I’ve always watched reality TV, even back when it was just Cops. Today, I still watch but often find myself horrified by what it has become and also by the fact that I have to watch certain shows for work…and because I’m admittedly amused.
Eventually, reality TV landed on my doorstep. I auditioned for some shows and have been considered for shows that never came to fruition. I even appeared on Vh1’s Love & Hip-Hop because of an interview I did with Erica Mena that ran on VIBE.com. People’s reaction to me from that appearance was fascinating because you would have thought that I interviewed Beyonce on 60 Minutes. But no, it was just me talking to a video girl who had beef with another video girl. This opened my eyes to how people who desperately want to get famous—even the smart ones—can easily be seduced into playing a role specifically for cameras. Enter VH1’s latest tour de ratchet, The Gossip Game.
Ever since Vh1 premiered The Gossip Game, people have been asking me what I thought of the show. My answer is that I am amused but also disturbed by it at once. I watch a lot of suspect television—particularly reality shows that feature so-called professionals who are “anti-drama” but always find themselves in the midst of it. But I never cared about anyone’s judgments about “black women acting a’fool” or “women not getting along,” and I still don’t care about the judgment people sometimes pass on me, or what they believe my intelligence level is for watching such things. However, now that it’s about people that I know and kind of know—the women who aren’t supposed to act like this—it’s frustrating because this isn’t an entirely accurate picture of the urban entertainment media industry. I could never speak on what it was like to be a housewife/socialite of anything but this I know for sure.
Initially, I said I’d keep my thoughts to myself and off of social media but if I did that then I’m not doing my part in attempting to convey balance.
Most of the people asking for my opinion are people outside of the industry, so they think that women bickering in the middle of sponsored events or arguing about who slept with what rapper is actually what happens. Nope. Industry parties are actually really fly. There’s free liquor and sometimes, small bites to eat (depending on the event); you get to mingle with celebrities and executives and you get really amazing gift bags. Industry parties have changed the way I party forever but I digress.
I’ve been in the entertainment journalism business since about 2006 and I have seen and heard some wild things but more so with regard to terrible bosses who don’t know how to use their words or the extreme misogyny and condescending behavior from men toward women (a lot of urban media companies have no functioning human resource departments so folks get away with quite a bit but that’s another post). There is cattiness amongst women but it’s usually manifested in the form of a veteran boss being abusive toward her younger, presumably prettier and more talented female employees (stuff outsiders wouldn’t hear about unless someone wrote a tell all), and passive aggressive stuff along the lines of someone kicking someone out of their event or he said she said drama. It’s also common to witness and hear stories about beef between similar companies like that along the lines of the legendary Hot 97/Power 105 rift. But even cases like that, the way it’s handled is more lowkey petty stuff, like staff not being allowed to appear at events with the competition, etc.
Yet when cameras are involved everyone’s stories and issues become hyperbolized. People who are normally frumpy get style makeovers, people who are big deals in their minds feel validated and become the asshole they always wanted to be, and folks generally get turned up, as we say. A devious pot stirrer may become a blatant instigator on video, or the peacemaker unreasonably tries to get strangers to get along in the name of “why can’t we all just get along” (as if the world works like that), but inadvertently makes the situation worse. This is what I’m seeing play out on The Gossip Game.
My colleagues and I have known about the coming of this show for a while. Actually, a few years ago JasFly tapped myself and some other New York City based urban media personnel—mostly bloggers and some journalists (male and female)—to possibly participate in a show that she was pitching about our personal lives and career struggles. That fell through but such is life in the fickle world of TV. And then, some time last year I heard from other insiders that she was taping a new show that turned into what we’re witnessing now and for that I congratulate her because it’s something she has wanted to do for a while. I don’t know if she was responsible for this version of the pitch (because there were a lot of versions of this topic being circulated by various people, so don’t be surprised if more come rolling out) but it’s commendable that she achieved a goal like this. It’s not as easy to get a show on TV as people think. And it’s also not as easy to be cast in these shows as people think.
I heard some chatter (and outrage in some cases) about the roles that some of these women had chosen to play. This is not to say that they’re acting but in the real industry world, if you don’t like someone you just don’t deal with them unless you absolutely have to for work—end of story. But because this is TV, viewers need something to keep them coming back. A lot of what gets taped for reality TV is actually really boring even in the case of amusing shows. Viewers don’t realize that they’re only seeing a smidget of events. Even people who live exciting lives experience more mundane moments than not and that’s why storylines get played up and manipulated. I’ll use myself as an example. The hubby and I were being strongly considered for a show about newlyweds. Producers probed and tried to figure out what was going on in our lives that was worthy of being filmed and pursued. At the time, we had just been married and noticeably absent from the wedding was our fathers, who were both invited then uninvited. Producers wanted to use that as an opportunity for us to confront our respective dads about all the angst we’ve built up over the years, because of them. The thing was, hubby and I already had those necessary conversations and laid sleeping dogs to rest, as the saying goes, but for the sake of giving the audience something juicy to watch, producers needed to know if we’d be ok with recreating those confrontations with our dads on camera.
In a show about “it girls” working in the same industry the recipe is that you need competitive women who are slightly familiar with each other to come together unnaturally. Again, you need the person (or persons) willing to be the troublemaker, the neutrals who won’t compromise their behavior too much (but get overlooked as a result) and the peacemaker who is ridiculously persistent and also vapid about making people get along. See where I’m going? So yeah, that’s reality TV for you—not just this show but a lot.
I’ve worked with and encountered some of these women on the The Gossip Game and witnessed their ambition. It’s the same ambition that my personal industry girlfriends and I have. But where we differ is that we work with each other, look out for each other and don’t hash out our issues by yelling our credentials at each other or Twitter feuding.
I’d describe my group of girlfriends as ratchet but our version of ratch is more appropriate for a turned up talk show along the lines of The View meets Bill Maher—something we’ll probably never see on TV. We’re not saints, and we certainly know where to find the jugular if necessary, but we know our boundaries enough to not attempt to rip each other to shreds because back to that industry misogyny thing…it’s very real and if you can’t be allied with women who know your struggle then that is a recipe for failure.
I grappled with whether I was going to write this or not because being honest is a no-no in the industry. I have gotten backlash from people or uninvited from events for past honest posts. But because more people than I realized are curious about the inner-workings of the entertainment world and because I get a lot of intern or assistant requests from young women who want to break in…here is my opinion. The fact that I’m entertained but also disturbed by the show may not be the answer people want to hear but that’s what I feel.
I don’t think shows like this should be yanked off the air—like most of the indignant protestors who still watch seem to believe—because that’s not realistic but I do think these shows should be countered with more alternatives (by the way, the alternative is not by featuring pretentious bourgie people either). Unfortunately, the right alternative won’t happen any time soon so I’d be remiss if I didn’t present my version of what the industry is. In the industry, more people will roll their eyes at someone from across the room than actually get up in their face and curse and have a screaming match. In the industry, more people will complain on Twitter than run up in someone’s office (like they used to do in the 90s). And in the industry, I’ve seen more women get along than TV has viewers believing. There are several ways to get famous and be successful but appearing on reality TV is the most fleeting. Producing it may be a better idea.
I’m going to continue watching the show because admittedly, I find it entertaining and not all the women have acted out of pocket (just yet.). But I do hope that the impressionable minds who shouldn’t be watching can find this post or listen to opinions and experiences similar to mine.