Tag Archives: Reality TV

A (Not So) Guilty Pleasure: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta

23 Jul

By now, many of you have experienced the delightful ratchet theater that is Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.


One word: Ratchetstilksin

Love and Hip Hop Atlanta is the brain-child of producer, Mona Scott-Young, who also unleashed upon the world created the first Love and Hip Hop series. LAHHA follows, as you might have guessed, the high and lows of several (not particularly well-known) artists, producers, baby mamas, and the like who are enmeshed in the music scene in Hotlanta. After randomly stumbling upon the show a few weeks ago, I must confess that I am hooked. I swear I watch episodes without blinking!

How could you look away?

I find a couple of things fascinating about the show. One of the main plots of the show is the love triangle revolving around producer Stevie J, his long-suffering “main chick” Mimi Faust, and his protégé/side piece, Joseline Hernandez.

The shade of it all!

Shoot, I might could call it a love rhombus since Stevie J can’t seem to recall how many women he’s “smashed.” (Also, could we forever retire that term as it relates to sex? Between banging, smashing, hitting, cutting, beating it out the frame, and blowing people’s backs out, sex seems more like war than an exercise in pleasure. For real.)

In any event, I have been chatting with various friends who watch the show about the allure of Stevie J. I just can’t figure it out!

Yes, this fine specimen.

We debated whether he was really putting it down like that, if it was just some swag (that I couldn’t see), or is it that he preys upon the weak and the desperate.  I think it may be a heady combination of all those things. What has been interesting, though, is despite the foolishness of LAHHA, in many of these conversations, my friends and I are not simply talking about the antics of these “characters” that we may make fun of from a distance, but remembering the fact that some of the people we know and love—perhaps even ourselves—have been embroiled with the insecure, the unavailable, the emotionally-manipulative, the wack, and the ratchet. Or that we ourselves might have (and still might be) those very things.

The other thing that’s interesting to me about LAHHA is the whole discourse around femininity, especially as it relates to Joseline. A former sex worker with aspirations of producing mediocre rap/reggaeton, Joseline’s so-called masculine appearance has been ridiculed on the show and pretty thoroughly in the blogosphere.

Tell ’em why you mad.

I’ve heard everything from the fact that she is “really a man” to the notion that her whole experience of getting an abortion was just a ploy to convince viewers that she is “really a woman.” Now, I expect very little from VH1, which has rebranded itself as a top channel on the backs of women-of-color acting a damn fool, but this unadulterated trans hatred has lowered my already piss poor expectations of the network.  And the discussions of Joseline on the ground emphasize what we already know: we desperately need the language to talk about sexuality and gender expression in ways that not only do not diminish others, but that also recognize complicated realities within ourselves.

The storyline with Lil’ Scrappy (bless him) and Erica is also fascinating to me. The whole notion that she’s unavailable emotionally and that he needs someone who’s more affectionate is type interesting. On the one hand, let me mess around and find out that the Prince of the South is a softee and just needs to be held at night. I appreciate seeing dudes with neck tattoos reveal vulnerability. Then again, the discussion about Scrappy’s emotional needs seem to come at the expense of Erica’s. So, she’s wrong for not staying by his bedside when he has an alcohol-infused asthma attack, yet Erica revealed that Scrappy was not there for her during a miscarriage. Now, relationships—even on reality TV—don’t survive on passive aggressive tit for tat type behaviors, but something just ain’t right there. And it seemed all too convenient that their breakup went down after Scrappy got into some extracurricular activity with his best friend, Buckey from Flavor of Love Shay. This is all too messy. I will say, the exchange made me think of some sistas I know who, on the one hand, are asked to always asked to be a STRONGBLACKWOMAN and who then get blasted for being too cold, frigid, and distant. It just seems like a setup.[i]

OK K K!

Some of you may be thinking, “Really, Crunkadelic? I come to the Crunk Feminist Collective to read about weighty issues and you talking all this noise about some silly show on Vh1. Really?!”

