Recently was watching the reunion episode of a fantastic, in-depth look at gender relations on VH1 called I Love NY. For those who missed it, willingly or tragically, the show was born when one of the losing contestants from a show focused on finding the right future baby momma for Flava Flav showed true star potential. Tiffany Pollard, nicknamed NY on the show, proved she really loved Flav when she sat up all night in his bed in her lingerie while he slept in the arms of two other women next to her. Flav didn’t want her, but America did. We watched through two seasons of her search for The One. There was spitting, fighting, screaming, racism, homophobia, high drama. In one scene, a contestant would come across as ignorant and shallow and horrific, and then the next scene would find him vulnerable, lost, lonely. Against my will I started to really wonder – who would be best for NY? Finally, a couple of weeks ago, there was the reunion show, where she was giggling and happy and living with the man she chose. I commented to the folks I was watching with, "They look so in love." My sweetie turned and said, none too kindly, "But you know its all scripted, right?" Oh, yes, right. The other night I was at dinner with some folks here in Oakland and basically experienced the same exact thing, but unfortunately we were talking about the presidential election, and this time I was the spoiler. When the talk turned to presidential candidates, I laughed it off cynically, resisted, but before I could help it I was getting into it, really thinking about Obama. I was thinking about Clinton (who most people call Hillary while calling everyone else by their last name for some reason) and Edwards, too. And Romney, Mccain, Huckabee and so on. Policy-wise, I like Edwards. But Obama…its deep to have an Obama in the race, a glittering young man, an actual black man, shoot – a halfrican mulatto like myself! And a community organizer man who talks about change from the people? Of course I don’t agree with all his policies, but when you actually get a dynamic intelligent candidate, its hard not to get sucked in to actually thinking the candidates matter. The questions were good – Obama’s Iowa win was exciting, but is this country ready for a black president? Will it be casual racism or overt racism that stops it? Will it be racism at all? Is the country ready for a woman? What if that woman is super hawkish and pro-Israel? A Mormon? And is Edwards the realest guy out there, the most aligned…or is he the spoiler who is going to hurt Obama’s chances? Won’t electing a guy named Barack Hussein Obama send the best message to the rest of the world? Even if he doesn’t have that much experience? Aren’t Obama and Clinton almost exactly the same in their policy proposals? Then someone said Edwards seemed fake to them and it jolted my reality. ‘It’s all scripted.’ I heard my sweetie’s voice in my head, and then I heard myself respond before I could really think… "Whoever seems fakest is just the worst at acting, and might be our best bet." The table felt like someone had hit the "pause – hater alert" button, sentences coming to an early end. "We should hand out an Emmy or an Oscar for best performance at the end of this year, not a presidency." The table, which included people who love me, got quiet and annoyed. To show any cynicism in the face of our first black president is not popular these days. So I tried to find the root of my hateration. To get a good reality show, people are put in a situation not unlike an election. A camera is on them at all times, invading their lives, disrupting their patterns. They become what they believe the people on the other side of the camera most want to see, say what they think that audience most wants to hear. Unfortunately, because money drives both the electoral and entertainment industries, we don’t control the real quality of our candidates anymore than we control the quality of our television stations. The input systems are so broken that only the most paid-for programming can survive. I would be overjoyed, literally way too happy, if folks were as passionate right now about getting an electoral system in which it were possible to elect a great city council, mayor, governor, senator, representative and president as they were about the polls which make us believe we still have a choice in who represents our concerns in this country. I understand that the nuts and bolts of our system don’t inspire the passion that debating policy on borders, sexuality, health, all the issues which together create our quality of life. But there is a yellow brick road from campaign financing to felon disenfranchisement to the wizards behind the voting machines of our democratic system. A people’s movement that doesn’t account for that might as well be clicking their heels. I see what happens to my heart when I watch Obama gracefully slay the others in the debates. It leaps. I would jump on Oprah’s couch if, in her endorsement of Obama, she required that he be the first black presidential candidate to include real electoral reforms as a key component of his platform and made sure that people knew he wouldn’t just fight for their love, he’d fight to make sure each one of their votes counted. In the context of my work, I always seek visions that could overcome struggle. I like visions that seem just beyond reach, that I can sense and taste. And of course, I like to escape to fantasy worlds sometimes, watch 20 contestants vie for one heart, or watch 3 contestants vie for 300 million. But, we are getting hit hard on all sides: environmental, economic, nuclear, health, education…at a time like this, I don’t mind scripts on TV if I can get some real solutions from my government at the local and national level. The worst cynicism comes from dashed hopes. We will have to all fight together to make this election a fair one. Many of us have been scheming for years on how to do just that. Holla if you hear me.
I Love Obama like I Love NY
By Adrienne Maree Brown Jan 24, 2008