I write this topic for a multitude of reasons. It’s excessively difficult to ignore the decline or the myth, rather, of “The American Dream”. Some of which is blames on skepticism among the younger generations, alt-lifestyles, an eroding economy, or greed among the masses who govern how everyone else lives their lives. These things cater to the older generations’ contempt, jealousy or disrespect of Gen-Yers, failed institutions (marriage, long-term careers, job stability and Calvinism), intentional crapping on old assumptions and downright despair.
In the black community, there’s an unprecedented type of desperation for blacks to maintain respectability and flawed perfectionism, to display a specific image of benignity in developed societies. Most of us know this, thanks to black celebrities, commentators and institutionalized slaves debasing themselves or their poorer, younger or rebellious counterparts to remain “safe”, or “on-point” in the eyes of affluent whites. While this has been going on for centuries and is nothing new, a certain segment of young persons voluntarily reject this idiocy. They realize that not only is it better to go with the flow, but appearing “respectable” doesn’t guarantee immunity. They also understand that servile obedience to any systems they didn’t create is a certain form of degradation.
Starting in the 1970s, many African-American tv shows cranked out which depicted black families as moral, upright, polished or having a sense of hairsplitting infallibility. This epidemic has either improved or worsened (depending on your worldview) as the 1980s came about (thanks to The Cosby Show and A Different World), which has an ulterior motive of changing white perception of black family and career life. Today, I’m here to discuss the depressing dystopia of a certain regime which certain blacks either still live by, wish to return to, or mindlessly embrace. A regime well depicted in a television show, called Good Times (1974-1979).
A fictitious account of black ghetto family life lasting for six seasons, Good Times has it’s problems. These somewhat visible problems are only pragmatically understood once we look beneath the surface, particularly those who have been there and done that. I’ll provide four specific summaries identifying these problems and how, in this case, art is imitating life:
1] James Evans, an honest, yet easily cantankerous father (played by John Amos from seasons 1-3) has difficulties keeping a cool head, holding down jobs, yet wielding one in order to provide for his overweight wife and three kids – two of which are near-adults. The father is nothing more than a beast of burden, a tool and an authoritative figure, who dearly loves his wife and children dearly. However, he has persistent difficulty in providing for them – thanks to him either bouncing from job to job and rejecting golden opportunities via underhanded means, which is partially the fault of his wife, Florida Evans (played by Esther Rolle). The wife is a restrained spiritual fanatic who’s hardcore devotion to a “god delusion” causes her to ignore the world her children and husband are living in. It also cost James many opportunities to move his family from a low-grade apartment building in the ghetto slums of Chicago, Illinois.
2] Florida’s belief in an invisible deity eventually put James in an early grave (at the start of season 4, John Amos was “fired” from the show’s casting in real-life, because he wanted to pursue his acting career and for his dislike of the buffoonery depicted by Jimmie Walker’s character, J.J.; the older son of the Evans family). Even then, matriarchal Florida could never drop her devotion to morale and doing things “the right way”. In the end, it also caused her children to bloom very late in life. Whether it was marriage, morality, bible quotes or law-abiding rhetoric, Florida Evans unconsciously catered to the demise of her husband. The episodes of rare opportunities to create “a better tomorrow” for the family were ignored or frowned upon (whether it was shooting pool, running numbers, keeping “lost” money aside, or the adult children choosing to shack up with potential mates).
3] The examples I’ve mentioned above unfortunately mirrors the reality in many black urban and middle-class households, especially those ran by a dictating matriarch. I’ve written in other previous topics about how the concept of “good vs. evil” screws us, especially when evil tyrants and governments dictate and influence how people live in most countries (these people are richer than any man). Then there’s the gritty realism of how women are the biggest adopters of fairy tales and other Disney myths – which also includes Christianity, which is the most female-oriented religion, created by historic evil tyrants to influence people to handicap their way through life. I know for most people, reality is unpleasant and for them, a “release” is needed as a form of escapism. But only a fool can’t differentiate rain and feces, then accept feces being sold as rain to prevent from upsetting the apple cart. Then don’t be surprised when that fool and those “under” them are stuck in a bitter rut… while life goes on for everyone else.
4] In the midst of certain blacks portraying Good Times as the wholesome black family, they fail to see past the “unity” to understand every individual had dysfunctions, like all families or individuals. For example: What did James Evans teach his children, other than being broke, having a short fuse or being a possible success object? This is a vital lesson, regardless if it’s in a nostalgic sense or today’s world. Why don’t people think of the high costs of family formation or possible breakdown for reasons beyond our control? Why do people have children when the odds are against them, thanks to institutionalized racism, sexism, or recessions? Are people that desperate for love, or ensuring survival of the species? And guess what? James Evans couldn’t take any of it with him upon death. This caused the family to struggle even harder, under Florida Evans’ matriarchal rule. Then there’s J.J. Evans – the older son who is a complete buffoon, regardless of his womanizing and artistic antics (a depiction which caused John Amos’ departure after S3). We expect Thelma Evans (the family daughter) to be completely stupid when it comes to the concept of love and romance (though today’s women are immensely lackadaisical about love), but even that is facilitated by societally and spiritually imposed depictions of what “love” should be. Michael Evans – the younger of the three children – never really grew up and always remains a “little boy” in the eyes of his siblings, his mother and the audience. Therefore, his presence has light relevance, like the nosy neighbors and the obese maintenance man, named “Bookman”.
The message is very clear and remains true in the black community – with the exception of the rise of alt-lifestyles and twisted gender roles, if we can call it that. Regardless if it’s under a patriarchal or matriarchal matrix – especially a matriarchal one – the message is one in the same. This is a weak, futile attempt to paint a picture of “a perfect world” and brainwash the masses that it’s something everyone should aspire for. Because as they say “marriage is the building block for civilizations” (when in reality, it’s a social conditioning created by slave drivers and governments to keep stupid people “in their place”). However, in matriarchal communities, the women are taught to be “strong and independent”, while sons are taught to be “chivalrous, sexless tricks” and other assorted emasculated side-show freaks.
This is the case, even in shows like Empire. But unlike Empire, Power and The Wire, most black tv shows centered around family units are equally flawed and unrealistic, as it’s depicted in a sense to change white perspective about black life. Because for centuries, whites believed something along the lines of “They’re animals anyway, let them lose their souls.” So things get sugar coated to create distorted imagery of being “passable”, “respectable” or “elite” in the eyes of white societies, or in the eyes of irrelevant deities. But as Miles Davis once said, if whites knew what really goes on in the minds and homes of black people, it would scare the shit out of them. Due to that, “respectable”, “achieving” or “white collar” blacks portray themselves as actors, or circus animals. Whereas the younger generations could care less and have no interest in appeasing people who they know are irrelevant to them or who could care less about them, dead or alive. Traditional and “respectable” blacks, like the elders, are stuck on stupid and feel there should be a return to this mundane, soul-crushing lifestyle.
Am I the only one who has a huge problem with a show depicting immense black struggles being titled as Good Times?