The television show Friday Night Light, which aired on NBC, tells the story of a high school football team in Dillon Texas. The town of Dillon has a culture centered around the Dillon Panthers football team as football is essentially religion to the townspeople (and the entire state of Texas). The show follows a group of high- schoolers, particularly football players, their girlfriends, and friends, at Dillon High and their experience on and off the field. Friday Night Lights doesn’t necessarily challenge stereotypes but instead highlights the dangers of them by having two black characters follow the same racial stereotype of being valued for their athletic ability rather than as people.
The portrayal of black characters on television has been an issue for a long time and continues to be an issue, even as society changes viewpoints. According to an article analyzing the portrayal of black men on television, the use of a negative image of black males is used to provide entertainment value. Essnetially, the entertainment industry sees success in making black characters inferior and using black male characters to represent violence and a delinquent lifestyle (Bogle, 2003). This idea, although very wrong is shown very often throughout television shows and further continues the use of such stereotypes by race. This is often shown not only in black males being criminals or dangerous, but also as them coming from lower class families and relying on their athletic ability in order for them to be able to succeed later in life.
One of the main stars on the Dillon Panthers is Brian Williams, a black running-back referred to by his nickname, “Smash.” Smash is portrayed as coming from a low-income family, with a single mother who is struggling to send her child to college without him receiving a scholarship to a school for football. Smash is shown as the arrogant, self-centered jock who only cares about himself and his popularity at the school. This follows a stereotype around black athletes in predominantly white areas. Smash is considered an athlete and nothing else. He is not viewed as book smart or knowledgable in any other way. He is an athlete first and foremost because of his race and his actions on and off the field. This stereotype of black athletes continues throughout the show with a student that plays after Smash has graduated, Vince Howard. Vince is a black student who had no interest in joining the football team, but was only recruited after the team saw him running from the cops and felt as though they needed someone like him on their team. He lives also in a low-income neighborhood with an addict mother who does not pay much attention to him, and a father who isn’t around. Similarly to Smash, Vince’s only way to gain success or a college education is through success in football.
Another topic that Friday Night Lights dives into is the stereotypes that surround interracial couples and the way that society looks upon relationships between people of different races. Throughout the show there are not many interracial couples because typically couples portrayed in the show are from the same race or class. However, there is one key interracial relationship between Smash and a white classmate, Noelle. The relationship is openly questioned by classmates and the couple’s parents. This becomes evident when the two families are brought together at a dinner, both Noelle’s family and Smash’s mother are telling them that they should not be together. Even though both families see that their child is happy with the other person, neither one agrees with this idea of interracial couples and does not want their child in an interracial relationship. Both parents allude to their relationship as being a phase and not a long-term commitment, which is a typical stereotype that surrounds interracial relationships. A second incident we see is at the movie theater when Smash, Noelle, and Smash’s sister are harassed by a group of racist white classmates. They taunt the couple as well as Smash’s sister due to their races being together at the movies. This causes Smash to freak out and punch the harassers, which gets Smash in so much trouble that TMU actually rescind their offer to play football there. This is the nail in the coffin for Smash and Noelle’s relationship as there is too much backlash and stereotypical reactions for the young adults to handle. This stereotype sadly still prevails in society and therefore, Friday Night Lights does not try to challenge but show the hardships endured due to the behavior evoked by interracial relationships.
Although Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite shows and contains an interesting and exciting plot, it clearly depicts many racist stereotypes that exist in our society. The show tries to depict a very realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a black male in the town of Dillon Texas, but in doing this, furthers the stereotypes in society. The show does not make an effort to stray away from these stereotypes or even go against them.