I’m ashamed to admit it but it’s true – I’ve been sucked into the weekly hood cinema known as “Empire.”
If you’ve been under a rock, or more likely, watching Black-ish on ABC, Empire stars Terrence Howard as shady music mogul Lucious Lyon, who is pitting his bratty sons against each other to choose an heir to his throne.
Yeah, it’s just King Lear set to bad hip-hop.
Let’s be honest, “Empire” is technically horrible. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, the plot twists are totally unrealistic and the characters are some of the most unlikeable people I’ve ever laid my barely functioning eyes on.
Remember on G.I. Joe when Cobra created Serpentor using the DNA of history’s tyrants? I think Dr. Mindbender built Hakeem from the DNA of 15 raunchy 90s R&B singers. He just forgot to add the talent.
If you purchased this “song” on iTunes this week, close this window right now and go sit in the corner. We can’t be friends no mo.
But despite Empire’s inherent wackness, I just can’t stop watching. It’s a supreme guilty pleasure, a show that’s so over the top you’re afraid to turn away – you might miss the next train wreck.
I swear we’re all under the spell of Hypnotoad.
ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD
Look, no one with the sense God gave geese would claim that Empire is quality TV. But some critics have gone a bit too far, saying that Empire is damaging the black community. The most compelling case has been made by Dr. Boyce Watkins, whose impassioned editorial outright called the show out on its coonery:
Basically, “Empire” wasn’t created to entertain black people (although I’m sure it has black viewers). It is instead selling an image of blackness to a predominantly white audience that has been long fed stereotypical messages about what blackness represents. These thug-gangster-hoodrat images are the ones that are deeply embedded in the minds of police officers who shoot black men and potential employers who refuse to give black people jobs. Just like animals in the zoo, the world loves to observe black people at our most ratchet, because ignorant negroes are simply fun to watch.
It’s hard to argue those points. There’s no question that Empire caters to the lowest common denominator, filling our bizarre needs to see drama and conflict. And laugh at Taraji P Henson’s weekly Lil Kim impersonation.
But to contribute the show to the downfall of black society is going a bit far.
First, Empire is clearly portrayed as a drama, unlike the ignorance of reality TV, which is presented as “real life.” Those viewers are constantly being told that they’re peering into the actual lives of those Housewives, Kardashians, Sorority Sisters and other deviants. They’re portrayed as authentic people, even though they’re as fake as the weave/lips/butt/eyelashes/eye color/noses/cheekbones/fingernails they flaunt.
If you really think Terrance Howard chats with President Obama on the phone on the regular, you probably also think “Drip Drop” is a good song. And in both cases, you’re living a lie.
Second, nearly all of Empire’s characters are unabashedly flawed and the series doesn’t try to justify them. Lucious is a money-grubbing, murderous homophobe. Yes, he’s rich and powerful but his lifestyle is never glorified. Hakeem is an entitled moron with mommy issues. Andre Lyon is a scheming, deceitful sex fiend. The only relatable characters are Henson’s Cookie and the downtrodden Jamal Lyon but neither of them are angels – both have no problem manipulating others to get money and power.
For every scene of Hakeem strutting around shirtless surrounded by women and cash, there’s another of him getting punked out by Cookie or Jamal or Lucious or Naomi Campbell or his knockoff Rihanna girlfriend.
Man, Hakeem sucks.
Anyway, we see that their lives behind the scenes aren’t as glamorous as it is in front of TV cameras. Everyone on the show is flawed and the show doesn’t hide that fact.
Saying the cast of Empire degrades all black people is like saying the cast of The Sopranos degrades all of Italian culture. If you’re dumb enough to think all black people are like the handful of people running around at Empire Records, you have bigger issues. Also, stop watching so much TV and read a book or something.
I’m not here to convince you that Empire is quality TV. It’s not. It’s simply a drama – Dynasty for the hip-hop generation. Enjoy it, or don’t. I can’t blame you either way. But making a fictional TV show the symbol for all that ails the black community is a bit unreasonable.
Empire is simply televised junk food. Chill out, Boo Boo Kitty.