5 Things “The Have And Have Nots” Has In Common With “Scandal”

…elitists’ dislike of Popular culture came from their dislike of the common man. They attacked their taste and cultural preferences since they no longer could openly express their disdain for the masses directly. One may feel that “the people is a great beast” but one cannot say so anymore. There was also a lingering resentment on the part of many European and some American intellectuals who felt they were not accorded the prestige and status they merited in our egalitarian, bourgeois society…

 

Popular culture and elite culture are not that different, except, perhaps, at the furthest extremes of the arts spectrum: professional wrestling at one end and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake on the other. If Hamlet is broadcast on network television, does this represent popular culture (since millions presumably see it) or elite culture, since it is a classic work of art? Postmodernist critics have taken the position that popular culture does not differ significantly from elite culture and in recent years, the development of what is now called cultural criticism has enabled critics to deal with all genres, forms, levels, and kinds of art.

 

Popular culture is just what it says it is–culture (the operative term) that has wide appeal and is enjoyed by large numbers of people…
–Arthur Asa Berger, “Myth Of Mass Culture”

Although, I have my qualms with both Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, I have noticed a few things in common with both of their shows. I have also noticed the pattern that some of Shonda’s fans have expressed by demeaning Perry’s show as “low brow”. I do not think any subscriber of “Scandal” really has any room to demean Perry’s show. And with that in mind, I have decided to present:

Five things that Tyler Perry’s “Have And Have Nots” Has In Common With Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal”:

1. Both are doing extraordinary ratings numbers for their respective stations

“The Haves And The Have Nots” as of July 31, 2013 generated 1.87 million total viewers. According to the same source,”The episode also was OWN’s second-most-watched telecast among women 25-54, behind the show’s May premiere.”

Further, “Following a series high for the July 30 episode, the one-hour series cracked the 2 million total viewers mark for its most recent broadcast. Thus far this season, The Haves and the Have Nots is averaging 1.7 million viewers and a 1.5 rating among women 25-54 during its Tuesday 9 p.m. period.” According to Madame Noire,”show pulled in a record high 2.6 million viewers on Tuesday for its fall finale, and because of that, it became the #1 episode in the series history”. Thus,the show debuts at 1.77 million viewers for the first season, and ends the season with 2.6 million viewers of the season finale.

Also,“Citing numbers from The Nielsen Company, the series has grown for eight consecutive weeks in the key female demo, propelling the finale episode to score its highest rating of the season with a 2.21 among women 25-54, delivering a 40% growth among women 25-54 and 44% growth in total viewers versus the season average (1.58 W25-54, 1.8 million total viewers).”

“Scandal” had a 6.7 million viewership for the season two opener, and a 10.5 million viewers tuned in to watch its third season opener. For comparison and standardizing factors, NBC’s Monday Night Football–the highest ranked television product for the week of Sept. 22, 2013 by Nielsen— had 20,493,000 viewers. Also, “The season three premiere of Scandal garnered a series-high 3.6 adults 18-49 rating, up 13 percent from a 3.2 for the season two finale.”

2. Both are prime time dramas

There is somewhat of an argument brewing on the labeling of both shows. While “The Haves” is billed primarily as a “soap opera” it is also billed as a “drama series”. The same with “Scandal”. The degree of political intrigue, and possibly its Washington, DC setting, also have given it reason to be labeled a “political drama” in the same genre as “24”.

Regardless of the labeling, I am more concerned with the dramatic emotional appeal that both shows obviously drive in a prime time slot. Prime time slots are gold to the television market, and that both shows have been able to create dedicated audiences in that time allotment speaks to their attraction. That these shows also are both heavily driven by themes of intrigue, class, and elitism in that particular time slot is reason for the media analyst and media communicator to study the impact and ascertain the formula of success.

3. Both are the story of Elite Whites And Socially Mobile Blacks

As stated in the last paragraph, both shows deal with themes of White elitism. “The Haves” is the story of three families: The Cryers’, The Harringtons’, and The Youngs’.

The Cryers’ are the established White family headed by the politically conscious Savannah criminal courts judge, Jim Cryer and his wife, Katheryn, an heiress and housewife. The Harringtons’ are a socially mobile Black family, headed by Veronica and David. The Youngs’ are the “Have Nots” of the series, with Candance Young having an extramarital affair with the patriarch and judge, Jim Cryer.

In the same vein, “Scandal” is the story of Olivia Pope’s crisis management firm, Pope & Associates. The clientele is upscale and elite in the same manner as “The Have and Have Nots” storyline. Olivia Pope is an Ivy League educated Black Woman her father, Rowan Pope, being the head of the CIA division of B613.

