Barbershop
10:55 am
Fri April 20, 2012

Shop Talk: Does 'The Bachelor' Discriminate?

Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 1:23 pm

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we head into the Barber Shop for our weekly visit. That's where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael with us from Cleveland. Civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar here in Washington, D.C. From Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal. And in St. Petersburg, Florida, Eric Deggans, TV critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

Take it, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

MARK ANTHONY NEAL: What's up?

ERIC DEGGANS: What's up, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Hey, let's get a little caffeinated. Dr. Neal. Mark Anthony...

NEAL: What's up?

IZRAEL: It's so nice to hear your voice. You haven't been in the shop in a while. Welcome.

NEAL: I'm glad to be back.

IZRAEL: My man. All right. Well, let's get things started. We've got a pop culture Barber Shop this weekend, guys. I want to talk about the ABC television show "The Bachelor." I know it's among your favorite shows. Can you believe the casting agents turned me down during my single years?

MARTIN: Yes.

IZRAEL: Clutch the pearls.

MARTIN: Yes.

IZRAEL: But - all right. Well, I'm - look, I'm having some fun here.

NEAL: Did you hit them with your dreads?

IZRAEL: Right. But two black men filed a lawsuit against "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" reality show, claiming racial discrimination. Michel, do we have a clip for our listeners who aren't familiar with the show?

MARTIN: We do. And for those who aren't fans, "The Bachelor" is a reality show - watch the air quotes - where a single guy is set up with 25 women and the goal is for him to choose a woman to date exclusively or propose to by the end of the season. Vice versa for "The Bachelorette." Here's a clip of the rose ceremony, which is a nice way of saying the elimination ceremony where you catch the Timberland at the end of every episode. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BACHELOR")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Chantel, will you accept this rose?

CHANTEL: I do.

CHRIS HARRISON: Marissa, Lisa, sorry. Take a moment, say your goodbyes.

IZRAEL: Nice.

MARTIN: Arsalan's drying his eyes here. Give him a minute.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, man.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know what? Let me get this out. First of all, you know what? And forgive me, but since Kevin Powell, reality TV - you might remember Kevin Powell from "The Real World." Reality TV really hasn't...

NEAL: Man, you're really reaching back on that one.

IZRAEL: I'm reaching back to - I'm going way, way back, back into time.

NEAL: That's a golden oldie.

IZRAEL: You know, word to Jimmy Castor, but you know, reality TV hasn't really crafted any images of black men that are particularly desirable. Now, I'm going to say that at the top, but this is what I want to say as a whole. I'm not really convinced that any TV enterprise has any obligation to integrate its content. That might surprise you, but guess what? People that produce TV - they're in business to make money. They make TV for their audiences and I'm not mad that there are no black folks - or no black guys as bachelors.

You know what? There's a similar conversation happening right now about HBO's new show "Girls," because, you know, I guess apparently these young white women have no black girlfriends and they're living in New York City, that's virtually devoid of people of color. Listen, these are shows by white people written for white people about the way white people are living now.

You know, TV - but TV - to be fair...

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: ...TV aimed at black folks has few, if any, of any other minorities or whites, so you know what? It's TV, I say. Discrimination of some sort, you know, it's kind of just the nature of the beast.

MARTIN: Well, now that we know how Jimi feels...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Eric?

DEGGANS: Man, I'm representing a union.

IZRAEL: Jump in, Diggy.

DEGGANS: Well, the only thing I would say, number one, I can't believe that you didn't site Flavor Flav as one of the best images of black men in reality television.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I know. Right?

DEGGANS: Because "Flavor of Love" is one of - is on my Netflix list. But anyway, what I will say is that these shows are for everyone. They're not just for white people.

IZRAEL: Hmm.

DEGGANS: And I feel like - I mean we all have this experience of watching television and sort of learning what our possibilities are as people by watching what we see on television.

IZRAEL: I hope not.

DEGGANS: And so I think - well, you know, I would challenge you and I would say...

IZRAEL: OK.

DEGGANS: ...that whatever you watched as a kid gave you a sense of what your possibilities were as a person in this world.

And the other thing I would say is these reality TV show producers have no idea whether or not minority people, whether or not a minority bachelor would draw an audience because they've never tried it. And they very specifically cast these shows. They talk about how no minorities or few minorities try to be on the shows, but they constantly recruit for these shows.

IZRAEL: Wait a second, Diggy.

DEGGANS: "Survivor" in particular reaches out and calls people and ask them to participate in the shows. So if they wanted to diversify their cast, they could actively recruit people to be on the show and they haven't.

MARTIN: But you know...

IZRAEL: You know, what Diggy, respect, respect. But here's the problem with that. You know, you watch reality TV. You do it for a living.

DEGGANS: Unfortunately.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Can you name a black reality male star that posts up an image that is desirable or coveted in any way, shape or form?

