The demeaning `Jeffersons' justifies joining whiners

January 23, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

IT'S STEREOTYPICAL. It's demeaning to black people, the worst Hollywood television production about African-Americans ever to come down the pike. The sooner it's hauled off the air and banished to TV-land's graveyard the better.

No, I'm not talking about "The PJs," the controversial new animated Fox network show produced by Eddie Murphy. I'm talking about "The Jeffersons," that revolting dreck from the 1970s that will be stinking out the airwaves all next week in telethons on the Nickelodeon channel.

I've always hated "The Jeffersons." I despise Sherman Hemsley's pimp roll walk, I detest that idiotic theme song with the grating lyrics "dee-ee-lux apartment in the sky-ee-aye-aye, finally got our piece of the pie-ee-aye-aye" and nearly everything else about the show.

Until recently, I thought this was my personal dilemma. Greg Kane doesn't like "The Jeffersons," so that's Greg Kane's problem. I was alone in all of Afro-America, I figured, because Negroes loved themselves some George and Weezy.

Oh, black folks loved those Jeffersons with a passion that exceeds President Clinton's zeal for prevarication and hankering for women not his wife. We pilloried Jimmy Walker's "J.J." character on "Good Times" for being a buffoon. We did likewise to Martin Lawrence's character on "Martin" and Jaleel White's character of Steve Urkel on "Family Matters."

Ah, but something about Sherman Hemsley's George Jefferson struck a chord with African-Americans. Jefferson was bigoted, loud of mouth and a complete imbecile. But we excoriated him not. Quite the contrary, we honored him.

Well, we honored Hemsley, anyway. Years ago, Hemsley won an NAACP Image Award for his portrayal of George Jefferson. That same year the situation comedy "Barney Miller" was still on the air, with Ron Glass playing the smooth, erudite, articulate, devastatingly witty Sergeant Harris. The difference was significant. Hemsley played a character that seemed oddly reminiscent of that Kingfish guy on the "Amos 'n' Andy" show, only not as funny. Glass portrayed a black character unlike any other on prime-time television until then except for Bill Cosby's Kelly Scott on "I Spy."

Glass' character was one African-Americans weren't quite ready for. Black folks embraced bigotry, boorishness and idiocy and kicked erudition and wit to the curb. We ignore today's black actors who portray "positive" characters on television -- Giancarlo Esposito, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto and Michael Michele on NBC's "Homicide" and the entire cast of Showtime's "Linc's" -- the better to howl that the depiction of inner-city blacks in Murphy's "The PJs" amounts to a racial crisis.

But if folks who dislike "The PJs" can make their personal dudgeon a racial crisis, I figure it's only fair I make my disdain for "The Jeffersons" a racial crisis as well. I hereby declare "The Jeffersons" stereotypical fare that depicts blacks in a buffoonish manner. I further decree that every other black person on the globe should feel this way too.

Come Monday morning, I expect to hear that several thousand black folks have descended on the headquarters of Nickelodeon television, chanting slogans and brandishing picket signs in protest of "The Jeffersons" telethon that begins next week. The picketers will have one message:

Get that buffoon George Jefferson off the airwaves.

If I can't lick the Great African-American Whining Brigade, I may as well join it. I do so knowing full well what I'm giving up. I can no longer view Richard Wright's "Native Son" as a superb novel. It's main character, Bigger Thomas, isn't positive enough. He murdered a white girl, sawed off her head and stuffed her in a furnace to burn. He later murdered his black girlfriend.

A distinctly ornery character, this Bigger Thomas. I'll have to forget that what makes "Native Son" a great novel, what makes it soar, what makes it such a work of art that one critic said it changed American culture forever is the complex, compelling, and, yes, negative character of Bigger Thomas.

I'll have to trash my video of Charles Fuller's "A Soldier's Story" now. The character of Sergeant Waters, played by the late Adolph Caesar, frames another character. Private Petersen, played by Denzel Washington, murders the sarge in retaliation. Waters and Petersen are not the stories most positive characters, only the most interesting. But they're bad for the race. Anything bad for the race has to go.

Ah, yes, I'm feeling it now. I'm a philistine. Chalk up another victory for the Great African-American Whining Brigade.

Pub Date: 1/23/99

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