I just don't like stereotyping in most sitcoms

Published 11:27 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
Amos 'n Andy was a popular radio show before television became popular in this country. The radio characters were all black, but were portrayed by white actors. When the show was adapted to early television, the characters were the same, but were portrayed by black actors. I watched this show as a child in the 1950's, like millions of other Amos 'n Andy fans, and I thought it was funny, unique and authentic and on a par with other great early television shows like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy or The Life of Riley. Though the show featured an all black cast, it made no mention or reference to race at all, but was a situation comedy about a group of working Americans who just happened to be black.
Some years ago, the NAACP made protest over the Amos 'n Andy show, asserting that it stereotyped and degraded African Americans, and the television networks promptly removed all reruns from their programming schedules. Consequently, I have not seen this wonderfully funny show on any television channel in many years. What I have seen instead, are many television sitcoms featuring African American actors portraying people of color in the worst sort of stereotyped behavior. Big screen movies have followed the same trend, often portraying blacks as sex-crazed, super-cool, violent drug dealers and addicts.
Actor Bill Cosby has often spoken out against this sort of programming and has always sought to offer portrayals of blacks as mainstream working Americans. Watching a Cosby show, one hardly thinks about color. The characters could just as easily be white, for the plots and dialogue do not rely upon impressionable stereotyping for laughs. I do not understand why the NAACP and other civil rights leaders have not vociferously protested this trend, for Amos 'n Andy pales in comparison to most of them. Such farcical entertainment has done more to promote the derogatory stereotyping of blacks than any other single influence today.
It is not just black people which television denigrates and stereotypes either. Men in general are often portrayed as slovenly, irresponsible and weak fathers and husbands. One of my favorite sitcoms is Everybody Loves Raymond. Raymond, as we all know, portrays a husband and father who is pretty much a little boy in a grownup suit. Consequently, his wife, Debra, feels compelled to treat poor Raymond like a child, if not a total idiot. This is a very funny show and the plots are usually authentic and hilarious, but I doubt Raymond and Debra's marriage would last until the kids graduate from high school in real life, for good marriages are always built upon mutual respect and mutual admiration, and not the sort of constant witty sarcasm and criticism seen in so many television families today. The husbands and fathers in many of television's most popular sitcoms are depicted as inept buffoons with dominating, smart-aleck wives. Though these shows are often genuinely funny on television, young married couples who attempt to emulate them are not likely find so much humor in their real-life daily interactions, nor are they likely to build the foundation of love and respect that is so necessary to any enduring marriage. Jim and Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best) and Ward and June Cleaver (Leave It To Beaver) may have been equally unrealistic as family role models, but at least theirs was a higher standard worthy of emulation.
The humor to be taken from situation comedies usually derives from real-life situations which viewers can recognize and identify with. The fact that we recognize these behaviorisms and situations is the very thing that makes us laugh at them.
Lloyd Albritton's column appears in The Atmore Advance and The Fairhope Courier. He can be contacted at LloydAlbritton@aol.com or at (850)384-6676.

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