Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is It Real? Compared To What?

I admit that I don't watch any reality TV shows... not since the "Real World" premiered and how long ago was that? No, I don't watch "The Biggest Loser", "American Idol", "Dancing With The Stars", nada... none of that stuff. It doesn't interest me in the least bit. I view it as the cheapest and most unimaginable form of entertainment.

I don't begrudge people their guilty pleasures, though... to each his/her own. If you choose to watch that stuff, be my guest. Needless to say, most of the people I work with do not share my quasi -elitist beliefs and they do partake of these shows.

Every morning when I come to work, I hear spirited conversations about the "Real Housewives of Atlanta", "Singer", "Monica", "Chilli (of TLC)", and "Frankie & Neffe", as if my co-workers actually know them. I was going to say as if they were real people. Sorry to say, they are real people.

Across the reality-television spectrum, there have always been women like Sheree and her ''friends'' on Bravo TV's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"... catty, materialistic, and self-absorbed. But are television executives really only interested in Black women when they are acting a fool? And more importantly, are sisters really only interested in seeing themselves portrayed in this light? I sure hope not.

But if you look at the popularity of these shows, apparently this is so: Last month, cable network VH1 dominated the list of top 25 cable shows in Black households for reality original programming, returning with the all new "Basketball Wives" ranked at No. 5. (Like Housewives and Tiny & Toya, the show features ex-girlfriends and wives trying to make names for themselves on the heels of relationships with famous men). "What Chilli Wants" followed in popularity at No. 7 and "Brandy & Ray J" came in at No. 11. Executives say that their channel had a 9% increase in Black women prime-time viewers ages 18-49 in this past year alone with the success of their reality shows.

For someone who has never watched a minute of any of these shows, I sure seem to know a lot about them, huh? That's because I hear women who work with me, both Black and White, constantly talking about these people and their adventures... in the office, on the subway, on the trolley, on the bus, and with such fervor and devotion, it's incredible! I almost feel like these women visited one of my co-worker's home the night before. LOL!

People are quick to talk about Black male rappers and the bad image they give the White world of Black males and Black people in general. So, I ask the question... Do the women on these shows not do the same for Black women and Black people in general? And especially, the ones who have a little money?

Some people say that these depictions aren't necessarily always ''negative''. I want to be careful about labeling,'' says Terrion Williamson, a doctoral candidate in American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, who is writing her dissertation about reality-television programming.

''Because that attitude that comes from a kind of middle-class, bourgeoisie ideology that says there's a certain way that we, as Black women, should conduct ourselves. Would we be happier if all we saw was Michelle Obama? Would that then improve our lot in life?''

Maybe not, but as Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP has pointed out, seeing actor Dennis Haysbert as President of the United States on the successful Fox TV series "24", may have helped to set the psychological stage for Obama's victory.

''I wouldn't want to say that what you're seeing on the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" is emblematic of everything that Black women are going through,'' said Andy Cohen, Senior Vice President for Original Programming & Development at Bravo. ''But, when you put four women under the microscope, then you're somehow portraying issues that a whole lot of Black women can relate to. It's fun,'' he added, emphasizing that the show isn't meant to be taken seriously. ''It puts a smile on my face.''

That's the excuse the apologists always use when it comes to Black denigration. "It's fun." I have this to say about that... White people could produce a show like "The Three Stooges", watch it, laugh, and not cringe because for every Three Stooges show, there was a show with a doctor, a lawyer, a swashbuckling and heroic pirate, a cowboy, a gangster, a detective, and whatever. Do you feel me? They had balance.

However, with Black people, you get non-stop "laughter" or what one of my co-workers so eloquently calls "coonery and buffoonery" and very little balance. It is getting better... much better. But then, in the world of so-called "reality TV", it seems to be getting worse. Take one step forward, then take two steps backwards.

What do you think? Am I just being, well, a little extra? Comments please!


Arlene said...

Maybe this is a family thing, cousin, because I don't watch those shows either. I find no entertainment value in watching any of them. I'll watch reruns of Law&Order and its spinoffs before I'll watch any of the shows you mentioned. I think watching and counting ratings for these kinds of shows encourage corporate TV to multiply the number of shows in this genre. These shows are supposed to be cheaper to produce. Hence saving production costs and increasing profits is the goal. Greed is the bottom line.

And yes, I'd like to see "Michelle Obama" types on every show. The more the merrier! We've got granddaughters!! Do you want a Kendra or a Michelle? Are we helping to raise girls whose goals are to sexualize themselves in order to trap a man? Or to be strong, independent women who stand for honesty, integrity, and responsibility. I wouldn't care if they were rich or poor. Their qualities would reflect their values. And you can't put a price on self-esteem.

Rich Fitzgerald said...

I feel you. I really do. I'm not an avid watcher of anything TV to tell you the truth. However, I have peeped in on the exploits of Tiny and Toya, Chili, Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives, and Fantasia. I usually don't make it past two episodes.

You make some excellent points. I can't say that I disagree.

Much like Arlene, I usually end up watching Law and Order, but sometimes I get tired of that and need something a little light and funny.

We definitely would be better off with more balance, but you know the play on that. We don't control our own image. Enough said.


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