Saturday, April 19, 2014

No Blacks on Silicon Valley TV Shows ... Yet

Last updated: Saturday 4/19/14 @ 11:08 pm
Way back in the 1970s, as the TV show M.A.S.H. started to win an unprecedented number of Emmys and other awards for its excellent episodes, I stopped watching the show. Why? Because one of the main characters in the movie that had preceded the series was a black surgeon called "Spearchucker" Jones; but his character was  deleted from the TV show after the first few episodes. (I didn't find out until years later that "Spearchucker" was also a main character in the book on which the movie and series were based.) So I stopped watching the show and have never watched a single rerun.

Diverse Images in Movies and TV
Back Then
My logic back then ==> You don't see me, so I don't see you. I stopped seeing Woodie Allen movies in the 80s for the same reason. Based on my viewing of its first two seasons, I regarded M.A.S.H. as one of the best TV series ever; so I am sure that it deserved all of those later Emmys and other awards. And I am also sure that most of Mr. Allen's later movies that I didn't see were as brilliant as his earlier films that I did see. But as an ex-New Yorker, I was flabbergasted that anyone could make so many good movies in and about New York City that involved so few black characters. My count when I stopped seeing his films was zero. You don't see me, with all of your high intelligence and artistic skills, so I don't see you.

Of course I didn't apply these high standards to 98 percent of the schlock that splattered across my television screen because I realized that doing so meant that I could only watch one or two hours of TV each week ... at most. However, knowing that most TV is garbage kept my mental guards up, like when commercials appear on TV or on the sides of the pages of search results from Google. But excellent material that carries racist messages is dangerous because excellence is powerful and overpowering. Indeed, that's how we know it's excellent.

The good news is that my application of high standards to excellent material led me to become one of Bill Cosby's biggest fans in the 1980s when he produced his shows about a black family (The Cosby Show) and a black college (A Different World) Why? Because I could finally see myself, week after week after week.

Diverse Images Today and Tomorrow
This brings me to the absence of black characters in two new shows about start-up operations in Silicon Valley. I have only watched the first two episodes of Silicon Valley (HBO) and Betas (Amazon Prime) ... but I saw no major black characters and could barely glimpse any minor black characters or non-speaking black extras in either show. So why am I concerned? I am concerned because when I stopped watching M.A.S.H., I was in my twenties.  I was an adult. My mind was fully formed. I had become highly resistant to blaring commercials and mediocre programs. So watching a few hours of "un-black" shows every week had little or no effect on my professional aspirations. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the black youngsters who will watch these two shows. Whereas my initial reaction is to shrug that the shows merely display the way things are today;  my second reaction is deep concern that black youngsters may perceive these shows as displaying the way things will always be, or worse still, the way things are supposed to be ... because they don't see themselves.

Personal note: I can still recall the rush that I felt back in 1968 when I watched the Star Trek episode that featured Dr. Daystrom, the most eminent computer scientist of the twenty-third century who invented the computer systems used on all the star ships in the Federation's fleet. Dr. Daystrom was black!!!

Being a to-the-bone-Libra, I'm a congenital optimist. That's why I'm sure that the next ten years will witness an explosion of highly successful Internet-based start-ups, some and/or all of whose founders will be black. Ten years from now, reruns of the current no-black shows will be regarded as quaint relics of bygone times. Therefore I hope that the producers of these shows and others that are sure to follow will get ahead of the curve by adding black founders to their start-ups as soon as possible. On the one hand, presenting more diverse teams on shows developed this year will increase the appeal of their reruns ten years from now ... And showing more diverse teams this year will enable talented black youngsters to see themselves in these contexts ... which will inspire their aspirations ... which will accelerate the diversification that will be taken for granted ten years from now ... if not sooner ... :-)

P.S. These shows also "accurately" portray the founding teams as having no women, no Latinos, no Native Americans, and no gays. These omissions provide more opportunities for the producers to enhance the appeal of their reruns ten years from now. Including these other groups in this year's shows will  accelerate the inevitable diversification of the Valley that will include them within the next ten years ... if not sooner ... :-)

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