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Are Black Women Being Rewarded for Bad Behavior?

Nene

Ever-present is the overwhelming influx of reality shows that profile just about everything from cooking and fashion styling to hair shows and animal hoarding.  But no matter the theme, a key component to any successful reality show is the cast. 

 The ensemble can be comprised of an all-male or all-female cast, co-workers, housewives or househusbands, couples or people who are significantly different aside from one specific element of their personality that is consistent with each cast member, all depending on the guise or content of the show.

Like all television shows, the longevity of a reality series is based on ratings and one sure way to guarantee ratings is to sensationalize the content. One of my favorite casts are the ladies of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”  Though initially, I was reluctant to accept this cast as a microcosm of the women of the city. The pettiness and ignorant behavior displayed by some of the women marginalizes the positive role models that would be better ambassadors for Atlanta.

It seems that more and more female characters of color on reality television choose to put themselves in compromising situations or reveal private circumstances all in the name of fame. While this trend is relatively new, the idea of trash television is an old tradition in American culture, which dates back to the ’70s when tabloid TV first became popularized.  Then, shows like “The Phil Donahue Show” dealt with social issues deemed taboo and brought these topics to a space where they could be discussed. Some saw this as sensationalizing, while others argued that trash TV brought important issues to the forefront in an attempt to enlighten through the guise of guilty pleasure.

Fast forward to the 21st century and this concept of using taboo topics and sensationalized television defines the genre of reality television, specifically personifying stereotypes as the norm for particular cultural or racial demographics.

Women of color in particular are the latest characters to become prominent members on the reality show stage.  For example, Vh1 produced three seasons of “Flavor of Love,” starring middle-aged, infamous hip-hop hype man Flavor Flav as the love interest of scores of young women.  In fact, two-time runner-up Tiffany “New York” Pollard parlayed her drama-fueled popularity into two seasons of her own reality show spinoff, “I Love New York.”  Of course, Bravo has “The Real Housewives” franchise and let us not forget Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club.”

All of these shows are comprised of casts that include a variety of women with at least one cast member who represents the racial stereotype of the ignorant, gold-digging and/or promiscuous Black woman.  Initially, these women’s bad behavior may have been deliberately intended as their definition of “character” or a testament to their wryly ways, but ultimately, it comes off as more of a running joke to audiences.

BET has also tried its hand at similar programming with three seasons of “Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is,” which chronicled the drama of platinum-selling recording artist Keyshia Cole and her biological mother and sister. This show highlighted issues like substance abuse and single parenthood, while trying to create an element of normalcy.

Although these experiences are common occurrences in our society, particularly within the Black community, reality shows that feature women of color always include and emphasize an element of disenfranchisement as the buzz worthy component that attracts audiences and boosts ratings.

Arguably these shows highlight issues that women of color deal with in some way, shape or form, but these circumstances should not define them or be a platform for entertainment. There are other relatable issues that women of color deal with, but that have less impact where shock value is concerned.  Highlighting particular stereotypes and negative archetypes while simultaneously creating new ones is degrading and demoralizing for newer generations of women of color who are grow up with these shows and women as social barometers.

There will always be a market for television shows that glorify bad behavior, but there has to be a balance, an educated choice for viewers about Black women who are successful and positive examples; Black women who aren’t in the club every other night, spending recklessly, or juggling men. This is in no way a judgment on the women of these shows or their behavior because to each their own.  However, there must be some accountability. 

Reality show producers are also to blame for some of the characters’ portrayals, encouraging high-risk behavior and supplying endless alcohol to guarantee disastrous results. Consequently, these women are realizing their dreams of fame without considering the high price that they are paying––commodifying their integrity.

 


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