Open Thread: Reality TV And Race

Request in the comments yesterday:

kdlmn • 14 hours ago
Could we have a reality show open thread and/or round table on racialicious sometime please? Just a suggestion. Reality shows seem to be together with crime shows the only area in which PoC are overrepresented–cause it gives the viewer yet another possibility to ridicule PoC (added bonus: women of color. women on reality shows in general are always catty and back stabbing, never help one another). There are so many offenders here that I don’t know where to start. The last ones I saw were “Hollywood Exes” (3 Black women, one Latina, one White woman) and “My Big Fat American Gipsy Wedding”, which is especially appalling as it comes just when the Hungarian and French government have in different ways declared that Roma are Open Game. In Hungary a right wing politician recently had a DNA test published to prove that he definitely had zero Roma ancestry. So gross.

Mickey • 7 hours ago
I agree about a round table discussion about these so-called reality shows. Whose reality are they showing? Most of this stuff is edited to make certain people fit into stereotypes the public automatically buys in to, especially regarding PoC. I watched a couple of episodes of “Hollywood Exes” and, although it is not too bad compared to other shows of its nature, the Black ex-wife of R. Kelly and the White ex-wife of Jose Canseco sort of get on my nerves.

Consider the thread open! A couple things I’ve noticed after the jump.

To kdmln’s point, backstabbing is rewarded. The first season of RHOA had women who were philanthropists and women who were invested in talking about their businesses. These women were deemed boring and put off the show early on. They sell reality shows on drama. When I think about reality shows I’ve enjoyed over the last few years–House of Consignment, Running Russell Simmons, Daddy’s Girls, Househusbands of Hollywood–they are fairly free of drama and focused more on the characters solving life problems. However, most of the shows I like get cancelled due to low ratings. And the things that stay on are high in conflict. I fear for Push Girls for that reason. That’s one of the realest shows I’ve seen (and there’s a post forthcoming) but these women are a little too self-actualized. They are going for their goals, which makes for compelling watching, but not ignorant TV. And ignorance tends to win, ratings-wise. Of the handful of shows fronted by black women, only the really terrible ones make headlines. Others, like Styled by June, just don’t get the same kind of buzz.

To Mickey’s point, we’re overrepresented in some genres, but not others. “Wives” are generally women of color, but “Housewives” generally are not. There are normally contestants of color on ensemble competition shows (like Design Star, Top Chef, Chopped) but we are seriously underrepresented in dating shows, particularly the “single girl looking for love.” And, to focus in specifically on dating shows, some folks are just missing – Patti Stranger would occasionally feature a match of color, but it was a rare sight. (And, depressingly, the handful of black millionaires on the show tended to request white women only.) Shows about dating lives are similarly segregated – it’s only Steve Ward’s Tough Love that feature men and women of color regularly, and don’t get me started on him. Black men are almost always cast for eye candy or to fulfill a stereotype – on Miss Advised, after two characters have a conversation about dating black men (“Oh, you have to try it!”) the guy she selects takes her to a strip club. So far, I’ve counted two black men on that show. Latinos and Latina characters normally appear on dating shows, but at the fringes, and often in a stereotyped fashion. Or, if I do see Latinas, they are going through Steve Ward’s Boot Camp. (Though, big caveat – I don’t watch the Bachelor/Bachelorette so I am missing a big chunk of the genre.) Asian Americans are not well represented, and Asian American men are basically non existent. I can’t remember off the top of my head any South Asian or Indigenous representation on screen.

  • Anonymous

    I forgot “Mrs Eastwood & Company”.

  • Anonymous

    This is great! Thank you!

    So let’s see: Which reality TV shows with PoC have there been (I’m not counting Bachelor/ette stuff, The Real World [since everyone looks ridic on there], talent stuff, makeover or pure cop shows)?

