Monday, January 09, 2006

How the media plays MLK and Ty's view of TV

It's become a TV ritual: Every year in mid-January, around the time of Martin Luther King's birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader."
The remarkable thing about this annual review of King's life is that several years -- his last years -- are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.
What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).
An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn't take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.
Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they're not shown today on TV.
It's because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" -- including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.
[. . .]
By 1967, King had also become the country's most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 -- a year to the day before he was murdered -- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

The above, sent in by KeShawn, is from Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon's "The Martin Luther King You Don't See On TV." A few notes. As Doug requested, members seem interested in highlighting MLK each day in the lead up to the official day of recognition (Jan. 16th). "Beyond Vietnam" is a speech that Democracy Now! broadcasts (via the Pacifica archives I believe). (Democracy Now! wasn't around in 1967, but think how much better off we would be now if had been then.) That is the speech that we pulled the excerpt from on Saturday. Cedric noted another section of the speech during the book discussion at The Third Estate Sunday Review
while the topic was Howard Zinn's The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous, Some Little Known.

The link KeShawn has provided is to a FAIR piece by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon from January 1995. Cohen and Solomon wrote of this in 1993 as well (and possibly at other times as well, it's a topic worth noting and exploring) and you can find that earlier view in Adventures in Medialand: Behind the News, Beyond the Politcs by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, pages 206-209. In addition to Vietnam, they note:

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: The Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington -- engaging in civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be -- until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. Reader's Digest warned of an "insurrection."

I happen to have that book with me. I packed it (I'm in DC, for non round-robin readers) because it's one of the ones that we're hoping to discuss (hoping, only Parry's book is promised) in the book discussion at The Third Estate Sunday Review this coming Sunday.

Now we'll get to the planned entry for tonight which is a repost of Ty's solo piece at The Third Estate Sunday Review. This was a really strong piece and Ty showed it to me early. He still wonders if his points got across. I think they do (and then some) and think it's worthy of reposting in full. Here's "Ty's Point of View:"

