|Posted by Silja J.A. Talvi|
October 23rd, 2006
There are a few guilty pleasures I’ll indulge myself in, from time to time. VH1’s plethora of reality shows have been among them. No, that frightening Hulk show holds no interest for me, but when Surreal Life morphed into Surreal Love, I will admit I stayed tuned.
Who could pass up the Flav & Brigitte freak show, with that completely odd couple prancing across the world in their own little bubble of strange love? OK, I couldn’t.
When that relationship failed, VH1 realized they had a potential goldmine in Flav’s antics. The Flavor of Love was born, with a first season full of Flav’s polyamorous adventures, flamboyant and/or itty-bitty outfits, erupting jealousies, and one, final, fabulous hurled loogie. The woman who won, “Hoopz” (Flav names the female contestants because he can’t, apparently, remember their real names) eventually wisened up and, well, dropped Flav.
So, onward to the second installment, where the already-bad Flavor of Love disintegrated to something below humiliating. It’s during this show that the creatures of self-hatred and misogyny crawled out from underneath the mansion that Flav and Vh1 are clearly comfortable calling home, and showed us their true faces.
From the first show onward, it was all about the catfight. No gentle clawing or pawing here, but full-on, knock-out, drag-down fights. Bitch this, and bitch that. Women pooping on the floor, women toilet-papering each other’s beds, women calling each other out at every possible opportunity. An alcoholic former porn actress was in the midst, her body language communicating the body of a young woman who had already been through far, far too much trauma in her early life. Sickness like this, though, seems to make for good television. (And, after all, Flav seems to like his women disturbed in one way or another.)
And then a certain Ms. New York showed back up on the set. (New York, for those of you who don’t know, was the runner-up in the 1st season, but lost to Hoopz.)
What exactly happened to New York to make her the woman she is today is hard to say, but her mother undoubtedly had something to do with it. No, no, really. You’d have to see the mother to see what I’m talking about, and where SHE got her damage is anybody’s guess. It’s hard to watch their sociopathic relationship to the world (and their sadistic-yet-co-dependendent relationship with each other), but it’s when New York, an African American woman, decides to call another contestant her “slave” that I really got to thinking about the entire, horrifying spectacle.
Namely, how far can television TAKE this kind of post-modern minstrel show? Are there any limits? Is our historical amnesia really this bad? (In TV-Land, the answer seems to be ‘yes.’)
Fighting, hair-pulling, booty-shaking, fake-accent-having, backbiting, everything that represents the worst of female gender conditioning. And it’s right here, in one, gloriously entertaining package, talked about by mainstream news media and bloggers alike.
Yet the “slave” comment seemed to pass by, without any real notice.
Here’s how it went. New York witnesses Deelishis cleaning the rooms to get them ready for their respective parents. After another fierce toe-to-toe between these two Black women goes down, the two go to their corners, and then New York lets out with this mouthful: “She’s my slave. I’m her master. I give her a lashing, she’ll come right back.”
Why not just throw in an extra sentence or two about “house and field niggers” for good measure? Because that’s exactly what we’re witnessing. A very tragic, real-life, projected re-enactment of the kind of trauma forced on female and male African slaves, fast-forwarded a few hundred years into the mouth of a damaged woman on a quest for Flav and his money. No, I’m not overanalyzing. I wish people were even BEGINNING to analyze this kind of stuff the way it should be.
I did a quick search around Myspace to see what the kids were saying and, well, all of this was just hilarious to young girls, in particular. It was more ammunition for which of the two women was the best pick for Flav to make. The kids out here are really eatin’ it up. Don’t take my word for it. A recent conversation with a middle-school instructor in a school here in Seattle verified just that: all the girls were coming in, each week, dishing the latest about what had gone down. Everybody had already picked sides, and all of them were talking about the strategies being employed by the contestants to “get their man.”
I know kids can be smarter than this. I KNOW kids smarter than this. But the damage is being done to all of the rest that don’t understand where this kind of show fits in in the pantheon of racist and misogynist imagery in cinema and television.
As if all of that weren’t bad enough, Flav’s “manly” rant on the last episode sealed the deal on the sickness of it all. And here’s where I got truly worried about what the heck our girls are growing up to expect about where they stand in the world.
To sum that part up, you need to know that New York is trying to assert, in her own demented way, that she will be running things as she and Flav are together.
“Now you’re getting out of place, steppin’ out of bounds,” is Flav’s early response.
Things escalate. The show intercuts Flav’s after-the-fact commentary: “I started to [think about] pushing the bitch off the board for that, but she can’t swim.”
New York tries to get back in his good graces by ripping off her swimsuit cover-up (revealing a rather anorexic body compared to last season), and assuring him he’s the “P-I-M-P,” and the man in charge. (”Pimp and Ho” are now so much a part of the everyday vernacular–and so detached from the real meaning–that even one of the Playboy Bunnies, the youngest of Hef’s uber-blond poly-trio, confusingly considers herself a “pimp,” and wears a grill.)
A very troubling, face-to-face confrontation is where all of this ends up, with Flav inches from New York’s face, demanding to know the following: “WHO GIVES THE ORDERS, NEW YORK?”
He repeats the question, over and over again. “”I’m the man around here,” he continues. “I wear the pants.”
Intercut with more of Flav’s revealing commentary: “New York was looking kind of ‘hittable’.” He smiles. (Flav’s history of DV arrests demonstrate that he’s done it before, why not mean it now?)
“WHO GIVES THE ORDERS?” he says again.
How many domestic violence survivors have heard these exact words? (And how many have not lived to talk about them, I might add.)
So, New York’s confident gaze melts into a fearful one.
“You do,”she finally says, in a weaker voice.
As she would later say, she was just going to let Flav pretend he had his control.
Whichever way, whatever way, it’s all a disaster for women to let themselves be treated this way. To fundamentally hate themselves this way. It’s just a damn, infuriating shame. Feh. *This* is how far we’ve come?
p.s. New York ended up the loser. Apparently, Flav wasn’t up for having to beat another woman down so quickly–even one as “hittable” as New York.