    Googling coupled with memory gives me

    - My Big Fat Gipsy Wedding (the worst IMO, cause chances that viewers
    actually ever met a Romany or Irish Traveller or even know the
    difference or know that the Romany were gassed in the Holocaust or that
    they were enslaved for 600 years in Romania are… precisely zero. Article recommendation: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/07/23/gypsy-culture-is-much-more-than-dresses-and-make-up/ DON’T read the comments which mostly seem to call for genocide)
    - that Iranian ‘Jersey Shore’ clone (note: I hated Jersey Shore already which othered Italian Americans; see also: ‘Mob Wives’. Why don’t we have anything silly on Scottish Americans, Swedish Americans or German Americans?)
    - now the Korean ‘Jersey Shore’ clone
    - Push Girls which looks AWESOME
    - that All American Muslim show
    - Hollywood Exes
    - Bad Girls Club
    - Love & Hip Hop Atlanta
    - Tia & Tamera
    - Kimora
    - Brandy & Ray J
    - some Snopp Dogg thing
    - Whitney Houston & Bobbi Brown’s show
    - What Chilli wants
    - Dance Moms
    - Basketball Wives
    - Mama Drama (haven’t seen it, here links: http://www.vh1.com/shows/mama_drama/cast_member.jhtml?personalityId=15546 and http://www.vh1.com/shows/mama_drama/cast_member.jhtml?personalityId=15550)
    - Empire Girls (don’t know anything about this either other than that it’s Latina: http://www.latina.com/entertainment/tv/empire-girls-adrienne-bailon-and-julissa-bermudez)
    - LA Hair (http://www.wetv.com/shows/la-hair Is this good? It looks interesting to me.)
    - Chicagolicious (looks like LA Hair in Chicago…)

    Does “Cajun Justice” feature PoC? I remember reading that it featured Voodoo, but it didn’t say whether the practitioners were White or Black.

    In general this list seems like Asians and Latinos/Latinas are underrepresented and African Americans overrepresented.

    Do we like/approve of any of the shows other than Push Girls? Do any of the shows feature ‘okay’ representations that are not only related to ‘womenz are so materialistic and care only about hair, nails and make up. Black womenz even more so”?

    @ Khamila: Why exactly is there such a focus on women whose claim to fame is their husband?! Why do we not have shows on WoC (or women in general, I can’t think of a White example either) who have achieved something in their own right? (Kimora and Whitney… are difficult cases… and it’s always in the entertainment industry)

  • kerrita k.

    sadly, there’s a whole new generation of kids and kids of color raised on this crap. and let’s also note that on ms. stanger’s show – she’ll tell the black women to get weaves before the date meet. **shudder!**

  • Keisha

    As usual, I completely agree with all the comments posted. I was recently watching “A Different World” and my father and I had a lengthy conversation about how this show dealt with very real topics in a smart way. The show made you think and laugh at the same time without feeling like you were watching a minstrel show. Since the ’90s, there hasn’t been a show like that. Forget about other PoCs. Latinos get a show maybe once a decade and Asian and Indigenous communities, well I’m still waiting. Unfortunately, reality television has dominated the airwaves (I can’t remember the last time MTV or VH1 actually played a music video). But contrast to the few primarily white sitcoms (where whites play the title role), there are no sitcoms that feature a wide range of personalities for PoC. The few sitcoms that Black are in are overwhelmingly Christian based. This gives this false that all Blacks are either what we see in reality shows or on a show like House of Payne. There is a huge gap that’s missing. Either we are popping bottle gangstas and hoes or we are Bible thumping at Church every chance we can get. What did happen to that diversity?

    What I don’t understand is why aren’t different types of shows going on cable. It’s not as if there isn’t any precedence available. Many of the ’90s sitcoms and early 2000s sitcoms were widely successful. I dare you to find anyone in this day and age regardless of color that cannot rap word for word the theme song to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. That’s because these shows transcended boundaries. They were hilarious and you didn’t feel like your brain cells were dying while you were watching them. (FYI- It’s interesting to note how many of the themes that they covered in A Different World are still relevant today.) Well, at least we have the internet where we can watch more diversified shows. I just wish they had a platform that they could get the same recognition as Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta.

