The best way to describe my television viewing habits is: "a lot." As a dedicated TV viewer, I take the good with the somewhat less good. What I mostly mean is that I watch a lot of reality TV. I'm 98% certain that I've seen every episode ever aired across the entire Real Housewives franchise and I say that with zero shame.
I've been asked again and again why I spend my time watching "trashy" reality TV. (There are a number of scripted shows, by the way, that elicit the same disdain but reality TV definitely bears the brunt of it.) Because I don't ever really feel the need to explain myself, I usually say something like: "It's a good way to veg out and turn my brain off." But that's a damn lie. I really do like these shows but I've never put any energy into trying to explain why until I saw this tweet:
Nail, head. Jar, lid. Pharrell, big hat.
When it comes down to it, I like shows that have representation of me in them. Having been blessed with melanin (I'm black) and an additional X chromosome, (I'm a woman) I can confidently say that I prefer television shows that have protagonists who are either female or black and preferably both. And I think that's totally valid.
Despite what some will try to get you to believe, diverse representation in film, television, fashion, etc is important and I am someone who truly believes it can make a difference. When you have Lupita Nyong'o standing up and saying that she never felt beautiful until Alek Wek exploded onto the scene or that she didn't believe she could be an actress until she saw Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, how can you ignore the impact of seeing others like yourself onscreen?
Now, of course, this is not to compare Oprah to Nene Leakes or Alek Wek to the cast of Love & Hip Hop New York, but the idea is still there. In the year 2014, as a black woman who wants to see black women who are protagonists or major characters on television, my options are limited. I find myself going back to episodes of Living Single, Girlfriends, The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. God forbid it's a Saturday afternoon and I land on a Sister Sister marathon—there goes the whole day. These shows featured all kinds of black women and girls—professionals and artists, smart and dumb, women with mounds of natural hair and those who unabashedly wore weaves, and more than a few carefree black girls. Their stories also showed that not every single issue that comes up in the lives of black people is directly related to blackness—sometimes they're just about humanness.
While I'm especially drawn to TV shows that feature black women, I'll give almost any show a shot that focuses on women and/or minorities. Call them frivolous if you want, but I like watching the "drama" between the women on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills because, frankly and simply, I like seeing women talking to and doing stuff with other women. Am I going to sit here and argue that the storylines on these shows don't often rely upon sexist tropes and petty conflicts? Am I going to deny that I'm not bothered by the fact that one of the most violent and ugly altercations I've ever seen on a Bravo show happened on one with a majority black cast? No. Of course these shows can be problematic, but dammit, I'm still going to watch Shah's of Sunset and Teen Mom because I want to see women and brown people onscreen.
One of my most recent examples of enjoying problematic television is the new BET scripted drama,Being Mary Jane. I love Gabrielle Union and I adore Mara Brock Akil, the show's creator, but some of the story lines and characters on Being Mary Jane can be incredibly frustrating. The same goes for Bravo's"Blood, Sweat and Heels," which has recycled the familiar shit-stirring tactics of reality shows past. However, both of these shows are black girl central and I won't be changing the channel anytime soon. Which is not to say that I have lowered expectations for either show. It's just that I am able to see the holes in something and still enjoy it.
Of course, I do watch and enjoy plenty of programs that exclusively tell the stories of straight white men (Mad Men) or do a less than stellar job of featuring women (The Wire). That's largely because, as Heben suggested, I don't have much of a choice. And that's fine, because I love TV and I understand that it's generally made to appeal to the majority, which is not me. I get it. But if I'm able to relate to a straight white male character that's nuanced and interesting, why can't a straight white man relate to the story of a nuanced, interesting black (or Latina or Indian or Chinese…) woman? Frankly, it's insulting to both parties.
I will also say that I usually find men to be the first ones to insult a show that I particularly enjoy, likeScandal. There is a tendency to dismiss the value and quality of things that are enjoyed primarily by women and girls. It's why people have no problem mocking the tween girls who obsess over Justin Bieber but that same ridicule isn't regularly employed for teenage boys who sleep on the streets waiting for the release of video games and sneakers.
As with many things in this world, I recognize that most television isn't created with people like me in mind. So when I do find something that in some way mimics my life or my experiences, I take it and appreciate it–however "bad" or "trashy." And if that's not something you've ever had to wrestle with, because of the privilege of having so many options or simply because you don't care, then unlike some of my favorite television shows, you're not for me.
This post originally appeared on Yo, I'm Just Sayin'... Republished with permission.
Previously by Kara Brown: Don't You Dare Ask Me Why I Look Mad