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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

The Mess That Is Hot Ghetto

This is a fascinating story .

It appears Jam Donaldson, creator of the controversial Web site Hot Ghetto Mess , is bringing her unusual form of social criticism to television. BET will launch their version of Hot Ghetto Mess on July 25th, with Donaldson as producer.

The series will follow the Web site's stated mission of encouraging change within the black community by exposing certain "repellent" behavior and appearance. Donaldson, who is also black and a public interest attorney in Washington DC, states on the site:

And 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, now maybe collectively, including me, we'll be forced to finally go wash it. This site is the beginning, the ending is up to us .

Viewer feedback on the site is worth exploring. Donaldson is called both a hero and a traitor. Parents of teenagers whose pictures have ended up on the site have written in, threatening to sue.

According to the LA Times article, BET is also being criticized for their version and some advertisers have already pulled out. BET President Reginald Hudlin defends the show by saying it's comparable to The Daily Show "and other projects that use socially conscious humor to make a serious statement."

I find the comparison to The Daily Show utterly ridiculous. For the most part, The Daily Show is taking on the rich, the powerful, and those living in public life. Hot Ghetto Mess is making fun of/calling out people who live in very different circumstances than your average politician or celebrity. Many of those represented on Hot Ghetto Mess are from the least powerful in our nation, if you measure power by wealth, social mobility, and access to quality health care and education.

I'm not saying that certain behavior isn't worthy of critique. I just wonder if humiliation of the scale provided by Hot Ghetto Mess and its BET version is the best way to inspire change. And those platforms don't exist in a vacuum. They will become part of a historical and cultural trend toward negative stereotyping of the poor and disenfranchised. There has to be another way.

And another thing, I'm not sure everything represented on the site is worthy of derision. For example, there's a picture of a woman with hair sculpted in the form of a helicopter , blades and all. Who says every hairstyle should follow the social constraints of "good taste"? I mean, you have to admit, it's an inspired choice and impressive effort. It's certainly more inspired than the suburban bob .

-- Angela Carone produces arts and culture programming for These Days and Culture Lust . Please read our guidelines before posting comments.

July 16, 2007 at 11:30 PM
Thanks for this comparison of the difference between The Daily Show and Hot Ghetto Mess. People need to have that pointed out. You articulated my point perfectly. -----

July 17, 2007 at 06:16 PM
I think this show is very much needed for the black community and can be compared to the Daily Show. Just because the show isn't directed at the rich does not mean it isn't coomparable. The black community needs to face the facts. Being 'a hot ghetto mess' isn't glamorous and in order to overcome the racial stereotypes that have become constant portrayals of the black community we need to have our faults brought to light. The truth hurts and the only way to bring that message to a wider audience is to put it on mainstream tv and media. The people portrayed on the website are not watching KPBS or even reading this blog, so this is the best possible way to get the message out there. Some people live those stereotypes proudly everyday. This show is raising consciousness to the community, by making fun of it. This makes it appealing to mainstream media to get the message out there, but it also signals that there needs to be change. Before you even enter their website there is a message that clearly states "If you're not completely appalled then you haven't been paying attention." The Daily Show has a similar message, this one is simply directed at the black community saying "get it together".

M Wright
July 24, 2007 at 02:17 AM
I know everything there is know about this subject. I've been pulling my people's coattail about the so-called "black style" for years. I was sometimes accused of not being "black" enough. But I never wavered from knowing that the things some of my people embraced, poor English, anti-intellectualism and cultural ignorance, was NOT an expression of black pride. It was not the only of expression of Blackness that there was. I wanted to be an American first. I wanted to particiapte in the dream. Hiding in the hood, caught in the Black Box, shackling ourselves to proverty and deprivation and calling it "ours", was like a nightmare to me. It was accepting mediocrity, and that it would damn us to cultural marginalization in America. These very things would be used against us, to keep us from being able to participate fully in the American dream, to ascend up the societal ladder to middle class and upper class in the same numbers as other cultures and races have. The violence and aggression towards our own when someone decides that they want to step away from what's "authentically Black" and what isnt has to stop. These self imposed limitationns have been so corrosive that it pains me to contemplate the long term effects on us. I'm glad that we're about to enter an open debate amongst ourselves with the whole country watching, there is no doubt, we are a tough race. We are a race of survivors and NO ONE can take that from us. Slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, entrenched racism, disenfranchisement, we've survived it all, I think we'll survive this and we'll be all the better for it. Let the truth be out in the light for all to see. Having said that, I LOVE MY PEOPLE AND I AM PROUD TO BE A BLACK WOMAN, and I hope we are about to enter the 21st century, heads up, pride back, ready to be Black and Proud like we were in the 60's - self determining, no longer being self destructive and sabotaging. Ready to be worthy of the sacrifices, legacy and the weight to continue what our parents and grandparents fought for and died in the streets for, for so long. I KNOW we can do it.