"All you people in the street
"All you sittin' in high places
"The pieces gonna fall on you."
"All You Zombies"
I have long maintained that we do not live in the enlightened, progressive world we like to think we do. I have long maintained that racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination have not gone away, they have just gone underground. People still think and believe those things, they just don't say it out loud. As a result, if you give such people an outlet to revel in their bias' superiority, they will.
If you want proof that racism and sexism not only still exists, but is still around in sufficient numbers that people can turn a profit on them, all you have to do is look at reality TV. No other genre is full of such negative stereotypes. But while people will hype over possible discrimination in anything else (even My Little Pony--Friendship Is Magic), no one complains about reality TV. My guess is the "reality" aspect buys it all back. "Oh, it's not a stereotype, it's just how this person behaves."
Just off the top of my head, women really get shafted by reality TV. They are frequently portrayed as shallow, vapid, and/or scheming. And I'm not talking about "dating" shows like Rock Of Love or The Bachelor, although they don't help. If people knew a woman trying to land a man they never met but just knew he was rich, they'd be ostracized as gold diggers or social climbers. Instead, people discuss their shrewd strategies and root for them. I'm talking about in general. The Anna Nicole Show, which was just a celebration of excess. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, same thing. The Hills. Real Housewives (didn't Bravo used to make GOOD shows?). Mob Wives.
Who else gets nailed? How about racial minorities? Shows are frequently edited to present the black participants in a shadowy light. The first season of The Apprentice scored a double in this regard, making the black woman the designated heel of the show. The show following the survivors of Whitney Houston's family also fall into this trap.
Third group that gets screwed -- kids. Reality TV is chock full of exploiting children. Toddlers And Tiaras. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The countless shows showing two parents trying to raise countless kids. People behave differently on camera, especially when the parents are trying to project an image. The kids are not allowed to be kids, and they are being exploited for financial gain. I would not be surprised if the Gosslin kids and all the rest have major issues for the rest of their lives.
And now, here comes the perfect storm off all this. Oprah Winfrey supposedly started the Oxygen network to provide uplifting, motivational programming celebrating the best of women. Laudable goal, I'm sure you will agree. Well, integrity doesn't pay the bills, as the network has been foundering and needs to start turning things around.
So what do they make? Brace for impact -- it's a "special" called All My Babies' Mamas.
The show follows one "Shawty Lo", a hip-hop artist based out of Atlanta. Mr. Lo has eleven children by ten different women. If you look on YouTube, you can find a 13-minute "demo reel" of the show. It features a scene where Mr. Lo tries to name all 11 kids, and just to make sure we get that this is "funny," quiz show music plays in the background (he blows it, he can't name them all on the spot). The oldest kid is 20, which makes her just one year older than his current girlfriend.
The show is intentionally cut to present his harem (don't look at me like that, what else would you call it?) as stereotypes instead of people. They are identified primarily by how they relate to the show's conflicts, branded as "jealous baby mama" and "shady baby mama." Lo's current teenage girlfriend is framed as the standards-pushing wild card of the group, and conflicts between the women are played up. And lest you think I'm reading too much into this, showing them in this light is the stated goal of the Oxygen Network. Cori Abraham is the senior vice president of development at Oxygen, and breathlessly expounded in the press release, "All My Babies' Mamas will be filled with outrageous and authentic over-the-top moments that our young, diverse female audience can tweet and gossip about." Hear that ladies? Not only are they encouraging the people on their shows to act like negative stereotypes, but they are encouraging YOU, TOO! Watch TV and tweet and gossip! Thank you, Oprah Winfrey, for creating a network dedicated to uplifting women!
There may be some hope on the horizon. Before the show made it to the air, a petition circulated with 13,000 sigs to not move forward with the show. Editorials from people like Chicago's awesome Clarence Page, the amazing Mo'Kelly on satellite radio, and Dr. Boyce Watkins of Syracuse University and HuffPost are screaming for the show to die a horrible death. The NAACP is also rallying people. But Oxygen seems to be in the "any publicity is good publicity" mode and not listening.
Abraham Lincoln famously freed the slaves. That was only as far as government goes. All you have to do is offer money and/or fame, and people are perfectly willing to put the chains on themselves. And we put chains on ourselves, every time we endorse this thought process by watching. All of us together are part of the problem, the bottom feeders of the entertainment world are perfectly willing to let us be our worst. It's how they make their money.
We reveal ourselves through our art. And what we reveal is, "We are willing to give money to have someone to hate and feel superior to."