Tag Archives: reality tv

The strange phenomenon of Sanjaya on American Idol

by guest contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

Apologies. I have not yet written anything about the inexplicable phenomenon known as Sanjaya Malakar, who has defied all logic and somehow managed to survive all the way into the top ten of this season’s American Idol. I say this because it’s general consensus that the kid is easily the worst of the bunch, and he should’ve been axed a long time ago, yet somehow people keep voting for him. I’ve particularly enjoyed these blogs on the matter: Sanjaya Must Be Stopped; Bringing Balance to the Force.

Better performers than Sanjaya have already been sent home. I haven’t been following the competition very closely this season, but I’ve seen Sanjaya perform a couple of times, and he’s waaaaay out of his league. The love/hate frenzy over Sanjaya is intense! Things got really bizarre on last week’s show when they kept showing this crazed, crying girl in the audience during his performance, apparently moved to tears by the S-Boy’s rousing rendition of “You Really Got Me.” Maybe she’s the girl who keeps calling to vote. There’s also an extremely vocal anti-Sanjaya movement out there fueled by people who are truly horrified at the prospect of him winning the competition. They believe this is a crisis, and they’re out to preserve not only the sanctity of American Idol, but the very notion of American democracy. One American Idol viewer has even gone on a hunger strike: Starvation for Sanjaya. According to her MySpace page, “So until the day that Sanjaya is no longer American Idol, I will be going on a hunger strike. This means I will refuse to eat anything until American Idol voters wise up, and stop voting Sanjaya through each week.” That is some crazy kind of dedication.

And Vote For The Worst, a website proudly dedicated to destroying American Idol, has been urging visitors to vote for him. The logic is, what better way to demonstrate the suckiness of Idol than to have everybody vote for the suckiest guy to win? Maybe they’re the ones responsible for this. The xenophobic reaction, of course, is to point to all the South Asian voters (millions of them!) who are allegedly keeping Sanjaya in the competition. Maybe they are. Whatever the case, I find this all highly amusing. Heck, I’d love to see the South Asian kid win. And I’d love to see the takedown and ridicule of Idol even more. If Sanjaya wins, I’ll be laughing. We’ll see if he survives another round this week…

Celebrity Big Brother teaches us how to deflect accusations of racism in 3 easy steps

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

The UK’s Celebrity Big Brother reality show has made international headlines because of the racism endured by Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty at the hands of her housemates, particularly a woman named Jade Goody, who has since been evicted. (Thanks to Rochelle, Vandia, Rob and Rachel for the tips!)

From Wikipedia:

As of 16 January 2007 this series has attracted the largest ever number of public complaints to the UK broadcasting watchdog Ofcom about a Big Brother series. The complaints received detailed concerns that housemate Shilpa Shetty had been subjected to bullying, allegedly with undertones of racism. As an example, one English woman even called a fellow Indian participant “a dog” and that she should “fuck off home”. This sparked widespread anger and demonstrations in India, where the alleged racism was reported on the news, and led Big Brother’s main sponsor Carphone Warehouse to sever ties with the show.

It’s been interesting to see some of the similarities between US racism scandals and this one in the UK. It appears that there’s a set of rules that people follow when accused of racism. Now obviously these are not the only three techniques for deflecting accusations of racism or suppressing conversations about race. Be sure to check out How to Suppress Discussions of Racism and Jeff Yang’s terrific breakdown of the typical non-apology, or what he calls the Rosie Carolla defense. But these are three tactics that seem to come up most frequently.

1. Deny that you are a racist, no matter what.

Michael Richards went on David Letterman to apologize but simultaneously declare that he is not a racist. Rosie O’Donnell apologized for her “ching chong” remark while expressing skepticism that it was considered a racial slur. By calling into question the racism of the remark, she of course defused accusations of her being a racist.

According to the BBC, a spokesperson for Goody said: “Jade will be mortified when she comes out to learn that her conduct is being interpreted as racist. Anyone who knows Jade knows that she is not a racist.”

2. Invoke your non-white relative or romantic partner as proof that you’re not a racist.

According to the same BBC article, Goody’s mother Jackiey Budden suggested that Goody couldn’t possibly be racist because she’s mixed: “Jade has never been racist, she is mixed race herself and suffered racist abuse as a youngster.”

We’ve seen plenty of examples of people denying accusations of racism by pointing to the fact that they have been in interracial relationships before and/or have mixed race children, or (my personal favorite) that they live in the Dominican Republic.

Newsflash: Interracial couples and mixed race people can be racist too. Which by the way, also means that increased numbers of both does not mean our society is heading towards an inevitably racism-free future.