Both shows have appealed to its audience’s apparent desire for “Huxtablism”, which I am just going to refer to the writer that I borrowed it from and define it as the Black African American Bourgeois experience as represented in Black African American media. While there has been an online petition to have Tyler’s stage play turned television series removed from the OWN network, I only see production differences and a need for elite negroes to feel better than other US Blacks. Given any extra budget expenses allotted for production than these two productions would not have much separating them. The themes in the writing of both are based on Black exploration of upper echelons of White patriarchal capitalist space. The themes in the writing of both are based on Black exploration of capitalist control of government power. The themes in the writing of both are based on the ideas of the tragic mulatto, the overwhelmed Black woman of lower class stock enraptured by the White man of means.

Whatever the differences in how these themes are exhibited on the screen, they are basically the same themes.

4. Both have Black Women characters in interracial affairs with White patriarchs

Since I am doing pretty good with the segues as of late, as mentioned in the last paragraph, both shows deal with an interracial coupling of a White man and Black Woman. What is interesting from the perspective of US Black African American media analysis is that both story lines not only involve Black Women with White men, but the type of White men. In “Scandal”, Olivia Pope is having an affair with Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III–also called “Fitz”, the President of the United States of America and former GOP Governor of California. In “The Have and Have Nots”, Candace Young is engaged in an extramarital affair with the judge of Savannah’s Criminal Courts, James “Jim” Cryer.

Both show’s patriarchs are married to wives that are responding to their husband’s indiscretions similarly. Both wives are portrayed as knowing about their husbands’ cheating, as well as them being scripted to smile and “play the game” in public.

5. Both have White Women characters married to powerful White men who have Black mistresses.

(Am I not killing it with the segues?)

“The Have and The Have Nots” shows Katheryn Cryer as the White wife of Jim Cryer who is accepting her position as married to a White patriarch who is cheating on her as part of the game. “Scandal” shows Melody “Mellie” Grant, the First Lady of the United States Of America, as accepting her position as married to a White patriarch who is cheating on her as part of the game. Both women are stylized as being “cold and calculated”. Both are scripted to be accepting their husband’s two-timing due to their own political motivations.

I think it is important as a US Black African American media analyst to recognize not just the characterization of the Black women as mistresses, but also the White Women as manipulative and in some ways cold. Both shows use a very painful historical triangle of power as a fairly dominant theme, namely, the White Wife, The White Master, and The Black Woman as sexual toy. For whatever reason both shows just happen to use this theme, the usage by both shows, as well as the story line in “The Bold & The Beautiful” mentioned in linked article, make this theme one of the most predominant theme in shows involving US Black images.

Why ‘Scandal’ Is Obama’s ‘24’

People take critiques of their favorite media presentations personally.

I suppose that is a good enough short version of the idea that extends itself from the notions of why media trust and critical empathy are necessary. However, it definitely does not make the job of writing about people’s internalized preoccupation with a particular media presentation any easier! What I have noticed is that some people have a tendency to form– and more importantly announce passionately– opinions about fictional characters than actual personalities that appear in the media that might deserve more critical resources. It is at that point that I make strong effort to remind myself what is something that deserves my empathy, and what is something that is pulling on my heart strings.

It does not do well for me to pretend I am showing loyalty to a media production without self-critique.

It does not sit well for me to self-critique and then lie to myself about my continued engagement with the media production through whatever justifications my academic training or reading has provided to me.

The Boondocks is my favorite satirical cartoon of all-time. Even with that being said, I have written at length about certain problems I have with particular episodes(here, and oh, yeah, here). I can enjoy a Black African American media production without turning off my filter(I did not spend all these decades developing that filter just to turn it off when most useful). I can support Black African American media productions without turning off my filter(I did not spend all these decades developing that filter just to turn it off when most useful). Joe Budden is still one of my favorite rap acts. That favoritism does not negotiate any space for compromise when it comes to me critiquing the racial politics of the Slaughter House album, nor my thoughts on his sexual political behavior outside of the studio.

Alright, disclaimer over.

I watched the first episode of season three of Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal”. Now, I have been following this show produced for ABC since season one, and my empathy for certain characters has oscillated much like the stomach of one riding a very fast and twisting roller coaster. This is not to say that the ride I imagine would not be exhilarating, just one that causes mixed feelings. Much of the initial emotional appeal that I brought with my initial viewing stemmed from knowing that Shonda Rhimes, the show’s creator and executive producer, was a Black African American Woman. The euphoria from that detail waned about as fast as the euphoria of having a not totally White president in the White House.

