As it inevitably does, the discussion of race on television again comes down to a question of: how do you like your racism? Do you like it swept under the rug like so many cellophane juice-box straw wrappers (pretty much every sitcom from the 80′s-present, most notably Friends)? Or do you prefer your bigotry out in the open, on your sleeve, without a net, or some other applicable metaphor (All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Curb Your Enthusiasm)? Or do you Obama-size it, and just assume racism has been eradicated because we have a black president? The truth is, none of these options is a very good one. Think about it, why would you sweep something awesome under the rug? What gets swept under rugs: dead hookers, and old US magazines? No one’s sweeping nachos or birthday checks for $25 from your grandmother under the rug. The point is, putting it under the rug doesn’t make anything less shitty… and yes, I just implied, with pinpoint accuracy I might add, that racism blows relative to the awesomeness of nachos. But the other alternative isn’t much better, if at all. Having your racism “out in the open” suggests that you’ve had it chained to a pipe in your crawl space for most of its adult life, until one day it gnawed through its shackles and ran out into the neighborhood, naked and howling “I hate Jews and blacks” until someone either punched or shot it. It’s against your will and the act of voicing that intolerance in no way makes you more tolerant. “On your sleeve” associates racism with random filth of questionable origin, and “without a net” makes you think that it’s so risky to have an opinion about race, if and when you do, you will plummet to your death… at a circus.
So, what am I trying to say? I have no idea. Racism’s ass? Was it more effective or enlightening or progressive to see Archie Bunker and George Jefferson scream epithets back and forth at each other, or to watch Larry David slur himself into a corner and try to talk his way out through discourse? Or does our hyper-awareness of race (possibly as a result of these shows, among other things) and our need to maintain politically correct stasis sufficiently thwart this kind of hatred and negativity? My bottom line is: TV is a normalizing agent. It has an almost unparalleled ability (next to Britney) to dictate and manipulate social consciousness. So, if that’s true, and we’re talking about the shows listed above and hundreds of others like them, it would seem that a lot more good came out of watching Good Times than Full House. There used to be something at stake, and the Norman Lear shows of the 70′s didn’t shy away from that. They embraced that and catapulted shit that mattered into the public discourse. It was once or twice a week, prime time therapy for a culture in tumult. Well our culture is about to shit its pants right now, and there’s nothing worse than sweeping shit under the rug.