For a long time now, we have had the specter of Jerry Springer, with its daily parade of sad young women beating the hell out of each other for the entertainment of the masses. If we happened to stumble across an episode flipping through the dial, we could shake our heads and pray that those girls and their low self-esteem quickly disappeared back under the rock they had crawled from. But I am extremely disturbed to acknowledge that Springer TV has now made its way to the mainstream.
Turn on any of a host of shows that have become extremely popular in the black community–The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop–and you won’t have to wait very long to see female fists flying and weaves being yanked to pieces. These women, the wives and girlfriends of some of the most financially successful men in our communities, are supposed to somehow represent the epitome of female refinement and class? The cream of our crop? Oh, I shudder at the thought–and then I go in search of my daughters, desperate to keep them far from the television screen.
But my girls, on the verge of adolescence, are drawn to these shows like much of the rest of our community. Hey, there’s an undeniable excitement in watching two grown women throw right hooks in their stilettos and mini-dresses. Hell, on a recent episode of Love & Hip Hop, one of the women, as she tumbled to the floor after being smashed in the face by the fist Chrissy Lampkin, girlfriend of rapper Jim Jones’, wasn’t even wearing any underwear–which became clear to the viewer when they had to blur the area between her legs as her tiny little dress disappeared up her waist and her legs flew into the air. Wow, the lessons for our young girls just abound on the popular airwaves. If you don’t like that girl over there, you have the right to: (a) throw a drink in her face; (b) sleep with her man; (c) punch her in the face; (d) yank out her weave; (e) tell the world that she’s a stupid, evil bitch.
Whenever my daughters have come across one of these shows, my wife and I find ourselves doing a lot of talking, about how young ladies are supposed to conduct themselves, about how to settle disagreements, about how black women have to be aware of the images they send out to the world and to each other. There has been a spate of videos flying around the Internet recently featuring young teenage girls brawling and stomping each other. Let us not pretend that there’s no correlation between what we see on our TV screens and the willingness of our young women to quickly resort to violence as a way to resolve disputes. Or just as a way to have some fun.
One NBA player told me that people are surprised when they meet his wife that she’s not some drink-tossing, neck-swizzling bully. Yes, these images do have an impact on the viewing public.
Of course I know that parents are the first and ultimate role models and we all need to talk to our daughters (and sons) as much as we can about the messages they take in from popular culture and we should try to limit their television viewing as much as we can. That’s all very true. But is it too much to ask that our television “housewives” try to remember what the word lady actually means? That they at least pretend on occasion to be mature, responsible grown-ups so that maybe the job of us parents isn’t so damn hard? Can we get just a little bit of help?
By Nick Chiles
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of the forthcoming book, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge.