Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Truth About Reality TV

Like many people I know, I am addicted to Reality TV - even the worst aspects of it! Like most viewers I know, I constantly vow not to watch another episode. And yet week after week, there I am - sitting in bed, shaking my head, shouting at the TV as if the women onscreen can hear me. It's like a car accident on the highway. You know it's horrible, and yet you look anyway. After watching several seasons of Love & Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, Mob Wives, America's Next Top Model, The Real Housewives of [INSERT CITY], and countless other reality shows, I have developed a theory about why it is that women like me who disapprove of the behaviour we're seeing on these shows keep tuning in week after week after week. My theory is simple. Reality TV shows us the worst, ugliest, unspeakable truths about ourselves.

I once heard someone say that who you are in high school is who you remain for life. The roles we assume in our formative years are roles we play for a lifetime. For instance, the kid who cut class all the time and failed semester after semester becomes the adult who shirks responsibility and can't keep a job. The nerd who wins the robotics contest year after year and leads the class in academics becomes the CEO who leads the company or the physicist who wins the coveted prizes. The loud-mouthed 'round the way girl who is always starting fights and picking on the quieter girls becomes the hoodrat neighbor who everyone dreads. Reality TV supports this theory. I suspect that the way these women are behaving is not new to them. In fact, they've probably been this way their whole lives. And THAT'S why we can't look away! Because Reality TV is holding up a mirror so that for the first time, many people are seeing THEMSELVES through the eyes of the rest of the world.


Let's take Real Housewives of Atlanta as our first example. The show started out as a funny peek inside of the lives of supposedly wealthy women in Atlanta's social scene. Viewers fell in love with Nene Leakes and her hilarious blend of sass, comedy and bragadoccia. Season after season we watched as the catfights and backstabbing grew in intensity. But this season's opener took an ugly turn. Nene had "arrived" and was declaring herself "rich" after appearing on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice". Sheree seemed beside herself with bitterness and envy. An argument over a play the ladies were supposed to appear in together dissolved into a screaming match. But the situation took an ugly turn for the worse when Sheree decided to remind Nene that she hadn't always been so fortunate. Suddenly, Sheree was reminding Nene that her car had been repossessed years ago in the parking lot of a Home Depot. She reminded Nene that she used to have rotten teeth. Sheree even followed Nene out of the restaurant yelling out personal reminders of the days when Nene was less fortunate. Simple argument? Or was it a case of Sheree's true feelings of jealousy coming to the surface? Why did Sheree seem upset about Nene's recent success? Why did she feel the need to remind Nene of where she came from? Why all the bitterness in Sheree's tone? I noticed that viewers galvanized into two  categories - those who felt that Nene was wrong for bragging and acting superior and those who thought that Sheree was a hater and that she wanted nothing more than to be in Nene's shoes.


On Love & Hip Hop, we watched Chrissy deal with being in a relationship with a man who didn't want to commit and get married. Taking matters into her own hands, she proposed to HIM on national TV and battled with his disapproving mom. Many viewers criticized Chrissy, calling her desperate. Simultaneously, we watched Emily being treated like a non-MF'ing factor by her baby daddy who refused to appear on screen with her and blatantly cheated, parading his lovers in front of her with no regard for her feelings. When Kimbella announced that she had slept with Emily's so-called man, viewers were shocked to see CHRISSY attack Kimbella in Emily's defense, while Emily did little more than cry on the sidelines. This one really divided viewers! Half were cheering for Chrissy, proud that she had beaten up the home wrecking groupie. The other half were outraged that Chrissy had gotten involved in a situation that clearly didn't involve her and were appalled that she had attacked Kimbella with such venom. Many wondered if Chrissy was beating Kimbella because Kimbella reminded Chrissy of all the women her own man had creeped with over the years. Had Kimbella been Chrissy's punching bag because Chrissy needed someone to take out her frustrations on? And was Emily a sorry, pathetic cry baby who couldn't fight her own battles?


In the case of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we watched Taylor tolerate a physically abusive relationship just so that she could stay in her circle of ridiculously wealthy friends. Taylor stayed in her marriage for years enduring the alleged abuse and only found the strength to leave when her role on the reality show was in jeopardy. When her husband committed suicide, she quickly wrote a tell all book and hit the talk show circuit. But viewers weren't very sympathetic, labeling her a social climber who would sacrifice her own child's safety and well being for money and fame.


Of course we have the fame whores that are the Kardashians. The whole family will stop at nothing to get attention.


