“Black Lightning” Keeps It Real

“Black Lightning” is the CW network’s latest superhero offering, and it’s like nothing seen before on broadcast television. Unlike other CW shows based on characters from DC Comics, the show features a predominantly black cast, and it has a grittiness and a level of sheer, brutal violence that is normally seen on the streamed productions from DC’s primary rival, Marvel Entertainment. In surpassing Marvel’s efforts, it accurately reflects many cruel realities that I am very familiar with. Continue reading

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Time and Television (Part Two of Two)

Game show winnings.

Game show winnings.

Part Two: The Impact of Game Shows and the Modern Age

In part one of this essay we explored the impossibly pure imagery television initially presented to viewers, images that reflected the mores of a bygone America. We reviewed the impact on our culture presented by the popularization of color television and how seeing real conflict and tragedy in color shocked the sensibilities of our unprepared nation, and how that shock was expressed through several cutting edge (or “bleeding edge”) television shows beginning in the early 1970s. Finally, we explored how the landscape of television was affected by cable television, and how it continued to change to the point where it was showcasing the lack of restrictions imposed on it and the lack of self-restraint that was becoming prevalent in our nation throughout the 1990s.

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Time and Television (Part One of Two)

An image of pristine America.

Part One: The Sanitized Era and the Beginnings of Reality

Television was once the conveyor of virginal imagery, the bringer of the Norman Rockwell version of America as beamed to homes from coast-to-coast by the Gods of Television on a daily basis. During these days long past there was a security in television that’s all but extinct today. Censors and sponsors combined to make TV a sterile landscape devoid of most forms of offensive behavior, sexual innuendos, and expressions of thought contrary to the perceived norms of American society. The nation and its representation on TV were both far different than they are today, and what led both to change is a tale of a country enduring tragic moments and embracing cultural change.

TV’s distant past reflects the bygone days when “men were men and women were women,” when homosexuality was ignored, and when heterosexuality was limited to platonic hugs and closed-mouth kisses. War was a bloodless display of valor and manliness according to shows such as The Rat Patrol and Combat, while the American West was a place of brave, noble men who tamed fierce savages and felled outlaws with equally bloodless gunshots as evidenced by shows such as Bonanza and Gunsmoke. Women were seen as aspirants to domestic perfection, embodied by such fictional pre-Martha Stewart domestic divas as June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver and Margaret Anderson in Father Knows Best. As to displays or the mere mentioning of the sex act, it was avoided at all costs even if it meant depicting a boudoir as surreal as the one containing the separate beds of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, or as unseen as Ralph and Alice Kramden’s bedroom on The Honeymooners. Such is how it was prior to January 29th, 1968–the date of the Viet Cong’s bloody Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War–as television was, to that date, used as the great sanitizer of American life. Afterwards, it was a whole new ballgame.

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The Neighborhood: A Memoir

Dear Reader: Before you read further, I must warn you that some parts of the following entry are quite graphic and could disturb sensitive readers. Reader discretion is advised.
Dancing with my mom at my wedding.

Dancing with my mom at my wedding.

Nestled within the southeastern portion of New York City’s Queens County is the section in which I live, a place of tree-lined streets and wood-frame houses that has been the home of my family since 1958. Geographically, my neighborhood lies southeast of the transportation hub that is Jamaica, northeast of the land of two-family homes that is Springfield Gardens, and pretty much due north of bustling Kennedy Airport.

My earliest recollections about the neighborhood start from around 1967 when I was five years old. I remember that the area was still somewhat integrated at that time, with a few white faces starkly visible in the landscape of dark-skinned people. None of the blacks with whom my parents associated referred to the white people by name, opting instead to refer to them by nicknames. Among those so nicknamed was “Legless Charlie,” a double-amputee diabetic; “Doc,” meaning Doctor Schwartz, a kind, elderly physician who both lived and worked in a large house just a few blocks from my own; the “Crazy Lady,” a scrawny witch with salt-and-pepper-hair who would stand in front of her house in a nightgown and scream about “You damn [N-word]s!” at the top of her lungs for hours on end until her throat turned raw, even as her sheepish husband hid from view; and the “Scaredy Cats,” a family of terrified whites who were absolutely petrified at the thought of living in an increasingly dark-complexioned neighborhood.The area began as a haven for white suburbanites in the mid-1920s, changed to become a community of middle- to upper-income whites, hepcats, athletes, and soul musicians from the 1940s through the 1950s, and by the time I came around, it was a racially mixed, middle-income neighborhood. But as more financially secure blacks came, more and more racially insecure whites fled the area in an exodus of pink.

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