A Reality Check for Reality TV

Jon and Kate 110x140Today’s announcement that TLC will officially pull the plug on Jon & Kate Plus 8 after Monday’s episode was yet another reminder of how real life can spill over even into reality TV. The dissolution of the Jon and Kate Gosselin’s marriage, followed by their prolonged quarrel in the media, brought to the fore the potentially destructive effects of making one’s private life a Truman Show experience for millions of viewers.

With the demise of Jon & Kate, the surreal “Balloon Boy” spectacle, and countless other disastrous examples of ordinary people negatively influenced by the harsh drug of reality TV, some groups are calling on the entertainment industry and the government to establish stricter rules to protect the innocent children who, as the Jon & Kate and Balloon Boy cases demonstrate, are the most vulnerable victims in our voyeuristic culture’s ongoing rush to watch each other’s self-destruction before the cameras.

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The Reality TV Edition

The Reality TV Edition for urban faithThis week’s installment of Pop & Circumstance is heavy on the reality TV, since the summertime seems to carry an inordinate number of these programs. It makes sense. Reality shows are cheap to produce, and not as many people are watching during the summer months anyway, so the networks can get away with a little more mediocrity. Ah, but the mediocrity is often so addictive.

They’re Back

So maybe it’s a moral failing in me, but one episode and I’m already hooked on the new season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Pray for me, y’all. It’s an incredibly demeaning show — I know. The catfights between African American women, the incessant bling, the reinforcement of the stereotype that the only way black folks can become successful is through sports or music careers … I know all this. But it’s so delicious.

Thursday night season two premiered and out of the gate there was drama. But this time it wasn’t the bickering of the housewives that caused a stir. It was newly divorced cast member Sheree Whitfield’s fight with her “Independence Party” planner Anthony that lit up the screen. After failing to follow through on a few grand plans that would place Sheree at the center of attention for her event — because after all, it’s all about Sheree –the housewife “went Cleveland” on Anthony in a screaming match that forced colleagues of the party planner to hold him back while cameras rolled on the disintegration of his business. When all was said and done, Sheree asked, “What happened to customer service?” Classic.

The rest of the housewives, including new cast member singer/songwriter Kandi Burruss, seem to have matured a bit, finding some reconciliation from the drama that aired last November. But if Bravo’s teaser for future episodes is any indication, the peace is short-lived. I will say that the missing moral anchor of DeShawn Snow is palpable. She was the wife of retired NBA player Eric Snow who reportedly pursued a Master of Divinity and was not asked back for the new season because she was “too human for a circus show.” I miss those beats the camera used to take on Snow’s blank face each time Kim or NeNe would say something outrageous. It’s probably for the best though. She was too classy for this show. But apparently, I’m not. I’ll keep watching.

What do you think of the new season of Real Housewives of Atlanta? Will you watch?

Black Women Want Roses, Too

I haven’t watched an episode of ABC’s The Bachelor since season one when Trista Rehn was rejected by Alex Michel, and then went on to star in her own reality romance spin-off The Bachelorette. Back then the rose ceremonies were intense. I used to huddle around a small television set with my college girlfriends holding our breath as if peace in the Middle East was on the line while the roses were doled out . So when the most recent season of The Bachelorette ended on Monday, with 29-year-old interior designer Jillian Harris choosing Ed Swiderski, I missed it. But I did read Rachel Skirritt’s review of the show over at TheRoot.com and that got me thinking. Why do I no longer care about The Bachelor/Bachelorette phenomenon?

Skirritt, who has also fallen out of love with reality romance, noted that in 18 combined seasons of the shows, there has never been a Bachelor or Bachelorette of color. She writes, “Why is it that if an African American wants to humiliate him or herself on national TV in search of a mate, the only options are I Love New York or For the Love of Ray J? Are we not suitable for major networks?” Arguing that since Black women are the most unlikely to marry in our culture (the latest studies say that nearly 45 percent of black women have never been married versus 23 percent of their white counterparts), she posits that a season dedicated to this often woefully single demographic would score big numbers in Nielsen ratings. It might also lead to greater success in the relationships since due to the statistical challenges of finding the one, black women presumably have more urgency to get hitched.