But, perhaps most disturbing was what I witnessed on TV last night. On Basketball Wives, the women argue and fight in every episode. But this season a cast member was added who has clearly expressed her desire not to fight or get physical. Keesha is a soft-spoken, non-confrontational woman, who makes no attempts to insert herself into the drama. Perhaps sensing her fear, Tami has set her sights on Keesha and has made a point of calling Keesha a bitch repeatedly, alluding to the fact that the bi-racial Keesha is "not black enough", pressuring her to swim with sharks, and berating her with a series of verbal attacks. While Shaunie O'Neal (a producer on the show) sits by and watches, Tami takes Keesha's purse, refusing to return it until Keesha apologizes for setting Tami off. Keesha is reduced to tears and approaches hotel staff where she reports her purse stolen. While the other cast members encourage Keesha to apologize to Tami just to appease her and get her bag back, Tami paces outside of Keesha's room bellowing, "I got your bag, BITCH!" and going through Keesha's purse and through her cell phone, even wears Keesha's sunglasses. The show's security as well as its producers stood idly by and let this clear case of bullying go on. Keesha reiterates that she does not want to fight, that she is afraid, and Keesha is hysterical crying.

I have to admit that I cried out of sympathy for Keesha during last night's episode. I couldn't believe that Tami's behaviour was being cosigned by the other cast members. At one point Shaunie O'Neal tells Keesha, "...you need to figure out how to get your bag back." 

*SIDE-EYE*  IS SHE SERIOUS??

Finally, Shaunie declares, "We did feel SO bad, but... the [show] must go on." Keesha leaves Tahiti and the ladies carry on with their bullying, setting their sights on another newcomer to the show - Kenya. They get some dead fish and proceed to hide the smelly animals within the nooks and crannies of Kenya's hotel room. All of this is in addition to the Jennifer/Evelyn storyline where Jen got smacked in the face and threatened just because she had the audacity to make new friends! Again, the producers and cast members went against Jennifer for having the nerve to press charges, insisting that she should have just fought it out or let it go.

So after witnessing all of this, viewers are calling for the show to be taken off the air. Twitter and Facebook are abuzz with outraged viewers who are demanding that something be done about this epidemic of adults bullying one another. Especially at a time in our society where teens and young adults are committing suicide at alarming rates because of the bullying epidemic. I know that viewers should boycott shows like this in order to get the powers that be to air more positive depictions of us on TV. Yet, we tune in week after week, fascinated by the fuckery! But what I find most interesting is that there are adult women who think this behaviour is normal, that it's okay. THAT's where the real story lies in my opinion.

Yes, it's sad that there are women who hate on other women like Sheree, that there are women who beat up other women over situations that have nothing to do with them like Chrissy did, that there are women who will do anything for money like Taylor and the Kardashians, that there are women like Tami Roman who pick on people they view as weak, even to the point of causing them to cry and retreat, that any adult woman would FIGHT me because I don't want to be her friend anymore. But what's downright incredible is that there are women who AGREE with Sheree, who cheer for Chrissy, who idolize the Kardashians and who cosign with Tammy and Evelyn. And that brings me back to my theory that Reality TV depicts the worst of who we are or who we used to be.

Viewers look at Royce in disgust as she cries and insists that her new man is THE ONE. How many of us were suckers for love in the past? Seeing Royce so obviously co-dependent sickens us. Is it because we see ourselves or our former selves in her? Viewers look at Taylor and see someone who will do anything to be in the In-Crowd. How many of us are secretly the same way, eager for acceptance and willing to be the punching bag just so that we can be down? Viewers look at Sheree and call her a hater. But how many of us see our sister-friends growing in their careers, their finances, their love lives, and declare "She thinks she's all of that!" or "Bitch, I remember when..."?  Viewers look at Kim and Kanye and Evelyn and Ochocinco and say they're fame whores who are doing this for attention and recognition. But how many couples do you know who plaster all their business on Facebook or Twitter, in search of your 'likes' and your comments? How many change their relationship status as often as others change their profile pictures? Viewers look at Keesha and proclaim her weak and soft. How many of those viewers back down from the Tami Romans in their lives? We look at Shaunie and Evelyn and criticize them for not defending Keesha or telling Tami to back down. But how many of us stood quietly by while we watched others get bullied or picked on? How many of us actually laughed at it? How many were so glad that WE weren't the target of the bully that we watched in silence as someone else was victimized? How many of us get in cliques and start ganging up on other women? We look at Emily and call her a weakling and a dummy for staying with a man who doesn't claim her. How many of us have done the same? How many of us would give anything to drive her Bentley or wear her diamonds, even if it meant being kept at home and never acknowledged? We call Kimbella a whore. But who among us would be concerned about a girlfriend at home if the rapper we have a crush on wanted to take us home for the night? We judge and judge and judge. But are we just as guilty as the women on these shows?

