|The Great Debate.|
VH1's Basketball Wives had its season finale last night and most of my female friends were glued to their screen. I noticed most of them were live-tweeting and updating their facebook status along the way as well. Intrigued by some of the things I was seeing (Eric splashed a drink in his soon to be ex-wife's face!) I even turned to the program myself, hoping to catch a few minutes of ratchedness that I could thumb my nose to. Ok, true confession time: I would be a liar if I said I've never seen the show. I have watched full-blown episodes of Basketball Wives before, usually in the hopes of seeing a brawl between the ladies. They rarely disappoint. I am aware that I am as much a part of the problem as Shaunie O'Neal, former wife of basketball legend Shaq and creator of the program. To be fair, Shaunie has gone on record as having said she is embarrassed by the program and the way that it has disintegrated into little more than an episode of the Jerry Springer show with a basketball theme. You can read more about her stance on the show (and its Los Angeles spinoff) here. What's so troubling to me about her comments (other than the fact that she is divulging her dirty laundry to conservative right-wing blowhard network, Fox News!) is that she appears to have no creative control over the program. If this is her show, why did she select the women that she did (most if not all of which are not even married to NBA players) and why do the cameras zero in on them flaunting their lifestyles instead of focusing on the inner-workings of the life of a basketball wife? The program has had every opportunity to shed light on the balancing act that these women need to take as they live their lives as permanent second banana to their spouse. They have at best glossed over the tumultuous relationships that can arise when one person in the relationship is constantly bombarded with opportunity after opportunity to stray outside of the marriage because of groupies who have little respect for themselves, and even less respect for the sanctity of someone else's marriage vows. The cameras have opted to broadcast these women acting in ways that are more like the ways you would expect junior high school girls to conduct themselves. Most of their audience has been more outraged, however, with the fact that the women selected for the program aren't actually wives. Personally, I'd rather see a cast full of prostitutes that know how to carry themselves with respect and resolve conflicts with class than a cast of married, ghetto Devry University drop outs any day. So who's to blame here?
Some would like to throw most of the blame on the studio execs and programming director's that dictate what the audience gets to see in primetime. I'd be on board with throwing some blame their way. Casting agents for years have gone after the more eccentric reality television "stars" to make for more salacious programming. They have the power to decide to do better and put programming on the air that uplifts people and showcases good behavior. Instead they prefer to show us the worst of our personalities. The impatience, the bad tempers, the disrespect for ourselves and each other. Just like the people that produce your local news, most stories of people out there doing the right things get overlooked for the more sensational stories of murders, robberies and things that go bump in the night. The squeaky wheel gets the oil and the crazies appear to be inheriting the earth. But as much blame as the networks must share, they only put on television what we the public are willing to watch, right? So again, who's to blame here?
Some will be quick to point the fingers back at us, the public. After all, shows like BBW could not stay on the air if not for the huge audience that flocks to see the latest cat fight. MTV's the Jersey Shore cast are popular not because of their accurate portrayal of the average life of a young adult Italian American. No, we want to see them smoosh and fight. Club and back-bite. We live for the drama. So we can watch it and say "See those people are so sad. I am so much better than that." It's entertaining. And I guess that's fine. We live in a majority rule (in theory) type of world, where we are only going to see what we ask for the most. If television shows us a bunch of crazy kids behaving badly who don't have a firm enough handle on their own emotions to care that cameras are filming them embarrassing their families then why should they care if we don't? After all, we could just turn the channel right? But we don't. Where it becomes dangerous is when the line becomes blurred. Is art imitating life or is it the other way around. My neighboring city of Philadelphia has been experiencing a recent stream of extremely violent flash mobs recently. Kids and teenagers running the streets causing calamity for calamity sakes, beating up innocent bystanders and vandalizing property. All out of boredom, I guess. How is this any different than the behavior we see on our programming every night? How can we expect parents to know how to teach their kids how to not use violence as a means to conflict resolution when you can turn on your TV and see that Tammy Roman doesn't even know that?!
I guess we all share in some of the blame. They say if you are not a part of the solution you are a part of the problem. I'll cop to that. At the same time I am complaining about shows like Girls Behaving Badly glorifying violence and slutty behavior, I can't say I've never seen an episode. There are no easy answers and there will be no easy solutions to the problems that plague our communities. I certainly don't expect for anything to be resolved in a blog post. I can only hope that my words get us thinking about the kind of images we are feeding ourselves and our children. They say when you know better, you do better. Is that really the truth? Is the media only showing us a mirror image of the horrific personality flaws we already own? Or are they out to get us and make us all look bad. Reality show stars often cite the editors and their tricky camera work as the culprit in making them look so bad. There is some validity there. But when are we as a country going to face facts and just do better. Share in the responsibility that we all must take in creating a better image of ourselves. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Does it really matter when we're all getting cooked?
--- Vanity in Peril