This article explores the interstitial spaces between positive and negative representations of black womanhood on reality television. It argues that regardless of the presence of supposedly positive images in media, if audiences choose to see black women as “loud,” the symbolic power of representation alone cannot counter that worldview. Thus, instead of disavowing these representations, we should explore how they function as types of black femininity. One of those types is here described as “ratchet.” Ratchetness, a disposition characterized by foolery that is more tacky than ghetto and more world‐worn than camp, is a fitting descriptor for many of the women on reality series such as VH1’s Basketball Wives (2010–13) and Love and Hip Hop (2011–) and their respective spinoffs, Basketball Wives LA (2011–) and Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta (2012–). By no means does the article suggest that these black women's behaviors are anything short of performative; neither does it condone their behavior as socially acceptable. However, the analysis rests on an understanding of the liminality of their performance of ratchetness as a means of ensuring a material wage and maintaining visibility in a medium where black women's bodies are often rendered invisible. Through a close examination of these cult‐hit cable reality series that centers on a consideration of black women's affect, the article seeks to explore the in‐betweenness of black women's performances on reality TV not to celebrate them but as part of a “make‐do” identificatory project through which black female audiences can indulge the ostensibly disreputable aspects of themselves within their own communal spaces.
They Gon’ Think You Loud Regardless: Ratchetness, Reality Television, and Black Womanhood
Kristen J. Warner is an assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunication and Film at the University of Alabama. Her research interests center on televisual racial representation and its place within the media industries, particularly within the practice of casting. Warner's work can be found in Television and New Media as well as in online journals such as Flow, In Media Res, and Antenna. She has published an essay on race and prime-time television in Watching while Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences (Rutgers University Press, 2013). She is completing a book manuscript, The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting (Routledge, 2015).
Kristen J. Warner; They Gon’ Think You Loud Regardless: Ratchetness, Reality Television, and Black Womanhood. Camera Obscura 1 May 2015; 30 (1 (88)): 129–153. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2885475
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