Saturday, February 18, 2006

Color Blind

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I despise reality tv. I mean I absolutely loathe it. To me, the entire genre is a gold plated example of the widespread dumbing down of America's sensibilities. Legions of fans watching shows which are touted as being "real" but which are anything but - that makes no sense to me. Now, the makers of reality tv openly admit that "some" of what viewers see is staged. Fans, accepting that "reality" is more of a suggestion rather than a requirement, point to the average show's conflicts as the major draw while avoiding the greater reality that the very "conflict" they crave is most likely staged. At that point, what's the difference between a badly staged reality show and a well-scripted tv drama? If the average reality show is any indication, the difference is

1. T & A
2. bleeped out tirades
3. hot tubs, hot tubs, hot tubs!

All of this is a roundabout way of bringing me to the latest reality offering, FX Networks "Black.White." The show's official website doesn't seem to be working, but this AP article gives a good overview of the show:

LOS ANGELES - When writer John Howard Griffin turned his skin from white to dark and traveled the South in 1959 for a firsthand look at the depths of racism, he relied on a simple medical treatment and his wits.

In the 21st century, such a journey requires Hollywood makeup wizardry, the well-honed conventions of both reality TV and documentary filmmaking, and two families, one black, one white, acting as undercover race detectives in Southern California.

Although I'm not going to be too critical of a tv show which hasn't even aired yet, I think it's fair to say I already have some trepidation about this particular offering. For starters, I think the state of race relations in America is too charged an issue to be explored in a reality tv format. With their penchant for manufacturing conflict for the sake of conflict, will the producers eschew responsibility for the sake of "good television"?

Cutler insisted the six-episode show, which begins March 8 on FX, doesn’t “aspire in any way to say definitive things about race.” But the participants and their actions do.

That's what I'm afraid of. My fear is the show will simply rehash age old stereotypes and racial cliches in order to give it's audience what they crave - drama. My question is, just how honest will that drama be? I'm not so naive as to think that white America - through their television proxies - won't be schooled on the realities of racism both subtle and gross. However, if this topic is to be explored honestly, then there should be lessons in store for black America as well. If generalizing about a race is wrong, then it's wrong no matter what color you are.

I'm trying to keep an open mind about "Black.White.", despite my prejudice against reality tv. So, even though I hate the thought of watching anything even loosely associated with the genre, I'll probably watch "Black.White." and hope it will actually have something constructive to say.

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