There is good news and bad news when it comes to black people and reality television. Let’s start with the bad.
The deluge of reality television does not seem to be waning anytime soon. Mona Scott Young has taken on Diddy’s “can’t stop, won’t stop” mentality and doubled down on it. There is no escaping her reign of “reality” television and the motley crew of train wreck-ish characters who inhabit her storylines.
The good news is that even though these controversial characters will still be making regular appearances on the small screen in less than stellar situations, there will at least be some diversity among them. There’s a tad bit of progress there.
Now, the “hood rat stuff” you see on the screen will come not just from people who think Red Lobster is fancy eating but from Jack and Jill relatives who spend precisely 10.5 minutes at the family barbecue in order to avoid being forced into the Electric Slide.
Lifetime is rolling out a new reality show called BAPs (no relation to that 1997 Halle Berry gem) that follows the lives of self-proclaimed “Black American Princes and Princesses” in St. Louis.
“We are cultured, educated, generationally groomed,” says one of the cast members in the luke-warm trailer. There is “drama” in the clip of course, but it’s oh so tame, and most of it looks like it was take number three or four. Trailers usually include every ounce of extreme human behavior possible, so the fact that the “BAPs” trailer is devoid of almost anything resembling actual conflict is telling.
Most people who go on reality shows these days are doing so in order to build or promote a product or brand. Gone are the days of people signing up for reality television to let America get a peek into their personal lives.
The BAPs crew seems like they will not be engaging in the Ratchet Olympics like some of their other reality show counterparts. They are real people with real jobs and families, friends and colleagues with real opinions. They will surely turn up a bit for the cameras (everyone has to do a little extra to not seem completely boring), but my guess is viewers won’t get “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” level debauchery on “BAPs.”
This is something of a good thing. We’re starting to see tremendous improvement in the types of black characters on scripted shows. Shonda Rhimes will own Thursday nights this fall with Scandal. And with reality television, we’re getting just a pinch more diversity in characters as well.
Good ol’ Mona Scott Young recently put out a trailer of a possible new reality show about black sororities called Sorority Sisters.
The clip showed grown women (all of them seem to be post-college) representing all four black Greek sororities. They all made catty, highly immature statements about sororities other than their own and parroted stereotypes that every black college-educated person has heard about each sorority. Like “BAPs,” the trailer was on the tame side, but the black Greek fraternities and sororities got together to rail against the show, and the trailer has been yanked from the web.
It’s interesting that Mona Scott Young’s most docile reality show sizzle reel thus far is the one that has gotten the most immediate negative reaction.
Is it that we (the college educated black folk) are okay with the tomfoolery on her other shows because it’s “those folks” who are like our relatives, not us, but once “we” are the subject of her cameras, we can’t take it? Many of us cackle and shake our heads at Stevie J and Peter Gunz storylines, but we watch, live tweet and tune in every week.
To be clear, I’m Me Phi Me. I never pledged anything in college or afterwards, and I live a “creative class” life now as a writer in New York, but I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Detroit. I know the hood, and I know outside of the hood. When I look at these reality shows, I see myself and my current values and goals more so reflected on a show like BAPs than Love and Hip Hop, but I don’t really care to see either one.
At this point, reality television is a bunch of bad acting and over-reacting in half-hour and hour-long commercials that will eventually be used to sell cheap t-shirts with catch-phrases, poorly made jewelry and over-priced shoes. If these shows were really about the lives and frustrations of college educated black people or really about love and hip hop, I might be inclined to tune in.