Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Sherman Hemsley, 1938-2012

Sherman Hemsley, best known as TV's George Jefferson, has died.  Here's a great obituary detailing his love of far-out prog rock and LSD.

I didn't write anything about Andy Griffith when he died, because The Andy Griffith Show always bored the piss out of me.  But I loved The Jeffersons when I was growing up.  (I was really addicted to sitcoms in the 70's and 80's, and I've long considered writing a long, rambling post about which ones I loved and which ones I hated, but for now you are being spared.)  As I grew up, and my taste in comedy became more sophisticated, a lot of those shows I loved when I was 10 or 12 ended up seeming pretty corny by the time I was 18, and The Jeffersons certainly falls in that category.  I mean, the comedy on this show is incredibly lame.  But I still think it's an interesting show, because George Jefferson is such an interesting character.  He's short-tempered, ambitious, vain, thin-skinned, big-mouthed and racist.  And he's a successful-yet-struggling entrepreneur.

Think about this: you often hear people talk about the paucity of realistic role models for black kids.  That the only successful black people you ever see on TV are athletes and entertainers, whose success is not really a realistic model for the average kid.  And you could say the same about the sitcom landscape.  On the one hand, you have ghetto comedies like Good Times and Sanford and Son portraying inner city poverty, and then later you have The Cosby Show, about a family of successful professionals living in an almost-suburban neighborhood.  I like that George Jefferson doesn't fit into either of those categories.  He's a model of what digging your way out of poverty in a capitalist system looks like.

George isn't rich, but he owns his own business.  He worked hard for it, opening a chain of laundromats in the city (if I remember correctly, he owns at least two locations, might have been three).  He made enough money to move out of the projects and into a...well, you all know the song.  He's got a good life, but it's not easy.  And that's what I think makes it such an interesting show.  You can see George struggling, hustling all the time.  Part of this is because he's an ambitious guy, but mostly it's because he really can't afford to be complacent.  He's got a business to run.  There's a recurring plot element about a rich banker who works in the building.  George wants to meet and network with him, convinced that this will give him access to investments that can boost his business.  This is what success in the world of business looks like.  It ain't boat drinks.  And I started out talking about black kids, but you know, for everyone who grew up watching this show, it's a good look at what being an entrepreneur means.


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