I am quite convinced they are the birth of the child of unrepentant banality that has devolved from American culture and the Enemy itself. Reality TV reflects the lowest common denominator of what ever should be shown on television and there is no intrinsic value to be had from the show’s creators, the characters or whatever half-baked script is put into the show. Now, to be fair, reality TV shows such as “Amazing Race” do hold some value to me simply because it does showcase contestants in distant lands and at least for me, I am able to glean something about another culture, even if it is commercialized and white-washed (figuratively) for our American sensibilities. Even shows like “Fear Factor” to “The Biggest Loser” to “Shark Tank” to “Hell’s Kitchen” somewhat show some basic human emotions that produce some story-line and allow us to buy into characters for the sake of perfecting their craft or even if it is to see who can eat the most live cockroaches.
Then there’s the black reality TV shows.
Of the latest kerfuffle on the back end of 2012 was “Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta” as we met characters like Joseline and Stevie J. and Lil’ Scrappy and who can forget Momma Dee. But this merely stood in the tradition of “Basketball Wives,” and the head of them all “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Even the most recent addition, aside from the titular shows, has been the announcing of “All My Babies’ Mamas” featuring rapper Shawty-Lo that has critics calling for its cancellation even before the show premiers.
To borrow the sentiments of Karl Marx and Marquis de Sade, reality TV show is the opiate of the masses.
These black reality TV shows are atrocious looks into the lives of blacks male and female that seem to embody every single stereotype and somehow find a way to ramp it up to the next level and create a Franken-type. This Franken-stereotype seems to take all of the possible negative projections that both society and those within the black community and producers and directors foist these stereotypes mashed together on one character and voila! you have some Franken-stereotype exuded in someone like Momma Dee.
I have purposely not blogged about black reality TV shows because there are enough people out there blogging incessantly about every jot and tittle and breath breathed by the likes of Linnethia “Nene” Leakes or Stevie J memes created every two seconds. Also, I tend not to really watch these black reality shows. The singular and only reason I watch “Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta” is because my entire Twitter timeline on Monday nights was totally dominated with tweets from the show. From where I am located, that means that the show now has a pop culture cache attached to it. So much to the point that much of black popular culture now are familiar with the phrase “ooooh, she shakin’ the table” or “B-I-C-T-H –and in that order” along with the notion of making a Stevie J face. However, both “The Sisterhood” and “Best Funeral Ever” are shows that, due to their nature, have required me to say something.
The intersection of religion and culture is one that we cross almost everyday from the workplace to one’s everyday lives. Somehow our moral compass influenced by our religious and spiritual beliefs affect our reaction to seeing things, doing things and being who we set out to be. For this sake, generally we watch these reality shows with our moral rulers in full effect, but because these shows stand so far away from the religious sphere, most of us watch it in a vacuum and move on with the days of our lives. However, both of these shows highlight some of the worst that I think can be offered.
“The Sisterhood” highlights these Atlanta area pastors and focuses on their wives, colloquially known as “first ladies.” Already, this show is set up to be nothing more, and certainly not less than, what the Bravo channel is offering with the “The Real Housewives” series. And much like the “Housewives,” very few are married and similarly, one of the couples is currently not in a church which begs the question is the wife really a first lady. The set up for the same tripe and the same drama is in the mix as in any other reality TV show, but now throw in a bit o’ Jesus and now the lacefronts will really fly.
Perhaps for the sake of me being purely judgmental I ask the question why. Why do these couples, pastors and their wives feel the need to display the mundane inner workings of their church and their personal life, allow them to be bastardized and commercialized? And I do ask the vocational question, to what benefit does it serve your calling to display your life as such. With the “Housewives” or even with the likes of Lil’ Scrappy et. al. from “Love and Hip Hop” there’s nothing about their job descriptions as entertainers that would exclude a reality TV show from being within their general field of expertise. So far, I see a bunch of catty and ego-driven women from a slightly diverse background acting a fool because a camera is there. And it’s obvious these women don’t know each other.
All of that notwithstanding, fellow blogger AverageBro has said consistently (and I agree) that TV shows don’t make black people look bad, black people make black people look bad. This is part of my rationale for italicizing black as I place it in front of “reality TV show” because there is a difference in how it is perceived. “The Real Housewives” spawned parodies across the nation, one of my favorites being “The Real Housewives of South Boston” that took the concept and harped on every single stereotype of the poor working class stiffs in the Irish neighborhood of South Boston. When America looks at “Jersey Shore” for instance, they just see these party animals and Snooki gets a guest spot as a spoof character on Saturday Night Live. Not to mention the likes of the Situation make daytime television rounds as well. No one has a serious conversation about the state of white America or Italian Americans and their larger impact on American society.
