It started with Edtv, only to be followed by The Truman Show. Soon, a decision was made to emulate fiction with Survivor, Temptation Island, Big Brother, The Real World and other cheaply produced television shows that required no long-term contracts with moody actors, just casting calls from an untapped pool of millions of untalented people desiring their 15 minutes of fame.
Fear Factor, American Idol, America’s Got Talent followed. Americans have a fascination with being inundated with the trivial, following intently the lives of the rich and famous. Living vicariously as the seventh “Friend” on the show Friends, those who watch television develop an intimate relationship with the actors who portray characters they grow to love.
Shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Dancing with the Stars provide ample glimpses at real people searching for love and striving to prove themselves as the most adept B-level star at learning dance routines that help pacify viewer’s otherwise uneventful nights.
The Biggest Loser grants viewers the opportunity to view the obese strive to lose unwanted pounds by competing in athletic competition.
Discovery and other channels have found the best way to fill time slots with shows such as Deadliest Catch, Man versus Wild, Dirty Jobs, Dog the Bounty Hunter and other shows that glorify those mundane individuals who live ordinary lives and toil away at their thankless vocation so that others may pursue more “meaningful” work.
Yet, watching a show like Dirty Jobs one is overwhelmed by the happy faces that greet the host Mike Rowe as he attempts to emulate the same vocation he is profiling. Though they lead simple lives the people featured on Dirty Jobs seem content and fortunate, though their routine task might induce vomit in both the viewer and Mike Rowe.
Incidentally, 90 – 95 percent of the jobs featured on Mike Rowe’s are done by white people. Though regular television shows have long been blasted as too white, reality TV is even whiter. The reason is one that Black people know, but to admit would be detrimental to their cause of greater diversity on television.
Reality TV shows both the best and worst of people. Watching COPS, a long-running show that pits camera crews with real-life police officers who deal with the refuse of society, one is overwhelmed by the images of Black people evading police.
Yet, few reality TV shows can deal with Black people in a true setting because whatever environment the show depicts Black people in will automatically be construed as racist. The Real Housewives series is an immensely popular show that details the lives of caddy, pretentious, pontificating, pedantic boorish women.
And yet, only The Real Housewives of Atlanta has received substantial negative publicity, largely due to the real-life personas the show highlights. Daring to showcase Black people in anything but positive light is a violation of the rules that Black Run America (BRA) and The Real Housewives of Atlanta bathed Black people in a most uncomfortable light:
Across the reality-television spectrum, there have always been women like Sheree and her ''friends'' on Bravo TV's The Real Housewives of Atlanta: catty, materialistic, self-absorbed. But are television executives really only interested in black women when we're acting a fool? And more importantly, are we really only interested in seeing ourselves portrayed in this light?
VH1 is a channel that devotes a significant block of time to Black-oriented shows and yet they strike a similar chord with those who view them. These reality shows only showcase Black people in the most realistic light, instead of creating contrived sitcom shows that feature make-believe Black people such as The Cosby Show.
One reality show that was to feature an obese Black family (in reality, the overwhelming majority of Black people are obese) received criticism for daring to dwell in fact instead of fiction:
The Cole family has a message for the detractors of their new TLC reality show: You're just making us more determined.
"I would tell them to keep saying what they are saying because it's not going to affect anything that we are doing," said 14-year-old Shayne Cole. "Basically all they are doing is giving us more publicity, so more power to them."
The Coles are the stars of "One Big Happy Family," which documents their struggle to slim down and live a healthier lifestyle.
The morbidly obese African-American family of four from North Carolina had a total combined weight of 1,377 pounds when the show began. The family's matriarch Tameka weighed in at 380 lbs., her 41-year-old husband Norris tipped the scales at 340 lbs., 16-year-old daughter Amber was 348 lbs. and Shayne was 308 lbs.
The series has come under fire from bloggers and critics for being potentially exploitive of the family, whose "fat and happy" attitude has drawn comparisons to the comedic Klump family from the Eddie Murphy film "The Nutty Professor."
"My main issue is that obesity is such a huge problem in the black community," said Jerry Barrow, senior editor of The Urban Daily.com. "It feels like the family is just being put under a spotlight to highlight how big they are."
Reality is a harsh mistress, as many would rather put their head in the sand then deal with the truth. And yet, reality TV shows real people (often times in contrived and scripted situations) in all their unedited glory.
For Black people, this is far too much. The Nightly News shows Black people in enough negative situations; for reality TV to inundate viewers with more truths is just too much for Black people to handle.
Black people hold out hope that viewers will only see reality in sports and put aside the harsh actuality of real Black life in America.
Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes reality TV, for the veracity that comes through on television sets throughout America must not include showcasing Black people in a negative light. Black contestants may partake in individual shows, but to dare show only Black people in a “real-life” situation is to invite ruin to a community already beyond repair.