Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ideality vs. Reality: When Keeping it "Real" Goes Wrong

ghettoflatscreeen Ideality vs. Reality: When Keeping it "Real" Goes Wrong

Something struck me as I watched the promotion for the new holiday movie “Perfect Holiday.” The trailer mentions a single mom who finds love at Christmas-time or some bullshit. And it made start to think about how many African-American TV shows and films are centered around a single mom or dad. And it made me realize the impact of reality versus ideality, and how our obsession with keeping it real has resulted in a collective lack of vision.
Walk with me on this one: There was a time when you watched TV and film for images of what was possible. We watched “perfect” people in “perfect” lives who managed to solve all their problems in 30 minutes. And while most of these shows, although classics, would be dismissed as typical Hollywood schlock, the biggest impact of these shows wasn’t in being high art, it was the fact that they helped establish societal norms and mores that we all aspired to emulate. They set the standard.
For example, I came from divorced parents and so did almost everyone I know. BUT when I sat down and watched Good Times or The Jeffersons or The Cosby Show, Family Matters, Fresh Prince or Roc, they showed me what an optimal family looked like. It gave me something to learn from and aspire to even when I didn’t have examples to turn to in my everyday life. It provided an IDEAL. Something to strive for. The fact that TV didn’t reflect my reality was a good thing. Because my consciousness was shaped by ideals rather than by reality, I grew up believing that a nuclear family was the norm, and getting married and having a family like the people on TV became important to me. Most importantly, I saw it as totally within my reach, something that maybe my parents couldnt achieve but i certainly could because there it was, right there on TV. Sometimes art is about not showing people their lives but showing people whats possible for their lives.
We often herald true-to-life depictions of our lives on TV. People say that single parents should be represented in our media portrayals because it is so prevalent in our communities and we should keep it real and show life how it really is. Have we ever stopped to think that it is so prevalent in our communities because that’s all we’re shown? This generation wouldn’t know a nuclear family if it bit them on the asshole all the way down to the red part. So, regarding family, what do we give them to strive towards? They don’t see it in the real world and they don’t see it on TV and movies. Is it any wonder that marriage isn’t even considered by most young people anymore? If all you see and hear is “I don’t need a man,” how long does it take to believe it and live it? We are robbing our youth of ideals. We only rise to level of our expectations and if all our youth expect is to be be single parents and have baby mama drama and a no-good man and to pimp him before he pimps me, that’s exactly what they’ll do. If all we show them is The Parkers and Gilmore Girls, then The Parkers and Gilmore Girls is who they’ll be. In one generation we have changed the family paradigm in the name of reality. And its killing us.
Remember Different World and School Daze? It made so many young people want to go to a black college because they made it look so doggone fun! So what if a kids’ parents had never gone to college, so what if they couldn’t afford it, so what if their high school grades were bad—it didn’t matter, Different World gave a generation an ideal to strive for. We wanted to be them. We wanted to be Freddy because she was earthy and had cool hair, we wanted to be smart like Duane Wayne and rich and sexy like Whitley. Who do kids wanna be now? The Hills? Charm School?
Remember Martin? Even as so many look back at Martin and wanna yell coon this, coon that, I remember Martin for so much more than Sha Nay Nay and Jerome and that funny-ass security guard dude. I remember how Martin made everyone want a boyfriend or girlfriend. Martin made a relationship between a black man and a black woman look so healthy and , again, so doggone fun! We all wished we had a Martin or a Gina in our lives. How many dudes didn’t play around and say to their girls “grab my ears!” And everybody was like “you go boy” “you go girl.” Black men and women actually loving one another. On TV. Imagine that. A fun relationship was the ideal and we all wanted that.
Now we’ve “progressed” to shows and films that are more representative. Meaning, they show life like it is. They keeps it real. Great. Non-stop dysfunction. We’ve gone from showing whats ideal to showing what’s real. And sure we all have elements of dysfunction in our lives but that’s precisely why we don’t need to wallow in it in our art forms. Today we celebrate adversity and embrace ignorance, all in the name of “reality”, and wonder why our communities are in shambles.
I know in many respects Im generalizing wildly, but you get my drift right? I guess Im feeling nostalgic, I just miss having people on TV that I wanted to be like. That could teach me something. Sure, its fun having people on TV we can laugh at, shake our heads at, make fun of. Sure, I get a kick out of watching those girls on Maury run off the stage when Tayshawn is NOT the father. I’ll cop to that. But dayum, even when we do tell our youth to do better, we never SHOW them what better is.
Our youth imitate what they SEE, why don’t we try showing them something ideal for a change. And thats real. (Sigh) Gotta go, I Love New York is on!
“Art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.” –Chinua Achebe
just+sad  557636593 l Ideality vs. Reality: When Keeping it "Real" Goes Wrong
Peace people.