3. Point to a non-white person (preferably the focus of your remarks) who was not offended by your behavior as proof that you’re not a racist

After Arnold Schwarzenegger was caught on tape discussing state assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s spiciness (“I mean Cuban, Puerto Rican, they are all very hot…They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it”), he trotted her out at a press conference so she could say that she was not at all offended, and actually refers to herself as a “hot blooded Latina”.

Rosie O’Donnell also used this tactic. At the end of her non-apology, she pointed to two Asian women in the audience and said, “You two weren’t offended, right?” and used their smiles and applause as evidence that she was in fact, not racist.

According to this report (hat tip to Angry Asian Man), Shilpa Shetty is taking back her earlier statement that she felt like a victim of racism by saying instead, “I don’t feel that there was any racial discrimination happening from Jade’s end … I think there are a lot of insecurities from her end, but it’s definitely not racial.”

I’m sure that by the time this post comes out, someone will have said: “See? Shilpa doesn’t think it was racist, so it must not be.”

The 10 biggest race and pop culture trends of 2006: Part 3 of 3

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

This is the last in my series breaking down the top trends in race and pop culture of 2006. If you missed it, check out Monday’s trends 10 through 8 and yesterday’s trends 7 through 4 . Here’s the final list:

10. Race-swapping undercover experiments
9. Hipster racism
8. The continuing obsession with interracial relationships
7. The new minstrel show
6. Racism on college campuses
5. Fear of a Latino takeover
4. The return of the white man’s burden
3. Colorface everywhere!
2. Celebrity racial slurs
1. Race baiting

3. Colorface everywhere!

It seemed like blackface, brownface and yellowface was everywhere in 2006, even in the most unexpected places. Some of these blackface incidents we’ve already covered. For example, Kate Moss in blackface for The Independent’s Africa issue, the many “ghetto parties” and blackface incidents included in racism on college campuses and the Tyra Banks Show episode where she had Angela Nissel go on dates with three men both as a black woman and as a white woman .

Liberal blogs Firedoglake and Billmon (who has since stopped blogging) both decided to use blackface images to mock people they didn’t like/respect. Firedoglake blacked up a photo of Joseph Lieberman in a post accusing him of race-baiting. Billmon blacked up a photo of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after he complained about Lynne Cheney being uncooperative during an interview. Both issued the standard “I’m sorry you’re offended but I’m just so brave and un-PC” apologies, leading ebogjonson to create a flowchart for those bloggers asking themselves if they should use blackface on their blog. In case you were wondering, if you answer yes to being white, the answer is “STOP! You CANNOT use blackface EVER under any circumstances.” Also, be sure to check out Kai Chang’s series on racism in the liberal blogosphere .

A movie based on the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” is in the works. As you probably know, biracial Asian/white protagonist Kwai Chang Caine was played by David Carradine in the series. And he’s been milking the virtual yellowface gig ever since, from his role in Kill Bill to his stupid Yellowbook.com commercials. The question is, which white guy are they going to get to play Kwai Chang Caine in the movie version? Who has enough “Asian flavor?” I’m putting my money on Steven Seagal. ;) Continue reading

Are teens learning about racism from reality TV?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

That’s what Anastasia Goodstein argued recently on The Huffington Post. But what do you all think?

Here’s an excerpt from her post:

Where are teens learning about race and racism today? On reality TV, of course! Teenagers aren’t listening to Ivory Tower (how funny that the tower is ivory) academics on CNN or TV-friendly talking heads like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The new forum for the unfiltered discussion of race has become reality TV.

It started years ago with “The Real World,” where racial tension seemed to be a prerequisite for casting. And in the past year we saw “Survivor” attempt to divide its teams according to race and Ice Cube attempt to have black and white families swap identities in “Black. White.” There is the unnerving minstrel quality to “Flavor of Love,” and we even see mixed race couples on “Wife Swap.” In many ways it’s the “unscripted” nature of a lot of reality TV and its casting of real diverse Americans from different socioeconomic backgrounds that gives us a sharper sense of race in America than scripted dramas with multicultural ensembles. I also happened to catch a pretty shocking discussion of interracial couples on The Tyra Banks show awhile back, which is very popular with teens…

…We all know that most reality TV is far from complex, at least on the surface. It’s over-simplified, raw ratings-grabbing conflict aired without a discussion guide — and kids and teens love it. At the same time, I think it offers an opportunity for parents and adults working with youth to use these types of programs as a jumping off point to talk about race and racism. I’m a believer in using pop culture as a teaching tool. I think racism for this generation tends to be more unconscious than conscious, but a dose of reality could help bring these issues to the surface.

