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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is Fox’s ‘The Cleveland Show’ nothing more than a 21st-century minstrel show?

I haven’t seen an episode of The Cleveland Show, Fox’s new Sunday-night animated sitcom — I’m not a fan of Seth MacFarlane, and I can’t stand Family Guy — but from what I have seen (trailers, TV ads, and such) and from what I know about MacFarlane, I don’t find it much of stretch to accept Jasmyne Cannick’s critique of the show at New America Media (via AlterNet):

It could be because for the first time America has a black president and the First Lady is a sista, and together with their two beautiful black daughters overnight improved the international image of black people, let alone Americans. But leave it to the diabolical minds at Fox Networks to pick up where BET left off with the debut of their newest show “The Cleveland Show,” where in just 22 minutes they managed to portray black mothers as unmarried promiscuous sexual objects, black teenage girls as headed down the same path as their mothers, young black boys as sexual deviants, and black people period as being unable to speak anything other than Ebonics — all in the name of comedy.

Just like with the character Shirley Q. Liquor, a black unmarried welfare mother who guzzles malt liquor, drives a Caddy, and has 19 “chirrun” some of whom are named Cheeto, Orangello, Chlamydia, and Kmartina, who is routinely performed by a white man in blackface, there’s nothing funny about an animated television series that seeks to legitimize and reinforce every negative stereotype about black people during primetime to the delight of white audiences from coast to coast.

Of course, I’m sure there’s an argument to be made — though not necessarily a cogent or plausible one — that what Cannick describes is meant to be satirical, meant to be sending up stereotypes instead of reinforcing them. But as The New York Times notes:

[T]he show has… amended its opening theme to remove a lyric in which Cleveland refers to his “happy black-guy face.”

And, perhaps more telling (or perhaps not):

[S]ome members of the “Cleveland Show” voice cast said they were surprised to discover that the show’s protagonist was played by a white man.

Hmm.

What do you think? Is Fox’s The Cleveland Show nothing more than a 21st-century minstrel show? Or is there legitimate comedy to be mined out of such stereotypes?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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