Amos 'n' Andy (was: PC and Dialects in fiction)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sun Aug 15 00:07:30 UTC 2004

In a message dated  Fri, 13 Aug 2004 22:49:34 -0400,  Wilson Gray
<hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET>

>  I, as a black person, have found some
>  presentations of Black English annoying. For example, Piri Thomas, a
>  one-hit-wonder from about 40 years ago, was famous for fifteen minutes
>  for his novel, "Down These Mean Streets." In this work, whites and his
>  fellow Puerto Ricans simply speak idiomatic English. However, *all*
>  blacks speak a version of the old vaudeville-stage "Negro eye-dialect"
>  that a script writer for Amos 'n' Andy would not have stooped to use.

What I find interesting is that you use Amos 'n' Andy as a reference standard.

"This was the show that became an American fixation in the dear, departed
days of radio.  In the television version, which first appeared in 1951, Alvin
Childress was Amos, Tim Moore was the Kingfish, and Spencer Williams was Andy.
In 1966 CBS withdrew the programf rom syndication and overseas sale after
several civil-rights groups protested that it was a distorted portayal of Negro
life in the United States."
(Ref 1 page 158)

Only two seasons (78 episodes, however another account says one season and 39
episodes) of the TV version were filmed, but these  episodes were rerun
endlessly until 1966.  I have seen exactly one episode and my vague recollection
was that it was standard assembly-line sitcom with a script that could have been
used by a sitcom that had white actors without anyone noticing.  However,
this applies only to the episode I saw and might not apply to many of the other

The writers of the radio show (which ran from 1928 to 1943) were also the
voices of the show: two white men named Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll .
For a favorable but, I think, balanced account of the radio show, see ref 2,
which includes a short but serious discussion of the dialect used on the radio

What should an African-American think of the radio show as a show?  Should it
be denounced as a collection of stereotypes?  Ref 2 gives a few citations of
debate within the African-American community of the time about the radio show.
 The TV show was the subject of considerably more negative reaction, which
could be due to its being a quite different show, or could be due to the fact
that a good deal of water had gone over the dam between 1943 (when the radio
show ended) and 1951 (when the TV show debuted).

Actually you seem to be using Amos 'n' Andy (and you don't specify whether
you mean the radio or the TV version) not as a social document good or bad but
as a standard bad example of how NOT to reproduce AAVE.  Have you listened to
either the TV or the radio show and are therefore speaking as someone who has
observed a fair sample of the dialect or would-be dialect employed?  Or are you
accepting at second-hand what could be an urban legend about the speech used
on the show?  (Compare people, like me, who have never read Uncle Tom's Cabin
and therefore could not tell you whether the title character is or is not what
is now called an "Uncle Tom".)

I might add that I personally would be unable to tell a bad reproduction of
AAVE from a good one.

Ref 1: Arthur Shulman and Roger Youman _How Sweet It Was: Television: a
pictorial commentary with 1435 photographs_ New York: Bonanza Books, 1966, no ISBN.

Ref 2: URL

          - James A. Landau

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