunches forward, talks nasally] Dee-da-dee, a-dee-da-dee-da-dee.”
Reverend Jesse Jackson says that the media
depicts African Americans in “5 deadly ways: less intelligent…less hardworking…less
universal…less patriotic…and more violent than we are.” [Gibbons, 65]
Gibbons, documenting Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign and the media
coverage of it, also said:
“American journalism – excellent when it
reports the facts, but is literally incapable of informed opinion without
bias when dealing with matters concerning race.” 
Indians and African Americans are not alone.
All minorities are depicted inaccurately. Asian Americans, for example,
are represented “as perpetually foreign and never American.” They are depicted”as murderous and mysterious, as amorous or amoral… symbols of danger,
refuge, inspiration, and forgiveness.” “[Lipsitz]
Lipsitz finds this “degrading, insulting,
and implicated in the most vicious and pernicious form,” as he is expected
to. The problem is television ridicules everyone, and it is a source of
entertainment, not culture and politics, which is what seems to be expected
of TV by society. TV is even criticized for not taking sides in ideological
“Preferring instead to assert that an unlimited
potential for new achievement and wealth in America can overcome contradictions
or conflict.” [Baker 163]
The reason being that it is not TV’s job
to tell people what to believe. That is each individual’s responsibility
to develop themselves.
Television is entertainment and entertainment
is escapism. Television was originally created to provide an escape from
life’s trials and tribulations. America watched TV to slip into a world
better than their own; not to develop their stance on the current political
platform “du jour.” As society’s pace quickened, and TV’s popularity grew,
it became a member of the family. TV told the family everything that happened
that day. Soon American society forgot how to verify the information the
TV gave them, and became dependent on it for all news and entertainment.
It became natural to “turn on, and tune out,” as the saying goes. Fast-forward
many years, and society suddenly wants the TV to bring them the world they
have been to busy or lazy to see for themselves instead of the fantasy
world that it was designed to show.
The saying, “you can’t please everyone,
all the time,” applies to TV, too. I do not see activists changing TV anytime
soon. It is not possible. TV was designed for entertainment purposes. The
continuous restraints and censorship will just cost taxpayers more money
and do little good.
With the increasing popularity and simplicity
of the Internet, I hope, people will do more for themselves and not be
dependent on the TV to regurgitate biased information. The TV was designed
for entertainment, and the news is no exception. Limited time restrains
the facts and leaves the viewer in the dark. Hopefully the Internet will
open new doors for coming generations.
The only way to solve any problems and
conflicts is to accept the television medium as pure entertainment. Taking
it seriously is a futile effort, producing feeble results. If anything,
the TV should be a starting point. If something on it sparks an interest,
one needs to conduct further study to get the facts, and not rely solely
on the TV.
Whether it is The Simpsons or the news,
African or Asian Americans, the TV should be treated as entertainment,
or disregarded all together. This is the simplest and most logical solution.
There are much more important issues to be dealt with than TV. I hate seeing
so much time, effort, and intelligence wasted on it.
Baker, Aaron and Todd Boyd. Out of Bounds:
Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity. Bloomington, IN: Indiana U.
Gibbons, Arnold. Race, Politics & the
White Media: The Jesse Jackson Campaigns. Lanham, MD: U Press, 1993.
Homer and Apu. Writ. By Greg Daniels. The
Simpsons. Fox. 10 Feb 1994.
Lipsitz, George. Book Review: Monitored
Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation. By Darrell
Y. Hamamoto. Journal of Asian American Studies 1998: 104-107.