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What the Walking Dead and the Cosby Show Tell Us About the Perception of Black Men

11 Sep

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American popular culture relays the most prevalent shared belief systems of America’s many separate communities, and the most highly-rated network television gives clear insight into the preferences and varied intricacies of popular culture here in the U.S. To oversimplify a complex idea, the shows that people watch expose what they believe. Since television has entrenched itself in American culture, and the constant themes of heroism, morality, and simple humor give viewers strong emotional attachments to the characters in network series and visceral reactions to the content of those shows, the content of these shows allow a transparent understanding of the common sentiments of its audience, and thus the preferred programming of any community indicates some of the cultural statutes that exist in that population. The more critically acclaimed the shows are, the more common beliefs reside in the shows. People respond to the comedies that make them laugh, the dramas that make them cry, and the people who either challenge their morals or fortify their ideals of integrity, and almost anyone who owns a television set watched network series like The Cosby Show of the 1980s and are currently viewing today’s The Walking Dead. Though these shows approach their audiences from two starkly different viewpoints, their stories are both widely followed in the United States because of the attention paid to character development and story development. The Cosby Show pushed classic American ideals of family while teaching responsibility to its younger viewers and changing social stereotypes for its older audience. It was a wholesome program intended to responsibly represent familial life in an affluent Black home. In complete contrast to The Cosby ShowThe Walking Dead challenges ideas of morality in almost every episode. The show depicts the lives of a specific group of people trying to survive the zombie apocalypse and keep their humanity. Each character of each show is well-defined and nuanced, and each show deals with some component of the human condition. These television series are filmed from completely different styles with separate plots, varying storylines, and disparate moral standards, however, both of them do a great job at one feat whether intentional or completely by accident. Both shows excel at marginalizing the character and the roles of Black men in their narratives. To be clear, neither show focuses specifically on degrading the image of Black men, in fact The Cosby Show decidedly attempts to cast a favorable light on Black people as a whole. But, there are no strong, positive impersonations of Black men in either show, and that sheds light on the social expectations of the American viewer. Whether consciously or subconsciously, writers create the types of characters that they personally believe exist or the type of people that they believe their audience would accept as real. And, the fact that none of the Black men in either show display all the qualities that are desirable in a male lead speaks to what the American public thinks of Black men.

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If you owned a television in the eighties – and everyone did – then you watched The Cosby Show. The show was so funny, modest, well-written, and incredibly well-received by all audiences that parents of this generation showed their children the same re-runs that they watched in their youth (prior to the allegations of sexual assault against America’s dad). The Cosby Show became a standard of TV viewing in both White and Black households breaking color barriers in rating systems and ushering in a time where Black actors regularly carried primetime television shows. Critics praised this television series as the first network show that featured Black Americans in affluent roles in society and audiences loved the diverse cast of family members. Heathcliff Huxtable, the character that was popularized by Cosby, was a talented obstetrician/gynecologist who was married to a powerful attorney, Claire. The Huxtables raised their five adorable children in Brooklyn, New York, and ushered in a newfound respect for both Black people and the Black family dynamic. But, a big reason that people were so receptive to the show was because Cosby himself played the foil of the show instead of casting a strong, father figure. He was completely non-threatening, his opinions were regularly discounted by those closest to him, and he was often the butt of jokes involving his family, immediate and extended. In the minds of American writers and their viewers, the idea that this Black father could not lead his family was completely acceptable. This show worked because Cosby knew on some level that Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of the strong, Black man. To the average American, fiercely opinionated and physically imposing Black men are seen as militant and dangerous, and the media reinforces this stereotype with negative imagery of Black men and a definitive lack of positive Black role models. So, despite The Cosby Show being written, produced by, and starred in by a Black man, Bill Cosby was regularly outshined by his brilliant wife and playfully ridiculed by his children.

