We'll return to normal posts tomorrow (remember, only posts with a # are part of the official canon of SBPDL), but an article in the April 7 issue of The Wall Street Journal caught our eye that helps explain what our Black History Month Hero series was all about.
More so, the article showcases the ability of television to manipulate and warp the viewers mindset going into the program and upon watching the show have a completely different operational paradigm.
We have argued that sports - and sports alone - helped usher in the relative peaceful integration of Black people into the mainstream white society. Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown did more for Black people than any Black politician or religious figure could ever dream of doing in helping white America find commonality with them.
Sports helped mainstream positive images of Black people to white people and gave them heroes to cheer for, even if they locked their doors whenever a group of disheveled looking Black people approached their vehicle after leaving the stadium.
Sure, white people still flock to whitopia's for their residences, but Black people have the highest standard of living for members of their race in the world. In America, there is no African diaspora, but a land of opportunity if that Black person is smart enough to seek a career in the government sector where Federally mandated employment laws have made it virtually impossible to fire them.
But we digress, back to the article in question. Entitled What Your TV Is Telling You to do the article reports:
Ladies and gentlemen, you have now learned a marketing secret and behavioral modification technique utilized since the dawn of television to control the masses through what they watch, how they watch it and whom they watch.
In just one week on NBC, the detectives on "Law and Order" investigated a cash-for-clunkers scam, a nurse on "Mercy" organized a group bike ride, Al Gore made a guest appearance on "30 Rock," and "The Office" turned Dwight Schrute into a cape-wearing superhero obsessed with recycling.
Coincidence? Hardly. NBC Universal planted these eco-friendly elements into scripted television shows to influence viewers and help sell ads.
The tactic—General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal calls it "behavior placement"—is designed to sway viewers to adopt actions they see modeled in their favorite shows. And it helps sell ads to marketers who want to associate their brands with a feel-good, socially aware show.
Unlike with product placement, which can seem jarring to savvy viewers, the goal is that viewers won't really notice that Tina Fey is tossing a plastic bottle into the recycle bin, or that a minor character on "Law and Order: SVU" has switched to energy-saving light bulbs. "People don't want to be hit over the head with it," says NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker. "Putting it in programing is what makes it resonate with viewers."...
This is the power of persuasion that NBCU hopes to tap. "Subtle messaging woven into shows mainstreams it, and mainstreaming is an effective way to get a message across," says Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBCU Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, which oversees the effort...
In June, NBCU plans a week in which programming will emphasize healthy eating and exercise: The idea is that viewers will watch the shows and then spring into action. "It's about incorporating a marketer's message into a thematic environment," says Mike Pilot, president of sales and marketing at NBC Universal.
Behavior Placement was the strategy behind The Cosby Show, which gave white America a few of a fictional Black family functioning with the grace and dignity usually reserved for a television show featuring white people. Or, real life white people:
Some theorists argue that political and social change is preceded by shifts in popular culture. So it’s not surprising that the debate has heated up over who, or what, in arts and entertainment presaged Barack Obama’s election as president.80 percent of Black children are born out of wedlock. They will never know their father. At best, they'll live the life of Michael Oher. At worse, the life depicted in the film Precious.
Many ideas have ricocheted around academia and the blogosphere — from Oprah Winfrey to Tiger Woods to Will Smith to “The West Wing,” to the many actors who have played black presidents, among them Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock (although not that many people actually saw Mr. Rock’s film “Head of State”).
But one idea seems to be gaining traction, and improbably it has Bill Cosby and Karl Rove in agreement: “The Cosby Show,” which began on NBC in 1984 and depicted the Huxtables, an upwardly mobile black family — a departure from the dysfunction and bickering that had characterized some previous shows about black families — had succeeded in changing racial attitudes enough to make an Obama candidacy possible.
On election night Mr. Rove, the former Bush strategist, said on Fox News: “We’ve had an African-American first family for many years in different forms. When ‘The Cosby Show’ was on, that was America’s family. It wasn’t a black family. It was America’s family.”
Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a psychiatrist at the Jude Baker Children’s Center in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School who was a script consultant on “The Cosby Show,” said in an interview that “there were a lot of young people who were watching that show who are now of voting age.”
Dr. Poussaint added: “When ‘The Cosby Show’ first came on, it was a professional, middle-class family. And they said, ‘That’s not a black family.’ We heard it from blacks and whites. I think that’s why Karl Rove calls it postracial, because it was universal.”
Read the article in The Wall Street Journal and put the idea of "behavior placement" into the context of placing Black people into situations in which no precedent in real life would necessitate that casting and you will understand the power of television and movies.
Black History Month Heroes, an on-going series here at SBPDL, showcased Black actors and actresses being cast in roles that had no precedent or historical basis for their on-screen presence.
Black people represent a distinct brand. To most white people, it will always remain foreign and alien. But to television and movie executives, behavior placement is the name of the strategy used to mainstream positive images of Black people when they don't exist in real-life. Well, outside of sports that is.
SBPDL recommends you read this article in the WSJ to understand the world and then turn off your television set. Upon doing so, we recommend you pick up the invaluable book Invictus.
We'll be posting a review of the book (haven't seen the movie yet) later this week, to coincide with our continued coverage of the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.
Again, going with the narrative of sports being the ultimate for the peaceful integration of society, Invictus tells the story of rugby being the tool to finally defeat Apartheid and give birth to Black rule in South Africa:
Despite its cover – Matt Damon in a Springboks shirt playing team captain Francois Pienaar in the book's recent screen adaptation – Invictus is less about South Africa's triumph in the 1995 World Cup than it is about Nelson Mandela's seduction of the country's white population. South Africa's shift from volatility to a state in which the black population rooted as passionately as Afrikaners for the Springboks, once "a metaphor for apartheid's crushing brutality", was largely thanks to Mandela's force of personality, winning over prison guards, ministers and rugby players alike.
Of course, Black rule in South Africa has given birth to the near collapse of that nation, which will soon be hosting the World Cup for all the world to see.
Perhaps you might want to keep your TV set on for this event: network executives won't be forced to introduce any behavior placement strategies in the coverage of the impending carnage overwhelming South Africa.
It will merely be... naturally.
That's why Black people don't like the local nightly news broadcast, for the unpleasant reality of life in 21st America is in full glow.