The resurgence of redneckery

“What kind of redneckery is this? “ The question sprung from my lips without much forethought. It was Shark Week and rather than focusing on the gargantuan great whites or terrifying tigers, an entire special, “Voodoo Sharks” placed the spotlight on Blimp, the portly shark hunter, his relatives, and their country ways. Blimp was later featured on the Shark Week talk show, “Shark after Dark,” doing his bizarre Shrimp Dance.  Hollywood has gone south; even the Discovery Channel is milking this pop culture trend for ratings.
While I confess to never watching Honey Boo-Boo, our household is one of millions that are tuning in to the new Beverly Hillbillies. We laugh at the antics of those rascally (and yes, somewhat endearing) Robertsons on the reality hit Duck Dynasty; we recently watched their appearance on Dr. Oz. Still, as more and more reality shows about Southern folks hit the airwaves, I wonder why.  Why now?
I’m no history buff but reading Howard Zinn as a high school junior has made me question historical events, and pop culture in particular, consistently over the years.  Back in the 1920s, usually remembered for the Jazz Age, there was a resurgence of interest in the Ku Klux Klan. The Reconstruction-era hate group was cast as the heroes in the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, a movie so popular that President Woodrow Wilson held a screening at the White House. White farmers and working class people felt threatened and disenfranchised by the rise of cities, the growing elite and their culture of glitz and glamour, increasing immigration, and the growing migration of African Americans to the cities.  The movie’s glorification of Southern history, however divisive and racially inflammatory, struck a chord. The Ku Klux Klan began to recruit new members across many states and grew so popular as to host two separate marches to Capitol Hill in 1925 and 1926. When people get scared, they get scary.
We are living at a time of great social and economic change. We are led by a black President. Latinos make up the growing majority of many states. Gay couples can marry.  Even the Pope is calling for a new open-mindedness on the issues of homosexuality and abortion. But for every person who is celebrating these milestones, there is likely someone who feels alienated, undermined, and frightened about the place they hold in society now and in the future. Redneck reality shows about good old boys hearken back to someone’s good old days.  I’m not claiming Bravo will debut a reality show about the Klan’s Grand Cyclops anytime soon; I’m arguing that these shows are appealing for many reasons, including the way they could assuage fears about our changing America.
Pop culture does not merely entertain; it reveals our values, our morals, our doubts. I have the right to enjoy—and question.

Claws and jaws that should give us pause

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”—Carl Jung

Just when I thought it was safe to get back in the churning waters of reality TV…Silly me. Whatever made me think I could get away from mean girls and bullies? Recent personal events have made me super sensitive and yet once again, I find myself cringing at the deplorable, disgraceful behavior of women in competition, this time on Celebrity Apprentice.
As on Top Chef, a clique of female bullies is creating drama(and boosting the ratings.) The bombastic duo of Lisa Lampanelli, the aptly-nicknamed Queen of Mean, and Aubrey O’Day, a Neely O’Hara for the Millenial Generation, are the sharks in the waters. Rather than simply get snarky and attack these women as has been done by dozens of fellow bloggers and YouTube commenters, I want to ponder what makes women move away from collaboration and compassion to ruthless aggression. 
Lisa Lampanelli claims that her mom was a tough Italian mom. She has survived in a male-dominated field through her foul humor and ball-buster persona. A self- avowed couch potato who aspires to be driven around in a wheelchair despite not being disabled(at least this was one of the soundbites we got on last week’s episode,) she is set in her negative ways. They have meant success for her and it’s a formula she is not about to change.
What to make of Aubrey who went from UC Irvine sorority sister to Pam Anderson lookalike Playboy centerfold? She is two-thirds of The Valley of the Dolls storyline, without the sentiment. Once P.Diddy’s protégé, she has become the arch-villain on Celeb Apprentice for her narcissistic ways and what Trump has dubbed her “mouthpiece,” a way with words that can only be described as vicious.Still, as much as I want to strangle her for her on-air cattiness and crocodile tears, I also wonder what is beneath the layers of makeup, hair dye, and colored contacts.  She is someone’s daughter.  This beautifully made fan video haunts me.
It makes me question what it is we tell women about what it means to have power and influence, identity and image.  Why, rather than be a facilitator who fosters understanding and cooperation, does someone choose to be a predator?  Male or female, it is high time we move away from attacking and destroying one another, even if it means we don’t win the prize of cash, popularity, or an ego boost. 
On a personal note, Aubrey and Lisa’s antics serve as stark reminders of my own struggles with being bullied and being a bully. I have made a conscious effort in the last few months to work on being a person of greater love and openness. 

