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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hot Ghetto Mess = BET’s Hottentot Venus 2007

This is a long post, but if you don’t read anything else, Read the portion about the story of Hottentot Venus and the sordid history of human displays of Black people for entertainment. Hot Ghetto Mess, Flava of Love, I Love New York and Charm School are not new.

BET executives and the creator of the site Hot Ghetto Mess, have offered numerous justifications for why it is okay for them to air an African American freak show called “ Hot Ghetto Mess.”

Reginald Hudlin says that Hot Ghetto Mess is a parenting tool ."There is a generation of people who don't know how to talk to their kids in a way that doesn't turn them off," Hudlin said. "Now they're complaining because we want to successfully engage them.” Move over Dr. Spock, Reggie Hudlin is handing out parenting advice.

The creator of the website and show Jam Donaldson, an attorney ( Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher would be sooo proud) said “I will say again, to all of you who are angry at me for airing our dirty laundry—good I’m glad you’re angry.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter:

For the record, (Jam Donaldson) has no issues with the logo. "It's hardcore and in your face," she said. "You can't mince words with that logo." In an industry where cultivating controversy is often synonymous with grass-roots marketing, Donaldson believes "Mess" has a built-in advantage in the crowded cable marketplace.

"If it happens to be controversial, that's fine," she said. "If it makes it more marketable, that's fine, too. 'Fahrenheit 9/11' was controversial, too, but (Michael Moore's) message got out there."

Didn't I tell y’all this is ALL about money. Helping parents communicate with children my EYE!
If non-Black people were putting on an African American freak show, there wouldn’t be any question that a large American corporation would run in the opposite direction. For all those touting the utility of holding African Americans up for scorn and ridicule in the name of entertainment, I ask you to consider the sordid and tragic history of people of color being put on display (literally) for entertainment purposes:

The tradition of exhibiting people of color in Western societies has existed since the earliest encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations in the New World and in Africa. Indeed, on his return to Spain after his first voyage to the New World in 1492, Columbus brought several Arawaks to Queen Isabella's court, where one of them remained on display for two years. Exhibiting non-white bodies as a popular practice reached its apogee in the nineteenth century in both Europe and in USA when freak shows--the exhibition of native peoples for public entertainment in circuses, zoos, and museums--became fairly common. In USA, in particular, the spectacle of "freaks," "natives," and "savages" became a profitable industry at this time, as epitomized in popular traveling shows like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Barnum and Bailey's Circus. World Expositions were also popular for the display of native bodies. During the expositions "natives" performed various ceremonies, rites, dances, and otherwise went about their (supposed) daily routines (even though they were on the exposition grounds). In other words, cultural "others" were employed to perform their "cultural otherness" for an Anglo-American and European audience. Up to the mid-twentieth century displays of this sort continued. Emory University.

One of the most famous displays of an African woman who was displayed because she looked different is Hottentot Venus . This story will either break your heart or tick you off. In 1810, Saartjie Baartman was brought to Europe from South Africa to be displayed as a sexual freak and example of the inferiority of the black race. She had large buttocks, a condition known as steatopygia, and visitors were permitted to touch them for extra payment.

The first time Saartjie Baartman was dragged out to squat before the mob at 225 Piccadilly, the show's promoters billed her genitals as resembling the skin that hangs from a turkey's throat. For several years, working-class Londoners crowded in to shout vulgarities at the protruding buttocks and large vulva of the unfortunate woman made famous across Europe as the "Hottentot Venus". The aristocracy were no less fascinated at what they saw as a sexual freak, but they had private showings.

Four years after her arrival in London, she was moved to Paris - probably sold - where she fell under the control of a "showman of wild animals" at a travelling circus. When she was not being paraded for the mob, Baartman was displayed at society functions. It was at a ball for France's new establishment - where she arrived dressed in nothing but a few feathers - that Napoleon's surgeon general, George Cuvier, spotted her and claimed a scientific interest. Over the following year she was repeatedly studied by doctors and anthropologists, who invariably concluded that she was evidence of the superiority of the white race. The Guardian

When she DIED they dissected her body and submerged her labia in wax for preservation! Her remains were not returned to her native country by the French until 2002!

Black People, Hot Ghetto Mess IS our Hottentot Venus. This woman was a slave and treated literally like an animal, even in DEATH she didn’t escape. We are not going to sit by and let BET do this to us in 2007. Jan Donaldson, Reginald Hudlin, and Debra Lee are not better than the people who dragged Hottentot Venus all over Europe and England.

Jan Donaldson says that she is GLAD that we are mad and that she is going to “air our dirty laundry.“ Whose laundry and for what purpose? BET has decided that it is going to strip African Americans naked and put us in a cage and plant us in the middle of international television.

Don’t let them divide us by saying that because most of their subjects will be poor or uneducated African Americans, those Black folks DESERVE to be laughed at. I don’t have a problem with criticism. I throw my own share of jabs on this blog, but you can’t run around throwing images on international television and saying to hell with the consequences. Who made Jan Donaldson , Reginald Hudlin and Debra Lee more important than the rest of us?

Donaldson, the creator of the show, recognizes that this type of criticism requires an nuanced treatment. Who is going to translate this for all of the other non-black people who are going to see this show and NOT get our inside joke? Who is going to place the show Hot Ghetto Mess into context for viewers? BET? HA! This is the same network that brought us Uncut.

Read the story of Hottentot Venus and tell me how Hot Ghetto Mess is different? After you catch your breath, use your outrage and jot a letter or e-mail to your Congressional representatives asking them to stop requiring cable subscribers to subsidize BET. They are unworthy of our dollars.

When Hot Ghetto Mess- Hottentot Venus 2007 airs on July 25th, I will be watching. Any company that advertises on the show including check cashing places, liquor companies, and psychic hotlines is basically telling Black people that they support and encourage the display of African Americans who are “different” as a form of entertainment in and of itself. That is shameful. It is as shameful as what the French and English did to Hottentot Venus.

So save your quivers. BET has no conscience so speaking to them is futile. Save your energy for July 26th. In the meantime research “cable choice” or “a la carte” cable if you would like to have that option, you need to speak up because BET is running around implying that if they went away Black people would be upset about it. If “Hot Ghetto Mess” is their idea of entertainment “diversity,” I say good riddance! Contact the Chair of the FCC and tell him you don't appreciate BET's idea of DIVERSITY!