Tag Archives: television

Smart Television Also Knows Sex is Important

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‘Thanks for the numbers Josh but are you getting it in at all man?”

You’re going to get sick of my “West Wing’ revelations, but watching some of the very last episodes of the last season when hot ass Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) takes office, it becomes obvious suddenly that some of our favorite characters are not having nearly enough sex. And more than that, that they should be.

Just before they call the vote count that makes Santos as the winner, he gets so stressed out that his wife tells him he should sleep. Of course he says he can’t. She takes him up their bedroom and makes sure he rests. We never see sex on West Wing really but we know when it happens because it hardly ever does. “The West Wing” is about people so maniacally dedicated to serving in the White House that they barley notice they have no life at all outside of it. It’s one of the major issues I’ve always had with the show. I need fun and sexuality in life as well as in art. But this is just a testament to how good I think “The West Wing” is. I have never watched entire seasons of any other show repeatedly that had so little demonstration of physical and emotional affection….ever.

In the last season Josh Lyman, Santos’ campaign manager and new Chief of Staff becomes so tightly wound up and stressed out that Santos asks his aid, Donna if she knows whether or not Josh is getting any at all. It’s pretty obvious that Santos has a good work, life, sex balance and you just know it will continue even after he becomes the leader of the free world. Even President Bartlett whom he will succeed has more sex than anyone else on the show.

Josh is all work all the time and though he dates and has relationships on an off, nothing ever lasts. His life is not about lasting relationships. And he is the character I love most until the last season when he stubbornly refuses to power down, take a break, let Donna love him, and let himself love. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand most people who don’t know how to be happy. It’s not a judgement but a fact. It’s hard for me to relate but I know there are many of us who find it difficult to be happy or to think of happiness as something that can last or that there are people for whom happiness is a soul purpose. I’m not going to pretend I’m an eternal optimist. But I could never live for work. I could never live without the promise of love and happiness. And I think sex is an incredibly important part of our health, emotionally, spiritually and otherwise. I think it’s wonderful when people are passionate about their work, when they love what they do for a living. I have never had the experience except for when I create so perhaps if I did I might have a different opinion. But here’s what i do know.

A kiss can save a life.

And good sex can save many lives.

Stay tuned for my next entry about being raised in a naked house like Rainbow Johnson played by Tracee Elis Ross on”Black-ish” Thank you Rainbow for validating my childhood experience. LOL!

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Letting Mary Jane be Mary Jane

MJ

Most Tuesday nights I slip into the bedroom with a glass of wine or grape juice and watch “Being Mary Jane.” I don’t update my Facebook status and I rarely tweet about it. I just sit back and watch.

I’ve had this conversation several times with soulsistah4real, that I sometimes find Mary Jane hard to take. I wish that she was happier and that the show was less depressing. She tells me that while she sees where I’m coming from, she still appreciates the show because it depicts a reality she understands.  I’ve let that sink in for a while and continue to watch the show because I realize that just because it’s not a reality I understand, that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly relevant. In addition to that I always try to be critical of where the standards I measure television shows come from, particularly shows featuring women of color. So I ask myself questions like:

-Why do I need Mary Jane to be happy?

-Where does my definition of happiness for female characters on television and particularly women of color on television come from?

-I happen to claim “dark” and challenging dramas and films in general among my favorites and they are usually dominated by white actors and actresses. Why do I need one of the few hit dramas on a Black television network to be more of a delightful romp?

-What is my definition of happiness anyway? (That’s a subject for a whole other blog entry)

Through my study of film in undergrad, and research I did for term papers on early Black film, it became obvious to me that because of the pervasive monopoly White America has long held over film and television studios, the visual and verbal dialogue of racial prejudice and stereotypes have become the things which Black filmmakers have either dedicated themselves to reacting to and disproving or swallowing the lies and profiting from.  As people of color begin to create more films and television programming that address our own interpersonal, social issues and struggles,  the reality that is unearthed is often tied inextricably to the daily and long term effects racism has on multiple parts of our lives in ways that predominantly white dramas do not.

“Sex in the City” the hit HBO series about the relationship challenges of white women in their 30’s and 40’s employs a large percentage of fantasy and artifice while selectively addressing issues of gender equality, sexual politics and oh, maybe there was like one episode where Samantha dates a black guy and we’re reminded that racial politics exist in this white world of fashion, sex, shopping and female bonding. Oh yeah, there are Black people in New York City ladies. Interesting. Now let’s get back to Manolos and Mr. Big.

In Mary Jane, a show about a highly accomplished Black reporter who takes care of her family, faces numerous relationship challenges, desperately wants to be a mother, and like all of us makes bad decisions that have worse consequences (like real life) why do I struggle with wanting there to be more “lightness.”

The last few episodes of Mary Jane find her making some tough and ballsy decisions for herself despite the ways in which they may be received by men who think she’s crazy, friends who think she’s gone off the deep end, family who find her exacting, snobby and know-it-all and employees who probably think she’s a bossy Black bitch with some nerve because she wants full control her own show which would cover Black issues only.

