Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Pussified: Why All (Yes. All.) Of Our Shows Suck Ass

"That was a funny joke. Too bad it's too funny for our show."

Last weekend, I attended Blogalicious — an annual conference celebrating diversity in women involved with social media — a great opportunity to meet old and new friends, make countless contacts, and inhale obscene amounts of free liquor. (How much free liquor? Let’s just say that you know you’ve probably had a bit too much when you wake up the next morning and see that you didn’t even close the door to your hotel room) 

It took place at the Gaylord National right outside of D.C. — a hotel so big that I once got lost four different times in the same night, prompting a clerk who I’d hit up for directions three times to take a look at my VSB t-shirt and joke “If you’re the smart brotha I’d hate to meet the dummy.

Anyway, I was invited there to speak on a panel. Titled “Setting Your Own Stage: Creating An Outlet for Your Voice,” Helena Andrews and I spoke to the audience for approximately 90 minutes — 50 minutes answering questions from the moderator (the lovely Liz Burr) and 40 taking questions from the audience — about how to create a niche for yourself in this vast and perpetually expanding new media universe.

Most of the questions were relevant but somewhat predictable — i.e. “How do you continue to come up with ideas?” and “How would you advise a new blogger attempting to follow your footsteps?” — but one in particular stuck with me for the entire weekend:

(Paraphrasing) “How do you sift through the muck to find quality content?”

I responded by saying that regardless of what’s surrounding it, talent and quality content will eventually stand out. It’s our job as consumers to support it when we actually do find it.

The panel ended soon after that, but throughout the rest of the day I was approached by people who wanted to continue that part of the conversation, extending it past the new media world and into television and film. The overarching theme: Why does everything we do on screen nowadays pretty much suck ass?

The usual black media boogeymen (Tyler Perry, the mainstream media, etc) were oft cited as the main culprits, and a few potential saviors who need our support (Issa Rae of “Awkward Black Girl” fame, Helena Andrews — who has a movie based on her book in production, etc) were named as well, but I didn’t find a convincing answer until watching an episode of “Louie” on Hulu yesterday night.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Louie C.K., so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m also a huge fan of his critically acclaimed show. But, watching it has become a bittersweet experience. I appreciate everything about it —  its humor, its awkwardness, its pacing, its fearlessness (more on this in a sec) — but it’s disheartening to realize that I may never see a “black” show that’s anything like it.

It’s not that I don’t believe that we have any comedians/artists as talented and creative as Louie C.K., but the fearlessness that makes the show is mainly due to a freedom to be fearless that we (black audiences) just don’t grant black artists, and this is why most of our “good” shows and movies are tepid and sterile to the point of lifelessness.

Basically, our art sucks because too many of us are just too gotdamn f*cking sensitive.

Seriously, a show like “Louie” might have lasted two episodes if it were made by a black comedian. It either would have been forced off the air by all of the petitions, blogs, tweets, and impassioned YouTube pleas attacking it for every “ism” and “phobia” imaginable, or it would have been forced to become a pussified version of itself, turning it from fearless and iconoclastic to “Reed Between The F*cking Lines.

“The Chappelle Show” was able to touch on many of those “untouchable” themes, but I think the sketch comedy format made certain things ok in a way they wouldn’t be in a series. It also became popular before social media became truly ubiquitous, and I wonder if an artist as perceptive and sensitive about his craft as Chappelle was would have allowed the countless blogs that undoubtedly would have derided his humor as offensive, racist, and sexist to affect his work.

Now, I understand why we’re pussies. Decades of having to defend ourselves, our images, and our culture has installed a certain vigilance in us that makes us hyper-sensitive to any screen depictions that don’t portray us in a certain way. But, while that same activism may not stunt our creativity, it does restrict our willingness to allow others to be creative.

It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have this epiphany while at Blogalicious. Not sure how well calling black audiences a bunch of pussies would go over in a room full of women, and I probably would have just started railing on Tyler Perry again. As I’ve learned, whenever in front of a potentially hostile audience full of intellectuals, just make fun of Madea.

Damn, I guess this makes me a pussy too.

—The Champ

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't.

  • http://twitter.com/wavecapwillis Wave Cap Willis

    1) The first episode of “The Married Bachelor,” a romantic comedy web series I’m producing, is up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAFsX_N9uyI

    Enjoy!

    2) Yes, Black audiences are too sensitive! But that’s due to a history of Black characters being racist caricatures of real people.

  • http://mrweethomas.wordpress.com Mr. Wee Thomas

    Yeah, the concept of supporting good talent just doesn’t resonate very well with us. . .

  • Mo-VSS

    Dave Chappelle’s show was awesome because it was fearless. Most of the shows now are just blah…and that’s on ALL front. TV is wack nowdays. Unless a show is on FX or premium channels like HBO and Showtime, it’s pretty much safe to say that it’s gonna suck.

  • ashely

    im in the top of the comments!!! im bout to go back and READ the article and contribute all educated like… btw im watching RBTL right now! so i can speak on it! =]

  • http://panamaenrique.wordpress.com Malik

    Champ continues to show that he is awesome for liking Louis CK.

    I share very similar views with all of this. I think in order for one of use to create something in television format near the quality of Louie we’re going to have to expand what exactly our shows are based on. I mean how many majority Black shows written/produced by us expand beyond family life or trying to ‘find a man’? Even within those broad based templates, it usually is always in the vein of some (very narrow) haphazard comedy with light drama elements. The Boondocks and Black Dynamite are the only two exceptions that come to mind.

    We have far more interests than what is commonly showcased.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ronbronson RB

    Nothing really to add other than amen. I can’t say how many times I search through my Netflix hoping for this hidden treasure trove of obscure awesomeness that I managed to somehow to miss out on. So it goes…but like most things, I suppose the culture catches up to the needs of folks. Music did it, so I suppose movies and TV will someday follow?

    One can hope…

  • http://www.bellesandgentssociety.com Myssdee

    We can have black shows if our people stop over-analyze every thing they see on TV

    My goodness…

  • http://panamaenrique.wordpress.com Malik

    I’m surprised there isn’t a Black show about music considering American music IS Black music.

  • http://edotreed.blogspot.com E. Reed

    Only fearless show that we have recently have is The Boondocks, but then again it is on cable TV. Everything else has been pretty sterile. Personally, I blame the Cosby Show. It has become the template of what a Black series is supposed to be. Prior to Cosby our shows pushed the edge.

    Irony is “our shows” were produced and written by old white men. Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son. All controversial but not created, nor controlled by us.

    We’ve had edgy shows that challenged the Cosby prototype, but they were dismissed with the quicks. South Central and Roc were gone quickly.

    Everything else has been your typical family sit-com or the now overdone searching for romance theme that ALLof Black media, whether it be film, TV, or lit seems stuck in.

  • 90sgagirl

    It’s nice to see a depiction of a positive black family on tv, that we can speak proper English and have nice jobs, but somethings missing with “Reed Between the Lines”.
    I keep seeing “Joan” and “Theo” randomly placed on a show… I know they can’t please everyone, and every show is Not for everyone..I gave the show a chance though (saw two episodes) but it lacks the funny or realness factor that “My wife and Kids” and “Bernie Mac” show…hopefully the show grows on me…I don’t know if it’s the network that the show is on or what….anywhoo
    The internet has provided a great platform for VSBs and VSSs webseries. I love Awkward Black Girl and Dormtainment I literally LOL..and if they ever went on tv I think the shows would lose their flava.

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