Why "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" Isn't Bad For Black Women
Last season when I found myself watching Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," I was astounded, appalled and I must say shamefully---entertained. That's right, I kept watching, fascinated, as the image of rich, black women as gold diggers was paraded across my television screen, week after week, and I added it to my list of TV shows that gave black women a bad name.
I've since changed my mind.
What got me to thinking about all this was last week's premiere of the second season of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta."
I've never seen "The Real Housewives of Orange County" but I have seen "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," and "The Real Housewives of New York," and I gotta tell ya', "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" ain't so bad in comparison.
All that screaming, screeching, backstabbing, betrayal, cliquey, high school-like behavior is just as bad, if not worse, on those shows as it is on RHOA.
Here's the Atlanta cast of characters:
NeNe Leakes: The most flamboyant of the wives used
to be best friends with Kim but that blew up last season and now
they're not speaking.
Sheree Whitfield: She's coming out of a nasty divorce, had her mansion foreclosed on and sold at auction, and is now raising her three kids on her own in a more modest home.
Lisa Wu Hartwell: She's married to a professional football player and is thinking about having another child, but fertility treatments may be required.
Kandi Burruss: She's new to the show and is a Grammy award winning singer/songwriter. She has a daughter and is engaged to a guy with six kids.
Kim Zolciak: She's the token white woman. She wants to be a country singer and just broke up with her sugar daddy, "Big Poppa."
The producers got rid of DeShawn from last year because she was considered too boring. Or could it have been too normal?
The big blowout, literally on last week's premiere, was the shouting match between Sheree and a party planner she hired to celebrate her new status as a single woman. The party planner, Anthony got too snippy when Sheree had legitimate questions about the progress of the party. That resulted in a screaming match at the guy's office, complete with threats. Other office workers had to come in and break it up and at the end of the show, Sheree hilariously asks, "What ever happened to customer service?"
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this show is good for the image of black women, I'm just saying I don't think it's bad. Think the Hippocratic oath in medicine--do no harm. I don't think RHOA does harm.
Remember how a few weeks ago, I speculated "What If 'HawthoRNe' Were White and 'Nurse Jackie' Were Black?" How there would be an uproar if the only starring role for a black actress on television were that of a pill popping, adulterous nurse at a big city hospital? And how the real issue was a lack of a variety of black women characters starring in their own shows?
All I want is for black women to be showcased in all their ranges of lives and experiences. I don't want to only see hookers and hos, I don't only want to see goody two-shoe, noble black women, I don't only want to see long suffering single mothers.
What I want to see are single black women who are corporate executives, I want to see single black women homeowners struggling to maintain relationships, friendships and family ties in a very busy world, I want to see black teenage girls growing up who aspire to more than just being a pop star, I want to see black families living in middle class neighborhoods, with the same struggles all parents have with their kids, but who are ultimately loving and kind.
I also don't want these characters to be perfect just because they're black--I want them to be as "real" as any well written white character.
Now the "Real Housewives" shows are reality shows after all and we should all know by now that they aren't "reality." They're cast with characters that will be flashy, flamboyant and ripe for controversy. Everyone who goes on a reality show these days understands the more outrageous you are, the more face time you get. And believe me, these women on the "Real Housewives" shows, black and white, are desperate for face time. They eat, sleep, live and breathe it.
Even during moments when the housewives are somewhat sympathetic and doing more than just playing "she said, she said," organizing charity events or revealing a bit about their personal lives, they never seem to forget where all those cameras are.
So among a group of rich, wild and wacky, narcissistic white women, why shouldn't rich, wild and wacky narcissistic black women be represented?
As long as everyone understands those women don't represent all black women or even all rich, black women, there's an argument to be made that it's harmless fun.
Here are some reactions from the blogosphere:
At MamaLaw, Justice NY wrote a post a few months ago about seeing a marathon of the first season of RHOA:
Is this how people really live in ATL? Is this how the black elite (as they self-describe) lives regardless of city? Or did Bravo just paint them in a less positive light?
Via LaToya's Reality TV Show Blog, there's a Star Jones tweet about "Real Housewives of Atlanta:"
"I try not to watch things that are going to make me cringe," Star twittered in response to a fan who asked if she would be watching the show. "I know 'real' housewives in Atlanta...& these aren't!"
Sheree meets with Anthony Shorter, who's planning her "Independence Party" where she will be queen! BRAVO doesn't show this, but she's not really paying for the party, BRAVO struck a deal with Anthony's company for Sheree's party to be part of the Atlanta Music Festival. Since there really isn't such as thing as a free lunch, Anthony's company really wasn't doing this for free, it was to be a publicity boon for them! There would be massive media coverage of the event in Atlanta because of Sheree, and peeps from far and wide would tune into Real Housewives of ATL to see what a fine job Anthony did for the "Housewife." Instead, millions of viewers tuned into the best instruction video ever made on poor customer service.
Have you watched any of the "Real Housewives" shows? What do you think?
An interview with Kandi Burress on That Black Girl Site.
Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television and Online Video. Her personal entertainment blog is Megan's Minute, Quirky Commentary Around The Clock.