So heralds, sort of, a Los Angeles Times article this morning. Sparked, perhaps, by Sunday night's premiere of the always-multiculti Amazing Race, the paper highlights the varied casting of unscripted television, from gays to Tongans.
And it's true, really. Minorities of all types—race, age, sexual orientation, disability—are represented far more often on reality series than they are in scripted skeins. On The Amazing Race you have Asians and blacks and homos and deaf folks and hillbillies, all grubbily trotting the globe hoping for glory and prizes, together. Yes, their casting can often seem gimmicky or forced ("A couple of seasons ago, there was an over-the-top character who was white that we could have cast, but we sacrificed that for a Latino. That's how important that is," says a producer of The Biggest Loser), but it's still better than Whitey McWhiterson series like NCIS or, as an example of a bad reality show, the terminally-honky The Bachelor.
But aren't we kinda missing some bigger point here? Most of these reality shows—Amazing Race is a gold standard, sure, but there is also Bad Girls Club and Flavor of Bret Michaels—traffic in pretty well-worn stereotypes. The danger of casting the way the Biggest Loser producer describes is that you're then expecting something out of that Latino. "Act Latino! Yell at people in Spanish!" The same way black ladies are supposed to be sassy and/or extremely volatile (as on display, to disastrous effect, on MTV's new The Girls of Hedsor Hall) or gay men are supposed to be catty and wear tiny t-shirts. To straight up praise reality TV for its diversity is to overlook the fact that many of these shows are hinged on ideas of race, sexual orientation, gender, whatever as personality traits. Is a big, black, gay reality cast really all that fabulous if everybody's a shoe-shiner or lisping hairstylist?
Using exceptions-to-the-rule shows The Amazing Race or Project Runway to represent, let alone find something praiseworthy in, reality television as a whole is being a bit rosy about those outposts on the dial where the pierced bisexual Fillipina is throwing hairbrushes and yelling at faggy, cowering old Bruce. Unfortunately that particular scenario, not people hugging on wonderful races, is closer to, you know, the reality of the situation.