For those who do not watch the show, the speed of the show and its plot twist put you in the mind of Fox Networks’ ’24’. In fact, if I were so blessed to have a space to speak without losing much(Oh look, my very own Asylum!!!), I would write that ‘Scandal’ is to the Obama administration what ’24’ was to the Bush administration. As with ’24’, ‘Scandal’ is billed as a political thriller drama, with a plot line, like ’24’, of Olivia Carolyn Pope(Kerry Washington) having to protect Washington, DC elites, including the president, at all cost. The office politics between the core staff surrounding Olivia Pope–her own crisis management firm, Olivia Pope and Associates– is much similar to the staff surrounding Jack Bauer, the US based Counter Terrorist Unit. The differences tend to be nuanced with the exception of sexual politics, and yet, the nuanced differences including the sexual politics is what make the two shows that more similar.

That is to say, where ’24’ is an exposé, a fictional exercise in the justifications for extreme military oversight in domestic and foreign affairs, ‘Scandal’ is a fictional exercise in the justification for extreme military and media manipulation in domestic governmental presentations. Where ’24’ took very lenient measures with the racial identities of the terrorists and US combatants, ‘Scandal’ presents romantic imagery between two men and an interracial coupling. Where ’24’ feels to be designed for the White Male conservative audience during the Bush era after the events of September 11, 2001, ‘Scandal’ feels to be designed for the Black professional or academic Woman with “progressive” leanings during the Obama era.

Now, I do not want to do a full fledged content analysis here. We do not have the space or the time, but I will revisit that process in a book in the near future(for those who have not been blessed with my prior content analysis of Black American media, please check out my book, “The Green DJHTY”). My purpose here is much more in the context of a designer or media communicator studying the techniques used in a financially successful and popular work. As most students of design and propaganda will explain, the heart of great emotionally appealing work is story.

At the point of critical empathy, as well as media trust, is this story of a socially acceptable definition of the standard of high success in the body of a US Black African American Woman. And this storyline compels, in part, because, okay, she is a US Black African American Woman with a very adorable upbringing class-wise in a position of power. In the same way that ’24’ legitimizes the US system and style of White Male aggression, ‘Scandal’ legitimizes the often difficult road of assimilation. Both shows work to give an intoxicating storyline to realities that are extremely painful debates in settings where emotions are considered puerile or naive.

Which is the beauty of storytelling that allows it to exist in the realm of art. Yet, as I have stated elsewhere, art can also be design. And as sexy as both of these shows are to me in their own spaces and for my own reasons of being attracted to them, these shows are both by design. It is very difficult for me to entertain the story of Jack Bauer taking US hostages and appropriating an entire convenience store in error for the sake of national security. It is very difficult for me to accept a scene where Olivia Pope is being called a “whore” by a white Woman in the presence of a White Man that the story suggests is suppose to on one hand love, and on the other hand consider that the White Woman, his wife, might be correct in some definitions.

Once again, for the intentions and purposes of the Asylum to date, I am not as concerned about the storyline, as written, as I am about why the storyline works given what the story line presents. In a discussion about Black African American media trust and Black African American Women in media images, why as the Black man I am, not be appalled by a scene such as this? In a discussion about Black African American media trust and Black African American Women in media images, why as the Black media analyst I am, would I not compare this scene of a US Black African American Woman being “justifiably” referred to as a “whore” to the most recent installation of the Jezebel caricature? This is not Owl navigating into respectability politics or slut-shaming. The storyline already did that to enormous impact. Where is the entry point for an oppositional gaze when the storyline is constructed with the purpose of alluding critical empathy?

The storyline justifies us seeing an image of a US African American Black Women being called a “whore” while in a White House in a room alone with a White man and his White wife. The storyline compels the audience to split along lines of empathetic affiliation with the White wife or the Black mistress. The storyline compels us to justify the White Woman’s anger with the Black Woman in the same manner that the storyline justifies us seeing images of a White man torturing foreign nationals with outlawed methods. The storyline compels us to justify the Black Woman’s action with rebuttals regarding the White Woman’s “manipulative” ways in the same manner that the storyline presents justifications for this paranoid White man’s brutality under the banner of “national security”.

And because the storyline compels so much, I am compelled to study why the audience reacts with such obedience, and why the storyteller needs to tell the story.