    Side note: I have nothing against these shows. They are entertaining from time to time but also problematic in that they don’t show different points of views now and again. For instance, I only caught the commercial bit of the argument between Joseline and Stevie J. Was I the only one who was seriously disturbed by the fact that Stevie J passingly told Joseline that he CAN send her back to strip club as she cried while protesting that she will never go back. This patriarchal stance made me literally shudder. Or was it was taken out of context for shock value? I don’t know, but that left a bad taste in my mouth for that show.

  • Lauren

    My thing is this: having seen only snippets of various shows; I think there needs to be room to tell stories about struggling (or formerly so), rags-to-riches women of color in a sympathetic way. Sympathetic is the key word here. Not “set up by VH1 to be cruelly mocked (and encouraged to act a damn-ass fool).” I caught bits and pieces of Love and Hip Hop after my Twitter feed called Joseline(?) everything but a child of God. My first instinct wasn’t to laugh at her, her story broke my heart. To see her being manipulated (financially and emotionally, if not physically) by that cretin ass, philandering Stevie J really disturbs me. Like, for real. First off, she must be terrified: dude threatened to send her back to the strip club. Her “past” life must have been a dangerous life of poverty if the only other option was to align herself with Stevie’s charlatan ass, yanno? All for him to be able to hold that over her head so she’ll submit to his will and to be raked over the coals by the viewing audience, to add insult to injury. It’s FAR too easy to set up women of color (especially poor/formerly poor ones at that) to be made the villains of narratives about reality TV and in real life when they’re already at the low end of the totem pole in many cases. Everybody loves to slander the ratchet hoes, amirite? But nobody ever stops and thinks about where they’re comin from and what they’re dealing/have dealt with. I’d welcome a show about basketball non-wives/babymamas/whatever that empathetically showed the difficulties of living as a poor WOC who come from limited means and exploring the internal struggles of deciding who and what you’ll put up with (entertainment jobs, rap careers, etc, aiming for rich men, possible sex work) as a viable option to keep food on your table and clothes on your back. (Sorry for the essay, hope that all made sense lol)

  • V

    First off @KhamilaA, no one’s making shows like Moesha etc. because drama and “grown women throwing wine at each other, shaking tables, threatening
    each other, and scheming against each other”=ratings. Second, Real Housewives of (city name here), anything with the Kardashians and reality TV in general is diversionary anyway

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it also true that the WOC “Wives” aren’t usually anyone’s wife, let alone “housewife?

  • KhamilaA

    Yes, thank you for making this thread!!

    I just have a question: Is the modern day minstrel the Basketball wife? the Love and HipHop diva? Because we are seriously looking like coons on TV now worse than 20 years ago. Remember the 90s? Moesha, Sister Sister, Fresh Prince, LIving Single, and all those other great shows with a more diverse representation of Black women. Where is that now? Why are we tolerating this? Why are we excited and clapping for grown women throwing wine at each other, shaking tables, threatening each other, and scheming against each other?

    It seems like serious self-degradation of the Black female community is happening via shows like Basketball wives, Real Housewives of ATL, and the Love and HipHop shows. Just watching Love and HipHop Atlanta I didn’t understand how these women can keep calling each other bitches and fighting, but tolerate these deadbeat males(not men) that live with them, eat their food, sleep with them, but can’t even refer to them as something higher than “my baby mama.” Stevie J is being tolerated and accepted, but these women are abusing each other over mess started by the OPPOSITE SEX.

    Let’s also remember that back in the 90s and early 2000s, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, TLC, SWV, En Vogue and several female artists were telling us to be independent, powerful and have a voice. Now, it seems we’ve gone backwards. I mean…where’s the female empowerment? Really, where is it?

    I just hope that if we continue to watch these ratchet shows, we at least support the good quality positive Black TV out there like Scandal with Kerry Washington!

    Thoughts?

