Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Revolution Televised

In Revolution Televised: Prime Time and the Struggle for Black Power (2004), Christine Acham argues that, in the 1970s, African American actors and comedians brought cultural revolution to the mainstream in primetime via network TV. Even before reading through her interesting takes on Soul Train, The Flip Wilson Show, Sanford and Son, Good Times and The Richard Pryor Show, I already agreed with her. For one thing, I watched all of these shows (she gives more examples, like Julia, which I didn't see as a kid) and felt not only entertained by them, but also changed in some way.

Gil Scott Heron's awesome "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1970) raps mordantly -- and exhuberantly -- about an actual non-commericalized revolution in the streets, but, as Acham argues, commercialized venues like TV brought racial/cultural revolution to a much wider audience. She points out how insurgent players like Red Foxx, even under contraints of G-rated TV, managed to drive home a number of things about the contemporary USA that we all needed to hear -- and still need to hear.

Another thing Acham points out is how vapid mainstream TV became regarding race (and class) after the 1970s. It took HBO to restore some balance, to find that edge again. She quotes Chris Rock, perhaps the strongest inheritor of the 1970s TV "upheaval:"

People think the difference between HBO and regular TV is that on regular TV you can't curse. No. You can't *think* on regular TV. It is against the law to have an original idea. That's not like HBO. (Revolution Televised, p. 175, emphasis added).

Luckily, filmmakers like Craig Brewer are also working in the same direction as HBO.

Today's Rune: Harvest.


Charles Gramlich said...

Have you seen the movie "Ideocracy?" It's well worth seeing for some social commentary on these kinds of things.

Danny Tagalog said...

Hi Erik,

Cheers for the Gil Scott Heron clip - that's where Public Enemy got that line from them?

It's interesting thinking of non-commericalized vs. commercialized revolutions in the streets isn't it? How much change emerges from real grass-roots movement, vs - that coerced from higher organs?

Thank you so much for getting me into Cohen! I can't believe I've missed out on him for so long.

Anonymous said...

Your posts amaze me Erik. Well written and researched. Keep up the good work. MW

Johnny Yen said...

I did watch the Julia show. It was interesting-- they tackled a lot of things. If I recall correctly, her husband had been killed in Vietnam-- the first mention I remember of the war on television. It was the first prime time show with a black female lead. The first male one, I'm sure the book mentioned, was Bill Cosby, in I Spy.

The book sounds fascinating-- I'll look for it.

The Revolution Won't Be... is an incredible song. It's one of those songs I remember the first time I heard it-- it just grabbed me by the throat.

Gil Scott Heron is sad these days-- he's a heroin addict, in total denial. He's in prison in New York.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I grew up having to watch "Sanford & Son" with my dad. We always got a kick out of Sanford's antics, and it never had anything to do with race. Also, my dad used to play Charlie Pride records over and over. Hey, good country music is good country music, regardless of where it came from.