Wednesday, March 4, 2009
BET’s new reality show Harlem Heights premiered this week.
A for effort BET!
But I’m not here to review the show. There’s enough bloggers for that fight.
My real concern with HH is it’s focus on the Young Black Professional crowd, and the social-climbing-get-money brand of reality the show is in danger of promoting.
Technically, I can be labeled as young (check) black (check) professional (check check). But trust, I don’t self identify as a “Young Black Professional.”
The actual “YBP” culture breeds a certain social order that I can’t stand.
Having gone to an HBCU, I am very familiar with the YBP culture and at one time was an active participant. This was a culture where fools would blow refund checks and loan money on expensive and flashy outfits instead of books. People were always clocking what you were wearing, where you got it, and how expensive it was. It was like an urban “Wonderful Land of Oz,” and all there had to be was some non-verbal announcement that a trend was in, and people flocked like birds to “be seen in green” and desperate for Seven jeans and Tiffany’s jewelry.
I, like most freshman, quickly tried to assimilate into this environment of materialism, elitism, and superficiality. I bought the right clothes, went to the right parties, hung with the right people; I was popular. But eventually I exhausted of this lifestyle. It wasn’t me. My priorities were all messed up, and caring so much about how I looked in comparison to others was getting really stressful. So I stopped and thankfully got more out of my college experience than an extensive knowledge of designer jeans.
I don’t begrudge any reality show (I mean hell, its tv) the right to dwell on the artificial every now and again, but I believe its important that HH not singularly focus on a lifestyle that’s driven a lot of people into debt trying to attain a superficial definition of success. Perpetuating this attitude of spending and excess without responsibility just promotes the stereotype of the black upper class being shallow and elitist.
Two episodes is definitely not enough to judge the show, but I’d hope the series would go deeper places than watching the girls argue over who’s the cutest.
What HH has is a real opportunity to delve into issues of class and race thru this series that should not be neglected. Hopefully later plotlines will deal with sensitive African American issues like being color struck, the debate over black hair, and interracial dating. I would love to see one of the black girls date a white boy and see what happens, or even have one of the bougie girls date Jason and see the stark contrast of life across social economic lines.
I know this show cannot be everything to everyone (and be profitable to boot), but as usual, we as AA have a higher responsibility to elevate through our programming. This is a call to arms to go places that other reality shows on majority networks are afraid to go. Scripted shows like The Game and Girlfriends (I’m a big Maya Brock Akil fan) have done a great job of balancing entertainment with real issues. I’d hope Harlem Heights would step up to the plate and do the same.