Black Reality TV and the Rebirth of Fool

Instead of debating Django Unchained, we should be harsher critics of shows like Best Funeral Ever.

TLC's Best Funeral Ever
TLC's Best Funeral Ever

(The Root) — It’s official. Reality-television executives have lost their minds. The reality-TV shows featuring mostly black casts debuting in 2013 are setting back images of black folks in television at least 60 years.

While critics are obsessed with the controversial film Django Unchained, there is a movement taking place in reality television that has elevated black buffoonery to the highest level possible while diminishing black culture to the lowest level in recent memory. The images of blacks on TLC’s reality shows Best Funeral Ever and The Sisterhood and Oxygen’s All My Babies’ Mamas are appalling. They are also reminiscent more of images of blacks in film at the turn of the last century than of blacks in television during the last 60 years.

While we’re spending hours upon hours debating one film on social networks and in the media, tomfoolery is raging on TLC and Oxygen in the form of reality-television programming that has little to no entertainment value and is more exploitative than any Tarantino film could ever be. As my late grandmother would say, we are “focused on the wrong thing.” The images of blacks as buffoons, jezebels, coons and Aunt Jemimas are circulating through our living rooms on a daily onslaught in the form of reality-TV promos, reruns and marathons.

As if trying to survive the damage done to our televisual images by Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives and Love and Hip Hop franchises isn’t enough to manage, here comes a slew of shows that would make the “ladies” of those shows gasp and swoon.

In all honesty, I could barely get through the first episode of Best Funeral Ever, a reality show highlighting the Golden Gate funeral home in Dallas, where the narration proclaims, “You may be in a casket, but it can still be fantastic.” The funeral home will do any funeral service one can imagine.

In the first episode, someone who loved Christmas and “bopping” (dancing) is being laid to rest, so the relatives decide to give him a Christmas-themed funeral. Fast-forward to the funeral planners, who are in a costume shop bopping around wearing a snowman head throughout the store.

Surprise, surprise: The funeral planners become engaged in a power struggle over the planning, which appears to be going off budget, with one planner saying that she can’t be “undisciplined.” Undisciplined? You’re bopping around a costume shop wearing a snowman’s head in preparation for a funeral, and you’re worried about the budget?

But, but, but, wait … it gets worse (in my best Sticky Fingaz voice): The next scene is of one of the funeral home owners training a group of “professional mourners.” This man is literally coaching and directing folks who attend funerals to amp up the emotional quotient, since sometimes folks “don’t know how to cry.” When he called for the “Tornado Roll” — someone rolling across the floor and throwing herself against a casket — I had to shut off the TV.

My psyche couldn’t take any more coonlike behavior, and I honestly could not figure out the entertainment value of this show other than for people who like to see black folks looking a hot mess.