Get Off His Dick And The ‘D’ Ain’t Silent::Initial Thoughts Of Impact Of Django Unchained

So, I just got through watching Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained for the first time. I may be biased(and whose writing is not these days?), and my initial angst regarding the film might have tainted my ability to appreciate any portion of it, but, I did feel it was lackluster. The story of a slave named Django, played by comic turned singer turned dramatic actor Jamie Foxx, bound by love for his wife and purchased by a wayward and whimsical bounty hunter, while interesting, it just did not live up to the hype. The usual cinematic cosmetics that have made Tarantino respected as an artist as opposed to just a guy that obviously needs psychiatric help were not here. In place of the more interesting cinematography, we have a melange of hip hop and western tunes to help convey the idea that this is antebellum Texas and Mississippi. The overuse of the term “nigga” notwithstanding, and I suppose after sitting through all of Quentin’s prior works, I have become somewhat numbed by his liberties. This time around, he hides his quaint hobby of dropping the n-word behind the film’s supposed era — never mind the fifty odd anachronisms that crop up throughout the script.

I was not captured at all by the character of Broomhilda, played by Scandal star Kerry Washington. I am not sure if it was the sheer incredulity of a German speaking slave or just her almost callow and infantile mannerisms after surviving as an escaped slave and an obviously disobedient one. I expected at least a few inspired bits of Shola from Sankofa, no, I’m lying, I knew Tarantino wouldn’t be as accurate or as intrepid as to present a strong Black woman as a romantic interest. The writhing, wailing, and weak character reminded me of the stereotypical tragic mulatto role, not sure if they were going for that, however. But alas, I really don’t want to focus so much on the film as much as the impact of a film that really did not deserve as much fanfare.

Initially, Spike Lee’s comments of honoring our Ancestors seemed fairly harmless as he mentions in those comments that he is only speaking for him self. Michael Eric Dyson would take Spike to task on the December 27, 2012 episode of Ed Shultz’s show labeling Spike’s comments as dismissive after a lengthy segment of lathering the film in complimentary spittle(which was not quite as frothy as the foaming of his other Black male MSNBC personality– Toure– regarding the movie,but it was quite noticeable). Interesting enough, as impact, Dr. James Peterson, director of Africana studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University predicts that the movie could possibly become a classic. It would seem that this reaction from Black men would be further extended throughout the national dialogue about this film. At the time of this writing, no Black women in the media have spoken about the film, I expected to hear from our good friend at #NerdLand, Melissa Harris-Perry, but alas…not a damn thing. Even our favorite token negro writer over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a subtly congratulatory piece about Django Unchained while disparaging the history of Harriet Tubman. It seems that it is redemptive for Black men to watch Jamie Foxx ride away from a cage of Black slaves to save his wife, but a legend based on actual events of the woman that would have saved those slaves that, according to the plot, helped to save him, is not worthy of the hyperbole that is the entirety of Django Unchained. In fact, the movie was not even original, I could almost see Tarantino on the couch with Robert Freeman and Uncle Ruckus giving his version of the Catcher Freeman story.

So, I do question the overall impact of a movie such as this. It is the Barack moment all over again. A national euphoria for Black men now swimmingly smacking hands around barbershops and blunt ciphers as if they had killed George Zimmerman, Chicago Police Det. Dante Servin, Johannes Mehserle, or any of the hundreds of White men responsible for modern day lynching. I was asked on Twitter why I cared what the White response to the film was because the person asking the question, a Black man, was tired of us having to ask white people what they think. As if Quentin Tarantino’s input into the movie was not the thinking of a white man. At best, Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a slave thematic. It is not a movie about slavery, just one that exploits its horrors in an effort to sell to a Black audience. It is not a redemptive piece as no media format could ever be enough to redeem anyone from the extended effects of the US Black Holocaust– the term “holocaust” is not even enough to package the degree of repulsive human abomination our Ancestors were met with in the founding of this nation. Due to the lack of nobility on the part of the character of Django in dealing with other Blacks in the movie, I can only fathom that Black men felt appeased by Tarantino’s quaint Trojan Horse due to the degree of bloodshed, that– given Tarantino’s repertoire and the US slavery theme– was not even as sensationalistic as it was billed. In fact, the Germans should feel more redeemed by the movie than the US Blacks.

In closing, if Django Unchained — a White Man named Quentin Tarantino production no matter how many Blacks were utilized — is that shining moment of redemption for Black men in the United States of America where Malcolm X was gunned down in front of his own wife and children, then I think CoIntelPro worked a lot better than most assumed it would.