Yes, really.

I mean, it’s cool if you don’t like reality shows or if you prefer to save your brain cells by watching more intellectual fare or by reading a book. We not going fall out about it. Indeed, I totally cosign with my girl Black Artemis who recently wrote a great post about letting go of her guilty pleasure, Basketball Wives. (A show that brings my pressure right on up. I just can’t do it). Sometimes, shows (books, jobs, people, etc.) are just too toxic and, if we can, we have to let them go. That being said, I’m pretty unapologetic about my complicated viewing choices. I have already written about my appreciation for trashy TV. These days, when I do have time for TV I can watch anything from Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC to The Barefoot Contessa cooking show, Parks & Rec, Sherlock (I’m obsessed! Also, I want a puppy named Benedict Cumberbatch), in addition to more ratchet fare such as Keeping up with Kardashians (I know I’m not the only one), Love & Hip Hop, Single Ladies, and so on. And I’m interested to what these scripted reality TV shows say about our own lives and how we make sense of life and love where cameras are not rolling.

So, fam, what are your thoughts on Love and Hip Hop Atlanta?


[i] Check out Joan Morgan’s When the Chickenheads Come Home to Roost for more on this phenomenon.

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Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy

15 Sep

One of TLC’s latest unscripted shows, Big Sexy, has been hailed by some critics as a “plus-sized Sex and the City.” The show follows five fluffy friends who live in New York City and work in the beauty industry. Viewers get to tag along as the ladies traverse the ups-and-downs of careers, romantic life, and sisterhood in the Big Apple.

 Despite a premise that didn’t seem to completely insult my intelligence, I was pretty ambivalent about watching the show. Now, let’s not get it twisted. Like some of my fellow CFs, I’m not above watching a little reality TV to pass the time. Catch me at the gym and I might just be keeping up with the Kardashians or some similarly inane E! show.  (Most of my favorite shows are on Food Network or the Cooking Channel and the last thing you want to do while you’re sweating to the oldies is watch Ina Garten make some truffle mac and cheese). Plus, I’ll admit it: one day I got sucked into watching a marathon of Ice Loves Coco. While those are hours that I’ll never get back, I have to say that I was mightily amused. That should count for something, right?

But, I digress. Despite my questionable reality TV show choices, I was not planning on catching Big Sexy. Although the advertisements were fairly innocuous in a world hell-bent on fat shaming (they featured confident plus-sized women sashaying arm-in-arm down glittery NYC streets, proclaiming that the world better “watch out!”), I feared a fetishization of fatness, at worst, or a 60-minute PSA on how “fat people are just like us!” at best. So, while we’re myth busting, let me make some other startling revelations: black people read books, men cry, and gay folks are not out to “convert” straight people. Likewise, Bigfoot (also known as “Sasquatch”) is not real…although there was a brotha I dated for a while in ATL that sort of fits the description…but, that’s a story for another day.

 In other words, I couldn’t forget TLC’s generally shamtastic and rather dubious, exploitative, and ableist lineup of “educational” shows that display a fascination with multiples, little people, and “medical anomalies.” Suffice it to say, I was ready to dismiss the show and avoid it the way I avoid the Basketball Wives franchise.

 But, one night I was flipping through the channels, lamenting that the new season of Parks and Rec was not on yet and I stumbled into watching Big Sexy. And, after all my shit talking, the show was actually kind of decent. The women were smart, funny, and genuinely seem to like and respect one another. (In fact, they are so nice to each other that I fear this show will not last more than one season for lack of “drama”).

