The War on Poverty Through Black Sitcoms

Arguably, the war on poverty in America (President Lyndon B. Johnson), though one of its goals was to break the cycle of dependency, in fact did the opposite by creating incentives and decentives that penalized work (raises led to loss of benefits) and rewarding nonmarriage.

Hollywood tends to take it a step forward, by focusing both on the war on poverty the religious exploitation of blacks during The Peculiar Institution. As a result, popular black sitcoms, such as Good Times and What’s Happening! specifically from the 70s (a key era in black empowerment) focused on the idea of being good (morality v immorailty). By appealing to the message in The Willie Lynch Letter of focusing on the woman and using her as a buffer, these shows keep the main black family from taken advantage of opportunities because they may be somewhat "immoral." (see episode 4, season 1 of Good Times for an example).

What is your take on this idea?

  • Question on your framing, you say that one of the goals was to break dependency where are you basing that off of and secondly you draw a conclusion that it rewarded nonmarriage, where are you pulling that from? And what frame of reference are we using with regards to the "immorality" of black families? – Sunni Ago 2 years ago
  • Great question. These are ideas that are connected to the war on poverty. Part of the Great Society was to break the cycle of dependency on the government and create tax payers out of those it considered tax eaters. Nonmarriage was rewarded through women losing certain benefits if they married or if the state found out a man was living in the house. Immoral as in if I have to gamble (shoot pool) for instance, to pay rent, why is this considered immoral? If I have to cheat a little to get by, why is this a bad thing and why are the mothers of the shows used to convey this as being immoral, leaving the families in perpetual poverty. I hope this provides clarity. – Montayj79 2 years ago
  • Interesting topic. I wonder how sitcoms like Diff'rent Strokes, The Cosby Show, or Family Matters might fit in, since they tended to portray Black or mixed families as more middle class or even wealthy/upwardly mobile? That is to say, were these the logical "next step," or were they too idealized? Did they gloss over poverty too much? – Stephanie M. 2 years ago
  • They could definitely fit in or stand on their own as a new topic. The Cosby Show came across my mind as I wrote this question out for sure. I think these shows tried to portray a different side rather than focus on the stereotype of poverty being all there is. – Montayj79 2 years ago

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