Despite originally airing before I was alive, Good Times was a cable TV staple of my childhood. I tuned in regularly to ponder: Will James Evans Sr. get the job? Will the Evans’ get thrown out? Did shape ups just not exist in the ‘70s?
I still watch, and Facebook lets me know that my friends do the same: When there’s a marathon, my timeline lights up with endless comments, including anti-Florida Evans hate posts. That’s right, Florida Evans’ role as the family’s devout White Jaysus-loving mom falls flat with a lot of my friends, who have gone as far as to suggest the writers should have killed her character off so James could successfully scheme his way out the hood. Ice cold!
Well, her character WAS irritating. But over time, I’ve come to see she wasn’t so much fuckin’ up as playing by a set of rules that just don’t make sense to us any more in 2015. In short, our rejection of her principles, IMHO, is a lightweight commentary on our own ethical evolution as a society - for better or worse.
First things first: Florida DID unduly shut down many plans that could have upgraded that family. Notable instances include:
The time James wanted to work on the Alaskan pipeline
So James worked at the car wash and was paid in pizza crusts. Then along came the Alaskan pipeline and jobs at like $12 an hour. That’s Maybach money in 1974! But Florida started bitchin’ about how James was gonna start laying up with Eskimo broads (no lie) and then how Michael was gonna join a gang without a father figure, etc. (Aside: As a lesbun, I feel comfortable saying Michael would’ve been gangbanging alright, but not the way Florida feared…)
Anywho, James stays put and brokeness ensues.
Florida: 1 Not Eating Bag Cereal: 0
The time James’ preacher hustler friend wanted him to come on the road and make this Jaysus money real quick
James’ old buddy comes into town, does a revival and we learn that his religious schpiel is a hustle of the “I have legs! I can walk!” variety. He offers jobs to James and JJ - come on the road, get “healed” every night and get paper. Both pack suitcases faster than you can say look at me now! Cue Florida. James it’s wrong! Damnit woman - you wanna eat chicken gizzards your whole life?! Don’t you want thigh meat? James backs down and once again settles for a life of frustration brows.
Florida: 2 Chicken thighs: 0
That time James found some money and kept a little
James finds a bag of cash that belonged to a grocery store, turns it in and they reward him with some foolishment like a lifetime supply of fig jam because, no chill. The entire hood starts harrasing James, who finally admits to having socked away a strong 10k, because, brokeness. Here comes Florida and her white Jaysus talk. *sigh* James gives back the money and they resume sleeping four to a bed.
Florida: 3 Not Sharing a Bath Cloth: 0
At this point, you don’t need to have seen the show to think James needed a divorce attorney and usually, I’m right with you. But I’ve been on this Buddhist journey a while, part of which involves cultivating compassion (shudder); it’s got me thinking differently about all kinds of fuckshit people do and why they do it, and adding a lot of room for context before I label something bogus.
TV shows then, as now, were written with the audience in mind. A show that didn’t speak to anyone wouldn’t have lasted as long as Good Times did. Florida’s actions must have spoken to a large portion of society - and it’s pretty clear looking at the storylines to see that this society had simpler ideas of right and wrong. Florida’s piety - no matter how annoying - was a product of the time. When you put it in that context, it becomes easier to understand her and be a bit more tolerant.
Fast forward to today: We’ve got Empire, a show where one of the most loveable characters is an ex-con who alternates between dishing out violent (if on point) motherly discipline and calling people faggots.There’s nobody in that cast who falls neatly into a “good” or “bad” box and yet, we’re ok with that. Maybe somebody will look back years from now and think we had no principles. Or perhaps they’ll put things into context: In 2015, our concept of right and wrong is complicated mane!
My own personal ethics have evolved similarly. Fifteen-year-old me felt studying journalism (my true passion) was the only ethical choice. Twenty years later, I feel like I should have snatched a computer science degree and worried about passion next lifetime. I’d be swimming through a vault of coins right now. Scrooge McDuckin’ it! Anywho, just more proof that on a personal and society level, our ethics inevitably evolve with circumstances, life experience and just time in general.
So in summary, we’ve all gone to shit, right?
Nah, I think right and wrong, good and bad are simply not written in stone. Our enslaved great grands may have felt it “wrong” to rebel against white society. Their grandchildren decided otherwise. If that shift hadn’t occured, I’d probably be brushing some white woman’s hair right now. So I’ve gotta side with ethical evolution there.
Does this entire treatise mean I can’t enjoy Good Times? Hell nawl - I don’t wanna live in a world without Thelma in them jeans! BTW Will Keith play football again? Damnit, I need to know!
Even Florida had her moments: I remember her telling a crestfallen JJ that he was beautiful, in the heartfelt way only a mother can. There was a lot of love on that show. Maybe there’s something we can gain from the way things used to be after all - even if they were wack sometimes!