Ben Nugent on the black entertainment formula.
BET's new show We Got to Do Better airs candid footage of poor people doing stupid things. The majority of the poor people are black. In the pilot episode, a girl in leather shorts freak-dances until she falls off a stage, backward, and keeps on freaking upon landing until, in a moment of inspiration, she climbs a decorative column of palm fronds and humps it until a frond snaps beneath her weight, and she goes to the ground a second time, still frond-humping. A dealer sucker punches an addict. Girls pull on each other's hair and clothing while a spectator modestly reminds them they're fighting over a guy who is in prison. Then there are the "Street Walkin'" segments, in which people on the street are asked who Barack Obama is, and wonder aloud if he is the president of the NAACP. Between clips, the host, Charlie Murphy, enjoins the audience to better itself with literature rather than just watching television. He also explains the reason to watch: "We want you to think of this show as a little tough love for America."The creator of We Got to Do Better is Jam Donaldson, a black woman. In 2004, while still a law student at Georgetown, she launched a website called Hot Ghetto Mess that collected images of dubious behavior among the urban poor. It eventually came to draw millions of hits. This year BET brought it to television-changing the name to We Got to Do Better when Home Depot and State Farm pulled ads-and gave Donaldson the sole writing credit. Her job is to write monologues that ennoble the enterprise. Within the first two minutes, it's evident that Donaldson's calling is the law; after a sequence of freak-dancers sustaining injuries, Murphy is obliged to speak the line "Have those folks ever heard of Alvin Ailey?"
|American entertainment has long trafficked in negative images of black people.|