It’s probably not a great idea to sign up for a reality show when these people are involved
I’d like to give both I’m From Rolling Stone and The White Rapper Show a little time before I tender any sort of verdict on either of them; both are just a week in, and both could go plenty of interesting places. And it’s a bit wrong to compare the two, seeing as how they don’t have much in common beyond the facts that they’re both reality TV shows created by people who run music magazines. But it’s funny looking at the casts of both shows. The cast of the Rolling Stone show is pretty, and the cast of The White Rapper Show is butt-ass ugly. They’re both competing to be taken seriously in certain professions, but the pretty people are competing to be writers, and the ugly people are competing to be rappers, which means the pretty people are competing for a job where hardly anyone ever sees your face and nobody cares how you look, and the ugly people are competing to be taken seriously (I guess) in a profession where success means you’re on stages and on TV screens and in magazines all the time. There have been plenty of pretty music writers and plenty of ugly rappers throughout history, but there’s still something weird going on there.
The difference, of course, is the difference between MTV and VH1. MTV reality shows tend to follow the Real World formula: they take a bunch of good-looking young people and then follow them around while they make asses of themselves. The people on those shows might act ridiculous, but the shows always treat their ridiculous problems and their inane decisions with a sort of nonjudgemental distance. When this year’s Real World cast is dealing with their obligatory alcoholism issue or their obligatory racism issue or their obligatory violence issue, they’ll even put gently inspirational music on the soundtrack just so we know these cast members are experiencing great personal breakthroughs. Even on My Super Sweet 16, where pretty much everyone in the world acknowledges that the kids are odious dipshits, the producers will still treat their limo freakouts with a measure of gravity. Of course, they’re still choosing to show the limo freakouts and the alcoholism issues, so they aren’t really employing the kind of empathy they’re simulating, but they at least give us a chance to decide for ourselves that these people are freaks. So it is with I’m From Rolling Stone. Even when the contestants are doing some really dumb shit, like when Krishtine tells her mother that she’s going to buy a house from her music-writing money, the camera hangs back and lets the story unfold. In the first episode, the writers all had to write articles about their hometown music scenes and then arrive in New York to meet their new bosses. The show is more intensive on writing and reporting that I would’ve imagined: we see the writers making phone calls or going out reporting, and we even get to see a little bit of freaking out about word choices, probably the biggest part of a writer’s job. When Joe Levy takes them all aside and takes a look at their work, he says the sort of things that actual editors say. The stories they wrote are all up on the show’s website. After skimming all of them, most aren’t the trainwrecks I was expecting, and Russell Morse’s hyphy story is really pretty good, although I can’t imagine why two of the six castmembers are hyphy writers. So the show treats its subjects with a dignity that they may or may not actually deserve, which is pretty much the opposite of what The White Rapper Show does.
The White Rapper Show makes all its contestants out to be total walking punchlines, which is consistent with VH1’s new slate of reality shows. VH1 has found a niche for itself lately by treating onetime celebrities like circus freaks and exploiting their pathological need for attention. The White Rapper Show does the same thing with civilians. Funny how this stuff works out: right after watching Vanilla Ice act like an ass on the Surreal Life contest show, we get to see his onetime rival MC Serch presiding over a group of people who act like asses. I’m not sure why any aspiring rapper would agree to appear on a show like this one. It’s not like American Idol where they’ll get any closer to fame and fortune if they win; consider what’s become of all the contestants on the last reality show about rapping, Diddy’s Making the Band 2. They’re competing for $100,000, a paltry sum by reality show standards, and, as Serch keeps saying, “respect.” But I’m not sure how big a role respect could possibly play when they’ve assembled a cast of people this motley: the guy with a tie, the British chick, the guy with a mohawk, the guy who keeps saying “ghetto revival” and calling himself an entity. By now, we’ve seen all of them rap, and the only ones who have shown any flashes of competence are Persia, the big nasty chick, and that one guy from Atlanta who sounds really dumb when he talks. They aren’t potential stars; they’re walking cartoons. That’s the point, of course; ego trip has always been pretty scathing in its irreverence, and the show is having a great time submitting its characters to ridiculous indignities: sending them to play mini-golf, holing them up in a roach-infested flophouse, forcing Persia to wear an enormous chain around her neck after she drops an N-bomb. What’s funny about all of this, though, is that Serch, the show’s host, seems to take it a lot more seriously than the show’s producers and editors. When the guy with glasses refused to write a verse on demand, Serch looked like he was going to pop a vein, stomping around and yelling at all the contestants that it isn’t a game. If it’s not a game, what the hell is it?
Anyway, both of these shows are totally compulsively watchable, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how both of these things turn out. I wonder how many other people agree with me. I haven’t seen any ratings figures for The White Rapper Show, but Idolator has reported that the first showing of I’m From Rolling Stone only managed a measly 369,000 viewers. That number might go up; MTV has been incessantly showing that first episode over the last couple of days. But I wouldn’t be all that surprised if The White Rapper Show ended up doing a whole lot better. Big targets make for good TV.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 12, 2007