Within the last few years the popularity of reality television shows has sky-rocketed thanks to the obscene violence and dramatic “characters.” However, much credit is also given to black cast members and both A and B-list celebrities that have their own programs.
The minute-by-minute excitement and constant fighting is what keeps viewers fixated on the 30-minute to 1-hour long episodes. The method is simple: find either an overly aggressive black woman and a lazy black man or even a relatively high-profile celebrity, give them a script—and audiences will eat it up. The combination of “reality” TV and celebrities has audiences craving more of the glamour and glitz of the fake lifestyles being portrayed (e.g. Harlem Heights, Baldwin Hills). No matter what you do, you can’t hide from these shows.
You can turn the television off or simply change the channel, but most viewers become reality TV junkies. By adding an emphasis on materialistic excess, plus a black celebrity and a heavy dose of drama, you will definitely have a hit show with at least three more seasons to burn.
In 2006, the world was introduced to the reigning king of black reality television—Flavor Flav. As the one-time hype man for Public Enemy, Flav decided to try his luck at finding love on his own show, Flavor of Love. On the show 20 female contestants wear skimpy outfits and participate in humiliating competitions in order to win the chance to date Flav, all while living in “his” mansion in Los Angeles. The iconic rapper is a prime example of how to become a reality TV star and how to keep the audience tuned in and drooling for more. With the highest ratings of any show on VH1 at that point, Flav let cameras into his world of debauchery and rowdy antics while keeping up with his luxurious lifestyle bankrolled by VH1. Many critics and viewers saw the raunchy spoof of the dating series The Bachelor, as racist and demeaning to African-Americans while others seemed to get a chuckle out of it every once and a while.
“I was rarely amused by the show [and] nor do I entertain any black reality shows that depict my race as ignorant or inferior,” said recent Paine College graduate Patrice Whaley. “The way they degrade each other and their appearance is absolutely hideous.” As Flav’s fame grew so did the need for more black reality television. Networks such as VH1 and BET have become giants of the genre by creating such shows as College Hill, For the Love of Ray J and The Frankie and Neffie Show. Since then reality television has been geared towards getting more celebrities to show fans how they juggle their hectic family life and fame. Celebrities such as singer Fantasia, actor Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris, White Chicks) and infamous Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick have all fallen into the reality TV trap.
Fantasia, best known as the third season winner of American Idol, documents her life on VH1’s Fantasia For Real . On her show she is the sole breadwinner of her family, which includes her daughter Zion and her lazy older brother Teeny. As an avid watcher of several reality shows, Carlton Willis, a marketing and economics major at Morehouse College isn’t surprised at how Fantasia got her own show when she is the exact person who these particular shows look for. “She’s loud, ghetto and uneducated and to execs that makes good TV,” said Willis.
As reality programming in general continues to evolve so do the minds of certain networks. Centric, a 24-hour entertainment channel catering to the lifestyle of today’s African-Americans will be airing the very first exclusively multicultural model show Model City. The show will document the lives of eight black and Latino male models of RED Model Management-NY, as they struggle to make a name for themselves and compete with both male and female models that are already known in the fashion world. Overlooking the stereotype that all models are dumb, the cast backgrounds are a break from the typical black reality TV show. Ibrahim, the self-described “intellectual philosopher”, is a multi-talented artist, martial arts master and painter. While other models, such as Zeric are openly gay and hopes viewers accept and learn from his lifestyle.
“It’s a shame that it has taken so long for a positive show depicting black men in a more positive light [to get on the air],” said recent Clark Atlanta University graduate Justin Stewart. “Even though, I don’t support blaxploitation it will be nice to see how the show will end up and if audiences will adapt to it since it lacks ignorance and violence.”
What’s missing from reality TV is “reality.” The difference between what’s real and what keeps viewers entertained is mind boggling. Maybe in years to come reality television will target blacks that like to watch other successful African-Americans who are educated, wealthy and have a little self-respect.
TOP 10 WAYS TO GET YOUR OWN SHOW
10. You constantly blame everything on everyone else knowing you’re the culprit
9. You use/have used drugs or drink excessively
8. You’re lazy and don’t do anything but sleep
7. You are overly aggressive
6. You are ready to fight at the drop of a dime
5. You are extremely ghetto (or “ghetto-fabulous”)
4. You like to party 24/7
3. You’re highly sexual
2. You love to be naked
AND THE WINNER IS: You don’t mind looking ignorant 24/7 while cameras depict your every move while getting paid either a small fee or doing it for free…