Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Nonsense Moment Reflecting on VH1's Horrible "Reality" Shows

Sometimes it's fun to track your brain where it goes...or at least, it is for me. Maybe you have to have an odd brain to think these thoughts.

Last night, I learned that actor Michael Clarke Duncan recently had a heart attack and was allegedly resuscitated by his girlfriend, Omarosa Stallworth. Remember Omarosa? She was the "villain" on the first season of The Apprentice...or at least she was constructed to be that way by the show's producers. This got me thinking about how it seemed like there was a period of time in the mid 2000's where if you were a woman of color with an opinion, you were sure to end up as the villain on a reality TV show, once all the editing was done. (Maybe this is still happening now? I don't know, I don't watch the stuff. But seriously, what was up with that?)

Tiffany "New York" Pollard
From here, my mind went to Tiffany "New York" Pollard. Oooooh New York. Perhaps here you are lost and I commend you, because it means that you didn't spend 2006-2010 watching extraordinary shitty TV on VH1. And if that describes you, I suggest that you bail out now, because this probably won't make much sense. But if you're with me, then maybe you'd like to stick around for this reflection on how I spent way too much time in the mid-late 2000's watching the worst of awful TV.

Oh hi! So you did spend the mid-late 2000's watching really, really bad "reality" shows? Great! Specifically, were they really, really bad reality shows on VH1? Perfect!

So as you know then, it all started with Flavor of LoveWhen I was watching this crap, I knew it was really awful. I did--but I somehow couldn't pull myself away. Moreover, if I'm really honest with myself I can admit that I'd probably still be consuming this drivel if 1) it was still on the air and 2) I still paid for cable. Luckily, neither of those conditions have been met, so I am blissfully free from the iron grasp these programs had on me. But here's the thing. I wasn't alone. The shows were wildly popular, at least in my world. I remember when I worked at a summer camp with girls as young as 6 and they would talk about watching the shows with their parents. (If you know the general content, you're probably horrified to learn this.) But for some reason, they were the bees knees--so much so that if I diagram all the seasons and spin-offs, it looks like this:
Some of the Flavor of Love contestants

Flavor of Love season 1
Flavor of Love season 2
Flavor of Love season 3
---->I Love New York Season 1
---->I Love New York Season 2
-------->Real Chance of Love Season 1
-------->Real Chance of Love Season 2
-------->Frank the Entertainer, in a Basement Affair

Rock of Love season 1 (the rock 'n roll version w/ Bret Michaels)
Rock of Love season 2
Rock of Love season 3
---->Daisy of Love
---->Megan Wants a Millionaire

Bret Michaels and the Rock of Love cast
And this does not include the non-dating show spin-offs: Charm School (3 versions) I Love Money (seasons 1-4, although 3 did not air) New York Goes to Hollywood, New York Goes to Work. That's a whole lot of crap TV!

One of the worst things about these shows are that they let their sexism be right up front and center. For example, prior to being on the original season of Flavor of Love, Tiffany Pollard wasn't known as New York. That was a nickname given to her by Flavor Flav, as he did all the women on his show. He chose some arbitrary feature about them, and named them that, so that he could better remember their names. You know, when you're dating 20 women all at once, it can be really hard to keep them straight. (Hey how about you ask that producer feeding your lines in your ear...) 

It was extremely objectifying and dehumanizing, now that I think about it. (Names included Hottie, Smiley, Bubblez [for her butt], Buckwild, Eye'z, Boots, Deelishis, and Bunz.)

Michaels & a contestant kissing (I think?)
The shows also relied upon the virgin/whore dichotomy as women were carefully constructed to fulfill "good girl" and "bad girl" roles and then pitted against each other. Routinely, the men would engage in a supposed sexual activity with one of the women behind closed doors and then use the fact that she would do it as evidence against her being girlfriend material. But if the women didn't engage in the activities, they were seen as "too closed off" and would be dismissed because he "couldn't get to know her." 

Overall, women were constantly positioned as whores, bitches, and/or sexual objects while men filled the role of decision makers and providers. And mistake me not, this is a trend of most reality dating shows, even ones less over-the-top, like the Bachelor. "Challenges" used to prove the contestants' worth were also deeply sexist. Bret Michaels and Flavor Flav had the women cook, clean, and care for kids. Unfortunately, the sexism of the show didn't end when women were "in charge" (such as with I Love New York). For example, the nicknames for her chosen contestants (Tailor Made, Ace, Wood, Mr. Wise, Wolf, Man Man) reflect a deeply entrenched gender division when compared to the names chosen by Flavor Flav. 
The cast of "Burning Love"

It was all around pretty disgusting and I honestly don't know how or why I watched it. 

However, before I slink off in shame, I want to put in a plug for a web series which makes me feel a little better about having watched all this crap. It's called "Burning Love" and it perfectly skewers this TV genre, especially for those of us who are all too familiar with it. Enjoy!

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