My newest heroine

“We must encourage girls to embrace respectful acts of assertion and provide them with representations of female aggression that are neither sensationalized nor the stuff of fantasy.” Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out

“…you put your head down, let your work speak for you, and try to avoid conflict. If someone was questioning my ethic or principles, I always spoke up. Ultimately, the best way I stood up for myself was working hard….” Chef Beverly Kim

Award-winning Bravo reality competition, Top Chef , is in its 9th season and has had no shortage of drama.  At the center of a key storyline, Chef Beverly Kim has become a hero to me.  After dealing with bullying at the hands of a trio of her fellow female chefs, she bounced back into the competition during a secret, online Top Chef spin-off Last Chance Kitchen, much to the chagrin of her rivals. Though eliminated in semi-finals, I’m positive I’m not the only fan of her classy, confident behavior. 

In the earlier part of the season, Beverly became a target for the louder, more aggressive women chefs. They complained of what they saw as one-note lack of depth as she continually worked Asian flavors into various dishes. They found  her methodical and thorough approach to be slow, stupid, and selfish. They rolled their eyes at her sensitivity.  Though the TV viewer learned this through filmed asides and editing, we also saw the confrontations and cruel comments.  As more of her personal allies got eliminated, Beverly could often be found in the company of the male chefs, purposely excluded from the intensely close rival clique.  But her work seldom suffered as critics and guests alike enjoyed and praised her cooking.  

I have to admit I was not a Beverly fan at first. Though I disdained the bullies, I wanted her to be a mouse that roared. I wanted her to bust loose of her quiet, humble demeanor and defend herself aggressively.  Then I realized I wanted her to stop being me.  Like Beverly, I was brought up to be quiet and work hard.  Like Beverly, I have been bullied, underestimated and misunderstood.  I have responded by being patient or by refusing to take part in confrontations.  At times, I have retaliated in bullying ways such as  gossip, backbiting, or passive-aggressive behavior. So I began to appreciate Beverly, how she would defend herself with truth and calmness, and most importantly, through expressing her passion and talent.  As a woman of color in a predominantly white competition/industry, she embodied the values of her cultural community and taught us an alternative to dog-eat-dog on national TV. The remaining women chefs may continue in the competition and ultimately win(best believe I will pitch a fit ) but they have lost face and the respect of millions of people.  

Beverly cooked, cross-country-skied, and literally shot her way to success while never resorting to cattiness or mean girl tactics.  So she is my Top Chef. 


Reality trash withdrawal

Having my daughter has given me new perspective and maturity. Take my past addiction to VH1 Celebreality. That cubic zirconia ring just doesn’t shine for me anymore. As I wait for the new season of Top Chef and stick to the Food Network, I find VH1’s trashy offerings less and less appealing.

I Love Money
This Survivor Lite was promising earlier this summer. But manipulation and eliminations took out the more interesting personalities. I am cheering for no one and there is no Legion of Doom we love to hate. The finalists for the quarter of a million dollars are Hoopz, WhiteBoy, Real, and Megan. Of these four, Megan is the least likable but she’s not even fun to hate. The other three were likable on their previous shows and at the outset of this show but have since become whiny and arrogant. I really don’t care who gets the prize.

New York Goes to Hollywood
New York’s fifth VH1 series followed her journey to LA to become a serious actress. We watched as Tiffany took acting classes, became smitten with her HOT(like fire!) acting partner Voss, broke up with Tailor Made(like we didn’t realize what an idiot he was long before she did), and chose between being New York or Tiffany. At times, it was fun(the Japanese commercial episode was hilarious). Other times, you had to cringe(Sister Patterson was so not fun this time around.) I actually missed New York’s histrionics.

VH1 is bringing us two new shows: Rock of Love Charm School and Real Chance at Love. The former brings back the tacky tarts Bret Michaels rejected and turns them over to Sharon Osbourne to become ladies. The latter has the Stallionaires looking for love. I may not be as excited by the prospects but I’m sure I’ll tune it just the same.

The hottest mess yet

The SF Chronicle calls it “possibly the best reality show…ever.” VH1 has done it again, bringing together some of the most memorable contestants from previous hits, The Flavor of Love, I Love New York and Rock of Love. 17 past participants gathered in beautiful beachfront Mexico to compete for a quarter of a million dollars–and lots of VH1 dating show drama/high jinks.

So who’s in the house this time? There are bimbos of both genders: 12 Pack and Heat, New York’s party boys, catty Playboy Playmate Megan from RoL 2, and Brandi C from ROL 1. There are annoying attitudes from Chance, ILNY 1 also-ran, Pumkin, New York’s spitting foe from FoL 1, and Midget Mac, once a likable underdog on ILNY and now just a little guy with too much anger. You do have some likable folks like Real, Hoopz, and Rodeo. And every reality house needs a weirdo; Mr. Boston is sure to keep us laughing with his overblown come-hither advances on the girls and self-deluded cockiness(“I brought 5 condoms and I intend to use them with a different chick”). The cast will compete in Survivor-like team challenges and live with one another with what promises to be disastrous results.

You can’t bring this many chiseled abs, impressive implants, and personality quirks into a house and expect these folks, already semi-famous for trying to hook up on national TV, to strategize without so much as a wink at someone cute. No, the sexual tension is already running high. White Boy, captain of the Green team, is already nervous about the “venom” offered by hotties Megan and Brandi C. The Entertainer is hoping things don’t work out for Heat and Destiney so he can move in. Heather plans to remove her Bret tattoo and is already gunning for 12 Pack. And poor Mr. Boston is hoping to abandon his blowup doll for good. This season promises to be about sex, drama, and oh yes, that money.

A better title may have been “I Love Being on TV.” No matter to those of us who like to watch the mess to be made.

Reality show frenzy

Pregnancy changes everything. My skin and hair. My waistline. My energy level. Now that my morning sickness has subsided to once-a-week misery, I’m getting out for meals and movies again. But the thought of putting on club gear and crossing the Bay Bridge seems more challenging than a half-marathon. So chances are, I’ll spend Saturday night flipping through the channels for a movie since my weeknights are reserved for George Lopez reruns with Blues and my ongoing infatuation with reality shows.

It’s understandable, given popular media’s ongoing interest in reality TV. There’s even a reality channel now. I’m not so far gone that I watch only reality shows. I break down my shows into two categories: shows featuring hot messes(aka VH1 dating shows Rock of Love and Flavor of Love)and mainstream pop culture phenoms(namely Top Chef and American Idol.)

Like millions across the nation, I have become hooked on American Idol. Years ago, during Season 1, my mentor, with whom I shared a conference hotel room, made me sit through an episode and its subsequent results show. I watched the season until Kelly Clarkson took home the inaugural honor. This time, a chiropractor friend of mine was working on Blues’s back while I was left in the living room to take in AI’s current contestants taking on 70s hits. Now Blues and I are rooting for little David Archuleta and arguing over that little blonde country girl(he likes her; I don’t.)

Similarly, I was introduced to Top Chef by my former housemate. I haven’t watched it in a few seasons but I’m now hooked on Top Chef Chicago as I root for the three remaining San Franciscans. And I want to slap Mark and Spike and his ridiculous Panama hat.

My hot mess addiction is my own. It all started with Flavor Flav falling for Brigitte Nielsen on The Surreal Life. Then he moved on to choosing Hoops over the borderline diva New York in Season 1. And on and on. I’m sorry to say I have no connection to any of the girls in Season 3. The twins, Thing 1 and Thing 2, look a decade older than their reported 26, yet they act worse than my high schoolers with their backstabbing intrigue and constant gossipping. Meanwhile, on the rock side of the world, Bret Michaels, who’s ten times more likable than the goofy and not-so-hot Flav but not that much younger at 45(!), hasn’t learned too much from his last bad decision(he got dumped by Jess on the Season 1 reunion show.) I was relieved when borderline serial wife Kristi Jo voluntarily left two episodes ago and am rooting for Amber.

Four reality shows to watch isn’t bad. In time, this current phase will pass, either because my shows will end and/or I’ll have more important things to do with my time. For now, I’ll just enjoy these guilty pleasures.

A happy ending for Miss New York?

Whether we believe her name is Tiffany Pollard or Kenya Simmons, or if we think she’s a “horse-haired heifer”(to quote a fellow blogger, a transvestite or a messy diva, the woman we know as tv’s New York may have finally found a man. On the finale of I love New York 2, she chose the lesser of two evils, Tailor Made.

