Dre reinforces man-ish stereotypes
Men have all the power in our society … or at least that’s what I’ve always been led to believe. Sit down and watch the episode of “Blackish” entitled “Johnson and Johnson,” though, and viewers are left thinking that men are a self-inflicted ping-pong injury away from being completely useless. Blackish enforces the norm of the dopey, ego-driven male, much to the detriment of the men tuning in.
It doesn’t take long for Dre Johnson, the father, to reveal himself as petty and controlling, as he reacts with pure outrage to finding out that his wife, Bow, did not take his last name when they got married. Where does the pettiness and stupidity come in? How about the fact that Bow’s maiden name is … Johnson? Despite the fact that under any circumstance they would share the same last name, Dre makes it into a power-play for control in the relationship that turns into an episode-long argument, making Dre look dumber than the people he’s taking stupid advice from. Caveman lines like, “You took my balls, now take my name” from Dre present viewers with the idea that being married to a strong woman makes someone less of a man, and nearly as dangerous, that her not taking his name will cost Dre his masculine reputation in his own home. A subordinate at work tells Dre, “I hope you didn’t tell your boys that your wife kept her name, because I’m paid to pretend to respect you, but they might not take it so easy, because everyone takes the man’s name.” This not only enforces the norm that women automatically take their husband’s name — leaving young male viewers to assume their future wives will do the same and they should be shocked and angered if they don’t — but it also delivers a very dangerous message about what it takes to earn respect in the male world. Men must show dominance over women in every way they can, and if not, be prepared to not even have your own sons’ respect. Dre’s boss even comes right out and says “this is starting to make you look like less of a man, Dre.”
Beyond starting this ridiculous argument — whether his wife’s name is going to be Bow Johnson or Bow Johnson — Dre reveals himself to be a fool in other ways. When he is berating his wife for not taking his name, he doesn’t realize that he is, in the process, arguing that his own two daughters should change their names when they get married. That would leave Dre with only two people to carry on the family name … predictably, his two equally dopey sons. Dre’s panic at this realization not only tells the viewer that his daughters came to this incredibly obvious conclusion first — making Dre a dummy yet again — but even worse that boys are not as dependable as girls. Left with this clearly undesirable option, Dre goes into another ill-fated scheme to reinforce the dumb male stereotype.
If there were still any women watching who weren’t completely offended by Dre’s stupidity, he sends them running for their remotes when he compares the pain from his ping-pong injury — declared a “bruise at best, a boo-boo at worst” by his doctor wife — as being as painful as childbirth. He repeats this brilliant comparison later, leaving him to enforce the norm of the unenlightened male who can’t possibly understand that having a baby might just hurt a bit more than a bruised wrist.
By the end of the episode, Bow’s patience with Dre has worn thin, and he (predictably) realizes what a fool he has been: “I’m sorry I got so worked up over this.” Her response? “You should be.” Why? Because it took him 23 minutes to get to the conclusion Bow — and every single viewer — got to about 22 minutes ago: that this is the dumbest argument in sitcom history and a man was on the losing end of it.
Because she won out, it can be argued that Bow’s victory can be seen as a positive cultural transmission, with society being introduced to the idea that women have more power than ever before and should have the right to not take their husband’s last name if they so choose. Yet that potential silver lining is washed away by the consistent negative depiction of men in this episode. As a result of the juvenile, caveman behavior of Dre, combined with the wise, calm response of his wife, viewers walk away from this episode of “Blackish” thinking something much worse than a simple, “Wow, that Dre sure blew that out of proportion!” They turn off the TV with the feeling that men need a woman to straighten them out and make them see the light in even the most obvious of situations. Male viewers are going to start thinking that this is where the bar has been set for them in our culture, and that as long as they can clear that very low standard of social intelligence, they are doing just fine — empathy for women be damned. We should expect more out of men in our society, and so should their TV wives.