We are in odd times. Everything is stressful around us. Racial tensions especially, are high. Black people are fighting to be heard and seen as equals and white people somehow have an issue with that. Protests all around the country seem to signify that this is a wake up call, people seem to be listening. Basically, white people are just realizing black people are humans in the last 2 weeks or so.
How does reality TV fit in all this?
In the last week, we’ve had almost daily announcements of TV networks and production companies severing ties with their talent. From Dance Mom’s Abby Miller on Lifetime, 90 Day Fiance’s Baby Girl Lisa on Lifetime and most notably Kristen Doute and Stassi Schroeder from Vanderpump Rules. While it is probably the right thing to do, the issue is it really just comes off as performative and doesn’t solve the issue that is deeply rooted in reality tv as a whole.
Listen, you have to be a certain kind of person to be on reality TV. You also have to be willing to be messy and roll in the dirt. With that, it would be difficult to not have a messy past. Actually, the messy part is probably what attracts casting agents. But honestly, you can find the messy that doesn’t involve racism and thereby creating discomfort for other castmates.
I have mentioned before how especially in competitive reality shows, the black/minority contestants always seem to be voted out first for reasons like “it didn’t look like we had anything in common”. Big Brother is very notable for that reason. The racism there has been blatant to the detriment of the black contestants. We as viewers are uncomfortable watching, so I cannot imagine how it is for them experiencing it in person.
This is where casting agents really need to do their due diligence. If civilians can find info in 10 seconds, they should be able to not have overt and conservative racists/biased people as cast members. I have digressed a little but I think this is where it counts to be proactive vs. reactive and fire people to save face.
Let’s talk about the face save. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to who gets fired (because most of them have some offense or the other). I’ll dissect MTV’s firings. Before yesterday, there were two notable firings who happened to be women. One an Asian and the other with a half-black partner, Taylor. Not sure why the men were exempt and also sending the message that racism – bad, misogny – okay (another story for another day). If you watch the MTV show, The Challenge you will know that it has a long roster of problematic people who have still had the chance to return so it’s obvious that it was to silence the people calling for heads on social media.
Here’s my take. I get how the firings disrupt the cast dynamic. I get how they may not have the same beliefs anymore and might have grown. What I don’t get is people feeling discomfort that their viewing is being disrupted when it goes deeper than whatever nonsense that might have come out their mouth. I don’t necessarily always think they are racists but there is deeply rooted unconscious bias. When these people make an off color comment, it’s almost always not a one-off and it comes from somewhere that needs to be examined.
As the announcements roll in, the networks also announce editing out the offensive cast member and that part I don’t get. You might as well let stories play out as they were filmed, editing them out doesn’t mean you condone their offense. It ruins the content and once again, doesn’t solve the issue.
Overall, I think networks really need to take a good long look into their processes. For example, after 25 seasons why did it just occur to the Bachelor franchise that they should have a black bachelor? They could have gone through multiple ethnicities by now. I don’t feel bad for consequences, if that is what it takes to get people’s heads out the sand and consider people from other backgrounds.
I do want to hope that this is the beginning of a revolution and change that gives fairness to everyone around but don’t fault me for being pessimistic.