Old News: Did “Hot Ghetto Mess” Fail Because Black Folk Don’t Get Satire, Or Was the Show Just Lame?

A reader emailed me this Black Voices story, “The Coonery Paradox,” by Jam Donaldson, the creator of the failed BET show “We Got to Do Better,” nee “Hot Ghetto Mess.” In the article Donaldson chastizes people for not getting the satirical angle of the show and that it was about calling out what she calls “coonery,” not about endorsing stereotypes. Yet the show faced a ton of criticism before and after it aired and was quickly cancelled.

Here’s what Donaldson writes:

We rarely publicly castigate those who are in the media making us all look bad, but God help you if you ever point out the fact that they’re making us look bad. Then you are automatically a self-hating, Uncle Tom, elitist, wannabe-white sell-out who is exploiting their people. The Coonery Paradox.

More after the jump.

I am, by no means, saying that critiques of culture shouldn’t be subject to the same artistic and intellectual criticism as everything else. Lets face it, ‘We Got To Do Better’ was no ‘Frontline.’ There should be a vigorous debate about all art all the time. So why do some things consistently get a pass? I just cannot wrap my mind around the lack of public galvanization and critique of the things that are REALLY destroying the minds of our youth.

Of course, I’m close to this issue. Maybe its just me. Maybe I’m trippin’. Maybe I’m completely off base here. Maybe I’ve just had too much wine.

‘We Got To Do Better,’ despite the highest ratings of the summer, was taken off because of the “controversy” surrounding it. Yeah, we wouldn’t want to have any show that actually tells people to get their shit together. But it’s cool, we have “Frankie and Neffie” now. The Coonery Paradox.

This isn’t about individual artists, specific channels or record labels. I don’t want to get hung up on specifics. I used show examples just to make my point. I just don’t understand the odd response we have to representations of ourselves in mainstream media. We get mad if white people call us coons, we get mad if black folks call us coons, but straight up coonery? Bring it on. The Coonery Paradox.

About the cancelled show, Donaldson specifically goes after the activists who protested it (especially Gina McCauley of “What About Our Daughters?”):

The NAACP was having “watch parties,” there were online petitions, panel discussions, t-shirts and God knows what else. Gina McCauley, a completely misguided idiot who runs some pro black woman bullsh-t. blog, made protesting the show her personal cause de célèbre.

My point, and I do have one, is that I am noticing something very disturbing about black community “activism” (or fake-a– activism as I like to call it).

Where the hell are these pro-black self-proclaimed protectors of the black image when ‘Flava of Love’ was on? When Ray-J was on? I can’t think of two shows that denigrated black women like these did.

Maybe I’m listening and reading different things from Donaldson, but there seems to be complaints about BET and various exploitive reality shows all the time, specifically on McCauley’s blog when it comes to images that are degrading to black women. The NAACP may not be organizing protests, but people are constantly voicing their opinions on such tomfoolery, including this blog.

I do think Donaldson has a point though how sometimes black people struggle with nuance, because I run into that problem with my own site from time-to-time. Some people take things very literally and are unable or unwilling to read between the proverbial lines. But the problem with “We Got to Do Better” was there was no real subtley and it did, to many, feel like a form of exploitation, not a rational critique of bad behavior. 

In other words: The show had high aspirations but woefully missed the mark. The Chappelle Show or Boondocks it was not. Even the original title, Hot Ghetto Mess, seemed more like an elitist slander on the entire urban community than a succient way of explaining a message.

But obviously, this is still a bone of contention for Donaldson, and why wouldn’t it be, as “We Got to Do Better” was supposed to be biting satire meant to call out bad behavior in the media and the black community. It was meant to be a “truth-telling” show. Did the show fail in its goals or did people just fail to get it?

23 thoughts on “Old News: Did “Hot Ghetto Mess” Fail Because Black Folk Don’t Get Satire, Or Was the Show Just Lame?

  1. Her mischaracterization of WAOD and lack of familiarity with that site tell me what’s up right there. Clearly Gina was messin’ with her $$.I call bs on this post hoc explanation of the show. I remember that blog. I am all for critique of images that force us into a cartoonish box. But…having Charlie Murphy (really) host a show that offered no substantive discussion is not a critique. It is exploitation.

  2. TWIB is satire, the BET Awards was straight coonery at its worse, if it was 1896, It would have been a campaign film for the Klu Klux Klan, and Birth of a Nation, and a travelling minstrel act!

  3. The show was WACK, period. Also, the show was aimed at the wrong audience. I’m sorry, but 14yos watching BET are NOT going to get that it’s satire. It’s the same thing with that cartoon "Read a Book" controversy. It was played on 106th and Park!

  4. Wasn’t the show just a re-hashing of a few dozen stupid youtube clips we’d all seen and been forwarded over the course of the 2 or 3 yeasr prior to the show’s airing? I only caught a few minutes a one or two episodes, but that’s what I remember. That was why it failed.But she *is* right – our people are not really big on nuance and subtlety in humor, which is really ironic given how cynical and sarcastic Black folks tend to be when it comes to talking about American society. It would seeem like a really short hop from that cynicism and sarcasm, over to subtle, Curb Your Enthusiasm type humor.

  5. I’d be totally on board with her BS argument if anything she was known for was particularly smart or funny. Her work tends to be served much in the same way as the stuff she’s supposedly critiquing. That’s not satire. That’s not smart. That’s not funny. And her show aired on BET. ‘Nuff said.

  6. People are leading various boycotts of the entire channel BET crusades everyday. It just doesn’t seem to be working. The only thing BET really responds to is boycotts on specific shows and when folks start calling the sponsors for those shows. Like folks got Lil Wayne to get the young girls blurred out of the BET Awards, Uncut cancelled and HGM. But for her to act like she was the only one on BET ever attacked by activists she is wrong.And isn’t satire something actually written? Showing a bunch of videos made by real people and not actors is not satire, its making fun of them.And another reason folks maybe silent regarding the present tomfoolery on BET is because maybe folks just have given up and stopped watching.

  7. As the infamous New Yorker magazine cover with the fist bumping Obamas’ dressed as revolutionaries and bin Laden, this show overwhelmingly fell short of satire and humor. I do find Donaldson’s delusion funny, though.

  8. Tell Jam that Dave Chappell is not a good example, he quit his show b/c the lines between coonery and comedy b/c blurred to him. And Boondocks only lasted 2 season probably b/c of the same creative differences.

  9. I do agree with the final statement asking why Flava of Love and For the Love of Ray J weren’t protested. Then again, you really shouldn’t find yourself in a boat where you are using said shows to bail yourself out.Never knew BET to be too helpful with any show either.

  10. Yes, the show was whack. And, no, black people — and to be fair, most people don’t — by and large don’t get satire. Could you imagine anybody in your family sitting down to watch a Christopher Guest-like movie, even one with an all black cast? Waiting for Guffman would have to feature a few more hot grits jokes.RL

  11. Am just curious on Gina is going to respond to this. We got a mess on our hands alright.

  12. Is Jam a Republican? Because she is not only delusional but is delusional with conviction. Just like most Republicans.And why is she talking about this now? Wasn’t that show canceled about two years ago? I hope she’s not trying to test the water for a new version of that Hot Ghetto Mess crap.

  13. So in other words, "ain’t nobody cryin bout the drug dealer on dat corner hookin babies on that stuff! Why haters be hatin – ‘sersly!! I’m jus tryin ta gits minez."My unsolicited career advice to Ms Donaldson: The very next time you have the opportunity to pitch a show to any network exec, please pitch something that resembles your own personal truth and experience. I doubt your intelligently satirical self was represented anywhere in any of the clips you aired. If your own life is not a Hot Ghetto Mess, why choose that as your message of truth to the community?!In other words YOU Got To Do Better if you want others to do the same.

  14. I remember watching segments from her show where some dude would walk around, rounding up black folk and questioning them on black/american history. It annoyed me how he would then proceed to look quizzically into the camera when toothless Uncle Rufus or every bama with gold fronts and a durag can’t name all of the Supreme Court Justices. We Got To Do Better does EXACTLY what whites do to us, they isolate a segment of our population: our poor, our un/undereducated, our unhealthy, and exhibits them as being indicative of all black peoples. No one cries down white people as needing to do better when rednecks act a fool.

  15. Black folks and satire:Black folks have always gotten sly humor. Unfortunately most of the humor presented in the sit-coms were (are) not written by black people. Generally, it is written by well-intentional people with a limited view of what it means to be black.Satire vs. ridicule:Satire is extremely difficult. When it is effective, the writer is not laughing at us, he’s laughing with us. We are all in on the joke. He’s not making a judgement. When you look at the work of Christopher Guest or John Waters, the humor is never malicious or cruel. The New Yorker cover with Michelle and Obama is an excellent example of satire, because if you actually read an issue, you would know the focus of the magazine. Had it been the cover of the National Review, it would have been another story.Ridicule is cheap and easy, but laughing at people who are less fortunate than you is never cool. Human decency prevails and people just say no. That’s what I think happened with Hot Ghetto Mess (or We Got To Do Better [really?]). Normal people take no pleasure in laughing at the shortcomings of others; mean spirited humor is rarely funny.

  16. The fact that the name was changed to something "more palatable" screams disingenuous to me. I remember getting forwards from the website. Social commentary was not what came to mind. Sh*ts and giggles at someone else’s expense were always in abundance. I told people to stop sending me that crap. Throwing Charlie Murphy in with some hurriedly re-written dialogue and a low production value does not satire make. Maybe people saw the show for the fail that it was and not because of an inability to get satire. Sometimes people need to own their mess and stop projecting onto others.

  17. While I think she’s whining, she is right about this part:My point, and I do have one, is that I am noticing something very disturbing about black community "activism" (or fake-a– activism as I like to call it).Where the hell are these pro-black self-proclaimed protectors of the black image when ‘Flava of Love’ was on? When Ray-J was on? I can’t think of two shows that denigrated black women like these did.And there she is right.All the bruhaha over BET when VH-1 gives cooning a new meaning and is WAY more damaging (in my opinion) but no one boycotts those shows.And most of the activism aimed at BET seems short-sighted at best. Ultimately it’s a waste of time b/c BET is still on the air and just swaps one type of show for another. There’s no real "cleaning up" of the network.

  18. I haven’t read the entire Donaldson article but this is what turned me off to the show:Charlie Murphy was hosting discussing uncouth behavior by Negroes but there was no discussion of how his superstar brother was running from claiming his own flesh and blood. By ignoring that major example of Hot Ghetto Behavior, the show seemed like the smart kids teasing the slow kids in the class. Of course, Jam Donaldson can say that wasn’t the point of the show but I say, if you are going to call out lousy behavior then celebrity and wealth shouldn’t force any satirist to pull their punches.

  19. What is wrong with not liking satire? Does it make one smarter if they do? I could say since I like Stephen Sondheim, everyone who doesn’t, is an idiot?I think the reason people are calling out BET and not VH1 is because it called Black Entertainment television. Those people think while, VH1 is just another white television network, they think BET represents black people. I’m not saying that they are right, just the thought process.

  20. Sorry, but the assertion that no one called out "Flavor of Love" or "For the Love of Ray J" is flat out WRONG. Jam Donaldson might try widening her selections of reading material and talking to more black folks before she ever writes another post.But to answer the original question, the show was indeed lame.

  21. Its so funny how you take a couple of paragrpahs from a blog and try to cultivate an intelligent discussion. The blog wasnt about my show. It was about the concept of "the Coonery Paradox" of which my show was one example of several shows I spoke of. Please include the link to the whole article if you are going to post something of mine of the site.The blog isnt about the show and doesn’t defend the quality of the show. I actually say in it that it was nothing like i would have wanted because of corporate pressures. I don’t mind criticism, believe me, but at least let it be fair and informed. The blog is about a very specific concept that I explore that has nothing to do with the show or BET or any other specific artistic venue. you make it seem like two years later I decided to rant about that show… Please just be fair and allow your readers to actually read what I said.Peace.

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