These Bravo Ads Are Pretty Racist, Right? Right.

Southern Charm

The other day, I was waiting for the F train (and waiting…and WAITING), and I overheard a woman talking to what I took to be her 8-year-old son. She was explaining to him that most of what was on television was crap, what with all the “reality television and shows about bachelors.” In order to illustrate her point, she indicated an ad that was posted on the station wall which seemed to be advertising a reality TV show centered around extreme knitters and told her son, “You see? Everything out there is terrible.”

The problem, of course, was that the woman was actually pointing out an ad for The Kroll Show, and there is no reality TV show about knitters, there is only Nick Kroll and his viral marketing campaign, which last year brought New York such wonderful things as a Dr. Zizmor for dogs. Which, ha. Middle-aged Brooklyn parents are so gullible. It’d be sweet if it wasn’t so tragic.

But so, as I walked down to the F this morning, an ad caught my eye for a series called Southern Charm, and using only my keen peripheral vision, I noticed what appeared to be a group of young white people, drinking mint juleps, standing around and laughing on…what looks to be the porch of a plantation? Yes. That is exactly what it looks like! Hmm. Immediately, I assumed that it was another faux-ad, but I stopped to look at it and realized—with a growing level of discomfort— that it was a real advertisement for a real show that would soon be airing on Bravo.

Southern Charm apparently “follows six elite singles that are seriously connected — cast member Thomas Ravenel is the former State Treasurer of South Carolina and the son of Congressman Arthur Ravenel Jr…other cast members include Real World: San Diego alum Cameran Eubanks (!!), Craig Conover, Jenna King, Thomas Ravenel, Shepard “Shep” Rose, and Whitney Sudler-Smith,” and revolves “around the exclusive world of the upper-class in Charleston, South Carolina.” Bravo tagged this poster with the words “See How the Southern Half Lives,” so it’s pretty safe to say that this is supposed to be a look at an elite group of Southerners because aren’t we all just dying with curiosity when it comes to Charleston’s upper class? Well, no. Not me!

However, my problem isn’t that I don’t care about the subject of this show. I don’t care about the subjects of most (if not all) reality shows. No, my problem is that Bravo is advertising a show that’s supposed to be about Southern elites and it’s so full of disturbing racially coded images (there’s a whole lot of white in that picture, isn’t there? and the connotation of plantation life is disgusting) that I found myself seriously disturbed for the rest of my commute. I’m sure many people will think I’m being over-sensitive and that the cast members are just wearing white because hey! it’s hot in the South! people wear white when it’s hot! Or maybe some people will say that any plantation imagery I see is all in my head. It’s just a porch! But you know what? That’s bullshit. This ad is specifically racially coded in such a way that it makes pretty clear that in order to be a Southern elite—to have “Southern charm”—you need to be white. Now, I’m from New York, and when I’m pissed off (which is a lot of the time!) I tend to let rip with a “fuck you!” But I’ve heard that in the South, when ladies want to convey the same kind of sentiment, they just say, “Bless your heart.” So, you know, bless your heart, Bravo, for this race-baiting ad. And also? Fuck you.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

6 Comment

  • The thing is, that shot could have easily been taken in the Hamptons. I agree with everything said in this article, but this sort of elitism/racism is not isolated to the South, or rather, the staged “South” this photo obviously is. You can tell that’s a sound stage porch with montaged cast placed in and an added in background image. The entire ad is the epitome of whitewashing.

    • I completely agree with your comment. Although, It annoys me greatly when White liberals in the NE feel so entitled to comment about how “backwards” and racist the South is. Something else that would probably disgust the author, that slavery happened and people didn’t go around tearing down every plantation house during Reconstruction. The roman inspired architecture (which the author has equated w/ plantation) is inescapable, especially on a college campus. This scene could very easily be a White party anywhere where people who don’t hate life live. I just think this image is hardly cause for outrage. To a person of color, just about every ad looks like this, as we are almost always left out and misrepresented. This could be a “Winter White” ad for J. Crew. Hell, you could start a tumblr.

  • The only thing racist about any of this is the article you have written. Since this show takes place in the South you are pissed there’s no black people in the main cast? That’s beyond ignorant. Are you as pissed off about the white casts in the reality shows that take place in Beverly Hills, Orange County, NYC, etc? Likely not. So what’s the big deal about a reality show with a white main cast filmed in Charleston? None of it is “real” anyway.

    I am also not grasping “the connotation of plantation life”. What about this picture screams plantation? The white pillars? The Spanish moss hanging from the trees? Spend time in the Lowcountry and you will see that most new homes and neighborhoods are built exactly like this, complete with big front porches and white pillars.

    I live in Charleston, and I promise you, most of us are cringing about the junk being filmed here. Thomas Ravenel is a laughingstock…open our City Paper to see for yourself. He’s already posted on his Facebook page he wants to buy the paper and then fire everyone who works there because of the embarrassing articles they have wrote about him.

    Charleston is a very laid back city with a vibe that’s unmatched anywhere in the country. We don’t care how stupid a show Bravo airs, and you shouldn’t either. It’s all garbage and that’s why people love it.

    Your anger seems misguided but typical for a Yankee…pissed off about the racism you have dreamed up in your head.

  • my problem is that only thomas is from charleston…

  • As a person of color, who lived in the south, I didn’t take a second glance at this add. I think this article really detracts from important conversations about race by focusing on superficial elements instead of the problems with how race is portrayed and enforcement of stereotypes present in media.
    A better discussion would be about why people of color are absent from the cast despite the fact that 41% of Charleston is Black. Perhaps It’s because Bravo chose not to select persons of color (which I could believe given their preference for grouping people into shows by ethnicity New jersey Italian, Atlanta Black and Miami Latinas). Perhaps because it’s easier to base a show around the two dimensional idea of white, conservative, drawling aristocrats than it is to make television that shows the diversity and variety of experience in the south. This problem isn’t isolated to this franchise. The often blogged about ‘Girls’ also rarely includes people of color despite being set in one of the most diverse cities in the world. I’m offended by the exclusion of women and minorities from positions in front of and behind the camera, something that won’t be solved by everyone in that photo wearing jewel tones.
    As a side note, that style of housing is characteristic of places like Charleston and Savannah and their preservation is not the lone instance of appreciated architecture outlasting the unjust society it sprang from (i.e the Colosseum).

  • It’s a reality show about Southern people. What do you expect? Northern people to be portrayed? So of course it emphasis’s Southern culture and Southern imagery.

    I bet you won’t find many Southern people in a reality show about white trash New Jersey-ites going bar hopping on the shore.