This week I found great relevance in Tony Purvis’ article on postmodernism and television in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism. In one of the opening statements of the chapter, he states that television is praised and censured for its ability to be the site of fantasy, ecstasy and pleasure. Ultimately the piece helped me to reflect on the question of whether or not television is still the site through which consensus norms and values are transmitted, as they were in the period of television’s modernity. I recently watched a series on ABC called Black-ish, which by its very titled screamed postdmodernism to me. I decided to use this show as a medium to provide my own analysis of postmodernism and television.
Image from Deadline.com
The very title of the series speaks to the complexities of the present in both the series and in the field of postmodernism. The title refers to a characteristic of not being a stereotyped urban black person or an urban black person with non-urban characteristics. This sets the background for the series. The show revolves around the lead character Andre Johnson and his family as they try to adjust to life in the suburbs. Through its treatment of cultural identity, postmodern subjectivity, and the generic boundaries of hybridization, the show Black-ish can be read in a postmodern context.
One aspect of postmodernity that recognizable in the show is its ability to blur generic boundaries of hybridization. It playfully makes use of self-referential preoccupation with the inner thought of Andre. Truth and falsehood are manufactured in various ways on the show. Thus it scantily totes the line between reality and Andre’s perception of reality. For example, on the first episode Andre feels like an animal at an exhibit as neighbors stare at his family as they pass by. This is clearly an example of how Andre’s thoughtful imagination influences the show. Yet there is no event to counter this reality. Thus it blurs the line between what is real and what is perceived as real by not clearly indicating a difference.
Realizing the plurality of perspectives is evident through many of different voice on the show. Andre and his father have different interpretations on what it means to black in a suburban setting. Simultaneously, Andre’s wife Rainbow and their children also have different interpretations of blackness. Laurence Fishburn’s character juxtasposes yet another example of blackness. Fishburn’s character plays the live-in father of Andre. He represents many of the traditional notions of blackness derived from the Civil Rights movement and its subsequent social impact.
They (the family) struggle to gain a sense of cultural identity in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Black-ish for them refers to the ways that they have to redefine what it means to black in under a different social context. In the very first episode Andre is promoted to the Senior Vice President of Urban development. At first this promotion irritates him because he associates Urban Development with “minority stuff.” For his first project he submits to the other senior vice president his intention for urban development, which fit basically every conceivable stereotype for urban. By the end of the episode however he realizes that there is no one interpretation for the concept of urban. Urban only implies “minority stuff” if that is the way you choose to interpret it. Thus postmodern subjectivity is involved even in how the show defines itself. I think it is critical to understand that the show does not conceive of one definition of blackness and what it means to black under any context.