RTF 359S: History of the Black Sitcom: From Beulah to Blackish Course Instructor: Adrien Sebro, Ph.D.
Seminar Day and Time: MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM (BMC 4.206) Screening: M 5:00PM-7:30PM (CMA 3.124) Office Hours: TBA
For cultural critics to ignore television’s potential as a forum of resistance is to misread levels of vernacular meaning inherent in many Black television texts. Often viewed as a medium of
buffoonery or harsh stereotyping, situational comedies that focus on Black communities have in fact had a crucial role in political progress, activism, and evolving social conditions in the United States. With close attention to themes such as socioeconomics, gender, religion, and politics, Black sitcoms address American social injustices in ways that other sitcoms simply are unable to. This course will chronicle a history of American Black sitcoms over time, that worked to respond to their political moment and have radically transformed television as a space for pedagogy. It is important to
mention, that this course’s focus on the sitcom genre is deliberate. The sitcom can be read to help lay bare the mores, images, ideals, prejudices, and ideologies in its topical moment. There is much history that can and must be captured from the sitcom. As Darrell Hamamoto states, “the study of the television situation comedy is an exercise in examining the relationship of popular art to its
historically specific setting.” Surveying histories of television sitcoms in general offers a unique history of what is understood as national American humor. American humor in general, and Black humor specifically, began as a “wrested freedom,” the freedom to laugh at that which was unjust and cruel in order to create distance from what would otherwise obliterate a sense of self and community. In this course, students will watch, read, and discuss popular themes and trends in Black sitcoms over time (1950s to the present). Through these efforts they will be encouraged to understand the
representations of Black communities in these sitcoms beyond the often-popular discussions of their stereotyping and buffoonery. Rather, I will help them to read these art forms as narratives of Black agency and resilience within an established racial and social order. Ultimately, I aim to use this course to help students understand how television continues to redefine the ontological status of Blackness. In addition, this course will introduce students to basic theoretical concepts fundamental to understanding social conditions and social change including, power, ideology, hegemony,
What Do I Need from You?
Your active participation and attendance (class and screenings) is integral to the success of yourself and the seminar collective. What will drive this course are the discussions that will take place in response to screenings and readings. Readings for each week must be completed by the seminar section. It is important that you come to class on time, prepared, and stay until class is over. Also, paying attention during seminar and avoiding distracting behaviors like texting or doing other work in class will offer you the ability to actively contribute and get the most from discussion. If you foresee needing to miss class(es), then you’ll need to contact me via email at your earliest convenience. This course will often discuss readings and view screenings that address gender, sexuality, race, religion, socioeconomics, etc. This classroom will be a safe space for these conscious discussions
and opinions. Any prejudices, bigotry, homophobia, etc. will not be allowed. Every student’s discussions and opinions can of course be challenged but must be done respectfully.
*All readings will be available via PDF on the course website* Overall Class Grade Breakdown:
1. Weekly Reading Responses 30% 2. Attendance 5%
3. Discussion Lead 5%
4. Thesis Statement Submission 5% 5. Mandatory Office Hour 5% 6. Paper Presentation 10% 7. Final Paper 40%
Weekly Reading Responses
To help drive seminar discussion and participation each student is required to submit (via the course website) 2-3 critical comments or questions in response to one or more of the week’s readings. Reading responses are due on the class website by 11:59 PM on the evening before that week’s seminar. The readings must be done before the start of the class corresponding to the week in which they are listed under.
During Week 1, students will be able to choose the class that they will be responsible for leading one of that week’s reading discussions. They can lead the discussion via short PowerPoint, screening, etc. but they must pose questions to the class as a whole.
Thesis Statement Submission
By Week 9, each student is required to submit (via hard copy in class) a rough thesis statement and bibliography for their final papers. These statements will help with the direction, clarity, and organization for your final paper.
In Weeks 13 and 14 each student will conduct a power point presentation to the class on the subjects that their final papers intend to cover. These presentations will aid in strengthening presentation skills as well as mining through any questions or concerns that one may still have while completing their final papers. Great work requires constructive peer feedback.
The seminar final paper is due via hard copy during Finals Week. The final paper is to be 10-12 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font, and 1-inch margins.
Students have the choice of TWO options for the final paper:
1. Critically compare and contrast two Black sitcoms (one before 1989 and one after 1989) and the modes in which the characters, episodes, and/or themes responded to their political moment. Textual analysis of select episodes is encouraged.