Without a deeper examination of the social consequence of their behavior, all the actions of the Cosby family seem completely innocuous. Each character fits into social norms for common family dynamics. The Cosby Show looks like a simple, funny show about a Black family. Bill Cosby played Heathcliff Huxtable, the silly and affable father. Sandra was the oldest child, and she had already left the nest to begin her own life. Their next born was Denise, a bohemian child, who defied convention in style and thought. Theo, their only son, was lazy and possibly the least intelligent of the Huxtable kids, and Vanessa may have been the smartest of the Huxtable children because she graduated a year early from high school. Rudy, the youngest child, is often the most poignant voice in the room. And finally, Claire is the matriarch of the family. This series is balanced with different personality types, different age groups, and multiple storylines in varying episodes that catered to each character, but every Black man on the show registers somewhere between passive yes-man and opinionated fool. The two omnipresent men in the show were Heathcliff, a father who received a fair amount disrespect and derision, and Theo, the poster boy for apathy and badinage. Theo was a consistent underachiever with no real desire to excel. He had a lackadaisical attitude about school until he was found to have a learning disorder in the later seasons. However, even after he became a good student in his college years, he displayed the same unconcerned attitude about life that fueled his apathetic scholastic career. All of the supporting characters in The Cosby Show who are Black males fit somewhere on the sad, aforementioned spectrum. Cockroach, Theo’s best friend, had an even poorer attitude about school, and horrible grades to match. Elvin, the husband of Sandra, constantly spouted ignorant, misogynistic statements to both his wife and mother-in-law, and was reminded regularly of his erroneous ideology by the strong women. Denise’s husband, Martin, rarely had any opinion other than the opinion of his wife. Heathcliff’s father Russell, is the only Black man who was never upstaged by the women of the show, but he helped deride Heathcliff, displacing more of the power dynamic from the main character of the show. The Cosby Show carelessly depredated the image of Black men by failing to show tangible examples of a substantial Black male presence in a series based on Black life. The Huxtables seem like a loving family who occasionally took lighthearted shots at the dad, however, when you observe the daily politics of their family, you realize that Bill Cosby was not respected in his home despite being both educated and successful. In his profession, he seemed competent, intuitive, and well-esteemed, but in his home life, Heathcilff Huxtable came off as clueless and irresponsible. Claire took care of the children, handled the finances in the home, and decided the direction in which the family would move. She disciplined the children and she managed her husband chastising and deriding him. And, though her character was brilliant, dynamic, and she operated with a certain regality, the fact that her successful husband is torn down by her constantly gives perspective into what is thought of Black men, maybe even what Black men think of themselves. The Cosby Show subtly suggests that Black men are not capable of leading their families regardless of how talented and successful they are in their professional lives. It casts Black men as smiling dullards who are submissive to their wives and take a backseat in raising their children. The men in The Cosby Show are present only to deliver punchlines or be the punchlines themselves, and the lack of strong Black male role models is detrimental to image of Black men everywhere.

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The Walking Dead series takes the same tone with the Black men in their storylines. Though this sitcom is completely different from The Cosby Show, and The Walking Dead is one of the most popular television shows of this generation, their treatment of Black men is a complete misrepresentation of Black males morally and ideologically. This show has accrued a cult-like following during its short time on the air, and has even spawned a spin-off series because of its success, but unfortunately, the same underlying message is hidden in the dialogue and in other modes of character development. The idea that Black men are either buffoons or cowards is repeated throughout the series using a cast of different characters. The Walking Dead series casts Black men as gross caricatures of real men of color, but still represent the American perception of Black males. When the essence of every Black male in the show is broken down, each person has some glaring deficiency of character.

