Is the Impact of Entertainment on Culture only Black & White?

It is easy to dismiss movies and television as merely
entertainment because there is a lot of mindless crap to choose from. But there
is the cream of the crop and that is thought provoking and touches us
emotionally to the point that we discuss it with our peers and colleagues
around the water cooler well beyond just the next day. And then there is what
is in between which causes some expression of emotion and some discussing but
because it is in the middle of the road you will have some that loved it and
some that hated it!

But today I am not here to discuss which films and
television programs fit into which category and then rank them by quality.
Regardless of where the film finds itself in the hierarchy of popularity, I
think we all would agree that entertainment influences our culture which in
turn influences our society. As an example, that I have talked about many
times, is the influence the films of and by Sidney Poitier in the 1960’s. These
films had a very significant cultural impact that played a role in the civil
rights movement of that same time.

Present & Challenge Perspectives

There are two aspects of this that I want to explore further
here. The first is the cultural impact on society as a whole and then how it
impacts those that are directly being represented in the films and television
programs. Although many of Sidney Poitier’s films contributed I want to just
single out one in particular as it is a perfect example of our first aspect and
that is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” This was in 1968 and I turned 4 years
old but the film had a lasting affect and is still relevant today in the topic
of race and interracial relations as can be seen in the Academy Award winner
for Best film of 2005, “Crash.” Aside from a fantastic cast that starred along
with Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” it showed and talked
about race and the perceptions that one had over the other. Both sides, both
points of view and as the parents discussed and debated and wrestled with their
own perceptions it allowed the audience members to do the same. The dialogue
was so open that depending onf what neighborhood you saw it there would be a
lot of nodding heads with a soft applause or a thunderous praise and exclamations
that were often expressed in the word, “Amen” as certain points were being
made! So the audience members were now identifying with the characters on the
screen which makes them engaged and personally invested in the story. As the
movie moved along it challenged nearly every point that was previously expressed
as general perceptions. By the conclusion of the movie, whether you agreed with
how it ended or not, it made you think and it influenced your thoughts of your
own race and your perceptions of the other.

Movies allow us to indirectly be involved with the story,
the characters, the situations, on the screen in a very personal way without
risking anything but the cost of the ticket and the beyond highway robbery
concessions. Many films and television programs give us a peak and on some
level experience another place, time, people, political system, point of view,
a fantasy of the imagination, even other cultures and societies that can be
real or make believe which can be as close as a local neighborhood like say,
Little Italy in New York to distant solar systems and galaxies like in Star
Trek and Star Wars!   


“That’s Alright Mama”

While we are examining the cultural impact as a whole let’s
briefly look at the big picture and again use the same racial example and start
a little further back to the previous decade of the 1950’s. Entertainment media
of music was changing and although it started slow it took off when the rhythm
and blues music became the basis for rock and roll. Regardless of how it was
applied or exploited by the record companies and radio stations the voice of
the black culture was integrated into white culture. This is common knowledge
and when looking forward from that time we can see how it not only continued
but also expanded to movies and eventually television. Not all was integrated
but those voices that were not still had their place in American culture. And
today the voices of the black culture are often dominate in some areas such as
music. Today the American culture is influenced by black culture, white
culture, Hispanic culture, Asian culture, gay, lesbian and transgender culture
and some others as all have authentic voices and represent themselves in nearly
all cases.

My culture, My people

The second aspect of this impact of entertainment can be
seen in the affect it has on the individual culture and people represented in said
movies, television and music. Again another example that I have discussed many
time before, because it is very similar to how I feel when my culture, my
people, those with a disAbility and specifically those who are paralyzed, is
when I heard people like Oprah, Denzel, Halle, and others speak of the personal
impact seeing Sidney Poitier in movies that were not stereotypical and
portrayed by a young, healthy, and handsome black actor had on them. Another
prime example was recently in an episode of Oprah’s daytime talk show as a
retrospect of “The Cosby Show” and its impact on society as a whole and within
the black community. When speaking of how at first many in both the white and
black communities didn’t believe that a black family could live like that which
was being portrayed on the show, I loved what Malcom-Jamal Warner said that
unfortunately “it is not validated until it’s on television.”


