I've relaxed my stance on Reality TV in the last year or so; partially because I’ve been able to stomach a few shows and also because I’ve come to realize the genre isn’t going anywhere. I can’t always rage against the machine. However, please believe there are certain franchises that I will forever be at war with, mostly because of the characters they create and how those characters has become the chief media representation of a segment of our culture. So imagine my surprise and disgust when four Reality personalities grace the cover of Vibe magazine with “Meet Your New Role Models” superimposed against their heavily made-up figures.
Over the last couple of years the “Basketball Wives” and Atlanta installment of the “Real Housewives” have been among the most talked about reality shows and not because of any outstanding performances, but the drama held within their one-hour time slots has been riveting, if not embarrassing. The bankability of those shows have spawned numerous offspring, most notably the Los Angeles version of “Basketball Wives” and “Love & Hip-Hop”. These shows have the same premise, putting a group of women who allegedly have some strain of commonality and following their day-to-day lives.
These lives include fabricated rivalries over the most trivial of moments, copious amounts of liquors, more B-words than an Eddie Murphy routine and the latest rage, fights complete with tossed glasses and other objects, weave pulling and plenty of tears. Essentially, we’re watching summer on Martin Luther King Boulevard masquerading behind designer names and high-end locales. Instead of showcasing groups of women thriving in a man’s man’s man’s world, we get the lowest common denominator and due to mainstream media’s historic reluctance to accurately and consistently portray women of color in empowering roles, this is the version of our women that gets displayed on the Idiot Box several times weekly.
Since Flavor Flav’s Reality rebirth, Reality TV has become the vehicle for resuscitating dying careers, so when Toni Braxton signed her family on for “Braxton Family Values”, I’m not sure if she thought Tamar would become the breakout star. However, I’m quite sure Tamar had seen more than her share of other shows and knew what works; I’m sure she took note that NeNe Leakes, Tami Roman and Evelyn Lozada were the most controversial personalities on their respective shows and more importantly, saw how their profiles and bank accounts exploded because of their on-screen personas. While Toni thought she would ignite her stalled career and maybe put a little cash in her sister’s pockets, Tamar figured she would follow the Reality blueprint to become a star and hopefully find three people interested in her singing career.
Two weeks ago a Jill Scott tweet prompted a terse response from Tamar and sister Towanda that launched a few responses from the sisters and even fans that objected to the way the sisters were immediately offended by the tweet. If that’s the response garnered by someone saying “a real representation”, what are you saying to those that routinely go in on you? Not to mention that your show is not the only game in town, so who knows if Jill Scott was even referring to that show, when there are so many poor representations on the air? I guess guilt is heavier than weave…
Vibe has a responsibility to move units and this cover could possibly be nothing more than an attempt to do so; these women have established followings and just look at how the internets have been buzzing since the cover’s release. There’s a chance someone came up with the tag line as mere provocation, much like Rick Ross appearing chest naked on last year’s “Sexy” issue. Based on the ratings, the copycat shows and the social media capital these characters hold, they have become the new role models. We freaked out because we associate the term “role model” with a level of positivity, but those words are generally missing from its definition, so these women have become role models and it’s not hard to see just who they’re influencing.
Over the last couple of months, Facebook feeds have been littered with videos of young girls brawling with one another or being assaulted, bullied or downright degraded by other young women. The most infamous of which was a video of Tashay Edwards confronting another young lady over a Twitter comment and commencing to brutally beating the girl down on her front porch. The entire ordeal was disturbing, even more so that it was videotaped and uploaded to the internet for the world to see…which we did. In the aftermath of this beatdown, I came across “The Bad Girls Club” on Oxygen and have been glued to my TV watching this nonsense, not because I’m entertained by it, but because I cram to understand its intent.
The deplorable behavior on these shows and lack of consequences has resonated in the mind of an impressionable generation on the verge of self-destruction. Take a look at those half your age and realize far too many of them have half the sense you had at that age and go twice as hard on the vices you have now. You couple their lifestyle with the celebrated “stars” of these shows and we have a lethal mix that has spontaneously combusting at every turn.
Enter “Scandal”, Shonda Rhimes brilliant D.C. drama featuring Kerry Washington as high-powered attorney/fixer Olivia Pope and in seven weeks we saw the rejuvenation of a culture…but that’s TV, this is “reality”, right? If your reality is anything like mine, you don’t know too many women who behave like the caricatures we see nightly on television and you’re thankful for that. However, perception is reality and though other cultures have similar shows that display depraved behavior, there seems to be enough to counteract the effects of the pigeonholing. I often joke about how Essence rotates the same five women on its cover, but now I’m thankful they don’t add these four and a host of others to the mix.