As 45 further makes a laughing stock of the United States, we as citizens seek some sort of comfort elsewhere. I can honestly say I have not consistently watched news segments since 45 has been in office. Everytime I turn on my television I am reminded of how fucked we are and it turns my stomach. I had to turn to any other channel or fire up my Netflix.
Television has always served as an escape mechanism and mirror for our reality. From shows such as All in the Family to Modern Family, TV programs have had no problem addressing the societal issues of various time periods.
Peaking in the 1980s, shows like Different Strokes began tackling issues such as eating disorders, drugs, sexual abuse, and crime. TV programs would have “Very Special Episodes” that addressed these issues and ways to deal with them. Since the shows were family friendly, there would often be a disclaimer at the begining of the particular episode advising viewers of the serious subject matter. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, shows such as Saved By the Bell and 90210 continued to feature “Very Special Episodes” during their series runs.
These episodes often reflected particular time periods in American history and culture, such as the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the Gulf War, Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign, the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots, the Gay Marriage movement, and more recently the deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police.
In the last few years television programs have not shied away from tackling real issues. Even normally comedic shows like Family Guy had an episode regarding domestic abuse. When television shows decide to do an episode or story arc related to real life issues, some viewers may see it as Emmy bait or bad timing, but when done right, the show’s subject matter can start much needed conversations in real life.
Black-ish’s 2016 episode “Hope” which dealt with a police brutality case similar to that of Mike Brown, and their post election episode “Lemons” were two episodes that I felt did well regarding fictional universes discussing real life issues. In both episodes, viewers see how Bow and Dre as parents have to find a way to explain to their kids what is happening in the country. The episodes feature stunning monologues by Dre regarding how the events make him feel as a Black man and father in America. From “Hope”
“Oh, so you wanna talk about hope, ‘Bow? Obama ran on hope. Remember when he got elected? And we felt like maybe, just maybe, we got out of that bad place and made it to a good place. That the whole country was really ready to turn the corner. You remember that amazing feeling we had during the inauguration? I was sitting right next to you. We were so proud. And we saw him, get out of that limo, and walk alongside of it, and wave to that crowd. Tell me you weren’t terrified when you saw that. Tell me you weren’t worried that someone was gonna snatch that hope away from us like they always do. That is the real world, ‘Bow. And our children need to know that that’s the world they live in.”
And from “Lemons”
“You don’t think I care about this country? I love this country even though, at times, it doesn’t love me back. For my whole life, my parents, my grandparents, me, for most Black people, this system has never worked for us.
But we still play ball, tried to do our best to live by the rules even though we knew they would never work out in our favor. Had to live in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t drive through. Send our kids to schools with books so beat up, you couldn’t read ’em. Work jobs that you wouldn’t consider in your nightmares.
Black people wake up every day believing that our lives are gonna change, even though everything around us says it’s not. Truth be told, you ask most Black people and they tell you that no matter who won this election, they didn’t expect the hood to get better. But they still voted because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains.
I love this country as much, if not more, than you do, and don’t you ever forget that.”
Scandal also dealt with police brutality in their season 4 episode, “Lawn Chair.” In the mist of Fitz’s presidency, the shooting of a young Black boy by a DC cop garners Olivia and his attention. Recovering from a harrowing ordeal, Olivia goes to the scene to find the boy’s father sitting near his dead son’s body while a protest begins to form. In trying to decipher this case, Olivia must grapple with her own identity as a Black woman and her duty to “handle” the sensitive crisis. The episode’s storyline was closer to reality compared to previous episodes in the series, and served its purpose of continuing the dialogue regarding police shootings of unarmed Black people.
Comedies have been known for the laughs they garner and slapstick, sometimes offensive jokes, but they can get serious too. The Netflix animated series, Bojack Horseman is a sort of spoof on sitcoms of the family friendly variety. The titular character Bojack Horseman is a washed up sitcom star who is trying to make his big comeback. He spends much of his time in and out of a relationship with his agent Princess Carolynn and doing copious amounts of drugs and alcohol with his famous friends. Through three seasons the show has tackled depression, abortion, substance abuse, sexuality, and death. In a season three episode, a beloved character dies and Bojack is forced to really look at his life and the influence his actions have on others. The show forces one to look at their own self destructive actions while also providing a space to speak on fame and its effect on one’s mental health. The deaths of Heath Ledger and Robin Williams come to mind. When fame and money don’t bring happiness, what is a person to do? How are they to feel?
Another Netflix hit, Orange Is The New Black began as a comedy based off the memoir by Piper Kerman that saw a well to do White female enter the federal prison system, and has since turned into a drama tackling mental health, sexuality, prisoner rights, rape, and police brutality. The show, which will premiere its fifth season on June 9, has garnered critical acclaim for presenting the characters and storylines in a realistic light. Begining the conversation on the private prison complex and its effect on inmates.
Television is the mirror to our reality and as our reality becomes more crazed, we will look toward TV to help us make sense of it all.