Mary Jane doesn’t have gay accessory friends like SATC’s “Stanford” who disappear with no explanation after a few seasons. She has one good friend and co-worker who is gay and going through the heartbreaking experience of seeing a relationship end because he was unable to be open about who he was to anyone but Mary Jane.  She has brothers, one of whom gets racially profiled by cops just for sitting in a parked car near a school. She has an overweight and unemployed niece with children who refuses to let her Auntie meddle in her life and yet relies on her for financial and moral support

Why should I expect these things to happen to Mary Jane and then end with her buying bags of shoes and then meeting “the girls” for cosmos.

This is not that show.

This is “Being Mary Jane.”

And I have to say, I really look forward to it, because I don’t always get what I think I want but I always get something that makes me question what I think I know about what it means to be a Black woman in America.

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Reading the Code

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The new buttermilk

When I was taking film classes at Baruch towards my degree in Media and Social Issues,  I was very conscious (often self-conscious) as a woman of color that I could not look at the history of film and television in the same way as say, a white male film student.  I also felt compelled to be as vigilant with my own classmates of color about the myriad ways in which great popular films and television meant to tell a broad story of humanity often doesn’t serve us, even when we are “included.”

Remember that scene in the Matrix when Neo walks in on Cypher while he’s keeping watch on the ship and asks him about looking at the code in its unencrypted form? Joey says something to the effect that like anyone else, he used to look at it and see what most human viewers would see, green lines running vertically up and down a black computer screen. “But now I just see blonde, brunette, redhead…” In essence, after being trained, he knows what the code represents. He knows that the code is written to replicate the illusion of reality which is accepted as the only reality that exists for all the humans who are still plugged in. And as we learn later, he’s already made a deal with agents to have himself plugged back in.

Sit with that for a moment.

It’s not necessary to have a background in film and or media to understand the underwritten code that runs like a current through just about every form of media we consume. And as a person of color and a woman of color no less, my fascination with film and television is based not only from what I have gleaned from an early age from being “plugged in” but even more from what I have discovered and still uncover constantly from the study of intersections of race class and gender politics in film and the ways in which studios, networks, and writers collaborate and clash to produce narratives and pieces of propaganda that feed our minds subliminally and overtly with ideas that have been implemented from the dawn of the age of film, formulas, gender construction, codified mise en scene. We’ve come very far with the transformation and reinterpretation of some ancient narrative devices. And I  am not necessarily an enemy of what’s old, because in art as in life, there are some things that always work. The wheel only got invented once and that’s all that was needed.  The ideas that are derived from foundational discoveries are endless.

However.

There are the foundational ideas in film and television and there are the politics of racism, sexism, homophobia and power embedded in the censored approach to storytelling that has become the mainstay of American Cinema and television.

So for instance when I’m lying in bed watching the trailers app on my iphone which is something I do religiously, and I see the trailer for a film like “Interstellar” which is sold as this modern day space frontier film with the power of love at its core, I also see what is just beneath that, White space cowboy hero, token black guy, token female fly off into space to repopulate another planet because the Earth is dying.

When I watch the trailer for “Black or White” (aw jeezus) which is being sold as a color blind commentary on a cross racial family divide with of course, love (because it conquers all) at its core, I see White, not “Black or White.” And I see Costner as a yet another tool, a representation of rugged white American male ideal with a little Black girl on his lap.

Hey!

I love Costner. He’s the spoonful of sugar that’s supposed to make the Kool Aid go down without you realizing it’s just more acid. But I’ve been on that trip before. I don’t need to spend my money on that.

Last night I watched the first episode of “Empire,” a show that I had been anticipating only with the energy of someone excited to see people of color on a television show in such large numbers. But best believe my critical mind took in the code of predominantly light skinned black who make up the majority of the cast and what they means about what networks will accept as representations of people of color on television that can occupy spaces of power. That was kind of a hard one for me to miss. Did you watch it? Did you notice who comes begging for money? Did you notice who gets killed first? Do you remember who asks the oldest son not to forget him on his way up the ladder of success?

The sets are bombastic, hyperbolic and over the top. Did you catch the two large ass Kehinde Wiley paintings? Loved them!

“Empire” is a stallion that busts out of the gate charging forward with seemingly reckless abandon. Yes, I just wrote a promotional blurb for “Empire.” But beyond that, I see some of the same destructive elements of broken black family culture that have been the running theme of many successful reality television shows which revolve around so-called “Black life.” Taraji as the ruthless bitch who stops at nothing to win back her stake on a company she bankrolled, Terence as the ever resplendent male Mulatto who builds and Empire but is destined for tragedy. And the darker skinned bit players who scrabble for scraps near the bottom rung while brushing off the shadows of subordination by their lighter, more privileged superiors.

At least that’s the formula and code I’ve become accustomed to seeing. I’ll watch it few more times and see if it heads in a “surprisingly unexpected” direction because that’s what I long for. And let me be clear about what I mean when I say surprisingly different. I want a dark skinned Black hero, preferably a woman with a decidedly mysterious but grandiose and royally descended past, to pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, unite everyone divided by power and commerce to fight the real enemy.

Okay wait, did I just write a pitch for my own original television show idea?

Hm…