Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hot Ghetto Mess!

Hot Ghetto Mess a hot-button issueNew BET program is demeaning, argue some critics
By ANDREW GUY JR.Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle


lWhat, exactly, is ghetto?
An Austin woman, fed up with negative media images of African-Americans and women, doesn't want to know. Gina McCauley has launched a campaign against an upcoming show on Black Entertainment Television that she feels degrades and demeans.
She's had some success: Earlier this week, State Farm Insurance pulled its sponsorship from Hot Ghetto Mess, pleasing McCauley, a 31-year-old African-American. And Home Depot, saying it had never agreed to sponsor the show, asked for its ad to be removed from BET's Web page promoting the series.
"It's the concept of the show," McCauley said Wednesday. "You're basically holding people up to scorn them. It's a modern day freak show, and I have a problem with my insurance company paying for the show, or my soap company paying for the show or my cell phone company subsidizing the show. If I think it degrades African-American people and women, why should I buy the products of the companies that are helping subsidize the show?"
Officials at BET didn't immediately return phone calls to the Houston Chronicle Wednesday. But the Hollywood Reporter quoted BET entertainment president Reginald Hudlin as saying, "Is my goal to discuss these issues in a format and context that makes people who don't watch the channel comfortable or do it in a way that engages the 18- to-34-year-old viewer and makes them really think about these things?"
Hot Ghetto Mess, a six-episode series hosted by comedian Charlie Murphy, is set to premiere July 25 on BET.
Social behavior is a volatile subject in the black community. And the network often has been criticized by African-Americans who say it promotes racial stereotypes by airing racy videos and low-brow shows.
The new show is based on a Web site started two years ago by a Washington, D.C., lawyer. Ironically, Jam Donaldson began the site for the same reasons that McCauley began her protest: To prompt African-Americans to reject thug lifestyles and images.
"We got to do better" is McCauley's plea to fellow African-Americans.
Donaldson said she was flabbergasted when she heard advertisers retreated from the show, adding that "it's kind of sad, because people are missing the context of the show."
"They think it's going to be ... demeaning to all black people," Donaldson, 34, said. "That's not how it's going to be at all."
Donaldson said she started the Web site because she was tired of receiving forwarded e-mail that including photos of African-American women with outrageous hair, black men with gold teeth, barely dressed black children making gang signs. These are issues and behaviors that African-Americans laugh about in public, but scorn in private, Donaldson said.
"People talk about things in the barber shops and the beauty shops and with our friends," she added. "But I decided that I was just going to put it on out there. For too long, our images were controlled by other people and our destinies were controlled by other people."
State Farm spokesman Jeff McCollum confirmed that the insurance company asked BET that its ads not appear during Hot Ghetto Mess. He noted, however, that the company was merely shuffling its advertising presence and not pulling its sponsorship of other network shows.
"It certainly sounds like it's going to be graphic," McCollum said of the show. "It would portray values that don't align with the values that State Farm wants to support."
The company also asked that its online advertisement be removed from a BET.com page promoting the show.
In a statement released Wednesday, Atlanta-based Home Depot said, "A Home Depot banner was inadvertently placed by BET.com next to a promo for the BET program Hot Ghetto Mess on BET.com. Such placement of the Home Depot banner was never approved by Home Depot. ... The Home Depot is neither a sponsor nor has it committed advertising to this program."
The statement said the company does advertise on BET.com and "views the site as a very important and valued medium to reach our customers."
McCauley, who started her own Web site to advocate against negative media portrayals of women, said she isn't against the Hot Ghetto Mess Web site, adding that it "presents a nuanced argument that comes across well."
But the television show is another matter.
"At the end of the day, non-black people are going to see the show," McCauley said. "International people are going to see the show, and they're not going to get the joke. They're not going to have the context, and they're going to have one more reason to stereotype African-Americans."
Houstonian Bernadette Brown said she often receives e-mails from friends who tell her to go to hotghettomess.com.
Brown said some of the photos are so crazy that she's not sure what to think of the Web site.
"Well, it's certainly a hot mess," she said jokingly of the site. "I would hope that it's not a reflection of our culture. And if it is, well, that would be a mess."

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