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How low can reality TV go?

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By John Kass
Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 9:08 p.m.
 

I can't believe I'm actually going to type the words “reality TV has hit a new low.”

But it has, with “All My Babies' Mamas.”

If you aren't already depressed about American culture and the entertainment pimps who produce such garbage, check out the saga of the rapper and his 10 former girlfriends and 11 children.

It's scheduled to debut on the Oxygen cable channel this spring. Already there's an online petition blasting the producers for creating what amounts to a “minstrel show” — as one blogger called it — stereotypically demeaning blacks, especially black women.

But the show doesn't demean only black women. It demeans us all.

It stars Atlanta rapper Shawty Lo, whose real name is Carlos Walker. In a publicity still, he poses with his co-stars, all 10 of his babies' mothers, who live with him in a fancy mansion in the Atlanta suburbs. His skinny new girlfriend is as old as his eldest child.

Yes, it's predictable. The women scheme and have catfights for our amusement. “(S)haring your man with several opinionated women is bound to create issues,” according to a recent news release.

Here's an issue. There were more than 500 homicide victims in Chicago last year, most of them minorities. Black and Latino children are gunned down in America's streets every day by other black and Latino kids. Many of the shooters and the victims are raised by single mothers or grandmothers. The pathology isn't merely demeaning, it's deadly. And America is being invited to laugh at it.

The temptation is to engage in some show of racial politics and slam the program for its depiction of blacks. So I'll play along, too, for a bit, and say that Mr. Shawty should change his name.

To Stepin Fetchit.

That name belonged to a character created by a black man years ago, a man who had to play to stereotype, as did so many other black artists. His character was often terribly frightened of ghosts, and his eyes got big and his knees buckled before another stereotype, Charlie Chan, told him not to be so scared.

The problem is that “All My Babies' Mamas” isn't fiction. What's dangerous is that there are bits of reality in it, depressing bits, particularly the out-of-wedlock parts.

It's easy to decry “All My Babies' Mamas” as racism. But what of Italian-Americans lampooned on “Jersey Shore” and the ridiculed country folk in “Buckwild” about the West Virginians?

So what's the next big reality TV hit? They should call it “The Geek.”

It won't be about techno-nerds. “The Geek” will rely on the earlier usage of the word, with illiterate poor living on a dilapidated carnival set. Each week, the host will dress like a carnie barker and cry out the contestants' names.

Then the players will bite the heads off live rats and so win fame and prizes.

That's what geeks did at the circus. They bit the heads off of live creatures. And Americans rushed forward with their dimes to see others so debased. It made them feel better about their own lives.

That's what reality TV is: Land of the Geeks.

And those of us who watch are invited, again and again, to bathe in our own lowest common denominator.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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