The Famous Jett Jackson: Most progressive show back then; still influential today
I once wrote a post about Idris Elba becoming the first Black James Bond. In it, I admonished People of Color for aspiring for the “middle-management” tier of 007, when what they really should be aiming for is an “executive” position, like M. I think part of the reason I scoffed at the idea of a Black Bond was because I had already grown up with a Black superspy. Any adult my age with cable as a child remembers the classic Disney Channel show The Famous Jett Jackson. In short, the show was about teen actor that moved the production of the the show he started on from Hollywood to his hometown in North Carolina. At the time, I only took this concept at face value, but today it amazes me how progressive this show was. Let me show you.
Mission Omega Matrix
In every episode of The Famous Jett Jackson, we see “clips” of “Jett’s” portrayal of the teenage superspy on the show, Silverstone. The Silverstone character was every bit the spy that James Bond was, and more. Silverstone could fight, go incognito and manipulate powerful people just as well as his older, British counterpart, but with a more “urban” feel. I’m pretty sure if the show wasn’t on the Disney Channel, we would have seen his many exploits taking the virginity of young sixteen year old girls around the world.
But the fact that he was a Black spy was not what impresses me today. Look at the organization Silverstone worked for, Mission Omega Matrix or M.O.M. This organization embodied what I said I wanted to see in the Bond series. Silverstone, and all the agents he worked with, were all under the management of Nigel, a Black man. Why is this significant? As far as we can tell, MOM was essentially a Black-run spy organization. But not only is it a Black-run spy organization, it is a well-run Black spy organization.
Up until this point in TV history, not many shows focused on Black run businesses and if they did, they usually were comedies focusing on how hard it was to run that business. In Stanford and Son, half the jokes were about how dumb the son was. 1990s Black comedies that featured workplaces, like TFJJ’s contemporaries The Jamie Foxx show and the Wayans Bros., drew much of there plot lines from incompetent employees. With “Silverstone”, the plot lines of the show didn’t come from ineptitude of the people working there. For the most part, the show focused on M.O.M resolving the extraordinary external circumstances that they were hired to resolve. And they did this all without making a big deal that it was a Black spy agency! Today I might look at Pope and Associates from Scandal and not bat an eye but it’s because I saw it on TFJJ first.
I also wrote a post earlier claiming how LeBron’s example of economic empowerment should be a model for all minority communities. LeBron found a way to use his position to benefit not only himself but his whole community. We’ll never know for sure, but who’s to say that Jett Jackson wasn’t inspiration to LeBron? During the years the show was on, 1998-2001, LeBron was 14-17. Lee Thomas Young and Lebron were both born in 1984. Could young LeBron have seen how Jett used his influence to move a whole TV show from LA to his hometown and applied those same principles over a decade later with his moves away and back to Cleveland?
Think about the significance what Jett did. It’s impressive that a teenager was smart and savy enough to bend a Hollywood studio to his will. He lived out every teenager’s fantasy by telling grown-ups what to do. But imagine how that influenced Black kids like me and LeBron, to show this young Black man exert this power over white TV executives, producers and directors. It’s basically the G rated version of Django Unchained.
There are about a thousand other things that are great about TFJJ but let me just summarize one episode to show you have progressive this shit was. The show was “Backstage Pass” which originally aired on December 8th, 2000.
- This is the episode where Destiny’s Child guest starred in what I have to imagine was one of Beyoncé’s first acting roles (it showed). This show centered around Silverstone trying to stop an International Criminal Consortium from smuggling a microfiche with nuclear codes into America by way of the equipment returning to the country from Destiny Child’s European Tour. While the plot was a horrible as it sounded, we were rewarded in the end with an excellence fight scene with “Bug-a-boo” playing in the background. This scene should be archived in the Library of Congress for future generations to experience what life was like in the early 2000s.
- And yes there is a scene where Silverstone and Beyoncé are flirting and Michelle is literally sitting in the background between them with nothing to do. Poor Michelle.
- A subplot in the show was a peak into Jett’s great-grandma’s dating life. Usually she’s the wise old woman that provides the perfect advice right before Jett learns his lesson, but this episode showed her romantic relationship with a local biker. Date one, dude picks her up on his hog and rides away. By date two she’s wearing riding chaps 😉. Later that night, she comes home at two in the morning saying she dumped him because he was getting too clingy. I would say that she’s getting her groove back but the truth is, she probably never lost it.
- I also loved how this show dealt with fame in a way that we rarely see. Throughout the series, Jett’s fame is presented as more of a stressor than a benefit. At the end of the show, Jett and Beyoncé lament about the demands people make of you when your famous. Silverstone says to Bey, “All those people who only want to know you for your fame. They don’t know what they’re missing.” This is a haunting line in retrospect considering opposite paths fame eventually led Beyoncé and Lee Thompson Young.
“The Original J and B”
Life Imitating Art
I really enjoyed writing this article because it pulled together a lot of the themes that define this blog, and the links to my previous posts are a testament to that. I’m a big believer in the idea that visualization is an important step to actualization. That is why shows with Black characters, like TFJJ, mean so much to me. Up until now, I’ve spend my whole professional career trying to emulate the positive professional qualities of Jett, resourceful, confident and an asset to my organization. But now that I have some working experience, I now aspire to be like Nigel, a skilled leader that can manage organizations and be a mentor to young leaders.
While TFJJ isn’t exactly what I want from my life, it has given me a prototype to model my owns hopes and dreams off of. It’s only when I look back at shows like Jett Jackson and the Proud Family that I realize how much of how I act today is influenced by what I saw back then. But considering that Destiny’s Child also sang the intro to Proud Family, maybe it’s just that I’m incredibly motivated by Beyoncé.