 I appreciated that the show’s narrative talked about their careers in fashion in a way that was not dismissive but instead emphasized the women’s creativity and ambition. One woman, who works as a plus-sized model, frankly discussed her frustrations with body image and her agent’s push for her to lose more weight in order to be more marketable. Another woman launched a bikini fashion line that catered to busty women (D cup or higher) who often struggle finding bathing suit tops that don’t look either matronly or super risqué. I especially appreciated the episode when one of the women experienced a breakup; her girls rallied around her, buoyed her spirits, and then they painted the town—as your girls should do. When one woman suggested that they all go to a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) party, they mostly balked. One complained that only “snaggletoothed” dudes attended such events. Another woman affirmed that mostly men with “fat fetishes” frequented these parties. Remembering a fateful BBW party that Crunktastic and I attended in 2006 or so, I laughed heartily and had to concur.

 Now, I might seem to be gushing about the show, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect. I mean, it’s a show on TLC, so there’s that. It’s not a show that can/will be all things to all people. Still, I did give the side eye to a few things. It’s super-heteronormative, for one. Big girls are on all parts of the sexual continuum and it would be cool to reflect that. Also, I do find it interesting that there are no African American women on the show. (The show features three white women and two Latinas). Considering all the public chatter about black women and our weight, I think it’s an interesting choice that the producers of the show have made. It would also be interesting to see some Asian and indigenous sisters too. You know, big girls do come in all shades and ethnicities.

And, speaking of race, the dating episode did have an interesting tidbit about black folk—black men, in particular. All of the women remarked that mostly black men approached them and that white men very rarely did so. Then the ladies hosted a BBW party that screened out the busted and digusted and they came up with about 20 or so generally attractive black and Latino brothas. By the end of the party, most of the women had multiple phone numbers and were calling the night a success. Now, I wasn’t sipping haterade as I watched the show (it was  margarita), but I did think, “See, all these women are beautiful, but they are all lighter than a paper bag and, despite what we might have said in the 90s, light-skin has never been out of style.” Now, I certainly don’t expect TLC to discuss issues of skin-color privilege on this light-hearted show, especially considering how volatile the issue is (let’s not forget last year’s conversation on colorism on the blog was like a feminist death match), but I did think that fact complexion is often a significant factor in dating is worth remembering.

 So far, I think Big Sexy is fun and I’ll probably add it to my arsenal of procrastination programming. I look forward to seeing a variety of shows that more accurately reflect diverse body types without simply relegating full-figured folks to shaming or punchlines. I mean, can a big girl get some love?

 

Confessions of a Reality TV Junkie

18 Aug

What began as morbid curiosity and harmless voyeurism has turned into somewhat of an obsession.  Reality Television has become a habitual part of my nightly routine and something that I am not particularly proud of.  As I spent the weekend clearing out my DVR, which was full of reality tv shows I missed while being out of town, I realized that perhaps I have a problem.  Why else would I secretly watch rerun marathons of Real Housewives of Atlanta all damn day when I have already seen the debauchery?  Why else would I DVR Basketball Wives and mentally if not verbally take sides about who is “in the circle?”  Why else would I be so invested in who wins the challenges and/or prizes at the end of Food Network Shows that there is often a tightening in my belly before the announcement (Chopped, anyone, lol)?  Why else would I have done a happy dance at the re-emergence of Project Runway?  I do believe I have a problem!

As a feminist, I find it troublesome that so many of these shows represent women in problematic ways.  And while I have written about the nebulous position of being a critic and fan, or what Henry Jenkins calls an “aca-fan,” I feel the need to justify my over-consumption of other people’s “made for television” lives. 

Truth is, I don’t always watch these shows for “research” or entertainment.  Sometimes I watch for the same reasons I recorded The Jerry Springer Show when I was a college student.  I watch for the temporary escape from my own life and the reminder that no matter how bad things are (in my own life) they could always be worse.  I watch so that I can get on my proverbial high horse for 30 minutes to an hour and judge someone else’s life without being judged in return.  One of the appeals of reality television is the one-sided view.  I can watch someone else’s life, make claims about how I might have handled a situation better or differently, complain about the choices or representations, challenge the authenticity, participate in virtual and actual conversations about the characters with other consumers, and then turn off the tv.  Reality television makes me feel better about myself and it allows me to have conversations with other viewers or track comments online, laughing and/or nodding and/or shaking my head at other takes on what I saw with my own eyes. 

