Almost a year ago when I was a flip-flopping fan of Love and Hip-Hop, I used to defend the fact the networks are basically making African-American women modern day minstrels by saying, “At least VH-1 doesn’t discriminate, they exploit women of all races.” It was a joke, but I was partially serious. If women were going to put their personal lives on TV for corporate networks to make big bucks off of their embarrassment at least in addition to Love and Hip-Hop we had Jersey Shore and Mafia Wives to reassure us that white women were shucking and jiving right beside us. But the truth is all reality TV is not the same if not solely for the fact that negative portrayals of the worst our culture has to offer still greatly outweigh the positive. Young women can turn on the TV and still see women who are known for being something other than some rapper’s bitter baby mama or the video model who made it from the pole to the penthouse. Unfortunately most of those women are white.
Unless you’ve successfully managed to turn a blind eye to the ratchetness of reality TV, you’re probably aware that the Oxygen network agreed to cancel the airing of rapper Shawty Lo’s reality show All My Babies Mamas. No, this was not a Saturday Night Live sketch, this was an actual reality show about the washed up rapper and his 11 children. Fans petitioned against this potential minstrel parade and as a result from the controversy and outrage, Oxygen buckled and canceled.
I don’t hate reality TV, I just remember a time when there was a moral to the story. Sure the casts of the Real World got drunk, had sex and fought a majority of the time, but MTV made sure we got a dose of morality by making them work towards a good cause to be even featured on the show. So at least in between pregnancy scares we got an attempt at a PSA for safe sex. And what about TLC network’s Sister Wives? Yes, every week we get to hear four middle-aged mildly attractive women squabble about who gets the mini-bar in the houses they’re having built, but in between was some attempt to educate about polygamy, the Mormon religion and tolerance.
So what exactly are we learning from Basketball Wives? That Brazilian curly weave doesn’t hold up well when soaked in Ciroc and cranberry? Oh and Love and Hip Hop teaches us the same damn lesson every season: You can be a bottom bitch all you want. All the breast implants and booty shots in the world won’t make a rapper be faithful. If you can’t tell, black reality TV is sold to us in a much different way than white reality TV most days. Sister Wives is on TLC (The Learning Channel) for heaven’s sake. It’s packaged as an educational show. Meanwhile the Oxygen network which is supposed to be marketed towards women only seems to show us fighting, fucking and talking about how “bad” we are.
When we think about positive black women on TV, most young girls will reply with Oprah, Tyra Banks and maybe Kerry Washington thanks to her Scandal fame. But you better believe they can name all of the Real Atlanta Housewives and whom they’re dating. I don’t believe that that TV has an obligation to be a positive influence on young people in America. Most of these reality stars only show up to entertain, extend their 15 minutes of fame and get a check; no one is interested in healing the world or anything. But TV networks aren’t even trying to fool us into believing they think their audiences are composed of intelligent, compassionate human beings. An English professor once told me a long time ago, “Be careful what you choose to watch. What they air is what they think about you.” Well you can tell by all of these shows which are aired not once a week, but over and over in mini daily marathons so we can “keep up”, that they think we are all welfare-receiving, weave-worshipping, rapper baby-daddy seeking idiots who are entertained by catfights, hip-hop montages and paternity tests.
In response to the cancellation, Shawty Lo stated, ““To my fans I appreciate that they want to see the show. I feel like they didn’t give the show a chance to air to see what was really going on, and she [petition creator, Sabrina Lamb] made her assumptions off of the trailer.” But for most of us if we want to see men making a bunch of random kids and selling drugs, all we have to do is walk outside. TV used to be about escaping the harsh realities of life; these reality shows are now glorifying it and forcing us to be subjected to washed up celebs’ scripted pain.
So although VH-1 will continue to get millions of viewers every Sunday, and my Facebook feed and Twitter timeline will be filled more with the war between Mimi and Joseline then the war in Iraq, I consider the canceling of All My Babies Mamas one small victory. And hopefully people will begin to think a little more about what those corporate big wigs think about them when they take a look at their DVR recordings. They won’t show it, if you don’t watch.