Morgan, the first Black man to enter the storyline, seems like a wholesome, reasonable man during his first stint with the show. He is presented to the audience simply as a good father who is surviving the zombie apocalypse with his young son. Morgan actually saves Rick Grimes, the main character of the series, and explains to him how the dead have arisen while caring for his wounds. But, when Morgan is reintroduced to The Walking Dead seasons later, he has gone insane. Because he could not shoot his wife who had become a zombie, he had to watch as she killed his son. And, after that tragedy, Morgan began killing both the living and the undead indiscriminately. He became a monster paralleling the mindless killers that took his family. The first Black man that was introduced to the story showed weak resolve in a difficult and then became a menace within the devolving society. In and of itself, this specific situation is totally congruent with human nature. Any person of any race might struggle to keep their sanity when everyone they love has died. However, when you dissect Morgan’s character in comparison to the other Black men on the show, a pattern of weakness is evident. Morgan was not emotionally resilient enough to resolve the one problem that posed a threat to him and his son, so his son was killed. And then, Morgan was not able to keep his mental faculties once his son died. That pattern of unstable or ineffectual men continues with each additional Black male in the series. Theodore Douglas, the next Black male who was introduced to the storyline, represents the typical preconception of Black American men. He calls himself T-Dog instead of Theodore, he is thuggish, incompetent, and though he gives off a tough persona, he shows cowardice in the face of crucial situations. Next comes Gabriel, a minister who could have saved the people of his congregation from imminent death at the hand of the undead, but hid behind the reinforced doors of his church forsaking the vows of his religion instead of rescuing his constituents. Tyrese, the most physically imposing man on the show, could not keep his loved ones alive despite being bigger and stronger than everyone else. When his girlfriend is killed, Tyrese acts foolishly, violently, and irrationally until he finally loses his appetite for bloodshed. But, once he finally stops taking unacceptable risks and putting those who love him in immediate danger while trying to protect him, he is unable to defend himself against anything including zombies which makes him even more of a detriment to his group. The Walking Dead writers find the next Black character, Oscar, in a prison. He and a collection of career criminals have been imprisoned throughout the zombie apocalypse. And, Bob is an alcoholic who survives despite being weaker than everyone in his former groups. Both of these characters ultimately become prominent members of the group, but they were written into the storyline as morally flawed people, one a felon who was literally found in a prison and the other an addict. Heath, the latest Black man on The Walking Dead, has no obvious personality flaws. He is responsible, he gathers supplies for his community with a search team, and he is fully capable of protecting his group. He shows no obvious signs that he lacks strength, loyalty, or integrity. However, Heath physically looks very effeminate. The only Black man in six seasons of a series who is not inherently violent, fearful, or feebleminded looks like a woman. Heath has no facial hair, and long, braided hair tied in high ponytail above his head. Why would a man in the zombie apocalypse spend the assumed hours that it takes to maintain that hairstyle on his appearance? What man wears a ponytail in the same place that Ariana Grande wears hers? Would a hairstyle that could be grabbed by a zombie or snagged on anything at eye level be the best choice for a survivor? And, why is an effeminate man the only representation of a productive Black man in the series?

Lack of inclusion is the way that the media generally discounts the Black viewer and drives home stereotypes about Black men. The absence of Black people in television damages the perception of them in the societal purview because audiences are forced to lean on their own prejudiced assumptions about Black people. However, these series marginalize Black men in one of the most destructive manners possible, with subtlety. Asserting faulty examples of Black culture is much worse than ignoring the existence of Black culture. Television series like The Cosby Show and The Walking Dead never clearly state that they do not respect Black men nor do they exclude these men from their shows. Black men are in plain sight in these shows. But, instead of verbally degrading the men in their episodes which would actually expose real problems with stereotypes and bring about a rational discussion between viewers or ignoring their presence by excluding Black characters from the shows, these television shows build characters that either reinforce stereotypes or build characters that are so flawed that they can not be respected. And, the American public accepts these poor standards of Blackness.

Television series simultaneously display the proclivities, the personalities, and the ethics of their characters while disclosing our existing biases about those characters. In recognizing the emotions that are evoked from the lifestyles and choices of these fictional people, we, the audience find out more about our prejudices and the consequent expectations that we place on real people in society. Though The Cosby Show and The Walking Dead series were created solely for our entertainment as consumers, the treatment of the Black men in those series expose an ugly truth about the American apperception of Black men. The American public still believes that Black men are less intelligent, prone to violence, cowardly in the face of tough decisions, and therefore unworthy of respect. Black men are not the fools and cowards that they are regularly portrayed to be in television and movies. They are not inherently violent and mindless thugs. And, until more shows are more careful with their characterizations of Black men the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Black men will continue unwarranted and unchecked.

What If Tim Tebow Was Black?

