The Washington Post is reporting that Prince George’s County and even the city of Hyattsville where I live were prominently featured in an episode of Commander in Chief last week. It turns out that according to ABC, Hyattsville is a dangerous place, overrun by crime and violence. Yikes, and to think I’ve spent a year of my life too busy (working? watching Commander in Chief?) to notice all the bullets speeding past me. Making matters worse, the show seemed to cater to some fairly negative racial stereotypes as well. As County Executive Jack B. Johnson points out, “When the president of the show gets out of a car and is in front of a restaurant that advertises chitlins and pork chops in today’s America, what any right-thinking American knows is we are harking back to an age-old inability of this country to celebrate the leadership and achievement of African Americans and other diverse people in this country.”
While I recognize that an episode of Commander in Chief will likely be little more than a blip on most people’s popular culture radars, I’m intrigued by the angry response to the program, in part because I have lived in Hyattsville for the last few months and find it to be a friendly and ethnically diverse community with nice restaurants and lots of parks and green space, as well as being in the most affluent majority-black county in the nation. But Prince George’s (PG) County has historically been depicted as unsafe, leading to misplaced fears about living and spending time here.
I do think some of the comments about the episode might be overly sensitive. One commenter faults the show for referring to Prince George’s as “PG County,” implying that the abbreviation is “meant as a put-down,” but I don’t see the use of “PG county” as always functioning in that way. In fact, the phrase can be reclaimed as a form of identity, a connection to Prince George’s County as a community with a distinct personality. At any rate, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed this controversy if it weren’t about my neighborhood, but it’s interesting to see how the episode has provoked such a strong response.