I’ll be honest, I do not love reality TV.
It’s not that I never watch it. Like the rest of America I occasionally sit down for 30 minutes to an hour of mindless television but it’s not nearly consistent. I watch VH1′s Basketball Wives and the uber-popular Real Housewives of Atlanta on Bravo sporadically at best. I enjoy Jersey Shore but I’m from New Jersey so in a way I think I’m allowed a pass on that one.
Reality television shows have made household names out of regular people who have used the show’s popularity to sell merchandise and write books as well as cash checks for appearance fees in the thousands of dollars. I tend to view reality television from a very critical and sometimes cynical lens.
Last weekend the Essence Music Festival took place in New Orleans, LA. It was a weekend of live musical performances, interviews and panels on dating and women’s empowerment. One of the sponsors for the event is CNN which chose to publish commentary by Basketball Wives creator and executive producer Shaunie O’Neal on the problem with negative portrayals of black women on reality television who also appeared on one of the “empowerment” panels during the festival.
In her CNN commentary Shaunie writes:
As you see on the show, I’m not a big supporter of the bickering, drink throwing and fighting, but when you put a group of strong, independent and vocal women who are going through or just came out of a bad relationship together, there’s bound to be a little drama.
Let’s face it, we all know women like the ones on “Basketball Wives” and countless other reality shows: Women who are vocal if you cross them.
The problem for me is when black women are portrayed as only being that way and labeled different than their non-black counterparts for the same type of behavior. That’s when it becomes negative and damaging to our image.
I’m not saying we have to create shows that only paint a pretty picture about who we are, but there should be a balance and most of all some integrity to the shows we create.
Shaunie O’Neal writing an editorial about the damage negative portrayals of black women have on society is like KFC’s campaign saying they will give $1 to help fight juvenile diabetes when you buy a super-sized Pepsi: both are ridiculous.
In the world of Basketball Wives, throwing drinks at people is normal, cursing at people in public as if there are no other words in your vocabulary is perfectly acceptable as long as it makes for entertaining high drama TV. It’s like high school mean girls all grown up. Shaunie O’Neal’s commentary makes it seem like these scenes are rare, instead of being the dramatic climax of each faux reality episode.
Shaunie cites the fact that the women on the show are strong and independent minded but I know a lot of strong, independent minded women who refrain from throwing drinks on each other in public.
Shaunie goes on to highlight Tami Roman as an example of how the show portrays the negative as well as the positive, citing Tami’s difficult road after her divorce from Kenny Anderson. Let’s be real: Tami plays a very specific and stereotypical role on Basketball Wives. She is on the show because she creates drama and conflict between the other cast members. She is the angry, loud, always in a shouting match stereotypical black woman. And that is unfortunate because I honestly do not believe the real Tami Roman is like that but that is the way the show chooses to edit and portray her with Shaunie O’Neal as executive producer. I want to root for Tami but the way they portray her on the show makes it difficult.
That’s not to say that everything on Basketball Wives is negative, it is just that most of the scenes highlighted and built up to throughout each episode are the exact opposite of what you would want to support if you were at all concerned with the lack of positive portrayals of black women on reality television. For every scene showing one of the women being a mom, there is another scene with them talking trash or cursing someone out. There is much more to black women than who we used to date, which chicks we don’t rock with anymore, and who you threw a drink on last night because that b*tch disrespected you.
If Shaunie O’Neal is seriously concerned with the negative portrayals of black women on reality television then stop contributing to the problem. If Shaunie wants her show to be part of the solution she should use her powers as executive producer to either portray more reality on her show or make sure the negative portrayals on Basketball Wives are not mistaken for what black women en masse are really like. I am not naive, I know certain things need to be shown in order to keep the ratings high, but let’s not be fooled into believing this show represents reality.
And while we’re at it I respectfully request a name change because there are no cast members who are married to active players in the NBA meaning that none of them are actually basketball “wives” in the traditional sense.