DEGGANS: Can I name a reality star that posts up an image?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah.

DEGGANS: I mean who wants to be like Snooki or "The Situation"? I mean come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, what you seem to be saying 0 Jimi, just hold on. Let's move it around a bit. 'Cause, you know, Mark Anthony, I know you want to weigh in, and Arsalan wants to weigh in on this. Mark Anthony Neal?

NEAL: My first reaction, particularly to the two guys filing a lawsuit is kind of, Negro, please.

But, you know, so much of race and television functions around this idea of tokenism. And so you could have a white bachelor and throw in one or two black women and vice versa. I think the difficulty now is that once you cast a black man as the bachelor, it changes this model of tokenism that you can use because I think the other side of it, I think that maybe audiences might not be interested in seeing a dozen black women vying for the attention of this black man. So I think it's not only just in terms of who the bachelor is, but what kind of women would you pull together in order to be, you know, the objects of his affection.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IZRAEL: Hmm.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, although I am loathe to admit this, my wife actually loves watching "The Bachelor" year in and year out. And I remember asking, you know, as far back as two or three seasons ago, you know, why haven't we ever seen a black bachelor. You know, to me it always seemed like a lily white fraternity sorority reunion of Zeta Beta Potato, where we were seeing, you know, just the same pool of people.

I mean if you look at other reality shows, "Dancing with the Stars" or "Survivor," you know, at least there's some diversity of, you know, minority representation there. And so, you know, it's something that a lot of us have noticed with the lily white "Bachelor."

MARTIN: You know what I'm puzzled by, though, Eric Deggans, is that, you know, Will Smith is one of the highest-paid and most popular actors in Hollywood on the movie side. So I'm just wondering why it is - and clearly he is one of the most highest-paid and most popular actors in Hollywood because of his universal appeal. So I'm just wondering why that doesn't offer a template for the television casting agents.

DEGGANS: My theory has always been with a lot of this stuff - and feel free to contradict - but I feel like a lot of times white actors and white characters on these shows get to fail and black actors and black characters don't. So they are very hesitant to quote/unquote "take chances" with casting people of color in key roles in TV shows and movies. But if a white person stars in a reality show and it fails, they don't go, oh well, we can't cast white guys in reality shows anymore. It's the concept failed, the execution failed, or whatever failed. But if a black person were cast as "The Bachelor" and they were to get historic low ratings, well, then not only has ABC hobbled one of its big franchises, I think the verdict would be America doesn't want to see a black bachelor, when it might be that America didn't want to see the women or they didn't want to see the execution or they picked the wrong black bachelor.

NEAL: Right.

DEGGANS: You know, that's the problem.

MARTIN: Well, now I just want to point out one other thing, and Arsalan, I know you want to weigh in on this, is this is, this seems to be a black issue, not a people of color issue per se because there were two non-white, I don't know what you would call them, performers, picked as winners on both "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." Mary Delgado, a native of Cuba living in Tampa was selected by bachelor Byron Velvick in 2004. Roberto Martinez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, won bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky's heart in 2010, Eric, according to your reporting. So...

DEGGANS: According to my blog...

MARTIN: According to your blog, which I'm reading. But, you know, Arsalan to this point, you know, there's another story about this, which is the Jerry Seinfeld Super Bowl commercial for Acura. A casting call document was made public and the document calls for a, quote, "not too dark," unquote, African-American actor to play a car salesman. Now, Acura has issued an apology. It says the casting - this is on the casting agency, not them. But you have a thought about this.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean this definitely gets my redonkulous award of the week. I mean, you know, here we have something that's essentially put down on paper, you know, where you can obviously talk about the demographic features, 18 to 49, you know, general, you know, ethnic demographics features. But to say not too dark, you know, just to me, you know, even as a non-black man, I was patently offended by this. And but, you know, it shows that Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of being sensitive to, you know, racial and minority issues.

MARTIN: But what about Jimi's point, and then move on. Jimi's point is they don't have an obligation to be sensitive. They have an obligation to sell cars and if they think that, you know, people want to - don't want to look at too dark people, then that's it.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, but again that's playing on, you know, the tired trope of, you know, darkness not being beautiful. I mean I would give the name of Viola Davis, you know, Idris Elba, some beautiful, beautiful dark skinned people out there that are Hollywood stars and so, you know, this is absolutely the most redonkulous thing that I've heard all week.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, that's who was speaking just now; TV critic Eric Deggans; Professor Mark Anthony Neal; and freelance journalist Jimi Izrael.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right. Moving on. Moving on to America's oldest teenager. "American Bandstand" host, Dick Clark, he died this week at the age of 82. He had a long and successful career as a personality and a producer with his hands in all kinds of game shows and award shows. And, of course, "New Years Rockin' Eve," which he was at this past one, with Seacrest.

MARTIN: He was.