27 Responses to “Ideality vs. Reality: When Keeping it "Real" Goes Wrong”

  1. zillz on 13 Dec 2007 at 2:38 pm #

    TV Sitcoms that were like that didn’t last long…

    “All About The Andersons” and “The Tracey Morgan Show”

    The only show that I see on tv that resembles anything like that is that Tyler Perry show on TBS.

    It seems like the writers just gave up back in 95 and now in 07, they’re still trying to use the same scripts and formulas…womp womp.

    As far as the “Perfect Holiday”, I just want to say, Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut again?

  2. Slav on 15 Dec 2007 at 1:42 am #

    this is one of the most original, thought-provoking and most importantly, needed, blog posts that I have read EVER. i’ll be coming back for more. peace.

  3. Jefferson Sergeant on 15 Dec 2007 at 5:54 am #

    This post is hard to respond to.

    While I agree that media has a transformative power that is undeniable, I think at this point we may be giving it too much significance.

    I remember the overall state of Black pop-culture during the late 80′s and early 90′s; and while it was both positive and conscious, I believe the state of our community at that time caused that to be a reality.

    Malcolm X speeches on cassette were available on almost every corner here in Brooklyn. Afrocentrism was en vogue in the form of Black Medallions, african haircuts, books on the Diaspora etc. All of these aspects of our history were staples of pop-culture and fully embraced by kids from Middle School upward.

    The presentation of the ideal is very much needed, but the ability of our community to embrace it is the question.

  4. AmiJane on 15 Dec 2007 at 4:48 pm #

    Oh don’t forget about Neffy n nym on Keshia Cole’s show. Redundiculous!

  5. Jefferson Sergeant on 16 Dec 2007 at 3:35 am #

    Keyshia Cole was very inspirational.

    To hear about the journey she took through her family’s dysfunction to ultimately realize her dreams was compelling.

    The second season however drifted from the underdog story and chose to focus on the more salacious elements with the sister and mother.

  6. Wanderer on 17 Dec 2007 at 12:19 am #

    You said it.

    If I want to watch people living dysfunctional lives, I sure don’t need to turn on the TV. A mirror will do the job.

    My personal rant is that I think this is an outgrowth of that catastrophe called the self-esteem movement. We taught children that they were all born perfect … nobody is any better than they are at anything … all the players get a trophy … there are no right answers, just different answers. So if nobody can do anything better than me, it stands to reason that I can’t do anything better than what I’m already doing, so why try?

    What chance does anyone have to better themself if they don’t have some goal to aspire to? People used to read biographies of famous people they hoped to emulate. Sure, many of the books were idealized (George Washington and the cherry tree, for instance), but they still gave the readers a destination for life’s journey. Who wants to be like George Washington anymore? Who cares about values, about morals, about becoming better tomorrow than you are today? It’s all about money and pleasure and status.

    The world would be a lot better place if people tried to enrich their lives and didn’t care so much about their wallets than it is now when people try to enrich their wallets and don’t care about their lives. And yes, one step to making the world better is to have goals to strive for again. Models to emulate. Ideals to reach for.

    We’ve got enough examples of dysfunction all around, black or white, rich or poor. People are admired for being rich, for being ruthless, for being famous … how about for being good? The entertainment industry is the ultimate pimp: it sells us anything we will buy. As long as we keep buying dysfunction, it’ll sell it to us. To all of us. They sell because we buy; we buy because it’s what’s for sale. They’re not going to be the ones to break the cycle.

    How many people’s last thoughts are “I wish I’d had a better car” instead of “I wish I’d been a better person”? Even among the worst, I’d say it’s not very many at all.