    • Anonymous

      My thoughts are that you are definitely right. We’ve been backsliding both in real life AND in the media. Not sure why we can’t still have positive representation on TV when we were in everything from ensemble dramas to silly sitcoms in the 90′s. Funny how 20 years ago, a stable, middle or upper middle class black family could be seen as realistic and now it isn’t (however I’m not forgetting that when the Cosby Show started it all, they were saying that the family was unrealistic; fast forward to the 90′s and it was normal to show black professional families and singles, where being black was not the story).
      And yes, in addition to being mostly talentless hacks, I don’t think that the highest profile black female artists are promoting the same messages of strength, empowerment, and safe sex either. It’s all about being a sex kitten or seductress (which has taken the place of being able to actually sing or dance).
      Women happily embarrass and exploit themselves and play to every negative stereotype for a quick buck. It’s just sad and pathetic.
      It is disgusting that people willing to act like fools get rewarded as people who actually are struggling to perfect their craft can’t get hired to be in front of or behind the camera, or to even write the scripts (as privileged, non-minorities pretend that the issue is that we don’t even attempt those pursuits).
      I fear that Kerry Washington is not enough of a trainwreck or stereotype to stay on TV for too long.

    • Mickey

      I’ve made the same comments in the past here at Racialicious. All of these so-called reality shows are modern-day cooning and buffoonery. It is real-life “Bamboozled.” And do not forget shows like A Different World, Family Matters, 227, Amen, The Jeffersons, Cosby, and, of course, the unforgettable Cosby Show. These shows featured POC in a very positive light. What the hell happened!? It’s almost as if the powers-that-be said, “Alright! Enough! We don’t want White folks getting too comfortable with these Negroes. Let’s flip the script.”

    • Mickey

      I’ve made the same comments in the past here at Racialicious. All of these so-called reality shows are modern-day cooning and buffoonery. It is real-life “Bamboozled.” And do not forget shows like A Different World, Family Matters, 227, Amen, The Jeffersons, Cosby, and, of course, the unforgettable Cosby Show. These shows featured POC in a very positive light. What the hell happened!? It’s almost as if the powers-that-be said, “Alright! Enough! We don’t want White folks getting too comfortable with these Negroes. Let’s flip the script.”

    • Keith Creech

      Is it a modern day Minstrel show? No, not by a long shot. There are plenty of shows that feature other ethnic groups doing the same things. I’m sorry but I am sick of these type of cliched and overused conversations in our community. It just leads to passing judgement on groups in our community that have nothing to do with such behavior, ie attacks on poor and working black women or men depending on who is to be blamed this week. These shows will NEVER show the struggles facing communities of color, or give any real representative of the working class in our society in general.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=847330360 Khamila Alebiosu

    Yes, thank you for making this thread!!

    I just have a question: Is the modern day minstrel the Basketball wife? the Love and HipHop diva? Because we are seriously looking like coons on TV now worse than 20 years ago. Remember the 90s? Moesha, Sister Sister, Fresh Prince, LIving Single, and all those other great shows with a more diverse representation of Black women. Where is that now? Why are we tolerating this? Why are we excited and clapping for grown women throwing wine at each other, shaking tables, threatening each other, and scheming against each other?

    It seems like serious self-degradation of the Black female community is happening via shows like Basketball wives, Real Housewives of ATL, and the Love and HipHop shows. Just watching Love and HipHop Atlanta I didn’t understand how these women can keep calling each other bitches and fighting, but tolerate these deadbeat males(not men) that live with them, eat their food, sleep with them, but can’t even refer to them as something higher than “my baby mama.” Stevie J is being tolerated and accepted, but these women are abusing each other over mess started by the OPPOSITE SEX.

    Let’s also remember that back in the 90s and early 2000s, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, TLC, SWV, En Vogue and several female artists were telling us to be independent, powerful and have a voice. Now, it seems we’ve gone backwards. I mean…where’s the female empowerment? Really, where is it?

    I just hope that if we continue to watch these ratchet shows, we at least support the good quality positive Black TV out there like Scandal with Kerry Washington!

    Thoughts?