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|
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 Love. When 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|
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?)|
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!