Saturday, May 12, 2007

Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School – Redemption, the true self, and learning How to Play The Con

I am absolutely convinced that many reality-show contestants live in a post-traumatic state of regret. How can they not? After the celebrity has waned, after the show in which they embarrassed themselves has aired, after they find they can no longer look at their parents without shame, some of these folks –the ones with a sense of propriety—probably wish they could turn back time and return to the days before they made fools of themselves on worldwide television.

This is probably most true of contestants who have gone wild in dating reality shows. I have never had the opportunity to have a camera follow me around. (I don’t drink but honestly if I was the kind of person to get drunk and sex-crazed and cast all common sense away I wouldn’t have a camera following me around.) But alas the world is full of women who have publicly done stupid things and who now regret their stupidity. (Okay, men do stupid things too, but the world doesn’t judge them as harshly as it judges women.)

Anyway, up comes the new VH1 show Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School. a spin-off from VH1’s Flavor-Flav family of shows. I’ve got to say that the first episode won me over when Mo’Nique, the host of the show and the actress who created the series, removed the foul nicknames the girls had received from Flavor Flav. Flavor Flav had given them these nicknames to comment on some nasty aspect of their behavior or some body parts. (Boots, Hottie, Crazy etc) When Mo’Nique tossed those nicknames into the cleansing fire, the director added some gospel-tones in the background and – what with all those tears-- I could have sworn I was watching a baptism or purification ceremony. Yeah, I’ll admit it. I almost cried. It was like seeing the local town prostitute come into church and give up her life of sin. Yep, tears welled up in my eyes.

I like working class reality shows. Whether it’s some show about crab fishermen, folks doing dirty jobs, or home-makeover shows that help the poor, I like seeing my own people –working class people, poor people, black people, poor white people—in the media. Frankly, most past television reality shows and sitcoms dealt with too many middle-class women with Barbie Doll physiques and perfect etiquette. There was the occasional sitcom or talk show that dealt with working class Americans but they were few and far between. As Becky “Buckwild” Johnston, one of the girls on Charm School, said of The Bachelor , “I never liked them white people reality shows.” As far as I was concerned, truer words were never spoken.

Television, unfortunately, is notoriously unreal. Many Americans are not like the folks in The Bachelor. White, black, Asian, or Hispanic, they are working class people. And mainstream television –unlike the VH1 channel—seems unaware that we working class folks want to see portrayals of ourselves. I don’t mind listening to shows about rich doctors mind you, but give me stories, songs, shows that show folks using my own language who have money problems as I do. One can look at the “other” for just so long. By “other” I mean, “rich people living in rich houses or sophisticated people being all sophisticated.”

But the “other” also needs to look at the working class. Case in point: When a charm school teacher from “The Swan School” for etiquette gave the girls a walking lesson, she complained that the girls were moving their bottoms too much. What reality is this woman in? Obviously the white reality. Honestly, we black women have big curvaceous butts. As the guys say when I walk downtown? “Got milk with that shake?” Yes, even when we aren’t trying to shake our butts, we are going to sway sensually. “Baby got back!” But the etiquette teacher was so caught up in her racial world that she complained their butts were too big and were too pushed out. I wanted to say, “Lady, you have to broaden your mind a bit and become more racially aware. Or are you saying black women’s butts make them unsuitable to the standards of white etiquette?”

Of course, not all the white folks on this show are bound by their classist and racist ideas. Andrew Firestone was a doll. Unlike Flavor Flav in The Flavor of Love , Andrew was the sophisticated rich prince of a guy, and all the rich girls were all vying for him. Like Buckwild, I never watched The Bachelor. but my, my, what a handsome boy he is! Sweet, gentle, not racist at all. Although, I’ve got to say he was pretty naïve. How could he fall for the machinations of an obvious loony psychopath like Schatar? Do men fall for external games of etiquette that have nothing to do with the actual character of a person? Is that what being sophisticated – and Andrew comes from money so he knows a lot about sophistication—is about? Being fooled by the airs put on by a loony? Are the world truly built on such standards?

Alas, I’m beginning to fear that at the end of the season, the winner of Charm School’s $50,000 might be someone who hasn’t learned true charm at all. Instead, it will be a conniving gal who has learned that charm is all about manipulation, self-servingness, and general sneakiness. Yep, I’ve been wondering about Charm School’s standards. Every week some questionable folks remain, never getting expelled despite their obvious lack of morals. Although Leilene survived the first elimination, her kindness was a detriment. Leilene is sweet and charming, but from what I’ve been seeing, kindness and caring for the feelings of other people is not a valuable asset in Charm school. In the second episode, Schatar won by guile and cruelty yet escaped elimination. In the fourth episode, Larissa – who hates all “weak” people—was safe from elimination although she has serious anger, immaturity, and spite issues.

I’ll continue hoping for the best, though. God might surprise me. Maybe the hateful Larissa will be looking up at Mo’Nique with repentant maudlin tears in her eyes and singing “To Sir With Love.” One can always hope. But if she does it, I’ll be thinking it’s an act. But perhaps that’s what charm is all about.
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