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.
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“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.” [Daniels]
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.” 
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]
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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 debates,
“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.
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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.
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.