Basic.

In turmoil over the fact that there is still no premier date in site for Season 4 of Broad City, I found myself searching for a female led show that I actually care to watch. HBO’s Insecure has hands-down been that show. Insecure is the brainchild of writer and producer, Issa Rae. The comedy series follows the friendship of two, black women in their late twenties as they "...deal with their own real-life flaws as they attempt to navigate different worlds and cope with an endless series of uncomfortable everyday experiences".

I loved season 1 of Insecure, and finished it in one day, because Issa, Molly and every other character is relatable. They depict,

...the lives of ordinary Black people in their twenty-something’s on a search for something better. No one has it all together or the ultimate perfect life. No one is selling drugs or bursting out into song every five minutes.
— The Excelsior

What is most relatable about Insecure's characters is that they are all “tokens” for something - they are all reduced down to being one thing - no matter how hard they try to fight it. For example, In her group of coworkers at the non-profit youth outreach, “We Got Y’all”, Issa, the show's main character, is the token “black girl” to whom the company turns when they have a “black” question like “Why don’t more of them swim?”. In another example, Molly is the token “single twenty-something” and finds that she is not taken seriously at her law firm simply because she is not engaged or married like her coworkers. And Issa’s boyfriend, Lawrence, is also a token for the “millennial deadbeat”. He is college educated and well-meaning, but when he cannot find a job that he is passionate about, he spends four years "getting a business plan together" while sitting on his couch.

We’ve all been there right? Maybe not as token black girls, or single girls, or deadbeats but we’ve all been tokens for something. Here is my example:

The summer after my freshman year of college, I was excited to go back to my summer job at a ranch working with other college students. We had all just had the same experience. We had all just gotten so much older and wiser, right? Surely, it would be a ton of fun. Well, my first night back, one of my coworkers told me that he felt like Yale had opened his eyes to a whole new world. He felt like all the proverbial doors were opening to him. I told him that my first year at the University of Denver had made me feel the same way. He responded, “It’s not the same…I went to Yale”. His look said “token poor girl”(as if DU was cheap). My look likely said “token expletive”.

Unfortunately, reducing people to mere tokens is something that happens often. This tokenization is a part of the culture that Insecure captures brilliantly and in a way that I can laugh at to the point of tears. It’s not a “deep” show, and it's not an unpredictable show, but I do not that the show runners set out to be deeply philosophical or to pioneer the unfamiliar. I think that it set out to be a brave reflection of how we’ve tokenized just about everything, and in that it thrives. In fact, I think that others should take notes. Specifically, I think that the NFL should take notes.

I have read several articles lately about how, unlike Insecure, the NFL is struggling to attract viewers this football season. Articles that I have read have blamed low ratings on "oversaturation", the World Series, the presidential electionsThanksgiving, missing players, Peyton Manning, and millennial inattention. While these individual issues or a combination of these issues may indeed be factors contributing to low ratings, I think that the NFL ratings continue to tank because the NFL has tokenized its viewers. Over the years, the NFL has reduced their viewers to being one thing: "basic". 

According to Urban Dictionary, "basic" is, 

An adjective used to describe any person, place, activity involving obscenely obvious behavior, dress, action. Unsophisticated. Transparent motives.

Because the NFL believes that the reasons fans watch pro-football are obvious, unsophisticated, and transparent, the "issues" being investigated behind the drop in ratings are just as shallow. As ratings continue to drop, the NFL is getting nowhere. 

What I think could help ratings is the NFL dropping the tokens and asking some questions. They should be asking questions of millennials, and of men, and of women, and of white fans, and of black fans, and of Latino fans, and of straight fans, and of gay fans - they should be asking questions of their huge, diverse, audience. The NFL should ask their audience if they actually do care about politics more than football. They should ask families why they prefer a football-free Thanksgiving. They should ask if women are offended by their commercials. They should ask if fans are annoyed by ignorant referees. They should ask fans on the fence if taking pointers from Shonda Rhimes would help their Thursday night games. They should ask former players if they even watch football anymore - and if they do, how we can get an invite to that watch party. Instead of assuming the future of the NFL, maybe Roger Goodell should just 

ask 

some 

basic 

questions. 

 

 

Elise Matson