Compelling 'Roc' talks point-blank about kids, guns


January 04, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Social responsibility isn't the first thought that comes to mind at the mention of Fox Television. But at 8 tonight Charles S.

Dutton vaults the network of Al Bundy and Bart Simpson to the head of the class in social conscience with a powerful episode of "Roc" about kids and guns.

I know, NBC and "Blossom" did an episode on teens and guns a couple of months ago. But that show didn't have this kind of realism or impact.

Most of all, though, it didn't have the star come before the cameras after the episode and, speaking directly to viewers, deliver one of the most passionate speeches about real-life guns, violence and race that you are ever going hear on TV. Dutton does that tonight, and he does it in a way that will make you listen, feel and think about what he has to say.

The episode itself is moving enough. Sheila (Alexis Fields) has a new friend at school, Terence (Brandon Adams). But Terence has a problem. There's an older kid from the neighborhood, a gang member, who is bullying Terence. The gang member has already taken Terence's shoes and sweat shirt. Now he wants the boy's jacket.

It's not a new sitcom plot. Every TV kid since Beaver Cleaver has had a problem with a bully at one time or another. Usually, it was resolved with a punch or two, a trip to the principal's office and lecture from dad.

This one ends differently. It ends in tragedy, the way all too many really do end these days in cities like Baltimore. And, then, just as the hurt of what you saw starts to ebb, Dutton comes back on screen and starts talking to you.

"How many kids have to kill each other before we see?" Dutton asks.

"There have already been thousands, thousands of beautiful, gifted kids whose lives are over. All their great potential wasted forever.

"These are our own kids killing each other. Our own kids are doing what 300 year of slavery couldn't do. What the Ku Klux Klan couldn't do. And what all the ugly racism we've faced for generations couldn't do.

"They are threatening our spirit, breaking our hearts and destroying us from within.

"Now, Martin Luther King didn't die for that. Malcolm X didn't die for that. . . ."

Those are only a few of the words Dutton delivers to his audience, which includes the second-largest number of African-American viewers, about 3 million, of any show on TV.

They are words we all need to hear. Don't think that just because Dutton is addressing African-Americans that guns-and-kids is only an African-American problem.

Media that glamorize guns and violence are part of the problem, too. And virtually all mass media in this country, including the Fox Broadcasting Network, are owned by whites.

But give Fox credit for listening to Dutton and his TV character, the hard-working garbage man from Baltimore named Roc who cares so deeply about his community. Give Fox credit for trying to be part of the solution for 30 minutes tonight in prime time.

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