chapter seven

ethnic images

mensis mirabilis

Event one On April 30, 1992, a crowd converged on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) headquarters protesting against the acquittal of four law enforcement officers accused of brutally beating Rodney King, an African American male. The protest spiraled into a full-scale uprising which led to 44 deaths and 1,100 arrests. Television networks, anticipating the response to the verdict, had cameras on hand to document “live” the street violence. When the LAPD failed to quell it, federal officers and military troops moved in at the command of the then president, George Bush.

Television programs were interrupted and bulletins kept viewers informed in the most immediate way. Almost simultaneously, images of blacks firing guns, torching buildings, wrecking cars and looting shops rampaged across screens the world over. In one memorable scene, a white driver was being yanked from his car and assaulted. African Americans were presented in the worst possible light: as angry, aggressive, emotional and—in television’s coverage—irrational. They were depictions that seemed to complement popular stereotypes.

Event two On the night the riots broke out, NBC aired the 198th and final episode of the single most popular television comedy in history, The Cosby Show. Dwarfed as it was by LA, the passing of the show, which featured Bill Cosby as the benign patriarch of a well-ordered, middle-class, black family, was also a milestone in the black American experience as coded by television and one not unrelated to the uprisings. The Cosby Show was the first situation comedy with a predominantly black cast not to marginalize or victimize its subjects: they were

-98-

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Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Chapter One - Bombardments and Bee Stings 1
  • Chapter Two - A Gift Arrives 10
  • Chapter Three - Under the Influence 26
  • Chapter Four - The Meanings of Cultural Studies 43
  • Chapter Five - Lethal Link 58
  • Chapter Six - Answering Advertisers’ Prayers 75
  • Chapter Seven - Ethnic Images 98
  • Chapter Eight - In Pursuit of Women 115
  • Chapter Nine - Dream Match 128
  • Chapter Ten - Arresting Viewing 154
  • Chapter Eleven - Political Hype and Hyperreality 173
  • Chapter Twelve - Tomorrow, the World 194
  • References 206
  • Index 212
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