30 Aug

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With the impending restart of Tebow’s football career as a quarterback in the National Football League, we at AnswersFromMen.com decided to run the this article again. From September 20, 2012, we give you what would happen if Tim Tebow were a Black man.

Very rarely is it a good idea to broach the subject of race in any public forum, but this question was posed by a few readers who regularly read the “Ask A Black Guy” columns. Rather than referring this one to one of our resident African American correspondents, AnswersFromMen.com decided to ask one of our Caucasian writers the same question. Somehow, he arrived at the same answer about Tim Tebow.

Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Tim Tebow. Though I do not like how often religion is thrown around a sports arena whenever Tebow is present, I definitely respect any man with the type of conviction that Timothy Richard Tebow has displayed regularly since his college days at Florida. And, the man is a winner. Yes, winning is a function of how talented and productive the rest of your team actually is, but in the waning moments of any game Tebow makes the necessary plays.

However, the question that was posed was, “What if Tim Tebow was Black?” or more to the point, “How would Tim Tebow’s career be different if he was Black?” I firmly believe that Tim Tebow would have a completely different career if he was a Black man. He has some major shortcomings as a NFL quarterback though he continues to get chances to play that position. Tim Tebow is not an NFL quarterback. He is too inaccurate. He is too unsettled in the pocket. He is too far along in his football maturation to change the parts of his game that can make him a good quarterback. The only reason that Tim Tebow is still being given a shot as a pocket passer in the league is because he is a very handsome, very Christian White man.

America by and large is a conservative, Christian nation. We believe in the God, we believe in hard work, we believe that everyone is special, and we believe that every man, woman, or child has the right to pursue his or her dreams. And, Tim Tebow is the embodiment of the American dream. He is chastened to his morals. He is a dilligent worker with immense talent. And, he is following his dream. Americans, especially most White Americans, see themselves in him. And, I see a little bit of him in me. Older men and women remember the purity of their career goals when they first began their adult lives. They see a man that they would want their daughters to marry, and a man that they would want their sons to emulate. Children see a role model who always tries to do the right thing regardless of how difficult it may seem, and a person who chases his dreams with wild abandon. Tebow’s peers know him as a tireless worker and a fierce competitor on the football field. He represents the ideals of the working class, the aspirations of the middle class, and carries himself like a superstar without the attitude and self-absorption. By all accounts from which people are measured, Tim Tebow is a great man.

However, Tim Tebow is not a great quarterback. Tim Tebow has a career pass completion percentage of 47.3% ,and no starter in NFL history has thrown for a completion percentage under 48% since the 1965 season. Only 5 players have ever passed the football at a lower completion rate than Tebow. JaMarcus Russell, a strong armed Black quarterback who could not get his receivers the ball in the league was out of the NFL after three seasons. Tebow’s race plays a large part in his public perception and his acceptance in the NFL. Michael Bishop, a prolific, strong-armed Black quarterback from Kansas State entered the NFL as an athlete because no one believed he could be a NFL QB. He was out of the league in a year. One of the better wideouts in NFL history, Hines Ward, was converted from quarterback once he left Georgia. Pat White of West Virginia completed 64.8% of his throws in college, passed for 56 TD’s, and ran for 47, but has been a gimmick player at best for his one year in the NFL. People compare Tim Tebow to Kordell Stewart (another Black quarterback) when they want to validate his position as a running quarterback, but there is no comparison. In his worst season as a pro, Kordell Stewart completed 50.2% and scored 7 touchdowns in 7 starts. In his best season, Tebow completed 46.5% of his passes with 12 touchdowns. Kordell Stewart has two seasons of 3,000+ passing yards, and in his best season he was an All-Pro,  completing 60.2% of his passes with 14 passing TD’s not including his rushing scores. Kordell Stewart, an All-Pro, spent his first few seasons playing running back because no one believed that he could be a NFL quarterback. Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers spent the early years of his career in the AFL because no one believed that a Black quarterback could lead a team. Moon went on to have a Hall of Fame career as a quarterback, and is one of the most prolific passers to ever play the game professionally. Though Tim Tebow is one of the most public figures in football over the last two years, he does not even compare favorably to an average quarterback in league much less a Hall of Fame guy. His pass completion percentage is the lowest since Akili Smith’s 44.2% for the Cincinnati Bengals in the year 2000.  Who is Akili Smith, you ask? Akili Smith is who Tim Tebow would be if he was black. Akili Smith is a quarterback that could not get his receivers the football, and was kicked out of the league in two years. He was woefully inadequate in the pocket and the Bengals removed him from the field despite taking him with their first pick. Unfortunately for Akili, he does not have Tebow’s skin color or personal convictions.

