VH1, informally known for being the trashier, louder, gaudier version of MTV, is no stranger to controversial television. Its past storylines include people “Dating Naked” to find a mate, porn stars starring in bisexual versions of “The Bachelorette,” and the sad, sorry life of an LC wannabe that is Audrina Patridge. So when VH1 decided to apply its tried-and-true formula to take viewers inside the world of black sororities, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Now, the network is facing an entirely new set of critics: the Greeks.
The show, creatively titled “Sorority Sisters,” is basically a lower tier, quota unmet, should-be-on-probation version of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” It chronicles the lives of nine black sorority women and the scripted, crass drama that now follows their social circle. All nine women belong to one of the four sororities that comprise the “Divine Nine”: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho. While reality TV has never had a reputation for depicting actual reality, there has been widespread outrage over the new show — and with good reason.
Within a week of its Dec. 15 premiere, online communities deemed the show so offensive that it mounted a protest on Twitter with the hashtag #BoycottSororitySisters. “VH1 has long used a formula where they cast African American women whose outrageous behavior conforms to numerous caricatures of black women,” says Lawrence Ross, author of “The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities” and one of the organizers behind the protesting of “Sorority Sisters” on social media. Advertisers are listening. The backlash has led 29 companies to pull their ads from the network until VH1 cancels the show. Companies like Honda, Crayola, Hallmark, and Olive Garden are just a few of the big name giants pledging their support for the boycott. Still, however, VH1 has no plans to cancel the show — probably due to the fact that despite the ad pullback and social media outpour, “Sorority Sisters” brought in 1.3 million viewers during its premiere.
I will freely admit that I love guilty pleasure television. I keep a bracket during “The Bachelor,” I could watch Bravo until my eyes bleed, and I’ve been watching “KUWTK” since before Bruce’s gender transformation. But what we need to take away from this is that there’s a huge difference between mindless reality TV and slanderous reality TV. VH1 has crossed the line. The show displays sorority women in a catty, manipulative, conniving light, which goes against the values of the entire Greek system. Now more than ever, we need to stand together as a Greek community to support those of us who are poorly portrayed and misrepresented. If that means shelving the show for good, then so be it..