As protests kill Oxygen's All My Babies Mamas, I wonder: When will activists tackle Hixploitation shows?
This week, Oxygen threw in the towel, issuing a statement saying, in part, "We have reviewed casting and decided not to move forward with the special." It was a rare example of activists calling attention to horrible stereotypes embedded in an awful reality TV idea, and successfully pressuring the channel to drop it.
Which leaves me with one question: When will we see some activists tackle TV's Hixploitation trend?
That's a term I learned last week, while participating in a discussion on Day 6, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show, dissecting popular TV shows fueled by stereotypes about Southerners; almost always white people.
If you've been reading this space awhile, you know that's a trend I've been criticizing awhile, taking aim at series such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Hillbilly Handfishin', My Big Fat Redneck Vacation, and one of the newest entries in the genre, MTV's Jersey Shore-in-West Virginia travesty, Buckwild.
During the discussion, which included Professor Karen Cox, author of Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture, and Professor James Cobb, author of Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity, we noted that such shows echo stereotypes of southerners in ways which would never be tolerated if the subjects were people of color.
In fact, there's a huge segment of reality TV which trades on stereotypes about white subcultures for entertainment, from the violent, hard-partying, dim-witted Italians on Jersey Shore and Mob Wives to the violent, hard-partying dim-witted gypsies on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. On every show, the audience is encouraged to look down on its subjects, who are seen as caricatures who careen from one dramatic moment to another.
I told the CBC of my suspicion that such shows don't get a similar reaction because white people don't see themselves as a racial group which can be hurt by stereotyping in media, even though we have a long history of assuming Southerners are eccentric and stupid because of just such media images.
Watching the reaction to Shawty Lo and Oxygen, I wondered if any organized group would ever stand up for the Southerners, gypsies, Russians, Italians, Amish and other white subcultures who see themselves stereotyped in ways black, Hispanic and Asian people would never tolerate.
Maybe, on the edge Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, its time to agitate for freedom from stereotypes for white people, too.