February 23, 2009

Ah Rodney King, the token black?

So, I went to the Hip & Hop and Racism talk and I'll get back to the post below hopefully tomorrow. I have lots to say and I'm very happy!

But right now I just want to make a little post about Rodney King on VH1. Yeah I know, what the hell right. I know my readers are outstanding citizens in their communities and have too much important shit to do in the day to sit down and suffer through the vicarious horror that is Sober House and the drought of sensitivity that was/is Celebrity Rehab. Yes, I linked you, and now you will be curious about the videos and I'll ruin your life. Can't stop won't stop.

So I didn't watch Celeb Rehab's first season and this is the first season of Sober House. Both shows feature Dr Drew and what can only be described as his posse, and a host of T-Z list celebrities struggling with their addictions. In the case of Sober House the participants are already sober we guess, sometimes and are going through sober living in a house together to keep them sober. You might call it a halfway house I think, more or less.

So I'm watching Sober House and unfortunately I've seen just about every ep and I think I know just about every person on the show. And the famous Rodney King has been on Celeb Rehab 2 and this season of Sober House.

First, I ask the question of "token black" because I referred to him as such while talking to a friend over Facebook. Then I thought, but is that really fair? Why can't he just be the black guy on the show struggling with alcohol? I guess it just feels like a token because it's reality TV and he is indeed the only black person on the show :/

There's something else though, which makes me think of the differences between "white" addiction and "black" addiction. While the general air of the house is pretty friendly, there's something weird from Celeb Rehab 2 & Sober House, and that's...Rodney gets just about zero attention. Well, very little. I guess it's because Rodney's handling his recovery pretty well--or so we assume. The first day of Celeb Rehab dude was up and running, exercising, doing great. It was everyone ELSE that was bringing heroin into the house, escaping from hospitals and shit. Rodney, the cool one, is just left alone in the corner basically and we watch the funny ex-famous white people do whatever it is they do *blink*

So if you're still reading you might be thinking, "Okay big whoop, where is this going." Indeed, big whoop. There's ANOTHER thing though: that infamous incident, King's beating by the LAPD and the subsequent LA Riots. On Celeb Rehab Rodney talks about it at length but it's obviously a painful thing for him to talk about, still. And yet Dr Drew keeps prodding and the rest of the house seems to be intent--on both shows--on trying to make comedy of the incident.

Well, Rodney takes this in good stride and laughs amiably along, but I'll tell you what, that shit made me uncomfortable. Sure I guess some of us can make jokes about the incident, white and black. But am I wrong for feeling horribly uncomfortable when a house of white folks start making random jokes, rather insensitive jokes about this man being beaten by cops? I dunno man, something rubs me as wrong about that. I can't police Rodney's actions or get into his mind but other than laughing along then showing that the incident is still a sore spot for him, I don't feel like the show (or the bonus clips) bother to show his reactions to all this fooling around.

And just when I'm thinking perhaps he's over it and I need to get a grip, Dr Drew forces arranges for Rodney to deliver a letter of forgiveness to the LAPD, or I guess it's better to say a letter of his feelings with a hint of forgiveness. I mean, is that it? He's clean & sober and that's good but then we're back to watching the crazy punk bitch singer from Crazytown, Seth, jumping over...walls and shit to get a hit. Drama sells. Yes. It. Does! Work mama!

So, do I want more screen time to focus on what I think should be Rodney's pain? Maybe. Do I feel like he's just the token minority on a reality show? A little. I mean, I could just be making something out of nothing--and when don't I--but I think these pop culture critiques can be good sometimes, be it some little detail or the big picture.


  1. I thought of Rodney King's appearance as redeeming for VH1-the same channel that brought you Flavor of Love and New York; forcefeeding every fast food stereo type that White America could possibly have about Black Folks in marathon style for entertainment purposes. But you're right: I don't think either are fair portryals but fair has never brought in high ratings has it? Fair doesn't turn us on or turn us out or even make us feel better about ourselves and our own bad behavior. Lets face it: if we wanted redemption, we wouldn't be watching super-models turned whores, failed fat american idols hanging out with b-list celebrities while the husband takes care of the kids, or millionaires turned trashmen. In the end, VH1 has created a splendid way for us all to waste our time and feel good that "at least we're not them" Whether we're black or white or red or purple, small town or uptown, rich or poor, VH1 doesn't give a damn. They've exploited us all in equal proportions.

  2. That is indeed true. Especially now that I'm remembering Flavor of Love & New York *shudder* goddamnit. Suddenly Rodney's case doesn't seem so bad...but it's not like I really expect much from VH1.

  3. I think most of the world gets it. Rodney King, maybe he's still traumatized by it? Obviously this man doesn't see the reason why he was cast in these shows. But I think it's something you really can't get over yet until you see the social climate rid itself of racism, which I don't think will go away in our lifetime. I guess you don't have to get a grip just yet if you're not ready.


Please share some knowledge. Or amuse me at least :O