I was conversing with someone last night when I asked the ever-generic question: “What are you up to?” They replied that they were lounging around and had just watched VH1 reality shows Love & Hip-Hop and T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle. They followed that by basically admitting to watching the shows despite the “ratchet” label applied to them by some and then followed that statement with the emoticon that indicates one is embarrassed; the “facepalm” emoticon. The person I was talking to is extremely intelligent, so it was a bit of a shock to learn that they had watched the two programs. Now, before I proceed, I’ll give you a brief description of what I know these shows to be about:
Love & Hip-Hop.
It’s a reality show centered around former (?) rap artist Jim Jones, his girlfriend/wifey/fiancee/wife Chrissy, her two friends/puppets, former G-Unit artist Olivia and someone else who does something, aspiring “hip-hop” artist Somaya, some other people, and how they deal with love and I guess, hip-hop. They also argue and…yeah. I think. Now, this show is in its second season, so I’m not even sure if the roles have changed or if the characters are the same, but honestly, I couldn’t care less.
T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle.
This show was created to essentially re-introduce rap artist Clifford “T.I.” Harris to mainstream society while highlighting his everyday life with wife, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle after Harris’s latest release from prison. Also featured in the show are their five children, and from what I’ve heard/read, the show is good and fairly popular. Unlike Love & Hip-Hop, I’ve never seen one nanosecond of this show, but it has more to do with me giving up on VH1 reality shows a year ago and nothing to do with any sort of disdain for either Harris or Cottle.
As I wrote before, T.I. is a convicted felon. “God, family and hustle” are the three most important things to him. While many hear “hustle” and immediately think of some low-life on the street peddling crap to suckers, I understand that for some, it’s just a word used to describe the everyday grind of life. It can be going to school, working, or volunteering. I also understand that it is extremely difficult for the average convicted felon to reintegrate himself/herself into society in order to be a productive human being. Besides not being able to exercise a simple civic liberty by voting, there are also many other restrictions they face, namely not being able to find employment at most reputable places of work. While they put themselves in that position, I find it disheartening that it is so hard for them to do something like work a normal gig and provide for not only themselves, but for their family if they have one.
T.I. is a different story. His last two incarcerations came when he was already “on”, and he has had no problems re-establishing himself upon his most recent release from prison. He didn’t end up back in prison because returning to crime was virtually the only way he could support himself since he wasn’t able to work, but because he was stupid, selfish and arrogant. And he’s rewarded this go-round with a reality show. Riiiiight. Now, the other person felt I was judging him and other convicted felons and that I feel they deserve nothing. They couldn’t have been more incorrect in their assessment. What makes this funny and slightly sad is we’ve previously had a very lengthy conversation about why the system can be ridiculously unfair to felons. Again, many revert to their criminal ways because just about every legitimate avenue is closed to them. If you have a husband/wife, kids, bills to pay, no real skills/experience outside of felonious activities and virtually no chance to get a job that would allow an adult to live, at your wit’s end, what else would you do? I didn’t even want to throw in their face that my fraternity brothers and I worked with ex-cons in the state of Michigan, doing everything from helping them with resumes, interview techniques, driving them to those interviews and even taking those willing to get fitted for suits while paying for it all out of pocket. I could’ve shut them up by telling stories of going to Cass Tech in Detroit, a high school filled with hopelessness and despair, and letting the students–some of them, felons–know that not everyone in this world sees them as nothing more than a criminal and that if they truly wanted to, they could do and be better. But, I’m not petty. It’s beneath me.
I suppose another area where I went wrong in our conversation was expressing surprise that the other person found some sort of inspiration in this show; that the show is proof that the Black family dynamic is still alive and well. Now, while I am not a fan of most reality shows, I see nothing wrong with most of them. I understand that the main purpose of these shows are to entertain, whether they’re about celebrity families, love, aspiring athletes, truckers, or some sort of Survivor-style getup. However, when it comes to learning real-life lessons from them, that’s where I tend to draw the line. I’ve seen more than enough documentaries on reality shows to know that what most think is real is to an extent, partially scripted. This is not to say that I believe every single second of every single reality show is disingenuous, but it’s hard to believe that there’s much genuineness when you just know that a director will yell, “Cut!” whenever he/she feels that a scene needs some livening up, or to take on a more somber tone. Is it impossible to draw inspiration from a reality show? Of course not. Do I think it’s a little far-fetched? Of course I do.
What I find hard to understand is why so many members of my generation look to celebrities for positive and negative examples of how to lead their lives. Does it take a celebrity family loving and cherishing each other for us to know that there’s still such a thing as love and devotion? Why do we need to see a celebrity hauled off to jail to know that the law is something to abide by and not scoff at, no matter your social or financial status? They argued that T.I. and Tiny’s show displays a loving, Black household, something that in the Black community, unfortunately, we (Blacks) don’t see nearly enough of, especially on television. I agreed without having even seen the show, but to insinuate that there are no examples around them kind of reeked of asininity. I’m very observant, and I absolutely love to see a “normal” family out and about, enjoying themselves and each other. It gives me great joy to see a father at the library with his child, helping them with their homework. Seeing a passionate mother at her child’s sporting event makes me glad to realize that there are parents who want to be involved in their children’s lives, and would rather not drop them off at practice or a game as if it’s a babysitting service. I did not once come close to saying that T.I. and Tiny’s show is bullshit; I haven’t seen the show. Didn’t even say that their drawing inspiration from the show is bullshit. I just wanted to make sure that they see the examples around them as well and to appreciate them just as much, if not more. I don’t relate to T.I., even as an urban Black male, and I probably never will. This does not bother me. I don’t aspire to be like T.I., either. What happens when people get defensive about their beliefs is they misconstrue what you really meant to say, and I believe this is what happened. No harm, no foul, not all that much love to be lost, from the tone of our conversation, I suppose.
At the current moment, I’m not really a fan of T.I. Not so much for his recent felonious acts, but his recent subpar music. Xscape, the all-female R&B group that Tiny helped popularize was never really my thing, even in their heyday. But, I have no qualms whatsoever with people watching their show. I don’t even really have a problem with people tweeting or conversing about it. On the other hand, I implore those who do choose to watch and speak on it, to be willing to notice the more vital things in life, and I’m not just referring to politics. While I am admittedly a PoliSci nerd, I understand that it’s not for everyone. Life is more than just politics. My life is more than just politics. The same goes for entertainment, which includes sports. Fucking live, people. If I have to beg you for one thing, it’s to just live life, and not through a half-scripted reality show featuring people who you’ll most likely never come close to relating to. It’s your prerogative if you want to accept these two and the rest of their family as role models. I don’t, but I don’t mean it to be an indictment of their character. I just love the everyday people in my life–whether I know them or not–who go about their business to ensure that their families are well taken care of. No millions of dollars, fame or reality show. Just hustling. And there’s nothing wrong with that.