With Ava and Jess helping C.I. with e-mails coming into The Common Ills site, it's largely left to Dona and myself to read the e-mails at this site. Jim's always "just about" to do it. So I feel like I've got a pretty strong grasp on the interests of our intended audience. Some of you are new and we're glad to have you as readers. Some of you have been with us from the early days and we're glad you've stayed.
But some of you are either just "funning" or in the wrong place. I'm not referring to the self-admitted Republicans who have yet to meet a Third Estate Sunday Review editorial they couldn't disagree with. Those people are supposed to be disagree. We're a site for the left.
No, I'm talking about the kiddies, some of whom sound much older than children, who want to go racist. Are you a fan of Moronic Mars? Good for you. Are you one of the thirty-plus who think you advance the cause of your show by using the n-word? One of the ones writing in asking, "What does it matter if the ___s don't get air time?"
Or maybe you're one of the Whites who doesn't use the n-word but takes the time to explain "advancement"? As an African-American, I don't need you to explain advancement to me. However, many of you appear to require that someone explain it to you.
A token character brought on every now and then isn't an advancement. Justifications as to why the show focuses on the White characters doesn't change the fact that you can count on people of color to appear in the show's credits if not in the actual scenes.
You don't like that sort of comment. It's obvious from your e-mails. So let me explain what I don't like. I don't like a lot of snotty little White kids writing in to explain "advancement" to me.
I'm sorry that C.I. and Ava raised an issue that was new to you. It's a real tragedy that they were the first to raise it to you. But that's what is so great about what they do, they raise the issues that apparently your TV Guide writers and others have failed to address.
Now I could walk you through TV history and note Julia and I Spy. But we don't have to that far back. I'll bet that a lot of you can remember when Cosby was airing new episodes. I watched. Cliff Huxtable got on my nerves, but I liked the kids. Now let me point out something, that show aired on NBC. Do you see any shows with a cast that's primarily African-African on NBC today?Now maybe you think "those people" (Tina's term of choice) love being on UPN. Tina writes "those people have an entire network and if Veronica Mars wasn't on UPN, they wouldn't even have to include any of them."
UPN does have some shows with a healthy number of African-Americans in the cast. Fox used to as well. So did the WB. Why? Because they start out broadcasting in large cities. They're trying to get the people in those areas to watch and some of the people in those areas include persons of color. When Fox went on its station buying spree, African-Americans became seen less on the shows.
Picking up on Tina's thread, Steve wrote, "Black people already have BET, what more do they want?"
Steve, if African-Americans have BET, who has NBC? Who has ABC? Who has CBS? Want to keep going down the list?
Tina felt the need to write a 30 K e-mail about "those people" and how if "you" (Ava and C.I.) "weren't so stupid, you'd realize that there [sic] being on Veronica for a few minutes each week is an advancement!" Thanks Tina. I'm guessing you also feel we're real lucky to be able to sit wherever we want on the bus now and should just pipe down already?
Hunt felt the need to explain that "No one wants to see blacks on TV anyway. They've had The Jeffersons, Give [sic] Me a Break, Different Strokes and Benson. What more do they want?"
Hunt, you are aware that Gimme a Break started out with one African-American woman (Nell Carter) surrounded by Whites, right? And you are aware that Benson was another White cast plus the lead actor? And that Different Strokes was about two African-Americans raised by a White father in an otherwise all White cast? The Jeffersons might be the strongest case for your argument because it did give more time to African-Americans but it also featured White regulars.
So considering that the all White casts didn't end in the days of The Dick Van Dyke Show and that recently all white casts have included such shows as Cheers, Reba, Everyone Must Love Raymond, Two and A Half Men, Fraiser, Friends, Yes, Dear . . . Get the point? What more do you want, Hunt?
Dona and I have tracked the Moronic Mars e-mails. Here's the tally:
36 racists defending Moronic Mars
3 assholes
11 fans of the show weighing in with their opinions
1011 readers praising Ava and C.I.'s review
If being called racists bothers the 36, they might want to write e-mails in the future that don't flaunt their racism.
If you're one of the eleven, I attempted to reply to you. You're obviously very devoted to your show. If I told you to consider starting your own site, that was a serious suggestion. Some of the eleven are very gifted writers that have obviously thought a great deal about the show they enjoy. They should attempt to do something to share their passion. If I encouraged you to start your own site and added that, if you do, you should let us know, I meant that. We'll write something up giving you a shout out and a link in a feature.
If you're one of the 39 (assholes plus racists), I think you might want to seek some help. Hopefully, you only spew your hatred (towards women and African-Americans) when you're alone at your keyboard but your comments indicate you have serious issues. Unless you're planning to pack up and move to some other country (bad news for you apartheid no longer exists in South Africa so pick another destination), I think you're going to have some serious problems in the days ahead.
Hunt wrote of taking back "my country from the" n-word. Hunt, unless you're planning to hunt me down and every other African-American, to kill us off, you're going to have a problem because this is our country as well. And we do have a right to be represented onscreen as something more than the criminal of the week on one of the Law & Orders. In fact, Hunt, there are a lot of people color and different ethnicities in this country that aren't represented on television as anything other than guest star.
Hunt feels that "the Barones were the best family on TV because the wives didn't work and the only black wasn't on more than a handful of episodes and knew to only come around when invited." I never watched Raymond, so I'll take your word on how the show portrayed a person of color (occasional guest star) and women, Hunt.
But Tina, and others like her, might want to think about Hunt, who shares their racism, before composing a lecture about the progress "those people" have made. They might also want to realize that everyone in the world who can read isn't White. I'm guessing that Hunt and Tina might have been less vocal about "those people" if they'd realized that their e-mails would be read by one of "those people."
It's a sign of ignorance to assume that everyone is like you are. Possibly that's why Tina and Hunt and the rest are so bothered by the suggestion that TV could provide more African-Americans as regular cast members? They look around and see the people like them (who they like) and then they see "the other" who is different and not fully human?
But Hunt and Tina, wes people been reading da e-mails for some time and wes a had dat internet too. That's probably especially shocking to Tina who explained that when you show "those people there's always someone complaining about a scene of them eating watermelons." Tina and Hunt both wrote well grammatically speaking. They've obviously had some level of education which makes their racism all the more sad.
I'm assuming that some of those who wrote in, if they read this, might feel inclined to write a "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that you were black" e-mail. Don't bother. When you thought it was just Whites in the room, you were comfortable speaking off the cuff. It was revealing. You might be embarrassed about that. (Maybe Hunt wouldn't be?)
Regardless of whether you are or are not embarrassed, you've done your part to demonstrate that Ava and C.I. are on the right track with their reviews. That any racist thought they could send an e-mail to someone they don't know and talk "White to White" indicates that the token representation on TV has allowed a number of Moronic Mars fans to think that we're not usually in the room when the action takes place. TV's helped you form that misconception. Which only proves the point that Ava and C.I. were making.
posted by Third Estate Sunday Review @
Sunday, January 08, 2006

I know a number of members have already seen it because there have been a number of e-mails on it. If you asked that they be passed on to Ty, they were. (And I've created a folder to put them in at The Third Estate Sunday Review's e-mail account.) (Which I'm sure will lead to them thinking, "Geez, we were kind enough to let C.I. use our account and we turn around to find remodeling!") There were a number of features in Sunday's edition and I'm not sure that the piece got the attention it deserved. (It's the tenth piece posted.) So I wanted to note it here.

That's it for tonight. While e-mail problems are still occurring, the e-mail address for this site is (And thank you to them for that as well as to Elaine and Mike for allowing their accounts to be used earlier.) (Members should continue to use the designated backup e-mail account listed in the round-robin.)