Hot Ghetto Mess Finds a New Name: Austin Blogger Forces BET to Blink in War of Images
UPDATE: BET emailed me a statement late Monday on the name change: "The show’s original title was HOT GHETTO MESS: WE GOT TO DO BETTER. We’ve decided to change the name because we want to highlight the show’s real intent, which is to offer social commentary in a context that sparks dialogue, debate, and most importantly, change.
Additionally, the early misperceptions about the show and its title were diverting attention from the overall original programming strategy we’ve begun implementing at BET Networks – which is to deliver smart, creative shows that explore the full range of the Black experience. Our 2007 slate is the most ambitious and diverse aggregation of Black programming in television history, and it features a wide range of genres – from inspirational shows like EXALTED!, to animated comedy shows like BUFU, to family entertainment like SUNDAY BEST. As we move into the fall season and 2008, you’ll continue to see the increase in the quality, quantity and breadth of shows that we have to offer at BET."
As controversy over the reality show Hot Ghetto Mess exploded, BET executives tried to play it cool, saying the show was a Bill Cosby-style dose of constructive criticism while limiting the public's access to the actual show to see for themselves.
But today the cable channel blinked in its struggle with the Austin lawyer who has insisted the show will simply spread stereotypes, officially changing the name of Hot Ghetto Mess to the program's motto: We Got to Do Better. See the blog announcement here.
"For the past 27 years, the black community has gone to BET on bended knee (with concerns about stereotyping)," said McCauley in an interview today from her Austin office. "At the end of they day, somebody from Viacom probably called BET and said there is no way you're going to tie our sponsors' brands to a Web site featuring naked black women and a blackface cartoon."
McCauley is hopeful that the name change will separate BET's show from the Web site on which is was originally based, discouraging people outside the black community from referring to certain black people as a "hot ghetto mess." She said a vice president in Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition came to her last week, asking what BET could do to resolve the controversy and curb McCauley's dialogue with advertisers; among several suggestions was a name change for the show. (BET entertainment president Reginald Hudlin is shown at left.)
"BET could have done this a long time ago," said McCauley, who was besieged with calls from media outlets such as the New York Times in the wake of the decision. "They're so arrogant and contemptuous of their own target audience. They have abused their unique place (in black history), but their hubris is going to be their downfall."
McCauley initially sent an email announcing her victory: "On Friday a third-party called me and said that BET was reeling and didn't know what to do," she emailed regarding the blog-based campaign which convinced advertisers such as State Farm Insurance and Home Depot to remove their ads from BET's Web site for fear of being connected to the show. "That was when I gave them several alternatives. I suggested that they either release the show directly to DVD or they could change the name."
No word on whether the channel will also change the logo, which features a stereotypical-looking blackface character behind a red circle with a line across his face. Since stumbling across an item on BET web site about the show in late June, McCauley has used her own blog, whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com, to target the show's advertisers.
Her biggest problem: that the six-episode show is based on an exploitive Web site. "" The website is indefensible," McCauley said in her email, titled Hot Ghetto Mess is Hot Ghetto Gone.
"For BET to be so arrogant to think that they were going to get away with promoting and promulgating something as abominable as HotGhettoMess.com, they had to be complete total idiots," she said. "My position has always been that people who want to watch foolishness should pay for it. I will not purchase the products, goods and services of a company that advertises on something called "Hot Ghetto Mess."
McCauley vows to keep an eye on the show, which debuts at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, to see if further protest is warranted.