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In today’s media climate, finding diverse representations for women of color on television is still hard and reality shows like Flavor of Love is a gigantic step backwards. Flavor of Love is an American reality television dating game show starring Flavor Flav, rapper of the group Public Enemy. The show contains the same basic format as the TV show “The Bachelor.” In the series premier Flav even refers to himself as the “Blachelor,” which means black bachelor. In the show, each contestant is given a nickname by Flav since he cannot remember real names. Contestants who are not eliminated during the clock ceremony receives a gold clock to wear around their necks with their picture and nickname. When a contestant is eliminated, her real name is displayed on the screen and her final goodbyes are followed by a champagne toast. During the season contestants compete in various challenges to win dates with Flav. The so-called reality show hinges on his search for true love, but it ends up playing on stereotypes of black women while degrading them. I define reality as the true state of the world without illusion or ideology and as a reality TV show, FOL doesn’t accurately align with this definition. I think shows like this construct a reality that reinforces stereotypes of black women and sends a bad message to viewers. In my analysis, reality shows are based on the premise that what you watch is real; therefore, the negative images of black women that is constructed translates into real-life interpretations to viewers of the show, which is problematic. By incorporating Mark Orbe’s arguments in “Constructions of Reality on MTV’s The Real World: An Analysis of the Restrictive Coding of Black Masculinity” regarding African-American images in media and Rachel Dubrofsky’s viewpoints in “Fallen Women in Reality TV: A Pornography of Emotion” about the constructed fiction in reality TV, I could determine that reality TV shows like FOL create a false sense of reality by the negative portrayal of women of color.
When I was younger I used to enjoy watching Flavor of Love for its utter ridiculousness and I even thought it was hilarious at times, but I didn’t realize until I got older that this kind of show is an attack on the black women’s image. Images of black women in the media historically have “remained largely invisible, marginalized to the point of insignificance, or been limited to specific stereotypes” (Orbe, 2006, p. 314). In the reality TV show FOL, contestants are limited to specific stereotypes that negatively depict women of color as loud, violent, uneducated, whores and gold-diggers. According to Orbe (2006), reality shows consist of people who are not simply actors following a script produced by others and viewers should seemingly get to see real people in the context of the real world. Unfortunately, this is not the case as not all elements portrayed in reality TV are “real” and the perspective of reality is subjective. Similar to Orbe’s (2006) position on reality TV, Dubrosky (2009) believes reality TV shows are supposed to be unscripted, “but most have a specific structure” (Dubrofsky, 2009, p.354). Thus, the narrative that reaches viewers is one that has been constructed, manipulated, manufactured, and edited to development the viewers and ideologies of the storyteller. As a result, reality TV shows like FOL construct narratives that shape how viewers interpret the images of black women and due to the greater number of those images being negative, “the given television’s immediacy, and its capacity to reach so many viewers so quickly,” it is easy to suggest what’s happening on reality TV shows like FOL is an actual portrayal of the world (Orbe, 2006, p.314).
The representations of black women on FOL does not accurately depict black women as a whole. The women of FOL are representations of the most degrading stereotypes that black women are referred to. Shows like this aid in people’s negative assumptions that black women are all notoriously loud, aggressive and angry. I think that the problem in current times is that everyone assumes things and since this show only showcases the worst stereotypes of black women the assumptions about them are usually negative. For instance, this show makes others assume that because black women speak loudly, they’re uneducated or because they wear certain clothes they’re a whore, or a hood rat, which is absurd. It is not fair or right to assume based on the little information you know about a person or race to judge them. Fans of the show call FOL a harmless guilty pleasure, but it portrays a reality that further reinforces stereotypes.
Shows like FOL not only limit representations of black women, but it also embraces a reality that exploits black women for increased revenue and ratings. While the show contained several black women, the only ones that got to stick around until the end were the ones who ‘knew their place,’ served him and had sex with him. The smart and educated black women who had minds of their own and those that remained chaste until marriage were usually eliminated at the beginning of the season. As a result, viewers spend more time watching the promiscuous women of color on the show and thus, making it seem acceptable to portray black women as whores and prostitutes. Flavor Flav appears to represent the stereotypical image of a pimp, with his canes, mack-daddy attire and overall premise of the show of using women and eliminating them when he’s done with them until he finds his “true love.” The black pimp is an image that emerges from the actual prostitution of female bodies that occurs in oppressed communities. Currently, the pimp is a misogynistic figure who does not love women, and because the women he hates and exploits are Black women, America at large seems fine with that. Flav, for the most part, seems to relish the attention given to him by the women even if they humiliate themselves to gain his. In addition to sending the women on ridiculous missions, he spends individual time becoming sexually connected with each woman while he remains relatively idle. In season two, in an episode called, “She Works Hard for Her Honey,” Flav takes the girls to one of his favorite restaurants, M & M Soul Food. Rather than dine with the women, he tells them that their jobs are to work the restaurant as waitresses and cooks. The lady who performs the best job wins a date for the night with him. In this challenge, Flavor Flav is supposedly trying to figure out which woman will support him, as if cooking and cleaning are the only attributes women can bring to a relationship. When Flav assesses and critiques their skills, he compliments a contestant on her rear end as she was serving the food. Like a pimp, Flav sexually exploits the bodies of the women who work for him while he remains on the sidelines. As the women perform meaningless tasks, Flav and the rest of America watches and laughs. Shows like “Flavor of Love” degrade and humiliate African-American women, and the media seems to take pride in broadcasting this crass, tasteless behavior.
In casting, VH1 deliberately created an all-black television show that stood in stark contrast to white dating shows. The narrative in the show is created by TV workers and often only a “tiny percentage of the footage actually shot appears in the final edited version” (Dubrofsky, 2009, p. 355). As a result, they are able to construct the story and enhance situations that promote the portrayal of negative stereotypes of black women. In this show there are other races represented, but you only see the worst representations of women of color. The producers made an intentional choice to give this particular man a dating show specifically because he’d reliably act a fool and then they casted, edited, and framed women of color in ways that intentionally played off racial stereotypes. They casted a group of hypersexual, unfiltered and loud black women who are animated and will create awesome television. The cast behaved like dance extras in a rap music video. When three women were boasting about their qualifications, one of them wins the argument by stating, “for the record, I have no gag reflex.” With a type cast of this nature it implies all black women are overly sexual and violent, which aligns with the stereotypical characteristics for black women. Some may say FOL is great theater, filled with suspense, drama and colorful characters, but really it makes a mockery out of black women and serves as a reminder of the racist and stereotypical depictions of women of color.
Using reality TV, shows like Flavor of Love construct a demeaning light upon women of color, create a space where certain races are raced unportionately and animate stereotypes. As far as entertainment goes, everyone wins except black women, because the show further ingrains the stereotypical portrayals of black women. This is the case largely because mainstream corporate media believes that these are the only images that audiences are willing to consume. Criticism aside, it’s going to take a real effort on our part as viewers to hold television networks accountable for the images that they circulate. I think reality TV needs to find new ways to embrace the complexities of raced identities and reframe from portraying stereotypical representations of women of color.
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