How Race Influenced Mainstream Entertainment.
By the early twentieth century, black minstrel acts reveled in racial tensions, reinforcing
stereotypes while at the same time satirizing them and mocking racist attitudes before a
predominantly white audience. Decades later, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor's profane comedy
routines changed American entertainment. The raw ethnic material of Pryor's short-lived
television show led to a series of African-American sitcoms in the 1980s that presented common
American experiences―from family life to college life―with black casts. Mainstream
entertainment has often co-opted and sanitized fringe amusements in an ongoing process of
redefining the cultural center and its boundaries. Social control and respectability vied with the
bold, erotic, sensational, and surprising, as entrepreneurs sought to manipulate the vagaries of the
market, control shifting public appetites, and capitalize on campaigns to protect public morals.
1. By the early twentieth century, black minstrel acts reveled in racial tensions,
reinforcing stereotypes while at the same time satirizing them and mocking racist
attitudes before a predominantly white audience.
- The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of racially charged
entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits,
variety acts, dancing, and music performances that mocked people specifically of African
American descent. The shows were performed by white people in make-up or blackface
for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some
African-American performers and all-black minstrel groups that formed and toured under
the direction of white people.
- Minstrelsy's racism could be rather vicious. There were comic songs in which blacks
were "roasted, fished for, smoked like tobacco, peeled like potatoes, planted in the soil, or
dried up and hung as advertisements", and there were multiple songs in which a black
man accidentally put out a black woman's eyes. On the other hand, the fact that the
minstrel show broached the subjects of slavery and race at all is perhaps more significant
than the racist manner in which it did so. Despite these pro-plantation attitudes,
minstrelsy was banned in many Southern cities.Its association with the North was such
that as secessionist attitudes grew stronger, minstrels on Southern tours became
convenient targets of anti-Yankee sentiment.
2. Decades later, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryo...