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Race Televised: America’s Babysitter

At some point in the course of human events,

America decided that the television was their Dali Lama, their cultural

and spiritual leader. Overlooking its obvious entertainment based purpose,

Americans have let the television baby-sit and rear their children. I do

not recall a manifesto from the television industry, but society put television

in a role it does not have authority in. The only thing television set

out to do was provide the passive entertainment American society wants.

True, television does not accurately reflect race in America, but it is

not the job of the television industry to do so. Too much importance has

been put on television to provide guidance and information that American

society has grown too lazy and too indifferent to find for themselves.

When society finds that their information is wrong or tainted they blame

television instead of finding truth and accuracy for themselves. Although

television does not reflect race accurately, Americans have become too

dependent on television to provide everything they know.

In one of this generation’s most popular

TV shows, The Simpsons, it is easy to find stereotypes. There are numerous

examples throughout the series, mostly toward Apu, the Indian storekeeper.

For example, in episode 1F10, Homer and Apu, the writers do not overlook

a single Indian stereotype. First of all they have an Indian man as a convenience

storekeeper. The episode starts with Apu committing the usual convenience

store stereotypes. For example he sells a $0.29 stamp for $1.85, $2 worth

of gas for $4.20, etc. Next he changes the expiration dates on rancid ham

and sells them. When his customer gets sick from it, he offers a 5 pound

bucket of thawing shrimp. Later he picks up a hotdog that he dropped and

puts it back on the hotdog roller. A news team catches him on hidden camera

and Apu’s boss fires him. In this scene we find out Apu has a stereotypical

Indian surname, Nahasapeemapetilan. His boss also makes a joke about the

Hindu religion.

“Ah, true. But it’s also standard procedure

to blame any problems on a scapegoat or sacrificial lamb.” [Daniels]

The stereotypes continue redundantly. Jokes

about Indian films, food, and other things fill the script. Then there

is the grand finale, where Homer, the main character, and Apu go to India

to ask for Apu’s job back at the main office. The president and CEO very

closely resembles a Hindu leader, making Indian and convenience store clerk

appear synonymous.

Other minorities are also misrepresented

in The Simpsons. In the same episode, for example, Homer is watching an

African American comedian who stereotypically stereotypes “white” guys.

“Yo, check this out: black guys drive a

car like this. [Leans back, as though his elbow were on the windowsill]

Do, do, ch. Do-be-do, do-be-do-be-do. Yeah, but white guys, see they drive

a car like this. [Hunches forward, talks nasally] Dee-da-dee, a-dee-da-dee-da-dee.”


Reverend Jesse Jackson says that the media

depicts African Americans in “5 deadly ways: less intelligent…less hardworking…less

universal…less patriotic…and more violent than we are.” [Gibbons, 65]

Gibbons, documenting Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign and the media

coverage of it, also said:

“American journalism – excellent when it

reports the facts, but is literally incapable of informed opinion without

bias when dealing with matters concerning race.” [80]

Indians and African Americans are not alone.

All minorities are depicted inaccurately. Asian Americans, for example,

are represented “as perpetually foreign and never American.” They are depicted

“as murderous and mysterious, as amorous or amoral… symbols of danger,

refuge, inspiration, and forgiveness.” “[Lipsitz]

Lipsitz finds this “degrading, insulting,

and implicated in the most vicious and pernicious form,” as he is expected

to. The problem is television ridicules everyone, and it is a source of

entertainment, not culture and politics, which is what seems to be expected

of TV by society. TV is even criticized for not taking sides in ideological


“Preferring instead to assert that an unlimited

potential for new achievement and wealth in America can overcome contradictions

or conflict.” [Baker 163]

The reason being that it is not TV’s job

to tell people what to believe. That is each individual’s responsibility

to develop themselves.

Television is entertainment and entertainment

is escapism. Television was originally created to provide an escape from

life’s trials and tribulations. America watched TV to slip into a world

better than their own; not to develop their stance on the current political

platform “du jour.” As society’s pace quickened, and TV’s popularity grew,

it became a member of the family. TV told the family everything that happened

that day. Soon American society forgot how to verify the information the

TV gave them, and became dependent on it for all news and entertainment.

It became natural to “turn on, and tune out,” as the saying goes. Fast-forward

many years, and society suddenly wants the TV to bring them the world they

have been to busy or lazy to see for themselves instead of the fantasy

world that it was designed to show.

The saying, “you can’t please everyone,

all the time,” applies to TV, too. I do not see activists changing TV anytime

soon. It is not possible. TV was designed for entertainment purposes. The

continuous restraints and censorship will just cost taxpayers more money

and do little good.

With the increasing popularity and simplicity

of the Internet, I hope, people will do more for themselves and not be

dependent on the TV to regurgitate biased information. The TV was designed

for entertainment, and the news is no exception. Limited time restrains

the facts and leaves the viewer in the dark. Hopefully the Internet will

open new doors for coming generations.

The only way to solve any problems and

conflicts is to accept the television medium as pure entertainment. Taking

it seriously is a futile effort, producing feeble results. If anything,

the TV should be a starting point. If something on it sparks an interest,

one needs to conduct further study to get the facts, and not rely solely

on the TV.

Whether it is The Simpsons or the news,

African or Asian Americans, the TV should be treated as entertainment,

or disregarded all together. This is the simplest and most logical solution.

There are much more important issues to be dealt with than TV. I hate seeing

so much time, effort, and intelligence wasted on it.

Works Cited

Baker, Aaron and Todd Boyd. Out of Bounds:

Sports, Media, and the Politics of Identity. Bloomington, IN: Indiana U.

Press, 1997.

Gibbons, Arnold. Race, Politics & the

White Media: The Jesse Jackson Campaigns. Lanham, MD: U Press, 1993.

Homer and Apu. Writ. By Greg Daniels. The

Simpsons. Fox. 10 Feb 1994.

Lipsitz, George. Book Review: Monitored

Peril: Asian Americans and the Politics of TV Representation. By Darrell

Y. Hamamoto. Journal of Asian American Studies 1998: 104-107.

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