Despite the fact that I am disgusted and oftentimes troubled by the ways in which Black women on these shows represent themselves and treat each other, and the ways that women are characterized and caricatured in general, it does not keep me from turning on the tv and shopping for a show.  And since reality television is not going anywhere, I feel the need to justify my continued fixation.

I do, however, try to temper my addiction.  I don’t watch Big Brother or Dancing With the Stars, or any reality shows featured on network television (hm… could it be they are not scandalous enough) and I always critique and discuss what I see/think/feel in order to emotionally justify my curiosity.  I mean am I just that damn nosey?  Am I a masochist?  Is my life so routinized that I get off on other people’s drama?

I have decided that while reality television has its evils, it is not the devil.  I think that reality television shows offer important social commentaries about the hegemonic bullshit that oftentimes goes unchecked or unnoticed.  For example, The Bachelor(ette) and all of its various versions demonstrate the problematic notion of a fairy tale, both through its unrealistic portrayals (including the embedded classism, racism and heterosexism of the show/s) and un-happily-ever-afters.  And it is also contentious that the Real Housewives franchise includes many single, divorced or never-married women who are simply bourgeois, rich, privileged, and attention-starved.  (I am continuously confused by the titles—Basketball Wives should perhaps be called Basketball Exes…but I digress).  What I am getting at is that I think reality TV offers a platform for interesting opportunities to have conversations about issues that we should be talking about anyway, issues that influence the female image. 

Take Teen Mom, for example, the spinoff of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.  I found the latter show by accident but was immediately immersed into and fascinated by the documentary of 16 year old girls who are unexpectedly expecting.  The show chronicles the lives of young girls who negotiate the very REAL issues surrounding teen pregnancy, from contemplation of abortion and adoption, to the realities of motherhood, unsuccessful relationships with the fathers of their children, challenges to their relationships with their family and friends, domestic violence, intergenerational privilege or poverty, etc. I remember watching the series and feeling impacted by the reality of it all.  My initial impression was that this show would discourage young girls from having unprotected sex (a good thing) and garner public attention and discussion about how to care for young girls who find themselves in the undesirable position of being unexpectedly pregnant (another good thing—the call for care, not the unexpected pregnancy).  The general response, however, is varied, and some people feel the show encourages risky sexual behaviors.  I read some time ago that some girls were trying to get pregnant so that they could be on the show L.  Perhaps the drawback of any reality television show for young and impressionable young women is the illusion of fame as a permanent or positive position.

When I realized that they were doing a follow-up series, Teen Mom, to follow the teen mothers on their journeys through parenthood I began watching religiously.  I watch for a few reasons.  First, because reality television has conditioned my interest and fascination with characters to be more ongoing (16 & Pregnant chronicles a different girl every week while Teen Mom follows the same group over a longer period of time).  I also watch to see if the criticisms of the show are fair, if it really glamorizes teen pregnancy or offers a realistic purview into the sacrifices and struggles that are inherent in the everyday life of teen mothers.

I realize that my perception as a grown ass woman who did not face teen pregnancy is one that is limited by my own experience(s).  While I have never been pregnant, I witnessed teen pregnancy from the outside looking in.  When I was a teenager I knew many girls who found themselves pregnant and had to make difficult, permanent adult choices when they were barely past puberty.  And that is a feminist issue worth troubling—unlike the more superficial points of many reality shows.

So, while I cannot justify all of my reality-television watching, and I confess that I need to wean myself away from my hours-long binges, I hope to utilize some of what I learn and see to initiate conversations about social issues and not just good gossip.  VH1’s catch-all phrase, popularized during their hot-ass-mess Flavor-of-Love days, “watch and discuss,” prevails here.

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