[21 July 2005]
Normally, the cancellation of a reality show would rank up there in importance with Ashlee Simpson’s need for rhinoplasty (My God, she looks like something out of Fraggle Rock!). But the pulling of Welcome to the Neighborhood by ABC two weeks before it was to premiere was still a shocker. It filled me with a type of disappointment I hadn’t felt since I re-watched The Karate Kid and realized just how lame that crane kick move really is.
The official word from the network was that “given the sensitivity of the subject matter in early episodes, we have decided not to air the series at this time.” This from the channel whose moral compass and landscape finds room for Wife Swap. What about the people who are offended that According to Jim is still on the air? Where are our reparations?
With all the reality shows based around prejudice-inducing traits like homosexuality, poverty, obesity, and all-out ugliness, why is race still so taboo? Without an acknowledgment of race, reality TV can never be “real”; it can only be “-ity”. Well, I seek to “keep it real” by grading select shows on their representations of blackness. I’ve developed my own Racial Representation Rating (RRR®), which takes into account both the quantity and quality of black cast members’ appearances.
Making the Band: Take six struggling inner-city youths, wave the promise of fame and fortune (one out of two ain’t bad) in front of their faces, praise their street cred, give them limited guidance (“Make it hot.” “You’re not making it hot.” “Why isn’t it getting hot?” “Get me some cheesecake.”), then lock them in a closed environment, and watch the love-fest begin! The message? Black people love to rap. And fight. And say “fuck”. What the fuck?
QUANTITY: A, QUALITY: D, RRR: C
America’s Next Top Model: Aside from the anomaly of Season—er, “Cycle” Three, each series resident bitch has been black. Besides, they weren’t all that cute. Is this the best that Tyra can find? Doesn’t she have a sister or something? To top it off, she went off on Tiffany, one of the most self-restrained black contestants, with some sort of self-righteous, Tom Cruise-crazy rant about not taking the competition seriously. Huh? Is this the same “serious” competition that Tyra used as a platform to premiere her crummy music video.
QUANTITY: B, QUALITY: D+, RRR: C-
Punk’d: Besides misappropriating black slang, this show gives the mistaken impression that rappers won’t kill your ass. Plus, playing jokes on black people involving the LAPD is like having Jane Fonda pop out of a Viet Nam vet’s birthday cake.
QUANTITY: B, QUALITY: C, RRR: B-
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: While most reality shows reward people for selfishness and cunning, EMHE rewards downtrodden, good-hearted folk who are inept at living without Sears appliances. It’s slowly become my favorite show
but only when black families are on. Is that wrong? Luckily for me, they’re on quite a bit. If black people are good at anything, it’s being broke! Still, you wonder if it sets a dangerously high standard of living that the kids in the family won’t be able to maintain when it’s time to get a place of their own: “Um, does this efficiency come with a plasma TV?”
QUANTITY: A, QUALITY: A-, RRR: A
Dancing with the Stars: This is like some Aryan Nation experiment to disprove the natural rhythm of the black race: Dress the ex-heavyweight champ in tights and make him do the tango. Where was the poppin’ and lockin’ competition? Oh, if Fred Berry were still alive…
QUANTITY: D+, QUALITY: C, RRR: C-
Pimp My Ride: A ‘hood fairy godfather hooks up kids’ hoopties by putting $20,000 worth of accessories into a $2,000 vehicle. Because who better to teach kids how to live above their means than a black man?
QUANTITY: B, QUALITY: C, RRR: C+
Survivor/Fear Factor: Note to reality show producers: Black people don’t swim so good. Plus, they don’t like eating testicles.
QUANTITY: C-, QUALITY: C, RRR: C-
The Scholar: Intelligent, polite, normal black kids? This is why they don’t cast smart people on reality shows. SEE rational discussion! WITNESS them talk out their differences in a levelheaded manner! THRILL at their book smarts, sense of right and wrong, and interlocking retainers!
QUANTITY: A, QUALITY: A+, RRR: A+
The Bachelor/Bachelorette: What black person in their right mind would subject themselves to this lily-white dog and pony show? And Shar Jackson doesn’t count.
QUANTITY: F, QUALITY: D+, RRR: D-
American Idol: If America ever devolves into a race war, it’ll be due to American Idol. I’ve seen less heated debates in the Taiwanese Parliament. When Clay Aiken lost two seasons ago, you would’ve thought that Reuben had killed a white woman and escaped in a Bronco. The trouble usually arises because the mostly white audience relates to the white singers more, so there’s more room for the marginal ones (Nikki McKibbin) to stick around longer than some of the more qualified black singers (Tamyra Gray). Kind of a reverse Affirmative Action—or as black people call it, everyday life.
QUANTITY: A-, QUALITY: A-, RRR: A-
Nanny 911/Super Nanny: You will never see a black family on either of these shows.
QUANTITY: A+, QUALITY: A+, RRR: A+
The Real World: Kids with all the looks and expendability of a horror movie cast live rent-free in a luxurious downtown loft. There’s always one black person (sometimes two!) who exists on the fringe of the group, largely because he/she will never hook up with the white roommates. I call this the “Negro perimeter”. While the white cast members have specific roles—jock, slut, girl next door—black cast members are defined by their race: “Hi, I’m black! I’ll be in the corner.”
QUANTITY: C, QUALITY: D-, RRR: D
The Apprentice: Recent efforts by reality show writers to get paid as much as fiction writers exposed just how “real” these shows aren’t. Much of the story—including the requisite “bad guy”—is predetermined. And predetermination goes hand-in-hand with prejudice, which means that the closest thing the producers can find to an established “type” will likely fit the bill. And what easier target to find that one of the most pervasive stereotypes, the neck-craning, finger-wagging, attitude-spitting black woman? Enter Omarosa… That said, she really is a bitch.
QUANTITY: C-, QUALITY: C-, RRR: C-
Being Bobby Brown: I thought that the point of this show was to add more depth to Brown’s image, but apparently it’s just to help him catch up on child support payments. The only deep things here are Whitney’s pockets and Bobbi Kristina’s burgeoning eating disorder. Bobby makes Lorenzo Lamas look camera-shy as he hams it up: getting drunk, spending his wife’s money, occasionally parenting and/or punching one of his kids, and inviting teenagers to grind on his lap. You might feel sorry for this washed-up man-child if he weren’t such an abject ass.
QUANTITY: A, QUALITY: F-, RRR: D+
The Surreal Life/Strange Love: Very few things truly transcend race; crazy is universal.
QUANTITY: B, QUALITY: B, RRR: B
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/harris050722/