  7. jamdonaldson on 17 Dec 2007 at 2:27 am #

    you betta PREACH!!! great points…

  8. brownngirl on 18 Dec 2007 at 5:36 am #

    You’re absolutely right. I hate that the black sitcom is an endangered species.

    You were on point until you ended with “I Love New York.”


    You lost some cool points for that one.

  9. JOB on 18 Dec 2007 at 7:45 pm #,,20054888_10,00.html

    One of 15 Taboo-Breaking TV Moments


    You are in good company… Being on the same list as All in the Family is always a bonus.

  10. Hustleman on 19 Dec 2007 at 4:55 pm #

    Last week, I was thinking about writing something about the lack of positive images of caring, loving black men on television nowadays…but I see you kind of beat me to it! Nice entry.

  11. OG, The Original Glamazon on 20 Dec 2007 at 5:21 pm #

    You are on to something, but the thing is my friends and I have discussed how certain hip hop artist are starting to understand about their impact. Just look at the subtle changes in some, Lil Wayne is talking about having a wife and Outkast and UGK’s I choose you. Nas and Kelis and Jay and Bey.

    I for one don’t think its an accident or just maturity I think that some people in media see the same problem we do, that media guides who we are.

    Anyway great blog! I’m glad to have happened upon you!


  12. Ana on 21 Dec 2007 at 10:54 pm #

    So maybe I’m the odd one out, but watching a nuclear family on TV or whatever didn’t make me wanna get married, it just made me feel bad cuz I didnt have that. I’m not saying every show should be about a single parent household, but i like that i can see a single-person lead household that is about a crack addict and do-no-right kids…

  13. Invisible Woman on 23 Dec 2007 at 11:44 am #

    Great post.

    At browngirl; I think it was a joke :-)

  14. Zbu on 30 Dec 2007 at 9:43 pm #

    I enjoyed this blog entry but just felt the need to ask one question: why is there such a need to create an ideal that has to be lived up to?

    The purpose of an ideal is to be an unattainable thing. The fact that it is broadcast to people through a television just adds another layer of unreality to it to make the whole thing even more unattainable. The problem here–besides semantics, my apologies–is that young people simply do not get what the old people are saying. And this cannot be solved with television.

    If you want to show someone how they can improve their lives, the easiest way to do this is to showcase someone in the community who has broken free and can relate to young people to make the improvement an evident thing. Television, for all of its purposes, only lights the match. The fire to change must be shown in real life. In this instance, the ideal talked about becomes a hindrance to the cause. In order to stop the wholesale disintegration of the black community, one must show someone who has broken free of the downward spiral in real life, otherwise people who do break free might be caught in how bland real life can be for anybody. The problem with ideals is that life is glamorous and special all the time when the honest truth is that even the most enjoyable life can have its down points and troubles. What must be shown that cannot be shown on television is that improving your lot in life is better overall, but is not some fantasy world.

  15. Gabby's World on 03 Jan 2008 at 3:02 am #

    What a great piece…you are so right. I thought I was the only one. I told a friend the other day, no reality shows for me…EVER. Give me good writing, good acting and something that SHOULD be instead of what IS.

  16. Jorge on 04 Jan 2008 at 1:59 am #

    I love you, and I love your blog, and your whole message with it. Ive known about hotghettomess for a while but never understood what it was TRULY for until recently, and now I really appreciate it. Im a puerto rican teen living in a puerto rican family with a black stepdad, so I really do care alot about black issues, esp since both my sisters are half black. I agree tho, reality TV seems like its putting forth the wrong messages. I used to love TV shows that made me envious. This is pretty white but, growing up, I wanted to be Corey from Boy Meets World. Yeah, pretty white, but still, you get my drift.

    Anyways, keep up the good work, Jam.

  17. Valentine on 12 Feb 2008 at 8:18 pm #

    You know life is really about BALANCE. Not too much of one or the other. Some people need “reality” to cope, others need “fantasy” to cope; while others will take more of one or a little of both. Personally, an equal dose will do me just fine, after all, I use television for entertainment purposes. I use other media, ie books, seminars, etc. for educational purposes. One needs to see and hear a variety of things and use common sense as to what they will emulate. (if any) Do your own thing, Have a social life and Live Your Best Life! Peace.

  18. Valentine on 12 Feb 2008 at 8:21 pm #


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