The Impact of African-American Sitcoms on America's Culture Essay

The Impact of African-American Sitcoms on America's Culture Essay

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The Impact of African-American Sitcoms on America's Culture


Since its start, the television industry has been criticized for perpetuating myths and stereotypes about African-Americans through characterizations, story lines, and plots. The situation comedy has been the area that has seemed to draw the most criticism, analysis, and disapproval for stereotyping. From Sanford and Son and The Jefferson’s in the 1970s to The Cosby Show (1984) and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the 1990s, sitcoms featuring black casts and characters have always been controversial. However, their significance upon our American culture cannot be disregarded. During the 1950s and 1960s, 97% of the families were Caucasian. In the first five years of the 1990s, nearly 14% of the television families were African-American (Bryant 2001). These statistics obviously show the substantial impact our American culture has had on African-American television families.

Sanford and Son was set in the early 1970s. They were a very low class, low-income family that was very disjointed. The father, Sanford, spent most of his time drunk and putting his son down. There were few, if any, family values emphasized. The only positive message conveyed was that the son and dad loved each other.

One of the next popular African-American shows to appear was The Jefferson’s. It was about a nouveau riche African-American couple, George and Louise Jefferson. Jefferson was a successful businessman, millionaire and owned seven dry cleaning stores. They lived in a ritzy penthouse on the East Side. In fact, the theme song referred to the fact that they “were movin’ on up!” They lived their lives filled with money and success. It was the first television program that...


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...way to a safer place where he could be raised properly. This sitcom emphasized positive African-American stereotypes, such as honesty, love, strong family values, and success. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also demonstrated that the problems money can bring were not confined to one race.

Starting with Sanford and Sons through the progression of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it is evident that the changes transpiring in society are slowly entering the television industry. What would have been acceptable in the 1970s would be totally unacceptable in this day. No longer is an African-American father in a sitcom shown as a worthless, rude individual. The father figure is now shown more as a responsible, loving, and moral person with more realistic faults. Color now seems, through evolution, to be taken out of the equation for the African-American television families.

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