Bravo's "Princesses: Long Island" is just the latest reality show to act like ethnic caricatures are fair game now
By Elissa Strauss
Anna David, editor of “Reality Matters,” an essay anthology on the perverse pleasures of non-fiction television, thinks “Jersey Shore” was a turning point for both reality TV producers and the audience in terms of racialized stereotypes. When that show about a group of guidos and guidettes was first announced, numerous Italian-American organizations protested, requesting that MTV cancel it. They, of course, failed, which means that you and I both know who Snooki is and producers learned that the more exaggerated the ethnic stereotypes, the higher the ratings.
The success of “Jersey Shore” led to knock-offs like “The Shahs of Sunset” about Persians in Los Angeles—and “Princesses,” whose “larger-than-life characterizations of people who we can only assume in their real day-to-day life actually behave more like humans has, I think, made us all a little un-shockable,” David said.
“We all now essentially understand and accept the fact that any group of young people of a specific cultural group featured on a reality show are going to be outrageous.”
These sentiments were echoed in many responses to “Princesses” from Jewish women. In a series on the Jewish Daily Forward that I edited only one of the four contributors were offended by the show. And Alana Newhouse, editor of Tablet and long-time JAP observer, told me that “no one is crying foul because these shows are all—to a one—exercises in minstrelsy.”
Jennifer Pozner, author of “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV,” said that there are pernicious causes for and effects from this “why bother?” response to “Princesses” and the like.
“People have stopped challenging [ethnic stereotypes], because they are buying into them,” Pozner said. She sees Americans as tired of protesting caricatures, but says there’s a problem with such fatigue: studies have shown that when people stop actively resisting stereotypes they start unconsciously believing in them.
Rachel Dubrofsky, a professor of communications at the University of South Florida, said that she thinks the decreased resistance to reality TV is a product of our collective belief that, in the age of Obama, we live in a post-racial society.
“The logic seems to go, since we are no longer racist, then we can now make fun of race issues and racialized stereotypes since they are no longer an issue,” she explained. “The assumption seems to be that self-awareness (about race issues) absolves someone from being a racist.”
For more on the subject, see Jezebel's Guide to Hipster Racism and Hipster Racism.