2. Discuss popular themes, cultural impact, and/or critical reception of a single Black sitcom. Textual analyses of select episodes is strongly encouraged.
*If you are interested in writing a paper that doesn’t fall within these categories, we can discuss this possibility in office hours.
Mandatory Office Hour
Another crucial component of this seminar is attending office hours. These will serve as one on one meetings to discuss the course, readings, final paper, etc. Office hours will only benefit your course experience and grade for the better. Each student will be given a 15-20min block if necessary. Attending a portion of AT LEAST one allotted office hour segment is required per student. If you are unable to attend my scheduled office hours due to work or other classes, please email me so that we can set up additional hours.
Plagiarism, or the manipulation of another’s work as your own of ANY kind is strictly prohibited by myself and the University at large. If you are confused whether something you are writing may be perceived as plagiarism, please do not hesitate to clear it with me first, before submission. If a plagiarized paper is submitted, a student will automatically fail the course.
Writing assistance: Carefully read through guidelines for the research and writing assignments, passed out well before each due date, as these guidelines will influence the grading of the
assignments you turn in. It is recommended that you consult with your TA or me prior to the due dates in order to obtain further clarification regarding the assignments and to discuss possible topics, reference materials, and/or writing difficulties.
The Writing Center offers individualized assistance to students who want to improve their writing skills. There is no charge for using the Writing Center, and students may come in on a drop-in or appointment basis. Call 471-6222 for hours and/or an appointment. For more information, visit their website at www.uwc.fac.utexas.edu. You may also want to use UT's Learning Center for assistance with studying and writing. It is located in the Jester Center, Room A332. For hours and/or an appointment, call 471-3614. For more information, see the Learning Center’s web pages at www.utexas.edu/student/lsc.
The Moody College Writing Support Program, located in BMC 3.322, offers one-on-one assistance without charge to undergraduates seeking to improve their professional writing in all fields of communication. We have student specialists in Journalism, RTF, CSD, CMS,
Communication & Leadership and PR & Advertising. In addition, they offer workshops to strengthen core writing skills in each field and to inspire students to strive for excellence. Students may guarantee their time by booking half-hour appointments on their website for
assistance during all stages of the writing process. Writing coaches also will take drop-ins if they are not working with appointments.
Personal Pronoun Preference: Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, culture, religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender, gender variance, and nationalities. Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student’s legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.
Services for Students with Disabilities: Upon request, The University of Texas at Austin provides appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. Students with physical or learning disabilities should provide the professor with a letter requesting
reasonable academic accommodation, and work directly with the professor to determine what accommodations are needed. This letter can be obtained from Services for Students with Disabilities, located in the Student Services Building. For more information, contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 471-6259, 471-4641 TTY, or visit their website.
Please inform me within the first three weeks of class if you have a physical, learning, sensory, or psychological disability and need accommodation to take part in or to complete the required work for this course.
University Resources for Self Care: Taking care of your general well-being is an important step in being a successful student. If stress, test anxiety, racing thoughts, feeling unmotivated or anything else is getting in your way, there are options available for support.
For immediate support, visit/Call the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC): M-F 8-5p | SSB, 5th floor | 512-471-3515 |cmhc.utexas.edu
• CMHC Crisis Line: 24/7 | 512.471.2255 |cmhc.utexas.edu/24hourcounseling.html • CARE Counselor in the Moody College of Communication is: Abby Simpson, LCSW
o M-F 8-5p | CMA 4.134 | 512-471-7642 (Please *leave a message* if she is unavailable)
• FREE Services at CMHC include:
o Brief assessments and referral services
o Mental health & wellness articles -cmhc.utexas.edu/commonconcerns.html o MindBody Lab - cmhc.utexas.edu/mindbodylab.html
o Classes, workshops, & groups -cmhc.utexas.edu/groups.html
Important Safety Information: If you have concerns about the safety or behavior of fellow students, TAs or Professors, call BCAL (the Behavior Concerns Advice Line): 512-232-5050. Your call can be anonymous. If something doesn’t feel right – it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts and share your concerns.
The following recommendations regarding emergency evacuation from the Office of Campus Safety and Security, 512-471-5767, http://www.utexas.edu/safety/
Occupants of buildings on The University of Texas at Austin campus are required to evacuate buildings when a fire alarm is activated. Alarm activation or announcement requires exiting and assembling outside.