The larger narrative shifts following Lil Scrappy saying “I’ma put dem paws on you” or Shawty Lo and his double digit baby mamas have a TV show to pathologizing race in this country. We, both as the black community and as a nation, pathologize what these two men have said and done respectively because they are black. While yes, some have no problem patholgizing on the flip side with the characters on “Jersey Shore” either, it still doesn’t have that same cringe-worthy effect on the whole nation. Their behavior displayed on the show is usually discussed in the nature of wild young people and the perception of declining morality among youth. If it was black people, we would be discussing the households from which they came, and what poor and tragic circumstances that lead to them being on television complete with the sad music and a slower pace.
So rather than necessarily laying the blame at the feet of the TV producers and creators, again I turn back to the people who participate in these shows. None more buffoonish than “Best Funeral Ever.”
I remember seeing the previews for the show, but to actually see it in person turned from gut-busting funny to downright appalling. I’m not sure when the tide turned for me. After watching the likes of the two funeral planners go toe to toe on a Christmas themed funeral, or was it when they carried the guy out in a barbecue pit. Actually, it was when the woman dipped her rib (because the BBQ themed funeral was at a barn where ribs were being sold because the deceased was the singer behind Chili’s “I want my baby back baby back ribs” theme song) in the chocolate fondue fountain filled with barbecue sauce and caught the Holy Ghost and started shoutin’ right there. I was convinced we had gone overboard. And this was all before one guy who’s ashes were taken on carnival rides because he couldn’t ride them in real life due to being confined in a wheelchair.
It wasn’t even the bizarre ritual of hiring professional mourners, who really just looked like other funeral planners and staff at the funeral home, and actually teaching them how to cry. They actually showed the CEO of the funeral home going through the outlandish ritual of mourning and encouraged one of the women to crawl crying up to the casket and uttered “Work for your money.” I didn’t know if he was just a cruel boss or a deranged Hollywood pimp! This one scene has sent all of humanity to hell. We are officially condemned and grace no longer aboundeth because this happened in real life and was aired on television.
No actually, it was the caricatured image of the preacher that really did it for me. For all that Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant is or is not, I’ll never forget hearing him say that the black preacher is the only religious person that is allowed to be caricatured so easily. While his comment was made in response to the fallout following then Senator Barack Obama rescinding his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ, it’s still the same today. While yes we always hear jokes about “a rabbi, a priest and a _______ (fill in the blank)” who walk into a bar, how many commercial movies have been released that totally make a caricature of the black minister? The black minister is always painted as some charlatan out to play on the emotions of the people to 1) get money and 2) be a pimp. To put another way, all about the money, cars, the clothes and hoes.
While I’m not suggesting that the preacher featured in “Best Funeral Ever” fits into those categories even remotely, but I have no problem saying that he appears to fit the stereotype of a “jackleg” preacher, one that my friend affectionately, if not inappropriately, the “Rev. C.T. ChickenWing.” From the way he talked, to his mannerisms and certainly to the costume he wore at the barbecue funeral were just all over the top. As he opined the psalmist saying “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” he said if he had gotten on that “Ferris wheel or roller coaster or whatever you call it” that he was going to say some ungodly things.
Obviously, he has little to no education.
After watching that, I was convinced that collective black race was going to hell because these shows were actually aired. I used to tell myself that I watched these shows, as I said earlier, for the sake of having the ability to be able to participate in cultural critique with ease. It’s clear I have made a bit of my personal life’s work being able to do so, but at what point does one say this is over the top? Some persons, known for their cultural critique paint with a broad brush and dismiss reality television as a whole and say there’s nothing good to come from it at all. Frankly, I saw no redeeming value in either of those shows. “Best Funeral Ever” even on a good day was a complete mockery of the black funeral tradition and by the end of the show, I was mentally ill. “The Sisterhood” remains to be seen as to what it will ultimately produce.
But take comfort, because despite all of this, there is but child who comes, and her name is Honey Boo Boo Child, and somehow I feel better about all of this.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL