HOTLANTA MESS: "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" is one of the Bravo networks top reality shows. The cast (from left) Kim Zolciak, NeNe Leakes, Phaedra Parks, Sheree Whitfield, Cynthia Bailey, Kandi Burruss. (Photo: Bravo)
Sex, scandal, soap operas, and reality TV …
Those were my thoughts while reading through the book of Samuel over the past few weeks. Samuel is a book filled with murder, rape, and incest. In it, we observe power plays, betrayal, and unceasing war.
The injustices against women are evident. Throughout the book, women are tossed around like property to be used and abused in whatever manner the men of power see fit. Consider King Saul’s daughter, Michal, for example. Saul gave her away to David, which was a good selection for her since the Bible reveals that she was in love with David. Saul, on the other hand, simply used her as a pawn in his endless pursuit to capture and kill David. (She was actually the second daughter Saul tried to pass off to David. Read 1 Samuel 18.)
Nevertheless, Michal married David and proved herself faithful to him. David was forced to flee from the hands of a jealous Saul. Saul takes David’s absence as an opportunity to marry Michal off to someone else (1 Sam 25:44). By this time, David had married two other women. Are the reality show themes setting in yet?
After Saul’s death on the battlefield, David demands that his wife, Michal, be returned to him. Therefore, his wife is taken and returned to David, as her second husband goes weeping behind her. Finally, her second husband is forced to return home to grieve his lost (2 Sam. 3:13-16). Don’t believe me? It’s in the book, and this is just one of many scandals recorded. The poor guy was probably Young and Restless; David was suffering through the Days of Our Lives, and Michal was probably no longer Bold and Beautiful.
Which made me think … King Solomon, David’s son, was right when he wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Look how far we have fallen.
Then I wondered, “What is the difference between the life stories recorded in Samuel and those shown in our current reality series, say The Kardashians franchise shows, The Real Housewives of … wherever (though most of them aren’t even wives), or The Basketball Wives shows?”
Seriously, people watch these shows for their entertainment value, and Christians read the Bible for a much deeper purpose. But is that all there is to say? We could tie a nice theological bow on this, but that would not promote dialogue, would it?
This question is an important one concerning culture and the church, and maybe how we can reconcile the two. It may also lead to questions as to why it’s important to read the Old Testament. Why did God choose to include this historical book in the sacred text that is the Bible? What does he want us to learn? There are history lessons of course, worthy of the notable phrase “Those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it.” But what are the other purposes to consider? Finally, we must ask the “So what?” question.
Is our reading of the Bible too restrictive? Do we consign the Old Testament to the static role of exotic history book without considering its instructive aspects for today? Are there insights in the text to be found about responding to the hot messes in our own families and communities? What do these messes reveal about God? What do they teach us about ourselves?
Here’s to seeing God’s Word in a new light, and taking it at least as seriously as we do NeNe’s latest outburst or Kim K.’s 72-day nuptials.
PLAYING LOOSE IN ATLANTA: "Single Ladies" cast members Charity Shea, Stacey Dash, and LisaRaye McCoy portray a group of friends whose judgment is often questionable.
If you sit around a group of black women long enough, you’ll quickly see that honesty is the hallmark of relationship in African American culture. A black woman won’t just tell her friend whether or not a new pair of jeans is flattering—she’ll give unsolicited commentary on the shoes, top, and earrings too. And while she’s at it, she’ll tell you exactly why she thinks you should drop that new guy you’re seeing and which ingredient was missing from your chili at the church potluck. It’s just the way things are. Black women are the originators of “keepin’ it real.”
Which is why I’m so confused and disappointed by the depiction of black women on the new scripted drama Single Ladies on VH1. Since when did black women become so … well, fake?
I first caught Single Ladies a couple of weekends back with my fiancé during a replay of the show’s two-hour premiere. At the time we weren’t hip to the fact that the show was originally produced by Queen Latifah as a film, but promptly snatched up by VH1 as a 10-episode series. So we sat there every 30 minutes of those two hours waiting for the credits to roll, rejoicing that one of our favorite actresses, Stacey Dash, was getting work again, yet wondering why she was playing a character nearly half her age and definitely half her intelligence on TV.
If you haven’t seen Single Ladies, the title no doubt a nod to Beyoncé, the show is like an old school CW-network hybrid of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Sex and the City—except it’s on VH1, the network that brought us Flavor of Love starring Flavor Flav. The Washington Post called the series “embarrassing” and meant “for people who found Sex and the City too quick-witted and The Wendy Williams Show too intellectually stimulating” while The Root criticized the show for its lack of drama, calling it “knock-you-over-the-head obvious.” And while I agree with their critiques, my uneasiness with the show stems mainly from the Grand Canyon-sized hole in its moral center.
Like the pervasive urban pseudo-reality shows on TV today, and as with the show’s older mainstream sister Sex and the City, this new drama has the same inexcusable moral confusion that allows poor decision-making to be applauded as female independence. And while the show should be commended for giving work to black actresses like Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy, who are often lost in the tiny creative crevice between our staple powerhouses like Angela Bassett and bombshell newcomers like Meagan Good, this urban soap does no favors for black culture by ignoring the very basic nature of what black female friendship involves—namely honesty and accountability. And beyond the cultural misrepresentation, the plotlines propagate an unhealthy example of what it means to be a loyal friend.
From the first episode of Single Ladies we see April (Charity Shea) cheat on her husband with the mayor, while Val (Dash) sleeps with two men within a short window leading to an almost-pregnancy, and Keisha (McCoy) dances in a rap video while stealing jewelry from the set. In each circumstance, the ladies cheer one another on in their bad behavior, covering, supporting, and empathizing with the consequences of their friends’ actions, but not holding them accountable to the role they played in bringing about their negative circumstances.
Maybe it’s a stereotype, but where is the tell-it-like-it-is and oh-no-she-didn’t we have come to expect as a basic tenet of how black women interact? For a group of supposedly best friends, how is it that no one is speaking the truth?
To the Galatians, Paul taught that tender rebuke is an appropriate response to sinful behavior in those we love. He wrote, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. … Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” So it would seem that both culturally and spiritually, authentic friendship is filled with a healthy level of moral accountability.
VH1’s Single Ladies shows women co-signing on the bad behavior of those they love for the sake of being “ride or die” friends, but it doesn’t ring true. In a time when people are obsessed with reality TV, these fake friendships likely won’t make the ratings to stay on the air.
Two weeks ago, I was counted among the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to BET to watch The Game. I will admit that I must have been living under a rock because I thought The Game was an actual football game. I didn’t realize it was a real show until I started seeing a slew of social network statuses and tweets, counting down to 1/11/11, and tons of advertisements posted on buses and billboards. I was curious to see what was this great show that everyone was raving about?
For the clueless, like myself, The Game is a dramedy that follows the lives of three African American pro football players and the complex relationships they have with the women in their lives. This season opened with the characters experiencing an array of issues, from “baby mama” drama to sleeping with the boss’ wife … I was not impressed, and the show did not gain a new fan. Passionate fans suggested that my “not getting it” was a result of me not seeing any of the previous seasons, which was necessary to fully appreciate the show and each character’s story. They advised I watch the reruns.
The creators of The Game attribute its popularity to the fact that it’s relatable and represents a down-to-earth, Black woman’s perspective. And the viewers seem to agree. With a major public outcry, the show’s fans were able to resurrect it from the TV graveyard two years after it was canceled by the CW. Now the show’s ratings are higher than ever, and BET’s gamble has apparently paid off. There is something to be said about this show’s ability to harness such viewing power. Meanwhile, it’s also opening doors in Hollywood by putting talented Black actors to work who might not otherwise be as competitive in the majority market.
Though the show serves up a platter of stereotypes, at times it’s clear that the writers intend for us to laugh at the characters rather than with them. The opening dialogue in the second episode of this new season began with the character Tasha (played by Wendy Raquel Robinson) apologizing to her white friend, Kelly (Brittany Daniel), for hooking up her ex-husband with his new girlfriend. “I don’t know what I was thinking interfering with a strong intelligent, beautiful, white woman, and the love that she found with her light-skinned Black man,” Tasha says. “I guess it was just another case of a Black woman hating on a white woman.” “Well, your people are very emotional,” Kelly responds, as the camera pulls back to reveal that this “real” moment was actually part of the taping for a reality show starring Kelly. It’s clear that Kelly is still fame hungry after racking up a fortune from divorcing her NFL husband, and we’re meant to take her show as a commentary on — or perhaps even a mockery of — programs like Basketball Wives.
I recognize that any sitcom featuring a majority Black cast that has ratings that can contend with the “big boys” like The Office (which draws about 8 million viewers) is an important feat worth celebrating. Yet the celebration of this milestone is somewhat bittersweet, as it comes for a show that’s a carbon copy of every Black stereotype and one-dimensional character we’ve seen before — better executed, perhaps, but still more of the same.
Although I may be late to The Game, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in my disenchantment with it. Despite the show’s hardcore following, it has drawn criticism from some who believe it reinforces negative images of African Americans. Ironically, the show’s lead actress, Tia Mowry, is best known for her 1990s TV series, Sister, Sister, and roles in Disney films that project a more positive and wholesome image, which is probably another reason why viewers like me find it hard to embrace The Game.
In an interview with BET.com, Mowry complimented The Game‘s creator, Mara Brock Akil, stating that she felt blessed to be able to play real down-to-earth characters. “That’s one of the main reasons why people love Mara and her writing. She writes these characters that are grounded, who are real, who are not perfect….”
Controversy is nothing new to Akil, who prior to The Game created Girlfriends, which also received some heat for its negative portrayals of Black people.
But don’t get me wrong. I understand that these shows represent a slice of Black life that many people find appealing, and it would be unfair to hold them up to the standard of a family series like The Cosby Show. The Game is more comparable to Desperate Housewives. Both shows feature wealthy women, with loose moral values, who have more secrets than truths.
Ultimately, The Game is a soap opera, and if you try to see it for anything more than that, you’re likely to be disappointed like me. For all its success, the show feels shallow, with predictable plots centered on catfights, sex, and paternity scandals. And while it may be giving “the people” what they want, I think it’s another example of how television thrives on the crudest aspects of Black American life.