BET Creates It's Own Hot Ghetto Mess; Fox Business Network Launches Oct. 15
I've had several people ask me about Black Entertainment Television's latest controversy, a TV series based on the Web site Hot Ghetto Mess, which highlights the excesses of black ghetto-influenced culture in an attempt to prove "we got to do better."
"I am just holding up a mirror to my community so don’t blame me if you don’t like your reflection," writes HGM creator Jam Donaldson on his Web site, which features photos and stories under headings such as "Mess of the Month," "Errything Else" and "Not Ghetto," among others.
The Hollywood Reporter noted today that Home Depot and State Farm Insurance have asked to be dropped from the July 25 debut of BET's Hot Ghetto Mess TV show, which is expected to combine video clips and man on the street interviews to present extreme images of "ghetto" folks for ridicule.
Already, some black folks are lining up to complain about the show, objecting to its logo, which features an image of a black person looking like a monkey or stereotypical Sambo-like character beneath a red circle with a line drawn through it. Others object to what they expect to be a constant stream of embarrassing, stereotypical images of often-poor, often-unsophisticated black people.
I don't want to form an opinion about a show until I see it. And I'm headed to Los Angeles on Sunday, when BET is expected to make a presentation to TV Critics where I'm sure this subject will come up. But I suspect Jam and BET will discover what eventually discouraged Dave Chappelle; mainstream audiences have a way of embracing stereotypical images of black people, even those offered in satire. Eventually, may you discover you are reinforcing stereotypes more than deconstructing them.
But this is part of larger pattern of criticizing BET which is worth noting. I chair the media monitoring committee of the National Association of Black Journalists, which placed BET among several nominees for the NABJ's Thumbs Down award, given to media outlets for, among other things, "especially insensitive, racist or stereotypical reporting...or engaging in practices at odds with the goals of the National Association of Black Journalists."
NABJ's board voted to give BET that honor in 2007, primarily for refusing to pre-empt programming to air the funeral of Coretta Scott King live, but also for other troublesome trends, including greatly reducing its news and public affairs programming, continuing to feature music videos which denigrate women and offer stereotypical images of black people.
I suspect shows such as Hot Ghetto Mess and Socially Offensive Behavior are a result of BET executives looking at the way other Viacom-owned outlets such as VH1 have built huge ratings on shows which present cartoonishly stereotypical images of black people, such as Flavor of Love and I Love New York. Why shouldn't a cable channel known for reaching black people get some of that audience? I can imagine them thinking.
One of the biggest challenges black people face is the temptation of our middle and upper classes to indulge the same kind of stereotypical insulting of poor black people we all faced in years past. And while some classic humor has come from lampooning this culture, I think we need to be careful about widening the gap between the black underclass and the black middle class by demonizing and ridiculing people who don't necessarily deserve it.
Even as BET prepares to present the biggest slate of new programming in its history, it faces criticism for failing to reach its self-stated goal of "(inspiring) its audiences to make a difference in their lives and communities with a broad and impactful pro-social agenda." We all will have to see a bit more evidence to judge whether they're meeting that standard these days.
-- Fox has finally announced an Oct. 15 start date for its business-oriented cable channel, to be called the Fox Business Network. From the press release:
"FBN currently has 30 million subscribers under contract after securing distribution agreements with major cable operators in top markets around the country, including (the Tampa Bay area).
Headquartered in News Corporation’s street level studios in midtown Manhattan, FBN has also established bureaus in such key markets as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco (Silicon Valley), Washington, D.C. and London."
-- Hard to believe, but Tuesday's debut of NBC's boneheaded The Singing Bee drew 13-million viewers, the highest rating for any new summer series premiere on any network in nearly five years, the highest 18-49 rating for any unscripted series debut on NBC and the most-watched new summer series premiere on any network in more than two years, since the debut of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" on June 1, 2005. For NBC it was the most-watched summer series premiere in total viewers in at least 13 years. Sigh.