Korean adoptee on Miami Ink

by guest contributor Jae Ran Kim, originally published at Harlow’s Monkey

Did anyone else catch episode “History of the Circus Sideshow” of Miami Ink? I saw it late last night and one of the segments was about a Korean adoptee who came into the shop to get a tattoo with her adoptive mother.

The young woman explains in the episode that she went through a very difficult time growing up in the Jersey area as the only Korean child around, went through a lot of racial identity issues and had problems with trust and attachment and abandonment.

She and her adoptive mother both had Darren tattoo the same basic design, a triangle (representing the adoption triad, first mother, adoptive mother and child) intertwined with a heart.

Only anti-semites think Padma on Top Chef dresses too skimpily

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

top chef bravoWe can file this one in our “racial satire gone wrong” folder. (Hat tip to The Grinder.)

Andy Cohen, a VP at cable channel Bravo, recently wrote this on his blog, in response to viewer criticisms of Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’s skimpy wardrobe:

By the way, I for one am getting a little tired of the griping about Padma’s clothes being inappropriate for the kitchen. We’ve got one of the few models who has written a cookbook and can speak with authority about food, so why not make the best of both situations!? Being Jewish, I was raised to believe that models who know about food should look as white-hot as possible while tasting and discussing food. Thus, I am hereby putting it out there that anyone who thinks Padma looks inappropriate just might be cloaking some form of anti-semitism in their comments and might want to look within instead of at Padma.

Say what?

Turns out it was a lame attempt at satire, as Cohen explained a few days later:

Here’s the deal — I am a very sarcastic person with a sense of humor that is at times a little left of I don’t know what. People have been getting upset by a joke I made on the blog the other day making light of an issue — and it has raised the ire of some Top Chef fans. (See it here.) I was attempting to answer the issue while lampooning the intensely sensitive, PC world we live in today, like a very low-rent, blog version of Borat. It didn’t work and I am sorry.

Dude, leave the satire to comedy professionals, please. And in case you were wondering, Padma is not Jewish.

Superhead and Bobby Brown reality show?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

betBuffoonery alert!

Brace yourselves if this is true. From Crunk and Disorderly:

Wendy Williams on air partner in crime Charlemagne announced that Karrine Steffans and Bobby Brown’s new reality series is slated to air on BET. Shit, if they gave Vince Young’s semi-retarded ass a show I would not rule these two out.

The rumor is that Karrine “Superhead” Steffans (author of Confessions of a Video Vixen) is responsible for Bobby and Whitney’s divorce, and that she’s actually pregnant with his child.

“The White Rapper Show” to mock white emcees?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

white rapper show vh1VH1 will debut a new reality show in January called “Egotrip Presents the White Rapper Show,” hosted by white rapper MC Serch from the early 90s hip hop group 3rd Bass. From Variety.com:

Contestants will live together in the South Bronx as a series of challenges test their music talent and ability to mesh with black culture. Michael Hirschorn, the net’s exec VP of programming, emphasized that the show would be equal parts culture study and comedy…

Hirschorn was mum on specific situations and obstacles that the competitors will face, saying only that there would be both “creative and cultural trials.” Challenges could include anything from freestyle battles in Harlem’s Rucker Park to selling sno-cones in a hip-hop club.

But some white hip hop heads worry that the show will turn into a mockery of white rappers. (Hat tip to Rafi at Oh Word for the links.) MC Serch has been blogging about the upcoming show on his MySpace page and recently wrote this:

A white rapper cannot be considered a white rapper until he rips in front of a crowd of black people. I am not saying they all have to be black. You can have some spanish, some multi-racial kids mixed in there for flavor, I would even say Asain people. But if you are a white rapper that performs in front of a white crowd then you are not a rapper at all. You are a guy who is simulating what it feels like to rock a crowd.

A white rapper named Sage Francis responded to MC Serch in a long open letter on his own MySpace page, refuting Serch’s points:

If a white rapper cries in front of a black crowd and no one posts it on youtube, is he still emo? If it IS posted on youtube and a black person watches it…does that make him an official rapper? If your group was manufactured by someone who wanted to put two white rappers together and hopefully exploit the race situation…and then someone named Vanilla Ice comes around and gets exploited even BETTER than you…and you beat down a Vanilla Ice impostor in the video to a song that actually makes its way onto commercial charts…are you street? Are you hood? Are you an honorary black person if you co-opt enough black culture? How’s that high top fade doing these days?

It’ll be interesting to see how this show turns out, considering how many tricky issues of cultural appropriation and authenticity are involved. The Egotrip team has done some good shows for VH1, dissecting race issues in pop culture (huh, sound familiar? ;) ). They were the ones behind “TV’s Illest Minority Moments” and the three-part series “Race-O-Rama,” both of which I thought were pretty entertaining and for the most part, on-point.