TV in Black and White

Soto, Gary

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: May-02-2006
  • Last revised: Dec-07-2006


The speaker remembers his childhood in which "[w]e were sentenced to watch / The rich on TV --." While the sitcom characters (the Donna Reed Show, Ozzie and Harriet) played golf, ate steak, and dressed fashionably, the speaker and his friends tried to relate the television lives to their own. The disparity between what they saw on television and what they saw every day at home was enormous, required a different dictionary: "While he swung, we hoed / Fields flagged with cotton . . . . "

The poet returns to the present. For many life is relatively luxurious--" Piano lessons for this child, / Braces for that one . . . . " But watch out--when there's a power failure and the lights go off " . . . in this town, / a storefront might / Be smashed, . . . And if someone steps out / With a black and white TV, / its because we love you Donna, / we miss you Ozzie."


The poet considers the role of television in shaping, reflecting, and failing to reflect American society. The ubiquity of television, even in low income households, confers enormous power on the images and narratives it presents, especially perhaps, on the young. There is irony in being forced to watch only the dominant culture, which marginal groups in our society are expected to emulate and often wish to emulate, even as these groups are hindered from achieving--for a variety of complex reasons--the comfortable lives being represented.

Soto has written movingly and humorously elsewhere of the role that television played in the life of his laboring class Chicano family. See for example, "Looking for Work" in the essay collection, Living up the Street (annotated in this database). The gap between representation and reality continues to be an important source of social dissatisfaction and unrest. From a medical humanities perspective, the poem forces consideration of the communication gap that may exist between health-care professionals, and their patients or co-workers, based on differences in socioeconomic background.


Appeared originally in the collection, Where Sparrows Work Hard (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press) 1981.

Primary Source

New and Selected Poems



Place Published

San Francisco