The other day when I was working on my final paperssss (’cause one ‘s’ just won’t do), the ’70s sitcom, The Jeffersons came on. You know The Jeffersons. It has the catchiest theme song:
We’re movin’ on up!
To the East Side,
To the De-luxe apartment
In the sky-y-y…
We’re movin’ on up!
To the East Side!
We finally got a piece of the pie…”
Then the song breaks it down with that funky rhythm you do your little stomp-clap with. You know the part about fish fryin’ and beans burnin’. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, you can watch the video of the song here. Get ready to not be able to get that song out of your head for the rest of the day (It’s in my head now as I am writing this).
Quickly, for those who don’t know – The Jeffersons, a spin off from another Norman Lear production, All in the Family, is about George and Louise (Weezie) Jefferson, who has made money from George’s seven cleaning stores in New York City (one near you) and now he and his wife have “come up” from being poor in Harlem to now living in this swanky apartment building on – yes – Manhattan’s East Side.
So this episode was when Louise finds out that the entire block that housed her old apartment building in Harlem was being torn down to make room for new buildings (urban renewal at its finest). Louise frantically leaves her East Side apartment to visit her old home. There, she has three different memories of growing up in her room. The first memory a young Louise, who is mad at her mama, is making plans to sell her “diamond doorknobs” so she could be rich and run away from home.
In the second memory, she and her cousin are coming home way past curfew from a date and her mama catches her (Bad move, Louise. You know Mama Mills don’t play that). Finally, Louise is getting married and she’s sad about leaving home and saying goodbye to her mother.
As I am half listening (because I practically know all of the good lines by heart) while writing my paperssss, the irony suddenly smacks me in the face because the subject of my paperssss are on – wait for it – self-gentrification. So I stop writing and think a moment. What would have happened if George and Louise had decided instead of leaving Harlem when they were successful with the cleaning stores, to stay in Harlem and be a part of its redevelopment. What would have happened if the Jeffersons were movin’ on in instead of movin’ on up? Would it have been just as entertaining? Believable? Something for us to emulate? Unfortunately, that wasn’t how the George Jefferson character was written. In fact, his whole philosophy was “making it like the white man.” To him that meant living where they lived, buying what they might buy, and making even more money so he’s not awakened by a dream with cockroaches waving and screaming at him, “Welcome back, George!” But that’s another episode… Then the question becomes was The Jeffersons modeled after the mindset of the Black masses? Or was the Black masses following what they saw on sitcoms like The Jeffersons? After all, art imitates life.
So the episode ends with Louise taking her “diamond doorknobs” with her as a memento. My good friend told me that this scene was her favorite. I must confess this is my favorite scene as well. However, for the first time in the fifty-eleven times I have seen this episode, I wished instead of just taking the doorknob, she and George just bought the whole building, diamond doorknob and all, and just rehabilitated it to keep for their progeny. Because sometimes life imitates art. Maybe that would have influenced the rest of us to treasure places where were raised like Harlem, allowing its value to play a part in our decision to not leave it behind for the East side. If George and Louise Jefferson had been written to value what they had left behind, I’m thinking the theme song would have changed slightly:
We’re movin’ on in,
to the Harlem side,
That de-lux Brownstone,
We’ll keep with pride.
We’re movin’ on in,
to where doorknobs bling.
Here’s where we’ll stay
and remain the king…
What do you think?
For the complete The Jeffersons episode, watch here and here