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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In defense of Shawty Lo and his ratchet (CANCELED?!!) reality show

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  • Oxygen

Poor Shawty Lo.

What's the world coming to when a man can't choose to exploit himself and his nontraditional family in the privacy of his own home on national TV? So what if the former drug trafficker turned Atlanta rapper wanted to traffic in gross racial stereotypes for all to see. To each his own, right?

Well, if the rumors are true good ol' Lo may have to devise a new family hustle. According to Newsweek/The Daily Beast's Allison Samuels, the Oxygen network is on the verge of announcing the cancellation of "All My Babies' Mamas," the scheduled reality show starring Shawty Lo, the 10 women with whom he's procreated, and their 11 offspring.

If true, it's a victory for the countless critics, armchair activists and raging commenters who launched attacks, threatened boycotts, and signed a Change.org petition against the show since Oxygen previewed the pilot episode on the web last December. And after a year of protracted complaints over the tragic proliferation of highly rated, one-dimensional reality shows ("Basketball Wives," "Love & Hip-Hop") that debase black women, it may be the first sign that the old-school boycott is still a relevant form of political action in the information age. But for some reason, this still doesn't feel like a win.

Sabrina Lamb would probably beg to differ. She's the one who started the Change.org boycott petition which amassed over 30,000 signatures in 10 days to abort the Oxygen show before it was scheduled to air later this year. Entitled "Shawty Lo Must Go," the open letter Lamb wrote to Oxygen Media CEO Jason Klarman helped kick up a righteous ruckus over the show.

Oxygen attempted to defend the show, claiming it "was not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society." But when the plea for black people to stop taking everything so personally fell on mostly deaf ears, Shawty Lo was forced to defend his own reality.

In a candid interview with MTV last week, Lo told the story of a disadvantaged upbringing which led to him becoming a Bankhead drug kingpin and convicted felon before he parlayed his criminal lifestyle into his D4L rap label/group and short-lived solo success ("Dunn Dunn," "Dey Know").

"You can hate all you want to, I didn't ask for it. It just happened. Now that it happened, I'm supposed to turn my back against it?" Shawty Lo told MTV News regarding his 11 children, all of whom were born before his came about his career in rap. "If I wasn't taking care of my kids then you would really dog me out, but I'm taking care of my kids, providing for my family. I don't know what else to say."

But Lo's defense did little to quell the controversy surrounding "All My Babies' Mamas," the latest in a depressing trend that degrades women of color in particular, Samuels argues:

My disdain for these shows really grew by leaps and bounds as minorities began to appear more and more in them. In an industry that's never been overly interested in showcasing people of color or their lives, the notion that now we'd all of sudden become interesting just seemed too good to be true.

It was.

Instead of scripted television shows featuring minorities in well-written, creative, and thought-provoking storylines, Hollywood decided that our stories were best told in the most extreme, dysfunctional, and, often, the most fabricated ways. From Basketball Wives to Bad Girls to the The Real Housewives of Atlanta, people of color - black women in particular - are routinely portrayed as violent, hot-headed loudmouths with absolutely no regard or respect for themselves or anyone else.

Apparently, everybody's growing tired of the one-dimensional depictions. "I love that the people who've signed the petition are from all backgrounds, ages, and countries,'' Lamb told Samuels. "This one elderly white man wrote me and said even he was tired of the stereotypical images of black people.''

But it still seems a shame that 50-plus years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ignited the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans are fighting age-old stereotypes. And then there's the double conflict over whom to hold more accountable, the exploiters or the exploitees who see these reality shows as personal opportunities more than a collective slap in the face. Whatever the case, Oxygen has yet to confirm the show's cancellation, and whether the network does or not, this probably won't be the last such battle waged over negative media images. Only a decade and a half in but the 21st century is starting to feel like rerun of the last hundred years.

UPDATE: Of all the YouTube reviews and commentary on "All My Babies' Mamas" - and there are hours worth - this has got to be the funniest and most ironic. The commentator actually out-ratchets the show he's commenting on, yet somehow still manages to add to the discourse:

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