The Agony & Ecstasy: A Review of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta
Watching reality tv shows such as Vh1′s Love and Hip Hop Atlanta leads to existential questioning such as: Why do we watch? Do shows like this fuel the poor representation of black people in popular culture writ large? And can 3.6 million people who watched the show’s debut possibly be misguided?
I am of two minds. I am shocked, shocked to see black folks embodying the racial stereotype that predicts loud and uncouth behavior. As of this posting, over two thousand people have dutifully signed the change.org petition to boycott the show. Yet the conventions of reality tv rewards bad behavior and highlights extreme personalities. Given the platform, their actions are unsurprising.
The clear anti-heroes of the show are Stevie J and Joseline Hernandez. The audience can easily root against them and are riveted by the pure unabashedness of their characters. Stevie J is a former Bad Boy producer of classic 90s hits with Notorious B.I.G. and Diddy who has won three Grammy awards. He is the resident cad who is juggling a relationship with Joseline and Mimi, who is the mother of his young daughter. Joseline is a stripper turned recording artist for Stevie J who unironically states that her purpose on the show is to inspire young girls to follow in her footsteps.
Their motives are clear: to get paid and get into as much drama as possible.
Of the two undeniable leads, Joseline may be the breakout star. After two episodes, she possesses a “muchness” to her, which encompasses an outsized wardrobe, hair, makeup, and surgical enhancements. As a result, she exhibits a degree of androgyny that is precisely part of her appeal. I respect and take her word that she is a woman. Joseline’s denials and the twitter posting both reveal and elide. The very act of attempting to prove her gender fuels the online conversation and bolsters interest in the show.
One thing is clear about Monday’s second episode. This show is using classic soap opera story lines and has hired a willing cast to act out the B movie plots. Against the backdrop of the Atlanta hip hop industry there are long suffering paramours, a love triangle, girl fights, boy fights, an unplanned pregnancy, complicated relationship between mothers and sons, and absentee parental reunions.
The show is camp and the winking, smirking performance by Stevie J is most revelatory because it clearly demonstrates that he is in on the farce. He is not alone. I believe that his on-off girlfriend Mimi and his mistress Joseline also know that much of the drama is invented. (Lil Scrappy and company may be a bit more authentic, but he acknowledged in a recent interview with the Power 105.1 Breakfast Club that the producers do set up and direct scenes). We have long held the insight into reality tv and are aware of its highly constructed and heavily produced scenarios.
In two short weeks, it is the guiltiest pleasure. The aspect of the show that increases the enjoyment and eases the angst is that the cast seem to being going for reality show notoriety in an unabandoned and gleeful manner. I cannot look away from this baroque mess of a show. And I feel that millions more will tune in each week to follow the twists and turns and see how it all ends.