Universal Appeal: Television in Black and White

Hey Scholars!

I have been engaging in many conversations regarding blackness, images, narratives, and television. To be specific, the question that we have been seeking to answer is, why are white television shows considered to have universal appeal and black tv shows do not? To explain away why white tv shows are able to get away with not having any characters of color, except occasionally, if ever, is because these shows speak to the human experience regardless of color. I call bullshit on this. Universal appeal is a way to justify depicting lily white worlds, in other words, it is white supremacy in a nutshell. Real talk, think about it. 

The tv show Friends, about the lives and loves of six friends in a whitewashed illustration of New York City, is considered a show with universal appeal, or the notion that whiteness and the comfortableness of seeing white faces is an experience that speaks to all people, which is white supremacy. There was an attempt to bring in a black love interest for Monica in season five, but the character did not test well with the show's audience and he was killed off; translation, white folks were not trying to see a black man with one of their beloved white women. White supremacy places white womanhood on a pedestal and an image of an interracial relationship had no room in this space. 



                                          (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment)  

While Living Single, also a show set in New York City about six the lives and loves of six friends, is not considered to have universal appeal. Why? Seeing black (or any other colored) faces on screens is not a priority. Well, many argue that The Cosby Show has universal appeal. Does it? Many whites are only comfortable because the middle-class respectability of the Huxtables was comfortable for white people. While some black folks argue that this respectability did not speak to their experiences, making the Huxtables unrelatable. On the other hand, people argue that the experiences of the Huxtables were experiences that any family could relate to, regardless of color. I'm not sure how many poor and working-class families have children who get into fights at school over peers calling them "rich kids." I'm not sure how many poor and working-class families have parents who can sit at their kitchen tables and write out "four checks of college tuition." No matter, the show is considered to have cross-over appeal due to its depictions of good wholesome black folks. Living Single though, is not. Not these working-class blacks because it's just that, a black television show. 

                                                 (Photo Credit: HBO)

To bring the conversation into the 21st century, quirky shows narrating millennial experiences like Broad City, is another show that has universal appeal because if you have not learned yet, white folks, specifically white women living in New York City, is considered to be a universal human experience. However, Issa Rae's Insecure, about awkward black girls navigating this world, is not a universal reflection of womanhood. Furthermore, critics have drug this show saying that it preys on black women's insecurities. I have heard from non-black women that the show is a way to perpetuate the angry black women stereotype. Yet, the same women go to bat for Broad City claiming that women who are a hot ass mess is funny and being a maneater is hilarious. Ilana being with Lincoln, a black man is okay because they're not in a relationship, she is just using his goofy ass for sex, her satisfaction is the important this here. This is universally appealing, but black women who go through experiences all women go through at some point in their lives, is just seen as angry black women navigating waters they should not or may be cannot swim in (you know, black people and water).    

Bottom line, white people are just relatable and universally appealing as fuck!! Black people and other POC are not. If we were, there would not be backlash to Idris Elba possibly playing James Bond or Noma Dumezweni playing Hermione.

Just because the inspiration, the creator, and the lead actress in Scandal are all black women, does not mean this universally appealing show is black.  

Fuck universal appeal.  

I'll take "True blue and tight like glue" over "I'll be there for you" any day, every day, all day!!! 

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