Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rant #535: "Amos 'N Andy" Anniversary

Sixty years ago today, in 1951, a TV show debuted that would rankle many people to this day.

Today, the TV version of the successful “Amos ‘N Andy” radio show debuted on CBS.

“Amos ‘N Andy” had been a sensation on radio, portraying various stereotypical black characters in ways that made audiences gravitate to them. They were lazy and shifty, slow and surly, and awful funny.

And they were portrayed on radio by white men.

But you couldn’t get away with that on television, so black actors were the stars of the show. In fact, “Amos ‘N Andy” was the very first network TV show to feature an all black cast.

Although that was the case, the show was chastised by many for its racial stereotyping. It only lasted a few years on the air, and then faded off into TV heaven, although it was rerun into the mid 1960s, as I remember watching the show as a kid.

Several prominent blacks raked the show over the coals, especially as the civil rights movement heated up.

But others took a more levelheaded approach to the program. The late Flip Wilson once said something to the effect that yes, the program displayed blacks in a less than stellar manner, but the show should not be forgotten or banned or not shown, because it shows how far blacks had come, as well as how far they had to go.

And things have come pretty far. We have a black man leading this country as its President and commander in chief, and blacks have made inroads in just about every area, from politics to private business.

But how does “Amos ‘N Andy” figure in this movement? To some, they would say the show probably had no influence at all, as it showed racial stereotyping at its lowest level. To others, the show was a stepping stone to something better, the bridge to “Julia” and then to “The Jeffersons” and later to “The Cosby Show” and later, even to “Oprah.”

It took man millions of years to evolve, and it took decades for network TV to make blacks as ubiquitous as whites in its programming.

Whether “Amos ‘N Andy” was part of that TV evolution is up to your individual tastes. But as a kid, I found it to be a very funny program, and I doubt I even realized the stereotyping that was prevalent on this show.

So I vote with Flip Wilson; let’s not forget the show, let’s watch it and study it on DVD as an artifact of a time that was long ago, but not so long ago that it should be totally forgotten or dismissed.

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