• Familiarize yourself with all exit doors of each classroom and building you may occupy. Remember that the nearest exit door may not be the one you used when entering the building.
• Students requiring assistance in evacuation shall inform their instructor in writing during the first week of class.
• In the event of an evacuation, follow the instruction of faculty or class instructors. Do not re-enter a building unless given instructions by the following: Austin Fire Department, The University of Texas at Austin Police Department, or Fire Prevention Services office.
• Link to information regarding emergency evacuation routes and emergency procedures can be found at: www.utexas.edu/emergency
The University of Texas Honor Code: The core values of The University of Texas at Austin are learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and
responsibility. Each member of the University is expected to uphold these values through integrity, honesty, trust, fairness, and respect toward peers and community.
Scholastic Dishonesty: The University defines academic dishonesty as cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, falsifying academic records, and any act designed to avoid participating honestly in the learning process. Scholastic dishonesty also includes, but is not limited to, providing false or misleading information to receive a postponement or an extension on a test, quiz, or other assignment, and submission of essentially the same written assignment for two courses without the prior permission of the instructor. By accepting this syllabus, you have agreed to these guidelines and must adhere to them. Scholastic dishonest damages both the student’s learning experience and readiness for the future demands of a work-career. Students who violate University rules on scholastic dishonesty are subject to disciplinary penalties,
including the possibility of failure in the course and/or dismissal from the University. For more information on scholastic dishonesty, please visit the Student Judicial services Web site at http://deanofstudents.utexas.edu/sjs.
*All screenings are subject to change*
Week 1: Introduction (Wednesday and Friday- Aug 28-30)
Discussion Topics: What is the role of television in American society? What is a situational comedy? Role of radio? What role does situational comedy play in popular culture? Why is this genre important to study? What is your favorite sitcom and why? What is the history of Black performance? What is a Black sitcom?
• Course Introduction • Review of Syllabus
Clips from: Marlon Riggs’ Color Adjustment Readings:
• Hilmes, Michelle, “Chapter 7: At Last Television 1945-1955” in Only Connect: A History of Broadcasting in the United States 4th Edition, pp.166-191.
Week 2: Finding a Space On-Screen, 1950s (WF- Sept 4-6)
How did WWII affect American consumerism? Movie theaters vs television? What are networks? What is the role of television in the home/family? What is the state of American Blacks in the 1950s? How are Black people represented in popular culture? How do Black-casted sitcoms differ from majority White-casted ones?
Clips from: Beulah, and Amos N’ Andy
• “What Is U.S. Television Now?” Author: Amanda D. Lotz Source: The Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 625, The End of Television? Its Impact on the World (So Far) (Sep., 2009), pp. 49-59.
• “What is this ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture” Author: Stuart Hall pp. 1-9.
• Hamamoto, Darrell. Nervous Laughter: Television Situation Comedy and Liberal Democratic
Ideology pp. 1-15.
• McDonald, Fred J., “Part 1: The Promise” in Blacks and White TV: African Americans in
Television Since 1948. Optional:
• “Humor and the American Racial Imagination” Reviewed Work: The Adventures of Amos
’N’Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon by Melvin Patrick Ely. Review by: James Oliver Horton.American Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 166-170.
Week 3: Quality vs. Quantity and Sketch, 1960s (MWF- Sept 9-13)
What is the Civil Rights Movement? How did it effect Black actors and their roles? How do we see the Civil Rights movement on television? Do we? What is the role of the White co-star? What is a variety show?
Monday Screenings from: Julia, The Flip Wilson Show, Room 222, I Spy
• Bodroghkozy, Aniko. “Is This What You Mean by Color TV? Julia” in Equal Time: Television
and the Civil Rights Movement pp. 180-202.
• Phillip Brian Harper “Extra-Special Effects: Televisual Representation and the Claims of the
‘Black Experience’” in Sasha Torres Ed. Living Color: Race and Television in the United
States pp. 62-78.
• Acham, Christine. “What You See is What You Get. The Flip Wilson Show” in Revolution
Televised: Prime Time and the Struggle for Black Power pp. 66-84. Optional:
• Asante, Molefi K. “Television and Black Consciousness” in Darnell Hunt Ed. Channeling
Blackness: Studies on Television and Race in America pp. 60-63.
