An illuminating cultural study arguing that, in the late 1980s, the reality TV of Cops and the reality rap of “Fuck tha Police” were two sides of the same coin, redefining popular entertainment as a truth-telling medium.
Series: American Music Series
Reality first appeared in the late 1980s—in the sense not of real life but rather of the TV entertainment genre inaugurated by shows such as Cops and America’s Most Wanted; the daytime gabfests of Geraldo, Oprah, and Donahue; and the tabloid news of A Current Affair. In a bracing work of cultural criticism, Eric Harvey argues that reality TV emerged in dialog with another kind of entertainment that served as its foil while borrowing its techniques: gangsta rap. Or, as legendary performers Ice Cube and Ice-T called it, “reality rap.”
Reality rap and reality TV were components of a cultural revolution that redefined popular entertainment as a truth-telling medium. Reality entertainment borrowed journalistic tropes but was undiluted by the caveats and context that journalism demanded. While N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” countered Cops’ vision of Black lives in America, the reality rappers who emerged in that group’s wake, such as Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur, embraced reality’s visceral tabloid sensationalism, using the media's obsession with Black criminality to collapse the distinction between image and truth. Reality TV and reality rap nurtured the world we live in now, where politics and basic facts don’t feel real until they have been translated into mass-mediated entertainment.
- Preface: Eavesdropping
- Introduction: It’s Like That, and That’s the Way It Is
- Chapter 1: Peace Is a Dream, Reality Is a Knife
- Chapter 2: Don’t Quote Me, Boy, ’Cause I Ain’t Said Shit
- Chapter 3: Get Me the Hell Away from This TV
- Chapter 4: I’m Gonna Treat You Like King!
- Chapter 5: Who Got the Camera?
- Chapter 6: Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real
- Chapter 7: 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted
- Conclusion: Deeper Than Rap
“An excellent history of music, media, and culture, Who Got the Camera? reminded me of Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop as well as Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of the Nation. Harvey is a skilled writer capable of unpacking and distilling complex ideas without sacrificing their depth. Significantly, he is also a polished storyteller, carefully hovering over moments that would become enormously important to the ways in which we came to understand culture, race, and free speech in the twenty-first century.”
Hua Hsu, author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure across the Pacific