While I agree that all races should have an equal opportunity to sign up for a chance to compete for love, and likely lose anyway (since less than 1 percent of past couples have actually married), I’m not sure a Black Bachelorette is the solution. There’s enough competition for romance among African American women without turning it into prime-time entertainment. And if the discussions I have with my single girlfriends are at all telling, there are some deep wounds unique to black women concerning the scarcity of men that might only be aggravated by a television show.

What do you think? Do black women need to get a rose too?

A Bigger and Better Bachelor?

Big girls want love too, or at least that’s the message Fox is trying to get across with its new reality show More to Love. The show,which features full-figured contestants vying for love, premiered last week to mixed reviews. Hosted by plus-size model Emme, the show aims to prove that love comes in all shapes and sizes. Much like ABC’s The Bachelor, the premise centers on the drama between approximately 20 voluptuous women as they compete for the affection of one successful bachelor. According to the Kansas City Star, this season’s bachelor is Luke Conley, a real estate investor who claims to be a Christian. While getting cozy on a sofa after private spa treatments, Conley tells one woman, “I am who I am because of my relationship with the Lord. I pray every day, and I read the Bible … to me, God is a third person in the room.” He then proceeds to make out with said woman. Maybe God stepped out for a bathroom break.

We’re not sure how “Christian” it is, but executive producer Mike Fleiss hopes the show will be inspirational to viewers by showcasing people who have truly struggled on the dating scene. “ABC’s The Bachelor is about beautiful people living a beautiful life and hopefully finding a beautiful love,” he says. “This show is like a sporting event. You’re rooting for someone to find love.”

Decide for yourself if it’s worth watching. You can catch the next episode on Fox this Tuesday night at 9PM ET/PT.

First Look: ‘I Can Do Bad All By Myself’

Tyler Perry notoriously refuses to play by Hollywood rules. It’s often been reported how he personally fronts the money for his films, allowing him primary creative control, and how he generally refuses to screen his movies for critics as is custom for most major studios. So the early trailers of his new film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, are all likely we have until the movie hits theaters on September 11th.

The film stars Taraji P. Henson as April, a heavy-drinking nightclub singer, who is forced to reevaluate her life when placed in charge of her delinquent 16-year-old niece and two nephews. Faced with the choice of continuing her troubled ways with a married boyfriend, or exploring new possibilities with Sandino, a handsome Mexican immigrant living in her basement apartment, April is challenged to open her heart and move on from the past. As is characteristic of all Perry films, I Can Do Bad All By Myself shows the struggle of letting go of past hurts while learning to accept and pursue a new life with family, faith, and true love. The film also stars Perry (as Madea), and features musical performances from Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige, and Marvin Winans.

Check out this trailer and let us know what you think.

If I Were Jon & Kate’s Pastor

I’d been intending to write some blog posts on marriage, dating, and other issues related to relationships. But in light of recent events I thought I’d share a few personal thoughts about Jon and Kate Gosselin’s announcement to proceed with divorce and end their marriage.

The Gosselins, of course, are the “stars” of the TLC reality series Jon & Kate Plus 8. The show follows the life of the Gosselin family, which includes Jon and Kate and their eight children — fraternal twins and sextuplets. It is currently the most popular show on TLC. About 9.8 million viewers tuned in to watch the season premiere last month in the wake of constant tabloid rumors that the Jon and Kate’s marriage was on the rocks. And, sure enough, on that show the couple revealed that they were experiencing a rough patch in their relationship.

So when TLC revealed last week that the couple would make a special announcement on Monday’s episode, many people anticipated the worst — and they tuned in to witness the tragedy. Last night’s episode, which was the first full Jon & Kate that I’ve seen, topped the season premiere by 800,000 viewers.

Before last night, I’d only seen snippets of the show here and there. But, for whatever reason, I remember the episode where they were at church, sharing their story in front of their church community with their pastor, and recounting God’s faithfulness in their lives.

And now, it’s come to this … Last night’s announcement had no mention of God, covenant, church, community, or prayer. I wonder what kind of pastoral/spiritual care and counseling they are seeking and receiving. So, let me ask you this:

If you were in Jon & Kate’s community group or were their pastor, how would you advise/counsel them?

I have no personal connection to the Gosselins, but it is indeed sad to see their troubled marriage exposed and exploited in the public arena of reality TV. Let me also say that I really have no idea about all the details and gossip. I just know stuff is going on because of the buzz and all the magazine and tabloid covers. But if I were Jon and Kate’s pastor and were approached by them for counsel, I would share three simple things:

1. “The show must go on …” / No, the show must not go on … the Marriage must go on, but the show is absolutely unessential. This show needed to have ended a season ago. The show may have been a good idea at one point, but it’s no longer a good idea. You’re sharing their pain and drama in front of an audience of people who have no deep soul connection with you. Mercifully, TLC announced today that they were halting production of your show until August to allow your family to adjust to its new reality. But I believe it would be best for you, Jon and Kate, to end the show permanently and spend some quality time with your counselors, pastors, community, and family.

Ending the show should have been the announcement on Monday. Give reconciliation, counseling, and healing a chance without the cameras.

2. Remember your vows. Remember your covenant with God — and with one another. When you’re angry, upset, hurting, and bitter, the marital covenant doesn’t often prevail. Rather, it’s those feelings that dictate your actions. What you are feeling — anger, bitterness, betrayal, etc. — are all legitimate. You are experiencing every one of them.

But our feelings can also betray us, which is why we make and honor these vows and submit — joyfully, respectfully, and, at times, painfully — to our covenant.

Because of our covenant with one another and with God, we seek to live by Grace. We strive to listen to the other person, understand, seek counsel, ask for forgiveness and forgive, pray, communicate our feelings, pray some more… If you believe God brought you together, God can sustain your relationship if you confess, repent, and receive and extend grace to one another.

3. Repent … for God loves you. It’s as short, honest, and real as possible: Repent. Apologize. Forgive. And start the healing process. God has never stopped loving you both and your entire family.

Above all, despite their televised announcement last night, I’d tell Jon and Kate: Reconciliation is possible. Do you believe?

Photo of Jon and Kate Gosselin © TLC.

Hard to Say ‘Sorry’

pop circumstance impactIn this Juneteenth edition of Pop & Circumstance, we consider the U.S. Senate’s late-but-official apology for slavery and Jim Crow, Tweets from a revolution, Jazz at the White House, ‘Speidi’ and the problem with reality TV religion, and what will Mary Mary sing at the BET Awards?

Senate Apologizes for Slavery — and Spartacus Wins

This week in “Current Events You Thought Shoulda Happened 40 Years Ago,” the United States has officially given its “my bad” on slavery. On Thursday, led by Iowa lawmaker Tom Harkin, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the “enslavement and segregation of African-Americans” and recognizing the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws.” Though the apology is official, there was concern among some senators that the language in the resolution would leave the door open for lawsuits or a demand for reparations.

While African Americans are certainly delighted with the apology, presumably 92-year-old Spartacus film icon Kirk Douglas is also happy. The actor had been petitioning Congress for an apology for slavery for years. Just this past April, Douglas wrote on his MySpace page: “As I told you quite some time ago, in my last book Let’s Face It, I wrote about the importance of our country showing the world that we are capable of humility by making an apology for our behavior towards African Americans before and after the Civil War.” The veteran actor also collected signatures in support of the apology on MySpace. Isn’t it interesting that a resolution like this hadn’t happened already? Well, better late than never.

