Sunday, May 12, 2019

As Seen On TV

WARNING: I feel a rant coming on and I've had a lot of coffee.

Remember back when Dove started doing those ads showing "real" women? I kind of loved that, but... I kind of didn't.

I have a love-hate thing going with commercial media - television, films, advertisements. I love being able to temporarily and vicariously experience things I probably never actually will. I have to face the fact that, with all my phobias, I'll probably never fight off gangsters, monsters, or zombies. I have trouble dealing with cranky store clerks and sullen teenagers trigger my anxiety.

I'm fascinated by female actors who can immerse themselves into a fictional world and become these badass characters. They go in as Mary Lou, originally from Cleveland, and appear on screen speaking a foreign language and using 3 different types of martial arts, all while wearing perfectly fitted leather body suits so smooth and shiny that I could use them to apply makeup. Just getting into one of those suits would be the last superhuman feat you'd see me perform.

Still. we all sometimes need to have a Walter Mitty moment because a little escapism can be therapeutic.

On the other hand...

I think that we've all gotten a little too lost in the world of make-believe. We forget that actors are real people and that we are too. Life is not a fictional thing (for most of us) and it's so toxic when we forget that. This is the part I hate about commercial media.

You have to pity the person who has managed to make a living on stage or screen. Notice I didn't say that you couldn't be jealous of them. But can you imagine other people not being able to separate who you are in your real life from who you are on stage or screen? For us "commoners" that would be like your boss calling you by your job title and always expecting you to be on the clock. I once almost quit a job because my boss asked me to work on my birthday.

But that is my sorrow for the famous. For myself, I hate what media has done to the world I have to live in.

As a dark-skinned black woman, for years I was opposite to the standards of beauty portrayed in media. When I was a teenager, the only thing I had in common with the girls on the covers of magazines was that I was skinny and flat-chested. Until my late thirties, I had the build of a boy taking small hits of estrogen.

Not only was "white" media not my friend, neither was Jet or Ebony. The only black girls I saw in movies that looked like me were the "field" slaves in "Roots" or the hookers in Blaxploitation films. The men could be dark skinned. Think Richard Roundtree as Shaft or Jim Brown as Gunn (and what the hell was up with all the phallic names?). But the ladies could usually pass the paper bag test.

Diana Ross was kind of my image hero because she was thin and (kinda) dark like me. Except, she could sing and act and, eventually, her skin seemed to lighten up a little. Or is that just me? That cannot just be me, people.

She's bad to the bone, but... c'mon now

By the way, I still dig Ms. Ross. If you're going to be a diva, be one of the first.

I will be damned if, by the time my dark skin came into vogue, I had suddenly grown hips and boobs. And the total "boy" look was still in. Son of a bitch!

Still, dark skin stopped being the biggest stigma for black girls. Sometimes, it reversed itself. I dated one guy who admitted that he liked me because I was "exotic". Not because I was funny or nice or just fun to be with. But because I was exotic. I wasn't sure what that meant. Every time he came around I wondered if he felt like he was on the Serengeti or dating a chick from his National Geographic fantasies. Once again, son of a bitch.

That was the heavy stuff. On the lighter (um hm) side of my love-hate affair with the media, let's deal with the commercials. Race and color aside, when it comes to straight advertising, I can find at least 3 other issues to discuss with a therapist. Size, height, and lifestyle. This kind of brings me back to the Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty". Shows how much attention I pay, I didn't even know that was the name of the campaign until just now.

It's too late for me to acquire more self-esteem. If I haven't learned to accept myself by now then, to paraphrase The Blue Notes, I will never never never... But kudos to Dove for lifting up the heads of young women. That's some needed air to bring into the conversation about self-acceptance.

Then there are the commercials I grew up with. The ones that didn't make me feel excluded by race and ethnicity but just confused me.

I never did understand why there had to be a commercial about a  mother and daughter discussing vaginal freshness. That was right up there with other things to be discussed in the privacy of my bedroom with my mother. That's where we had our talks about sex, smoking, drugs, and that one play auntie who likes women and I was supposed to respect and stand up for nonetheless "because we don't care if Wilma Jean lives with Martha Sue Townsend. That's your auntie and you aren't supposed to be up in grown people's bedroom business anyway."  (~deep breath~) Somehow this last bit derailed my initial question about what exactly was French kissing and was it okay for American girls to do it too. (I hoped so because I didn't want to think that my cousin Candy was breaking some kind of international law.)

Also, there were the commercials showing how some families in some apparently fictional land called "not at my house" lived. In these commercials, kids ate a lot of Twinkies and McDonald's French fries whenever the hell they felt like it. In our home, we ate homemade cakes for desserts and once every other anniversary of Halley's Comet we got to go to What-A-Burger. In our house, kids did not just run and grab stuff out of the fridge whenever they had company over or wanted a snack. No no. If I had company (it was usually some kid related to me), Mama served us what she wanted us to have. If I wanted a snack, I'd have to ask permission and my mom would most likely look at the clock first to judge how much time it had been since the last meal. We weren't deprived but we did not run the house. Mama ran the house until Daddy got home, then they tag-teamed the crap out of us.

I watch commercials now and wonder how the heck these people have their lives so together. Everyone's car is spic-and-span clean. All the furniture in their homes matches everything else in their homes. They wear clothes that are new and color-coordinated down to their underwear and socks. They manage to have their hair done, house cleaned, dinner ready, children well-behaved (or adorably mischievous), and their spouse only looks at them with all the love in the universe. No one wakes up with morning breath, eye boogers or hair shot up on their heads. Oh, and their bedrooms are always sun-filled and (apparently) fresh-smelling because (again, no morning breath) and (damn it) color-coordinated.

Here's the part I hate most about those commercials. For one thing, even if I had the kind of money it took to live in the universe of perfect homes, you'd never see me lolling around in it. I'd be so busy working my high-powered job or turning tricks or selling drugs or being a politician to pay for all that perfection. Because, let's face it - I can't sing or dance and I won't do the sex- tape thing. When the hell would I have time to enjoy my sun-filled, fresh-air smelling, color coordinated, impossibly always perfect home? Tell me that.

What I am saying is, it's all a lie. One way or another, some evil power is playing all of us against each other. They or "it" keeps us all so busy wanting what someone else has that we have to remind ourselves to be happy where we are. I firmly believe that there is some "celebrity" out there who envies my ability to go to Walmart without fear of being stalked by fans or photographers. I just know that there are days when someone who lives in one of those perfect, furniture coordinated, always fresh smelling homes wish they could trade places with me. Well, maybe not me because my life is pretty crappy right now, but you know what I mean.

Now, just for added fun and cruelty, we have the internet, pushing us into the same cracks of self-doubt and dangerous comparisons...

Speaking of the internet and trends, I was reading a book the other day that made a great point about the relationship between the words "Influence" and "Influenza". Now think "viral" and "virus". We currently use those terms to convey positive things. (And, yes, I am over here point a finger at myself for that joining into that silliness.)

Here's my message to all my brothers and sisters out there - ALL of you, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, or gang  social media affiliation - let's use media for what it should be. Let it entertain us, bring us together, take us away for a while, show us something we didn't know, and just be our temporary entertainment. Don't try that TV pretend sh*t at home. That goes for the commercials too. Buy what you need and what you want - not what someone tricks you into thinking you need or want. Be kind, be funny, be loving, be healing, be helpful, and be as healthy as you can in your mind, body, and soul. And always, always be you.