Television is getting a little unreal. First, the idea that Al Gore would sell out to al-Jazeera sounded like an April Fools joke. Then the Oxygen network – that supposedly uplifting women’s channel founded in 2000 by Oprah Winfrey – announced it was producing a reality show called “All My Baby’s Mamas” starring an Atlanta rapper and former drug dealer named “Shawty Lo,” alongside his 11 children and their ten different mothers.
This story didn’t originate on a satire site like The Onion. Oxygen promoted this videotaped puddle of stupidity with a YouTube highlight reel featuring the rapper (real name: Carlos Walker) unsuccessfully attempting to name his 11 kids as quiz-show music plays. Rush Limbaugh suggested this sounded like New York Jets football star Antonio Cromartie, who had trouble naming his nine kids by seven women on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” documentary series in 2010.
This plot was so objectionable and senseless that the entire political spectrum has united against it. Leftist Boyce Watkins called it “a platform for ignorance.” Liberal Clarence Page asked “Lincoln freed us for this?” Upset with the black stereotyping, citizen activist Sabrina Lord posted a petition on Change.org demanding “Shawty-Lo Must Go,” and the Parents Television Council and their grass-roots army joined in that effort. Conservatives smell the decline and fall of Western civilization in this kind of “reality TV” sensationalism.
As the criticism and petition signatures piled up, Oxygen locked down. They sidestepped the show at the winter press tour with TV writers in favor of touting their other new programs, like one called “Fat Girl Revenge.” They lamely claimed their YouTube video was “hacked” instead of official, and claimed it was very early in the development process, although it was expected to air this spring. They insisted it was a special, not a series.
But when pressed hard enough, a network publicist didn’t back down with Fox News. “Oxygen’s one-hour special in development is not meant to be a stereotypical representation of everyday life for any one demographic or cross section of society....It is a look at one unique family and their complicated, intertwined life. Oxygen Media’s diverse team of creative executives will continue developing the show with this point of view.”
Critics can’t say this familial mess isn’t reality in the sense that Walker actually created this twisted trail. The names of the mothers have been changed to make better television – one is nicknamed “Jealous Baby Mama,” and another “Shady Baby Mama.” This is odd, because they’re can’t be anyone “shadier” than our aspiring TV star Shawty-Lo, sneaking around to the point that he dishonorably piled up ten “baby mamas.” Wouldn’t you think that somewhere in this chain that Baby Mama Five or Six would have been warned away by the rest of the roster?
Since he has no shame, 36-year-old Shawty-Lo is now dating a 19-year-old. His oldest child is 21.
No one by now expects “reality TV” to offer us role models. Instead, these shows careen recklessly around the culture and celebrate dysfunction. Sadly, for women under age 30, more than half of their babies are born out of wedlock. Among blacks, the rate soars to more than 65 percent. Oxygen isn’t making this show as a morality play, some kind of “Scared Straight” documentary. Like almost every other reality show, this network surely will just set a stage for outsized drama and squabbling and yelling and crying.
Early in the controversy, Oxygen Media senior vice president Cori Abraham hoped that the show would provide “over-the-top moments that our young, diverse female audience can tweet and gossip about….leaving the man of the house to split his affection multiple ways while trying to create order… but sharing your man with several opinionated women is bound to create issues.”
In short, they see this as a black edition of TLC’s “Sister Wives,” without the actual lobbying for polygamy. For this show and this format to fly, viewers will have to embrace the characters and root for them to succeed – which means the stars will be celebrated for ruining their children publicly. There's nothing like national humiliation.
This ridiculous concept should be dumped by Oxygen, and Oxygen should be dumped by cable systems. But Oxygen is now owned by the cable giant Comcast, so a very large wave of public shame is the only hope we have that this show gets cancelled. The fact that people are having to write petitions about this train wreck only proves that the TV industry will always “think” its way to an idiotic-sounding new low.