I had my doubts. After watching her borderline personality theatrics with Buddha in Miami, I figured she’d choose him and return for a third season when it all went south. But she chose the man with the gifts(Manolos!) and has supposedly moved in with him. More power to her. Tailor Made only has one child, as opposed to Flavor Flav’s half-dozen. Their parents got along so New York won’t alienate the in-laws the way she did with Tango. And even if he’s skinny, scrawny, and slimy, Tailor Made treats her with respect and affection. When all is said and done, that’s all most women want, to be cherished.

Is "I Love NY 16" in the works?

“My therapist says I’m attracted to unstable men.” New York on tonight’s episode

Bad boy former flame Chance didn’t let the door hit him on his way out. Pretty ran out of the house, leaving questions about his sexuality hanging. New York is now down to her final four. The question remains: has she really learned from her past experiences and current therapy? Or will she once again choose from two evils?

Tailor Made continues to buy expensive gifts and to be New York’s doormat. Still he has ceased to be loathsome. Now the possibly unstable Buddha is the man we wish New York would drop. Against the advice of her therapist and mother(yes that’s ironically familiar), she is drawn to Buddha sexually and emotionally. Fortunately, New York is beginning to see how wonderful Punk is. But will upcoming negative encounters with her potential in-laws and Buddha’s sexual allure take her down an old path?

I won’t argue that New York has an easy task at hand. It is difficult to learn new behaviors and attitudes, particularly in relationship matters. I know that from personal experience. But for the sake of health and happiness, it is well worth the hard work. As with real life, I plan to stay tuned.

Cue the suspenseful music: TV review

Oh, our girl New York is about to do it again. I’m beginning to think she should do a reality show on therapy and self-healing before she makes another bad relationship decision. Take it from me, Tiffany, I knows this s***.

In recent episodes, New York has begun to clean house. But is she discarding trash or hanging on to unnecessary clutter? The bizarre It is gone. Plucky Midget Mac has been released so he can heal from the death of his girlfriend. Pretty is just that, easy on the eyes, if a little reserved. Wise is probably on the chopping block since he holds back too much for our agression loving diva. Punk is an obvious keeper. Handsome, smart, and sensitive, he’s the brains of the outfit(and the glorious biceps, pecs, and abs, too.)Nevertheless, as always, New York seems way too attracted to the questionable ones. True, Buddha is gorgeous and self-aware, but he also got way too violent over nothing. I have to admit I literally jumped up and down and whooped when he made his plot twist comeback but only because I detest Tailor Made. That brings me to the man we all hate. Tailor Made is skinny, scrawny, and needy. But a $800 La Perla negligee put him back at the number one spot. And previews reveal that Chance, last season’s also-ran, is about to turn New York back into the weepy witch we know she can be. Will Season 3 be far behind?

I do have love for New York. I believe she does have love for herself. But she has to stop loving these fools who won’t be there for her. Otherwise, there will be no happy ending.

Love for New York

“I’m gonna find me a man, even if it kills my ass.”

Tiffany “New York” Pollard is at it again(aren’t we all?) After being rejected by Flavor Flav twice and being dissed by her fiancé Tango, you would think New York would stay away from reality show dating. But everyone’s favorite Capricorn(yeah you know you thought she was a Cancer, I know I did) in stilettos is hoping to find a new love on VH1. I Love New York 2 is already on Episode 4, bringing us more histrionics, horniness, and hilarity.

The new season kicked off with a new mansion, a new sidekick(no more sassy Chamo), and 20 new suitors. 5 were selected online by fans. 5 are Mama’s Boys, a pack of suit-wearing, college educated men picked by New York’s eccentric mother Sister Patterson, and the other 10 were selected by New York and the VH1 production team. Some of the new suitors include muscle-bound but sensible law student Punk, the bizarre It, spunky Midget Mac, and the man we are all starting to hate, whiny yuppie Tailor Made.

Tailor Made was the root of the recent drama, provoking gorgeous Buddha into striking him, and later spitting on street-smart Wise. Tailor Made lies, tattles, and manipulates—so naturally New York likes him. The man has a baby mama, a not-quite-ex-wife, and hair plugs—who cares if he bought New York a pair of Manolos? Still, it’s clear that their chemistry is strong and New York enjoys Tailor Made’s clinginess. Maybe when last season’s irritant, Chance, makes a comeback, Tailor Made’s chances won’t be so great. Personally, I’d choose the gorgeous Pretty or intelligent Punk.

Even if I don’t always agree with her taste in men, there is something fascinating about New York. She’s a hot mess and therefore fun to watch.