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Kim Kardashian: A Bona-fide Franchise Despite Backlash

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The Kardahsian clan aren’t just a family they are a reportedly $65 million empire. One that some people would like to see tumble. This ranges from folk forming an online boycott of their reality TV show and products to donning the Queen Kardashian, Kim, with an ill-mannered award.

Like it or not, the Kardashians have become the model for today’s new brand of celebrity in which fame is manufactured through ingenious marketing and ever-present exposure that is not associated with traditional entertainment, such as singing, acting, or playing sports.

Some refer to her as merely a television personality and a socialite, but 31-year-old Kim Kardashian “for better or worse” is a consummate personal brand—with an estimated net worth of $35 million to back it up. From her reality television series, to guest appearances on television shows and in movies, to her efforts on and offline, she has shrewdly crafted her fame and fortune.

I admit that like some critics I thought the Kardashians were a bit over exposed and had no distinct or discernible skill. But then I had to take a step back. Long before there was a reality show, Kim was making a name for herself as a stylist to the stars. That’s how she hooked up with ex-boyfriend Ray J.

The rundown is that after R&B singer Brandy appears on a worst-dressed list, Kim is hired as her personal stylist. This stint parlays into a full-time business for Kim who becomes a personal shopper to stars like Lindsay Lohan and a wardrobe stylist for television shows, magazine photo layouts and infomercials. In 2006, business is booming and, with sisters Khloé and Kourtney, Kim opens Dash, a clothing boutique in Calabasas, California.

Her only claim to fame at this point is that she is the wealthy daughter of the high-powered late defense attorney Robert Kardashian (part of O.J. Simpson’s dream team) and the stepdaughter of Olympic gold medalist athlete Bruce Jenner. And she is friends with hotel heiress and socialite Paris Hilton.

Then she begins dating Brandy’s brother, Ray J.  Their sex tape breaks out in 2007, much like with her pal Paris Hilton. The rest is history. Whereas Hilton was a sexy bad girl, Kardashian was a sexy good girl: She does not drink, does not do drugs and does not party—although she will show up at a club if she is getting paid to be photographed for appearances, states Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity Inc.: How Famous People Make Money.

After the sex tape is leaked and made public, instead of playing the victim, Kim launches her own realty show on E! Keeping Up With The Kardashians. She didn’t just seek the spotlight for herself; she brought her whole family in on it. She forms her own production company, Kimsaprincess Productions LLC, following up with a line of items—clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, and weight loss products. She rises to the top as one of the highest paid stars on reality TV, earning reportedly $40,000 per episode. But she rakes in even more money from endorsements and public appearances. She did more than turn lemons into lemonade; she turned herself into a bona fide industry.

So, where did Kim go wrong? In the court of public opinion she is guilty of saying “I do” to NBA player Kris Humprhies and then divorcing him 72 days after the fact and all for the sake—allegedly—of profiting from the fanfare ceremony. Kim is said to have brokered deals to get most of her wedding décor, food, dresses and diamond ring for free or at a deep discount. Her entire wedding pulled in an estimated $18 million, which included $500,000 to throw a bachelorette party at Tao nightclub in Las Vegas, around $16 million from E! to cover the nuptials and $500,000 to $1 million from People magazine for exclusive photos

But she isn’t the first celeb to get free wedding stuff or profit from their wedding. I remember when the then co-host of ABC’s The View Star Jones solicited freebies including bridesmaids’ gowns plus gave on-air plugs for wedding suppliers when she was marrying Al Reynolds. Reportedly Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas sold photo rights to their 2000 wedding for $1.8 million.

Getting marred in front the camera is nothing new either. There have been plenty of made-for-TV weddings, including former MTV’s The Hills stars Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag and Brady Bunch alum Christopher Knight and America’s Next Top Model Adrianne Curry. Not to mention every Bachelor and Bachelorette to get engaged in the history of the ABC shows but never actually marry (minus Trista and Ryan Sutter). In fact, The Bachelorette‘s Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, reportedly ABC paid $3.77 million for their 2003 wedding.

Kim Kardashian’s 72-day wedlock isn’t even at the top of the list for couples with the shortest marriage. Drew Barrymore and Jeremy Thomas were married six weeks while Mario Lopez’s marriage to Ali Landry lasted 13 days followed by 9 days each for Cher and Gregg Allman and Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra. Britney Spears and Jason Alexander come in at 52 hours (remember the Vegas quickie) followed by Robin Givens’ marriage to Svetozar Marinkkovic for less than 24 hours before they split.

Maybe there’s something to be said that this isn’t Kim’s first. So, in 2000 at age 20 she married 30-year-old music producer Damon Thomas. Their marriage ended in a messy divorce in 2004. It took her less time obviously to realize her marriage to Humphries was “a mistake.” But for all we know, Kim may be taking the high road and not airing any dirt on Humphries. For some women all it would take to bring a marriage suddenly to an end is a physical altercation. Remember when Oprah warned Rihanna (a gal pal of Kim’s)—“if a man hits you once, he will hit you again.” There would be less hateration if there were more painful details, say, Humphries admitted he was a sex addict.

