Blacks and Latinos need less television, not more

    Talk about spitting into the wind.
    Both the NAACP and La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, have publicly denounced the television industry for not casting enough  minorities in the new fall lineup.
    Television being what it is, you'd think people of color would be boasting about this, the same way I'm proud to note I have no Madonna albums.  With all the problems confronting American minorities, it is hard to figure why these leaders are demanding more sitcom representation.
    The organizations should focus on reducing all the appearances minorities do make on television, as in,  "Police investigating the shooting are searching for two Hispanic males . . . "
    There might be less of that type of exposure if these advocates spent time encouraging their constituencies to watch less television and open more books.  The high school dropout rate in America for Hispanics is slightly less than 50 percent.  They need more watchable TV like Ally McBeal needs Slim-Fast.
    The NAACP cited a study that shows 62% of African-American and 63% of Latinos felt that TV shows do not represent them accurately.  Someone ought to start worrying about the other third who think television programming reflects real life.
    If television really looked like America, no one would watch it.  Seinfeld may have been "a show about nothing," but it's hard to imagine a program about dragging oneself out of bed for work, doing the laundry, chauffeuring kids around, dealing with aging parents or struggling to pay bills – which is what most people's lives consists of.
    The notion that every venue should be legislated or litigated into being a cross-section of America is getting out of hand.  Quotas for television shows are not only counter-  productive, it borders on the absurd.  Entertainment media rise or fall based on their own quality and appeal.
    If there's a buck to made with a sitcom about life on the Indian reservation, someone will make it.
    Capitalism may or may not be the fairest of selection processes,  but it's why there aren't more short (and white) players in the NBA, Pakistani tap dancers on Broadway and why action roles in movies go to  Bruce Willis or Will Smith and not fat guys from Iowa in loud plaid shirts.
    If the cast of Baywatch looked like America, it wouldn't be the most viewed program in the world.  There just isn't an audience for slow-motion scenes of portly middle-aged people jogging down the beach in hot orange swimsuits.
    My sister and her husband have a bit of Luddite in them when it comes to television. To the horror of their three kids, they have so far survived to the millennium without cable.  It is probably not an unrelated development that my nephew just scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT's, just barely eclipsing the previous family record held by his older sister.
    The children of well-off educated black parents do not score as well on the SAT's as their white or Asian counterparts.    It is this test pattern with which the NAACP should be concerning itself on not the one which comes on late at night (do test patterns still come on?).
    Statistically, African-Americans watch more TV than white people.  A "Turn off the tube and turn on to learning" campaign would help racial progress a lot more than seeing to it that dumb sitcoms are an equal employment opportunity.
    Granted, it would be desirable to have another "Cosby-type" show before the networks add another clone of "Friends," whose characters' biggest accomplishment seems an ability to avoid any minorities in their lives.  But given the problems facing American blacks and Hispanics, this issue should not even be on the radar screen.
    More and more, outfits like the NAACP and La Raza are becoming as divorced from reality as, well, television.  Ignoring more significant predicaments is nothing less than a betrayal of their constituencies.
    If that Cuban-American and television pioneer Ricky Ricardo were around today, I suspect he would tell these so-called crusaders that they've gotta lot of  ‘splainin to do.

 August 18, 1999