If Tim Tebow was not White, he would not be a backup quarterback in the NFL. He would be forced to play tight end or running back where he could utilize his skills and actually flourish. Tim is big and athletic. He is quick and decisive on his feet. But most of all, he is difficult to tackle. He has the talent to play in the National Football League, but he does not have the arm to do so. And, if Tim Tebow was Black, the rest of America would have realized that already.

Paintball Is Dumb

4 Apr

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There are two types of people that play paintball regularly. Paintball enthusiasts are either brain-dead morons that failed to serve in any form of military service or gun-toting, sado-masochistic idiots. And, the line between these two kinds of people is very slim. Paintball is the most pointless activity that a person could participate in voluntarily, and only morons play paintball on a consistent basis.

First of all, any activity that can only be held at a place that is a solid hour outside of city limits in a wooded area is questionable at best. Walking into a paintball site is like walking into a good old-fashioned lynching or a mob burial. You know something is wrong the moment you get there, but you do not figure out that you have been set up until you get hit in the back of the head. Every venue for paintball is in a sparsely populated, densely woodsy field. These paintball courses are full of guys that could not serve in the army or on a police force for numerous reasons including but not limited to, being too fat, being too flat-footed, being too stupid to qualify, or just being too psychotic to trust with a gun. The other portion of guys are yokels from the NRA that come decked in full camouflaged gear, including a ski mask, padded vest, padded pants and have silencers for their semi-automatic paintball guns. But, they are all better than you at paintball, and they all want to play against you together. You will show up in a bright red sweater, and be handed a pair of goggles and the paintball gun that is basically a slingshot with a few dozen paint balls. You will stand out like a confused deer with neon lights hanging from his antlers in the middle of hunting season, and leave the course looking like you are wearing a full body tye-dye t-shirt.

In theory, paintball is a exciting competition that can be shared by friends on a lazy Saturday evening. In actuality, paintball is a forum for losers to hit each other with missiles of plastic covered paint. If I wanted to pay to be hit with random objects because I enjoy the pain, then there are a few “special” clubs in the city for that, and I imagine that they are a lot more fun.

Paying someone for this to happen to you is not fun.

$800 Million in Lottery Prizes Get Lost

6 Mar

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On Wednesday night, one lucky person may have hit the lottery and won $550 million dollars in the Powerball drawing, but what is much more likely is that some lucky or unfortunate lottery players, depending on your viewpoint, will leave anywhere from $250,000 to $1,000,000 unclaimed. Every year the Lottery awards almost $40 billion dollars in prize money, and every year about $800 million dollars in lottery prizes is lost, because disparaged lottery players fail to realize that they qualify for secondary prizes even though they did not win the big prize.

According to Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, about 2% of the secondary prize winners (those who get the right numbers in the wrong sequence) will fail to claim their rightful winnings within the allotted grace period of six to twelve months in most states. That means that after each lottery, one to two people will leave up to one million dollars on the table because they did not check their ticket winnings. Illinois still has a $1 million prize that has not been claimed. Strutt says, “There are significant number of people buying tickets who don’t know there are secondary prizes. And when we get a big prize like $550 million, many people buy tickets who haven’t bought before.” Then there are players who have bought lottery tickets for years and have never known that there are other prizes.

“It’s important that everyone check their numbers, even if they know they didn’t win the jackpot,” says Strutt. Though there was a 77.1 million dollar jackpot prize that was not collected in Georgia, he says that most jackpot winners do collect their winnings. It is very rare that a jackpot is not picked up, however, each year there are dozens of winnings that are usurped by the government because they are unclaimed. So, always check your ticket and read the rules carefully. You may be a winner even if you lose the jackpot.