There are a ton of Reality TV shows with positive themes. Tia and Tamera have one. Mary Mary has one. Clint Eastwood's wife even has one. But those are not the shows with the highest ratings. We'd rather tune in to watch some backstabbing, hating, brawling, bullying, passive-aggressive, venomous behavior. Why? Because it holds up a mirror to show us ourselves - maybe not who we are now. But, certainly who we used to be...perhaps in high school. And if we're honest with ourselves, we realize that the things we hate most about these women are the things that take us back to those days when we were either the predator or the prey, in the In-Crowd or an outsider.

As I watched Basketball Wives last night, I found myself crying for Keesha. My heart broke for her as I recalled what it feels like to be the target of someones rage for no reason other than the bully's own insecurities. I'm willing to bet that Tami has some underlying issues that have weakened her own self esteem. That low self image is what's causing her to target Keesha who she feels is weaker than she is. It's hard to watch. But, hopefully, other Tami's out there will see themselves in her and make a change. Other Keesha's may see themselves in her and begin to fight back and speak up to defend themselves. Other Shaunie's may realize that they should speak up in defense of the victim in situations like this.

While I agree that the negative depictions on these shows must change, I do hope that the lesson is not lost on those of us who tune in week after week. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, "If I was a character on this show, which one would I be?" And if you don't like the answer, it's time to make a change. For most of us, our high school days are long gone. It's time that we grow up - not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.

For help coping with bullying, visit http://stompoutbullying.org/ for more information.

21 comments:

  1. This articles is the realest thing I have read in a while. Just like your books, you are always keeping it real! Keep up the good work!

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  2. Wow this was extremely well said. Very real! I agree completely that the alarming part is how people think its ok. I teach 9th grade and I see first hand how many of my students see nothing wrong with it and are willing to fight over nonsense as well. Thanks for sharing your insight!

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    1. Thank YOU for reading. I work with a lot of youth and the impact these shows have on them is profound. Something has to change.

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  3. I am addicted to your blog. How do I subscribe?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. My lovely daughter has figured out how you can subscribe to my blog!

      First click the "B" in the top left corner of the page...then scroll down to "Reading List". Click Add. And put in tracybrownwrites.blogspot.com.

      That's it!

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  4. Tracy girl, I was saying Uuum Huuum the whole time reading this article. It starts with "The Woman In The Mirror". Michael Jackson said it best:

    I'm starting with the man in the mirror
    I'm asking him to change his ways
    And no message could have been any clearer
    If you wanna make the world a better place
    Take a look at yourself and then make a change,

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  5. Wow, Tracy, this is so insightful and you speak truths about these women and how society is so obsessed with reality tv and dont see the wrong these women are doing to each other. I use to enjoy reality tv but now its gotten out of control. Like, you I cant seem to stop watching but I do always hoping these women would change. Last night's episode of Basketball Wives was really touching and I have been in Keisha's shoes many times growing up. I agree that Tami has some underlying issues she needs to work on...all of them do else they wouldnt be selling their souls to air their dirty laundry on tv. Keisha is better than those women and she just needs to leave the show all together. Reality tv just shows us how far people are willing to go for money and fame. Its a damn shame the examples we are setting for our younger generation. I love your blog!!!

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  6. Thanks for all of your feedback. Great discussion!

    When I first started watching Reality TV, it was competitive - Amazing Race, America's Next Top Model, American Idol - and it was FUN. Then they started using Reality TV to chronicle people's lives. And the part that concerns me is, THIS is how these people handle conflicts? Spitting, bottle throwing, jumping across tables, snatching people's belongings, hitting each other in the face, pulling each other's wigs/weaves, hiding dead animals in each other's hotel rooms, throwing drinks in each other's faces, etc?!? And there are teens watching all this nonsense and thinking that this is what's cool. They think "Well if THIS is the kind of girl Jim Jones likes..." or "If THAT'S the woman who was married to Kenny Anderson..." This is out of control now.

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    1. this is an excellent blog...I like the design of your blog...I am still playing around with mine :)

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  7. I am glad I find a BBW blog :D
    I have had enough of Tami

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  8. Ms. Tracy Brown I am glad that you have put this out there. Just about everything I was thinking about when it comes to the BBW you've wrote it. Thank you so much for keeping it real and laying it on the line. Maybe women who finds this behavior so cute will give it a second thought and join in on the bandwagon of discontinuing this mockery and buffoonery behavior of women of color.

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  9. This was so well said. I agree with everything you wrote keep up the good work

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  10. This is great. Hopefully more people will tune in to the positive reality shows out there or better yet...let's give up on reality tv and go back to the good ol' days of sitcoms.

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    1. Agreed! Although Mary Mary's show is really great. Have you watched it?

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  11. I'm with ya ....but it makes4 good old foolery and fb talk....

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