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‘Memphis Beat’ Doesn’t Look So Sweet

In August, I will commemorate 19 years of living in Memphis.  Originally born and raised in Mississippi, I moved to the Bluff City at a young age to attend college. After graduation, for reasons I cannot recall at this moment, I stayed; often asking myself  ‘Why?’ over the years.  Don’t get me wrong.  Memphis is a place with much to offer the world and even more that makes it a historical gem, however, my wanderlust has been in overdrive for the past few years, and I’m eager to know what else is out there in the world for me. For the most part, many native Memphians express that same desire, but at the same time, they are equally loyal to the city.

Admittedly, the city has a way of owning you and attaching itself to your dreams; almost begging you to make something of its rich potential and love it enough to save it from the grips of those who seek to pimp and destroy it.   Case in point: Not too long ago, the producers of The First 48 were told to pack it up by the Memphis Police Department’s Commander in Chief, citing that the show was damaging Memphis’ already fragile reputation.  To validate that, I had friends as far away as Arizona calling me and telling me to move because they were under the impression that it rained bullets here every day.   Now, I believe that TNT is probably on its way to doing something that probably won’t help the rep much either.

TNT is set to premiere one of their newest shows in June,  a cop show titled Memphis Beat.  I learned about the show while visiting my mother in Mississippi. Immediately, I smelled trouble and sought more info on the show’s website.  Memphis Beat stars Jason Lee who portrays a Memphis cop named Dwight Hendricks.  Hendricks is supposed to be something of a Southern eccentric like myself, but perhaps with more quirk and less sass.  When he’s not busting the bad guys, he’s moonlighting as an Elvis impersonator.

Ummmmmm…..what?

Now, keep in mind, I’ve been in Memphis for almost 20 years.  I have yet to see a native Memphian impersonate Elvis.  As a matter of fact, there’s a slew of Memphians that have never visited Graceland.  That’s right.  NEVER. You can count me in that number as well.  The closest that I get to Graceland is passing by it in route to some other destination in Whitehaven (the  neighborhood where his mansion is located).  To be quite clear, most Memphians spend very little time harping over Elvis; that’s actually a byproduct of his obsessed fan base that journey to Memphis twice a year; once in January to celebrate his birthday and once in August to commemorate his death.  You see, because of them, we don’t really have to love Elvis like that because he was here.  Furthermore, there’s virtually no reports of random Elvis sightings to prove he’s still alive either.  After all, if he was to show up anywhere, it would be Memphis, wouldn’t it?

Instead, a great deal of Memphians take pride in the legacies of Gospel, Blues, and Soul music, and least I forget, BBQ.   Al Green and the late Isaac Hayes are perhaps adored just as much as Elvis.  Let me tell you, as a Black woman, it’s a beautiful…and hilarious…experience to see a couple of rhythmless White people sing ALL of the lyrics to Love and Happiness.   It happens,  even in Memphis.

Stax Records, Hi Records, the National Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studios, Beale Street, Neely’s Bar B-Que, the Rendevouz, and probably the Peabody Ducks are honored highly among Memphis residents.  They’re historical points of reference….which leads to the second problem of the show. Memphis Beat is NOT filmed in Memphis.  It’s filmed in New Orleans. Again, what? Shouldn’t the show be called New Orleans Beat, instead? Now, how TNT and the producers of the show are going to be able to pull this one off will be interesting.  It’s almost like they sat at the meeting while brainstorming on the show’s concept and said, “Yes, let’s focus on Memphis, but let’s shoot it in New Orleans because we can eat beignets on our lunch break!”***

I just listed a lot of the infamous landmarks in Memphis.  When people watch this show, would it be wrong of them to expect to see them, especially if they live or have visited here?  Considering that the city has been promoting itself to the motion picture industry as an ideal filming location, how come the show wasn’t filmed in Memphis?  While New Orleans and Memphis have a lot in common in many ways, Bourbon Street looks nothing like Beale Street, thus the experience in visiting the Birthplace of Jazz is entirely different from the Birthplace of the Blues.Memphis could have used that revenue and publicity just as much as New Orleans.  Besides, filming the show in Memphis and making sure some of the city’s hot spots get a close up could have enhanced our tourism dollars as well.  But this is the kind of breaks that Memphis have been getting off and on for the past several years.  Every time it seems like the place will get the opportunity to re-introduce itself to the world, it seems to always end up with the short straw.

I will probably watch the pilot for the sake of Alfre Woodard.  DJ Qualls is also co-starring in the show and, to me, he’s just as out of place as he was in Hustle and Flow.  For the most part, I’ll take a pass on Memphis Beat because it just may give me heartburn.  After being here so long, I’ve seen enough Elvis worship to last me a couple of lifetimes.  I’ll also forego watching the show in a small protest on the city being so undermined in cultural significance and getting the shaft on filming rights.

Oh no, is that my pride showing?  Yeah, I believe it is.  🙂

***If anyone has a hankering for beignets while in Memphis, they can just swing by Cafe Beignet downtown and grab an order.  Unless you just have to get that Cafe Du Monde experience, these beignets will fit the bill properly.

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About Chandra Kamaria

Chandra Kamaria is a playwright, essayist, culture maven, educator, entrepreneur, and activist. To learn more, visit www.chandrakamaria.com.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “‘Memphis Beat’ Doesn’t Look So Sweet

  1. wow.

    I live in New Orleans but I spent the first little ten years of my life in Atlanta. I am a Metis kid who grew up in black surroundings. I am used to cities small, exclusive and southern enough to not bother to try and explain my cultural heritage to southern white or black people, neither of whom are exceptionally versed in the cultures of the world, or so it has seemed for my entire life. Here’s an outside perspective.

    I have love for the blues and Memphis and Tennessee, but there is a queer shadow of curse that haunts the conscience while walking in a city where peace was cut down by bullet. Don’t feel alone, I feel that same cold shadow in Dallas. We don’t know your ghosts as well as we know our own.

    If you want the same celluloid (or digital) representation in TN, you have to get the tax credits that LA finally wised up and decided to deliver. That is the only way. Money talks. You have to expect it to work the other way around as well. We begrudge the Dukes of Hazzard movie for traveling around Lee’s Circle in New Orleans, while in the movie proclaiming to be “In downtown Atlanta”. They will export your face just the same as misreading it to others.

    You speak of travel, I think of how culture can be a buzzword for inbreeding. After all, 4% of Louisianans hold a passport and 4% of Tennesseans hold a passport. But we both have rich culture, right?

    To most of us, Elvis is irrelevant, regardless of what he may have done for Memphis. We go there (and I have gone there) for BB King, BBQ, Cash and Stax. Me, I’d listen to the Killer (Jerry Lee Lewis) over Elvis any day of the week. We note how Beale is kind of disconnected as a means of exploring the city further, sure it needs to be its own street, but it also needs to lead me to my next place. Preferably on foot or by bike.

    To make light of that guy who responded to you about Elvis, I also prefer most of the artists whose material he covered. Thornton being the prime example.

    As for the negative perception, that is kind of weak. My wife and I booked flights to Baltimore BASED on the Wire. Turned out what they had presented was familiar and if its familiar, thats all that matters. We have tons of killings in New Orleans but we like bounce (B more club music reminds me of it) We have fresh seafood (so do they but they have to bring more hot sauce).

    The people that stay away from a place because the TV said to? The HELL with them.

    Want to bring people there? Where is your Mardi Gras? (Wikipedia has a sad story or two about that) I would forgo my own for at least once to see brass bands playing the blues (!!!) have a ton of BBQ and see the Memphis sense of humor in float form. I’ve looked on the page and the calendar is empty !

    on the low budget: do what we do, get some friends and costumes and go down the street making noise!

    come on, Memphis.

    Posted by jason | February 7, 2011, 8:04 pm
  2. Personally, I’m just tired of Hollywood only coming to the South to film stuff when the story takes places in a southern locale. Then they get here and find out that everyone doesn’t have a thick southern accent, and it pretty much looks like any other city in the U.S. (I guess the same way they figured that Canada looks a lot like any other generic American city, and the Canadian accent doesn’t seem to bother anyone.) The only way Memphis and the South in general is going to change it’s perception is to do something here in which the “South” is inconsequential even if the story takes place here. Still for my money the most fun portrayal of Memphis on film to date where Memphis actually looks like Memphis is the movie “Mystery Train”.

    Posted by goldenboy62 | June 8, 2011, 5:03 pm

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