Whatever their reason, Kim has come under attack. BoycottKim.com has called for a boycott of the realty TV star, stating “we will not continue to allow Kim Kardashian to exploit the American public and media for personal and financial gain.” Over 500,000 people have signed the petition. Truth be told I would rather sign a petition that boycotted the Bachelor franchise for exploiting the public when it comes to love and marriage. For 10 years the reality show has been a “free sex for all.”

Kim also was named the most ill-mannered person of 2011 by the National League of Junior Cotillions because of her highly publicized engagement, wedding and 72-day marriage. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, reigned supreme on the NLJC’s 2011 list of the Ten Best-Mannered Persons for “the poise and dignity with which she conducted herself in the public spotlight” before and during her eight-month marriage to Prince William.

On top of all of this, was a claim by Star magazine that items sold under the K-Dash by Kardashian label, the Kris Jenner Kollection, and Kim Kardashian Shoedazzle line are made in regions of China where factory workers are paid as little as $1 and hour and some workers are as young as 16-year-old. There is no actual proof just speculation. Of course, other famous fashionistas have been accused of using sweatshops to produce clothing. Kathy Lee Gifford ran into trouble back in 1996 with her Kathie Lee line sold at Wal-Mart as did Sean “Diddy” Combs with his Sean John line.

Despite the tons of backlash she has gotten since the quickie divorce, Kim still ranks among the top 5 most followed people on Twitter. @KimKardashian has some 12.3 million followers. Lady Gaga holds the top spot with 17.5 million followers. Next is Just Bieber with about 16 million, Katy Perry at roughly 13 million, and Brittney Spears is right behind Kim separated by 100,000 followers. Where Kim has them all beat is that she has about 9,000 tweets compared to most celebs’ couple thousand.

Kim might be laughing at her haters all the way to the bank. She recently opened Kardashian Khaos at the Mirage in Las Vegas. The new celebrity lifestyle boutique is said (by the Kardashians) to be the first celebrity concept store of its kind. E! just reported limited-edition Mattel-made Kim, Khloé and Kourtney “Dash dolls” are in the works and could be available wherever Barbies are sold later this year. And the New York Post wrote the Kardashians approached American Media Inc—parent company to Star, The National Enquirer, Shape and Playboy—about publishing their own glossy magazine.

Until now I was pretty much apathetic towards Kim and the Kardashian clan—although I was fond of brother Rob on Dancing With The Stars. But after all the latest uproar, I’m joining the Kim Twitter pack. Next Christmas I may even add a Kim Dash doll to my mantel next to a Kimora Lee Simmons Barbie doll.

—Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

The Help Ranks No 1, Grosses $96.8 Million, Unfazed By Hurricane Irene

August 23, 2011 Leave a comment

The Help grossed over $71.3 million as of August 22nd just 12 days after its August 10th release, surpassing the film’s $25 million budget.  Unfazed even by Hurricane Irene The Help has swelled to $96.8 million at the box office. At an average U.S. ticket price of $7.89, that’s roughly 12 million people who flocked to see the film adaptation of the book by Kathryn Stockett. Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s, The Help is about the relationship between white women and their black maids.

I saw the movie with my mother who grew up in Alabama during Jim Crow and whose mother was a maid (her father was a preacher). Whatever imperfections The Help may have, we enjoyed the film. It allowed us to open up a dialogue on what it was like for my grandmother, affectionately called Mama Marie. She was a strong willed but kind and gentle woman.

My grandmother cleaned homes and medical clinics; she never took care of anyone else’s children. When my grandparents’ home burned down, Mama Marie’s white employer had it rebuilt, my mother recalls. She also remembers not being allowed to enter through the front door of any white person’s home and not being allowed to sit together at the dinner table. My mother was considered rebellious because she answered back to white people “yes” and “no” instead of “Yes Mam” and “No Sir.”

Kathryn Stockett

Stockett grew up in Jackson, Mississippi where she has said “almost every family I knew had a black woman working in their house—cooking cleaning, and taking care of the children. I was young and assumed that’s how most of America lived.” In the book’s afterword, Stockett quotes journalist Howell Raines: “There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation.” To read what the author has to say visit KathrynStockett.com.

The Help attempts to portray how African American maids were treated, how it felt to raise white children, and how these children loved their maids yet grew up to be racists like their parents. The stories revolve around three main characters: maids Minny Jackson and Aibileen Clark and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phalen, a recent college graduate.

The Help has stirred its share of controversy and criticism—by those who have and haven’t seen the movie or read the book. It is attacked for depicting black females in stereotypical demeaning roles, presenting a whitewashed version of civil rights, romanticizing a racially segregated South, and so on.

Medgar Evers

The Help isn’t meant to be a civil rights movie. It doesn’t show Mississippi is the birthplace of the White Citizens Council (segregationist). But it does explore troubling race relations and how the courage to speak out can change lives. There are historical scenes with respect to Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers,  the NAACP field secretary who was shot in his driveway in 1963 hours after President John F. Kennedy gave a speech supporting integration. There’s a flash of photos of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black youth brutally murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. One scene references a KKK killing, another the Daughters of the American Revolution (Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership when the group refused to allow African American opera singer Marian Anderson to sing before a racially integrated audience at Constitution Hall). The Help depicts legalized racism prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

James Meredith

Even though The Help’s Skeeter attended The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), there is no mention of James H. Meredith, the first African American student to enter Ole Miss in 1962 after having been barred and winning a legal battle (aided by Medgar Evers and the NAACP). Federal troops had to be brought in to enforce the court order. Meredith is quoted stating “nothing could be more insulting to me than the concept of civil rights.” He merely exercised his democratic right by applying to Ole Miss. With that in mind, I won’t lambaste the characters in The Help for not being civil rights activists.

