In July, I wrote an Open Letter to Shaunie O’Neal, executive producer of Basketball Wives, to express my concerns about her show. The letter, while written with comedic undertones, was a serious plea to reconsider the direction of the show, particularly the frequent occurrences of physical and relational aggression.
Although this issue is much larger than any individual or network, I had hoped the letter would, at the very least, prompt more people to discuss the effects of such programming that is often viewed as harmless entertainment.
Admittedly, I am a former smut TV consumer who was once highly entertained by watching adults bicker, fist fight and use Moscato bottles as weapons on national television.
While I certainly see value in documenting the lives of individuals with shared experiences, in my opinion, the “real” wives programs fail to consistently show authentic experiences, and most do not even attempt to provide balanced content.
When I began to think and learn more about the potential effects of such content on viewers, particularly African American adolescents, I grew increasingly frustrated with myself, the media and society at large for finding this type of programming acceptable.
After hearing a 9th grade girl tell another girl that she was a “non-(expletive) factor”, a term coined by one of the cast members on VH1’s Basketball Wives, I had all the evidence I needed to confirm that I should no longer support this show.
After writing Ms. O’Neal and boycotting Basketball Wives and similar shows, I questioned if my small actions would mean much in the grand scheme of things—especially when I learned that approximately 3 million viewers tuned in to watch the August 31st season premiere of Basketball Wives LA. Although I was somewhat disappointed when my Twitter and Facebook threads described the new season as “even worse” than the previous seasons, my disappointment was lessened by the thousands of people, including educators and national television personalities, who shared the letter with their social networks. Many readers even said they intended to change their viewing habits.
I can only hope readers were also prompted to further discuss issues related to potentially harmful television content with their female and male peers. Although my “small” action does not match the 3 million viewers in terms of numbers, my goal of prompting dialogue within my network, which spread to others, is more than the number of people I would have reached had I kept quiet.
Words from Christen Walker-James, who was a senior in high school in 2002 when Essence magazine published their War on Girls series, illustrate why I refuse to remain silent:
“There are so many negative images put before us whether in the media, at home, what we see our friends doing, our mothers, our sisters. At times it’s hard to fight the negativity and many girls I know feed into it, because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. Many of us are trapped in this state of ignorance because no one is telling us what we need to know.”
Nine years later, we are at still at war. However, we have more empirical data supporting the harmful effects of negative media on children than we had a decade ago. We must continue to ask questions and have conversations, hoping that “small” actions will evolve into immense changes.
This is the last time I will make a specific reference to Basketball Wives—that dead horse has been beat to death, buried and resurrected. The conversation must now shift to specific strategies and solutions for navigating through life in the presence of an overwhelming number of risks.
Several people have asked me if Ms. O’Neal wrote me back. She did not; nevertheless, I believe this small effort of one will continue to snowball far past 3 million.
Follow Erin Harper on Twitter at @E_Harp_
Read more from Erin Harper at http://allerinharper.com
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