IZRAEL: Seacrest out. Anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: And he's been credited with introducing African-American musicians to wider audiences. Michel, we've got a clip here.

MARTIN: We do. You know, this is from the 1960s, when Chubby Checker performed "The Twist" on "American Bandstand." He was one of the first African-Americans on the show and he appeared several times. Hit it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN BANDSTAND")

DICK CLARK: Ladies and gentlemen, here's Chubby Checker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMS AND APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TWIST")

CHUBBY CHECKER: (Singing) Come on baby. Let's do the twist. Come on baby. Let's do the twist. Take me by my little hand...

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. You know, Berry Gordy, the man behind the legendary Motown Records, he issued a statement and he said that Dick Clark was always there for him and Motown, even before there was a Motown.

Now Mark Anthony Neal, Gordy also said Clark was, quote, "a major force in changing pop culture and ultimately influencing integration," end quote. Now, there's been some controversy about early segregation on "American Bandstand." Black dancers were not initially allowed to dance with whites. How do you feel Clark's influence - about Clark's influence on African-Americans?

NEAL: I think much of it has been overstated and a bunch of scholars have written as such in saying regard in terms of Dick Clark. He was critically important. If you were at the top tier of African-American artists, you would have visibility because you could be on Dick Clark. But he was also very conscious of what kind of black artists were going to show up in that kind of space. Motown is a perfect example. Motown was finely tuned. They were very critical in terms of understanding this notion of black respectability. Those were the kind of acts that Dick Clark very often tried to book for the show because those were the kinds of acts that were most palatable to white audiences.

And so in some ways if Dick Clark had been as successful as we claimed that he was in terms of integrating the space in terms of black music, I mean Don Cornelius would have never have had to create "Soul Train" to actually bring another perspective of what black musical culture looked like at the time.

MARTIN: Well, before...

IZRAEL: Eric Deggans.

MARTIN: Well, before we go - no, we have to move on. We're going to move on to Tupac.

IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: Sorry. Before we go, there was a surprise appearance this year at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Here's a clip of the performer.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TUPAC SHAKUR: What up, Dre? What up, Snoop? What the (bleep) is up, Coachella?

DEGGANS: Wow.

MARTIN: That's a digital production...

DEGGANS: What could he possibly have said in that little beep...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: I have no idea.

MARTIN: So Arsalan...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Was this cool or creepy?

IFTIKHAR: It was a little bit of both. But you know, for me I think that this will, you know, be fodder for Tupac conspiracy theorists out there. And it reminded me of the classic, classic "Chapelle Show" skit about how Tupac's songs are eerily clairvoyant. When, you know, Chapelle is in the club with Qwest Love from The Roots and you hear a Tupac song about how I wrote this song long time ago, I wrote the song in '94, you know, I think, you know, now we're going to start to see Michael Jackson holograms and other people holograms, I think it's going to get played out real quick.

MARTIN: Eric, what do you think? It's cool or creepy?

DEGGANS: Both. You know, one of the things I think is that the fans are going to put a limit on what they can do with this because there is no more obsessive guardian of an artist's legacy than a rabid Elvis fan or a rabid Michael Jackson fan. And if they do something really stupid with these holograms, the fans are going to let them know in a hurry.

MARTIN: Hmm. Mark, what about you? And Jimi, I'm going to give you the last word.

NEAL: I think is a little of both. I also find it incredibly problematic. You know, as soon as he opened his mouth or the hologram opened its mouth, I'm like wow, this sounds like Tupac from 1995. You know, I didn't wait 16 years to hear Tupac sound exactly the way that he did in 1995.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That's frightening.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jimi, what about you? Cool or creepy?

IZRAEL: Well, maybe a little bit of both, but nothing new here. Celine Dion did the same thing with Elvis at "American Idol" in 2007. Now, granted, the effect has matured a little bit. I mean Tupac looked very real, very 3-D.

IFTIKHAR: He did.

IZRAEL: I guess now the question is, what's next? You know, who's going to come back now? You know, I don't know.

IFTIKHAR: M.J.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I don't know. Jam Master Jay.

MARTIN: Would you go?

IZRAEL: Bring them all back.

MARTIN: Would you go? Jimi, would you go?

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Because?

IZRAEL: Because it was a good show. I mean I like, it was, I mean the idea of using that technology to create a good show, I'm all about. You know, so yeah, I'd be there.

DEGGANS: I think they should do the "This Is It" tour with the holograph Michael.

MARTIN: Ew. No. No.

IZRAEL: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: No. Sorry, I want to be the girl here. No. Ew.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist, author and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University. He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of African and African-American Studies at Duke University. He was with us from their campus in Durham, North Carolina. Eric Deggans is a TV critic at The Tampa Bay Times. He was with us from St. Petersburg. Arsalan Iftikhar is an author, civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. He was here with us in Washington, D.C.

Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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