Week 4: Revolution Televised, 1970s (MWF Sept 16-20)
What were the results of the Civil Rights Movement? What is the Kerner Commission? What is Blaxploitation and how did it transform Black art? On Television? Why are these 70s Black sitcoms so successful? How are Black women portrayed?
Monday Screenings: Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Diff’rent Strokes, What’s
Happenin’?, Benson Readings:
• Acham, Christine. “This Ain’t No Junk, Sanford and Son and African American Humor” in Revolution Televised: Prime Time and the Struggle for Black Power pp. 85-109.
• Bodroghkozy, Aniko. “Prime Time, Good Times” in Equal Time: Television and the Civil
Rights Movement pp. 203-224.
Week 5: Revolution Televised, 1970s… Continued (MWF- Sept 23-27)
Monday Screenings from: Grady, The Sanford Arms, That’s My Mama
• Acham, Christine. “Respect Yourself, Black Women and Power in Julia and Good Times” in Revolution Televised: Prime Time and the Struggle for Black Power pp. 126-142
Week 6: Respectability Politics, 1980s (MWF- Sept 30-Oct 4)
What led to the new conservatism in social, economic, and political life during the 1980s? What are Respectability Politics? What are Reaganomics? How was Bill Cosby able to take over U.S. television?
Monday Screenings from: Cosby, The Cosby Show, 227, Amen, Family Matters
• Means-Coleman, Robin. “The Cosby Show” in African American Viewers and the Black
Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor pp. 199-209.
• Palmer, Gareth. “The Cosby Show—an ideologically based analysis” in Critical Survey Vol. 6,
No. 2 pp. 188-194
• Gray, Herman, “Reaganism and the Sign of Blackness” in Watching Race: Television and the
Struggle for “Blackness” pp. 14-35. Optional:
• Smith-Shomade, Beretta. “This is Cosby’s House!” in Shaded Lives: African American Women
and Television pp. 33-35.
Week 7: Respectability Politics, 1980s…Continued (MWF- Oct 7-11)
Monday Screenings from: A Different World, Gimme A Break
• Gray, Herman, “The Politics of Representation in Network Television” in Watching Race:
Television and the Struggle for “Blackness” pp. 70-93.
• “Its a Different World Where You Come From” in Watching Race: Television and the Struggle
for “Blackness” pp. 93-113.
Week 8: Hip Hop and Popular Culture in the Mainstream, 1990s (MWF- Oct 14-18) What is Hip Hop Culture? How did the Fox Network embrace urban popular culture? How did ‘90s Black sitcoms address femininity? Sexuality?
Monday Screenings from: Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Roc, Smart Guy
• Smith-Shomade, Beretta. “The Rise of Fox” in Shaded Lives: African American Women and
• Zook, Kristal Brent. “Blood Is Thicker than Mud: C-Note Goes to Compton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” in Color By Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television
• Zook, Kristal Brent. “Sheneneh, Gender-Fuck, and Romance: Martin’s Thin Line Between
Love and Hate” in Color By Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television pp.
• Zook, Kristal Brent. “Under the Sign of Malcolm: Memory, Feminism, and Political Activism
on Roc” in Color By Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television pp. 77-87.
Week 9: Hip Hop and Popular Culture in the Mainstream, 1990s…Continued (MWF- Oct 21-25) THESIS DUE WEDNESDAY
Monday Screenings from: In Living Color, Living Single
• Gray, Herman,“Spectacles, Sideshows, and Irreverence: In Living Color”in Watching Race:
Television and the Struggle for “Blackness” pp.130-147.
• Zook, Kristal Brent. “Living Single and the ‘Fight for Mr. Right’: Latifah Don’t Play” in Color
By Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television pp. 65-68, 69-74.
• Guerrero, Lisa, “Single Black Female: Representing the Modern Black Woman in Living
Single” in eds. David J. Leonard and Lisa Guerrero, African Americans on Television:
Race-ing for RatRace-ings pp. 177-190.
Week 10: The New Millennium, 2000s (MWF- Oct 28- Nov. 1)
How has television embraced the New Millennium? How has technology affected the business of television? How has Tyler Perry garnered such a great industry influence? How have 2000s Black sitcoms revamped sitcoms of the past? Reality TV as sitcom?
Monday Screenings from: Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, My Wife and Kids, Girlfriends, The
Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris
• Smith-Shomade, Beretta. “Contemporary Black Situation Comedy” in Shaded Lives: African
American Women and Television pp. 37-39.
