TV shows have always been considered an escape from reality. That might have been the motivation for why F.R.I.E.N.D.S did not talk about 9/11 or the repercussions of the event afterwards even though the show was based in New York during that time. Because that was all people were hearing through the news channels, and it wasn’t something people wanted to see on their shows. For these shows were a tool used so you can curl up with a bowl of popcorn and forget what is really going on outside of your home. But I can’t do that anymore. And neither should you nor should Hollywood perpetuate this idea that ignorance is bliss cause it’s not. We need Hollywood to stop pretending everything is normal, we need shows to be like Black-ish, shows that talk about current events and the reality that it brings rather than quietly bypass it.
Black-ish is a sitcom oriented around a black family and their lives. Bringing up issues such as black stereotypes to what it is like to be the token person of color in a predominantly white community, Black-ish is no stranger to being political.
They were not shy when they dedicated a powerful scene on what it was like for a black family when it involved a case of police brutality. The fears for their children, the reactions to the case when the police officer got acquitted and then then the victim was blamed, and finally, what it was like for this to be happening during an Obama administration. How it felt like watching Obama, and hoping for a better world and realizing that the world hasn’t really changed. That this was an administration running on the platform of hope and yet black boys were getting shot down by the men that were suppose to protect them.That this, where racism was still loud and true, was the world that they were living in and that this was reality.
However, Lemons, was an entire episode dedicated to the reactions after the 2016 elections, and what a Trump win meant to the characters within the show. There were moments that brought a smile to my face, like when Bow, became a super activist to a Beyonce Lemonade reference. But the highlight of the entire episode was when Dre gave a speech on how he loved America even when America didn’t always love him back.
It was a speech that carried the message of what it felt like throughout the election for a black man, for how his reaction may not be as big as the others around the conference table but it was validated through the history of pain that the black community had to go through. That yes, he would have wanted Hillary, but that didn’t mean change and hope for his people, that yes, he was terrified of Trump, but this was just another disappointment on the long list that America had handed to him.
It is a speech that made me cry and I had to stop watching to compose myself because it was powerful. It stirred empathy and compassion because when you hear this speech, when you hear this perspective, you cannot ignore it without coming out feeling the hurt that Anthony Anderson conveyed through his acting.
But when I turned it back on to finish the episode, I didn’t expect the soft ending that it gave, soft not in the sense that it was weak, but soft in the way that it was like my father telling me that this wasn’t the end, no matter how much it seems like it. That this was a chance for us to realize what it was like to feel voiceless and that we now should work together instead of being divided. This is what it looks like to be political in television and it is a powerful medium in which to convey a message that the world needs to hear.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations said back in 2003 that:
“ Television can be a tremendous force for good. It can educate great numbers of people about the world around them. It can show us how much we have in common with our neighbours, near and far. And, it can shed light on the dark corners, where ignorance and hatred fester. The television industry is also in a unique position to promote mutual understanding and tolerance -– with content that tells the stories not just about the powerful, but about the powerless, and not just about life in the world’s richest pockets, but also in the developing countries that are home to the majority of the world’s population. “
So we need television to not shy away from topics that may be too political and we should not get angry at show writers when they do. Saying that this was not their place, that this was a sitcom and there was no room for it to be this real or political. Movies are not the only place to get political. Documentaries are not the only place to get political. Television is an incredibly large medium that reaches so many people and yet it is the one that unless you watch the news, can’t get political. You should not have to search for a political driven movie, like the Hidden Figures, to become educated or even just watch Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show to understand current events.
Shows, like The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, should become political because it will stir compassion, because it will bring up a voice, whether it be liberal or conservative, to be heard. It is a conversation that society needs and Hollywood has a responsiblity to document it and and talk about it. A conversation can only be productive when you understand what the other side is saying, and if we are only getting a polarized view that is antagonistic towards the other side, the divide within this country will not close.
Even within the Lemon episode there was a white woman who voted for Trump and she explained why she did even though she voted for Obama twice before. It did not have to deal with race or gender issues, it had to deal with her own personal life and how her father was still unemployed. It was a human reaction that while, yes, she did not like Trump, she at least thought she knew what she was getting. You may not always agree with the character’s reasoning, but you hear the point of view. It is a start of a conversation, and not the end. Television has the power to open up the dialogue in every day conversations. When people bring up the show they watched last night, it might spark the conversation that this country needs to have rather than say that’s too political.
Sitcoms, television, and Hollywood, now have a responsiblity to open up that conversation, it is no longer a choice that writers can avoid especially in this political climate. And to be frank, it is long overdue. There needs to be a blunt honesty of where the world is at, because if television is supposed to still tell human stories, it needs to have the conversation on where it is in reacting with the outside world. Television can no longer be the same blissful ignorance that it once was, it has a platform that should be used for issues that should not be ignored. Stop saying a show can’t be political because we desperately need it to be political.