The music of the 1950’s, the films of the 1960’s and the
television of the 1980’s have all gone a long way in breaking stereotypes and
acceptance of black men, women & families by white culture and society. Other
minority subgroups such as the Hispanic culture and the gay, lesbian and
transgender culture have followed the model or example of the inclusion of
authentic voices in entertainment which has provided a significant impact on
American culture as a whole which has its place in influencing American society
and that of individual minority communities.

56 Million Americans + 600 Million More Global

The glaring exclusion in our entertainment of today when
speaking of the voices and representation of all of the above mentioned
minority subgroups is of course the largest and fastest growing minority
subgroup, those with a disAbility. A very common image and treatment those with
a disAbility in American society, which as we have established above is largely
influenced by the culture which is influenced by entertainment and in this case
specifically in movies and television toward those with a disAbility as
invisible, insignificant, unproductive, 2nd or 3rd or 4th
class citizens and this has a huge impact on the individual lives of everyone
with a disAbility and everyone in their family and of their friends. All of
this is perpetuated in the Hollywood
stereotypes, the industry wide common practice of repressing our voices and the
unauthentic representation in movies and television.

Just like in the example of the black community, this not
only influences society’s opinions of those with a disAbility but also on the
disabled community itself and this can have devastating and long lasting affect.
Without any representation in movies or television, society as a whole
continues to view us as “less than” members of society. Because the disAbled
voices are repressed and the discrimination of actors with a disAbility not being
able to represent ourselves  there is very
little validation that we are significant and worthy human beings, let alone
equal members of society. This flows over into our image of ourselves and the
expectations of what we should just accept from society’s opinions of us. This
can be clearly seen in the reactions of people when asked or they consider
becoming paralyzed or having a significant disAbility. An example of this can
be found here in this blog under the title, “Dr. 90210.” Many will say they
would rather be dead or that living as a paralyzed person brings an end to
significant life. This is experienced by all those who suddenly find themselves
with a disAbility. I know this first hand because my opinions and views of a
person in a wheelchair was a hopeless and worthless life. I felt pity that that
poor soul who had to live life so restricted of nearly all that makes life
worth living. It was unimaginable! That was until April 1, 1995 when I became
one of those people in a wheelchair and not just for a time as a broken leg
might do, but for the rest of my life! No days off and no vacation days away
from living as a person with a serious disAbility.


Because of my attitude and outlook was what I can do with
what still works on my body, I had nurses, doctors and therapists wanting me to
speak to another patient of theirs who couldn’t see past the image they had as
able bodied members of society that were largely shaped by the influences from
our culture and entertainment. They were depressed and often didn’t care as it
seemed worthless to keep trying. This life is difficult on so many levels and
not just physically but also emotionally, financially, and socially as all are
affected by my life as a paraplegic. It is easy to understand why the rate of
alcohol and drug abuse is much higher within the community of those who are

If the very little recognition of those with a disAbility in
movies and television continue to also be represented entirely by able bodied
people then so will the results of the publics’ image and treatment of those
with a disAbility and the self image of those who know nothing else or are
heavily influenced by the portrayals of those with a disAbility in today’s
entertainment. Then this viscous cycle will endure and continue to corrupt the
image and treatment of those with a disAbility in our society.

Believe In A Change

But it does not have to be as bleak as the portrayals in our
media depict. Nor does the negative affect of having very little represented in
movies and television which results in not having any validation as being worthy
individuals of our society. This perpetuates the almost constant treatment that
those with a disAbility are to be considered as unimportant, unable and a
burden which I cannot tell you how degrading it is and how difficult it is seeing
this in the eyes of those who don’t advert their look in my direction and in
dealing with every time I go out in public. And most with a disAbility will
honestly tell you that this is more difficult then the disAbility itself. Can
you now see how deep and how wide the range of impact this has on our society? It
is incredibly hurtful and society can only change by what it is influenced by,
which is largely from our culture that is influenced largely by entertainment
and which can only be changed and have
this endless cycle be broken with the
authentic voices and representation of those with a disAbility in
non-stereotypical roles and stories.
And that cannot happen when the motion
picture and television industry will recognize this as a serious issue and give
those with a disAbility a fair and equal
opportunity to represent ourselves.


The only question left is, does anyone here
know of an intelligent and caring producer with well established relationships
in Hollywood?

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