I happened to catch two television shows in the last week that touch offer two very takes on the images of romance presented to the American public. One deals with real-life human dating and mating. The other deals with race and gender roles in Hollywood-generated fiction.
The first, of course, was the finale of the The Bachelorette. For those who missed the three hour extravaganza, Bachelorette Jenn Schefft was set to receive two proposals of marriage from two men who were deemed to be more than reasonably worthy by Mrs. Geek and several of her friends. In a dramatic turn, milked for all it was worth by the ABC network, Jenn turned them both down (John Paul during the taped rose ceremony, Jerry on "live" TV.) Mrs. Geek's reaction: You made me stay up late for this?!?! I'm never watching this show again.
Frankly, I hope that this experience makes more than a few viewers of the reality TV genre wake up and smell the after-show java. You can't make love happen in front of a TV camera in six weeks, people. Sure, lightning might strike and reward us with a glimpse of Trista & Ryan's Pink Designer Wedding From Hell every once in a while, but that must be the exception rather than the rule. Real emotional and spiritual connections between two people happen rarely enough when the cameras aren't rolling. It is idiocy to expect that putting people in a media fishbowl will somehow change the odds. No, it's time for The Bachelor and its ilk to jump the shark.
What will we get in its place? Well, I'm thinking we need to create a show that revives the format of the early 90's TV game show Studs. It's all the excitement of seeing who will choose who without all this pre-occupation about marriage at the end.
The other show I saw was Race-O-Rama on VH1. The particular episode I saw dealt primarily with the ascendancy of actresses of color (Rae Dawn Chong/J. Lo/Halle Berry/Salma Hayek/etc.) in the Hollywood films during the last 20 years. Various commentators offered new spins on ideas of race that have been plaguing this country for a long, long time. There is, of course, the charge of tokenism; J. Lo is a "safe" image of a Latina woman, so she gets to work everywhere while a dozen other edgier Latina actresses starve. Mixed race relationships are also evidently still verboten for a variety of reasons, ranging from the inappropriateness of a black man appearing with a white woman on screen (he should be choosing a black woman, not an overly idealized Barbie Doll being pushed down the throat of everyone by a white-controlled media establishment) to the equal inappropriateness of a white man appearing with a woman of color (she's just there to be a 'chocolate fantasy'.... Halle Berry should be writing "only a black male lead" into her contracts to get jobs for some black actors.) It made for interesting television, to be sure... though I wonder if anyone on it did anything other than put a new spin on arguments that have been rattling down through the debate on race in this country for the last 200+ years.
Before I say anything else, let me say that I agree that the show offered some very valid points. I do not dispute that. What I do dispute whether or not the examination of some issues went far enough to truly consider some underlying causes.
No one mentioned Hollywood's preference for only producing broad physical, "ghetto" comedies when it comes to movies with all or mostly African American casts. I tend to believe this inherently limits the kind of roles that male African American actors are offered in Hollywood today. A Soldier's Story was a great movie... as were Malcolm X, Passenger 57, and Ray. Yet for each film like this that might have an appeal beyond that of a narrow genre and demonstrate some real emotional range, we get half a dozen films like Undercover Brother, Pootie Tang, and Soul Plane. Fix that and I think you go far to getting more roles for male African American actors... and opportunities for Americans of all colors to mix and mingle together on the screen.
On the other side of the coin, when do we finally get to be color blind when it comes to selecting actors (male and female) for roles without someone crying "s/he should be appearing with his own kind?". At its best, the quality of a performance should be borne out of an examination of the human experience... any human experience. This offers the opportunity to look beyond race when casting different roles. So... when Kenneth Brannaugh makes Much Ado About Nothing, we get to see Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves play brothers in one of Shakepeare's plays. Was the role of Jinx Johnson in Die Another Day probably originally written for a black woman? No... but does every role in every film have to have a decodable racial meaning? I hope that it will one day be true that it doesn't.
on 2005-03-03 at 3:20 p.m.
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