EMPIRE: WHY the “37.6 Billion” Commitment

Empire Picture“37.6 Billion”–the “number of minutes people have spent watching Empire.”

I am one of those viewers who, at the onset of season one, has tuned in weekly, and more often twice weekly, into this artistic representation of classic gumbo that tastes and feels so, so good. Though seemingly grounded in hip-hop culture infused by urban rhythm, Empire is, I understand, influenced by William Shakespeare’s King Lear. I keep asking myself as a lover of Shakespeare’s plays and Empire’s poetic stuttering of complex themes, images and relationships, a rhetorical and interrogative question: Why?

Why do I keep my laptop in ready gear to witness Lucious and Cookie’s rhythmic tangle of love, and more importantly, commitment to family? Why do I spend 120 minutes a week wishing I could travel into the creative core of Timbaland’s music, the writing, and the directing of Lee Daniels? Empire gently holds the soul. Sometimes it forces this soul sister to lean back, to sink inside, to resist feeling the music of lyric experiences such as “What Is Love” and “boom, boom.” I sink back, trying not to breathe, but the music and acting of Empire are breath. And if it is  breath, I know I must inhale it to know Empire. 

If religion calls one to love family and its members in spite of unpleasant family secrets, desperation, and the need to stamp out generational poverty, Empire may be finding its purpose in that. And that may be the answer to my “Why.”

I hear some say, Empire’s criminal element keeps folk returning weekly. No, it is not the criminal elements that have loaded 37.6 billion minutes into television history. It is more, and a glimpse of “the more” can be found in the final episode of season 2. Jamal, one of the sons of Lucious and Cookie, has been shot by an enemy’s daughter the family has “befriended.” When Jamal returns home from the hospital, he is in a wheel-chair. The loyal viewers are greeted by an opening scene with lyrics reminding us that “ . . . life has its own arranges/ . . . The hourglass moves on a grain . . . .” The symbol of life, its unpredictable, sometimes unjust, movement is symbolized by the lone tear falling down Jamal’s face (Gosh the cinematography). The tear travels slowly down Jamal’s face and drags across our visual and emotional memory. I imagine Jamal’s heart is as lonely as the tear moving down his face. Empire is, indeed, a representation of all that is good and challenging about life. A love for family–yet sometimes family can move us into an asylum where the only thing we can do is understand we are lonely, and a human’s  pain creates a poetic moment where seeing and feeling must become one to survive.

Empire is avant-garde art: it is an artistic experiment integrating urban and classical literature. At times, watching Empire is a tug of war between the sophisticated conscious and the authentic subconscious attempting to comprehend humanity’s ugly and beautiful in family relationships and life—at the same time.

I suppose this is the answer to my own “WHY”!


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