The Revolution in 140 Characters or Less

Lest we think Twitter is just another useless digital platform to share a constant stream of the minutiae of our lives, the social networking site that asks members to share what they’re doing in 140-characters or less just got more interesting. Following the controversial election in Iran, protesters who were blocked from using other forms of online communication by government officials took to the Twitterverse to share their discontent. Sympathetic Twitter users from all across the world joined in the protest, spreading word about the election and even encouraging greater mainstream news media coverage of the events. Some even helped protect Iranian protesters from being tracked by changing their Twitter location and time zone to act as “proxy or ghost Iranians.”

The viral nature of Twitter allowed those of us who may not be politically savvy or aware to instantly participate on the front lines of a massive international protest against a Middle Eastern government from the convenience of our laptops or mobile phones. I had no idea about the Iranian election, but found out about the protest from my friend Kyle Westaway who is an attorney in New York City. He sent out the following Twitter update to all of his followers: “Twitter Friends: Change your location and time zone to Tehran and +3.30 to help the protesting Iranians from being tracked. #iranelection”. Since his Twitter account links to his Facebook profile, he alone spread word of the event to hundreds of people with just one click.

The implications of this kind of mass mobilization are great, particularly for people of faith who are called to bring the needs and concerns of society’s marginalized people to the forefront of our culture.

Jazz at the White House

As much as I’m trying not to be all Obama all the time, I can’t help it. The First Family just keeps getting cooler. On June 15th, the White House hosted a Jazz Studio, featuring musicians from the Marsalis family, the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival and the Thelonius Monk Jazz Institute. In her remarks to the 150 high school students who attended the event, First Lady Michelle Obama referred to jazz as “America’s indigenous art form” and the best example of American democracy with its emphasis on “individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.” UrbanFaith’s resident Jazz Theologian, Robert Gelinas, calls jazz more than music. He says, “[Jazz] is a way of thinking and a way of viewing the world. It is about freedom within community. It is a culture, that is, a set of values and norms by which we can experience life in general and faith in particular.” We couldn’t agree more, and it’s a pleasure to see the Obama White House encouraging creativity and re-imparting value on artistic expression.

Reality TV Piety

When Stephen Baldwin baptized Spencer Pratt a couple of weeks ago on television’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, we let it slide. It didn’t seem right to comment on such a clearly misguided publicity stunt, despite the Christian relevance. Besides, the rest of the media was already making a mockery of the incident. NBC, the network that produces the show, titled video clips of the baptism as “Stephen Baldwin shoves the devil out of Spencer” or “Saved by Stephen.” The whole thing was ridiculous, but this kind of behavior is par for the course when it comes to the former MTV Hills reality show star Spencer Pratt and his wife Heidi Montag. The couple has been injecting itself into tabloid headlines for months with self-generated drama. For a while they bought a few extra minutes of reality star fame by selling the story of a feud between Montag and Hills co-star Lauren Conrad. Then it was plastic surgery and a botched music career for Heidi that culminated in a Pratt-directed beach video. Most recently the couple invited paparazzi to their rushed wedding in Mexico.

But now things have gone too far. Montag, a self-proclaimed Christian who often “tweets” about her faith, is posing for Playboy, and she’s justifying the decision by calling herself a “modern day Mother Teresa.” As my mother would say, if she thinks she’s Mother Theresa, then she’s got another think coming. And though we’re not in the business of judging anyone’s faith here at UrbanFaith, we can express our disappointment over how “Speidi” is portraying Christianity in popular culture. We wish they would keep quiet about their faith until they figure out what they really believe. In the meantime, they’re probably doing more damage to the Church’s reputation. What do you think?

The Word on BET

A couple of weeks ago we shared with you the gospel nominees for the upcoming 2009 BET Awards. Now we have more information on the performers. Set your DVRs for 8pm ET/PT on June 28th because Mary Mary will take the stage. We hope the gospel gals sing something deep from their recent album, and perhaps bypass the secular-friendly “God In Me” single. It’s a toe-tapper, but with this kind of platform, they might want to deliver a message with a little more gospel truth. Also scheduled to perform are Beyoncé, Kanye West, Maxwell, Ne-Yo, Fabolous, Young Jeezy, and Soulja Boy.