Wednesday, March 09, 2005

EGO TRIPPIN' ON VH1


Bone Thugs help Phil Collins get a ghetto pass.

With the topic of race becoming increasingly taboo, it's refreshing to see VH1 tackle it head on with their Race-O-Rama series. Once the home of 1950s oldies videos, VH1 is now continuing their collab with the Ego Trip collective, which helped produce last year's "TV’s Illest Minority Moments" special.

Ego Trip's "Book of Racism" book is a great read. So naturally, I had high hopes.

I finished watching their first three one-hour shows: "Dude, Where’s My Ghetto Pass," "Blackaphobia" and "In Race We Lust." And my high hopes have deflated faster than Bob Dole's erection without Viagra.

The series descibes itself as a "a potently funny, yet serious look at America’s biggest taboo subject — race — [that] promises to propel our culture’s both subtle and blatant lingering racism into the forefront of national debate."

While VH1 uses its signature "Best Week Ever" and "I Love the 80s" format of mixing sarcastic commentary with ridiculous clips to create humorous moments, the show is hardly "serious," as the hype promised. I would be shocked if this show does anything to propel racism a millimeter into the forefront of any debate.

In "Dude, Where's My Ghetto Pass?," the show takes on mostly white people's obsession with black culture and their desire to be "down." I give the show props for bringing up discussion topics that few mainstream shows or publications ever address. Granted, it's a complicated topic that can't really be dissected in a one-hour show. But they don't even try. This show never digs deep, avoiding discussions of cultural authenticity and appropriation, despite the presence of commentators like Michael Eric Dyson and Aaron McGruder.

In the end, you just learn that Phil Collins, Al Pacino, Eminem, Teena Marie, and Bill Clinton have a ghetto pass, but Justin Timberlake lost his.

The irreverence of the shows provides a convenient way to bring up stereotypes without having to break them down. One show discusses white people's fear of black people by showcasing clips of Ike Turner and Mike Tyson. Another talks about how black people are on welfare and think of the first of the month as payday. In yet another episode, commentators mention a myriad of stereotypes of Asian women without deflating them, give or take a token comment by Miss Info.

Occasionally, the show posits original theories -- e.g., light-skinned black people like Malcolm X and Angela Davis become militant to make up for their light skin. But the flippant commentary keeps reminding the viewer, "don't take us seriously."

"In Race We Lust," the most cutting-edge of the three episodes, takes on interracial relationships and biracial celebrities. The show showcases a number of fetishes constructed in cinema and television. But while I was amused at debates like "Who's more Latina -- Christia Aguilera or Cameron Diaz?," the show is just cotton candy posing as something sharper.

One final thought: maybe VH1 is watering the content down and censoring the more controversial commentary. I wouldn't be surprised.

But I don't see any hint that the producers wanted to seriously tackle big issues, which is fine (it is VH1, after all), but ultimately disappointing.

To find out when repeated airings are coming on, click here.