Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The “Empire” Effect

   There has been massive buzz about the new hit show “Empire” and with fourteen million people watching, it is certainly having an effect. It seems you can’t engage in any social media without happening upon a post or tweet about the latest episode. People are watching and talking about it, but what kinds of discussions are they having? Maybe a more important question is what kind of discussions should we be having? If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know what kind of discussion we are about to engage in.

  Ratings don’t lie…”Empire” is a hit. The show is heralded as being a breakthrough for viewership of a mostly Black cast.  I suppose this is a good thing, possibly even a testament to “progress”…except I have to ask, the progression of what? There has been sharp criticism of the show as it is analyzed and dissected by those thinking profoundly about its “effect.” The most common rebuttal to this criticism is that the show is just entertainment, so there is no real harm. Well, the word entertainment means “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” There is no exclusion of harm in this definition.

   Dog fighting is very much entertaining to a segment of the population (not with me), but I dare say there is great harm in it. Watching videos of people in compromising situations is constantly entertaining people…and many of those videos show harm. Entertainment does not mean there is no harm. Anybody saying “Empire” is not harmful because it is entertaining has now been educated as to why this statement is fallacious. 

  That said…what harm could this show possibly have on anyone? It has been meticulously compared to “Dynasty” and the comparison seems to be a pretty sound one…except for the fact that the Carringtons would have to go “gangsta” to aptly mirror its African-American alter ego. Umm…what?  I don’t think the Carringtons were about that life…and when you stop to think about it, is being about that life helpful or positive in any way at all? Understand that comparisons of “Empire” to any other soap really stops when the show is predicated on reinforcing a stereotype that is literally killing Black people.

   To a young person watching this show and thinking they can also make it big….where do you think they will have to start? What example does the main character Lucious Lyon set? For that matter, extrapolate this line of thought to the Hip-Hop music industry and tell me it’s a positive path to success where those that make it impart wisdom and positivity to those listening to them.  I won’t lay it all on the industry though, because if we as a people don’t demand more for ourselves, then we are getting exactly what we are settling for…which is mostly garbage.

  Am I supposed to be blinded to more of the same in the form of “Empire” because it’s soapy, shocking, has music, displays fashion and tackles the issue of homosexuality? If only I could be that shallow. 

   Sure, it’s great that Black actors and actresses are being given work and I don’t begrudge anyone from making a living and providing for their family. It’s just sad this show has to be the vehicle by which they do it…but the sadness is not with the show (Hollywood can make whatever they want), it’s with the people that have no idea they are swallowing the wrong pill and choosing to remain in the Matrix.  

   There are lots of reasons why “Empire” works on television…and none of them matter a bit. When the country we live in is rife with our youth being shot by law enforcement and constantly depicted as nothing more than thugs by the media, we have to ask ourselves…are the ratings of “Empire” a reflection of this sad reality, or is the show helping to perpetuate a detrimental cultural mentality? 

   We know we can’t count on the media for answers as they are simply an extension of the same machine that powers the very industry in question. There can be no profound discussion had with those that seek to perpetuate the very problem that needs our collective attention. How can there be when reason and wisdom are vilified? So once again….the task remains with us, and once again we will either rise to deal with the issue…or continue to let the issue define us as a cycle of self-destruction.