The Help gives a glimpse of blacks and higher learning. One of the college educated maids is short the $75 needed to send both of her sons to Tougaloo College. Thanks to her vengeful white employer, instead of six months for a pretty crime (stealing a ring) she serves four years in a penitentiary. This is the catalyst for the other maids to agree to tell their stories.

Tougaloo COllegeThis leads to another conversation with my mother. Not about how the character ends up representing the criminalization of African Americans, but about Tougaloo College. It was one of 123 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in 1960. Although it has fallen on financial hard times lately, Tougaloo ranked as one of the “Best Colleges in the Southeast” by Princeton Review and one of the “Best Black Colleges” by U.S. News and World Report in 2008.  My parents met (and later married) while attending Alabama A&M College, another prominent HBCU.

“Your uncle graduated from Tougaloo,” my mother tells me referring to her brother-in-law. Indeed, Dr. Eddie L. Clark Jr., who was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1918, received his Bachelor of Science degree from Tougaloo College in 1940. He earned a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1944. My uncle paid for his college and medical school education while working in Chicago as a busboy on a cruse ship during the summers. After his residency in general surgery, he established a 12-bed hospital during his eight-year practice in Meridian, Mississippi, providing treatment for African Americans who were denied hospital admission. He  ran a private practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania until his death in 1999.

There are no positive black men like my uncle in The Help. Also, certain aspects in the book don’t make it into the movie. The daughter of Cicely Tyson’s character has her same brown complexion in the movie, while in the book she is described as someone who looks white and tries to pass. It’s probably a good thing the film left out the “tragic mulatto” storyline. At the end of the movie Aibileen is fired and walks off saying maybe she will become a writer. In the book, she is hired as the newspaper’s anonymous cleaning advice columnist, the position that Skeeter relinquishes for her publishing gig in New York City. Plausible or not, that might have been a nice ending for the movie.

The Help’s critics are upset with Hollywood.  The real offense is an unspoken truth. Across the nation domestic workers are still struggling a half-century later. They face exploitative conditions, unpaid wages, a lack of overtime and paid vacation, even physical and emotional abuse. Check out Times Haven’t Changed for ‘The Help’ of Today at Women’s eNews, which discusses the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, meant to provide legal protections for nannies, housekeepers, elder companions, and cooks in private homes.

Apparently when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935—the law provides basic labor protections—domestic workers, overwhelmingly African American women, were left out. Southern senators refused to pass it if they were included. Domestic workers are still predominantly women of color, often immigrants.

Hopefully massive patrons of The Help will champion the rights of today’s help. Visit Domestic Workers United for more info. As for Hollywood, mom and I can’t wait to see a movie called Red Tails slated for release January 20, 2012. It is about the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American flying brigade that fought in World War II. The film is produced by George Lucas (Star Wars legacy). It is directed by Anthony Hemingway and written by John Ridley, both are African American. Box office receipts will tell how well general moviegoers and black audiences support a film about some of the fiercest black men in history. —Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Race

Coming Out: Black and Gay in Corporate America

Black and Gay in Corporate America is the cover story of the July 2011 issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine which hit newsstands this week. Written by yours truly, the article addresses challenges LGTB professionals face in coming out in the workplace. Click here to view the article at BlackEnterprise.com.

As someone who began her career at BE in 1990 as an associate editor and currently as an Editor-At-Large, this was a momentous step for the business magazine. Colleague Sonia Alleyne said it best when she wrote: We’re not going to pretend this was an easy topic for Black Enterprise to consider. Let’s face it—the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is one of which our society whispers, mocks, ignores, and, in extreme cases, vehemently rejects. For Black members of this community, the emotional backlash can be even more intense. Due to the topic’s controversial nature, we had some difficulty finding subjects. Even some of those who agreed to participate in our cover story, “Black and Gay in Corporate America,” felt some trepidation about how revealing their sexual orientation would affect relationships with family, friends, and associates outside the workplace.

The article supplements BE’s annual “Best Companies For Diversity,” which highlights the top 40 companies that are inclusive and supportive of  minorities. This year,  emphasis was placed on where companies rate on the Human Rights Campaign’s “Best Places to Work” with regard to the LGBT community.

The Engagement

This article hits close to home for me as someone who is passionate about addressing issues facing the LGBT community. I  co-wrote three plays (Accessories, The Engagement, and Flowers) that all featured leading gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters. My next play (In Search of the Most Beautiful Woman) will have a lead transgender heroine.

Growing up, I knew long before there was a US military policy that there was an unspoken Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell code in the black community and the Catholic community. I grew up in a conservative Black Baptist Church and attended Catholic Schools. I knew instinctively there were LGBT teachers, sports coaches, choir masters, camp counselors, neighbors and relatives. But no one openly discussed his or her relationship with that “special friend.”

I remember as early as age six watching girls bullied for being tomboys and boys beaten up after school for being perceived as acting too effeminate. By the time I graduated high school, I knew people whose parents threatened to stab them to death or threw them out of the house because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While I was attending college I knew at least one person who attempted suicide due to harassment~he was black and gay.

Love Bucket Photography

Coming out to family, friends, colleagues and your community is not just a matter of facing ridicule or judgment. It is facing the fear of possibly losing your job, losing your friends, and even losing your life at the hands of a homophobe. Throughout the month of July, BE is examining the lives, struggles and triumphs of Black LGBTs.

Take Tiq Milan, who speaks out about his journey in transitioning from female to male and how this has impacted his career. He also discusses the difference between being gay and being transgender and the struggles for acceptance among those in the LGBT community.  Some may recognize Milan from MTV’s 2007 reality series, I’m From Rolling Stone, where several aspiring writers competed for a chance to win a full-time position with the entertainment magazine. Back then, he went by his birth name, Tika, and responded to “she.” Today, he is the education specialist/HIV prevention counselor and editor-in-chief of IKONS Magazine, a LGBT lifestyle publication. The video Tiq Milan on Being Transgender can be found at BlackEnterprise.com.

There’s an interview with CNN reporter and news anchor Don Lemon. He speaks openly about coming out in his new book, Transparent, his fears about going on record about his sexuality because of potential backlash from the Black community, and why, whether teenager or team member at the office, bullying can not be tolerated. Lemon dedicated his book in memory of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi who committed suicide. Watch Don Lemon on coming out and being transparent in the black community. An excerpt from the book Transparent is in the July 2011 issue of Black Enterprise.

BlackEnterprise.com also tackles the debate over whether “gay rights is a civil rights” issue. This is something that I have wrestled with for years. But not from the view point of one versus the other. To me, arguing about gay rights vs. civil rights is like disputing which was worst in world history Slavery or the Holocaust. Yes, there are different sets of historical and social issues as it relates to race and sexual orientation. But the definition of civil rights is “promoting equality in social, economic, and political rights for citizens.”

Martin Luther King Jr and Bayard Rustin

The “Black” civil rights movement was not merely about marches and speeches it was a fight for equality that centered on legislative and policy changes based on issues rooted in bias and discriminatory behavior. It was a battle in the courts as evident by the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education. So too, the fight by gay activists is one that currently centers on seeking legislative and policy changes based on issues deeply rooted in bias (mostly for religious reasons) and discriminatory practices. If gay activists can learn and benefit from the black civil rights movement great, just as black civil rights activists learned from the non-violent tactics of Mohandas Gandhi in India’s successful fight for freedom from British control.

While white LGBT persons can harbor racial prejudices, the focus is not whether race trumps sexual orientation or gender identity. Arguments such as you can’t hide being black and you can’t change your race elude me. So, if someone who is black can pass for white then he or she should choose to do so? It is a ludicrous notion that the ability to pass for straight should diminish the struggles of LGBT people in securing full and equal rights under the law. Hatemongering of any kind should not be tolerated. Allowing the use of morality and sexual orientation or gender identity to deny someone his or her inedible rights, including same-sex marriage, violates the basic laws of humanity and goes against the principles of the Constitution.

In the upcoming film The New Black, filmmaker Yoruba Richen explores the histories of the African American and LGBT civil rights movements. “The film looks specifically at homophobia in the black church and how the Christian right has exploited this phenomenon that exists in order to promote an anti-gay political agenda,” Richen tells BE. Her project is demonstrative of how the parallels and distinctions between the African American and gay rights movements are complex and multi-layered.

Two notable galleries worth viewing at BlackEnterprise.com are 10 Black LGBT Trailblazers – Still Black & Proud, which includes the likes of educator and activists Angela Davis and activist and novelist James Baldwin. The other, Black LGBT Entertainers: Out & Proud, features celebs like comedian Wanda Sykes.

My hope is that Black Enterprise’s coverage will be a wake up call. That it will open up honest and less hurtful conversation about the African American LGBT community. In 2011 we need to do more than hope for healing; the LGBT community has been seeking that since Stonewall.

National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director Sharon J. Lettman issued a call to action acknowledging a widespread organized movement around LGBT equality. She concedes we have a long way to go within Black communities to achieve recognition and full inclusion; but it cannot be done without strategic alliances and an intentional plan on how to break down barriers and walls of silence and invisibility of the Black LGBT existence. As she justly states: This means the civil rights community, Black churches, Historically Black Colleges & Universities, Black fraternities and sororities, and yes, the Black traditional media, to name a few.       ~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Race

Lady Gaga Topples Oprah

Lady Gaga is bigger than Oprah. At least according to Forbes magazine’s annual “Celebrity 100” list. The pop star has dethroned the daytime talk show queen as the most powerful entertainer. Even though Oprah reportedly earned $290 million last year and Gaga trailed her at $90 million, what the next-gen icon lacks in financial force she makes up for in fan magnitude. Gaga has 32 million Facebook fans and 10 million Twitter followers. The number 3 spot on Forbes’ list went to teen heartthrob Justin Bieber who earned $53 million.

Forbes writes the “Queen Monster” grossed $170 million on 137 shows in 22 countries over the past 12 months and has sold an estimated 15 million albums worldwide. Advertisers want a piece of her with endorsement deals that include Polaroid, Virgin Mobile, Monster Cable, and Viva Glam. A Russian billionaire reportedly paid $1 million to appear in her “Alejandro” video. When the title track debuted from her new album, Born This Way (hits stores on May 23), it clocked one million downloads in five days, making it the fastest-selling song in iTunes history, reports Nielsen.

It’s Gaga’s mastery of social networking that makes her powerful. She is an example of one of the most successful artists in terms of using social media to connect with fans, according to Joe Ciarallo, of Buddy Media, a Manhattan-based company. “She speaks to them. They’re what she calls her ‘Little Monsters,’ and she lets them know this song is for you. If you’re a fan, how awesome is that?”

But some critics question the 25 year-old pop diva’s staying power, arguing that while the Internet has catapulted Gaga and others into overnight “viral” sensations will she have a short shelf life. Time will tell.

Many naysayers counted Madonna out as a flash in the pan when she appeared on the scene in the early 80s. Almost 30 years later she remains an icon who is known for continuously reinventing both her music and her image. Time magazine donned her one of the “25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century” for being an influential figure in contemporary music. The Queen of Pop has sold more than 300 million records and is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s top-selling female recording artist of all time.

Known for her outrageous dress styles, Gaga is often compared to Madonna. I too initially dismissed Gaga as simply a Madonna wannabe. After all, I am an original “Material Girl” fan who has every Madonna album (her debut one on vinyl) and I can vividly recall my first Madonna concert. Gaga relies on some of the same controversial, gimmicky, sensational antics that heralded Madonna to stardom. Not to mention that she possesses the same drive and determination to succeed apparently.

I have since grown fond of Lady Gaga. First and foremost she is talented. She can play the piano and she can “sang!” like in a ‘I have deeply planted roots in gospel and soul music kind of way.’ Second, she is entertaining—out there in the stratosphere—but an incomparable performer nonetheless. Check out The Monster Ball concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden on HBO. I watched it with my 19-year-old niece, 58-year-old sister and 82-year-old mother. Four different generations all moving to “Just Dance.” Third, Gaga is a shrewd operator.

Today, college professors are teaching about Lady Gaga, 20 years ago they were teaching Madonna. And perhaps five years from now there will be courses on Justin Bieber—from YouTube to the Big Screen. Anyone who wants to get schooled on branding, marketing, and building a loyal fan base should study Gaga.

The University of Virginia now offers a class called “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity.” Students are learning about Gaga’s influence on feminism and gender expression. Taught by grad student Christa Romanosky, the class is a prerequisite course to essay writing on the theme of how the mama monster pushes social boundaries.

Spearheaded by sociology professor Mathieu Defleml, the University of South Carolina’s course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” explores the work and the rise to fame of the hitmaker: What makes a person famous and what does being famous mean in today’s culture? Defleml has characterized Gaga as being a “social phenomenon.”

The theatrical dance-pop performer’s debut single, the international chart-topping hit “Just Dance,” established her as an up-and-coming superstar upon its release in 2008 on The Fame album. Born Stefani Germanotta on March 28, 1986, the Yonkers native attended Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls Catholic school in Manhattan, before proceeding to study music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts at age 17.

Defleml says the central objective of his course is to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavors, with special attention for the role of: business and marketing strategies; the role of the old and new media; fans and live concerts; gay culture; religious and political themes; sex and sexuality; and the cities of New York and Hollywood.

This isn’t the first time Lady Gaga has been the subject of academia. Doctoral student Meghan Vicks and writer/performance artist Kate Durbin founded Gaga Stigmata, an online literary and scholarly journal for all things Gaga.

My being GaGa over Lady Gaga also is in part due to her positive influence in the philanthropic world. The pop star has long been an advocate for homeless youth, emphasizing the unique struggles of LGBTQ teens. She recently joined forces with New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization, the Robin Hood Foundation, launching a Facebook contest to give away $1 million to a worthy cause and charity.

When it comes to shaping America’s pop culture, Lady Gaga was born to lead the way.    ~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Chris not Charlie Is Getting A Bad Rap?

March 23, 2011 1 comment

“I’m so over people bringing this past shit up!!! Yet we praise Charlie Sheen and other celebs for their bullshit.” That’s what Chris tweeted and then later deleted. He was referring to his interview this week with Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America. (Here is a link to the interview which Disney won’t allow to be posted on YouTube). Chris went on GMA to promote his new album F.A.M.E. (how apropos).

The segment opens with his 2009 felony charge for assault on then girlfriend Rihanna. Roberts asks him about a judge’s recent decision to lax an earlier restraining order (the exes can have contact provided Chris doesn’t harass Rihanna). Roberts wants to know if the two have seen each other. Chris replies “No. It’s not really a big deal for me now, as far as that situation. I think I’m past that in my life. Today’s the album day, so that’s what I’m focused on.”

Roberts wouldn’t drop it; she kept broaching the topic of assault (Chris’ camp had agreed to the line of questioning beforehand). When he tries explaining the theme of F.A.M.E. (Forgiving All My Enemies), naysayers, and haters, Roberts wants to keep pointing out why people may hate on him even though he has lots of fans.

He went on to perform his single “Yeah 3x.” Then Bam! Roberts prodding allegedly made the 21-year-old singer so angry that he ripped off his shirt, trashed his dressing room, threw a chair that broke a window and stormed out. GMA reps said Chris was so dangerous backstage they had to call 911. One GMA rep referred to him as a “thug.”

Chris is shceduled to perform on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars next week. Some people wondered if ABC would reconsider having Chris on such a family show, would they ban him from the network, and walk away from an obviously troubled young man (allegedly DWTS contestants are afraid to be around him). ABC is not pressing any charges against Chris and is reportedly asking him back on GMA.

Okay, I am more surprised hearing CBS is considering bringing Charlie back on Two and A Half Men, which is a family show. Charlie trashes a hotel room, has a briefcase full of cocaine delivered to his home, and bad mouths his costars and show’s producers. But everyone is willing to let bygones be bygones all in the name of money. CBS mistakenly assumed people would be offended by Charlie’s erratic behavior and yet everyone seems to be championing him. He has been approached with deals from other networks such as Fox reportedly. His live concert tour (My Violent Torpedo of Truth) sold out in minutes; so, he stands to make a couple million dollars more off of his antics. He made $1.25 million per episode on his television show. Charlie’s bad boy behavior seems to be making him more rich and famous—believe it or not.

So, does Chris Brown have a point about the media’s treatment of Charlie Sheen? Charlie reportedly has a rap sheet full of assaults against women that it is a mile long. In 1990, he accidentally shot his then fiancée, actress Kelly Preston, in the arm. In 1996, he was arrested for assaulting an adult film actress. In 2005, actress Denise Richards filed for divorce, accusing him of alcohol/drug abuse and threats of violence. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to assault charges on soon to be ex-wife Brooke Mueller. Although Charlie insists he has never hit a woman, court orders and guilty pleas state otherwise.

But no one has really pushed Charlie on this issue. During a recent interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, he glossed over it. Despite Morgan’s pit-bull like nature, he didn’t sink his teeth into Charlie; he let the bad boy slide.

Some pundits have pointed to the fact that Charlie’s battery is against non A-list celebs or adult film actresses. If Charlie were arrested for bruising say someone like Jennifer Aniston,  he wouldn’t get away with his shenanigans.

Some people have posted that Charlie is getting a free pass because he is white and Chris is black. But truth be told, Charlie is of Hispanic origin (his grandfather was from Spain). His real name is Carlos Estevez (he was sure to make mention of this when he was accused of being anti-Semitic for remarks made against the creators of Two and A Half Men).  He shares the same stage surname with his father, Martin Sheen. According to one report, when he was arrested for domestic violence charges in 2009 he was booked under his real name Carlos Estevez. Maybe that’s why the media hasn’t been too hard on Charlie Sheen. It’s Carlos not Charlie who beats on women.

There is this Chris and Charlie double-standard. But it can be said of all batterers regardless of fame: You can get a free pass if you have money and power. You can get away with abusing women and men whom no one cares about.

There’s the fact that several well known rappers, hip-hop artists and athletes have been charged with domestic violence. They have never had to do community service, attend classes, or spend a night in jail. The one thing they all had in common with Charlie is that the women they abused were no-names—at least in the eyes of the media

If you were to deduce anything from all of this, it’s we’re a society that no longer can reason between compassion, complacency and condemnation.

Chris has completed 52-week anti-domestic violence classes and 1400 hours of community service. But he obviously still has some work to do and some anger issues to address.

Most batterers don’t receive counseling until they are threatened with imprisonment or actually do jail time. There are support groups and resources out there for men by men including Men Stopping Violence Against Women, A Call To Men, and Stop Violence.

I hope Chris can get the help he needs to control his rage and pain. I rather celebrate people’s triumphs than relish over their tribulations.

Chris went about business as usual after his outburst at ABC. He greeted hundreds of female fans outside his hotel and performed at his album release party that night. He has three hits songs and the album is number one on iTunes.

Maybe GMA will  be viewed as a stunt come next week. Chris will take a page for Charlie’s book. He will learn to come up with catch phrases when answering tough interview questions (“Duh, Winning”). He will begin talks with TV producers about a reality show. He may even in Charlie like style show up on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, kiss him on the lips, and as the audience cheers pass out copies of F.A.M.E. ~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check

Angry Black Women: Myth or Reality? It’s Reality

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Two commercials featuring African American couples have caused a stir because apparently they enforce a stereotype by portraying black women as angry. The commercial receiving the most flack appeared during Super Bowl XLV. It is a Pepsi Max ad called, “Love Hurts,” which was created by 28-year-old filmmaker Brad Bosely, who was one of six fans to win the “Crash the Super Bowl” ad contest. According to Bosely, who grew up in Leawood, Kansas, when he conceived and pitched the concept for the ad he did not have any black actors in mind.

In “Love Hurts,” an unsympathetic wife is diligently trying to keep her slender husband healthy by preventing him from indulging in bad eating habits, which includes slapping a bar of soap in his mouth as he hides in the tub trying to eat a burger. At the end of the commercial they are sitting on a park bench enjoying a can of Pepsi Max when the husband is caught smiling goofily at a white female jogger. The wife becomes furious and hurls her Pepsi Max can at his head, but misses and instead knocks the white woman out cold. The two flee from the scene hand in hand.

In the State Farm commercial, “Magic Jingle Anniversary,” a black woman berates a black man for stupidly backing his car into another car. When her boyfriend summons his claims adjuster to help the situation, she requests a new boyfriend. He turns into a chocolate beefcake. The boyfriend then asks for a new girlfriend and she turns into a sexy OMG video chick. The girlfriend’s reaction is “oh, that’s what you like.”

Some bloggers and even Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee were upset with The Pepsi Max commercial, criticizing it for showing a darker skinned African American woman who is bigger than a size six and wearing a bad weave (or a wig). The State Farm commercial was criticized for showing lighter skinned African American women who are smaller than a size six with nice weaves and bad attitudes. Oh, and of course the Pepsi commercial committed the cardinal sin of having a white woman being perceived as attractive by a black man.

The reason I find the “Love Hurts” commercial disturbing is because it mocks and marginalizes domestic violence. Even the title of the ad, “Love Hurts” is fitting as it plays out a reversal of the way men who control women act. What critics see as black emasculation is physical and emotional abuse. There is an unspoken truth in this country that men get abused by women. Men represent more than 38 percent (or roughly 835,000 a year) of injured victims in a relationship at the hands of their intimate partner. Women abusing men is nothing to snicker about.

Were the roles reversed and it were a man kicking his wife and shoving her face down on the table, black or white, people would have been upset. The wife throws at Pepsi Max can at his head and instead hits the white woman he is eying. The other woman could have been Jamaican, Chinese, Puerto Rican or Indian. Who cares? The wife tried to physically harm her husband. This is uncalled for behavior that the majority of the commercial’s critics have shrugged off. The real issue at heart is that this commercial is more than just some angry black woman stereotype.

Yes, people are in an uproar about actresses and fictionalized black female characters in the Pepsi and State Farm commercials. Yet, so-called reality television is filled with angry African American women who constantly yell at each other and try to yank out fellow cast members’ weaves as with shows like Basketball Wives and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. RHOA is one of Bravo’s highest rated series in its RH franchise. Even people who aren’t fans of RHOA know about the notorious “Diva” of realty TV, NeNe Leakes. She has become the poster child for loud, angry plus-size, dark skinned, neck rolling, eye popping, tongue lashing, and big lip smacking black women. She is always on the attack, sticking her finger in the faces of her husband (soon to be ex), her son, her former gay best friend, and especially RHOA cast member, her arch-rival, and onetime BFF Kim Zolciak, a blond white woman with big hair and big boobs.

For some reason, reverends and congresswomen aren’t bothered by the “ghetto hot madness” behavior of Leakes. On the contrary, I have heard people defend her behavior and RHOA by stating that all The Real Housewives…are back-stabbing, money-grubbing, self-indulging, and bullying. Still, most of the other non African-American housewives from the franchise’s other series have “A-List” associates, businesses, and assets beyond that of their mates.  Black women apparently don’t have a problem with the perpetuated stereotypes on RHOA of unwed or divorced baby mamas boohooing over their baby daddies not being around.

It appears Leakes is taking her antics with her to Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, which airs March 6. According to show previews she will rant and rave at Star Jones, another African American woman. Jones, a lawyer and former New York prosecutor, is best remembered as a co-host on ABC’s The View. Appearing On Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Trump admitted that Leakes had huge “problems” and “fistfights” with Jones. Even Trump said he was surprised the behavior went beyond the usual reality show feuds and that he’s never seen anything like it on television. According to Trump, “NeNe and Star make Omorosa look nice.”

On The Wendy Williams Show, Leakes called Jones “special” and slammed her by saying she “wouldn’t spit on Star if she was on fire.” After keeping silent, Jones told Life & Style magazine that she “did Celebrity Apprentice to raise money and awareness for a charity (the American Heart Association) that has been instrumental in my life, not to see it reduced to a cliché where black women attack one another for publicity’s sake.”

Good for Jones. But you can bet that black folk, especially women, who have never watched The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice before will now tune in to cackle at Leakes and Jones catfight. Celebrity Apprentice is likely to enjoy its highest ratings ever (making Trump very happy). Black women can appear as loud, bitchy, and nasty as they want to be on scripted reality TV just not in TV commercials it seems.

The biggest problem I have with Leakes is the same issue I have with the Pepsi “Love Hurts” ad. She isn’t just a stereotype or a parody of an angry black woman. The Pepsi wife is physically abusive towards her husband and Atlanta’s real housewife is verbally abusive towards anyone she dislikes. Leakes considers herself, as do others, to be a strong black woman who speaks her mind and is not to be toyed with.

She was admittedly in an abusive relationship in the past. In season one of RHOA, she held a fundraiser event for Twister Hearts, a charity that purportedly brings awareness to the plight of domestic violence victims of all races  But Leakes constant verbal abuse illustrates that she has gone from being victim to victimizer; from prey to predator. She justifies her behavior, including appearing as if she is going to physically assault another cast member—Kim Zolciak of course—because other people provoke her. “She pushed my buttons.” Isn’t that the classic line and psychology batterers use for striking their spouses?            ~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Race

Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star: I Was There

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s official. OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and its lineup of programming premiered for the New Year. One of the shows to kick off at OWN studios this month is Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star. In Donald Trump’s The Apprentice like reality TV format, 10 finalists from across the country vie for the chance to get a talk show that will air on OWN. The series is executive produced by Mark Burnett (The Apprentice and Survivor).

I was very anxious to see the Next TV Star since I was among the throng of hopefuls who auditioned for Oprah. I didn’t audition myself, but I was in the parking lot of Kohl’s in Howell, New Jersey during the open casting call. I was there at 5 AM—with Duncan doughnuts and coffee in hand—to support my cousin who was one of the contenders (she should be competing on the show). In total, some 15,000 people applied to compete. More than 9,500 also sent in online audition videos. According to reports, more than 143 million people voted online for their favorites.

At the open call, groups of 10 people at a time were summoned to pitch their show concept to Oprah’s screeners. There were the typical eccentrics who stood out in the crowd—including the “I could be Lady Gaga’s twin” bunch. But most of the people I observed audition that day were passionate, professional, and polished. Some exceptional would-be winners presented some great, even unique, talk show ideas.

So it came as a surprise to me. No, it came as a shock when I learned who made the cut. The 10 finalists chosen were the ones who “allegedly” had the “it” factor. These Next TV Star hopefuls include a preacher, a gay comedian, and a financial guru.

Most of the finalists are clueless and amateurish, at least based on the show opener and first three episodes. Maybe 3 out of the 10 possess the potential to produce their own TV show. But before the creme rises to the top, viewers are subjected to the mishaps of the rest of group who are nice, entertaining people in a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey sort of way.

I do like Burnett’s set-up. The participants are grouped into two teams (mostly men vs. women) to produce a talk show each week with a celebrity guest host. The TV-host related challenges range from booking interviews and researching story ideas to successfully completing a pilot presentation. Whereas The Apprentice has team project managers the Next TV Star has team executive producers. Two people from the losing team are selected for elimination. Each contender has one final shot at making a good impression by conducting a quick one-on-one interview with that week’s celebrity judge.

During the premier episode of the Next TV Star, the two teams had to prepare a segment about sex and relationships for guest judge Dr. Phil McGraw. The losing team did a segment on how men who don’t wear condoms are considerably happier. You’ve got to be kidding. That was pretty much Dr. Phil’s reaction who thought the topic was silly.

The second episode’s challenge was to produce makeover segments that had to be about more than great clothes and hair—the two teams needed to tell compelling stories about the subjects to impress guest judge Vera Wang. Both teams had great makeovers but the losing team missed the mark because their on camera host kept flubbing the interview questions. The infuriating part is that this same contestant had a chance to interview Vera Wang to prove that he deserved to stay on the show. He never heard of Wang before, even though from the challenge he knew she was a fashion designer. So, he opted to ask her did she think it was fair that he was about to get booted from the show. What? Give me a break. Even if he had asked her “how do I look” or “I just lost over 60 pounds what fashion tips do you have for me” those would have been plausible, passable questions.

Last week’s episode, the teams had to create a late night style comedy monologue and host an interview segment with celebrity guest and legendary late night talk show host Arsenio Hall. The winning team out-shined the losing team because they told better jokes and was more personable. Plus, they got a scoop~Arsenio and Eddie are working on a sequel to Coming To America. This week’s task is to produce a cooking segment. Well the two top hopefuls for this theme, Eric Warren, 57, an expert in the kitchen from Lawndale, California, and Aunt Flora, 60, a soul food queen from Cincinnati who impressed Martha Stewart with her cobbler, have been kicked off the show. Oh, there is still the mother who likes to cook. So, yet another lopsided competition is likely to take place.

I am not sure who will be the final winner but the front-runners are the three comedians. Twenty-five year old Zach Anner from Austin, Texas, a globe trotter in a wheelchair (he has cerebral palsy) who wants to host an inspirational travel show aimed at people who never thought they were physically capable of traveling. Ryan O’Connor, 29, of West Hollywood, California, who wants a combination variety and talk show. He also says he “wants to be the country’s gay best friend.” Terey Summers, 46, a comedic motivational speaker from Goodyear, Arizona; she wants a traditional Rosie O’Donnell style talk show. Another one to watch is thirty-nine year old Alicia Taylor of Las Vegas who wants to be the next Suze Orman. Her would-be show format is to make money fun, informative and entertaining. Meet the rest of the contestants for Your Own show here.

The viewers may have had some say in the people who got to compete as Oprah’s Next TV Star. But thank goodness they won’t get to pick the final winner. That job is reserved for the pros. We have witnessed other competition reality TV shows (i.e., American Idol and Dancing With The Stars) where viewers tend to vote for the more popular or most likable person rather than the most talented or more qualified contender. The final winner to get his or her OWN TV show will be selected by the hosts and guest judges including Oprah’s gal pal Gayle King.

I have to admit I’m loving the guest judges and hosts of Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star. Nancy O’Dell formerly of Access Hollywood and Carson Kressley, best known as the style guru from Queer Eye for The Straight Guy who has since hosted ABC’s True Beauty from executive producers Tyra Banks and Ashton Kutcher.  And I love the “everybody is a star” show theme. The song, titled “Own It,” was produced and performed by Will.i.am. I just hope the remaining episodes live up to OWN’s great expectations.

~Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check
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