• Jackson, Nicole E., “Examining the Influence of Black Media on Black Group Consciousness”
in eds, Jamel Santa Cruze Bell and Ronald L. Jackson II, Interpreting Tyler Perry:
Perspectives on Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality, pp. 69-81.
• Love, Bettina, “Tyler Perry Takes Over TV” in eds. David J. Leonard and Lisa Guerrero,
• Cutts, Qiana M., “The Black Family in the New Millennium: The Bernie Mac Show, My Wife and Kids, and Everybody Hates Chris” in eds. David J. Leonard and Lisa Guerrero, African Americans on Television: Race-ing for Ratings pp. 191-206.
• Ginia Bellafanta. “A Home Big Enough to House the Cousins” Tyler Perry’s House of Payne
• LaToya Ferguson “10 episodes of The Bernie Mac Show that capture the struggle of building
anything from the ground up” https://tv.avclub.com/10-episodes-of-the-bernie-mac-show-that-capture-the-str-1798275816
Week 11: The New Millennium, 2000s; Sketch Comedy and Reality Television (MWF- Nov 4-8)
Monday Screenings: Chappelle’s Show, Black Lady Sketch Show,The Real Housewives of
Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop, Flavor of Love
• Squires, Catherine. “The Conundrum of Race and Reality Television.” In A Companion to
Reality Television, edited by Laurie Ouellette.
• Gates, Racquel J. “Embracing the Ratchet: Reality Television and Strategic Negativity” in
Double Negative: The Black Image and Popular Culture, pp. 142-181.
• Guerreo, Lisa, “‘Black’ Comedy: The Serious Business of Humor in In Living Color,
Chappelle’s Show, and The Boondocks” in eds. David J. Leonard and Lisa Guerrero, African Americans on Television: Race-ing for Ratings pp. 229-250.
Week 12: Where Are We Going?, 2000-2010s (MW- Nov 11-13)
What is the future of Black sitcoms? How has premium cable television embraced this genre?
Monday Screenings from: The Chris Rock Show, Black-ish, Atlanta, The Carmichael Show,
• Squires, Catherine. The Post-Racial Mystique: Media and Race in the Twenty-First Century
• Hunt, Darnell. “Black Content, White Control” in Darnell Hunt Ed. Channeling Blackness:
Studies on Television and Race in America pp. 267-300.
• Acham, Christine, “Cable Television: HBO, Black to the Future” in Revolution Televised:
• Maureen Ryan. “‘Black-ish’ Is the Ideal Sitcom for the Age of Black Lives Matter”
• Greg Braxton. “Yes, 'black-ish' is tackling that word head-on”
• Todd VanDerWerff. “The classic American sitcom is exactly what we need in this fractured
political moment” https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/6/29/15705706/best-sitcoms-the-carmichael-show-one-day-at-a-time
• Pilot Viruet. “Why the Pulled Mass Shooting Episode of ‘The Carmichael Show’ Is Still Vital”
• Hank Stuever “In a better world, we’d be talking about ‘Insecure’ as much as we talk about
‘Girls’” https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/tv/in-a-better-world-wed-be-talking- about-insecure-as-much-as-we-talked-about-girls/2017/07/21/758e3f0c-6b34-11e7-9c15-177740635e83_story.html?utm_term=.0020e98e33d8
Week 12: Black Webseries, Interrupting Hollywood (Friday- Nov 15)
Clips from: Awkward Black Girl, The New Adult, Giants
• Christian, Aymar Jean.“Developing Open TV: Innovation for the Open Network”in Open TV:
Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television, pp. 29-58.
• Burton, Nsenga, “Issa Rae’s Insecure: No Longer an Awkward Black Girl”
• Rose, Steve. “Issa Rae: from Awkward Black Girl to HBO star”
Week 13: Black Webseries, Interrupting Hollywood…Continued (Monday- Nov 18)
Monday Screenings: Awkward Black Girl, Insecure
• Christian, Aymar Jean.“Open TV Representation: Reforming Cultural Politics”in Open TV:
Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television, pp. 101-155.
• Cunningham, Phillip Lamarr, “Get a Crew…and Make it Happen”: The Misadventures of
Awkward Black Girl and New Media’s Potential for Self-Definition in eds. David J. Leonard
Week 13: Paper Presentations (WF- Nov 20-22)
Week 14: Paper Presentations Continued (Monday- Nov. 25)